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The Tale Behind The Tune ... Jimmy Reed Medley

The Sun Is Shinin’ and Goin’ To New York

I have been a fan of Jimmy Reed since I was a kid. My girlfriend at the time (much later my wife) and I would put his double LP Live At Carnegie Hall on the record player at her cottage and play it incessantly. It was the soundtrack of our lives all summer up there and like summer that music seemed to go on forever.

Always amazed me that he could make up so many wonderful songs with such a simple and limited musical structure. There was a sameness that wove itself through all the songs yet each one was still distinct and unique and special.

There was also something very comforting about Jimmy Reed’s music.

I had the good fortune of seeing him perform live once back in the early 70’s at Le Coq D’Or Tavern on Yonge St. in Toronto ... Muddy played there back in the 60’s. Throughout the entire evening Jimmy’s wife Mama Reed sat just behind him and throughout his show she kept whispering in his ear all night ... couldn’t figure out why but then it occurred to me ... she was whispering all the lyrics in Jimmy’s ear. Apparently he could not remember his lyrics ... in fairness there are a great many! As his first set was coming to an end Jimmy thanked everyone for coming out and wished everybody a safe drive home ... until Mama started whispering in his ear. Oh my goodness, he said it’s just the end of our first set so please stick around. So I guess he was having some difficulty remembering more than just the lyrics. It was a wonderful evening of great authentic beautiful blues music. David Clayton Thomas was also wandering around the room visiting with folks and giving away tickets to his upcoming show with Blood Sweat And Tears at Maple Leaf Gardens soon thereafter .. got one ... bonus!!!

The first time I ever heard a Jimmy Reed song was at The Concord Tavern one Saturday afternoon at one of those great matinees with Levon And The Hawks. As they sometimes did, on this particular occasion they invited a Toronto band to sit in with them and do a guest set between their sets ... great opportunity to play! The band who sat in that afternoon was Robbie Lane And The Disciples. First time I ever saw Donnie Troiano play guitar, Sonny Milne on drums and noticed that one of the sax players ... Bert Hermiston ... was in my class at school. You learn something every day.

Part way through their show Robbie called up his baritone saxophonist ... a guy named Wicked William (Cudmore) ... to do a song for us with his mouth organ. That song was Goin’ To New York ... wild performance that blew the room away. We were all suitably impressed and gave Wicked William an ovation in response. He was simply terrific and so was the song ... my introduction to Mr. Reed.

I never knew or met Bill Cudmore back in the day except on a couple of occasions when I sang with The Disciples as a guest ... the first time on Robbie’s tv show in the sixties A Go Go 66 and later at a bar in North Toronto. But one day as I was driving to Uxbridge to pick up some feed for my farm animals I noticed a mailbox on a road I sometimes take with the name Cudmore on it. I wondered at the time, could that possibly be Bill Cudmore because Cudmore is a rather unusual surname but then I just forgot about it and kept going to the mill. That happened a few times over the next while but continued to end in the same way.

One day thereafter I was invited to come down to the city to be on Robbie Lane’s radio show on 740 AM with Jon Finley to reminisce about the good old days. When the show was over Robbie mentioned that he had had Bill Cudmore come to sit in with The Disciples as his guest performer and that they had a great time. I then asked Robbie where does Bill live? ... His response, just outside Uxbridge! I couldn’t believe it ... had the answer to my mystery ... Bill was my neighbour!

The next time I drove along that road I noticed someone sitting on the front porch. Stopped my car, rolled down the window and yelled ... "Hey, are you Wicked William Cudmore?" ... to which the guy then slowly stood up, walked about halfway down his driveway and yelled back... "Who’s askin’?!" ... I replied that my name was Bob Burrows but when I was a kid I sang under the name Bobby Kris ... "Holy shit" was the reply ... "How’s Jerry Shymanski?" Jerry used to play sax in our band from the 60’s ... Bobby Kris and The Imperials. So Bill invited me to come and sit with him on his porch and have a visit. We had a wonderful chat about many things over a beer quickly became friends.

He invited me to come back one night and jam some music together which I did. We had a great time singing and playing songs together from such great classics as I Only Have Eyes For You to one of my favourites, Heartbreak Hotel. We both played some piano and sang, Bill also played some sax and mouth organ. It was a very special evening of music and friendship I will remember forever.

Once in a while on a hot sunny day Bill would give me a call and say that he had a beer at his place with my name on it ... would be good to see me if I had the time. Bill is truly an old world kind of guy and a bit of a hermit, especially during the pandemic ... went to town to buy food and then went back home ... that was it! One time when I mentioned something about “going online” Bill said ... When I go online that just means that I am hanging out my laundry ... he has no computer, no cell phone, has never watched a video on YouTube ... he has access to none of that. But the man is totally up to date on what is going on in the world .... sharp as a tack. If I want to share recorded music with him at all I have to put it on a writeable CD. He does have a CD player ... probably the most up to date tech gadget he owns. My conversations with Bill are always fascinating ... he is a very intelligent guy. And he knows a great deal about music, local musicians and the music business. I have come to cherish his friendship and his company very much.

