Detroit Blues: The Early 1950s

Detroit Blues
Detroit Blues: The Early 1950s

Like Chicago, Detroit saw an influx of Southern African-Americans in the post-war years who moved there to try to get work in the booming automobile industry. And, of course, they brought the blues with them. But Detroit’s blues scene was overshadowed by both the Chicago blues scene and the Motown sound that sprung up in the 60s. John Lee Hooker was the only Detroit bluesman to reach the top tier of blues superstars, but there were plenty of other artists that did good work during that era. This compilation was put out by Arhoolie Records in 1966 to document the Detroit sound & scene, which was already in decline at that point. The fidelity isn’t great, as this is vinyl rip of a compilation from ’66 that was taken from tracks originally recorded in the 40s and 50s. Sometimes there’s two layers of static, one from my rip and one from the original master. Still, everything is listenable and the great music comes through.

Baby Boy Warren’s four tracks are all good, if a bit conventional. Dr. Ross was originally from Memphis and cut a few sides for Sun before moving to Detroit. He was also a one man band, handling guitar, harmonica and vocals, which gives him a unique sound. Bobo Jenkins is Detroit blues legend, who helped keep it alive during the post-Motown era. Eddie Kirkland was born in Jamaica, but there’s no reggae in his sound. Just raw as hell electric blues.

On side two, things start off with blues pianist Detroit Count’s two part single from ’48, “Hastings Street Opera”, which recounts all the rough bars and lounges along Hastings Street, the center of black culture in Detroit. These two cuts are classics and totally essential. L.C. Green’s track is gritty and has more of a Delta feel to it. Big Maceo, who died in ’53, lived in both Detroit & Chicago and was key in the development of blues in both cities. You know who John Lee Hooker is. “I Need $100” by One String Sam is one of the weirdest blues tracks I’ve ever heard. In 1956, One String Sam recorded two tracks, this one and “My Baby Ooo”. He played a one stringed instrument he built himself that he fretted with a baby food jar. It’s an eerie and unforgettable take on country blues. “Alabama Bus” is about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and is a piano blues with very interesting percussion. It sounds like broken cymbals or something. Very strange. I don’t know anything about Brother Will Hairston, but this track is great.

1 Baby Boy Warren – Sanafee
2 Baby Boy Warren – Babie Boy Blues
3 Baby Boy Warren – Mattie Mae
4 Baby Boy Warren – Chicken
5 Dr. Ross – Thirty Two Twenty
6 Bobo Jenkins – 10 Below Zero
7 Bobo Jenkins – Baby Don’t You Want to Go
8 Eddie Kirkland – No Shoes
9 Detroit Count – Hastings Street Opera pt. 1
10 Detroit Count – Hastings Street Opera pt. 2
11 L. C. Green – Remember Way Back
12 Big Maceo – Big City Blues
13 John Lee Hooker – House Rent Boogie
14 One String Sam – I Need $100
15 Brother Will Hairston – Alabama Bus

Rate Your Music

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *