|J.B. Hutto & his New Hawks 22-Jul-79|
Found in my BluesMobile
J.B. Hutto -- along with Hound Dog Taylor -- was one of the last great slide guitar disciples of Elmore James to make it into the modern age. Hutto's huge voice, largely incomprehensible diction, and slash-and-burn playing was Chicago blues with a fierce, raw edge all its own. He entered the world of music back home in Augusta, GA, singing in the family-oriented group the Golden Crowns Gospel Singers. He came north to Chicago in the mid-'40s, teaching himself guitar and eventually landing his first paying job as a member of Johnny Ferguson & His Twisters. His recording career started in 1954 with two sessions for the Chance label supported by his original combo the Hawks (featuring George Mayweather on harmonica, Porkchop Hines on washboard traps, and Joe Custom on rhythm guitar), resulting in six of the nine songs recorded being issued as singles to scant acclaim.
After breaking up the original band, Hutto worked outside of music for a good decade, part of it spent sweeping out a funeral parlor! He resurfaced around 1964 with a stripped-down version of the Hawks with two guitars and drums but no bass, working regularly at Turner's Blue Lounge and recording blistering new sides for the first time in as many years.
From there, he never looked back and once again became a full-time bluesman. For the next 12 years Hutto gigged and recorded with various groups of musicians -- always billed as the Hawks -- working with electric bass players for the first time and recording for small labels, both in the U.S. and overseas. After fellow slide man Hound Dog Taylor's death in 1976, J.B. "inherited" his backup band, the Houserockers. Although never formally recorded in a studio, this short-lived collaboration of Hutto with guitarist Brewer Phillips and drummer Ted Harvey produced live shows that would musically careen in a single performance from smolderingly intense to utter chaos. Within a year, Hutto would be lured to Boston, where he put together a mixed group of "New Hawks," recording and touring America and Europe right up until his death in the mid-'80s.
Hutto was an incredibly dynamic live performer, dressed in hot pink suits with headgear ranging from a shriner's fez to high-plains drifters' hats, snaking through the crowd and dancing on tabletops with his 50-foot guitar cord stretched to the max. And this good-time approach to the music held sway on his recordings as well, giving a loose, barroom feel to almost all of them, regardless of who was backing him.
Something made me think about J.B. Hutto a few weeks ago, and I was prompted to start replacing my old vinyl J.B. records with CDs, which you can get directly from Delmark Records, or through Amazon, and others.
I started with Keeper of the Flame, because it has one of my all-time favorites, “You Don’t Love Me,” as the leadoff track. Also, half of the disc was recorded live, which is great, because a studio recording could never capture this great guitarist’s wild live performances – he would regularly take extended walks, often on tabletops or right down the bar, using a really long guitar cord.
A particularly fond memory I have is of him at the old Jonathan Swift’s in Harvard Square, where he would actually leap from table to table, across about two feet of aisle, while playing incredible guitar solos. And then, usually at the end of a set, he would make his way back to the stage, but not before handing off his guitar to a delighted audience member.
I waited and hoped, for years, to be that lucky fan. It finally happened, in an odd setting: a bright summer day in a field off a beach somewhere near Ogunquit, Maine, (I think. It was definitely Maine or Coastal New Hampshire,) in the early 1980s.
NOTE: I just found an old photo taken that day. It was at Cape Neddick, Maine, in 1981. I wish I knew how to scan the photo, which I used in a photography course, to show you folks. Another thing Hutto was known for were his outrageous outfits, especially the hats (he’s in a bright yellow sort of puffy train conductor hat on my new CD’s cover,) In my photo, he’s wearing a relatively normal-looking fedora, but has a chain with a large owl pendant hanging from it.
