I spent many years in immersed in blues geekdom before hearing about Doctor Clayton, and you could say I’m still figuring out who he is. In 1993, Document Records reissued Clayton’s Okeh and Bluebird sides, but his RCA Victor sides (recorded in 1946) are harder to come by. One that I still haven’t heard yet is “I Need My Baby,” which, according to the literature, B.B. King later covered as “Walking Dr. Bill.”
Until yesterday, I hadn’t listened to “Walking Dr. Bill” in years. What happened yesterday? Well, I’ll get to that. But first let’s start with Little Walter.
Little Walter, “Can’t Hold out Much Longer”
(Checker single 758; recorded on May 12, 1952)
Marion Walter Jacobs arrived in Chicago as a 16-year-old kid in 1946 — the same year RCA Victor released Doctor Clayton’s “I Need You Baby.” Here’s a fragment of one of the verses (note that I’m extrapolating here, as all I’ve got on hand is “Walking Dr. Bill”):
I can’t sleep sound at night / I just catnap through the day.
I can’t hold out much longer, people / Living this a-way.
Six years later, Walter recorded “Juke” with the original Muddy Waters band. The B-side was “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer,” which cribbed the insomniac verse from “I Need You Baby,” and added to it a catchy little chorus:
I’m crazy about you baby / Wonder do you ever think of me?
You know I’m crazy ’bout you baby / But you don’t care nothing in the world for me.
This chorus wasn’t original; Walter lifted most of it from “Crazy About You Baby” (the flip side of “Eyesight to the Blind”), which Sonny Boy Williamson had recorded for the Trumpet label in 1951. Here’s the Sonny Boy chorus:
I’m crazy about you baby / I’m just crazy about you baby.
I’m crazy about you darling / But you don’t care nothing in the world for me.
It’s worth pointing out that “Can’t Hold out Much Longer” is a slow, almost plodding, blues, while “Crazy About You Baby” is a lightning-fast boogie. They share a chorus, but little else. And while he might have borrowed most of the lyrics, Walter came up with the more memorable song.
This is where we hit a fork in the road. If you head to the right, you get to a bunch of faithful Little Walter covers by the likes of Big Walter Horton, Lightnin’ Slim, Fenton Robinson, Magic Dick, Mark Hummel, and Eric Clapton.
And if you head left, you get to Ike & Tina.
Ike & Tina Turner, “Crazy ’Bout You Baby”
(From the Outta Season LP on Blue Thumb; released in 1969)
In 1969, Blue Thumb Records released Outta Season by the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. Among the album’s thirteen tracks is a swampy, mid-tempo blues that’s credited to a Willie Williamson — i.e., Sonny Boy Williamson.
Lyrically, “Crazy ’Bout You Baby” is just “Can’t Hold out Much Longer” with a new verse tacked on:
Sometimes I sit and wonder / What am I gonna do?
I guess if I tried hard enough / Then I’d forget about you.
I’m crazy about you baby…
Arrangement-wise, “Crazy” is a long way from the studio that Chess & Dixon built — funky bass line, power-chord accents, and Tina Turner’s raspy teasing on vocals. (Walter never got to hear the Ike & Tina version; he died in 1968.)
Ann Peebles, “Crazy About You Baby”
(From the This Is Ann Peebles LP on Hi Records; released in 1969)
In the spring of 1969, Ann Peebles broke into the R&B Top 30 with “Walk Away,” her first single for Hi Records. Her debut album, released at the end of the year, would include a wah-wah drenched cover of “Crazy About You Baby.” Peebles follows the gritty style of the original, but there’s a little more contrast here in the backing tracks, which are slick with that Willie Mitchell secret sauce. I think Peebles makes a good run of it (and Teenie Hodges has some nice moments with the guitar part), but “Crazy” falls a little short of her best sides for Hi Records.
Elvin Bishop Group with Jo Baker, “Crazy ’Bout You Baby”
(From the Feel It! LP on Epic, released October 1970; the video clip above is from a 1970 Fillmore East performance)
Who was Jo Baker? I hadn’t heard of her until I came across this on Quora yesterday. I’ve since watched the clip about a dozen times. I’m not exactly sure what it is about her — that she’s twenty-two and rocking out at the Fillmore East, that she somehow makes the soul-singer-with-a-jam-band idea a brilliant concept, or that the band is in love with her. Or maybe it’s just her presence and the way she owns this song.
A year after Ike & Tina’s Outta Season came out, the Elvin Bishop Group recorded Feel It!, with Jo Baker taking on more of the lead vocals. It’s not hard to see why.
Actually, it is hard to see why, as those early Elvin Bishop albums are now out of print. And that’s why I hadn’t heard of Baker until yesterday. I haven’t yet tracked down the studio recording of her singing “Crazy ’Bout You Baby.” Still, I felt I had to write something. How could I not, after hearing her for the first time?
- Mark Deming, “This Is Ann Peebles” (album review), AllMusic.
- David Edwards, Patrice Eyries, and Mike Callahan, “The Blue Thumb/Banana Album Discography” (November 5, 2005), The ABC-Paramount Records Story.
- Jeff Harris, “I’m Behind the 8 Ball Now: Popular Blues Singers of the 1930s” (September 13, 2009), Big Road Blues web site.
- Cub Koda, “Bold Soul Sister: The Best of the Blue Thumb Recordings” (album review), AllMusic.
- Jo Baker obituary, San Francisco Chronicle (November 14, 1996).
- Richie Unterberger, “Feel It!” (album review), AllMusic.
- Ron Wynn, “Outta Season” (album review), AllMusic.
bQ • twelve-bar brood 013