Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – set 7: Songsters & Saints – Vocal Traditions on Race Records
The Matchbox Bluesmaster series were originally released from November 1982 to June 1988 by Saydisc Records. Rare 78 rpm records were loaned to supplement the ones on hand to create what was called “Complete Recordings in Chronological Order” along with some add on tracks. These records were mastered on tape and released on vinyl. I previously looked at volumes 5 and 6 in a prior review and here we have the final set, which is a little different.
I noted preciously that Austrian collector Johnny Parth edited the sets and got the recordings grouped and released by Saydisc in the UK. Hans Klement did the remastering work from Austrophon Studios in Vienna. The tracks selected were released in seven sets of six records and are here released on CD. The master tapes have long since vanished, so Norman White took the vinyl pressings and used high end transcription techniques to make the digital recordings. In addition to the 42 releases in these seven sets, even more music is expected for release as they have many pre-Bluesmaster cuts that can be released. Paul Oliver provides ample notes and data on each set of CDs. Oliver is a jazz and blues historian who has written 10 books on blues and gospel history and passed away in 2017 after a long career as a music historian and architect. He provides copious notes in a booklet for each set.
The prior sets include entire CDs by a particular artist. Some artists get a couple of CDs to themselves. As with the prior sets, Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – set 7 offers up the second volume of Lonnie Johnson’s works as an entire CD and also one from The Famous Hokum Boys. Johnson’s works range from 1927 to 1932 while The Hokum Boys cuts are from 1930 and 1931. The other four CDs are Songsters and Saints, Volumes 1 and 2. They range in dates from 1925 to 1931. Discs 3 through 6 offer a variety of interesting and priceless recordings. All of these recordings were from white owned record labels that produce race records for black audiences and hillbilly music for white audiences; making a buck off music that would sell was the priority.
The first two disc continue the series as before. Johnson’s vocals and guitar are splendid. He certainly was captured well, and some of the 78’s were pristine. The Fabulous Hokum Boys live up to their name with entertaining and light-hearted blues. The band is Georgia Tom on vocals and piano throughout, and also includes Big Bill Broonzy on vocals and guitar on a dozen tracks, Hannah Mae on vocals, Kansas City Kitty on vocals, Frank Brasswell on vocals and guitar, and Jane Lucas on vocals.
Disc 3 is Dances and Travelling Shows and Comment, Parodies and Ballad Heroes. The former includes greats like Pink Anderson, Peg Leg Howell, Charley Patton, and The Memphis Sheiks. The latter group includes Lil McClintock, Hazekiah Jenkins, Bo Chatman, Kid Coley and many others. Disc 4 is Baptists and Sanctified Preachers (9 tracks) and Gospel Soloists and Evangelists (9 tracks). There is some fiery old school preaching a little choral singing in the first part while the second part includes preaching and gospel tunes done by Blind Willie Davis, William and Versey Smith, Eddie Head and His Family and more.
The fifth disc is Medicine Show Songsters and hen Songsters east and West. The Medicine Show cuts include great music from Papa Charlie Jackson, Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Jim Jackson and the Beale Street Sheiks. The Songsters are Sam Jones (Stovepipe No. 1) and David Crockett, Henry Thomas, Luke Jordan and Blind Blake, one of my personal favorite artists. The final disc features The Straining Preachers and Songsters East and West: Saints of Church and Street. A half dozen preachers and some of their flocks are included in the first section while the last set includes Blind Willie Johnson, The Memphis Sanctified Singers, Arizona Juanita Dranes, Blind Joe and Emma Taggart and more.
This final chapter in the Mathcbox Bluesmaster Series is unique in that it includes a plethora of sacred and secular music and spoken word. One marvels at the incredible gospel and blues tunes included and the fire and brimstone preaching (often with congregational responses); there is so much cool stuff represented by these recordings. The seventh set of CDs is a perfect conclusion to the series and offers the listener a variety of songs and spoken word that they will thoroughly enjoy. I highly recommend this and the entire series to those who want to learn how early blues and gospel got recorded and promoted and influences the electrified urban blues, R&B, rock and roll, soul, hip hop and rap music. All of America’s popular music came from these early blues and gospel music and hearing it gives us a great look into how that all happened.