UPDATED November 26, 2020.
BLUES MUSE 53. How did I miss this little beauty: ‘Truckin’ Little Woman’, by Big Bill Broonzy, when compiling my ‘Ten Rock & Roll Records That Preceded Rock & Roll’ list, back in 2014?
The song, recorded by the legendary white producer, Lester Melrose, in Chicago on 30 March 1938, is actually credited to Big Bill and his Memphis Five, although Big Bill isn’t known to have spent much time in Memphis. Listen out for Broonzy
singing the line “Truckin’ mother for ya” – a nod to the present-day profanity “motherfucker” which had started to creep into blues songs following Memphis Minnie’s release of “Dirty Mother For Ya” in 1935. Here’s the link:
According to what I can gather – documentation is extremely vague – the Memphis Five, were made up of Lester Melrose’s regular session musicians. While they may not have always been the same band, I’m pretty sure that playing on this track were:
Big Bill Broonzy (circa 1893 – 1958), singer, guitarist and composer from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who recorded 224 songs between 1927 and 1942.
Buster Bennett (1914 – 1980), from Pensacola, Florida, gutbucket sax but also a blues shouter, pianist and string bassist.
Blind John Davis (1913 – 1985), boogie woogie pianist and singer who moved to Chicago from Mississippi aged two. Davis was the first American blues pianist to tour Britain and Europe. This was in 1952 with Big Bill Broonzy.
George Barnes (1921 – 1977), the 16-year old white whiz-kid electric guitarist from Chicago;
Wilbur Ware (1923 – 1979), double bassist from Chicago who later played with Thelonious Monk.
Alfred Bell, known as ‘Mr Sheiks’ on trumpet. Hardly any information exists on Alf but I do know he played on seven Memphis Minnie tracks in 1936.
The only rock & roll sounding blues I thought was older than “Truckin’ Little Woman’ was Albert Ammons’ “Boogie
Woogie Stomp” from two years earlier, in 1936. To listen to “Boogie Woogie Stomp” and other historic tracks, go to the paulmerryblues.com archive of 8 August 2013, Ten Rock & Roll Records That Pre-empted Rock & Roll.
However, I’ve since discovered a prototype rock ‘n’ roll track from 1925 which you can find on my paulmerryblues.com post of 22 May 2019.
Pictured below are Lester Melrose with some of his blues artists circa 1940.
|From left: Ernest ‘Little Son Joe’ Lawlars, Big Bill Broonzy, Lester Melrose, Roosevelt Sykes, St. Louis Jimmy Oden. Front: Washboard Sam. Courtesy Yannick & Margo Bruynoghe Collection.
For more about Lester Melrose, check my archive of 20 May 2013, The White Guy Who Gave Us Chicago Blues.
Big Bill Broonzy, undoubtedly, was one of the giants of blues, probably the most significant figure in the genre’s worldwide expansion during the twentieth century. Taught guitar by the former minstrel, Papa Charlie Jackson, composer of the original
Spoonful song in 1925, Big Bill Broonzy visited Britain in the 1950s more than any other African-American blues performer. His contribution to the birth of the British blues boom of the 1960s cannot be overstated.
Broonzy became a leading figure in Lester Melrose’s Chicago blues stable of the 1920s and 1930s, often acting as Melrose’s right hand man, and was often instrumental in signing talent Melrose had spotted.
For those curious about finding out more about the origins of the blues over the last one thousand years, check the links below:
For America’s Gift, the big paperback.
For rough-as-guts demos and blues videos
For eBooks How Blues Evolved Voumes One and Two: