And here´s the story of Little Brother Montgomery:
Little Brother Montgomery ranks among the greatest blues pianists of the 20th century who had unusually long and prolific career. Montgomery’s biographer, Karl Gert zur Heide, called Montgomery “probably the greatest all-round piano player of his time in the Deep South.” He was born in 1906, passed away in the early 1980’s and began his recording career in 1930. Like his contemporary, Roosevelt Sykes, both men chose to record their versions of “44 blues” at their debut sessions; Sykes cutting it first in 1929 as “Forty- Four Blues” and following year by Montgomery as “Vicksburg Blues.” Montgomery recorded steadily through the decades although never became a star like his contemporary, Sykes who cut hundreds of commercial sides for the black record buying public. Montgomery was recorded much more sparingly, cutting some two-dozen sides in the 30’s, without a doubt his greatest recordings, barely recorded in the 40’s and 50’s but saw ample recording opportunities starting with the blues revival of the 1960’s and continuing through the 1970’s.
This is our second show devoted to Montgomery, with the first also spotlighting Roosevelt Sykes. Today’s show was inspired by the recent 3-CD set on the Agram label, Deep South Piano: The Music of Little Brother Montgomery, his Family, Friends and Peers. These recordings stem from a trip to the United States by Karl Gert zur Heide in 1968 and 1972 to seek out piano blues players. During that trip he recorded Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Sweet Williams, Lafayette Leake, Roosevelt Sykes and others. This collection serves as a belated companion to Heide’s long-out-of-print book, Deep South Piano: The Story of Little Brother Montgomery which came out in 1970 (I recently tracked down a copy of this fascinating book). Today’s show is inspired by another album I’ve been listening to quite a bit lately, also titled Deep South Piano and cut for the Storyville label in 1972. The more I listen to this record the more I feel this is one of his finest; perfectly recorded, the album finds Montgomery at his peak and in a nostalgic mood as he remembers those piano men who influenced him but never record on such songs as “Willie Anderson’s Blues”, “Vanado Anderson Blues”, “Bob Martin Blues”, “Cooney Vaughn’s Tremblin’ Blues”, “Miles Davis Blues” and an extended reworking of his classic, “The 44 (Vicksburg) Blues.” Montgomery knew a staggering number of piano players and absorbed a vast musical knowledge from them. Indeed, Montgomery knew a huge number of songs although he had a smaller number of favorites he recorded often throughout the years.
Eurreal Montgomery was the fifth of ten children, born to Harper and Dicy Montgomery. The family home was in Kentwood, Louisiana where Harper ran a honky-tonk where logging workers gathered on weekends to drink, dance, gamble and listen to music. Most all of the Montgomerys were musical. Harper played clarinet, and Dicy played accordion and organ. Eurreal’s brothers and sisters all learned to play piano to one degree or another. Little Brother taught himself to play simple “three finger blues”, as he called them, on a piano his father bought the family. From then on,” he told his biographer Karl Gert zur Heide, “I just created simple things on my own until later I got large enough and went to hear older people play.… like Rip Top, Loomis Gibson, Papa Lord God.” Montgomery had plenty of opportunity to hear older musicians. Most of them passed regularly through Kentwood and played at his father’s honky-tonk. Eventually, he told Heide, “…I ran away from home at about the age of eleven and played piano for a living.”
Little Brother, along with a group of other players, developed a piano piece that was unlike any other, and they revelled not only in its originality, but also in its sheer difficulty. He described it as “the hardest barrelhouse of any blues in history to play because you have to keep two different times going in each hand”. This remarkable composition developed over a period of years and was inevitably picked up by other players. One of these (“a feller… (who) always used to be hangin’ around us tryin’ to get in on it”) was Lee Green. Later, in St.Louis, Green would teach it to Roosevelt Sykes, who in turn, was the first to put it on a record, for Okeh in New York in 1929, under the title “44 Blues.”
Montgomery played his way through Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. He eventually moved to New Orleans. In the mid-1920’s, Montgomery toured Louisiana with a variety of bands, his own and others. In 1928, Montgomery was hired by Clarence Desdune’s Dixieland Revelers, a dance band. At the end of 1928, Montgomery quit the Revelers and moved up to Chicago. He made a name for himself playing rent parties—house parties put on in black neighborhoods to raise money to pay the rent. As Heide writes: “It seems impossible to lay down a reliable chronology of Brother’s movements in he mid-1920s. He traveled extensively in the areas round Louisiana and Mississippi… He probably bought his first car when he was eighteen years old. Thus he could traverse the country playing ‘one-nighters.'”
In late 1930, Montgomery accompanied Minnie Hicks and on two songs, Irene Scruggs on four and recorded “No Special Rider blues” and “Vicksburg Blues” for Paramount. The latter song was one of the most popular blues of its day, widely imitated by bluesmen. In 1931 he cut one 78 for Melotone, “Louisiana Blues b/w Frisco Hi-Ball”and cut two 78’s for Bluebird in 1935. His next recording opportunity was in October 1936 in New Orleans where he waxed a remarkable 18 song session. He also backed fifteen year old singer Annie Turner on four numbers. The recordings Montgomery laid down were undoubtedly the pinnacle of Deep South Piano Bookhis career, an astonishing profusion of piano technique, originality and depth of feeling that mark these as one of the finest bodies of piano blues recorded in the era. As Chris Smith writes he was “adept at blues, jazz, stride, boogie and pop which he synthesized into a personal style that ranged easily from the bopping earthiness of “Frisco Hi-Ball” to the pearl-stringing elegance of “Shreveport Farewell.” His high voice and bleating vibrato are unmistakable, especially on his signature piece, “Vicksburg Blues”, a polyrhythmic showcase for his acute but never pedantic timing. it’s also an example of Brother’s poetry of geography; many of his songs, and even the titles of his instrumentals, are rich evocations of places he knew and the railroads that carried him between them.”
Around the time World War II started Montgomery moved north to Chicago where he remained for the rest of his career. After the war, he began playing “old-time jazz” with musicians such as Baby Dodds and Lonnie Johnson. In 1948, he took part in a Carnegie Hall reunion concert by the Kid Ory Band and He played the Chicago club circuit regularly. Montgomery, like many others, saw himself as more than just a bluesman. From quite early on, too, Montgomery had played in jazz bands, and based in New Orleans in the 1920’s, he worked with many of the great musicians in that city. It was in a jazz band that he would appear on his first issued recordings of the post-war era, together with New Orleans musicians Lee Collins (trumpet) and Oliver Alcorn (sax) and a Chicago rhythm section, in 1947 for Century. Also from the 1940’s were unissued sides for Savoy in 1949.
In the 1950’s there was sporadic recording activity, even if there were few issued records to show for it at the time: a 1951 session for Atlantic with drummer Frank ‘Sweet’ Williams, two 1953 sides for JOB and two sessions in 1954 and 1956 only four tracks were issued, on a ten-inch LP on the Winding Ball label and five rare sides cut for the Chicago label, Ebony, in 1956.
As electric post-war blues took hold in Chicago, Montgomery was an active session musician. He toured briefly with Otis Rush in 1956. His fame grew in the 1960’s, and he continued to make many recordings. He appeared on some of the influential mid-fifties record made by Otis Rush, and played piano on one of Buddy Guy’s first big hits, his 1960 remake of Montgomery’s “First Time I Met The Blues.”
As momentum to Montgomery’s career picked up in the 60’s and he became a world traveler, visiting the UK and Europe on several occasions during the 1960’s, cutting several albums there, while remaining based in Chicago. He cut some excellent albums during this period including Tasty Blues for Bluesville featuring sympathetic support from guitarist Lafayette Thomas, two exceptional records for Folkways (Blues and Farro Street Jive), the aforementioned Storyville album, a fine live recording in Amsterdam (Bajez Copper Station) plus band recordings with Edith Wilson and the State Street Ramblers (He May Be Your Man… But He Comes To See Me Sometime!), an album with the State Street Swingers (Goodbye Mr. Blues), recordings made for his own FM label among several others. Other notable recordings were made in 1964 for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation (I Blueskvarter Vol. 2) and in 1960 when Montgomery visited England where he was recorded extensively by piano expert Francis Wilford Smith (issued on Magpie as These Are What I Like: Unissued Recordings Vol. 1 and Those I Liked I Learned: Unissued Recordings Vol. 2.). He continued performing and recording practically right up to his death on September 6, 1985 of congestive heart failure. (coblues.org)
And here´s a pretty good and very rare live recording by this master of the blues piano … recorded live in ‘Amsterdam 1972 … originally released in 1972 by a small German record company called “Blues Beacon Records” (distributed by Car Records) … this label was later a part of the legendary Enja Jazz label …
What shall I say …
… okay Baby … let´s play the blues tonight … and don´t forget to boogie ….
Recorded live at the Bajes Club in Amsterdam, October 7th, 1972
Original front + back cover (1st pressing, 1972)
Little Brother Montgomery (piano, vocals)
01. Pinetop ‘s Boogie (Smith) 5.22
02. Cow Cow Blues (Montgomery) 4.20
03. Doctor, Write Me A Prescription For The Blues (Smith) 4.37
04. Farrish Street Jive (Montgomery) 2.50
05. Vicksbury Blues (Montgomery) 5.17
06. Up The Country (Thomas) 3.52
07. Big Fat Boogie (Montgomery) 3.51
08. Conny Vaughn Tremblin Blues (Montgomery) 6.32
09. No Special Ride Blues (Montgomery) 4.40
10. Make Me Down A Pallet On The Floor (Yancey) 4.42
11. Keep On Drinkin´(Montgomery) 4.03
Eurreal Wilford “Little Brother” Montgomery (April 18, 1906 – September 6, 1985)