Mr. Blues : Wynonie Harris - part two©2006JCMarion


The new year of 1952 starts out for Harris with a good chart reaction to "Lovin Machine" especially in the East in New York, Newark, and Philadelphia. It becomes Wynonie Harris' final national top ten best seller in the R & B field. In March, again with the Todd Rhodes band, Wynonie records "Here Comes The Night" and "My Playful Baby's Gone" (a sequel to his earlier hit on Apollo) on # 4507. The record begins to sell well on the West coast. In April Harris along with Larry Darnell and the Eddie Durham band ready a tour of one nighters through the Midwest and Texas and then end up in New York in June. Also in April, "Keep On Churning" and "Married Woman Stay Married" is released on King # 4526. In July "Keep On Churning" makes the R & B best sellers in New York. In early August Wynonie and Larry Darnell play a week at Baltimore's Royal Theater. In August Harris records a vocal version of the R & B standard "Night Train" with lyrics written by Wynonie himself. The flip side is "Do It Again, Please" on King # 4555. In November "Rot Gut" and "Greyhound" are released by King on # 4592. At year's end Wynonie Harris begins a tour with Peppermint Harris and Larry Darnell.

In late January of 1953 Wynonie once again teams with Larry Darnell and also Varetta Dillard and the Frank Humphries band for a tour of one nighters through the Mid-Atlantic states and the South to run through February and mid March. Coinciding with the start of he tour King Records releases # 4593 - "Bad News Baby" and "Bring It Back". Harris records an "answer record" to Ruth Brown's huge hit "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean". His tune is entitled "Mama Your Daughter Done Told A Lie On Me" for King on #4620 ("Wasn't That Good?" is on the flip side). In May, Wynonie Harris comes in second place among male blues singers in a poll conducted by the Pittsburgh Courier. In June the Gale Agency announces an all star R & B package tour to set out for two months during the summer. Headlining will be Ruth Brown along with Wynonie, Lester Young, The Clovers, Buddy Johnson and his band with Ella Johnson and Nolan Lewis, former heavyweight champion Joe Louis, and others. In June Harris and Larry Darnell go at it for a "Battle Of The Blues" in Delaware. In late June "The Deacon Don't Like It" and "Song Of The Bayou" on King # 4635 is released. When the big road show hits Cleveland it is promoted by Alan Freed and does huge box office in that city drawing over ten thousand to the Cleveland Arena. An older Harris record "Rot Gut" shows up on the top sellers charts in North Carolina. In an interesting double bill, Wynonie appears with Earl Hines at Philadelphia's Emerson's Grille in September, and the following month pairs with Varetta Dillard at New York's Apollo Theater. Also in November King issues "Please Louise" and "Nearer My Love To Thee" on # 4668.

In January of 1954 King releases "Quiet Whiskey" and "Down, Boy, Down" on # 4685. During the spring "Shake That Thing" and "Keep-A-Talking" on # 4716 hits the streets. In July Wynonie takes time to join others in paying tribute to long time radio personality Willie Bryant at Harlem's Baby Grand. In July "Don't Take My Whiskey Away From Me" and "I Get A Thrill" is released by King on # 4724. In September at Los Angeles Savoy Ballroom, Harris along with Lowell Fulson and the Floyd Dixon band play a well received extended appearance. At year's end King has one more side by Wynonie Harris - "All She Wants To Do Is Mambo" and "Christina" on # 4763. In February of 1955 Harris does another "mambo blues" - "Good Mambo Tonight" along with "Git To Gittin' Baby" on King # 4774. "Fishtail Blues" and "Mister Dollar" on # 4789 is out in late April, followed by "Git With The Grits" and "Drinking Sherry Wine" on # 4814. In mid 1955, the changing face of the music is starting to become apparent as Wynonie Harris sees meager sales of his records, but still maintains good interest in his personal appearances among adults who know of his success for the past decade. But - it is the teenagers of America who are becoming the wave of the future in record sales and demand for his live performances wanes. King Records keeps at it with a September release of "Man's Best Friend" and "Wine, Wine, Sweet Wine" on # 4826. In November Harris appears in Buffalo with George "Hound Dog" Lorenz big R & B revue also starring Charlie & Ray, The Jacks, and Etta James. In late November King issues "Shot Gun Wedding" and "I Don't Know Where To Go" on # 4839. King Records closes out the year with a double re-release of "Bloodshot Eyes" and "Good Morning Judge" on # 4852.

The club dates have stopped and he has not recorded any new material in a long time despite the steady flow of recordings from King. The label drops him and Harris is out of music. Then in late 1956 his manager Jimmy Evans announces that Harris has signed with Atco Records after a decade with King and will attempt a return to the R & B scene. In December Atco releases "Tell A Whale Of A Tale" and "Destination Love" on # 6081 which turns out to be their only recording with Harris. In May of 1957 King Records releases "Big Old Country Fool" and "That's Me Right Now" on # 5050, and follows that up with another one in the can with "A Tale Of Woe" and "There's No Substitute For Love" on # 5073. In February of 1959 King Records announces an LP called "Battle Of The Blues : Part Two" featuring Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown. Wynonie Harris also battled alcoholism for much of the time and this addiction also took its toll. In 1960 King again re-releases "Bloodshot Eyes" along with "Good Rockin Tonight" on # 5416. That same year Roulette Records also has a version of "(Don't Roll Those) Bloodshot Eyes (At Me)" and "Sweet Lucy Brown" on #4291. Harris spend the sixties running taverns in the New York area, and then moves out to the West Coast and does the same in Los Angeles, and then in Oakland, California. Wynonie Harris had one last recording session for Chess Records in 1964, but nothing was released in his lifetime from that date. His last appeareance was at a tribute to Black music in America in Santa Monica in 1966. Mister Blues died of throat cancer in June of 1969.

Once again we are lucky because of recording technology, the CD format,continuing interest by special product record labels, and Europe and Japan, for preserving a lot of the music that otherwise would be lost forever. There are a lot of CDs containing the work of Wynonie Harris that have survived his passing, and so his musical legacy lives on. The three most important works are the "Best Of . . . " package on Rhino that presents an overview of his work with the most memorable of his songs. It contains 18 tracks from his best years. A more completist package is the four disc 81 track "Rockin' The Blues" from Proper in the UK from 2001. The third set is a chronological retrospective of Harris and is from Jazz Classics in France. It comes in four volumes with from 20 to 25 tracks on each volume. They are "Wynonie Harris : 1944-45", "45-47", ""47-49", and "1950-52". Besides those three packages there are many other CDs available, many of them with song duplication on a large scale so a check of the tracks on each is warranted. "Best Of . . ." on Blues Forever-18 tracks from 2005; "Bloodshot Eyes" on UK Indigo-18 tracks from 1995; "Lovin' Machine" from UK Ace-26 tracks and its companion piece-"Whiskey, Women, and Fish Tails"-21 tracks; and two interesting releases on CD - "Do You Want To Rock?" on UK Ace just out featuring unreleased King and DeLuxe tracks; and "Good Rockin' Tonight" on Magic - 24 tracks 12 each by Wynonie and Roy Brown featuring their competing versions of the title tune.

Wynonie Harris with a penchant for hard partying and high times, lived the life he wanted despite its toll on his health. He is a true American original and is deserving just as much as anyone else you can name, as the "inventor" of rock 'n roll - the music that changed everything. "Mr. Blues" rules !

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