did I miss this little beauty: ‘Truckin’ Little Woman’, by Big Bill Broonzy,
when compiling my ‘Ten Rock & Roll Records That Preceded Rock & Roll’
list, back in August last year?

The song, recorded by
the legendary white producer, Lester Melrose, in Chicago on 30 March 1938,

Big Bill Broonzy

actually credited to Big Bill and his Memphis Five, although Big Bill isn’t
known to have spent much time in Memphis. Listen out for Broonzy
singing the line “Truckin’ mother for’ya” – a nod to the profanity
“motherfucker” which had started to creep into blues songs following Memphis
Minnie’s release of “Dirty Mother For’Ya” in 1935. Here’s the link:

According to what I can
gather, and documentation is vague, the Memphis Five, were made up of Lester
Melrose’s regular session musicians. While they may not have always been the
same band, I’m pretty sure that playing on this track were:
Big Bill Broonzy (circa 1893
– 1958), singer, guitarist and composer from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who recorded
224 songs between 1927 and 1942.
Buster Bennett (1914 –
1980) from Pensacola, Florida, gutbucket sax but also a blues shouter, pianist
and string bassist.
Blind John Davis (1913
– 1985, pianist and singer who moved to Chicago from Mississippi aged two. The
first American blues pianist to tour Britain and Europe, in 1952 (with Big Bill
George Barnes (1921 – 1977), the
16-year old white electric guitarist from Chicago;
Wilbur Ware (1923 –
1979) double bassist from Chicago who later played with Thelonious Monk.
Alfred Bell, known as
‘Mr Sheiks’ on trumpet. Hardly any information exists on Alf but I do know he
played on seven Memphis Minnie tracks in 1936.
The only rock &
roll sounding blues I can find older than “Truckin’ Little Woman’ by Big Bill and
his Memphis Five is Albert Ammons’ “Boogie
Woogie Stomp” from two years earlier, in 1936. To listen to “Boogie Woogie Stomp” and other historic
tracks, go to my archive of 8 August 2013, Ten Rock & Roll Records That
Pre-empted Rock & Roll.
Pictured right are Lester
Melrose with some of his blues artists circa 1940. From left: Ernest ‘Little
Son Joe’ Lawlars, Big Bill Broonzy, Lester Melrose, Roosevelt Sykes, St. Louis
Jimmy Oden. Front: Washboard Sam. Courtesy Yannick & Margo Bruynoghe
Collection. For more about Lester Melrose,
check my archive of 20 May 2013, The White Guy Who Gave Us Chicago Blues.

Big Bill Broonzy,
undoubtedly, was one of the giants of blues, probably the most significant
figure in the genre’s worldwide expansion during the twentieth century. Taught
guitar by the former minstrel, Papa Charlie Jackson, composer of the original
Spoonful song in 1925, Big Bill Broonzy visited Britain in the 1950s more than
any other African-American blues performer. His contribution to the birth of the
British blues boom of the 1960s cannot be overstated.
Broonzy became a
leading figure in Lester Melrose’s Chicago blues stable of the 1920s and 1930s,
often acting as Melrose’s right hand man, and was often instrumental in signing
talent Melrose had spotted. 
For those serious about finding
out more about the origins of the blues over the last one thousand years, check the links below: