Louisiana Red died in February of this year. He was one of the few remaining original blues recording artists who made the genre popular. His style reflected real hard times and lots of emotional highs and lows. In When My Mama Was Living, you can hear the hard living behind every note.
These 16 tracks were recorded in the mid-1970s. For the most part they dwell on the dark side of the blues. Louisiana Red’s mother died shortly after he was born and his father was hanged, allegedly by the KKK, five years later. He went through a series of orphanages before his grandmother took him to live with her in Philadelphia, according to the informative booklet included with the CD. By 14, he was playing on the streets. This is important to know because it explains the genuine pain that informs real, raw blues like these. There is no polish here, just true from-the-heart music.
Of course, not every song here is grim. There’s one of the greatest versions ever of “King Bee,” a song that has been recorded many times but seldom done better. Then there’s “Little Suzie Jane,” “Got a Girl With a Dog Won’t Bark,” and a rousing version of Reverend Gary Davis’ “You Got To Move.” “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You” is sly and funny. “John Henry” is a straight telling of the folk tale with wonderful percussive harmonica provided by Peg Leg Smith.
Smith also provides harmonica on “Little Suzie Jane,” “You Got to Move,” and “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You.” Another blues great, Lefty Dizz, plays guitar on “Got A Girl With a Dog Won’t Bark” and provides guitar and vocals on “Stole From Me.”
It’s obvious that Red was happier when playing with his comrades in the blues and those are the songs that reflect a happier mood. Alone, he sings songs like “When My Mama Was Living,” “Cold White Sheet,” and “Cold, Cold Feeling” that reflect everything that he lived through to sing and play the way he did.
This CD is a fitting tribute to the life of a great blues man. It belongs in the collection of every true blues lover.