The 42 LP albums that make up the iconic Matchbox Bluesmaster Series were released by Saydisc Records between Nov 1982 and June 1988. Most of the albums were subtitled “Complete Recordings in Chronological Order” with a few under the subtitle “The Remaining Titles” or “New to LP”. The originating 78 rpm records (many of them extremely rare) were provided by several collectors under the editorship of well known Austrian collector, Johnny Parth and were re-mastered by Hans Klement of Austrophon Studios in Vienna. Johnny Parth had already created his extensive Roots Records label which Saydisc distributed in the UK and the Matchbox Bluesmaster Series was a carefully sculpted edition of black blues roots music giving a broad spectrum of the genre.
The series documented the early days of blues, hokum and gospel music from 1926 to 1934 (1950 for two tracks) and gives an insight into the way that black music was first released on record. From a commercial standpoint, records companies such as OKEH sent out talent scouts to find black singers, many of them “singing for nickels” on street corners. The market that these RACE record companies were after was the black community and they sometimes gave these newly found performers epithets such as “Peg Leg”, “Blind”, “Bo Weavil”, “Buddy Boy”, “Barbecue” or “Texas” to give them more appeal. The music of these singers formed the backbone of later urban blues, rhythm-and-blues and, of course, rock-‘n’-roll. The songs are sometimes raw and primitive in character, but some outstanding playing and singing shines through many of the performances.
Putting this music into perspective are the very valuable notes by Paul Oliver who was a world authority on early jazz and blues and travelled in the US extensively to try and trace any remaining details of these sometimes obscure people. Along with the work of other field collectors and researchers, we gain a rare insight into the world of black musicians of the day by reading his notes alongside listening to the music they performed.
Paul Oliver not only wrote 10 books on the history of blues and gospel music, but was also a Professor of Architecture on which subject he wrote five seminal books. He was born in May 1927 and died in August 2017. Through his blues books and writings he opened many windows into a little researched area which is of such importance to the history of black music in America. The final 4 CDs in the series are entitled “Songsters and Saints” and were put together by Paul Oliver to illustrate his book of the same name.
The present Matchbox Bluesmaster Series has been transcribed from the 1980’s vinyl pressings by Norman White using high-end transcription techniques. The original master tapes for the vinyl releases vanished long ago. Saydisc has in its vaults many more pre-Bluesmaster blues albums which may be issued on CD in due course.
The 6CD sets will be offered for sale at an affordable price and it is hoped that the release of this iconic series for the first time on CD will both appeal to existing collectors worldwide and also attract a new generation of early blues lovers as this music was so central to the development of many forms of popular music.
Gef Lucena, Series Producer
The vital, pioneering role played by early US blues musicians in the development of popular music worldwide may be readily recognised by jazz aficionados and most serious cultural commentators, but that it is still unacknowledged by the general public was neatly demonstrated at the end of the last century. The vast majority of lists of the most prominent 20th-century musicians omitted (arguably) the most influential figure of all: Robert Johnson, the peerless doyen of a style of music without which there would have been no Elvis, Rolling Stones, Cream, or even – God forbid – Fleetwood Mac (whose Rumours is still a top-selling vinyl album over 40 years after its release), all of whom featured high on such lists.
Pointing out Its subsequent influence on popular music, however, is merely a convenient way of drawing attention to the blues and associated forms such as ragtime, gospel and hokum; that this music richly rewards close listening merely for its own sake is demonstrated over and over again by the 12 albums that constitute the initial releases of a projected series on CD taken from the vinyl recordings issued by Saydisc in the 1980s, embracing neglected solo blues singers as well as string bands, harp players and purveyors of novelty songs. Paul Oliver (who died in 2017) has provided characteristically learned notes, and the recordings have been skilfully transferred to CD by Norman White.
These two sets cover music recorded between 1926 and 1932, and while the work of some artists will be familiar (such as the vigorous keening of Skip James and the sophisticated assurance of Leroy Carr), other practitioners have undeservedly fallen into relative obscurity. The piercing melancholy of Peg Leg Howell or the affectingly mournful vibrato of Charley Lincoln, for instance, are something of a revelation, likewise the filigree delicacy of the guitar work of Willie Walker (his apparently effortless artistry compared with that of Art Tatum by no less a figure than Josh White, who called him “the best guitarist I’ve ever heard”). Other highlights include the feisty shouting style of Nellie Florence (one of the few women represented), the lively interplay of the various musicians involved in the sessions headed by Tommie Bradley and James Cole, and the strident vocals of Bo Weavil Jackson (Sam Butler).
It is the cumulative effect, though, of the eight hours or so of music in these two sets that really lingers in the mind. The vitality, spirit and freshness infusing performances nearly a hundred years ago of what is, ostensibly, a relatively limited musical form still delight; the resourcefulness and sheer resilience of these singers and musicians still astonish; the authenticity of the emotion – even in its disturbingly violent manifestations – still resonates. In short, a vivid portrait of a long-vanished society – its relentless labour, its fleeting snatched joys, its escape routes provided by trains and liquor, its circumscription by arbitrary law – is painted by these uniquely valuable recordings.
London Jazz News
All in all the Matchbox Bluesmaster Series is quite fascinating, really bringing to life the richness of the blues genre which would go on to fuel the best of our popular music. Highly recommended to blues enthusiasts and to aspiring musicians wishing to brush up their harp and guitar technique.
Blues News from EarlyBlues.com - Snippets from the blues world
This major release from Saydisc Records is an extremely well produced and comprehensive compilation from across the whole blues music genre. The original recordings were sourced from rare 78 rpm records of well-respected specialist blues music collectors, the discographical details are from the ‘Blues Bible’ Blues & Gospel Records (1895–1943) by Dixon, Godrich & Rye and the liner notes are from the writings of Paul Oliver, a world authority on the blues.
It just doesn’t get any better!
The Matchbox Bluesmaster series will be of great interest to all blues enthusiasts and collectors, but also to those who are curious about the origins of most forms of popular music today from modern blues to rhythm & blues, rock’n’ roll, soul and reggae – A very coherent introduction to early blues for the newcomer. The producers hope this series will attract the attention of younger people to the power and importance of this music and I applaud this vision as well as recommending this as a great resource and listening for us older people too.
EarlyBlues.com, EarlyGospel.com and EarlyRnB.com
Blues and Gospel Researcher, Historian and Archivist
This brilliant new Matchbox Bluesmaster Series explores the roots of the blues in a series of seven 6CD sets tracing the origins of American blues. The songs are sometimes raw and primitive in character, but outstanding musicianship and singing shine through the performances captured on 42 original LP albums released by Saydisc Records in the 1980s. Artists include Buddy Boy Hawkins, Bo Weavil Jackson, Texas Alexander, Skip James and Leroy Carr.