Recording Date: Sep 27, 1954 - Nov 1963
Retro-records with sound artefact
Two-CD, 45-song compilation covers Fulson's Chess years, which spanned 1954 to 1963. Fulson didn't have a great deal of commercial success at Chess (the big exception being "Reconsider Baby," which leads off this set), and his jazzy West Coast form of R&B/blues was considerably more polished than the electrified Delta blues for which Chess is most renowned. Most of this, in fact, was recorded not in Chicago, but in Los Angeles, where Fulson could work with combos more sympathetic to his style. You'd have to consider this Fulson's peak, however, and the two discs' worth of material is not excessive, due to the consistency of his material and vocal confidence throughout the decade. It's not without its weird moments of rawness, either, as in "Blues Rhumba," the Bo Diddleyesque guitar that opens "Please Don't Go," Willie Dixon's classic dirge moaning blues "Tollin' Bells," and the (deliberately?) out of tune guitar licks that open "K.C. Bound" with a bang. "Smokey Room" and "Be on Your Merry Way" were previously unreleased in the U.S.; "Father Time" and the alternate takes of "Lonely Hours" and "Check Yourself" were previously unreleased anywhere.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Lowell Fulson was always the odd man out on the Chess Records roster. By rights he shouldn't have been there at all, yet it was with Chess that he had his career's biggest hit, 1954's "Reconsider Baby." Not a Mississippi-to-Chicago bluesman, he really never fit into the "Chess Sound," despite Leonard Chess's constant attempts to fit his square musical peg into their round hole. Yet in the end he produced a body of work for the label that, rightly or wrongly, has been responsible for possibly his greatest recognition factor in blues circles.
Lowell Fulson was born March 31, 1921 on the Choctaw Indian Strip, a few miles south of Tulsa, Oklahoma. His parents were Martin Fulson (who died when Lowell was about five) and Mamie Wilson, and he lived most of his early life on land granted to his family as Choctaw Freedmen (blacks who had been owned as slaves by, and sometimes intermarried with, Choctaw Indians, prior to the Civil War. After Emancipation these Indian-owned black slaves, like all others, were freed; as part of the reparation, they were given grants of lands). His grandfather was a black named Henry Fulson who supposedly fought in the Civil War. Henry went on to marry a Cherokee Indian woman, and their grandson Lowell's Native American and African heritage blended seamlessly.
His earliest musical experiences were family-baseed. His grandfather^ played violin, and two of his uncles played guitars, as did his younger brother Martin, and Lowell listened well and learned fast. He heard Blind Lemon Jefferson records on the family phonograph, and was soon finding his way around the neck of a guitar. When he was seventeen or eighteen, he got his first professional experience.
"A string band used to come through (Ada, Oklahoma) about once a year around May or June, and they would stay all through Baby" for Chess became the biggest selling record of his career. "I was in Dallas when I wrote the song," Lowell recalls. "And I didn't have but the one song, but I wanted to get this one down. So I talked on the phone to Leonard Chess, and he said, 'You got something?' And I said, 'Yeah, I got something.' Then he said, 'Come on up here and record it.' And I said, 'No. If you want it, I'll do it here. I got the band and everything'." Chess unwillingly made arrangements for Lowell and his band, which included David "Fathead" Newman, to go into Studio Seven in Dallas, and then called Stan Lewis in Shreveport, who came to Dallas, paid the studio and the musicians, and forwarded the master tapes to Chess in Chicago. "And Leonard said, 'You better have something good, mother, 'cause you don't be recording out of Chicago!' And I said, 'I'm already out of Chicago!' See, Leonard always talked low down like that. I think it was just his way, he didn't mean nothing by it, but it was his way of dealing with people, to talk low down to them. Put himself down on their level. He called everybody mother, as easy as you and I would say hello. Anyway, we laughed about it and then I forgot all about it. I cut it, and I was satisfied. And then two or three weeks later, they rushed it, and it was out, boom, just like that. And Phil said, 'You really got one this time. You got you a hit!'." Phil was right; the record went all the way to #3 on the charts in November of 1954 on Chess; subsidiary Checker label. It remains Lowell's biggest commercial success to this day; it's been covered by Elvis Presley and Eric Clapton, among many others, and has sold in the multi-millions.
"Reconsider Baby" had been recorded in September, 1954; the following January, Leonard and Phil Chess did persuade Lowell to record in Chicago, but there too he was often the square peg. Most of the other Chess musicians, both leaders and sidemen, had the advantage of working together in the clubs on a regular basis, as well as swapping personnel back and forth as needed for tours and recording session. Lowell, who was based at this time on the West Coast (where he preferred to record) and had always carried his own band with its extremely tight, professional arrangements, was never part of the comfortably loose Chess studios in-crowd, whose only rehearsal was often take one! Although Willie Dixon would play bass on a least one of Lowell's sessions, things never really jelled.
"I went on and got with Otis Spann, and we sat down and talked, and I'm seeing if I can get back to the ground floor and do like me and Lloyd Glenn did back on Swingtime. (Spann) could play it, but he didn't have the imagination towards my stuff, like Lloyd did. He'd lean part of the way, but I guess that he'd played for so many different people on different sessions until he had mixed emotions about some of my stuff on some sessions, but he was a good piano player." He endured one more Chicago session, in February 1956, at which the now-infamous "Tollin' Bells" was cut; the song's LP release on Hung Down Head showed the essential lack of sympathy between Lowell and Leonard Chess; the two traded increasingly profane invectives between studio to control room as take after take fell apart. After that experience, all Lowell's remaining Chess sides were cut in Los Angeles, using a combination of personnel from his current touring band and local studio musicians. The practice of "mailing it in," and keeping his distance from the regular Chess studio and musicians, gives his output a decidedly different slant from the other artists in Chess' stable. Always a more sophisticated and urbane musician than, say, Howlin' Wolf or Sonny Boy Williamson, Lowell's combination of original material (as opposed to the Willie Dixon compositions his colleagues in Chicago were recording) and West Coast big-band swing made him stand out from the crowd.
In 1964 Lowell decided to leave Chess for the Los Angeles-based Kent label. "Well, I got along all right with Chess, but after I moved back to California it just got to be too far to go. Can't just stop in at the studio and cut something, if the studio is 2,000 miles away! Kent was right there in the back yard, so to speak." Probably his biggest recording from his association with Kent was "Tramp"; his own version charted in January of 1966, and it was later a hit for Otis Redding & Carla Thomas, whose recording eclipsed the original on the charts. Lowell didn't mind, though; he got healthy songwriter royalties, though the Biharis gave him a series of postdated checks to cover them!
During the Seventies, he moved from Kent to Jewel Records, based in Shreveport, Louisiana and owned by Stan Lewis, the man who had paid for the "Reconsider Baby" session on Leonard Chess' behalf. "I was with Swing Time in the Fifties, and then I went on to Chess," Lowell recalls, "and then Kent in the Sixties and Jewel in the Seventies. I laid pretty low in the Eighties, did a few things, and now I'm with Bullseye in the Nineties." He seems to take serenely for granted the amazing accomplishment of having been a successful performing and recording artist continuously for over half a century.
Although today Lowell casts a tolerant eye back over his career with Chess, he's never been content to be thought of as an artist whose best work is many decades behind him. The recent resurgence of interest in blues music has brought him, somewhat belatedly, the recognition he so richly deserves. He was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in early 1993; later that same year he won five W.C. Handy Awards, including induction into the Blues Hall of Fame for both himself as an artist and for "Reconsider Baby" as a song. He was the subject of a cover story in Living Blues Magazine in 1994; reissues of his Swing Time, Kent and Jewel sides are still available on CD, and with the long-awaited release of the present set his Chess recordings are now equally well documented. Today, as he slides gently into his mid-seventies, he's still performing occasionally, and in the past few years has been recording for the Rounder and Bullseye Blues labels, under whose sympathetic production he continues to compose and record his unique brand of contemporary blues.
-Mary Katherine Aldin