New York Blues and R&B 1947-1955
This fascinating set is really the story of two brothers, Stick McGhee and Brownie McGhee, both of whom were guitarists (Brownie being good enough to actually work regularly as a session player). Stick recorded a song he had written, "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee," in 1947 (with his brother Brownie sitting in on guitar) for J. Mayo Williams' tiny Harlem Records label. The issued record had no immediate impact, but became an unlikely underground favorite, enough so that Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic Records decided to cut a remake a couple of years later. Ertegun contacted Brownie McGhee about remaking "Drinkin' Wine," unaware that Brownie's brother was the original singer on the song. A lively remake was tracked for Atlantic in 1949, again with Stick singing and Brownie adding guitar. This time the song broke big, and Decca Records, smelling cash, licensed the original Harlem cut and both versions of the song ended up on the R&B charts. This four-disc package includes both versions of the song, as well as some 40 tracks by Stick, many of which follow the booze-soaked template of "Drinkin' Wine." There are close to 50 tracks by Brownie here, too, most of them in an electric R&B vein, which was a far cry from the folk-blues material that Brownie became famous for when he was paired with harmonica wiz Sonny Terry in the late '50s. Terry also has 16 tracks here, and while there are a handful of cuts where Brownie and Sonny work together, they were essentially separate solo artists during the era covered by this anthology. Virtually everything Stick McGhee recorded is included here, as well as a good deal of Brownie McGhee's R&B material (since he was an active session musician at the time, what's here really only scratches the surface), and a small sampling of Sonny Terry as a solo artist, making this an incredibly interesting historical collection that, mostly because of the familial and professional connections between Stick, Brownie, and Sonny, has its own internal logic.