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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Four Departures and a Return

It Has Been a Sad, Sad Month So Far
Homesick James Passes: Chicago blues legend Homesick James Williamson passed away Wednesday, December 13, at 11:15pm. He was in his mid-90s, but his own accounts of his age varied. He passed away resting comfortably in his home in Springfield, Missouri. Funeral arrangements will be made by his family, and the funeral will take place on Saturday, December 23 in Covington, Tennessee. Williamson was playing guitar at age ten and soon ran away from his Tennessee home to play at fish fries and dances. His travels took the him through Mississippi and North Carolina during the 1920s, where he crossed paths with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller, and Big Joe Williams. Settling in Chicago during the 1930s, Williamson played local clubs and recorded for RCA Victor in 1937. Williamson made some of his finest recordings in 1952-53 for Art Sheridan's Chance Records (including the classic "Homesick" that gave him his enduring stage name). James also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson in 1945 at a Chicago gin joint called the Purple Cat and during the 1950s with his cousin, slide master Elmore James (to whom Homesick is stylistically indebted). He also recorded with James during the 1950s. Homesick's own output included some singles for Colt and USA in 1962, a fine 1964 album for Prestige, and four tracks on a Vanguard anthology in 1965. He also recorded a CD for Michael Frank's Earwig Records around 1994, "Goin' Back in the Times." I think there were other CD's in the 1990's, but I don't have a full discography.

Ahmet Ertegun Passes: Ahmet Ertegun, founder and A&R man for Atlantic Records, passed in New York City on December 14 at age 83. He and his label were singlehandedly responsible for recording some of the greatest stars of the blues, such as Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, and LaVern Baker. He also was a giant in the world of soul and rock, signing acts ranging from Aretha Franklin to Led Zeppelin. Here is a link to his New York Times obituary.

Tina Mayfield Passes: Word just came in that Tina Mayfield passed away this week. Tina was the wife of Percy Mayfield, and also looked after Lowell Fulson after Lowell's wife Sadie passed on. Tina was very outgoing and supportive of the blues and remained an easily accessible public figure, especially in California, until the last few years when cancer took its toll on her health.

Jay McShann Passes: Blues and jazz piano legend JayMcShann passed away on December 7, 2006. He was 90 years old. Jay was famous for hiring a young alto saxophonist to play in his Kansas City-based big band. The kid's name was Charlie Parker.

The Return of Sugar Blue: A blues crony of mine spotted a very rare sight in Chicago this past weekend. Sugar Blue (real name - James Whiting) was in attendance at Rosa's Lounge last Saturday night celebrating his birthday. He sat in with Jimmy Johnson, who was booked for the gig that night. Sugar Blue is a unique harmonica player - he is a speed demon with loads of technique. He now resides in Europe. Sugar Blue had his 15 minutes of international fame when he was a sideman for the Rolling Stones (that's Sugar blowing the harp on the Stones' tune "Miss You."). Sugar Blue is in Chicago for a week to record a new self-produced CD. To keep track of Mr. Blue's travels go to or

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