Some 20 years ago I went with my friend, archivist and researcher Ray Topping, to his place of employment at Ace Records, where he marched me into Ted Carroll’s office to propose a three-CD series by Pee Wee Crayton, a hero and friend to Ray and myself. “The Modern Legacy Volume 1” and “Volume 2” followed in fairly short order, but no third volume appeared before Ray’s death in 2009. Now, instigated by Roger Armstrong, Ace is mining the Modern vaults to complete the trilogy with “Texas Blues Jumpin’ In Los Angeles”, intended in part as a memorial to Ray, who brought more of Pee Wee’s vintage output to light than anyone else among his contributions to our knowledge of recorded blues.
The CD is also a tribute to two other people. Pee Wee was one of the first blues artists to be really kind to me, in 1970, by which time I was already immersed in his music, and we had a happy mutual admiration society until his death in 1985. He felt he’d gotten short shrift from history, so the chance to honour his memory and legacy and confirm all the things that make him worthy is an extra special privilege and joy. And Pee Wee’s widow Esther remains devoted to Pee Wee, a bulwark for her family and preparer of the most legendary lemon cake in Los Angeles. She showed me a few years ago that she carries the letter I wrote to Pee Wee after seeing him at the Chicago Blues Festival less than two weeks before his death. Esther was a huge blessing to Pee Wee as a companion, songwriter and even vocal partner on their Pee Wee & Esther 45. This project is in no small part for her. Pee Wee and Esther valued Ray very highly, so it’s fitting to bring them together one more time.
So here we are in 2014, the original vision realised by Ace. But this may not end here. A few more of Pee Wee’s out-takes merit digital issue, as do his 1960s Modern session and the Dolphin masters controlled by Ace, including more nice out-takes. Someday those and possibly other material could lead to a “Volume 4”. Meanwhile, savour a fascinating and enjoyable glimpse back in time to a crucial point in the development of electric blues guitar by a pioneer and into the studio process.
By Dick Shurman