Editor’s note: Please welcome the newest addition to American Blues Scene online: “This Week in the Blues”! You asked for a weekly summary of our daily blues history on Facebook and we listened! Come visit each Monday, where we will be listing the top ten events in blues history in chronological order.
This Week in Blues Past has some very interesting entries! Discover the anniversary of a statue erected for one of the most revered bluesmen in history, the release of one of Texas’ most powerful musical icons from one of Louisiana’s most notorious prisons, the birth of blues pioneers, including a Hill Country master and a five-time Grammy award winner, two special dates involving blues record labels, and the final appearance of a wildly influential blueswoman. This is the top ten things that happened this week in the blues…
1. Little Milton
August 4th, 2005: Prolific Soul Blues singer/guitarist Little Milton (James Milton Campbell, Jr.) died from complications of a stroke in Memphis, Tennessee at age 70. Born in Inverness, Mississippi and discovered by Ike Turner in 1952, Milton was most famous for his songs, “Grits Ain’t Groceries” and “We’re Gonna Make It”. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1988.
2. Rick Derringer
August 5th, 1947: Blues Rock guitarist and singer, Rick Derringer was born Richard Zehringer in Fort Recovery, Ohio. He first came to prominence in 1965 when his band The McCoys released “Hang On Sloopy”. He is best known for his song, “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” which he wrote and was recorded by Johnny Winter And in 1970, while he was part of that band. It was also recorded live on the album “Live at the Fillmore East 10/3/70” by the same band and again in 1972 on “Roadwork” by Edgar Winter’s White Trash. It was in 1973, however, when Derringer released the song on his debut album, “All American Boy” that it became a hit going to #23 on the Billboard Hot 100.
3. Willie Trice
August 5th, 1970: Folklorist, ethnomusicologist and founder of Trix Records, Pete Lowry recorded a full album of previously unreleased material by Piedmont Blues artist Willie Trice in Durham, North Carolina. The album was called Blue and Rag’d. Trice had only recorded one other time, with his brother Richard in 1937.
4. Memphis Minnie
August 6th, 1973: Blues pioneer, Memphis Minnie (Lizzie “Kid” Douglas) died of a stroke in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 76. A native of Algiers, Louisiana, Minnie started busking on Beale Street in Memphis at the age of 13. Her Memphis Minnie moniker was given to her by a Columbia Records A&R man in 1929, when she and her second husband, Kansas Joe McCoy went to New York to record for the label. She sang, played guitar, chewed tobacco and wrote some of the greatest Blues of her era, including “Bumble Bee”, “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” and “When the Levee Breaks”. In 1933 she won a cuttin’ contest against Big Bill Broonzy with the prize being a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of gin. Minnie, along with Broonzy and 18 others was in the first group of inductees into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.
5. Mississippi Fred McDowell
August 6th, 1993: A tall, granite, memorial headstone was placed at the burial site of North Mississippi Bluesman, Mississippi Fred McDowell. McDowell died on July 3rd, 1972. Paid for by McDowell’s student and friend, Bonnie Raitt and arranged by photographer, Dick Waterman and the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, the headstone replaced one which was damaged and inaccurate. The original stone was donated by McDowell’s family to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi where it remains on display.
6. Magic Slim
August 7th, 1937: Morris “Magic Slim” Holt was born in Torrance, Mississippi. Starting out as a piano player, Slim changed to the guitar after losing a finger in a cotton gin accident. He first moved to Chicago in 1955 with his friend and mentor, Magic Sam, who gave him the nickname and let Slim play bass in his band. During a 48 year career with his band, The Teardrops, he recorded 36 albums and won 8 Blues Music Awards. Magic Slim died at a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on February 21st, 2013.
7. Bessie Smith
August 7th, 1970: A tombstone paid for by Janis Joplin and former housekeeper, Juanita Green was erected at the burial site of Bessie Smith near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Smith, who was the most popular Blues singer of the 20s and 30s and nicknamed “Empress of the Blues” died of injuries sustained in an automobile accident on September 26th, 1937 at the age of 43. Her estranged husband, Jack Gee, twice pocketed the money that had been raised for her marker and she lay in an unmarked grave until this stone was placed.
8. Jimmy Witherspoon
August 8th, 1920: Jump Blues Shouter, Jimmy Witherspoon was born in Gurdon, Arkansas. He first garnered attention during World War II on the Armed Forces Radio Service singing with Teddy Wetherford’s band. He had his first hit in 1949 with his cover of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” with the Jay McShann Band. He went on to record over the years with artists such as T-Bone Walker, Long John Baldry and Count Basie prior to his death in 1997.
9. Jerry Garcia
August 9th, 1995: Jerome John “Jerry” Garcia died of a heart attack at the Serenity Knolls Treatment Center in Forest Knolls, California at the age of 53. Founder and guitarist for The Grateful Dead during their entire 30 year career, Garcia was also a member of such bands as the Saunders-Garcia Band, Old And In The Way, Legion of Mary and New Riders of the Purple Sage as well as a session musician for dozens of acts. He was known as a “mature” guitarist with influences coming from artists as varied as Doc Watson, Lonnie Mack, Freddie King and Django Reinhardt. Rolling Stone Magazine listed him as #13 on their “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” list.
10. Devon Allman
August 10th, 1972: Blues Rock guitarist/keyboardist/singer and second son of Gregg Allman, Devon Lane Allman was born in Corpus Christi, Texas. Raised by his mother in Texas, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri, Allman was first influenced by the Beatles and KISS, then after meeting his father for the first time, in his teens, he garnered more influence from Santana, The Rolling Stones, The Doors and, of course, The Allman Brothers Band. Still, he tried various musical styles trying to distance himself from obvious comparisons to his famous father and uncle, until in his 30s, he embraced the Blues Rock style of music he plays today. As a solo artist and member of the groups Honeytribe and Royal Southern Brotherhood, Allman records to great extent and tours upwards of 300 nights per year. He has also contributed to albums by Ocean Six, The Vargas Blues Band and the compilation album, A Song For My Father.