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Sure, the name Buster Bennett sounds like the name of a bluesman, so much so that the familiarity of it all leads many to answer positively when asked if they have heard of this artist. The cold, hard reality is that they probably have not. This Chicago blues saxophonist and vocalist, who appeared on more than two dozen recording sessions between 1938 and 1947, has been pretty much forgotten, except among collectors of the most obscure blues material. He was born Joseph Bennett on the Florida gulf coast, began playing professionally in Texas, and arrived in Chicago when he was 19, cutting his first recordings shortly thereafter. He got his start on blues sessions for the Melrose label, working regularly on sessions for this firm from 1938 to 1942. This included sides with the great Big Bill Broonzy, as well as much less-remembered artists such as the optimistic Yas Yas Girl and the mischievious Monkey Joe. He collaborated best with the lively Washboard Sam, whose music had a ragtime element just perfect for the alto or soprano sax to romp around in. Bennett also worked off the Melrose plantation on sessions for Jimmie Gordon under the direction of R&B legend Sammy Price. Bennett's presence on so many sessions might have been because of more than just sheer musical talent. Apparently, he was quite persuasive at getting advances out of various session producers, who would then have to schedule him on dates in order to recoup. Bennett's early recorded efforts reveal distinctive gutbucket mannerisms which throw back to the Roaring '20s, including his use of the soprano sax, temporarily out of fashion at that time. His recording career can be divided into two parts, although this may have had more to do with existing opportunities or recording trends then artistic direction. He began working in the aforementioned blues accompanist capacity, but in the second period was eventually signed as a leader, presented as a hard-edged, raunchy instrumentalist and blues singer. The American Recording Company did not have any interest in recording the blues standards by artists such as Robert Johnson that were apparently the meat of his nightclub repertoire, except for one combination of such material, recorded under the name of the "Buster Bennett Medley." Although he played on records that were hits, such as "Diggin' My Potatoes," whatever claim to fame he might have really stems from his own three-year contract with Columbia, which began in 1945. The label tried to sell him as another Louis Jordan, with whom there are superficial similarities, i.e., a frontman who plays sax. The two artists really had little in common besides this. He came across as more of an old-fashioned blues singer than Jordan, and much less polished. The differences continued on sax, where Jordan would near bebop licks, while Bennett hung with an almost quaint New Orleans tone and rhythmic feel. As a bandleader, he looked for similar musical directions in his players. An instrumental tune entitled "Leap Frog," which he did not write but adapted as something of a theme song, showed his adeptness with intricate melodic jumps on the horn and for a time, led to a double-deckered nickname for him: Buster "Leap Frog" Bennett. The end of his recording days basically coincided with the general decline of blues recording in Chicago. This included Columbia completing its race series in 1950. By the mid-'50s, Bennett suffered from health problems that required him to quit playing professionally, and he ended up leaving Chicago and retiring in Texas. Houston newspapers did absolutely nothing to commemorate his passing: there was no obituary and not even a notice in the column for area deaths.
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