To celebrate the 70th anniversary, Delmark raided the vaults for a new anthology, out July 21st on CD, LP and digital.
Seventy years is a long time. Seventy years before the late Bob Koester founded Delmar (later Delmark) Records while a college student in St. Louis, Buffalo Bill’s travelling Wild West Show debuted, Chester A. Arthur was president, Thomas Edison brought electric light to Roselle, NJ for the first time, and “Black Bart” was in the news for another stagecoach robbery. When Koester released his first record in 1953, many of the now-iconic figures in blues and jazz were still every day working musicians, Ike was in the White House, and the U.S. was fighting in Korea. Now seventy years on, Delmark is the oldest independent jazz and blues record label in the world, boasting a catalog bulging with over twelve thousand recordings by a virtual who’s who of jazz and blues. Although Koester retired in 2018, under the leadership of President/CEO, Julia A. Miller, and Artistic Director Elbio Barilari, Delmark has released over 30 thirty albums in five years, has made digitally available over twelve thousand songs and continues its mission of seeking out and documenting new talent. To celebrate the 70th anniversary, here are some of the finest tracks from the Delmark blues music vaults.
Junior Wells’ debut album, featuring Buddy Guy, originally billed as Friendly Chap due to his commitments with Chess Records, is widely recognized as one of the first albums of a working Chicago blues band (as opposed to a studio-only lineup), and the crisp and funky proof of many nights together on the bandstand have made the Hoodoo Man Blues LP a desert-island disk for blues fans worldwide. “Snatch It Back and Hold It” was the first track recorded at these sessions, and features Junior and the band roaring out of the gate at their soulful best.
Samuel “Magic Sam” Maghett began his recording career in the late 1950s with a series of ground-breaking releases on the small Cobra label; by the mid 1960s his recordings were more sporadic, though he remained a popular attraction in local clubs. This changed when Delmark recorded West Side Soul in 1967, reinvigorating Sam’s career until his tragic passing in 1969. That album is now considered by many to be his masterpiece; as above, “All Your Love” was the first track recorded, and captures the pent-up intensity and power of Sam and his band.
Like Magic Sam, Otis Rush had early success in the 1950s with Cobra, and is now recognized as the embodiment of the ‘West Side’ blues style. Here Rush revisits one of his Cobra classics, stretching out on guitar in a way that wasn’t possible on the original 1950s release of “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” from Cold Day In Hell.
Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins was another exponent of Chica-go’s West Side blues sound. An aggressive and fiery guitarist, he’d been active both as a leader and a sideman from the late 1950s. For his second Delmark album, 1971’s All For Business, Dawkins recruited an amazing lineup including frequent collaborator Andrew “Big Voice” Odom on vocals and Otis Rush on second guitar.
Dinah Washington was one of the most popular singers of the 1940s and ‘50s, dubbing herself “Queen of The Blues”. Her 1945 L.A. recording sessions for Apollo Records with Lucky Thompson and His All Stars featuring jazz greats Milt Jackson and Charlie Mingus are among her bluesiest; these were released by Delmark on Mellow Mama. “Blues For A Day” showcases her at her sultry best.
To say that T-Bone Walker may be the most important blues guitarist of the 20th century is hardly an exaggeration. His influence can be heard in almost every electric blues guitar player who came along after him. The 1968 recordings for the I Want A Little Girl album find him at his tasteful and elegant best, proving that he hadn’t lost a step since his groundbreaking days in the 1940s and ‘50s. Those sessions took place in Paris, France, for Jean-Marie Monestier’s Black & Blues label.
“Big Time Sarah” Streeter was a singer who could rock the house with the best of them. She could often be found tending bar at B.L.U.E.S in Chicago, taking in live blues every night, coming out from behind the bar to join the band onstage for a number or two when the spirit moved her. She was mentored by the great pianist Sunnyland Slim, whom she name-checks in “Long Tall Daddy” from her second Delmark release Blues In The Year One-D-One.
Little Walter Jacobs is widely revered as the most influential harmonica player in blues history. His earliest records reveal both a strong debt to his idol John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, and his own restless and adventurous nature, as he forged a new language for blues harmonica. His January 1950 session featuring Muddy Waters and Baby Face Leroy Foster find him with one eye on the past and the other looking forward, as he revs up the band with a charging remake of his very first recording from 1947, “Just Keep Loving Her”, featured on the Delmark collection The Blues World Of Little Walter. The sessions were recorded for Chord, a subsidiary of Parkway Records. The production notes on file at Delmark archives say that “the sessions took place in a church or a warehouse in the South Side of Chicago”.
Pianist and singer Memphis Slim made dozens of seminal blues recordings before settling in France in the 1960s and becoming a de facto blues ambassador. Among his very best are the records he made in the 1950s featuring the fleet-fingered Matt “Guitar” Murphy (later of Blues Brothers fame); “Memphis Slim, U.S.A.” from 1954 is from his Delmark release of the same name.
Jimmy Johnson wraps up this collection with his original tune “Ashes in My Ashtray” from his 1979 Delmark release Johnson’s Whacks. Johnson was active on the Chicago music scene for a number of years before this, his debut LP, and the impressive stack of original and well-polished songs he brought to the session have made the album a modern blues classic. Jimmy, who passed in 2021, left this world on a high note with his highly praised last album for Delmark: Every Day of Your Life.
Stay tuned for more amazing music from the label’s vaults as we enter the next seventy years! — SCOTT DIRKS
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Delmark Records 70th Anniversary Blues Album
Anthology selected by Delmark’s Artistic Director Elbio Barilari.
JUNIOR WELLS featuring BUDDY GUY – SNATCH IT BACK AND HOLD IT (2:53)
MAGIC SAM – ALL OF YOUR LOVE (3:62)
OTIS RUSH – ALL YOUR LOVE ( I MISS LOVING ) (6:39)
JIMMY DAWKINS with BIG VOICE ODOM and OTIS RUSH – ALL FOR BUSINESS (4:40)
DINAH WASHINGTON with LUCKY THOMPSON and HIS ALL STARS – BLUES FOR A DAY (2:54)
T-BONE WALKER – I WANT A LITT LE GIRL (5:07)
BIG TIME SARAH – LONG TALL DADDY (4:56)
LITTLE WALTER with MUDDY WATERS – I JUST KEEP LOVING HER (2:56)
MEMPHIS SLIM with MATT “GUITAR” MURPHY – MEMPHIS SLIM U.S.A. (2:58)
JIMMY JOHNSON – ASHES IN MY ASHTRAY (4:33)