When most people think of vintage Chicago blues record labels, Chess, Delmark, Kent, Veejay and others pop to the top of the list. For those folks, collectors, and intent followers of Chicago’s black music scene, this 4-CD set from Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records, that reveals Chicago’s “underground” music in a sense is both surprising and perhaps a must-have. There are 101 tracks span classic Chicago blues, R&B, and gospel and several other genres. Sur, you’ll find plenty of obscure names here but also those of James Cotton, Hound Dog Taylor, Sleepy John Estes, Earl Hooker, Andre Williams, and Sunnyland Slim.
Truth is that there were many independent labels in Chicago and Bea & Baby was one of the best, Founded by the irrepressible, flamboyant, eccentric hustler Narvel “Cadillac Baby” Eatmon, Bea & Baby Records and its subsidiaries – Key, Keyhole, Miss and Ronald – put out a wide collection of music (see headline) from 1959-1989. Earwig Music Company’s owner, Michael Robert Frank, made it happen, having first met Cadillac Baby in the early ‘70s and again in the late ‘80s. Cadillac Baby wanted to get back into music after being away for over 15 years. Despite ailing health, according to Frank, Cadillac Baby was still feisty and cantankerous, and still every bit the hustler. He was buying and selling used hubcaps, a few used tires, candy, and an occasional 45 record. The two decided to produce a 17-year-old hip-hop singer, Richard Davenport (who went by the name 3D). Sadly, both Cadillac Baby and Davenport died prior to the project launch. Yet, two of 3D’s tracks are included here. Frank ultimately purchased Cadillac Baby’s labels from his widow, fearing they may eventually get lost or be a mere speckle in history.
As stated previously, the label featured big names as well as emerging artists. There are also well-regarded but lesser-known blues artists like Detroit Junior, Little Mack, Homesick James, Eddie Boyd, L.C. McKinley, and Bobby Saxton who sang the label’s biggest hit, “Trying to Make a Living.” Purists may recognize Andrew “Blue Blood” McMahon as Howlin’ Wolf’s longtime bassist, who has four difficult-to-find Bea & Baby tracks here. Arelean Brown had some novelty tunes like “impeach Me Baby” and “I’m a Streaker Baby” in the ‘70s. Along with those are two soulful tunes of hers (“I Love My Man” and “Hello Baby”). T. Valentine, who developed a cult following for his rather unusual blues releases on the Norton label is represented by his first single “Little Lu-Lu Frog/Teen-Age Jump.”
Yes, there are plenty of the obscure too. Faith Taylor (only 11 years old at the time) &the Sweet Teens have a pair of doo-wop songs. Veteran Chicago organist Tall Paul Hankins has some instrumentals as do the vocal ensemble Kirk Taylor and the Velvets. Some tracks are even credited to “Unknown blues band and vocalist” and “unknown actors.” The fourth Cd represents the widest diversity – the two hip-hop tracks, ten gospel tunes from Eddie dean & the Biblical Aires, The Gloryaires, The Norfolk Singers, The Pilgrim Harmonizers and Rev. Samuel Patterson with comedy bits sprinkled in. to many the most interesting tracks will be those of Cadillac Baby himself, philosophizing on a his life and a wide range of topics across six spots. You’ll learn about the notorious South Side of Chicago and his infamous Cadillac Baby’s Show Lounge, a major blues club from the mid-‘50s into the ‘60s. All the major artists of the time, Muddy Waters, Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon and others would stop by after finishing their regular shows elsewhere.3e4tyj
One could spend hours leafing through the 128-page booklet that features archival documents, photos and liner notes from Living Blues Magazine co-founder Jim O’Neal, who first interviewed Cadillac Baby in the early 70s. The audio from that interview is sprinkled throughout the discs and provided in its entirety in the notes. Much of it is fascinating, like Cadillac Baby explaining how he built the stage in his club. Another interesting segment is hearing Cadillac Baby talk about how he gave Detroit Jr. his nickname unknowingly. Someone should make a movie about him. Maybe it will happen.
Gospel notes are from Robert Marovich. Historian Bill Dahl penned the track notes, with detailed information on the artists and Michael Robert Frank the producer’s notes. This is a mammoth undertaking, shining light on an era when blues and R&B/soul music first began. Dig in. Hours of music, viewing, and reading awaits you.