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Louisiana Red – When My Mama Was Living (1932-2012)

Labor Records LAB 7085

16 songs – 66 minutes

When the world lost Louisiana Red at age 79 on Feb. 25, 2012, it lost its last true link to the first generation of blues superstars. His was a blues life from beginning to end. His mother died of pneumonia shortly after his birth in Bessimer, Alabama, and he was orphaned at five, when his father was hanged by the Ku Klux Klan. He bounced from orphanage to orphanage before his grandmother moved him to Pennsylvania and took him in. Like his musical forefathers, however, he didn’t stay long. By his late teens, he was already an itinerant bluesman, traveling the back roads, drifting from town to town, playing wherever he could.

And when he sang, accompanying himself eloquently on harmonica or guitar, he transported you to the Delta from the first note. Close your eyes and listen to his strong, plaintive raw-boned vocals and you can almost smell the heat cooking the fertile soil under a hot summer sun and hear the Mississippi River rippling in the background. Despite working with Eddie Burns and John Lee Hooker in Detroit in the mid-1940s and recording for the Chess label in 1949, he didn’t release his first album, “Lowdown Back Porch Blues,” until 1963. Fifty more LPs followed in his lifetime. But he grew so frustrated, he abandoned the music business in the 1970s and took a job with the Bayonne Barrel Company in New Jersey.

It was during that period that Red, born Iverson Minter, met producer/songwriter/label owner Kent Cooper during a period when he didn’t even own a guitar. The friendship produced two LPs for a subsidiary of Labor Records, predominantly a classical label, and re-launched his career. This CD is a chilling treasure trove of unreleased and alternate acoustic takes from those mid-’70s sessions. The recording captures Louisiana Red at the top of his game, and the sound quality is exceptional. Like most of the material he recorded, it’s deceptively simple in format, but extremely rich in texture. He’s accompanied on a few tracks by medicine show performer/comedian Peg Leg Sam on harmonica and Lefty Dizz, one of Chicago’s best, but most overlooked guitarists.

Among covers Rev. Gary Davis’ “You Got To Move,” the traditional “John Henry” and an acoustic version of Slim Harpo’s “King Bee” are several originals, some by Red, some by Cooper and some by the partnership they produced. Among the standouts are “Walk All Over Georgia,” “Got A Girl With A Dog Won’t Bark,” “Cold White Sheet” and “When My Mama Was Living.” As an added bonus, Peg Leg Sam is featured on two solos – “Little Susie Jane” and “I’ll Be Glad When You Are Dead You Rascal You.”

There will probably be a flood of reissues of Louisiana Red CDs in the next few months, but it will be difficult to top this one.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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