Roosevelt Sykes is due for a hipster reevaluation. Ever adaptable, there’s something for every fan of roots music to be found in this pianist’s incredibly varied repertoire.
In a career that began with 1929′s ground-breaking “44 Blues” for Okeh (recorded when Sykes was only 23) and continued into the blues revival years of the 1960s and ’70s, Sykes did it all — solo and small combo work, country and jump blues, even electric post-war stuff. He was such an in-demand performer that, at different times, he recorded under non-contractual pseudonyms like “Easy Papa Johnson” just to get more material to the masses.
Along the way, as The Original Honeydripper (set for reissue on September 24, 3013 from Bling Pig) so aptly illustrates, he was a foundational figure for players like Otis Spann — who himself helped shape the urban-blues revolution alongside Muddy Waters. Few are the subsequent pianists who didn’t owe some small debt, or more often a very large one, to Sykes. In time, his song “Night Time is the Right Time” (courtesy of a scorching take by Ray Charles) became a celebrated part of the pantheon — though, in one of the only complaints to be lodged, that gem didn’t make it to this evening’s playlist.
Recorded live in 1977 at the Blind Pig Cafe in Ann Arbor, Michigan, The Original Honeydripper finds Sykes performing with unfettered gusto some six years before he passed. This expanded new edition of the album brings his playing closer to the listener, and even uncovers two previously unheard tracks — “St. James Infirmary,” a cornerstone in the musical history of Sykes’ adopted home in New Orleans; and “Don’t Talk Me to Death.” Elsewhere, Sykes covers the waterfront, from wailing boogie woogie (“Cow Cow Blues”) to Fats Waller (“Honeysuckle Rose”), from his own classic groover “Drivin’ Wheel” to the hilarious “I’m a Nut.” He even gives Charles a tip of the hat, with a brief run through on “What I’d Say.”