Raw-To-The-Core Downhome blues, straight from the streets of 1940s Detroit - Truly sensation-al! By Tony Rounce No matter how much new information continues to come to light about Post-WW II blues, there are some things - and some artists - that seem destined to remain terminally obscure.
It's now been 55 years since Detroit music entrepreneur Bernard Besman recorded the acoustic down-home blues of Sylvester Cotton and Andrew Dunham in the wake of his massive success, via Jules and Saul Bihari's Modern Records, with the early productions of John Lee Hooker. Cotton and Dunham were acolytes, and probably even friends, of John Lee. Both men also recorded in a style not too far removed from Hooker's. But unlike the repertoire of their noted associate, who went on to a worldwide fame that needs no further documentation here, the material that both men recorded for Besman seems to be the sum total of their respective catalogues.
Both men actually managed just one contemporaneous release on Sensation - in fact Cotton managed one and a half, being deliberately miscredited as John Lee Hooker on his one other issued master on Modern, which had also reissued his sole Sensation 78 - although both had recorded a sizeable chunk of repertoire that remained unissued until the mid 1980s. Both vanished back into obscurity as soon as their association with Besman was over, and neither has been rediscovered or interviewed in the interim. Indeed, not a single new fact about either has been uncovered since respected blues writer Chris Smith - whose updated annotation graces the pages of Blues Sensation" - annotated the first vinyl issues of this material back in 1984!
It's not unreasonable to assume that both Cotton and Dunham have probably long since joined their former running mate JLH in the Great Blues Jam In the Sky - but nobody seems to know for sure. Fortunately Bernard Besman had the foresight to preserve the acetates for almost everything he recorded. It's thanks to this that, via the exceptional CD that is BLUES SENSATION, we are able to enjoy almost a full 80 minutes of raw-to-the-core, one-man-and-his-guitar Detroit down-homery for the first time in a long time, and in the kind of sound quality that hasn't been heard since the masters were originally recorded.
The 19 Sylvester Cotton sides were cut to acetate in a professional studio (probably United in downtown Detroit), and include at least one take of everything he recorded for Besman - several of which have never been released prior to this CD. Andrew Dunham also had at least one studio session with Besman - the results of which will be issued on an Ace Detroit Blues compilation, hopefully in late 2004 - but his four solo sides here were recorded on now-decaying, at-least 3rd-hand tape under less than desirable conditions, and thus were not easy for the Soundmastering guys to work with. Under the circumstances, we think you'll agree they have done a spectacular job of restoration - particularly of the unique one chord thrash She Don't Walk, which was assembled from a performance that was both punctuated by leakage from what was previously on the tape, and was in three pieces that didn't connect without some judicious editing!
Dunham is also joined on two of his sides by an individual, whom previous releases of some of this material have identified only as "Taylor" and who would appear to be James Taylor (no, not THAT one!), an older associate of Cotton, Dunham and Hooker whose only recordings the two versions of Little Bitty Woman would seem to be. Again, if you want obscure, you've come to the right place.
For everything we don't know about the bluesmen featured here, one thing we do know for sure is that each man's individual approach to Northern blues, Southern style deserved to be recorded. We must therefore be eternally grateful to the late Bernie Besman that, in his search to find the next Hooker, he took the time and trouble to capture and preserve these fabulous primitive performances. The vast archive of blues music would be considerably the poorer without them."