Editor’s note: Please welcome the newest addition to American Blues Scene online: “This Week in Blues Past”! 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.
1. Lynyrd Skynyrd
October 20th, 1977: A Convair CV-300 airplane, on a flight between Greenville, South Carolina and Baton Rouge, Louisiana crashed in a heavily forested area five miles Northeast of Gillsburg, Mississippi. The plane was carrying the band Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray were killed on impact. The other members of the band as well as their tour manager and road crew were all seriously injured.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, while best known for their songs “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” were also known to have a deep respect for the Blues and released songs such as “Things Goin’ On”, “I Know a Little”, “Ain’t No Good Life”, “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”, JJ Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze” and a ten minute “Blues Medley”, covering songs by BB King, Jane Feather, Leonard Feather and Jules Taub which was released on their album, Thyrty. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
2. Doctor Ross
October 21st, 1925: Charles Isaiah Ross was born in Tunica, Mississippi. Known as Doctor Ross the Harmonica Boss, he was also a Blues singer, guitarist and drummer. He recorded for Sun Records and Chess Records in the early 50s but by 1954 he moved to Detroit to work for General Motors. While there he recorded for Fortune Records and the Testament label.
Ross was also part of the European American Folk Blues Festival in 1965. His music was greatly appreciated in Europe and he recorded albums with Blue Horizon in London and worked with Ornament Records in Germany. His 1981 album, Rare Blues, won Ross a Grammy Award and a resurgence of popularity. Ross died at the age of 67 and is buried in Flint, Michigan.
3. Steve Cropper
October 21st, 1941: Blues guitarist from the Stax Records house band, Booker T & The M.G.s, who backed artists such as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Rufus Thomas and Johnnie Taylor, Steven Lee Cropper was born in Dora, Missouri. He first strummed a guitar at age 10 in Memphis, Tennessee having moved there with his family the previous year. By 14 he had his own mail order guitar and was playing with local Memphis musicians.
He formed the Mar-Keys with Charlie Freeman and they had their first hit in 1961 with “Last Night”. Besides all the session work, he also co-wrote hit songs such as “Knock On Wood”, “In the Midnight Hour” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. Cropper has also produced albums for Tower of Power, Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck and many others. He was also a member of the Blues Brothers band and appeared in both movies of that franchise. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
4. Rosa Lee Hill
October 22nd, 1968: Hill Country Blues guitarist/singer, Rosa Lee Hill died at the age of 58 in Senatobia, Mississippi. She was born in Como, Mississippi in 1910, the daughter of fife and drum band leader, Sid Hemphill. She is most famous for her song, “Bullyin’ Well” which was recorded by Alan Lomax and released on several compilations over the years. Her album, Rosa Lee Hill and Friends was an effort by the Fat Possum label to reissue the recordings made by George Mitchell. It included her niece, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Will Shade, Precious Bryant and several other artists.
5. Johnny Shines
October 23rd, 1950: Delta Blues artist and friend of Robert Johnson, Johnny Shines recorded two songs for Chess Records in Chicago, Illinois. The songs were, “Joliet Blues” and “So Glad I Found You”. He was credited as Shoe Shine Johnny on the recordings and was backed by Little Walter on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Big Crawford on bass and Elga Edmonds on drums.
6. Hey Joe
October 23rd, 1966: The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded their first single, “Hey Joe” at De Lane Lea Studios in London, England. It was released in December of that year in the UK and almost immediately went to #6 on the UK charts. Released in 1967 in the United States, it failed to chart. However, the Hendrix release remains the best known version of the song, which has been covered by hundreds of artists over the years. It was the very last song played at the Woodstock Festival and is listed as number 201 on Rolling Stone Magazines list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
7. Jimmy Dawkins
October 24th, 1936: James Henry “Jimmy” Dawkins was born in Tchula, Mississippi. Moving to Chicago in 1955 and working in a box factory, he quickly became known on the West Side as a great session musician. Best known for his debut album, Fast Fingers, which was released on the Delmark label thanks to his friend Magic Sam, Dawkins was also a promoter, contributing writer to Living Blues magazine and owned his own label, Leric Records. Although he released 21 albums in his career, by the 1980s he was more interested in promoting other artists including Tail Dragger, Queen Sylvia Embry and Nora Jean Wallace. Dawkins died in Chicago on April 10th, 2013 at the age of 76.
8. It Must Have Been the Devil
October 25th, 1954: Otis Spann, famous Blues pianist for Muddy Waters’ band, recorded his trademark song, “It Must Have Been the Devil” for the Chess label in Chicago. It was backed with the song, “Five Spot” and the recordings included BB King and Jody Williams on guitars, George “Harmonica” Smith on harmonica, Willie Dixon on bass and Earl Phillips on drums.
9. Rory Gallagher
October 25th, 1997: A tribute sculpture to Rory Gallagher was unveiled in the newly renamed Rory Gallagher Place off Paul Street in Cork, Ireland where Gallagher grew up. The sculptor, Geraldine Creedon, was a childhood friend of Gallagher and the bronze sculpture takes the form of a guitar on one side and intertwined lyrics from Gallagher’s Jinx album on the other. Other sculptures have followed including a life size bronze of his famous 1961 Fender Stratocaster which is mounted 15 feet above Essex St. on Rory Gallagher Corner in Dublin, Ireland and a life-size bronze statue of Gallagher himself in Ballyshannon, where he was born.
10. Rolling Stones
October 26th, 1962: The Rolling Stones, then known as The Rollin’ Stones and made up of Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Ian Stewart, Dick Taylor and Tony Chapman recorded their first demo tape at Curly Clayton Studios in Highbury, London, England. The demo consisted of three Blues covers; Jimmy Reed’s “Close Together”, Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge a Book By The Cover” and Muddy Waters’ “Soon Forgotten”.