Detroit is famous for many things, usually cars and Tamla Motown, but the blues is not one of them. It can claim to be the home and work place of John Lee Hooker for a time, but for the most part interest in the blues went to its larger rival, Chicago.
As a result, the Detroit blues story features a litany of talented but lesser-known musicians such as Eddie Kirkland, Eddie Burns, Little Sonny and the artist reviewed here – Baby Boy Warren. Even now, little is published about the Detroit blues scene and the Detroit sound (different in subtle ways from the Chicago blues) has gone unnoticed. The key differences between Chicago and Detroit blues were largely due to choices of amplification and the use of more bass and piano in Detroit.
Baby Boy Warren’s library is not extensive and the quality of what exists is good but not great. But that is not surprising as most were recorded in small record-store studios, as was the nature of the recording industry in Detroit at that time.
This CD features a collection of 7” and 10” recordings that Warren made for different labels at the height of his career. However, the height of his career never transcended his home town and (the epicentre of the black music industry in Detroit) Hastings Street.
He was frequently accompanied on his recordings by local musicians Charlie Mills or Boogie Woogie Red on piano. Occasionally, a bigger name would drop into town and here we have Sonny Boy Williamson featured on a couple of tracks (Sanafee and Chuc-A-Luck) to great effect.
It is said that Warren’s song structure owes a strong debt to Robert Johnson in terms of dark humour and wit. The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings describes him as having brought “a hip, literate humour to the blues lyric”. His voice is strong and carries conviction. The music paints a vivid picture of life – good and bad – in the ghettos of Detroit.
This collection suggests that Warren was not limited by talent but by geography and opportunity. This release is significant and will allow more blues fans to discover one of the Detroit blues most important but unsung heroes. Highly recommended.
My Special Friend Blues; Nervy Woman Blues; Lonesome Cabin Blues; Don’t Want No Skinny Woman; Forgive Me Darling; Please Don’t think I’m Nosey; I Got Lucky; Let’s Renew Our Love; Taxi Driver; Bad Lover Blues; Sanafee; Hello Stranger; Chicken; Baby Boy’s Blues; Mattie Mae; Santa Fe; Somebody Put Bad Luck On Me; Stop Breakin’ Down; Not Welcome Any More; Chuc-A-Luck (57.09)
Robert “Baby Boy’ Warren (v, g); Sonny Boy Williamson (hca); Calvin Frazier, Little George Jackson (g); Boogie Woogie Red (p); Curtis Foster (d); Washboard Willie (wbd); Johnny Hooks (ts) among others. Detroit, Michigan, USA, 1950 -1962.
Soul Jam Records 806192