As Mark Humphrey's excellent liner notes to The Guitar Wizard point out, the Chicago blues scene wasn't created by Muddy Waters in the 1940s; post-World War I immigrants from the impoverished South to the industrial cities of the Midwest brought their Delta-born blues with them. The idiom, it could be said, had set its roots down some two decades earlier with the legacy of bottleneck blues genius Tampa Red.
Tampa Red's The Guitar Wizard
Born Hudson Woodbridge in Georgia in the early part of this century, the talented guitarist was raised by his grandmother's family in Tampa, Florida. Making his way to Chicago, by 1925 he had already built a reputation as a street performer under his professional name, Tampa Red. Along with pianist, composer, and vocalist Thomas Dorsey, a fellow Georgian, the two recorded their first sides in 1928. They instantly struck gold with the hit song "It's Tight Like That," a song that they would go on to record several more times under a variety of names for a number of different labels.
The Guitar Wizard presents seventeen cuts featuring the bottleneck stylings of Tampa Red, beginning with the Okeh label version of "It's Tight Like That." The commercial success of that song, which brought a new, jazzy, more vaudeville-type sound to traditional blues, evolved into a style of music dubbed "hokum." A short-lived musical trend, represented on this collection by a handful of cuts, hokum's influence has nonetheless been long-reaching, touching artists such as Bob Wills and Leon Redbone.
Tampa Red & Georgia Tom
The blues are what Tampa Red did best, though, and they are presented here in abundance. Nine cuts feature Red accompanied by "Georgia Tom" Dorsey, including such hits from the era as "You Can't Get That Stuff No More" or "Reckless Man Blues." The Depression broke up the successful duo, with Dorsey going on to lay the foundation for the subsequent success of gospel music with his spiritual recordings.
Tampa Red went on to record solo for Vocalion before jumping labels in the late-1930s. Red's distinctive vocals and bottleneck prowess are showcased in cuts here, from "Turpentine Blues" and "Sugar Mama Blues" to "Black Angel Blues," which was to become a hit for several other artists as well.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Tampa Red remained a best-selling blues artist well into the 1940s, by which time he had become the Godfather of the Chicago blues scene. His stylistic breakthroughs, as illustrated by the work collected on The Guitar Wizard, would influence a generation of better-known blues artists, including Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and B.B. King. The Guitar Wizard collection finally pays a fitting tribute to this obscure genius. (Sony Legacy Recordings)