Another endearing facet of Hutto was the way his vocals were pretty much incomprehensible. I still can’t sing along with most of them. (“What did he say??”)
|J.B. Hutto Airline Guitar 1958|
But back to Hutto. I recently found out he was around Boston so much at that time because he actually moved here in the late 1970s, after a live performance from Boston's famed Tea Party was recorded. In Boston, he pieced together a new version of his band, which were always called The Hawks, and later, the New Hawks.
So where had he come here from?
I did a little research on his earlier life, and put together the following, from a great blues biographical dictionary called “Blues Who’s Who” by Sheldon Harris. (It was published in 1979, and may be out of print.) Some of the material also comes from a 2001 article from Blues Notes by Greg Johnson.
Hutto was born on a farm in Blackwell, South Carolina, as Joseph Benjamin Hutto, on April 26, 1926. One of 12 children, some sources claim that he was born in Augusta, Georgia, but his family moved there when young Joseph was three years old. His father was a deacon at a local church.
It was in Augusta that he first came into contact with music, teamed with three brothers and three sisters in a family group known as The Golden Crown Gospel Singers, which worked in area churches. But J.B claimed he never had any true desire to perform musically until after his family relocated to Chicago, in the 1940s, following the death of his father.
Once in Chicago, Hutto took up both the piano and drums. He also heard blues for the first time and, by the mid-1940s, he was working professionally with local bluesman, Johnny Ferguson and his band, The Twisters. At the time he was the band's drummer and occasional vocalist. He started to develop an interest in the guitar and would practice, using Ferguson's guitar, between sets. He also began to frequently perform at the city's famed open-air market on Maxwell Street on weekends, often working as a guitarist with the one-man band Porkchop, AKA Eddie Hines.
In 1950, J.B. met Elmore James and quickly became entranced by James' bottleneck style. He began to follow him whenever he could and studied his method of playing and singing. From the outset of teaching himself to play guitar, Hutto had always used an electric. But, after hearing James, his work would only consist of slide-playing thereafter. His style, like many other blues superstars, is considered electrified Delta slide blues.
Hutto, who was also influenced by T-Bone Walker, Robert Nighthawk, and Muddy Waters, formed a band in the early 1950s with himself as guitarist/vocalist, Porkchop on washboard, Joe Custom on second guitar and George Mayweather on harmonica. They were the first Hawks, and were given the opportunity to record for Chess' subsidiary label, Chance, in 1954, holding two sessions that resulted in a total of nine numbers.
But the public reception was only minor, perhaps mostly due to the ever-changing taste of the buying public at the time.
It was the death of his mentor, Elmore James, in 1963 that first made Hutto think about playing again, and he returned the following year. He put together a new gathering of Hawks, including drummer Frank Kirkland and bass player Herman Hassell, also frequently working with Johnny Young and Big Walter Horton. The group soon became the house band for Turner’s Blues Lounge in Chicago, and Hutto released an album, Master Of Modern Blues, in 1966 for Testament Records, which featured Young, Horton, bassist Lee Jackson and drummer Fred Below, who also played with Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf.
In 1967, Delmark released the milestone compilation, Chicago/The Blues/Today! It prominently showcased J.B. Hutto and the Hawks on five cuts, considered by many to be some of the premier pieces of his career. Delmark responded to the popularity of this album by releasing Hutto’s first full-length solo disc the next year, the brilliant masterpiece Hawk Squad. Over the next 16 years, Hutton recorded with a variety of labels that would include JSP, Varrick and Wolf, releasing classic recordings such as 1973's, Slidewinder, and 1983's, Slippin' & Slidin.
Hutto’s good friend Hound Dog Taylor, died in 1975 and it was J.B’s fortune to inherit Taylor’s band, The Houserockers. (This was the only time during Hutto’s career where he performed with a backing unit called anything other than The Hawks.) The band never truly gelled as a group, however, and did not record.
After Hutto’s death, his popularity – he was one of the largest-drawing bluesmen at the time - was obvious by his induction into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame just two years after his death.
So, I guess I’ve got to keep on replacing those old J.B. records with CDs. And you younger folks who didn’t have the opportunity to see him live should check out those old discs, too.
