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An Introduction to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee

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Album Review

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee made their first recording together in 1941, and became the longest-running blues duo in memory, stringing out nearly 40 years of recordings and gigs until their gradually emerging distaste for each other finally proved insurmountable and brought an end to the musical partnership. Although they recorded in a surprisingly varied number of styles, they are best remembered for their fortuitous take on traditional Piedmont blues material during the folk boom of the 1950s and early '60s, a musical revival that no doubt rescued Terry & McGhee from the scrap pile of blues history. Driven by Terry's trademark high-pitched and whooping harmonica and McGhee's solid, steady acoustic guitar playing, the pair updated their traditional blues material just enough to earn steady gigs on the college and coffeehouse circuit, and if they had a tendency to knock off most of the rough edges in the songs they did, enough of the Piedmont tradition remained to make them valuable keepers of the flame. This generous set (clocking in at around 73 minutes) is drawn mostly from loose sessions recorded in Los Angeles on July 6 and 7, 1960, with fellow folk-blues legends Big Joe Williams and Lightnin' Hopkins (who appear here on "Early in the Morning Blues," "Trouble in Mind," and "Midnight Special"). Material from this session has appeared countless times in different combinations and sequences under an assortment of titles on a whole host of labels ever since, so nothing here is particularly rare, but this selection seems to have been assembled with an eye toward coherence and pacing, making it a pleasant introduction to what Terry & McGhee have to offer. Highlights include the easy, casual swing of "Walk On," a spirited "Down by the Riverside," a sweetly balanced "I Was Born in the Blues," and the unlisted 18th track, a version of "I'm a Poor Man But a Good Man."


Born: 30 November 1915 in Knoxville, TN

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Brownie McGhee's death in 1996 was an enormous loss in the blues field. Although he had been semi-retired and suffering from stomach cancer, the guitarist was still the leading Piedmont-style bluesman on the planet, venerated worldwide for his prolific activities both on his own and with his longtime partner, blind harpist Sonny Terry. Together, McGhee and Terry worked for decades in an acoustic folk-blues bag, singing ancient ditties like "John Henry" and "Pick a Bale of Cotton" for appreciative...
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