Wee Bea Booze

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Whether under the name of Bea Booze, Wee Bea Booze, Bee Bea Booze, or Beatrice Booze, this female blues singer has got to be the alcoholic's crooner of choice, or would be if the drunks would have heard…
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Whether under the name of Bea Booze, Wee Bea Booze, Bee Bea Booze, or Beatrice Booze, this female blues singer has got to be the alcoholic's crooner of choice, or would be if the drunks would have heard of her. Which is probably not likely since her obscurity overshadows what seems like it might have been a 100-proof show business name, especially in such a hard-drinking music as blues. The reality is, even in the proud city of Baltimore, few blues fans know that Bea Booze is one of their own. Yet this singer, who sometimes accompanied herself on guitar, managed to create a few legendary discographical cocktails. One of the best sips of her music is to be found on the Delmark compilation entitled Don't You Feel My Leg, spotlighting recordings she made with a quartet that includes tenorman George Kelly and organist Larry Johnson. This set features a full-cover photograph of Booze, cradling her electric guitar under her arm. Blues fans that really want to "bea" swarmed by the bea-hive might opt for the compilation unpromisingly entitled Female Blues: The Remaining Titles, Vol. 2 from the Document company, which also features the efforts of Bea Foote, a singer whose efforts are hardly pedestrian; although any writer who wants to feel that they are clever on their feet would say so.

Bluesman Sammy Price was the talent scout behind the professional uncorking of Booze, whose real name was Muriel Nichols. Under the guidance of Price, Booze first cut tracks for Decca in the spring of 1942. She recorded several numbers with wartime themes such as "War Rationin' Papa," as well as what some blues critics consider the ultimate version of the blues warhorse "See See Rider," a tune also known in the initial version as "C.C. Rider." The fact that she did such a brilliant version of this tune not more than a week after her first time in a recording studio indicates a talent that went far beyond the intoxicated stage name. Her version of the song topped the rhythm & blues charts for a solid month. It was chosen as the representative version of the tune on the British compilation entitled Roots of Presley, in which the major influences of Elvis Presley are lined up over 21 tracks like the contents of a well-stocked home bar. Since the strictly non-alcoholic Grateful Dead were also known to play "See See Rider" from time to time, this band's extensive network of busy archivists have unfortunately perpetuated the notion that Wee Bea Booze is a different person from Bea Booze, who recorded an earlier version of the tune sometime in the '30s; this attempt at tracking the origin of every cover song played by the jam band is a delusion, however, perhaps resulting from overexposure to either the "drum" or "space" sections of Grateful Dead shows, or maybe both.

A strong influence on the Booze bottle of recordings, and many other female blues singers of this era, was the hot recording career of Lil Green. Booze covered no less than three of Green's songs in her initial spate of recording. In the second half of the '40s, Booze began to be served up as more of a jazz vocalist. She was the featured singer on an arrangement of "Alabama Bound" recorded by a lineup of the Andy Kirk band that featured such jazz luminaries as pianist Hank Jones and the brilliant trumpeter Fats Navarro. Despite this swing influence, in general her recordings actually reveal more of a glimpse of oncoming rock & roll, in transition from the sounds of both small- and medium-sized blues, jazz, and rhythm & blues combos.