Buster Bennett


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Saxophonist Joseph Buster Bennett was born in Pensacola, FL, in 1914. After gaining some professional experience in Texas he settled into Chicago's thriving music scene during the late '30s, blowing soprano, alto, and tenor saxophone as a session man for the Vocalion, Columbia, OKeh, Decca, and Bluebird labels. His first recorded appearance was on Monkey Joe Coleman's "Taxes on My Pole" (1938) and he can be heard speaking on Washboard Sam's "Block and Tackle" (1939). Bennett also blew his horns behind Ramona Hicks, Big Bill Broonzy, Jimmie Gordon, Jimmie McLain, Merline Johnson, and Minnie Mathes. From February 1945 to December 1947 Buster Bennett made a series of rough-and-tumble blues recordings for Columbia, singing his own funky lyrics in a gutsy voice and squeezing meaty solos out of his sax. Bennett's discography is peppered with interesting names among players of uncertain identity. Wild Bill Davis shows up periodically at the piano and bassist Israel Crosby is present on all but the first seven tracks. Bennett employed a trumpeter much of the time in addition to a second saxophonist, most often Andrew "Goon" Gardner on alto. This is gritty, sometimes slightly nasty South Side Chicago blues, bristling with references to everyday life. One topic that arises from time to time is the use (and overuse) of marijuana. "Reefer Head Woman" makes only passing reference to the weed as one item in a litany of excesses associated with a troublesome female. "Mellow Pot Blues" might be the first recorded song using the word "pot" to describe the stuff. The term has been traced to the practice of growing cannabis in a flowerpot placed near the windows of one's inner-city apartment -- literally, a "pot plant" -- allowing the tenant easy private access to small amounts of the analgesic herb. Bennett casually mentions lighting up along with other common activities and predicaments such as being broke, getting juiced, trying to get laid, and sticking up for one's self. "I'm a Bum Again" specifically describes an ex-soldier returning from the Second World War and struggling to survive. Bennett's records didn't sell very well, largely because he was perceived as being slightly behind the times -- some of this material is clearly patterned after Louis Jordan's act. Dropped from Columbia's roster in early 1948, he struggled to obtain work in Chicago, relocated to Cleveland, and spent the last 25 years of his life as a forgotten man in Houston, TX, where he died in 1980. It is good to be able to hear his recorded works in chronological order. The instrumentals are particularly tasty: "Leap Frog Blues," "Mr. Bennett Blows," and "Famous Door Boogie" are without question the toughest and most rewarding cuts reissued here.

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