There is a well-known rich tradition of field recordings of older established blues players in America that has been well documented over the decades, but most music fans would immediately picture a recording truck pulling up in small towns and hamlets in the deep south for such trips. The recordings here, by contrast, were all made in and around Chicago in the early years of the sixties when Norman Dayron took equipment around the artists' own apartments or the city's small clubs like the Fickle Pickle which was run by the young Mike Bloomfield. At the time Chicago's main thrust was electrified band blues playing developed in the wake of the northern relocation of blues players from the south searching for more lucrative work, but many such younger band players were drawing their inspiration from the sort of older players represented here.
These tracks were originally issued as two vinyl albums Chicago Breakdown (Takoma 7071) and Rare Blues (Takoma 7081), and their engineer/producer Norman Dayron also provided the sleeve notes that are reproduced here. Distinction is made early on between 'money' dates in clubs where little attention would have been given to the musicians and the types of dates in clubs where people actually listened and players would have had the chance to properly learn from each other. Here we have fine examples of this as the small print reveals the presence of Paul Butterfield, Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, all eager young players learning from the older men. Within a very short time all three would be recording as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and spreading the music to a wider and younger audience.
Artists here include pianists Little Brother Montgomery and Eddie Boyd, guitarists Big Joe Williams, John Lee Granderson. Rev. Robert Wilkins and harmonica player James Cotton who spent considerable time with Muddy Waters' band. Dr Isaiah Ross pulls much of this together as a one man band, and the tracks here come from his famed University Of Chicago concert in January 1965 (available in full on Ace's website as CDTAK 7087). Our CD cover features Maxwell Street Jimmy, pictured playing in his aprons outside the greasy spoon cafe where he worked. Collectors will also find standout interest with the inclusion of ‘Lend Me Your Love’ from Sunnyland Slim and ‘Preachin' Blues’ from Son House, with the latter being rated by many as the man at his finest.
Although field recordings in the main, the audio quality is excellent with a rare intimacy that adds so much to the overall feel of the album. The years that they were made (1963-1965) were a transitional time for both knowledge and appreciation of the blues. Many older players were being rediscovered through the detective work of musicologists and being presented to new and younger audiences, and the younger players were recycling the feels and structures of the blues into electrified band formats, making it arguably the time when the blues was reaching the largest audiences ever, and forming a key part of some initial breaking down of earlier racial barriers. This album is a wonderful example of what was happening.