Ask your average casual blues fan about Arbee Stidham and a blank stare will likely be your answer. He’s an archetypal example of the forgotten blues hero, one whose past laurels have completely withered with the passage of time. Not so in the post-War years of the late 1940s, when his single “My Heart Belongs to You” rocketed to the top of the Billboard ‘race’ music chart. Slinging a T-Bone Walker-influenced guitar style that favored cleanly articulated single notes over strumming while singing with a warbling tenor croon, Stidham was well suited for his commercial ascent. While this date for Bluesville came when the downward slide in his popularity was still a few years off, the record’s main appeal is with the sidemen on hand.
At the time of the session, saxophonist King Curtis was riding a rising arc of his own, enjoying crossover appeal amongst both rhythm and blues and jazz audiences. Pianist John Wright had recently waxed his own record as a leader for Prestige and Leonard Gaskin was a busy session bassist on dates for leaders ranging from Miles Davis to Lightnin’ Hopkins. The shuffle beat driven “Pawn Shop” is initially a feature for Wright, who wrings out a wave of bluesy rolls from his keys while the others comp languidly around him. Curtis uncorks a burner on his horn prior to the closing chorus that is soaked in highly flammable soul. The mournful title track reflects on the weariness of the itinerant life through a series of clever stanzas. Stidham sings the words with emotion and conviction and his bandmates back up the sentiments with sparse, but tight support. Revisiting his classic “My Heart Belongs to You” and its variant “I Want to Belong to You”, Stidham stretches his words out, magnifying a plea to a lost lover over the loping beat of Jackson’s drums and Gaskin’s hearty bass throb. Curtis wails one last time on the final number, a tongue in cheek ode to adolescent romance. In sum, the record is an enjoyable if non-essential outing.
Along with so many of his peers, Stidham’s star fell off the map. Albums such as this one serve as instructive reminders that the music business is a fickle mistress and public tastes are as mutable as the changing tides. It is this natural, if at times lamentable, order of things that makes reissue programs like Fantasy’s so valuable in preserving as complete a picture as possible of the past.
Bluesville on the web: http://www.fantasyjazz.com
Personnel: Arbee Stidham- guitar, vocals; King Curtis- tenor saxophone; John Wright- piano; Leonard Gaskin- bass; Armond Jackson- drums. Recorded: November 7, 1960.