Burrows And Company messed around with a couple of Jimmy Reed songs as a medley the first time we ever played together in the summer of 2009 at a jam that we recorded at Chalet Studio ... ... The Sun Is Shinin’ and Goin’ To New York. The players were Al Cross – drums, Dennis Pendrith – bass, Larry Leishman – guitar, David Chester – keyboards, Bob Burrows – vocals.

That night I asked the guys to think about approaching these songs as Count Basie or Big Joe Williams might have done, in a swing type feel and style ... and they did. We had finished off the two other songs we recorded that night ... Howlin’ For My Darlin’ and Hoochie Coochie Man ... a long time ago but we had not done anything further with the Jimmy Reed medley at all since we first recorded it. One day recently I asked David Chester if he could find our initial recording of the medley so we could give it a listen again for fun, to see if it might be worthwhile. After listening to the track we both had big smiles on our faces ... it worked well. We both agreed the recording had potential ... worth the effort to carry it forward. I told Dave I could hear mouth organ ... he said he was thinking about saxophone. We decided to start by calling in Russell Strathdee who did a fine job for us on alto sax in Gnostic Serenade ... so we asked him to come back in with his tenor sax. We also sent him a copy of the recording so far so he could listen to it, get ready.

In preparation for Russ coming in I listened to what we already had a few times too wondering what exactly we might want to ask him to play on this track. The guitar was already playing a line I had asked Larry to play for the intro of the tune at our original get together and I was wondering if Russ could play that too. Other than that I didn’t have a whole bunch of ideas as to what he could do. In many cases when we call in players for something like this I like to ask them what they think would work well and what they would like to play first. After all, they are the experts at playing whatever instrument they play ... I am not. In this case I thought it best to stick my idea about playing along with the guitar in my back pocket and see what kind of ideas Russ might have about all this first. So I asked him what thoughts he had had about contributing to this track.

Russ replied that he thought the guitar was playing a nice line during the intro, he thought it might be nice if he played along with that! Great minds do think alike! There’s another part to that saying ... but let’s leave that alone for now! So Russ laid down some nice sax lines to go with the guitar and then we got him to go back and play a harmony sax part to what he had just played ... worked out well. We went from there and explored the rest of the song ... Russell came up with some nice moves around the vocals, a solo and we came up with sax parts for later. Russ is a fine musician, a gem to work with ... we had a great time making music.

But every time I listened to what we had after Russ had played his part I could still hear mouth organ, likely because of both Jimmy Reed and Wicked William. Since Jimmy Reed had passed away in 1976 there was only one of them to call. So I asked Dave to make me a CD copy of our track and dropped it off at Bill’s. Left it in his mailbox ... wanted him to hear what we had done so far.

Later I picked up my telephone and gave Bill a shout ... we had a good chat. We discussed Jimmy Reed’s unique mouth organ playing, the sound of his harp. That was because, unlike most of the other well known mouth organ players like Little Walter from Muddy Water’s band and guys like Paul Butterfield, who cup the harp in their hands while holding a Green Bullet microphone giving it a smoky musty dark distorted sound, Jimmy Reed played his mouth organ on a neck stand all the time, like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, because he was playing guitar too. So Mr. Reed’s harp sound was much thinner, higher and sometimes even squealed. Bill said he understood exactly what I was talking about, explained how to do that. When he had finished I asked him if he had a chance to listen to the CD I had left. He said he had enjoyed listening to it and wondered what we were up to. I explained that we were working on a medley of Mr. Reed’s songs and invited him to come to the studio and sit in with us on mouth organ as a tribute to Jimmy. Bill said he couldn’t possibly do such a thing ... his chops were no good any more, he would likely run out of breath and his mother wouldn’t let him do that etc. He had more excuses for why he couldn’t play than Carter’s has little liver pills!!!

So I was quite disappointed and crestfallen when I hung up the phone from that conversation ... but two important things quickly came to mind as a result. The first one of those was baritone sax ... I guess because Bill’s primary role with The Disciples was to play baritone not harp ... but there was no way I was asking Bill to do that ... if he wouldn’t play mouth organ there was no way he would play sax because that’s a much bigger challenge for a player who isn’t playing sax a lot. It has to do with keeping your mouth muscles in shape ... your embouchure. I later found out that Bill no longer owns a baritone saxophone anyway. But I did know a guy that did, who was still active playing baritone ... John Crone. John played sax with Bobby Kris And The Imperials when I first joined the band. Had seen him at a reunion luncheon the summer before the pandemic arrived. He told me at that time he was still playing with a couple of local Big Bands. So I gave John a call and made him an offer to come and sit in with us on this recording project that he readily accepted and then I booked a session with Dave.

