Big MAYBELLE – The Complete Okeh Sessions (1952-1955) 1994

Big MAYBELLE – The Complete Okeh Sessions (1952-1955) 1994

Blues

There’s very little that’s subtle about the room-shaking music of Big Maybelle. Decades later, the power in these 26 tracks is still palpable. With her bold, gritty sound, she comes off like nothing so much as a female Howlin’ Wolf, and one can’t imagine her not being an influence on the full-throttle blues of Janis Joplin. “So Good to My Baby” features typically microphone-distorting belting from the singer, and an appropriately blazing horn section. The hit “Gabbin’ Blues (Don’t Run My Business)” is a humorous tete-a-tete between Smith and a scorned female cohort. It recalls similar devices frequently employed in late-’90s R&B.

One of the most stirring cuts here is “Ocean of Tears,” a percolating, minor-key tune in which Maybelle bemoans her sorrowful state with an unforgettably cathartic angst. Also impressive, though, are ballads such as “You’ll Never Know,” “Ain’t No Use,” and “You’ll Be Sorry,” which show a pleasant, softer side to Maybelle’s craft. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” which she took to the top of the R&B charts before Jerry Lee Lewis turned the song into a rock & roll anthem, is another standout.
**
Mabel Smith (1924 — 1972) learned music as a child singing gospel in Jackson Tenessee. She was a large woman, over 250 pounds, with a big voice to match. She received the nickname “Big Maybelle” at the time of the recordings on this CD.
Big Maybelle made a few recordings in the 1940s, but became well-known only during her years of recording for the Okeh label from 1952 -1955. Following her years with Okeh, she recorded for a number of other labels, appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, and acquired a large following among lovers of the blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, and,near the end of her career, rock and roll. Big Maybelle’s career was hampered throughout and cut short by a severe drug addiction.
This recording includes the 26 tracks Big Maybelle released for Okeh during 1952 — 1955 and shows the singer at the height of her powers. The songs are in a variety of styles, but they are predominantly the “jump” or “swing” blues, that became popular in the later 1940s and early 1950s for dancing. These songs include a back-up band of 5 to 7 musicians featuring piano, guitar, bass, drum, and sax. The back-ups for Big Maybelle on these recordings are excellent, especially the wailing sax on many tracks.
But the main attraction of this CD is Big Maybelle herself. She was gifted with a powerful, gravelly voice that she projected with her ample heart and body in whatever she sang. She could be gritty and forceful, a woman version of a “shouter” and yet could sing with sweetness and tenderness. Her voice was full of vibrato, purring, growling, and passion. Big Maybelle was a lady blues singer in the worthy line of Bessie Smith.
The tracks I particularly enjoyed on this CD includeed “Rain Down Rain”, with Big Maybelle’s passionate singing accompanied by a honking sax, the slow, wailing “Maybelle’s Blues”, the uptempo and rhythmical “I’ve got a feeling (somebody’s trying to steal my man)”, “Ain’t no use,” another slow ballad, and “Don’t Leave Poor Me.” Some of the songs on this CD that achieved popularity include the “Gabbin’ Blues” with its trading of insults (called dirty dozens), “One Monkey Don’t Stop no Show” which has been covered many times and “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going on” which, with honk-tonk piano not prominent on Maybelle’s recording, Jerry Lee Lewis made famous.
This CD is deservedly included in a list of 50 essential blues CDs in a recent excellent overview of the blues,”The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Blues” by David Evans. In addition, Evans includes Big Maybelle’s recording of “My Country Man” from this CD as one of 50 individual essential blues recordings. Evans offers a detailed account of Maybelle’s rendition of this song and concludes that “[t]he performance is tight and professional representing the best of jump blues.” (p.180)
I am pleased to see many thoughtful and appreciative reviews of this CD and this site. This CD is an excellent introduction to a great lady blues singer who remains too little known and a good way to expand your knowledge of the the unique American art form of the blues.
By Robin Friedman.
