First, the calendar. Blues Images is the vision of fanatical blues collector John Tefteller, who recently paid $37,100, reportedly the highest price ever for a 78 RPM record, to acquire the second known copy of a rare Tommy Johnson record -- and he already owned the other copy! (More about that in a bit.) Clearly this is a man who takes the blues seriously.
After acquiring a large collection of material related to the famous Paramount label in 2003, Tefteller started this calendar series featuring the wonderful art drawn for vintage advertisements of Paramount records during the label's 1922-32 heyday, and artists' promotional photos. Since then, Blues Images has branched out to include material from other labels' artists -- for instance, the 2015 calendar's April page features a great photo of the duo of Brother Son Bonds and Hammie Nixon, Decca artists. The first 12 tracks on the accompanying CD are always synched with each month's artwork, so the fourth track is their gospel tune "I Want to Live So God Can Use Me." October features a 1930 photo of the young Roosevelt Sykes; on the CD he's represented by "Conjur Man Blues," which he recorded for Paramount under the pseudonym Dobby Bragg.
The second half of the CD is unconstrained by art considerations, and often offers the most interesting tracks for blues aficionados. It's hear that we get to hear both sides of the aforementioned $37,100 record, Tommy Johnson's "Alcohol and Jake Blues" b/w"Ridin' Horse." Blues Images already issued these songs on its sixth CD, but since the newly acquired copy of the record is in better condition, they sound better this time around (albeit still with surface noise). Given the legendary status of Tommy Johnson, these tracks alone make the package well worth getting.
My other favorite tracks here are a pair from January 1932 by the Famous Blue Jay Singers of Birmingham, an excellent Gospel quartet, in their first Paramount recording session. Their harmonies are exquisite and their rhythmic drive is infectious. Also of interest are two other Johnson-related tracks: "Dark Road Blues" by Willie Lofton and "Jumpin' and Shoutin' Blues" by Garfield Akers are both clearly adapted from Johnson's "Big Road Blues." - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based composer, poet, and editor who recently composed and recorded the soundtrack for director Enrico Cullen's film A Man Full of Days.