The Leland Bluebird Recording Sessions is a project instigated and brought about by Waterloo Sunset Records and inspired by the work of the Fox Valley Blues Society, Blues On The Fox Festival Committee and the Fox Valley Music Foundation. The project is a recording tribute to the records that were produced on the top floor of the Leland Hotel in Aurora, Illinois during a period in time beginning on May 4, 1937 and ending on December 19,1938.
The cream of the crop in the Chicago and St. Louis blues scenes were assembled on a variety of dates during that period to record tracks for the Bluebird Label. The sessions were the brainchild of a Chicago businessman and freelance A&R person named Lester Melrose. Tampa Red, Washboard Sam, Big Bill Broonzy, Big Joe Williams, Walter Davis, Henry Townsend, Robert Lee McCoy, Merline Johnson, Sweet Peas Spivey, and a very young, John Lee Curtis ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson, amongst others, participated in many of the sessions.
The recordings are considered to be historic and very influential in laying down a foundation for rock and roll, big band music and post-war blues. The sessions helped to establish the harmonica as a lead instrument in blues ensembles while also lending credence to the notion that recordings sessions could be quick and efficient in using ‘house bands’ comprised of lead and session musicians accompanying each other on each other’s songs.
The rediscovery of these historic recordings lead to the formation of the Fox Valley Blues Society and the founding of the Blues On The Fox Festival both based in Aurora, Illinois. Several of the artists that participated in the original sessions are now members of the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame and the song, ‘Good Morning, School Girl’, written and recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson, has also been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
The purpose of this tribute project is to pay homage to the artists that participated in those original recording sessions, and to help to ensure that their memory and those songs remain prominently known for ages to come.
As of now, February of 2015, several recording sessions have been completed and are in the vault so to speak. Twelve tracks have been laid down.
The first session took place back in November of 2013 and, four sessions later, we are looking to wrap things up with a fifth and sixth session taking place during the next couple of months, thereby wrapping up the first phase of our trip. We’re hoping to get another three or four tracks out of those last two sessions with enough in total to fill a vinyl record, with some left over for a good start at Phase Two.
There is irony in the fact that our tribute project has taken this long to complete (and we’re not done yet) when you consider that the original recordings were recorded over a period of 20 months. However, from May of 1937 until December of 1938, they recorded over 300 songs while we are still hovering at a dozen … not even close!
Nevertheless, we are well on our way although our journey has just begun, so to speak. For more information on the project, visit the website that has been established specifically for this project at www.thelelandbluebirdsessions.com.