Tampa Red’s later recordings for RCA Victor (1945-53) have never been officially reissued on CD and rarely on LP, yet are a crucial element in the post-war blues canon. Many of his songs were covered by B.B. King, Muddy Waters and other top bluesmen. Features the majestic piano of latter-day Elmore James sideman, Little Johnnie Jones, and includes the harmonica of Big Walter “Shakey” Horton and Sonny Boy Williamson II.
“The Unsung King Of The Blues” is an appropriate subtitle for this double CD release as Tampa Red was one of the most prolific and influential artists of his era. He recorded successfully for about 20 years for Bluebird and then RCA Victor, with many of his songs having entered the repertoires of B.B. King, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and others, yet his significance in the post-World War II years has often failed to be acknowledged by the blues cognoscenti. My own introduction came in 1965 when I purchased a wonderful Tampa Red UK RCA EP compiled by Blue Horizon’s Mike Vernon which, along with one featuring Champion Jack Dupree, was the most exciting volume in a cherished brief Rhythm & Blues series. It comprised four tracks from 1953 and it is recordings from these sessions that open this compilation. Collectors will be delighted at the inclusion of the unissued ‘If I Don’t Find Another True Love’ from the second session, and the vaults provided a real bonus in the shape of a different and superior stomping take of ‘Evalena’ from that used on the RCA EP. Here, accompanists Walter “Shakey” Horton on harmonica, Willie Lacey (a personal favourite) on guitar and the gloriously gifted Little Johnnie Jones on piano each take exciting solos. Horton had replaced Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) whose playing embellished the tracks at the first 1953 session. These names, along with that of Tampa himself, should be more than enough to whet the blues appetite, but there’s much more to relish.
The music broadly divides into three segments. There are 12 tracks from Tampa’s vaunted partnership with the vibrant pianist Big Maceo, 1941-46, which include two charming Leroy Carr-type unissued recordings from 1942. In addition there is Maceo’s own ‘Texas Stomp’ with Tampa driving mightily on guitar. Then come five tracks from two jump-blues sessions held in 1947 which saw Tampa accompanied by bigger bands including saxes – these really swing, with ‘Keep Jumping’ being a potential jitterbug dancefloor filler. The remainder and majority of the compilation comprises recordings from Tampa Red’s great musical association with Little Johnnie Jones, which kicked off in 1949 and ran through to 1953. Words cannot describe the magnificence of this body of work – Jones is superb throughout, marrying perfectly with Tampa’s subtle vocals and delicate guitar work. It is worth noting that Jones and another Tampa accompanist, drummer Odie Payne, became the core of Elmore James’ Broomdusters.
The tracks here have never sounded better, having been taken from master tapes and original metalwork, whilst the profusely illustrated booklet is furnished with notes by Jim O’Neal, co-founder of Living Blues magazine who interviewed Tampa Red in his twilight years, and an introduction by project supervisor John Broven describes the background to this important release.
Tampa Red left a fine legacy of recordings in the post-war part of his long musical career which has been largely overlooked in previous legitimate reissue programmes. This captivating compilation, which is in reverse chronological order to highlight the later mainly-un-reissued tracks, should redress this shortcoming and place Tampa Red’s name alongside the blues greats from the golden era.
(Juke Blues Magazine)