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The gathering of four giants of the blues into one recording studio isn't something that happens very often, if it all. Then take into account that each major geographical region of the blues was represented by those four individuals, and the odds of it happening even once get exponentially smaller. But that's exactly what happened on July 6th, 1960, when Lightnin' Hopkins (from Texas), Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (representing the East Coast Piedmont tradition), and Big Joe Williams (the Mississippi Delta) were all brought together in a Los Angeles studio to record an album, Down South Summit Meetin'.
It was an opportunity of sheer fate -- Sonny and Brownie were finishing up an engagement at the Ash Grove, and Big Joe Williams, an intrepid wanderer, was there to take over for them. Lightnin' Hopkins, who rarely enjoyed leaving the confines of his beloved Houston, was passing through town on his way to a music festival. Rehearsals were held one evening, and studio time was booked the following day. And while you would think that blues artists from three very different genres would have trouble connecting with one another musically, actually, quite the opposite happened. Something clicked, and after a few uneasy moments and a few missed guitar chords here and there, the musical magic that the four of them made was captured on tape, with a fine LP resulting.
After completing six titles that make up Down South Summit Meetin' on the World Pacific label, further recordings were made, but quite curiously, no one seems to remember making them. Whether they were recorded live at the Ash Grove, or were further studio recordings made the same day, no one knows. Nevertheless, the magic continued, and by the time it was all over, nearly a dozen titles were captured (some have theorized that the audience applause heard on these additional recordings was overdubbed at a later date).
On this episode of Blues Unlimited, we hear classic selections from these one-of-a-kind, historic recordings (it was an experiment, sadly, that was never repeated), along with a few tracks from two of our other favorite LPs of the Blues Revival period — Mississippi Blues by Bukka White on the Takoma label, and I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll, by Mississippi Fred McDowell, issued by Capitol in 1969.
Bukka White's recordings for Mississippi Blues were made in 1963 after two enthusiasts, Ed Denson and John Fahey, sent a postcard to Bukka's old home town of Aberdeen, Mississippi, saying that they were looking for him. Simply addressed to "Bukka White - Old Blues Singer c/o General Delivery," the postcard was eventually forwarded to him in Memphis, and when the three of them connected, Denson and Fahey eagerly drove from their home in Washington, D.C., to Memphis, making them the first people to record Bukka White in the "rediscovery" period. The resulting album also became the very first issue on the now-famous Takoma label.
I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll, Fred McDowell's classic on the Capitol label, was made by Wolf Stephenson and Tommy Couch — if those names sound familiar it's because they're the founders of the Malaco record label — who brought him down to their studio in Jackson one day in September 1969. Fred was sporting an electric guitar now, instead of his old acoustic one, and all the haunting, biting, and stinging qualities in his slide guitar playing were only amplified along with it. Something in the record clicked with the music buying public, and it went on to become the biggest seller in Fred's career.
Together, these three LPs -- Down South Summit Meetin' by Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Big Joe Williams -- Mississippi Blues, by Bukka White -- and I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll by Mississippi Fred McDowell -- represent three high points of the rediscovery period, and we're proud to present them on this episode of Blues Unlimited.
To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/ychs6rgl
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