**
These 26 essential tracks that Big Maybelle recorded for Okeh records are the real McCoy. Her reputation as one of the most exciting female vocalists to ever sing the Blues is more than ably demonstrated here, and these tracks are the purest Blues she ever recorded. Unlike some of her pop and jazz records – and Big Maybelle excelled in all of these styles – almost all of these tracks have the distinction of bearing the unmistakable stamp of pure Blues music, something that is mighty rare among female practitioners of the art. The music world abounds with many female vocalists who were labeled “Blues” singers without their ever fully indulging in the form. While Big Maybelle herself made some excellent R & B and even pop records, when she sang the Blues, she went all the way, as some others did not. And if you want proof, one listen to these excellent tracks is all you will need.
Her sound is as big as she was, and her phrasing and delivery are as earthy as the Blues can get. At times, she sounds quite a bit like her mentor, Bessie Smith, whose style she clearly loved and emulated – if you listen carefully to her rendition here of Please Stay Away From My Sam, you could almost swear you’re listening to the Empress, come back and recorded on better equipment. But Big Maybelle also bears the marks of a true original – she is always true to her own voice and vision, which is every bit as powerful as her phrasing is divine.
If you are not familiar with her, these tracks will grow on you immediately. If you have any of her other recordings, you will understand why these sessions are essential. The musicians who back her up are excellent, and all are totally in sync with her style.
In reality, anyone who loves Jazz, R & B or Blues can appreciate Big Maybelle. The few “pop” numbers among the material presented here showcase her diversity brilliantly. Her rendition of “You’ll Never Know” is quite unlike any other version I’ve ever heard before, in both style and presentation, and a prime example of what a true “torch” singer can do with a sad song. The same is true of the wonderful ballad Ain’t No Use, which seems to have an identical first bar to Percy Mayfield’s Please Send Me Someone to Love, then veers off into one of the most effective torch songs I’ve ever heard. Ditto for You’ll Be Sorry, a tune that sound like something Irma Thomas may have done in her early years, which of course came after these tracks. And Ocean of Tears is pretty much in a class by itself; a true Blues song that doubles as a torch song, Big Maybelle’s wailing will convince you that she has the pain in her heart that the lyrics say she does. But I don’t mean to get caught up on the ballads; the barrelhouse Blues numbers are the real attraction here – just one listen to Ain’t To Be Played With, One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show or even Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On will confirm that. The more I listen to Big Maybelle, the more she surprises me with every phrase of every song.
The tracks contained on this album showcase one of the most sadly neglected artists of all time, at her prime. Music like this is priceless, but priceless doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. This album is modestly priced, and considering it contains 26 glorious tracks of one of the greatest blues singers who ever lived, it’s a downright bargain.
Highly recommended.
By by James Morris.
**
Big Maybelle- (Vocals);
James Cannady, Mickey Baker, Brownie McGhee- (Guitar);
Paul Ricci, Jerome Richardson- (Alto Sax);
Dave McRae- (Tenor saxophone, Baritone Sax);
Maurice Simon, Sam “The Man” Taylor , Budd Johnson- (Tenor Sax);
Haywood Henry, Leslie Johnakins- (Baritone Sax);
Joe Wilder, Taft Jordan- (Trumpet);
Alfred Cobbs, Eli Robinson, Billy Byers- (Trombone);
Fletcher Smith, Lee Anderson, Al Williams, Ernie Hayes- (Piano);
Grachan Moncur, Lloyd Trotman, Norman Keenan- (Bass);
Charles Smith, Marty Wilson, Jimmy Crawford , Panama Francis, Herb Lovelle- (Drums).
**
01. Just Want Your Love 3:14
02. So Good To My Baby 2:34
03. Gabbin’ Blues (Don’t Run My Business) 2:41
04. My Country Man 2:35
05. Rain Down Rain 3:05
06. Way Back Home 2:45
07. Please Stay Away From My Sam 2:34
08. Jinny Mule 2:46
09. Send For Me 3:11
10. Maybelle’s Blues 3:10
11. I’ve Got A Feelin’ 2:57
12. You’ll Never Know 3:03
13. No More Trouble Out Of Me 3:26
14. My Big Mistake 2:39
15. Ain’t No Use 3:00
16. I’m Getting ‘Long Alright 3:36
17. You’ll Be Sorry 2:29
18. Hair Dressin’ Women 3:22
19. One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show 2:52
20. Don’t Leave Poor Me 2:37
21. Ain’t To Be Played With 2:31
22. New Kind Of Mambo 2:36
23. Ocean Of Tears 2:31
24. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On 2:46
25. The Other Night 2:07
26. Such A Cutie 2:08
**


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