The Original Honeydripper

Like many pianists of the era, Arkansas-born Roosevelt Sykes (1906-’83) spent his early years playing in barrelhouses and, after moving to Chicago, at rent parties where he honed the skills so much in evidence at this 1977 gig. Known as “The Honeydripper,” after a song he wrote and recorded in 1936, the ebullient Sykes lays into the disc’s 14 songs with considerable enthusiasm, and the audience responds in kind—whooping along with the bluesman—especially when he launches into “Viper Song” (popularized by Fats Waller as “The Reefer Song,” aka “If You’re a Viper.”). Sykes’ boogie-woogie chops are on display with a rollicking rendition of “Cow Cow” Davenport’s “Cow Cow Blues” and his own “Running the Boogie.” He slows down for “Drivin’ Wheel” (his composition that has become a staple for blues bands) and an introspective “St. James Infirmary.” His “Don’t Talk Me to Death” (“’cause I’m not ready to die”) is a piece of advice to his woman, while on “Too Smart Too Soon” (“and wise too late”) he laments his having lost her. The pièce de résistance is his classic “Dirty Mother For You,” a single-entendre set of lyrics he introduces by saying, “Some people say it’s smutty.” No bass, no drums—just the joyful two-fisted pianist singing and playing his heart out.