It’s sad that we have to temper the release of a prestige project, such as this one, with the news that one of its featured artists, Joe Weaver, died just days before its release. Weaver was one of the true greats of the pre-Motown R&B scene in 1950s Detroit , one of the many unsung heroes that helped to pave the way for all who followed. It’s wonderful to report that he died not in obscurity, but in the full knowledge that his pioneering works were recognised as such by all fans of 1950s R&B, and specifically of those whose passion is the music that emanated from Detroit in the post WWII years.
Weaver was one of many artists whose talents were originally nurtured by Detroit record man Joe Von Battle. Recording his sessions from within a cluttered record shop on Detroit’s Hastings Street, Von Battle was a magnet for most of the Motor City’s raw blues and R&B talent, including such notables as John Lee Hooker, as well as all the names featured on BATTLE OF HASTINGS – Ace’s first dip into the masters that Von Battle sold to King Records during the early 1950s, in the hope that they would release them and come back for more.
From its Cincinnati base, King would sometimes acquire masters from Detroit-based producers who had limited means of exploiting the masters themselves. It is the Joe Von Battle masters that have most intrigued and excited collectors for decades – if only because so many of them were not originally selected for release by King’s Syd Nathan and his A&R managers, due to what can only be described as their ‘no-fi’ sound quality.
A vinyl version of this CD was originally mooted as long ago as 1974, which proves that good things do eventually come to those who wait! Among those good things are the bulk of the Joe Weaver session, highlighted by the incredible Dust My Broom-alike I Got The Blues For My Baby and a moody Fats Domino-styled I’m So Lonesome, neither previously issued for what can only be technical reasons. We’re also pleased to include all of the session by Ike Turner acolyte Johnny Wright, including his two sequels to one side of his sole DeLuxe 45 I Stayed Down. There’s also a rare chance to enjoy Robert Richard’s erroneously titled Wigwam Woman without it sounding like it was recorded off the radio in the middle of an electrical storm – plus the recently-discovered , previously unissued harmonica solo version of New York Central. Richard’s brother Howard also crops up as the vocalist on two of the four tracks from the session by the mysterious “James Walton”, with Walton himself presumably taking the other two. The equally obscure Johnny Howard is given a brief representation by one of only two issued tracks from his JVB session, the grandiosely-worded Vacation Blues.
Sometime Hooker sparring partners Eddie Burns and Eddie Kirkland are also represented by the fruits of their sole DeLuxe and King sessions respectively. (Kirkland was actually recorded in Cincy, by King A&R man Henry Glover, but his session is pure Detroit blues.) As far as I am aware, none of this material has ever been reissued in the CD era, which makes purchase all the more mandatory from a blues fan’s perspective!
Joe Von Battle’s approach to ‘producing’ may have amounted to little more than turning the tape machine on and off but, in his ramshackle way, he preserved some of the greatest blues and R&B (not to mention gospel) that ever found its way into a tape vault. Happily the demand for Deroit blues suggests that the next volume in this series will not be 32 years in the making. Indeed, since putting this project to bed, Peter Gibbon and I have been able to locate the original acetates for King’s Baby Boy Warren, and some of the Walter Mitchell masters which we hope to feature on Vol 2.
By Tony Rounce