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“MISSISSIPPI SHEIK” (Walter Vinson) (vcl, g) accompanied by Jesse Coleman (p) Sam Hill (g) Pops Foster (b) Earl Watkins (drs)

MAMA YANCEY (vcl) accompanied by Little Brother Montgomery (p) Sam Hill (g) Earl Watkins (drs)

HENRY BENSON (g, vcl, harmonica) accompanied by Little Brother Montgomery (p) Pops Foster (b) Earl Watkins (drs)

LITTLE BROTHER MONTGOMERY (vcl, p) accompanied by Ted Butterman (cnt) Bob Gordon (cl) Rufus Brown (ts) Mike McKendrick (bj)

All recorded in Chicago; September 6 & 8, 1961


  1. Mississippi Sheiks: A Wonderful Thing (4:00) (Walter Vinson)

  2. Mama Yancey: Four O’clock Blues (3:47) (Estella Yancey)

  3. Little Brother Montgomery: New Satellite Blues (4:15) (E. Montgomery)

  4. Mama Yancey: How Long Bleus (3:00) (Leroy Carr)

  5. Henry Benson: Jelly Jelly (2:45) (Hines – Eckstine)


  1. Mississippi Sheiks: I Knew You Were Kiddin’ All the Time (3:00) (W. Vinson)

  2. Mama Yancey: Mama Yancey’s Blues (4:43) (E. Yancey)

  3. Henry Benson: Jelly Roll Baker (3:21) (Lonnie Johnson)

  4. Mama Yancey: Make Me a Pallet on the Floor (5:00) (trad.)

  5. Mississippi Sheiks: Things ‘Bout Comin’ My Way (3:16) (trad.)

   A collection of blues performances such as this one is surely an inevitable part of this “Living Legends” series of recordings. Chicago has often been called “The Home of the Blues,” and rightly so – for during the 1920s it provided a home base for most of the famous blues singers. The city’s geographical location, easily accessible from the South and Midwest by way of the Mississippi, had led many New Orleans jazz and blues artists to migrate to Chicago after the 1917 closing of the Storyville district, and also had much to do with the rapid growth of Chicago’s Negro community (the Negro population of the South Side more than doubled between 1910 and 1920). The blues was something they understood, particularly as performed by favorite artists who were not too far removed from their audiences and whose blues lyrics told stories that were both simple and recognizably true to life.

   The 1920s peak of the blues has long since passed, but Chicago remains an important center of American Negro life, and remains also the home of a great many blues singers and players – some of who were a part of that earlier era and all of whom have avoided the change to a more sophisticated and polished style that so many other performers seem to have found necessary for survival. The singers featured in this album, although of disparate backgrounds, have in common the fact that they make no attempts at gimmicks or artificial sophistication, that all sing in a style that is naturally their own.

   Four of the ten selections are sung by ESTELLA (better known as MAMA) YANCEY, widow of the late Jimmy Yancey, who was one of the most famous exponents of boogie woogie piano. Mama first recorded in 1943, accompanied by her husband. Before that time she had been known only to her friends, but those records established her as a noteworthy contributor to the blues. The present selections are her first recordings in many years, and the very first on which she was not accompanied by her husband. When Mama arrived at “The Birdhouse” (the Chicago nightclub that doubled as a daytime recording studio for our “Living Legends” series), she claimed she couldn’t give our engineer a voice balance until – pointing to a bottle f beer – she had gotten her own balance! Then this remarkable old lady stepped onto the stage, leaned against the piano, nodded to accompanist Little Brother Montgomery, and belted out the blues in her unique and thoroughly youthful fashion.

   The group that calls itself THE MISSISSIPPI SHEKS is made up of Walter Vinson (whose nickname is the same as the group’s name), Jesse Coleman (also known as “Monkey Joe”, and Sam Hill. Actually, all three are fine blues singers, but Vinson’s is the only voice heard here. We regretted not being able to record more by this trio. But their being included at all in our crowded Chicago schedule was strictly a last-minutes matter. I had first heard of the group the day before we completed recording, and was fortunate in being able to squeeze them in at the end of our last session. Along Coleman’s fine piano and the lead guitar of Sam Hill (who had ct two sides for Victor in 1929 an four for the Brunswick label in ’31 as his most recent previous recordings).

   This album also marks a record debut. HENRY BENSN not only had never recorded, but hadn’t even sung with other musicians before this. Quite by accident, I had heard Henry – who works as a combination waiter and washroom attendant in the cocktail lounge of the Croyden Hotel on Chicago’s Rush Street – put on an impromptu performance there one evening, when he whipped a small harmonica from his pocket and sang some bleus at the request of Julie London. I liked his voice, and when he told me he had never sung professionally, decided to include him in this album as representative of the many Chicago blues singers who, although they have been singing for many years, have remained almost totally unexposed and obscure. Henry has been singing for about thirty years – but just “for friends and the family,” His lack of experience with accompanists is easily detected on Jelly, Jelly, where he comes in before Little Brother has finished his piano chorus, but the voice and spirit are there and to strive for perfection with a number of retakes might easily have destroyed that spirit and the spontaneity that is the heart of his performance.

   Undoubtedly the best known of the featured artists here is LITTLE BROTHER MONTGOMERY, whose first records were made in 1929 for the Paramount label (although he didn’t sings only one number here, but his services as pianist for both Mama Yancey and Henry Benson make him the most valuable overall contributor to this collection. Born in Kentwood, Louisiana, Montgomery worked around New Orleans for awhile, and then moved to Chicago in the ‘20s. He was primarily known as a pianist until the mid-‘30s when, having returned briefly to New Orleans, he recorded some twenty-two vocal sides for the Bluebird label’s famous bleus series. (A more detailed account of little Brother’s career appears in the notes to the LP in this “Living Legends” series which is devoted entirely to his work.)


   This album is part of an extensive group of recordings of traditional jazz as played today made by Riverside in Chicago during September, 1961, and issued under the general series title, “Chicago: The Living Legends,” The artists on the present album are among those who can be heard on the first .release in this series, an overall survey of the current Windy City scene –

CHICAGO: The living Legends (RLP 389/390; Stereo RLP 9389/9390 – a two-LP set)



Recording Engineer: BARRETT CLARK

Mobil Unit assistant: RICHARD COHN

Album design: KEN DEARDOFF

Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO

Mastered by NEAL CEPPOS (Plaza Sound Studios)


235 West 46th Street New York City 36, New York

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