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Big Time Sarah A Million Of You Delmark DE-750 (2001)
During her 25 years as a professional blues singer Big Time Sarah has built a solid reputation worldwide with regular tours in the U.S. and abroad. She started sitting in during the late ’60s with Louis and Dave Myers, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and Magic Slim. In her musical persona, her lyrics, and her personal life, Sarah is a woman of power who staunchly refuses to bow before any authority but the Lord and her own iron determination to prevail. A Million Of You features five new songs Sarah collaborated on with songwriter Henry Bolden and arranger/guitarist Rico McFarland. Although more than capable of wringing the last drop of soul out of a slow burner, most of Sarah's music is about having a big time and Sarah delivers with gusto!
1. Train I Ride 3:32 (Traditional, P.D.)
2. Riverboat 6:19 (Bolden/A. King, Rico’s phat music/Albert King Music/Parker Music, BMI)
3. Red Dress 4:15 (Streeter/Higginbotham, Rico’s phat music/Lily Pond Music, BMI)
4. A Million Of You 4:21 (Bolden/McFarland, Rico’s phat music, BMI)
5. Fannie Mae 5:09 (Sarah Streeter, Rico’s phat music, BMI)
6. The Sky Is Crying 4:48 (James/Lewis/Robinson, Longitude Music Co., BMI)
7. Daydreaming 5:02 (Bolden/McFarland, Rico’s phat music, BMI)
8. Trying to Make A Living 4:01 (Eatmon/Daniel)
9. I'll Take Care of You 5:24 (Brook Benton, IZA Music Corp., BMI)
10. Blue Guitar 7:06 (Earl Hooker, MCA Duchess Music Corp., BMI)
11. Stop Your Killing Me 3:50 (Bolden/McFarland, Rico’s phat music, BMI)
12. Don't Make Me Pay For Your Mistake 4:26
13. Jump! 5:13 (Bolden/McFarland, Rico’s phat music, BMI)
Big Time Sarah, vocals
Rico McFarland, guitar
John Hill, guitar
Roosevelt Purifoy, piano, organ
Bill Hargrave, bass
"Curfew" Scott, drums
Roberta Thomas, additional vocals (3,4,9,13)
Kenny Anderson, trumpet (7,11)
Hank Ford, tenor sax (7,11)
Bill McFarland, trombone (7,11)
Matthew Skoller, harmonica (12)
Richie Davis, guitar (11)
1) lead guitar: McFarland 2) lead guitar: McFarland, 2nd solo: Hill 3) lead guitar: McFarland 4) lead guitar: McFarland 5) lead guitar: McFarland 6) lead guitar: Hill 7) lead guitar: Hill 8) lead guitar: McFarland 9) lead guitar: Hill 10) lead guitar: McFarland 11) lead guitar: Richie Davis, rhythm: Hill
12) guitar solo: McFarland 13) lead guitar: Hill, 2nd solo: McFarland
Rico McFarland, music arrangements 4, 7, 11, 13
Kenny Anderson, horn arrangements 7, 11
Roberta Thomas, additional vocal arrangements, 3, 4, 9, 13
Album Production and Supervision: Robert G. Koester
Recorded at Riverside Studio, Chicago on February 1 & 2, 2000 by Steve Wagner
What’s in a name?
Sarah Streeter had been singing the blues around Chicago under her given name ever since her teens; but now, in the late 70s, on her first major tour with world-famous bluesmen like Sunnyland Slim and John Lee Hooker, the sassy young firebrand from the south side of the Windy City found herself saddled with a new moniker. By her own admission, she had it coming.
"I was always talkin’ a lot of trash," she remembers. "And being young, with older guys, they were like, "You always talkin’ a lotta ****!" I said, "Don’t worry, I’m going to be big time one of these days!" And then they started calling me Big Time Sarah."
It was characteristic of Sarah to throw her mentors’ good-natured signifying back in their faces and transform their nickname for her into a stage name - one that would eventually become a household name among blues aficionados. In her musical persona, her lyrics, and her personal life, Big Time Sarah is a woman of power who staunchly refuses to bow before any authority but the Lord and her own iron determination to prevail.
She was born in Coldwater, Mississippi, in 1953, but she was in Chicago by the time she was five years old. "I started out in a little kids’ choir in a small church, on 43rd St. and St. Lawrence, called Emmanuel Healing Temple," she says. "I was raised up with the gospel and the blues. During the weekdays my father and brother and uncle would always get together around the house or each others’ house and play the blues. They would play their records of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters."
