Big Maceo Merriweather

The King of Chicago Blues Piano, Vol. 1

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Like Leroy Carr and Lonnie Johnson before him, Big Maceo Merriweather helped popularize an urbane rendition of the rough country blues sound. His fetching combination of grainy vocals and smoothly rolling piano split the screen between the gruff ways of the rural South and the sophisticated hum of northern cities like Chicago. And while seen as a predecessor to electric blues innovators like Muddy Waters, Maceo really deserves more attention as one of the best in a long line of acoustic-based blues performers. That's made clear on this fine collection, as he is heard reeling off 16 of his first sides with the great slide guitarist Tampa Red. Cut in Chicago between 1941-1942, tracks like the classic "Worried Life Blues" (later taken up by a young Chuck Berry) effortlessly move along thanks to Maceo and Red's smooth interplay; their intimate style even makes one forget about the drums and bass listed for some tracks. Sporting not only some of Carr's subtle phrasing, but a bit of Fats Waller's rambunctious vocal delivery and stride piano work as well, Maceo's keen mix of both down home and uptown not only makes for great listening, but should help neutralize some of the provincial views of blues performers. A great collection.

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