This Week in Blues Past: "Father of the British Blues", "Godmother of the Chicago Blues", "Empress of the Blues" and more…

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1.  Muddy Waters’ Cabin

April 13th, 2007:  A Mississippi Blues Trail marker was established on the Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi to commemorate Muddy Waters’ house.  Not only did Waters live in the cabin, but he operated a juke joint there, entertaining field hands and his first recordings were made by Alan Lomax and John Work while on a field recording expedition for the Library of Congress and Fisk University.  Tourists began visiting the cabin in the 1980s as a shrine of sorts to the great bluesman.  Billy Gibbons, of ZZ Top, was given a plank from the original cabin which he had made into a custom guitar known as the Muddywood.  The remains of the cabin are on permanent display at the Delta Blues Museum.

2.  Lillian “Lil” Green

April 14th, 1954:  Singer and songwriter Lil Green died of pneumonia in Chicago, Illinois at the age of 34.  Born in Mississippi in 1919, Green moved to Chicago after the death of her parents and began performing while in her teens.  She recorded for the Bluebird label and had a club act in the 1930s with Big Bill Broonzy.  Her biggest hits were her own composition, “Romance in the Dark” and her cover of the Kansas Joe McCoy tune, “Why Don’t You Do Right?”.  Green was one of the leading female rhythm and blues singers of the 1940s, with a powerful, distinctive voice and great songwriting skills.

3.  Last of the Broomdusters

April 14th, 1998:  Fedora records released the album, Last of the Broomdusters; arguably the greatest album recorded by Homesick James.  James, a cousin of Elmore James, began his recording career in 1952, and went on to play with Sonny Boy Williamson II, Snooky Pryor, Baby Face Leroy Foster and many others including his cousin.  His album, Last of the Broomdusters, was recorded in one day on December 17th, 1997 when James was well in his 80s and contained original material as well as several cover songs including “Shake Your Money Maker” and “Sugar Mama”.

4.  Bessie Smith

April 15th, 1894:  The “Empress of the Blues”, Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  She lost both parents by the age of 9 and began busking the streets of Chattanooga with her brother to raise money for the household.  She began her professional career in 1912 as a dancer with a traveling troupe that also contained Ma Rainey.  By 1923 she began recording and took up residence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Her first recordings included “Downhearted Blues” and  “T’ain’t Nobody’s Biz-Ness If I Do”.  She made over 160 recordings, performed on film and on Broadway and died on September 26th, 1937 in Clarksdale, Mississippi from injuries sustained from a car accident.  Her grave, outside Philadelphia, remained unmarked until 1970 when Janis Joplin and Juanita Green paid for a stone to be placed.  Smith was one of the first inductees into the Blues Hall of Fame in1980 and a movie about her life is scheduled for release in May, 2015 with Queen Latifah in the title role.Tommy Castro

5.  Tommy Castro

April 15th, 1955:  Blues guitarist and singer, Tommy Castro was born in San Jose, California.  He began learning guitar at age 10, influenced by the blues and rock and roll, citing varied artists as influences including B. B. King, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Elvin Bishop and Wilson Pickett among others.  In the 1970s he began playing clubs in the Bay Area, joined the Dynatones in the 1980s and by 1991 had his own band.  He began recording in 1994 and has won multiple Blues Foundation Awards since then.  Castro’s latest album, The Devil You Know, was released by Alligator records in 2014 and included guest appearances by Marcia Ball, Tab Benoit, Joe Bonamassa, The Holmes Brothers and Magic Dick.

6.  Buddy Guy

April 16th, 2008:  Lettsworth, Louisiana native, Buddy Guy was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in Baton Rouge by mayor Kip Holden.  Guy, who began performing in Baton Rouge clubs in the early 1950s, was a protege’ of Guitar Slim and moved to Chicago in 1957.  His first experience in a Chicago club (The 708 Club), was with Slim, Otis Rush and Little Walter. He learned from Muddy Waters and became a force to be reckoned with in a short time.   He was a major influence on Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan and has won 5 Grammy Awards and 23 Blues Foundation Awards as well as being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame (1985), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2005) and the Kennedy Center Honors (2012).

7.  Theresa Needham

April 17th, 1912:  Theresa McLaurin Needham was born in Meridian, Mississippi.  In the 1940s, she and husband Robert moved to Chicago and by 1949, the woman who would become known as the “Godmother of the Chicago Blues” opened Theresa’s Lounge in the basement of an apartment building on South Indiana Avenue.  The house band, at one time, included Junior Wells and Buddy Guy and artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush, Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter all played there.  Theresa’s became a world renown club until, in 1983, the landlord refused to renew the lease and the club was forced to relocated.  The new location did not hold the same appeal and closed permanently in 1986.  Needham died in Chicago on October 16th, 1992 and was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001.

8.    Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

April 18th, 1924:  Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown was born in Vinton, Louisiana.  A multi-instrumentalist, Brown got his musical start by playing drums for various bands in San Antonio, Texas.  In 1947 his career got an unexpected boost when he attended a T-Bone Walker show in Houston.  Walker became ill during the set and Brown took up his guitar, wrote and played the song, “Gatemouth Boogie” on the spot.  Brown is also known to have played fiddle, viola, mandolin and harmonica and was famous for his fusion of musical styles, combining blues with country, jazz, rock and Cajun music.  Himself influenced by Walker and Louis Jordan, Brown was a major influence on artists including Tab Benoit, Canned Heat and Frank Zappa.  During his career he released 21 studio albums and was on 19 additional compilation and bootleg releases including his rendition of “Get Rhythm” on the 2003 album, Johnny’s Blues: A Tribute To Johnny Cash.  Brown died on September 10th, 2005 in Orange, Texas at the age of 81.  Already suffering from emphysema and heart disease, he was diagnosed with lung cancer a year before.  He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1999.

9.  Texas Alexander

April 18th, 1954:  Alger “Texas” Alexander, blues singer from Jewett, Texas died from syphilis in Richards, Texas.  Alexander was never a musician, but as a singer performed with The Mississippi Sheiks, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Eddie Lang and many others.  He recorded for Okeh and Vocalion records songs including, “Mama’s Bad Luck Child” and “Texas Special”.  He made his last recording in 1950 with Leon Benton and Buster Pickens and is claimed to be a cousin of Lightnin’ Hopkins and uncle to Frankie Lee Sims, though no kinship has been proven.

10. Alexis Korner

“Father of British Blues” Alexis  Andrew Nicholas Koerner was born in Paris, France.  He arrived in London with his family in 1940 and one of his early memories was listening to a recording of blues pianist, Jimmy Yancey, during a German air raid.  It was then and there he decided to spend his life in the blues.  Korner played piano, guitar and mandolin and met harmonica player Cyril Davies in 1949.  Not only did they play and record together but they also opened the London Blues and Barrelhouse Club, bringing a great many American blues artists to London.  In 1961 they founded the band, Blues Incorporated, which, at various times, included Charlie Watts, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Long John Baldry, John Mayall and Jimmy Page.  Korner also maintained careers as a session musician, broadcaster and producer.  He released over 25 albums during his career, with Blues Incorporated, Snape, CCS, Rocket 88 and solo before dying of lung cancer on New Years Day, 1984 in London.