Joseph W. Washek

Joseph W. Washek  |  May 16, 2022  |  First Published: May 16, 2022  |  6 comments
On the evenings of July 12, 13, and 14, 1957, Bill Broonzy made his last recordings at Universal Recording Studios in Chicago. He was suffering from lung cancer, was scheduled to be operated on in a few days, and had been told that he would probably not be able to sing after the operation.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Feb 28, 2022  |  First Published: Feb 28, 2022  |  6 comments
Billy Byers (1927-1996) was an excellent jazz trombonist that today is probably best known for his all over the horn, hard-swinging solo on the title track of Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo album. Although he was awarded a long solo by Zappa, a famously exacting taskmaster, and played in the bands of the no less demanding Buddy Rich and Benny Goodman, recorded as a sideman on many jazz dates and made two albums as a featured soloist, Byers after the late 1950s, mainly worked as an arranger, not as a player. Probably the choice of the rigors and travails of the life of a touring jazz musician or the frequent tedium of studio work had little appeal and he made a long and successful career for himself, writing arrangements for hundreds of jazz recordings, movies and television shows. Discogs lists three hundred and forty-one “Writing & Arrangement” credits for Byers.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Jan 24, 2022  |  First Published: Jan 24, 2022  |  17 comments
John Hartford (1937-2001) wrote “Gentle On My Mind” which won four Grammys, was chosen by BMI as the #16 Song Of The Century, was in 1990, the fourth most played song in the history of radio, has been covered by dozens, including Elvis, Sinatra and REM and by 2017 had been downloaded 250,00+ times. He was a regular on The Smothers Brothers, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and the Johnny Cash TV shows. Between 1967 and 1970, he recorded seven albums for RCA which are an uncategorizable mixture of folk, rock, country, bluegrass, easy listening, psychedelic-folk and just plain oddness. If that wasn’t enough, he got hip credentialled by playing on The Byrds’ Sweetheart of The Rodeo LP.
Joseph W. Washek  |  Dec 18, 2021  |  First Published: Dec 18, 2021  |  14 comments
If you’re a musician making albums and you’re not a major pop/rock star or you don’t own your own label, the money you make comes with strings attached. To some, they may be invisible—"Hey, that’s what you do to sell records. Right?” To Horace Tapscott, the strings were all too visible and entangling. He wasn’t going to be a puppet dancing for the record companies and the whole system of which they were part.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Oct 30, 2021  |  First Published: Oct 30, 2021  |  2 comments
Michael Chapman died on September 10. He was 80 years old. Pitchfork, NME, and The Guardian published obituaries all of which referred to him as a folk singer-songwriter, best known for the 1970 album Fully Qualified Survivor. Chapman did not like being called a “folk singer” for the excellent reason that the term was inaccurate when applied to him. After fifty-four years as a professional musician, with an unlikely career resurgence beginning when he was fifty-seven, that produced thirty albums including 50, which many regard as his best work, it probably also would have rankled him that that he was mainly remembered for FQS his second album.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Sep 14, 2021  |  First Published: Sep 14, 2021  |  5 comments
In December 1965, Sam Charters (1929-2015) went to Chicago to record Blues musicians who were playing in the clubs of the Black neighborhoods on the south and west sides. Charters, a white man, had written "The Country Blues" published in 1959. It was the first book about rural blues and while it contained many factual inaccuracies, it was entertaining romantic storytelling and helped foster the interest of young White folk fans in acoustic Blues. The glaring failing of "The Country Blues" was Charters’ insistence that “real blues” was dead, that Lightnin’ Hopkins was the last living blues singer (!), that postwar electric Blues was diluted, crude, loud, monotonous and that, “The blues have almost been pushed out of the picture and the singers who have survived at all have had to change their style until they sound enough like rock and roll performers to pass with the teenage audience.” Opinionated, though he may have been, Charters remained open minded and observant and within a few years, realized that the music being played in the small bars in the Black neighborhoods of Chicago was an urban, modernized version of the rural southern blues he admired so much and served the same social purpose for its audience. 

Joseph W. Washek  |  Jul 23, 2021  |  First Published: Jul 23, 2021  |  0 comments
On March 6, 1961, world-class tenor saxophonist and vibes player Tubby Hayes (1935-1973) regarded as the finest musician on the British modern jazz scene signed a contract to record for the U.K. Fontana label. He had previously recorded for small jazz specialist label Tempo. Though the new contract didn’t provide for an advance or a money guarantee, Fontana was a major label that issued all types of recordings and could provide for his records better distribution and promotion including possible U.S. distribution. Hayes was the first bop generation British musician awarded a major label contract. Hard as it may be to imagine today, the signing was not only jazz news, but major music news worth of a “Melody Maker” cover story.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Jun 22, 2021  |  First Published: Jun 22, 2021  |  12 comments
In June 2020, Analog Planet published my article on the great audio engineer, David Jones’ Living Legends Riverside recordings of Black Traditional Jazz in New Orleans during the last week of January 1961. While researching the article, by checking records in my collection I compiled a list of Riverside albums for which Jones had been credited or co-credited as engineer.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Apr 26, 2021  |  First Published: Apr 26, 2021  |  9 comments
Etta James was in the heartbreak business. Other singers sold sweet dreams of love, romance, and sex, but Etta James sold pain and she had an endless supply. The pain started early. She never knew who her father was. When she was born, her mother who was fourteen, abandoned her, leaving her with a childless older couple. The woman, called “Mama Lu” by Etta, became her surrogate mother, and she was loved and spoiled by her and they lived happily. But not ever after, because all was not well and never would be. Periodically, her birth mother, Dorothy, who loved the night life, would appear and take the child away. It was always the same. They would live in squalor until a few weeks passed and then, bored and frustrated with parenthood, Dorothy would return Etta to Mama Lu. The pattern continued until Etta was twelve when Mama Lu died. Dorothy appeared, told Etta that she would be living with her now, and took her to San Francisco. There, Dorothy met her brother on a street corner, left Etta with him, and walked away.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Mar 18, 2021  |  First Published: Mar 18, 2021  |  18 comments
On December 9, 2010 at about 11:30 pm, I was standing in front of Johnny D’s, a now defunct and demolished Somerville, Massachusetts club, alone with Bert Jansch who about an hour earlier had finished an hour plus set. It was cold, in the twenties and sleet was becoming snow. Bert was holding his guitar, uncased, by the neck in his right hand.