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Wed, 01.31.1906

Roosevelt Sykes, Blues Pianist born

Roosevelt Sykes

*On this date in 1906, Roosevelt Sykes was born. He was a Black blues singer and musician.

From Elmar, Arkansas, Sykes began playing while growing up in Helena, Arkansas. At age 15, he hit the road, developing his rowdy barrelhouse style around the blues-fertile St. Louis area. Sykes began recording in 1929 for OKeh and the next year was signed to four different labels under four different names (among them Dobby Bragg, Willie Kelly, and Easy Papa Johnson)!

Sykes joined Decca Records in 1935, where his popularity blossomed. There was absolutely nothing downbeat about this large effervescent blues pianist, whose lengthy career spanned the pre-war and postwar eras with no interruption whatsoever.  After relocating to Chicago, he signed a deal with Bluebird Records in 1943 and recorded creatively for them with his combo, the Honeydrippers, scoring a pair of R&B hits in 1945, I Wonder and The Honeydripper. The following year, he scored one more national chart maker Sunny Road. He also often toured and recorded with singer St. Louis Jimmy Oden, the originator of the classic "Going Down Slow."

His style debates any opinion that the blues is simply too depressing to embrace; a heady dose of Roosevelt Sykes.  If he doesn't change their minds, nothing will. His romping boogies and entertaining risqué lyrics included Dirty Mother for You, Ice Cream Freezer, and Peeping Tom. They characterize his monumental contributions to the blues idiom; he was also responsible for the influential pieces 44 Blues, Driving Wheel, and Night Time Is the Right Time. In 1951, Sykes joined Chicago's United Records, cutting more fine sides over the next couple of years.

A pair of 1955 dates for Imperial included a rollicking version of "Sweet Home Chicago" that presaged all the covers that would surface later on. A number of albums for Bluesville, Folkways, Crown, and Delmark sold well during the 1960s, while European tours took up quite a bit of his time. Roosevelt Sykes settled in New Orleans in the late 1960s, remaining a local treasure and chasing away the blues with his round, cigar-chomping, piano playin’ self until he died on July 17, 1983.

Nothing But the Blues The Music and the Musicians
Edited by Lawrence Cohn
Copyright 1993 Abbeville Publishing Group, New York
ISBN 1-55859-271-7

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