Eddie Boyd –
Cuby + The Blizzards and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
Eddie Boyd was already a veteran bluesman when he first went to Europe as a performer with the American Folk Blues Festival ’65.
He had first recorded under his own name in 1947 and when a successful but often contentious seven-year stint with Chess records ended in 1958, he found recording opportunities were much harder to come by.
He would release six singles and an EP on seven different labels between 1960 and 1964.
When the ’65 tour stopped in London, Mike Vernon supervised a session produced by the tour promoter Horst Lippman. The result was Boyd’s first LP, “Five Long Years” (Fontana).
Two years later, Boyd was living in Europe and in March of 1967 cut an LP with the Dutch Blues band Cuby + The Blizzards.
Eight days after that, he was back in London, recording the Mike Vernon produced “Eddie Boyd and His Blues Band”, backed this time by John Mayall and members of the Bluesbreakers for Decca Records.
In another nine months he and Vernon would return to the studio once again to record another LP, this time backed by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.
At the time of these recordings, Boyd had been playing professionally for more than thirty years, and had been recording for close to twenty, yet he had a self-selected repertoire of about thirty songs that he would return to again and again.
Before he began his European journey, Boyd was recorded playing a five-song set in a small Chicago club by Olle Helander for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation.
Boyd sings and plays piano accompanied only by Mike Bloomfield on guitar.
Unfortunately, the recordings are no long available on YouTube. The tracks were released on Blueskvarter: Chicago, 1964, Vol. 1 (Jefferson 1999) and the collection is definitely worth tracking down.
One of the highlights of Boyd’s set was his performance of ‘Nothin’ but Trouble’ (listed as ‘Look on Yonder Wall’ on the CD)
Originally recorded for Chess Records, the number was a swinging “jump blues” with Boyd shouting out the lyrics like a miniature Big Joe Turner, as he pounds out a boogie beat. The drummer keeps the cymbals sizzling in the forefront and both the tenor saxophone, Purcell Brockenburgh and guitar, Ellis Elkin (a highlight) each manage to elbow their way into the spotlight for a quick turn before the number is over.
Three years later, a new version of the song would open his LP with Cuby + The Blizzards.
Eddie Boyd: vocal, piano & organ /
Eelco Gelling: guitar / Willy Middel: bass /
Hans Waterman: drums
Recorded at the Phonogram-studios, Hilversum, March 09, 1967
Available, Praise the Blues (Phillips 1967)
The piano’s bass is brought forward in the mix, and the excellent rhythm section (these guys understood how to swing) help dig the groove, which is important as Boyd’s voice has weakened, forcing him to recite as much as sing the lyrics.
Boyd’s piano work is in fact fairly aggressive, which is nice. Just past the one-minute mark, Eelco Gelling takes a solo turn, putting an unexpectedly “modernist” spin on the break. It is all tangled lines and minor dissonance, fine in and of itself, but an odd choice for this number.
Boyd though just rolls with it, even incorporating some of the same elements into his solo after the next verse.
It is rare to hear a musician so effortlessly adapt a number to three radically different styles, starting off as a small combo jump number, then seemingly going back in time to the piano and guitar duets stylings of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, and then to a more modern electric blues.
Boyd also brought a “new” song (built on a 1948 song of the same name by John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson) to the session, titled ‘The Big Boat’.
Session information, availability, same as above
Cuby + Blizzards & Eddie Boyd – The Big Boat – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyDynM9OSSs
A slow-tempo throwback to his earlier numbers, Boyd’s piano dominates the lengthy introduction, but Gelling is fully integrated into the support this time around and his descending fill leads into the first verse.
The rhythm section struggles manfully against the lethargic beat, with both the bass and drum adding stealthy fills and counterpoints as Gelling somewhat hesitantly embellishes Boyd’s dreary delivery.
As if to illustrate his frustration and bewilderment at his woman’s leaving, the break is all sputtering rage as Boyd bangs out clusters of treble and bass (once again, the drummer is the standout here) and Gelling adds purposely mis- matched fills.
The session for “7936 South Rhodes” reunited Boyd with Mike Vernon and Peter Green.
Boyd appeared to have a special rapport with both men, and Vernon’s production, along with Green’s guitar work combine to make this one of Boyd’s most satisfying sessions.
Eddie Boyd: vocal & piano /
Peter Green: guitar /
John McVie: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums
Recorded January 25, 1968
Released, May 03, 1968 A-side Blue Horizon single
Available, “7936 South Rhodes Avenue” (Blue Horizon 1968)
Eddie Boyd with Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – The Big Boat – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRXZnzwaQWk
Lopping off almost a full minute from the previously recorded version, Boyd and company distill the number to its essence.
Eliminating the musical introduction Vernon sets the stage far more effectively by isolating Boyd’s voice as he shouts out the opening two lines into a void.
The light echo that Vernon applies to Boyd’s vocal puts muscle on the bare-bones of the previous version, but it is also obvious that Boyd is more fully engaged here, there is an energy, and sense of conviction that was missing before.
The rhythm section, though they are not playing anything as interesting as The Blizzards, are very high up in mix, but it is Green’s guitar that dominates the number.
Where Bloomfield drew on his encyclopedic skill set to find the “right” accompaniment for the performer and song while the guitar work here (and on all the tracks) is unmistakably Green’s.
The sound and style do not change, it is the feeling behind the playing that alters the listener’s perception of what they are hearing. Green listens for what the performer needs to convey: regret, confusion, contentment, sorrow, joy, etc. and translates that to music.
Green’s work with classic blues pianists such as Boyd, Otis Spann and Memphis Slim highlights his skills as an accompanist and this is an aspect of his work that we will continue to explore.