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As a charter member of the Headhunters, the brash crew that also included Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers (so named because of their penchant for entering nightclubs featuring other musicians and blowing them off the stage with their superior musicianship), "Baby Face" Leroy Foster was on hand to help develop the postwar Chicago blues idiom. Unfortunately, he wasn't around long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labors.
The Mississippi native came to Chicago in 1945 in the star-crossed company of harpist Little Walter and pianist Johnny Jones. He worked with Sunnyland Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson before hooking up with the young and hungry Waters aggregation. Foster played drums on 1948 dates for Tempo-Tone that produced Floyd Jones' brooding "Hard Times," Little Walter's "Blue Baby," and a Sunnyland Slim-fronted "I Want My Baby."
He switched to rhythm guitar to accompany Waters on several of his 1948-1949 Aristocrat 78s, notably "You're Gonna Miss Me (When I'm Dead and Gone)," "Mean Red Spider," and "Screamin' and Cryin'," as well as Johnny Jones' rolling "Big Town Playboy." Foster also recorded for Aristocrat as a frontman: "Locked Out Boogie" and "Shady Grove Blues" were done at a 1948 date that produced six Muddy masters.
Waters got in some hot water with the Chess brothers when he moonlighted on Foster's rip-roaring eight-song session for Parkway in January of 1950. Though Foster's crashing drums are prominent throughout, Muddy's slashing slide and mournful moans are clearly heard on Foster's two-part "Rollin' and Tumblin'" — enough so that Waters was forced to wax his own version for Aristocrat to kill sales on Foster's rendition by his bosses.
Those Parkway masters had amazing resiliency — Foster's raunchy "Red Headed Woman" reemerged on Savoy in 1954 ("Boll Weevil" had turned up on Herald the previous year). Two singles for JOB — 1950's "My Head Can't Rest Anymore"/"Take a Little Walk with Me" (with Muddy and Rogers in support, it was later released on Chess) and 1952's "Pet Rabbit"/"Louella" (with Sunnyland and guitarist Robert Jr. Lockwood lending a hand) — round out his slim vinyl legacy. Alcoholism brought Baby Face down early: he was only 35 years old when he died in 1958.