Chicago was pulsing with music - blues, soul, R&B - but Sarah says she didn’t listen to the radio much as a girl. "I actually didn’t get into hearing music too much until I was fifteen, sixteen years old. I had an aunt who sneaked me around, into Buddy Guy’s (the Checkerboard Lounge, on 43rd St.) , Theresa’s Lounge (48th and Indiana), and Louise’s Lounge (also known as the South Park Lounge, at the corner of 69th and King Drive). Where I first heard soul and blues was the Blue Flame, used to be on 39th Street; we lived right across the street from there. All the soul people - Garland Green and all of them - used to play. I would sneak into the Blue Flame just to hear the music."
Before long, the feisty young club-hopper was sitting in with the cream of the Chicago blues world, including the legendary Aces (Louis Myers, Dave Myers, and drummer Fred Below); Magic Slim and the Teardrops; and less well-known but highly respected performers like the late guitarist Left-Hand Frank Craig. She remembers playing south side venues like Morgen’s Liquors on 61st St. - a liquor store with a nightclub in the back - as well as the South Park Lounge, Florence’s, and others.
Meanwhile, on the north side, clubs like Elsewhere and the Wise Fools were drawing enthusiastic crowds to hear the blues in neighborhoods where they’d seldom been heard before. Fabled pianist Sunnyland Slim was a regular on this burgeoning circuit. Aside from the monumental musical contributions he’d made to the blues over the years, he had a reputation for being a sharp-eyed spotter and conscientious developer of young talent. He was also, not incidentally, a renowned ladies’ man.
"My aunt took me to see him at the Wise Fools," Sarah relates, "and she introduced me to him. This was maybe 1978, ’79. He called me up on the stage to sing one song with him, and the next day he called my house and invited me down to his poolroom and store, on 61st Street, and asked me did I want to record. And I told him, 'Yes'. And then he asked me have I traveled, I said, 'No'; He said 'Would you like to travel?' I said, 'Yes'. He was doing a tour out in California with John Lee Hooker, Hubert Sumlin; we did Mississippi with Lacy Gibson - oh, God, it was so many of us on that tour! - and I really got into traveling."
She also got into recording. She appeared on Sunnyland’s own Airway label; in 1982, while on tour with Zora Young and Bonnie Lee, she recorded an album in Paris with her tour-mates called Blues With The Girls. Among other subsequent recordings, her 1993 Delmark debut Lay It On ’Em Girls (Delmark 659) helped cement her reputation as a purveyor of the kind of ballsy, no-nonsense blues still emanating from Chicago as the 20th Century wended its way to a close.
These days, Sarah says, she’s concentrating on whipping her new band into shape and expanding her artistic and musical endeavors: "I want to do a nationwide tour," she affirms in her trademark half-sultry, half-sandpaper purr, "do some movie spots, do some commercials, and travel - as long as I’m not in Chicago! I want to stay on the road!
"Some of my stuff I’ve put together on this CD, some of it is a little in the soul way; it’s not all real core blues. I have talked to (Delmark owner) Bob Koester about doing a gospel record, with all the lady blues singers. So hopefully we can do one together."
Sarah, who still sometimes caps off her live performances with a gospel song, sees no contradiction in mixing the sacred and secular in her work. "I started out in soul and gospel," she reminds us. "All the music we’re doing now comes from gospel."
That forward-looking yet roots-conscious musical vision permeates this disk. Emotional honesty, rather than purist-minded allegiance to any one style or genre, characterizes Sarah’s work. The jubilant "Red Dress" is her answer to Tommy Tucker’s immortal "High Heel Sneakers", given a regional stamp by a Chicago soul-style female chorus testifying and cooing in the background. The title tune, with its sophisticated soul/blues arrangement, is moody and nocturnal, wracked with desire, a celebration of love’s ache as well as its healing powers. On "Riverboat", Sarah serves up a classic blues fable - the perils of gambling - set in a contemporary landscape. "Fannie Mae" is a Big Time Sarah classic, a hard-living anthem from the kind of wild woman who may not get the blues, but is ready and willing to give ’em at a moment’s notice. "Trying To Make A Living" is another rough-edged, streetsy ode to hard times and survival.
Then there’s "I’ll Take Care Of You", originally made famous by Bobby "Blue" Bland. Sarah’s voice softens from emery board to silk, as if to remind us that no one can soothe pain like one who’s been through it, no one can ease where it hurts like one who’s been hurt in the same place herself. But she brings everything back home on "Stop Your Killing Me" - in the great blues tradition, it’s a complaint about mistreatment that’s also a promise to break the chains and claim freedom. "Man, you pushin’ me a little too far," she proclaims, and then adds - not for the first time in her life, and probably not the last - "I’m about to draw the line!"
Still "talkin stuff", still sassing back, still claiming her place in the spotlight and daring anyone to dislodge her from it. So, what’s in a name? In Big Time Sarah’s case, nothing less than a life - lived, sung, and celebrated on no one’s terms, and in no one’s name, but her own.