Roosevelt Sykes

Roosevelt Sykes
The Original Honeydripper

Blind Pig Records BPCD 5155

By David Wilson
December 2013

While he recorded under a number of names, “Easy Papa Johnson”, “Dobby Bragg” and “Willie Kelly” for different labels as far back as 1929, Roosevelt Sykes’ performances and recordings made under his own aegis are more than enough to establish his righteous place in the blues pantheon. Early on in a career that began at age 15, as a performer traveling a circuit of work-camps from New Orleans to St. Louis and performing primarily to all male audiences, he developed a repertoire, some collected, some original, of sexually explicit numbers. Later, as he moved into establishments with mixed audiences, he offered more sophisticated double-entendre songs, still quite risqué for those times though now they may seem tame.

A master of Stride and Boogie piano styles, and playing with a constant exuberance that complements his blues shouting style of vocals, Sykes not only charms but incites foot-tapping, head bobbing and animation sure to elicit blushes among the more strait laced of us. His diction is clear and his innuendo unmistakable. Despite his protests, I have little doubt about the derivation of his soubriquet as the Honey Dripper.

The fourteen numbers on this CD release were originally an LP pressed in 1977, plus two cuts that were then outtakes. Sykes was 71 at the time. The recordings were made over two nights of performances at the Blind Pig venue in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Blind Pig, the label, is a descendant of that club.

There are no throwaways here. Every cut from “Cow Cow Boogie” all the way through to “Dirty Mother For You” keeps your attention focused not only on wondering what his lyrics are going to express next but trying to understand how in the world his right hand knows what his left hand is doing. Roosevelt is truly one of the blues treasures and clearly one of the artists from whom much contemporary blues piano music has descended.

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