For instance, Arhoolie was essentially founded to annotate the discovery of a then obscure Texas musician Mance Lipscomb, a singer and guitarist that had never previously recorded. By my count, there were thirty records released in the Blues Classics series between and A big hunk of those were compilations, often with a regional focus, and they shed light on all sorts of stylistically diverse recording activity, from jug bands and the country blues to the wild mania of the early electric stuff that exploded all over the place in the period following the second World War.
Next to those comps could be found a bunch of entries devoted to single artists, most of them having been prominent in the decades prior to World War II. And the very first Blues Classics release illuminated not only a musician of substantial recording longevity, but also gave historical attention to a real rarity, a woman who not only sang the blues but also played guitar. It was easy enough for a budding blues fan living in the middle of the s to locate recordings from early, often jazz-leaning vocalists like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey or post-war figures such as Big Mama Thornton and Koko Taylor, but Blues Classics by Memphis Minnie promised something different.
She was born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana in She did some travelling as a performer and even had a four-year stint with the Ringling Brothers Circus, but she spent most of her time developing her skills in the city she later incorporated into her name. She recorded extensively, both on her own and in tandem with her second and third husbands, and became a powerhouse in the club setting, legendarily besting the great Big Bill Broonzy in a cutting contest.
And she so impressed the poet Langston Hughes with her New Years Eve performance that he wrote a truly sublime live review in the January 9 issue of the Chicago Defender.
Upon receiving my special-ordered copy of Blues Classics by Memphis Minnie, it delivered fifteen tracks of surprising versatility from a span of nearly twenty years. This led on to the more sophisticated swing band sound of the late s and early s where she played with the likes of pianist Black Bob, mandolin player Charlie McCoy and drummer Fred Williams.
The third phase began around , when she started playing with Little Son Joe on second guitar, often with a stand-up bass and drums. Given the sheer number of songs Minnie recorded during her career, there will always be room for healthy debate as to what are her best 24 songs.
With excellent remastering by Fabian Wessely at Soundborn Studio, however, the tracks on Killer Diller Blues are certainly a fine introduction to one of the indisputable all-time blues greats and Wolf Records are to be congratulated on another fine reissue. After Minnie's mother died, in , Abe Douglas moved back to Walls, where he died in In , at the age of 13, she ran away from home to live on Beale Street , in Memphis.
She played on street corners for most of her teenage years, occasionally returning to her family's farm when she ran out of money. She began performing with Joe McCoy , her second husband, in They were discovered by a talent scout for Columbia Records , in front of a barber shop, where they were playing for dimes.
In February they recorded the song "Bumble Bee" for the Vocalion label, which they had already recorded for Columbia but which had not yet been released. Their last session together was for Decca, in September. An anecdote from Big Bill Broonzy 's autobiography, Big Bill Blues , recounts a cutting contest between Minnie and Broonzy in a Chicago nightclub on June 26, , for the prize of a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of gin.
By , Minnie was established in Chicago and had become one of a group of musicians who worked regularly for the record producer and talent scout Lester Melrose. She recorded four sides for Bluebird Records in July , returned to the Vocalion label in August, and then recorded another session for Bluebird in October, this time accompanied by Casey Bill Weldon , her first husband.
By the end of the s, in addition to her output for Vocalion, she had recorded nearly 20 sides for Decca and eight sides for Bluebird. In , Minnie returned to recording for the Vocalion label, this time accompanied by Charlie McCoy , Kansas Joe's brother, on mandolin. They began recording together in , with Son adding a more rhythmic backing to Minnie's guitar.
By Minnie had started playing electric guitar,  and in May of that year she recorded her biggest hit, "Me and My Chauffeur Blues". Memphis Minnie". In the s Minnie and Lawlars continued to work at their "home club," Chicago's popular Club, where they were often joined by Broonzy, Sunnyland Slim , or Snooky Pryor , and also played at many of the other better-known Chicago nightclubs. During the s Minnie and Lawlars performed together and separately in the Chicago and Indiana areas.
Later in the s, Minnie lived in Indianapolis and Detroit. She returned to Chicago in the early s. Unable to adapt to changing tastes, she moved to smaller labels, such as Regal , Checker , and J.
Minnie continued to record into the s, but her health began to decline. With public interest in her music waning, she retired from her musical career, and in she and Lawlars returned to Memphis. In she played at a memorial concert for Big Bill Broonzy. Lawlars died the following year, and Minnie had another stroke a short while after.
She could no longer survive on her Social Security income. Magazines wrote about her plight, and readers sent her money for assistance.
The ceremony was taped for broadcast by the BBC. The hundreds of sides Minnie recorded are the perfect material to teach us about the blues. For the blues are at once general, and particular, speaking for millions, but in a highly singular, individual voice. Listening to Minnie's songs we hear her fantasies, her dreams, her desires, but we will hear them as if they were our own. Minnie was known as a polished professional and an independent woman who knew how to take care of herself.
She didn't take no foolishness off them.