Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection

 

Title: Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection
Artist: Various
Label: Earwig
Formats: 4 CD Box Set
Release date: August 9, 2019

 

Produced by Earwig Music Company’s Michael Robert Frank, Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection is hands down one of the best box sets of the year. The beautifully produced hard cover book includes four CDs inserted into the front and back covers, while the lavishly illustrated inner pages tell the story of the Chicago based independent record company owned by Narvel Eatmon, a colorful character better known on the South Side as “Cadillac Baby.” Frank began this labor of love in 2006 when he purchased the entire catalog and archive of the Bea & Baby label, with the goal of sharing Cadillac Baby’s musical legacy with the rest of the world.  The result is this comprehensive anthology which includes all released and unreleased tracks (with a couple of exceptions), ranging from urban and country blues, gospel, doo-wop, soul, and comedy, to rap. Along the way, Cadillac narrates his own story through six spoken word tracks interspersed throughout the collection. Other “expert witnesses” from Chicago include Jim O’Neal (Living Blues magazine), Bill Dahl, and Robert M. Marovich (Journal of Gospel Music), who all contributed to the informative liner notes.

The liner notes open with a descriptive introduction by O’Neal: “In a teeming South Side underworld populated with hucksters, hustlers, rogues, and enterprising impressarios ruling their own blocks of turf, Cadillac Baby stood out as one of the most irrepressible and colorful characters of all.” He follows with a reprint of the Autumn 1971 issue of Living Blues which featured an extensive interview with Cadillac about his birth in Mississippi circa 1914, his move to Chicago during the Great Migration, the opening of his blues club at 4708 So. Dearborn, and the subsequent start of the Bea & Baby label in the 1950s. Early artists on the label included Eddie Boyd, Little Mac, and Detroit Junior, as well as other musicians managed by Cadillac such as L.C. McKinley, the Daylighters, and 11-year-old Faith Taylor, all of whom are included on disc one. Highlights on this disc include Bobby Saxton’s “Trying’ to Make a Livin’,” Earl Hooker’s “Dynamite,” and L.C. McKinley’s rocking single “Nit Wit.” But nothing tops the opening track which features the great Cadillac Baby himself introducing a live show from his club in 1958 with guest artist B.B. King, who interestingly did not receive as much applause from the audience as the local musicians.

Disc two opens with Hound Dog Taylor’s electrified slide guitar on the houserockers “My Baby Is Coming Home” and “Take Five.” His 1960 debut for Bea & Baby was recorded more than a decade before his debut album for Alligator. Singing Sam, aka Phil Sampson, is featured on four tracks ranging from the slow blues ballad “My Story” to the jazzy uptempo “Sampson” and hard swinging “Calvin’s Reserve.” Other highlights on this disc include two unreleased tracks by James Cotton, the two part “Joe’s House Rent Party,” featuring Tall Paul Hankins on organ with The Hudson Brothers, and the closing track featuring guitarist Willie Hudson on the instrumental “Red Lips.”

Disc three opens with two season appropriate songs: “The Christmas Song” by blues guitarist/vocalist Lee Jackson and “Santa Came Home Drunk” with comedian Clyde “Porkchop” Lasley, both backed by The Cadillac Baby Specials. One of the best girl groups on the set is The Chances (Cadillac’s step-daughters) who back Mack Simmons on the horn-driven soul of “It Takes More Than Love Alone.” Twelve tracks are devoted to blues harpist Little Mack Simmons, including the previously unreleased singles, Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More” and Freddie King’s “I’m Tore Down.” Likewise, pianist Sunnyland Slim is featured on three previously unreleased tracks including the fantastic “She Got That Jive” with Hubert Sumlin on guitar and “Too Late To Pray” with Sumlin and Eddie Taylor.

The final disc in the set is more varied as Cadillac delves into gospel and hip hop. Chicago rapper 3D (aka Richard Davenport) offers a couple of golden age tracks from 1989, including “Here We Go Chi-Town,” which might have actually taken off if they had been released. After Davenport’s murder in 1991, the tracks were permanently shelved and are now making their debut in this collection. The other significant tracks on this disc include four unreleased songs recorded in the early 1960s by Sleepy John Estes & Hammie Nixon, including the tribute to the label owner, “Cadillac Baby Passed So Fast.” Other highlights include the selections from Chicago area gospel groups including The Gloryaires, The Norfolk Singers, The Pilgrim Harmonizers, and Rev. Samuel Patterson. perhaps most notable are Eddie Dean & The Biblical Aires from Gary, Indiana, who blaze through the original songs “Holy Place” and “God Has Prepared.” Cadillac Baby gets the final word on the closing track, “Blues Is My Soul,” concluding with the words, “I am one of the last of the old blues timers … I paid the cost, I’ve been through it, because blues is one of the greatest things, and it will stand until the end of time. Blues is my soul.” Amen!

An amazing microcosm of the Chicago music scene, the tracks on Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records were primarily recorded from 1959-1989, with the majority released in the 1960s. This box set is a must have for any blues fan or collector of Chicago gospel and soul music.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss