Delmark Records was founded in 1953 and claims to be the oldest independent record label in the country. Owner Bob Koester also owns and operates what he claims to be the biggest jazz and blues record store in the country, The Jazz Record Mart, also in Chicago. Mr. Koester’s claims are, of course, quiet probably true. The jazz catalog includes everything from straight-ahead to traditional to avant-garde. The AACM (Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Muhal Richards Abrams, et. al.) made their first records here. The blues side is as adventurous, with classic Chicago and Mississippi artists prominent. Koester started the label and store because he is a music fan first and foremost. In addition to its own formidable roster, the label offers classic reissues of the United, Apollo and other labels, as well as a steady stream of modern day classics-in-the-making. Among the most recent releases are these treasures:
**** Sleepy John Estes: Newport Blues; Delmark DE-639 Delmark released their first Sleepy John Estes album in 1962. This convocation of vocalist/guitarist player Estes, mandolinist Yank Rachel and harmonica player Hammie Nixon is the epitome of the country blues. That this 17-song set from the 1964 Newport Folk Festival is seeing the light of day for the first time is a joy for traditional blues fans. How something this monumentally important and exciting was overlooked is a mystery. This is uncut and live, including the between song banter between the legendary players. "Airplane Blues," "80 Highway" and "Government Money" are the standouts in this extraordinary collection.
*** Robert McCoy; Delmark DE-759 Not to be confused with the Robert McCoy who metamorphosed into slide guitar master Robert Nighthawk, the Robert McCoy at hand was a heavy-handed barrelhouse pianist who recorded a couple of LPs back in the 1960s. This is the first release on CD of this obscure pianist. He proves himself a clever ivory tickler on his "Pratt City Special," on which he takes a couple of unexpected stylistic breaks. He offers wonderful takes on James Oden’s classic "Goin’ Down Slow," Scrapper Blackwell’s raucous "Straight Alky Blues," Speckled Red’s "Rockin’ with Red," and Jimmy Rushing’s "Sent For You Yesterday." Interspersed are a dozen originals that rock the old upright mightily.
**** ½ Jack McVea: McVootie’s Central Avenue Blues; Delmark DE-756. Tenor and alto saxophonist McVea had a huge hit in 1945 with "Open the Door Richard." This Apollo date from 1945 finds him swinging in fine fashion in a style somewhere between former Lionel Hampton bandmate Illinois Jacquet and Louis Jordan, with the occasional bit of sweet Johnny Hodges thrown in for good measure. The program runs from gorgeous ballads to risqué rhythm & blues, most of which benefit from the vocals of drummer Rabon Tarrant, though there are a pair of Wynonie Harris vocals to recommend the collection, as well, including the wild "Baby Look At You" ("you want to pull your knife and cut me ‘cause I won’t let you tell me what to do"). They don’t write ‘em like that anymore. One of my favorite discs of the year, this is one of the great jazz/R&B collections of the era.
*** ½ "Guitar Slim" Seward & "Jelly Belly" Hayes: The Back Porch Boys; Delmark DE-755 Not the Guitar Slim who recorded the 1955 blue classic "The Things That I Used to Do," this Slim comes with as strong a pedigree, though with a decidedly more southern accent. With his partner Louis Jelly Belly Hayes, Slim produced a solid program of country blues for Apollo in the late 1940s. What stands this disc apart from other obscure blues recordings is the presence of the legendary Blind Willie McTell and Champion Jack Dupree (with Brownie McGhee in the band). Delmark has frequently lumped other artists on collections for whom the primary artists did not have enough material to fill up a full disc. The McTell material alone is worth the price of admission. His solo program on five sacred tunes is spine-chilling.