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Issue 14 - July 1973
Top Hat Blues

Anyone who has been to the Top Hat or any other similar establishment (and I really do mean establishment) will know that the usual atmosphere in such places isn't exactly in favour of dedicated and incredibly expert musicians. Fortunately, when Sonny & Brownie were billed, lots of proper people braved the tuxedoed gorillas and plastic lights to go along, but all the same there was a solid core of boring, bored bar-flies looking for a quick screw in the car park. Right. So much for scene-setting. Now, as various people said to various other people, to the meat of the matter.

Saunders Terrell, born 1911. Blinded in one eye during a children's game (sic) in 1922, a few years' later blinded in the other eye by a piece of iron thrown into his face (even more sic). It's really ironical that such an amazingly tragic thing (really concentrate and think about what it would have done to you) caused Sonny to take up harp playing, and to become - wait for it - the finest harp player in the world. Fortunately, you don't just have to take it from me; Gary Davis, Jesse Fuller, Leadbelly, Guthrie, Cisco Huston and millions (literally) of other fine people will go along with my humble opinion.

Walter McGhee, born 1914. Nephew of a country fiddler (i.e. musician though probably the other as well). Struck by lightning in 1918 (really) which originated the limp - thus, unable to do 'normal' negro work (fetching, carrying, digging etc) took up guitar, piano and jazz-horn (a novelty instrument made from a kazoo and a trombone bell).

After various truckings and other ups and downs they eventually got together in the early forties and on June 11th 1973, they hit the Top Hat in a far more important way than any council bulldozer could ever do.

There should now follow a detailed, analytical, blow by blow (suck by suck) list of numbers performed, cross-referenced to the work of parallel artists and being generally scholarly (let's face it I haven't done badly so far), but it's much more communicative to say that sitting and looking, listening, smelling, tasting and feeling Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee is like falling down an endless lift-shaft full of treacle.

In short (for a change) the message is - buy any album you come across, read as much as you can, pick up any tiny snippet (a very small greyhound) of info - but mainly: