They Called It ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ Part 3 – ? And the Mysterians, The Candymen, Elmore James & Fleetwood Mac

For reasons unknown, in England, it was Blues and R & B bands that turned Walker’s song into a “standard”.  Stateside, it was more often than not, jazz or lounge singers who were attracted to the number.  Early adapters included Nancy Wilson, Pat Boone, Lou Rawls and Les McCann and Jimmy Witherspoon.

The first covers by “rock” bands in the U.S. were relegated to LPs, used to help pad the running time when they didn’t have enough original material.

? And the Mysterians recorded it for their first LP and like eleven of the disc’s twelve songs, it runs well under three minutes.

 ? and the Mysterians

Rudy Martinez: vocal /

Bobby Balderrama: guitar / Frank Rodriguez: keyboards /

Robert Lugo: bass / Eddie Serato: drums

96 Tears (Cameo-Parkway) released November 1966

 

Stormy Monday (T-Bone Walker) (2:20)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jX3r3ygQN4A

The number starts off promisingly, with the overdriven opening notes ringing in darkness, distorting around the edges; when Martinez begins to sing, his vocal, breathy, almost feminine, an adolescent boy whose voice has yet to change, confounds our expectations.

Backed by Balderrama’s cyclically insistent guitar, ever ascending on its staircase to nowhere, and the ever present organ’s eerie whine the listener begins to feel a not unpleasant sense of unease, that something is not right.

Martinez finishes with the vocal and Balderrama reprises what he has been playing, plaintive single notes effectively capturing the mood of the original, but the abbreviated running time punctures the number, allowing the carefully wrought tension to simply dissipate.  The dark ride never concludes, it just ends, leaving one blinking in the sudden sunlight, feeling dissatisfied.

 

Had this next version seen release as a 45 it might have found a second life on Lenny Kaye’s “Nuggets” compilation.

 

The Candymen

Rodney Justo: vocal /

John Rainey Adkins: lead guitar /

Bill Gilmore: bass / Don Nix: drums /

Dean “Ox” Daughtry: organ

The Candymen (ABC Records 1967) Released October 1967

 

Stormy Monday Blues (4:45)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvNv7lwA0Ng

                 Or maybe not.

Justo’s vocal lacks the passion to make you believe he broke a sweat; Adkins guitar work however has a snot-nosed belligerence, (note the feed-back tagged on at the end) egged on by Daughtry’s organ that gives it a period garage rock “feel”, but in the end, they are simply too professional; they provide a reasonable facsimile of a garage band, but none of the personality.

 

Almost all of the versions reviewed so far hew closely to Walker’s original.  I know of only one musician who chose a different template for their cover.

In 1960, Elmore James cut four tracks for Chess Records only two of which were released at the time, ‘I Can’t Hold Out’ b / w ‘The Sun Is Shining’.  ‘Madison Blues’ and ‘Call It Stormy Monday’ were shelved.

Elmore James

Elmore James: guitar & vocal /

J.T. Brown: tenor saxophone / Johnny Jones: piano /

Homesick James: guitar / (possibly) Sam Meyers: drums

Tough (Blue Horizon 1968 U.K.) / Whose Muddy Shoes (Chess 1969 U.S.)

 

Call It Stormy Monday (2:28)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEESDLi952g

In 1968, Chess licensed the four tracks, and four more from a 1953 session to Blue Horizon for release in England and Europe.  Blue Horizon combined these with four songs by John Brim and released them on the LP “Tough”.

Picking up on the unreleased James gems was Fleetwood Mac’s Jeremy Spencer.

When he performed both ‘Call It Stormy Monday’ and ‘Madison Blues’ at the Fillmore West in the summer of 1968, there was most likely no one in the audience who knew of James’ recordings as the songs would not be released in the States for another year.  (The U.S. release adds the missing fifth track from James’ 1953 session and replaces one of the Brim numbers and adds another.)

There are actually two performances of ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ from their first U.S. tour in circulation, the other being from The Space in New York City, but I prefer this earlier version.

Fleetwood Mac

Peter Green: vocal & guitar / Jeremy Spencer: vocal & guitar /

John McVie: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums

Probable venue: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA

Possible dates: July 05, 06 or 07 – 1968

Available on: bootleg

Stormy Monday Blues (T-Bone Walker arrang. E. James) (4:24)

https://soundcloud.com/rich-orlando-532653821/stormy-monday-blues

Though obviously inspired by James’ recording of the song, Spencer’s impassioned performance renders moot any discussion of imitation.

Spencer builds on James’ already heightened emotions bringing an almost gospel fervor to song, singing as if he were a sinner seeking salvation at a revival tent meeting.

He declaims his situation rather than sings it, his slashing slide accompaniment the “voice” of the congregation, shouting out in recognition or urging the penitent to continue.

Making his way through the week, he builds towards Saturday, repeating the lines, seeking witness.

Come Sunday, the music softens and he finds his way back to church to beg forgiveness.

Spencer’s shout as he pleads with the Lord for mercy is chilling, keeping the next verse, about how he is ‘crazy about his baby’ and would really appreciate it if He could maybe send her back to him from sounding like blasphemy.

Spencer follows this with one of his finest solos, the jagged, stuttering lines twisting and contorting him like a flagellant.

After the break he begs once more to have his baby sent back to him, his need exposed to the world, and then quickly brings the number to a close; as if he has done all that he can; it is in the Lord’s hands now.

It is a tour-de-force performance from Spencer, an opportunity to hear him as himself, in both his playing and his singing.

It is a shame that he never attempted the number in the studio, either for the BBC or during the sessions at Chess Studios six months later.

 

There are literally hundreds of covers of this song, with Lee Michaels’ 1969 performance from his self-titled LP and the Allman Brothers Band’s live recording from the Fillmore East two of the best known.  If there are others that you would recommend, let us know.

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