Henry Townsend and Roosevelt Sykes – Blues Piano and Guitar
CD 1: 15 Songs, 53:00 Minutes – CD 2: 15 Songs, 53:00 Minutes
Styles: Blues Piano and Guitar, Live Album, Previously Unreleased Songs
Get ready for over an hour and a half of classic Blues Piano and Guitar with Henry Townsend and Roosevelt Sykes. Omnivore Recordings has compiled thirty previously unreleased tracks from the year 1973, in a reunion concert at Washington University’s Graham Chapel. According to the Omnivore profile, “Over the course of the evening, the two men backed each other, played some of their hits, welcomed Henry’s wife Vernell in on vocals on a couple tunes [e.g. “Tears Come Rolling Down” on CD 2] and gave the audience a special night to remember. Nighthawk Records founder Leroy Jodie Peterson was in attendance, as was his recording equipment, with pal Steve Fuller making sure it laid down to tape properly.” Most of its songs are originals, with exceptions such as “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Sloppy Drunk Again,” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” Henry Townsend’s diction would never pass muster with Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady, but it’s tailor-made for real-deal blues. Sykes’ piano, as always, is crisp and catchy, providing the perfect complement to his colleague’s melodic guitar.
The album liner notes constitute a mini-biography of the duo, detailing the paths they took (“Henry Townsend, born in 1909 in Shelby, Mississippi, fled the harsh discipline of his father at the tender age of nine.”), the mentors who influenced them (Henry Spaulding, Lee Green, “Red Eyed” Jesse Bell, et al.), and an eventual reunion and celebration of their accomplishments (“In 1987, Henry was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts and received the national Heritage Award. Henry would endure into the new century and become the undisputed patriarch of the St. Louis blues scene.”). Although Roosevelt Sykes passed away in 1983, he penned and performed such classics as “Driving Wheel,” “Nighttime is the Right Time,” and “Dirty Mother for You.” In 1941, he headed for the Windy City and became one of blues’ most prolific pianists.
Henry Townsend stars on vocals and guitar, as does Sykes on vocals and piano. Henry’s wife Vernell guest stars on “Tears Come Rolling Down” and “Why We Love Each Other So.”
The following songs present these two blues virtuosos in the light of their mutual brilliance.
CD 1, Track 14: “Dirty Mother For You” – “Listen closely to the words so you won’t get the wrong understanding, as I have no control over your thoughts,” Mr. Sykes warns the crowd before launching into this ribald rendition. My favorite part? “Now, there’s a fine little sexy-tary. They all call her Terry. All she need now is a big dic-tionary. She gonna be a spelling mother-for-you.” Blues fans, if you aren’t in stitches reading this, wait until you hear the whole song.
CD 2, Track 04: “Gulf Port Boogie” – Number four presents piano blues at its most powerful. Roosevelt pulls out all the stops and makes the crowd go wild with his trilling notes and frenzied tempo, crying out in exultation at opportune moments. Take a spin on the dance floor if you dare.
CD 2, Track 08: “Tears Come Rolling Down” – Henry and Vernell Townsend dive into this duet with grace and style, from the skillfully-picked intro to the va-va-voom vocals. “He kissed me good night, and I knew it meant goodbye,” Vernell laments, her voice teeming with emotion without being overly loud. The audience roars approval at Townsend’s picking in the middle.
Blues Piano and Guitar is a commendable collection of hidden treasures from Roosevelt Sykes and Henry Townsend!