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CD REVIEW -- Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup



Sunny Road


Arthur Big Boy Crudup CD art

By Bill Dahl

            Elvis Presley was a major fan of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. His 1954 Sun debut “That’s All Right” was a Crudup cover, and he waxed two more of Big Boy’s classics in ’56 for RCA, “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine,” blues being integral to Presley’s early sound.


With all the hoopla about Arthur’s eternal connection to Elvis, sometimes the Mississippi bluesman’s own massive postwar catalog for Bluebird and its RCA Victor parent label gets overlooked. That’s a shame: no other bluesman sounded like Crudup (pronounced Crood-up, as producer Bob Koester points out in his liner notes to this CD), with his high-pitched pipes and rather rudimentary electric guitar skills. A lot of Arthur’s best postwar sides skipped along atop driving upbeat rhythms, propelled by Ransom Knowling’s fierce walking bass.


By the early ‘50s, Crudup’s heyday was coming to an end. He made one-off singles for Champion (as Arthur “Blues” Crump), Checker (as Percy Lee Crudup), and Trumpet (as Elmo James!) before returning to RCA’s Groove subsidiary for a couple of 1953-54 sessions under his actual sobriquet. After that, Crudup’s recording career fell on hard times. He made an album in 1961 for Bobby Robinson’s Fire label in New York (not Nashville, as the liner notes claim, and certainly not for a nonexistent “Fireball” label). Then in 1967, Koester’s Delmark Records happily resurrected Arthur’s flagging fortunes, reuniting him with Knowling for one session and pairing him with several Chicago veterans for a couple more. The result was a pair of LPs that jump-started Big Boy’s career revival.


All ten tracks on Sunny Road were cut November 10, 1969 at Sound Studio on North Michigan Avenue, languishing unheard in Delmark’s vaults until now. The 64-year-old bluesman was surrounded by younger local sidemen: Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins contributes lead guitar to three tracks, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith is the rock-solid drummer throughout.


Plugging Crudup’s axe into the same rotating Leslie speaker (a rig generally associated with the Hammond organ) that Buddy Guy previously employed on Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues for much of the session gives his signature licks a sound they never had before. Purists may be skeptical, but the effect isn’t particularly upsetting, just different. The songs featuring Arthur in front of the full rhythm section are a tad out of tune at times, but nothing too severe.


The title track, a hit for Crudup’s then-RCA labelmate Roosevelt Sykes in 1946 (Sykes would also be associated with Delmark during the ‘60s), is a fine vehicle for Arthur’s impassioned vocal delivery (and he’s not playing through the Leslie on this one). Big Boy admirably chose not to rest on past laurels, introducing fresh material but turning down a request for an upbeat number on “Studio Chatter With Bob Koester,” explaining that he’s got the blues on his mind and nothing but. Crudup sounds practically in tears on the closing “All I Got Is Gone,” bemoaning the loss of his mother and anyone else who means anything to him over a laidback after-hours groove.


Despite its eccentricities, Sunny Road might have garnered Crudup and Delmark renewed acclaim had it been released at the time. Unfortunately, Arthur didn’t have long to go. He died in 1974, never seeing the massive royalties due him for all those millions of records Elvis sold of his seminal compositions. No wonder he’s in a melancholy mood here.


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