Otis Rush’s ‘Homework’ – Part 1 – Origins
Influential guitarist Bill Jennings wrote and recorded a jazzy ballad called ‘Have You Ever Had the Blues’ with Juanita Lenoir in 1955, (the record, released on the King label, was credited to Nita Lore).
In 1959, Lloyd Price covered the song with a completely different arrangement (Jennings may have played on the session) and released it as the B-side to ‘Personality’.
Lloyd Price – Have You Ever Had the Blues – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UesulNlXE8I
For the next few years the song lay dormant, and then there was at least one version of the song released each year between 1962 and 1966, starting with Joey Dee and The Starlighters who sped up Price’s arrangement, making it easier to dance the Twist to; a year later, Erma Franklin released a version closer to the original in arrangement, and in 1964, Pearlean Gray recorded the song with a distinct R & B feel.
It was covered by garage band out of Tampa, Florida called the Sugar Beats in 1965 and in 1966, the number went International with covers by Ray Gates in England, produced by Shel Talmy (producer for The Kinks and The Who among others) and The Clungels a beat band from Amsterdam.
Back in the States that same year, a hot-shot Memphis guitar player named Travis Wammack recorded a smokin’ instrumental version that was picked up for national release by Atlantic Records
Travis Wammack – Have You Ever Had the Blues – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ye7LGbSuOX0
Also that year, The Blues Project recorded it during their stand at New York City’s Café Au Go Go during the sessions for their first LP. Not making the cut, this performance would not be issued until 1997.
The Blues Project – Have You Ever Had the Blues – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPQGxKJNwuY
Interestingly, the arrangements of these two versions, especially the latter, seem to have more in common with Otis Rush’s ‘Homework’ than with Price’s recording.
‘Homework’ was the A-side of the only record released during Rush’s three-year tenure with Duke records.
Otis Rush – Homework – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzDJoSgaVCE
Rush’s number would also attract a large number of covers, beginning with two different versions, released a year apart, by one of its writers, Al Perkins.
Perkins’ first attempt at reviving the number saw him partnered with soul singer Betty Bibbs; released as the A-side of a single on the U.S.A. label in 1965
Al Perkins and Betty Bibbs – Homework – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnzbjqY0jC8
It seems apparent that there was absolutely no money to produce this recording, the threadbare sound in marked contrast to the Rush original. With so little to work with, the focus is turned on the singers as they confess their mutual infatuation. There are some sparks when the stone strikes the flint, but the number would have needed a longer running time for the passions to build, and even then, there simply wasn’t enough kindling to ever catch fire.
Perkins took a decidedly different approach the following year; done once again as a duet, he teams up this time with the label’s owner, Bill “Bunky” Sheppard for the most “age appropriate” sounding rendition of the song. The fact that they were two middle-aged black men singing the song, pretty much guaranteed the number would never reach it’s intended audience.
Al and Bunky – Homework – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8G2czAtCX4w
In 1966, the British Vocalion label released Rush’s Duke single (backed with ‘I Have to Laugh’) in England, coinciding with Rush’s appearances with the American Folk Blues Festival introducing Rush and his music to and a new generation in Europe.
We’ll take a look at some of the earliest covers of the song and how those in turn prompted covers by American bands, in the next installment.
All of the titles mentioned can be found on line:
“Bill Jennings Architect of Soul Jazz” – ‘Have You Ever Had the Blues’ – Spotify
All other tracks are available on YouTube with the exception of The Sugar Beats’ version of ‘Have You Ever Had the Blues’