Various: Matchbox Bluesmaster Series Set 8

The eighth set in the epic Bluesmaster series features such as Furry Lewis, Little Brother Montgomery and Viola Wells across six CDs


Set 7 was meant to be the last of the current series, so you can imagine my delight when Set 8 dropped through the door. Titled “Big Road Blues” and subtitled “1966-1972: The Tradition Continues”, the collection is more focused on individual artists than styles or themes.

Matchbox played an important role in the 60s British blues boom and this set is devoted to recordings made in the USA between 1966 and 1972 of singers in the classic blues tradition. One album, Big Road Blues, has had to wait for 50 years to be released.

Disc 1 features songs recorded in 1968 by historian Karl Gert zur Heide at Furry Lewis’s home in Memphis. Fame never found Lewis, who performed mainly at house parties, fish fries and in the streets. There was no spectacular Furry Lewis discovery, despite the name drop from Joni Mitchell in her song Furry Sings The Blues. These are simple, but traditional, vocal and guitar songs. Lewis was an old-fashioned professional entertainer but a genuine bluesman who knew how to perform.

Disc 2 features the piano playing of Little Brother Montgomery. Often tagged as the last of the great barrelhouse men, he was so much more in terms of style and versatility. Montgomery was another natural musician who learned his trade in the hard world of the working musician. According to Derrick Stewart-Baxter, “in his blues can be heard the melodic charm of his ballads; conversely, in his ballads (or most of them) can be heard the call of the blues”. The disc also features vocals from Little Brother’s wife, Jan Montgomery.

Disc 3 features the songs of Tommy Johnson, albeit performed by several different musicians; they were at one time part of his repertoire. Johnson died before he could be rediscovered in the blues revival of the 60s, having recorded only 12 songs between 1928 and 1930. Johnson lived a colourful life which spanned almost the entire history of the development of folk blues. This disc was originally released in 1972 and features artists such as Isaac Youngblood, Mager Johnson and Boogie Bill Webb. The 60s rock band Canned Heat were named after one of Johnson’s songs and Big Road Blues was recorded by several white artists, including Alexis Korner and John Sebastian.

Disc 4 contains field recordings made between 1966 and 1971 and was intended to be released by Saydisc in 1972 as an album to accompany the book Big Road Blues, edited by Paul Oliver. The publishers went out of business before the book could be published and the album was never released. The music features authentic folk blues and was recorded in the homes of the musicians in the American South. It is uninfluenced by commercial considerations and feels less self-conscious and inhibited as a result.

Disc 5 presents a collection of four outstanding singers (Scott Dunbar, James Thomas, Lee Kizart and Lovey Williams) who, in 1968, were still very much part of the Mississippi blues tradition, although their styles differ radically. The recordings were compiled by William Ferris to accompany his book, Blues From The Delta.

Disc 6 is a collection of songs by Viola Wells (a.k.a. Miss Rhapsody). Wells is famed for extracting a needle from a prostrate Billie Holiday and getting her back on stage to perform. Before singing a perfect set, Holiday whispered a husky dedication to “Miss Rhapsody”. Benny Carter said she was the greatest blues singer in America in the 40s and saxophonist Jimmy Lunceford said she was “a cross between Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday but Billie never had as much voice as she has, and Ella will never have her personality”. Although Wells retired in 1946, this set was recorded in New York in 1972 and was her first major recording for over 25 years. This is a fabulous set of classics (including Down Hearted Blues, How Great Thou Art and See See Rider) and is a fitting testimony to the vocal talent of this lesser-known artist.

Once again, Saydisc have surpassed themselves with this latest release from the Bluesmaster Series and I sincerely hope that Set 9 is currently in the planning.

CD1: Furry Lewis In Memphis (51.30)
CD2: Home Again – Little Brother Montgomery (44.15)
CD3: The Legacy Of Tommy Johnson (42.56)
CD4: Big Road Blues (45.55)
CD5: Blues From The Delta (36.36)
CD6: Viola Wells: Miss Rhapsody (41.59)
CD1: Furry Lewis (v, g). Memphis, Tennessee, 6 September 1968.
CD2: Little Brother Montgomery (p); Jan Montgomery (v). No recording details given.
CD3: Isacc Youngblood, Mager Johnson, Arzo Youngblood, John Henry “Bubba” Brown, Boogie Bill Webb, Houston Stackhouse, Babe Stovall (v, g); Roosevelt Holts (g). No recording details given.
CD4: Mott Willis, Robert Johnson, Isaac Youngblood, Willis Tatlor, Cary Lee Simmons (v, g). Field recordings from Mississippi and Louisiana, 1966-1971.
CD5: James “Son” Thomas, Scott Dunbar, Lovey Williams (v, g); Lee Kizart (v, p). Various locations, summer 1968.
CD6: Viola Wells (v); Reuben Jay Cole, Grace Gregory (p); Eddie Wright (g); Danny Gibson (d); Ivan Rolle (b). New York, 22 April 1972.
Matchbox MSESET8