Canned Heat Blues: The Legendary 1928 Memphis Sessions

JSP 11002LP JSP 11002LP

"Few were more important to the development of pre-Robert Johnson delta blues than Tommy Johnson. His reputation rests upon six records and a few songs issued after his death. His unique singing style - with an ululating falsetto - turned speech defects to advantage. He was born in 1896, one of thirteen children, on a plantation in Mississippi. Musically, he learned quickly and from age sixteen, when he left home, a born traveller. After two years he returned an accomplished bluesman. Musicians including Ishmon Bracey gathered round him. In February 1928 Johnson, Bracey and Rosie Mae Moore visited Memphis to record for Victor. On February 3, with Charlie McCoy on second guitar, he cut 'Cool Drink Of Water Blues' and 'Big Road Blues'. The forthright 'Big Road' was a marked contrast to the reflective 'Drink'. The records sold well. Johnson and Bracey, were called back. Another four songs were cut, including the prophetic Canned Heat Blues. (Sterno, a cooking fuel, was known as 'canned heat' and Johnson was addicted to it.) Later, the Mississippi Sheiks cut a version of 'Big Road Blues' on OKeh. Victor sued. Johnson believed the settlement meant he'd sold his right to record again. He played for tips during the 1930s, often with Ishmon Bracey. He entered a decline which continued through the 1940s and into the Fifties. The end came in November 1956, after he'd played at a party for his brother LeDell's oldest daughter. He was buried in an unmarked grave. 'I thought a heap of Tommy and I just loved to hear him sing and play. We learned one from another.' Rube LaceyBorn in Byram, MS in 1901. Ishmon Bracey had one hit, 'Saturday Blues'. Bracey's fate was to be rarely mentioned without Johnson. His fellow musicians thought better of him. Rube Lacey said 'Ishmon was a really good musician. Ishmon had, I thought, a gift to sing...' Towards the end of the 1930s, Bracey became an ordained minister. He was rediscovered in 1963 but refused to play blues. He died in 1970."