The Honeydripper, Willie Kelly, Easy Papa Johnson, and Dobby Bragg- just a few of the aliases ascribed to one Roosevelt Sykes, the prodigal juke joint pianist. Sykes was one of the few stylists whose successfully straddled the decades. From his beginnings in the 1920s and he continued to wax records into the 60s after his relocation to Chicago. This fascinating compilation focuses on his early works dating from the dawn of the Depression through the war years. Roughly two-thirds of the selections are Sykes solo pounding out his authoritative, but never bombastic, rolls beneath consistently entertaining lyrics. On the remainder of pieces various sidemen join him in the cause ranging from the stunning slide guitar master Kokomo Arnold (“Dirty Mother For You” and “Jet Black Snake”) to a septet-sized jump blues combo fronted by horns.
Musically much of the material starts sound the same around the midway mark, but Sykes’ endlessly inventive lyrics are part of what keeps the program fertile and engaging. Ranging from barely cloaked lowbrow humor to three-minute treatises on the darker emotions his verbal creativity is constantly on display. Also absorbing is the time capsule nature of many of the pieces. When strung together sequentially they illuminate the subtle shifts in Sykes style dependent upon the setting he found himself in. Through it all his burly barroom touch at the keys works as an umbilical from his St. Louis origins to his later Windy sojourn. Sykes was indisputably the real-deal and each one of these sides proves his credentials and pedigree conclusively. An added bonus is the comparatively clean fidelity of the tracks, which fortunately doesn’t reflect a lacquering of Sykes’ more risqué musings (another tip of the hat to the title perhaps?).
Catfish on the web: http://www.catfishrecords.co.uk/
Personnel: Roosevelt Sykes- piano, vocals; Oscar Carter- guitar; Kokomo Arnold- guitar; Sidney Calett- drums; Johnny Morton- trumpet; Oett