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Blues Before Sunrise

The Radio Interviews

Steve Cushing

Publication Year: 2009

This collection assembles the best interviews from Steve Cushing's long-running radio program Blues Before Sunrise, the nationally syndicated, award-winning program focusing on vintage blues and R&B. As both an observer and performer, Cushing has been involved with the blues scene in Chicago for decades. His candid, colorful interviews with prominent blues players, producers, and deejays reveal the behind-the-scenes world of the formative years of recorded blues. Many of these oral histories detail the careers of lesser-known but greatly influential blues performers and promoters._x000B__x000B_The book focuses in particular on pre-World War II blues singers, performers active in 1950s Chicago, and nonperformers who contributed to the early blues world. Interviewees include Alberta Hunter, one of the earliest African American singers to transition from Chicago's Bronzeville nightlife to the international spotlight, and Ralph Bass, one of the greatest R&B producers of his era. Blues expert, writer, record producer, and cofounder of Living Blues Magazine Jim O'Neal provides the book's foreword.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

title page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

The story of the blues is one that we historians have discussed, documented, and analyzed for decades. But the story that Steve Cushing presents in Blues Before Sunrise is that all too rare account that can be told only by the people who lived the blues and told most genuinely in their own words, in language of the blues. ...

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pp. xi-xii

Special thanks to the interviewees who sat patiently and shared generously: James “Yank” Rachell, Jesse Thomas, Alberta Hunter, R. T. “Grey Ghost” Williams, John and Grace Brim, Jody Williams, Rev. Johnny Williams, Rev. Hudson Shower, Tommy Brown, Ralph Bass, Narvel “Cadillac Baby” Eatmon, and Richard Stamz. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Blues Before Sunrise was first broadcast in June 1980. For the first ten years it was a local-only program broadcast on WBEZ, the public radio station in Chicago. In 1990 the program went into national syndication and today is heard on seventy-five stations across the nation. ...

Part One: Ancient Age

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Yank Rachell

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pp. 3-17

The mandolin is a rare instrument in the world of blues. Throughout the entire history of this music there have been only a handful of blues mandolinists of note. Yank Rachell and Charlie McCoy were the preeminent mandolinists during the prewar years, and Johnny Young was the lone postwar blues mandolinist. ...

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Jesse Thomas

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pp. 18-35

Jesse Thomas was one of about half a dozen prewar blues singers I had the opportunity to interview as they appeared at the University of Chicago’s famed Folk Fest. The resident blues expert on the festival selection committee was David Waldman, who over the years did a wonderful job of ferreting out the best of the surviving prewar blues singers. ...

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Alberta Hunter

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pp. 36-51

The classic blues singers were the women who pioneered blues recording starting with the very first blues record by Mamie Smith in 1920 and continuing on to 1930 when the Great Depression finally caught up with the recording industry. During this decade there were 260 different women who made blues records. ...

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Grey Ghost

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pp. 52-68

R. T. Williams, known to blues fans as the Grey Ghost, was among the last of the itinerant Texas blues pianists. For more than three decades these pianists hoboed from town to town, juke joint to barrelhouse in prewar Texas. They seldom settled in any one place, hitchhiking and hopping trains to get from destination to destination. ...

Part Two: Postwar Glory

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John and Grace Brim

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pp. 71-90

John and Grace Brim, a husband-and-wife team, were the king and queen of the Gary, Indiana, blues scene. John was renowned for a pair of sessions organized by blues harmonica virtuoso Little Walter. Walter arranged for these sessions to take place and accompanied with his own band. ...

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Jody Williams

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pp. 91-122

As a teenager in the 1950s Jody Williams was a highly regarded guitar player. During his time on the Chicago blues scene he made a series of classic recordings under his own name, played and recorded with Howlin’ Wolf, and is heard on records by a variety of artists in postwar Chicago. ...

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Rev. Johnny Williams

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pp. 123-141

Since the very inception of blues music there has been deep conflict between the world of blues and the black church. Regardless of denomination, African American religion has little if any tolerance for blues and the people who play blues. It’s regarded as the devil’s music and a practice in defiance of God. ...

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Little Hudson

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pp. 142-154

Hudson Shower, aka Little Hudson, was a guitar player and vocalist who in the early 1950s recorded a handful of highly regarded blues sides for Joe Brown’s J.O.B. label. His recordings of “Rough Treatment” and “Looking for a Woman” were classics of the era. ...

Part Three: Esoterica

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Tommy Brown

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pp. 157-189

The Atlanta blues and R & B scene was small almost to the point of nonexistence— Titus Turner, Billy Wright, and Tommy Brown, plus throw in disc jockey Zenas Sears at pioneering R & B radio station WTES. Ironic, then, that a scene with such a limited cast should exert such a tremendous impact on pop music. ...

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Ralph Bass

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pp. 190-211

Ralph Bass was a famous record producer and A & R (artists and repertoire) man in the world of blues and rhythm and blues. He’s credited with discovering James Brown and Little Esther Phillips. He produced a gigantic hit record by tenor sax man Jack McVea with “Open the Door, Richard.” ...

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Cadillac Baby

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pp. 212-227

Narvel Eatmon was known to blues fans around the world as Cadillac Baby. He was the owner and operator of Cadillac Baby’s Show Lounge, one of Chicago’s premier blues clubs of the 1950s, and the owner and operator of the Bea & Baby record label, which issued records by Eddie Boyd, Sunnyland Slim, L. C. McKinley, and many others. ...

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Richard Stamz

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pp. 228-240

“Open the Door” Richard Stamz was one of Chicago’s most popular black radio hosts in the years from 1951 to 1961, billing himself as the “Crown Prince of Soul.” However, as a white kid who grew up in the suburbs listening to Top 40 rock ’n’ roll radio, I had no idea who Richard Stamz was. ...

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Hosting Blues Before Sunrise

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pp. 241-246

When Blues Before Sunrise first hit the air in June 1980, I didn’t know what to expect. The program covered several music genres from 1900 to about 1965. Some of it was pretty creaky stuff, way off the path of mainstream tastes. To my surprise, reaction to the program was positive. ...


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pp. 247-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090936
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252033018

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • Blues musicians -- United States -- Interviews.
  • Blues musicians -- United States -- Biography.
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