This Week in the Blues History: Jr. Kimbrough, Buddy Guy, Atlantic Records, Leadbelly, More

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2019 Shaun Murphy 2

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 the Blues 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…

Chuck Berry Statue in the Delmar Loop in Saint Louis (Photo by American Blues Scene)
Chuck Berry Statue in the Delmar Loop in Saint Louis (Photo by American Blues Scene)

1. Junior Kimbrough

July 28th, 1930: One of the most significant exponents of North Mississippi Hill Country Blues, Junior Kimbrough was born David Kimbrough in Hudsonville, Mississippi. He was a long-time associate of Fat Possum Records labelmate R. L. Burnside, and the Burnside and Kimbrough families often collaborated on musical projects. Kimbrough also owned a famous juke joint called, “Junior’s Place” in Chulahoma, Mississippi, from 1992 until his death in 1998. Kimbrough’s sons kept it open following his death, until it burned to the ground on April 6th, 2000.

2. Mike Bloomfield

July 28th, 1943: Blues and Blues Rock musician, guitarist, and composer, who became one of the first popular music superstars of the 1960s to earn his reputation almost entirely on his instrumental prowess, Mike Bloomfield was born Michael Bernard Bloomfield in Chicago, Illinois. Most famous as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Bloomfield also performed and recorded with artists such as Janis Joplin, Taj Mahal, Dr. John and appeared on the Chess Records release, Fathers and Sons with Muddy Waters and Otis Spann. Bloomfield was found dead of a drug overdose in his car on February 15th, 1981. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2012.

3. BB King

July 29th, 1997: MCA released Live At The Regal, an album by B.B. King, nominated for a 1999 W.C. Handy Blues Award in the Reissue Album Of The Year category. Recorded on November 21st, 1964 at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois, the album was first released by ABC in 1965 and is widely heralded as one of the greatest Blues albums ever recorded, coming in at #141 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

4. Chuck Berry

July 29th, 2011: An eight-foot bronze statue of rock and roll legend Chuck Berry was unveiled in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. The sculpture by Harry Weber is set in a plaza with trees and moving colored lights that make musical notes. Lyrics to his rock anthems are embedded in the granite stones of the plaza. The statue is located at 6555 Delmar in The Loop across from Blueberry Hill, where Berry still performs monthly. Berry, the first person inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the St. Louis Walk of Fame was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1985.

5. Buddy Guy

July 30th, 1936: One of the most influential Blues artists of all time, pioneer of the Chicago Blues sound, ranked 30th in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”, George “Buddy” Guy was born in Lettsworth, Louisiana. During his career, Guy has, thus far, released 72 albums, won 6 Grammy Awards, 34 Blues Music Awards (formerly W.C. Handy Awards), been inducted into the Blues Hall Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. He has also received the National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center Honors. He currently still records, tours and owns the world renowned Blues club, Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago. His mastery of the guitar has influenced such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, John Mayer, Slash and Billy Gibbons, to name but a few.

6. Atlantic Records

July 31st, 1931: Founder and president of Atlantic Records, who was also a writer of classic Blues songs, and served as Chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and museum, Ahmet Ertegun was born in Istanbul, Turkey. Through Atlantic Records and in affiliation with Stax Records, Ertegun released some of the earliest music by artists such as Professor Longhair, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Ray Charles, Ben E. King, Sam and Dave, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. In the late 1980s with the support of Bonnie Raitt and others, he provided $1.5 million to help establish the Rhythm and Blues Foundation to award money to underpaid Blues artists. Among early recipients of payments were John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Ruth Brown and the Staple Singers. Ertugen died on December 14th, 2006 as a result of a fall at a Rolling Stones concert on October 29th of that year. He was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 2007.

7. Leadbelly

August 1st, 1934: Leadbelly was released from Angola Prison Farm having served almost all of his minimum sentence. It was the third time in prison for Huddie William Ledbetter and it was there he was “discovered” during a visit by folklorists John Lomax and his then 18-year-old son Alan Lomax. Deeply impressed by Ledbetter’s vibrant tenor and extensive repertoire, the Lomaxes recorded him on portable aluminum disc recording equipment for the Library of Congress. Leadbelly was released following a petition the Lomaxes had taken to Louisiana Governor Oscar K. Allen at his urgent request. It was on the other side of a recording of his signature song, “Goodnight Irene.” A prison official later wrote to John Lomax denying that Ledbetter’s singing had anything to do with his release from Angola, state prison records confirming he was eligible for early release due to good behavior. For a time, however, both Ledbetter and the Lomaxes believed that the record they had taken to the governor had hastened his release.

8. Robert Cray

August 1st, 1953: Soul Blues guitarist and singer, Robert Cray was born in Columbus, Georgia. Influenced by artists such as Albert Collins, Freddie King and Muddy Waters, Cray started his own band in the late 70s and also collaborated with Curtis Salgado in The Cray-Hawks. Cray has backed such artists as Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Jimmie Vaughan, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker. A 5-time Grammy Award winner, Cray was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. As a “did you know” fact, in the 1978 film National Lampoon’s Animal House, Cray was the uncredited bassist in the house party band Otis Day and the Knights.

9. Alligator Records

August 2nd, 2011: In the midst of its year-long 40th anniversary celebration, Alligator Records re launched its website. Visitors to www.alligator.com could now find song previews for all tracks, a new jukebox, a fully redesigned store and other features. The site also became smartphone friendly.

10. Janis Joplin

August 3rd, 1970: Janis Joplin made her final TV appearance on the Dick Cavett Show. During her introduction, Cavett described her as “…a combination of Leadbelly, a steam engine, Calamity Jane and Bessie Smith”. The interview was approximately seven minutes long as they discussed such obscure things as limousines, the press, and Cavett’s water skiing escapades. Joplin did perform, with her Full Tilt Boogie Band the songs, “Half Moon” and “My Baby”.