Friday, December 23, 2016

Blues by Roosevelt "The Honeydripper" Sykes

Roosevelt Sykes (1906-1983) may not have been one of the big names in blues, but the Arkansas native was a tremendous talent on the piano and had a great vocal style laden with humor and confidence.

This stellar Smithsonian Folkways recording, first issued under the Folkways imprint in 1961, and reissued in 1995, was produced by Memphis Slim, another great blues pianist/singer.  Sykes, however, had been around a long time, having made his first recordings in New York for the "race" label Okeh Records in 1929.

As to his nickname, Sykes stated that, because he was so popular with the girls in school when he played the organ, "the boys said the girls wqas buzzing round me like bees or something, and so I must be dripping honey."  Sykes wrote a well-known tune by that name in 1931 and it was a big hit for Joe Liggins nearly fifteen years later.  The composer even said, "I reckon he made a better job of it than I did!"

A formidable composer who penned hundreds of tunes, Sykes was also in high demand as an accompanist and his superior playing on this record shows why.  "Memphis Slim Rock," which features Slim as the only additional presence on the album, and "R.S. Stomp" are pertinent examples of his remarkable technique and his impromptu rapping about his pal aptly demonstrates his irrepressible humor, as well.  Sykes' vocal technique is amply shown on tunes like "Sweet Old Chicago," "44 Blues," "The Sweet Root Man," and "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone."

Really, though, everything on this album is great and it is consistently entertaining.  There are more famous blues musicians out there, but Roosevelt Sykes deserves to be better known.

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