By the way, the liner notes on the Keeper of the Flame disc were written by Cambridge’s own “Stereo Jack” Woker, who if memory has not faded away completely, owned “Cheapo Records” in Central Square, Cambridge.
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Blues guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and bandleader Dave Weld got his start on Chicago's West Side in the late ‘70s. At the 1815 Club on Roosevelt Road, Dave was in the house band with Chico Chism, Shorty Gilbert, Hubert Sumlin, Detroit Junior and Eddie Shaw. Dave played there with Otis Rush, Guitar Junior, Tail Dragger, Little Arthur, Johnny Littlejohn and more. Weld was under the tutelage of Grammy winning slide guitarist J.B. Hutto. J.B introduced Dave to his nephew, Lil’ Ed. They started the band Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials and played every joint on the West Side for ten years. Burnin' Love is Weld's Delmark debut and it features Li’l Ed on guitar and the legendary Abb Locke on saxophone.
The first time I met J.B. Hutto was in a dream! I was in high school, in a north suburb, and one night in a restless sleep, I found myself face to face with a short black man, in a suit with a broad infectious smile playing guitar in a style I had never seen before. He was featured American Bandstand style in an enclosure that provided lighting, and he was working incessantly at the frets of his guitar with a piece of metal, playing and all the while smiling directly at me!
I thought about that haunting dream all the next day at school. I had been in the process of trading my John Mayall records for Lightnin’ Hopkins’ "Black Cadillac Blues" and Howlin' Wolf's "Big City Blues". But I never forgot that dream, until the day I found McKinley Morganfield's name on the back of a Rolling Stones album, and learned that he was called Muddy Waters, and that piece of metal was called a slide, like in my dream, and that's what made Muddy's sound so different!
Years later in 1975, I walked into the Wise Fools Pub on north Lincoln in Chicago, and there was a short guy, in a suit with a broad infectious smile, onstage playing the sweetest slide I had ever heard, with a booming voice and a style different from Hound Dog's, both clean and dirty at the same time. I was touched inside, where joy meets harmony, as in the dream I’d had years earlier, and on the break I walked up to introduce myself. The band members, Lee Jackson on guitar and Bombay Carter on bass, sidled up to the bar to get a drink.
|Various Artist - Front Cover 1966|
J.B. had been arrested once by Chicago police for drunk driving, but it was really the blood sugar raging out of control that made him weave. I ran into one person, years later, who said, "Yeah, J.B. smokes a little weed", but I never saw it all those years I was with him, and at his home.
I hung out with J.B. that night and he extended a hand, helping as a mentor and friend, teaching me guitar, both lead and backup. I spent years at his home in Harvey IL, and he introduced me to my first band, Hound Dog Taylor’s Houserockers, Ted Harvey and Brewer Phillips. They had ended up with J.B. after Hound Dog’s death in 1975. We played for a year at Sweet Pea's on 47th and Ingleside, while J.B. was on the road based out of Boston, where he moved in the late ‘70s.
Ted and Harvey had been touring with J.B. out East but he fired them after a big fight. Guitarist Jimmy Thackery, then with the Nighthawks, told me the story about the fight. It happened in the dawn’s light, in a calm, white neighborhood with J.B. wearing his sequined Shriners hat and African outfit. He was struggling with Brewer, guns drawn but not used, and the police were called. This left Ted and Brewer free so I could join them for my first pro gig for a year at Sweet Pea's, a South Side club where I could get beat up, or married, in the same night for being white.
It was that same extended helping hand that introduced me to his nephews, Lil’ Ed and James “Pookie” Young, so we could start the Blues Imperials. It was that same helping hand in 1983 that played imaginary notes, fingering them in the air, in his cancer ward death bed, while I played guitar next to him. We both agreed that I missed a few notes, and when I told him that I had bought a new car, he looked me dead in the eye and said "but it’s not for the band right?" Later that week he died.
