Morris Pejoe

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A name that shows up on trivia tests among blues scholars, Morris Pejoe was a performer with heavy traces of both the country and the city, as well as a bit of outer space. The quality of many of his…
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A name that shows up on trivia tests among blues scholars, Morris Pejoe was a performer with heavy traces of both the country and the city, as well as a bit of outer space. The quality of many of his recordings proves the old adage that it is sometimes not the most famous performers who produce the greatest music in a genre. While the Chicago blues style normally more than holds it own in terms of interesting influences, Pejoe was one of the few performers in Chicago who brought in a strong Louisiana cajun and zydeco influence decades before this became a typical part of a touring, house-rocking band's repertoire. This was because he was actually from Louisiana, where he was born Morris Pejas, beginning his music career on the violin. In the late '40s he moved to Beaumont, TX, where he switched to guitar. Fellow Louisiana pianist Henry Gray remained his musical sidekick throughout these years, and in the early '50s the two relocated to Chicago together, rightfully seeing the big city as a much better opportunity for regular blues employment. Gray was one of two important blues pianists who mentored under Pejoe -- the other was Otis Spann, who worked in the Louisiana man's band in the early '50s prior to beginning the pianist's seemingly endless tenure with the great Muddy Waters. Pejoe's recording career began within a year of hitting the Windy City. During 1952 and 1953, he cut sides for Checker, accompanied by Gray, among others. The following year he recorded for United, this time really emphasizing a New Orleans rhythm & blues sound in a band again with Gray plus the unpleasant Stanley Grim on alto sax, an unknown tenor man, and the superb rhythm section of Milton Rector on electric bass and Earl Phillips on drums. The Pejoe discography continued on practically every independent label that sprang up in Chicago, including Vee-Jay, Abco, Atomic H, and Kaytown. Reissues of much of this material, either as parts of compilations or the complete Delmark retrospective entitled Wrapped Up in My Baby, have been received with enthusiasm almost as raucous as the music itself. One of the most popular numbers, particularly in terms of radio airplay, is "Let's Get High," and the status has not been won simply by having a provocative title. "Cranked-up, distorted classic "Let's Get High" by Morris Pejoe is worth the price alone," was an appraisal from one blues critic when the song appeared on an anthology. The Delmark project digs into the famed basement recordings of producer Al Smith, and show Pejoe's style off to great advantage, featuring plenty of both the unmistakable Louisiana beats as well as plenty of evidence that Pejoe was also paying attention to various Texas guitar blasters before he continued his migration north. During the '60s he often performed with his wife, the fine blues singer Mary Lane. The couple met in the late '50s in Waukegan, IL, where Pejoe's group frequently held forth. One of the couple's daughters, Lynne Lane, became a blues singer, as did Pejoe's son Morris Pejoe, Jr.. Papa Pejoe continued featuring horns in his units during this era, to the point where the group was even thought of as something of a big band.