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Yank Rachell’s Tennessee Jug-Busters – Mandolin Blues
Delmark DE 606 (1998)
With Sleepy John Estes; Big Joe Williams; Mike Bloomfield, guitar; Hammie Nixon, harmonica, jug
Mandolin – Yank Rachell (tracks: 1 to 5, 7 to 16)
Guitar – Mike Bloomfield (tracks: 10 to 16), Yank Rachell (tracks: 6)
Guitar [9-string] – Big Joe Williams (tracks: 10 to 15)
Harmonica – Hammie Nixon (tracks: 1 to 5, 7 to 14)
Jug – Hammie Nixon (tracks: 1, 7, 12)
Vocals – Big Joe Williams (tracks: 12), Sleepy John Estes (tracks: 7), Yank Rachell (tracks: 1 to 11, 13 to 16)
Backing Vocals [Occasional Vocal Encouragements] – Hammie Nixon
1 Texas Tony 3:40
2 Girl Of My Dreams 5:03
3 Do The Boogie Mama (Take 3) 2:43
4 Starvation In My Kitchen 4:28
5 I'm Gonna Get Up In The Morning 3:54
6 Lonesome Blues 2:18
7 Shout Baby Shout 3:04
8 Rocky Mountain Blues 4:12
9 Do The Boogie Mama (Take 2) 2:34
10 Stop Knocking On My Door 2:54
11 Doorbell Blues 4:22
12 Move Your Hand 3:43
13 Get Your Morning Exercise 2:28
14 When My Baby Comes Back Home 3:42
15 Up And Down The Line 4:11
16 Bye Bye Baby 3:48
Songs 1-9 recorded March 6, 1963, 10-16 recorded March 31, 1963
Songs 1-9 recorded at Mike Bloomfield's residence by Bob Koester and Pete Welding. Songs 10-16 recorded by Don Queen at his residence.
Yank Rachell was the master of mandolin blues and this was the first blues LP to feature this instrument. Of course the mandolin had been recorded before that; Yank himself recorded for Victor in 1929 & ’30. Later he accompanied Memphis Minnie and Walter Davis in the studio. He met Sonny Boy Williamson (the first one) and the two became good friends, recording together for several years. The folk-blues revival of the early ’60s saw older bluesmen being re-discovered. Delmark found and recorded Estes, Speckled Red, Big Joe, Arthur Crudup & Yank, which was the beginning of blues recording at the label. Six previously unissued performances have been added bringing this album up to 63 minutes.
Amid the bewildering rlldau of folk-blues albums being issued today few possess a great degree of individuality. We need hardly point out that Mcrndolin Blues is one such album: it's the very first LP to feature this instrument, and it is also one of the very few authentic skiffle LP's available.
There is a slender thread of tradition in the use of the mandolin as accompaniment to the blues. A few names tell virtually all that is known. Charlie McCoy, Mississippi-born bother of Kansas Joe McCoy, guitarist and one-time spouse of Memphis Minnie, is gone. Willie Hatchett, heard on those rare Speckled Red Bluebird's, is out-of-action. Johnny Young, who can be heard on the Testament label's anthology of Chicago blues, represents--hell, is a younger generation. Blues collectors who have heard a great many recordings of the 20's and 30's agree that Yank Rachell of Brownsville, Tennessee is the best of the lot. Fortunately, Yank survives and we can enjoy his music as a contemporary expression of blues tradition.
For some reason the blues mandolinists were rarely singers. James "Yank" Rachell is an exception. He is not only a vocal- ist but an extremely warm and expressive one. Today, the Rachell style is, curiously, akin to that of his 1929-1930 Victor recordings made before he was influenced by the style of the original Sonny Boy Williamson.
Yank was rediscovered as a result of the fantastic discovery of Sleepy John Estes. Once the shock of Estes' reappearance had dissipated, the obvious question arose: who played har- monica, piano, lead guitar, and mandolin on the old records? Are any of these ~usicians still alive and able to play?
The answers stimulated other searches. For guitarist John Henry Barbee. For Lee Brown. For Yank Rachell. Harmoni- cist Hammie Nixon -¥ho still lived in Brownsville--had Yank's address in Indianapolis.
And so this record ...
Two very informal sessions were recorded in private homes in Chicago. Mike Bloomfield found a jug (non-alcoholic type) for Hammie Nixon who uses it on three tracks--perhaps most effectively on the country dance tune, Texas Tony. Lonesonze Blues is included as an example of Yank's beautiful mandolin- Influenced guitar playing. (Bioomfield soon had to look for a new apartment because Harnmie's foot-stomping dislodged some plaster on the ceiling of the apartment below. The second session was held in the home of a Chicago electronics engineer and; when Yank, Hammie and John were late for the session, it was decided to record Big Joe. Joe had his guitar set Up when the Tennessee three appeared. The five-piece unit that was recorded by happy accident warmed up immediately-- before the engineer had a chance to get mikes placed. We have selected takes for release here irrespective of recording quality in the belief that the music is more important. Big Joe Wil- liams' Move Your Hand is one of those spontaneous miracles that gladdens the heart of A&R men. We were tempted to hold it for Joe's next Delmark LP but it was too good to suppress for even a few months.
