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Album Review

Willie Mabon's harp-blowing, talk-singing stripe of piano blues, with honking horns, stop-start rhythms, and loads of cocky, cranky humor, came together in one of the biggest R&B hits of 1952: "I Don't Know." Topping the charts for eight weeks, Mabon's song even crossed over to the pop field via a Top 20 rendition by Buddy Morrow. Mabon followed up "I Don't Know" with the very similar "I'm Mad" and reached the number one spot once again. When copycat singles such as "Would You Baby?" failed to move, Mabon broke out with "Poison Ivy," his final hit, which features a stomping rhythm and straightforward singing. 1949-1954 collects Mabon's three hits and 17 other cuts originally recorded for Apollo, Parrot, and Chess Records that reveal Mabon to be more versatile than "I Don't Know" and "I'm Mad" might suggest. He serves up a variety of loping boogies ("Bogey Man"), urban blues jams ("Night Latch" and "Cruisin'"), raucous shouters with call-and-response vocals ("Say Man"), and the occasional slow blues. Anyone compiling the biggest R&B hits of the early '50s would be certain to encounter Mabon, and 1949-1954 rounds up his hard-to-find hits and misses in a chronological package with good sound quality and session information but not much in the way of liner notes.


Born: 24 October 1925 in Hollywood, TN

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

The sly, insinuating vocals and chunky piano style of Willie Mabon won the heart of many an R&B fan during the early '50s. His salty Chess waxings "I Don't Know," "I'm Mad," and "Poison Ivy" established the pianist as a genuine Chicago blues force, but he faded as an R&B hitmaker at the dawn of rock & roll. Mabon was already well-grounded in blues tradition from his Memphis upbringing when he hit Chicago in 1942. Schooled in jazz as well as blues, Mabon found the latter his ticket to stardom. His...
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1949-1954, Willie Mabon
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