Bluebird blues

According to the jacket of this 70s collection of rare 78s, Bluebird Records released more than 2,000 blues singles between 1933 and 1946. The album appears on RCA’s “Vintage Series,” which also included whole collections of single artists who recorded for the label and its various subsidiaries. Bluebird was its budget label during the 1920s-40s, but its distinctive sound influence blues and early rock and roll in the following decade.

Considering Third Man Records has produced  lavishly-packaged collections of recordings from Paramount Records (the Wisconsin label known for its blues catalog) we wonder whether the Bluebird catalog could merit a more substantial reissue program. Individual artists who recorded for Bluebird have certainly been anthologized by Document Records on CDs.

We’re surprised and fascinated by the sales of similar records which anthologize blues and roots recordings from the 1920s, and sixteen out of two thousand is hardly a fraction of a single percent of the blues records Bluebird released during this period.

This single by Tampa Red is from the same period as his biggest hit, “Let Me Play With Your Poodle,” a song which reached #4 on the “Harlem hit parade,” which was Billboard’s early R&B chart. Although he recorded from 1928 until 1961, he only released two albums — both on the Bluesville label late in his recording career. In another of traditional music’s tragic tales, his life fell apart due to alcoholism after his wife’s passing in 1953, and Tampa Red died in poverty and anonymity in 1981.

In addition to recording stack of singles in his early career, Tampa Red collaborated with Thomas Dorsey (then Georgia Tom) who went on to become “the Father of Gospel Music,” and also backed singers such as Ma Rainey and Memphis Minnie. He can be heard on the recent Memphis Minnie reissue, Keep on Goin, which collects some of her early records for labels such as Columbia, Okeh and Vocalion.


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