Tuesday, March 22, 2011

John Littlejohn - Johnny Littlejohn's Blues Party - 1991

One of the last electric slide guitarists and one of Chicago's few bluesmen still representing the traditional style, is 58 years old John "Littlejohn" Funchess. Since he moved from Lake, Mississippi (where he was born on April 6,1931) to Chicago in 1957, he has recorded for a string of labels, among them five albums for Arhoolie, Bluesway, MCM, Black & Blue and Rooster and is a steady performer at Chicago's Blues Clubs. Unfortunately John recently suffered a kidney infection which kept him from performing regularly. When the Austrian Mojo Blues Band visited the Windy City in June 1989, they found John in better shape and supervised a recording date for Wolf Records on June 27 at Chicago's ACME Studio, where he was supported by "the Wolf Records house band": John Primer on guitar, Willie Kent on electric bass and Timothy Taylor on drums. A piano is always a colourful addition to the classic Chicago Blues sound and thus pianist Christian Dozzlerof the Mojo Blues Band took over on piano. Some of John's classics were recorded:"Bloody Tears", "It's Too Much" and "Keep On Running".
From an earlier date come "Dream", "29 Ways", Taildragger's "My Head Is Bald" and Willie Kent's "I'm Your Fool" and "One More Mile", the latter with Billy Branch on harmonica. Taildragger (James Yancy Jones) came to Chicago in the late 1960s and began to sing pro¬fessionally in 1972, influenced by Howlin' Wolf. On his self-penned "My Head Is Bald" this is strongly felt, abtly accompanied by Luther Adams on lead guitar of Willie Kent's band, "The Gents". This piece was also a highlight in the film "The Honeyboy Edwards Story" (Dutch TV 1985), when Taildragger was filmed at the backyard of Chicago's Delta Fish Market.


Johnny Littlejohn's stunning mastery of the slide guitar somehow never launched him into the major leagues of bluesdom. Only on a handful of occasions was the Chicago veteran's vicious bottleneck attack captured effectively on wax, but anyone who experienced one of his late-night sessions as a special musical guest on the Windy City circuit will never forget the crashing passion in his delivery.

Delta-bred John Funchess first heard the blues just before he reached his teens at a fish fry where a friend of his father's named Henry Martin was playing guitar. He left home in 1946, pausing in Jackson, MS; Arkansas, and Rochester, NY, before winding up in Gary, IN. In 1951, he began inching his way into the Gary blues scene, his Elmore James-influenced slide style making him a favorite around Chicago's south suburbs in addition to steel mill-fired Gary.

Littlejohn waited an unconscionably long time to wax his debut singles for Margaret (his trademark treatment of Brook Benton's "Kiddio"), T-D-S, and Weis in 1968. But before the year was out, Littlejohn had also cut his debut album, Chicago Blues Stars, for Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie logo. It was a magnificent debut, the guitarist blasting out a savage Chicago/Delta hybrid rooted in the early '50s rather than its actual timeframe.

Unfortunately, a four-song 1969 Chess date remained in the can. After that, another long dry spell preceded Littlejohn's 1985 album So-Called Friends for Rooster Blues, an ambitious but not altogether convincing collaboration between the guitarist and a humongous horn section that sometimes grew to eight pieces. The guitarist had been in poor health for some time prior to his 1994 passing.
~ Bill Dahl, All Music Guide


01. 29 Ways (2:50)
02. My Head Is Bald (5:34)
03. Bloody Tears (3:29)
04. Dream (4:59)
05. One More Mile (4:43)
06. I'm Your Fool (3:37)
07. It's Too Much (4:03)
08. Came Home This Morning (3:55)
09. Keep On Running (3:37)

All tracks recorded by Paul Smith at ACME Studio, Chicago III
Produced by Hannes Folterbauer, Willie Kent & Daniel Gugolz
Photos by Christian Dozzler
Liner Notes by Daniel Gugolz
Personnel: John Littlejohn (vocals, guitar).
Personnel includes: John Littlejohn, Willie Kent, John Primer, Billy Branch, Tail Dragger.

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