Yank Rachell was born on March 16, 1908 on a farm near Brownsville in Heywood County, Tennessee of George Rachell and Lula Taylor. He had two brothers, Leslie and A.B. and grew up with the cotton, corn, peas, sweet potatoes, sorghum, and watermelon and hogs of his father's small farm. Two relatives who played guitar, Uncle Daniel Taylor and Cousin Henry Taylor, contributed toward his education in music but Y~k's first musical instrument came from Augie Rawls who played mandolin. "He was a man when I was a kid of 8 or 10. My mother gave me a pig to raise but I wanted a mandolin and slipped off with the pig and traded it to Augie Bawls for a mandolin. Mother didn't miss the pig for awhile but when she found the old mandolin she put two and two together."
James Kachell went to school at Brownsville Taylor Chapel. "We were way out in the country," he recalled, "so we went to school in the church. I imagine I got to sixth grade."
Once out of school, Yank began to pick up spare money playing music. "My mother began to get happy when I got so I could bring home eight or nine dollars from playing that old mandolin." Yank played for country house dances and
the more sedate "white dances" and his repertoire broadened to include such tunes as Pig Ankle, Bugle Call Rag; You Are My Sunshine, The Waltz Yole Saved For Me, Caldonia (years before it was recorded by Louis Jordan), and Turkey In The Straw, as well as the blues. He sang and played harmonica and violin as well. "They didn't do too much drinking. Mostly they'd just dance and have a good time."
The country house dances of the Negroes were something else: "They'd take down the beds to make room, put a table 'cross the kitchen door where they'd cook catfish and sell it, sell moonshine, and shoot craps in the barn. Late at night it'd get rough. They'd shoot out the lights. One night I remember Sleepy John and I had to run off. He got hung up on a barbwire fence."
Yank's reputation grew and he eventually met most of the other bluesmen of the area: Son Goss, Hambone Willie New- burn, Waiter Franklin, and eventually Sleepy John Estes.
In 1926, Yank left the farm and went to work on the L&N railroad. "... from Brownsville into Memphis and into Paris, Tennessee. We'd build fence 'side the road. I told them I was twenty. I got good with the man and he told me to holler something for the boys. At night we stayed in box-cars with bunks up 'side the wall."
After five years, Yank quit and teamed up with Estes to travel thru the Paducah-Memphis area playing music. "We were in Memphis playing on Short Beale Street--you could do that then but they'd run you away from there now--when Jab Jones came up and listened and finally said,'You can make records and get you some money' and got us an audition with Ralph Peers who told us to come up to the big auditorium on Front Street near the river to record. The three of us made $900.00 that day and went down to Beale Street and bought two suits of clothes apiece and went to West Memphis. We had to spend that money, I had to pawn my watch to get back. Money and fools don't stay together."
So Yank Rachell made his first records. He also recalls playing mandolin behind Memphis Minnie at about the same period and he made a few more sides for Vocallion in New York in 1934. Then an historic meeting took place.
Yank was working on a dairy farm "and picking up extra money playing in Jaxon one night when Sonny Boy Williamson came riding by on his bike." The two became good friends and recorded together for several jrears. Beginning in 1938, Yank's life for several years consisted of a series of moves back-and-forth between Brownsville and St. Louis. He recorded with Waiter Davis at one of his late-30's sessions In Aurora, Illinois and continued to accompany Sonny Boy as well as to record on his own.
In 1955, after the death of his wife's parents, Yank sold his home in Brownsville and moved to Indianapolis. The change of locale proved to be the beginning of a run of very bad luck. Yank's wife became seriously ill shortly after the move and died, after a series of operations which depleted Yank's finances and forced him to sell his home. Then Yank was laid off of his job because of a physical disability which still pre- vents him from doing any heavy work.
Since his rediscovery, Yank has appeared extensively with Sleepy John Estes and on his own at such places as the University of Chicago, the Fickle Pickle, Oberlin College, Baltimore's Le Gallerie Flambeau, the Corneli U. Folk Festival and elsewhere. A European tour is imminent and a new con- cert season approaches.
There is a nobility and forthrightness about Rachell that is unusual for a bluesman. His marriage in 1937 to Ella Mae Johnson was apparently happier than the more casual relation- ships of many bluesmen and Yank is proud of his four chil- dren: Willa Bee, May Neil, James, Jr., and J.C. who is follow- ing in his father's footsteps--he's a member of The Travelling Inner Lights, Indianapolis gospel group.
Perhaps the release of this LP will signal a bright new career for a great mandolin bluesman.