(b Madison, WI, Dec 27, 1944). American singer. An underrated and insufficiently recognized artist, she is accomplished in country, blues, rhythm-and-blues, and rock. She began performing in college and released her first solo recording, Deep Are the Roots, in 1964. She joined the ensemble Mother Earth (named after a Memphis Slim song), who were signed to Mercury Records in 1968. Their first album, Living with the Animals, includes Nelson’s signature self-penned song, “Down So Low,” a grieving but never glum ballad. Mother Earth recorded three other albums on Mercury and one each for Reprise and Columbia, before breaking up in 1973. Nelson also released a splendid solo album of country songs in 1970. She has subsequently performed solo or as a member of star-studded ensembles. Her 1974 duet with Willie Nelson, “After the Fire Is Gone,” received a Grammy nomination in 1974. Owing to discomfort with the state of the music business, Nelson dropped out for the better part of the 1980s, although she sang back-up for Neil Young and appeared with him at Live Aid in ...
Megan E. Hill
(b Osaka, Japan, 1957). Jazz and blues pianist, singer, and composer of Japanese birth. She took piano lessons briefly as a child and was exposed to the blues while growing up in Osaka in the 1960s and 1970s. As a high school student, she formed the Yoko Blues Band with classmates. The band earned some success, winning first prize and a recording contract in a television-sponsored contest. In 1984 she moved to the United States to pursue a jazz and blues career in Chicago. Initially a singer, she studied piano with boogie, blues, and jazz pianist Erwin Helfer. In the early 1990s Noge established the Jazz Me Blues Band, which has played regularly in Chicago since its formation. In addition to Noge on piano and vocals, the ensemble has included Noge’s husband, Clark Dean, on soprano saxophone, saxophonist Jimmy Ellis, trombonist Bill McFarland, and bassist Tatsu Aoki. In addition to playing more conventional jazz and blues, Noge has made a name for herself through the unique compositions she has written for the group, which meld Japanese folk music styles with Chicago blues. Active in the broader Asian American community, she cofounded the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival in ...
[Willie Mae ]
(b Ariton, AL, Dec 11, 1926; d Los Angeles, CA, July 25, 1984). American blues singer, songwriter, harmonica player, and drummer. When she was 14 years old, Thornton left home to join Sammy Green’s Hot Harlem Review, a traveling variety show that toured the south. She developed an act that incorporated comedy and singing, carrying on the sound and attitude of classic blues women such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Thornton left the troupe in 1947 and settled in Houston, Texas, where Don Robey, owner of Peacock Records, signed her in 1951. While touring with Johnny Otis in the early 1950s, Thornton got her nickname after her performance at Harlem’s Apollo Theater brought down the house. Commenting on Thornton’s physical size and vocal power, venue manager Frank Schiffman called her “Big Mama.”
“Hound Dog” (1953) was Thornton’s third single for Peacock and her first and only hit. Written for Thornton by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller at the suggestion of Otis, “Hound Dog” featured Thornton’s commanding blues shout, notable for its confident growl and saucy attitude, against spare guitar and drum instrumentation and a rumba rhythm. Thornton’s version stayed on the rhythm and blues charts for 14 weeks, seven in the number one position. “Hound Dog” was covered numerous times, most famously by Elvis Presley in ...
[Allen, Fulton ]
(b Wadesboro, NC, July 10, 1907; d Durham, NC, Feb 13, 1941). American blues singer and guitarist. He began to lose his sight as a teenager and was completely blind by 1928. He was the outstanding exponent, though not an innovator, of the eastern or Piedmont style of blues. Influenced by Blind Blake, Blind Gary Davis, and Buddy Moss, he formulated an eclectic style, playing fast runs and swinging rag rhythms on guitar (often against cross-rhythms on a washboard) to accompany his gritty singing. Davis played for him on the traditional “Rag Mama Rag” (1935, Voc.), one of his earliest successes. Fuller adapted old songs such as the British ballad “Our Goodman,” which became “Cat Man Blues” (1936, Voc.). Although he was probably at his best with fast ragtime themes like “Step it up and go” (1940, Voc.), he was also a master of slow blues such as “Weeping Willow” (...
(b ?Clarksdale, MS, c15 Jan 1929–30; d Chicago, IL, April 21, 1970). American blues singer and guitarist. He was raised in Chicago after his family settled there in 1930, and from the late 1940s he stood out as one of the city’s most innovative musicians for his virtuoso slide guitar playing and for his mastery of the wah wah pedal. A second cousin of John Lee Hooker, he was influenced by a wide range of musical styles, including the work of country guitarists Merle Travis, Les Paul, and Joe Maphis, as well as jazz and popular music. Although he was one of the most revered Chicago blues musicians on a local scale, he never acquired the stardom of Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf, because of his weak vocal abilities and his health problems due to the tuberculosis that affected him from his teens. His public recognition began in the late sixties when he released a few LPs and toured in Europe with his own group, shortly before his death in ...
(b New Orleans, LA, Feb 8, 1894; d Toronto, ON, June 16, 1970). American blues and jazz guitarist and singer. Research indicates that Johnson was born in 1894 (Alger). He was influenced by the musical activities of his family and the rich musical environment in New Orleans of the early 1900s, including the early blues, jazz, and the lyrically expressive French and Spanish music traditions. He began playing violin, developed excellent guitar skill, and by the 1920s was also recording on piano, banjo, mandolin, and harmonium.
Johnson performed on violin with Charlie Creath’s band on the Mississippi riverboat St. Paul, and after winning a blues singing contest in St. Louis, he began his recording career with OKeh Records. His first recording featured “Mr. Johnson’s Blues” and “Falling Rain Blues” (OK, 1925) and was a two-sided hit. From 1925 through 1932 he made more recordings than any other bluesman. In late ...