The other thing that occurred to me after my conversation with Bill was that he did not really understand what I was asking him to do, the nature of recording today. He seemed to be under the impression that we would put him in front of a mic, turn on the recording and then expect him to deliver an immaculate performance from one end of the song to the other ... but that’s not really what it would be like at all! He could run out of breath until the cows came home and it wouldn’t bother us any ... we would simply stop, wait til he got his breath back and then keep going! There was no way we would be recording his playing on the whole song in one go anyway. We be would working on it in sections until we finally got to the end. And as for his chops being no good any more, I knew that was simply not true because he had played mouth organ the night we jammed and he sounded great! Despite all that however I did realize that if Bill really didn’t want to play with us then I would be obliged to respect and accept that was the case ... and move on.

So I decided to call him back, go over my thoughts, then invite him to sit in again. When Bill picked up the phone he said ... If you are calling me back to ask me to sit in on that recording again, you can forget it and save your breath. I persisted and said that if he would hear me out and still didn’t want to play I would readily accept that, that I would stop bugging him and wouldn’t ask again. He agreed to listen so I went over my thoughts listed above with him ... in addition to saying that if he didn’t like what he played we wouldn’t use it and finally that this whole project was one of those closing the circle of life moments for me. He was the first person I had ever heard play the song, so I wanted him to be on this recording ... that for me it was a personal favour I was asking for that reason. Bill stopped me at that point and said ... Bob, you are a good salesman, I will do it. But I am going to keep you to that promise of never asking me to do it again! You could have knocked me off my chair with a feather at that moment ... I was thrilled and filled with joy that he said he would come ... and to be honest I never really believed that he would ... one of those moments when it’s nice to be wrong. So I called Dave and we booked a date to bring one of the real icons of our music from the sixties, Wicked William, out of retirement and back in front of a mic.

On Tuesday February 21 John Crone came in to the studio to play his part. We all had a great afternoon together making music and telling stories. As he was leaving John thanked me for inviting him to come out because he had had a lot of fun getting to play some r’n b / blues music again instead of big band.

The next day we brought in Bill Cudmore to play some mouth organ for us. He brought 2 mouth organs with him .. one for that Jimmy Reed harp sound we were after for the intro ... as a tribute of gratitude and respect for Mr. Reed and the great songs he wrote for us to play ... and the other one for the rest of the song. To get some idea what Jimmy Reed’s mouth organ playing sounded like, here are links to both of these songs by the master of such himself ...

At this point it is important to realize and understand that while we deeply respect and appreciate Jimmy Reed writing these songs it’s not our goal to sound like him. After all that’s already been done and very well by Mr. Reed himself ... no point! But in the world of music there is a long and honourable tradition of arrangements. That means playing a song in a different style with a different approach than the original version, while still using the same chord changes, melody and lyrics. And that is what we have done here and frankly is what we usually do with covers. On this particular occasion we were after the ambiance of a smokey bawdy after hours speakeasy, women jitterbugging with skirts spinning and having a real good time. As mentioned above with a swing type feel like you might hear from Count Basie.

Despite his remarks about not having the chops and all that, Bill gave us wonderful performances on his mouth organs throughout the entire afternoon. His chops were just fine and he is a very easy and humble guy to work with.

When he was done playing, I offered Bill $100 for taking the time to come out and play for us ... he replied ... What would I want that for? ... give it to the food bank. And that’s exactly what we are going to do, give that money to them in his name. As he was leaving Bill thanked Dave and I for inviting him to come out, said he had a great time, really enjoyed himself ... but that he was never doing this again!

Dave and I then went to work “comping” the track ... which means that we listen to all the performances we have recorded from each of the players, look for their best moments, keeping in mind how their playing fits in best with all the other players and then digitally cut and paste together the best possible performances for each. It is actually painstaking work that takes a long time and involves a lot of listening. When we are done we make a quick board mix that I take home and listen to more! Sometimes after a few days we notice issues we need to fix and then refine them. Dave can actually saw the “s” off the end of a word ... we have in fact done that! It is indeed a labour of love ... and I love doing it!

When Dave and I are finally done, we send the final assembled track to our mixing engineer in the city ... Josh Bowman ... who then goes over the entire recording with his sonic fine toothed comb and makes each instrument and voice sound the very best it can be and then he balances everything out and gives it a final polish. He sends his first mix back to me ... I do a lot of listening and thinking that we discuss later and he goes back to work on whatever aspects of the track are needed. That usually happens two or three times until we feel we have it right ... and voila!

On this recording Burrows And Company are ...

Drums ... Al Cross

Acoustic Bass ... Dennis Pendrith

Guitar ... Larry Leishman

Grand Piano ... David Chester

Tenor Sax ... Russell Strathdee

Baritone Sax ... John Crone

Mouth Organ ... Bill Cudmore

Vocals ... Bob Burrows

Recorded at Chalet Studio, Claremont ON ...

Recording Engineers ... Scott Campbell, David Chester

Mixing Engineer... Josh Bowman

Graphic Art ... Mike Raines

Thank you for taking the time to read this story and for your interest in and support for our music much appreciated.


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