Some of J.B.'s best stuff came out in 1954 on 78s from Chance Records, and they were some rough, raw cuts with slide guitar and gutbucket blues that groove to this day: "Pet Cream Man," "Lovin’ You," "Now She's Gone," and "Combination Boogie" with Joe Custom on second guitar, “Earring” George Mayweather on raucous harp, and Eddie “Porkchop” Hines on washboard and drums. Elmore James’ piano man, Johnny Jones, recorded with them for five more cuts including "Things Are So Slow" (which we just covered for our new Delmark CD Burnin’ Love). J.B. is best known for his records with Delmark: Hawk Squat, Slidewinder and Stompin’ at Mother Blues. He also recorded for the Vanguard, Testament and Varrick labels.
J.B. could sing! He came up in the church. Born Joseph Benjamin Hutto in 1926 in Blackville, S.C., his father Calvin was a preacher who moved the family to Augusta, GA when J.B. was three. He and his three brothers and three sisters formed a gospel group, The Golden Crowns, who were popular in local churches. Back then he was singin' high, because his guitar was tuned to open E, but later Lee Jackson showed him how to tune down to D, so J.B. could play open tuning or "spanish" and sing lower, which is easier to do as you age, or have to sing all night. This is what got me started playing in D.
So when J.B. beckoned, "ride with me" for a gig on the West Side, I said “sure”. It was to a party held in a banquet hall hosted by Hound Dog Taylor’s widow’s social club, and J.B. wanted to show me the ropes. I sat in the car with the band (different guys from the Wise Fools and NOT the Houserockers) and while J.B. took care of business, they passed a pint around. I noticed the bass man gave the drummer a pill, but I did not think anything of it. They loaded in and hit the stage, sounding pretty good, opening the show for J.B., all the while playing a tight, professional set with the black crowd clapping, dancing and calling out!
J.B. came up after about four songs, and things started to change. J.B. was always so intense with his music, sliding and singing, but he started to notice the beat changing and looking back to see what was wrong; he changed songs thinking it would go better, but it was worse. By now everyone was looking at the drummer, who was missing time and disoriented. Soon vomit billowed out of the drummer’s mouth onto the snare drum in a puddle, but instead of falling off the throne, he passed out with his face in the puddle, his arms hanging loosely down from the snare, with dinner more than just a recent memory. After a short while the guys stopped playing.
J.B. did clean it up and, amazingly, found another drummer to make the night. I could tell by the way he was talking to Hound Dog’s widow, how bad he felt, and later that night, after the gig, J.B. pointed out some band leader facts. "See how good they sounded, until I got up there", and sure enough, they soon left J.B. as a unit, taking their cheap little gigs with them, leaving behind a decent and intelligent future Blues Hall of Famer and international bluesman to clean up the mess, find another band, move to Boston, win a Grammy, and tour the globe.
That's one reason J.B. said, "you'll always struggle, you got to leave this town", and so I put his advice in my song "Ramblin'" the second cut of our Delmark CD Burnin' Love. Delmark was good to J.B., and J.B. was loved by Delmark, Bob Koester and his wife Sue, who have been running the label with great success for over 55 years. I’m the guy Koester calls "J.B.'s bastard son". That's me, and yes J.B., I got the guys a van! [Source: http://www.chicagobluesguide.com/]
J.B.HUTTO, PARIS, Mutualité May 10 1982
02. instrumental by the band
03. big bad moon (sung by Sarah Brown)
04. high and lonesome
06. love retirement
07. hide and seek
08. i feel so good
09. mother in law blues
11. walking the backstreets and crying
Second Set and Encore
01. set intro, summertime
02. mad woman ?
04. hip shakin'
07. Frankie and Johnny
08. i've got a right to love my baby
09. boogie jam in the crowd
Part 1: Link
Part 2: Link
Part 1: Link
Part 2: Link