John Brim ‘Detroit to Chicago – The Tough Blues of John Brim 1950-1956’ CD (Jasmine) 4/5

One of the unsung heroes (and there are many other worthy candidates) of modern blues music, John Brim was born in 1932 in Kentucky, but in truth his musical education began for real when he eventually moved to Chicago. In fact, Brim moved first to Indianapolis in 1941, before finally reaching the Windy City in 1945. This was part of a more general trend of a major migration of African-Americans from the southern states to the north, and, luckily for John, he arrived in Chicago just as the blues scene was exploding and, consequently, there was ample demand for blues musicians. Brim was heavily influenced by listening to 78s of his favourite bluesmen, and these included Tampa Red and Big Bill Bronzy. This collection brings together hard to find 45s from some of the key independent labels, Checker (a Chess offshoot), Fortune and Random. However, where this selection scores highly is in unearthing some previously unreleased songs, eight in total, and that alone makes this is a must have for devotees of modern blues music. Of course, John Brim is best known for one song in particular and that is the somewhat suggestive in tone, ‘Ice Cream Man’. Such was the controversy around the lyrics that the song, originally recorded in 1953, did not see the light of day commercially until 1969, when cultural mores had progressed somewhat and were more relaxed, and the hippie generation lapped it up. Another fine example of Brim’s craft is a song cut for Chess, ‘I Would Hate To See You’, from 1965, but it is important to stress that Brim did not record all of his music in the Windy City. Proof of this is given by some of the A and B sides featured here from Detroit in 1950 and St Louis in 1952. Given the paucity of information on any 45, Jasmine are to be commended for going that bit further and providing extra information, including some vital clues as to who the sidemen were. They included some of the very greatest musicians, from pianists of the calibre of Big Maceo, Sunny Boy Slim and Roosevelt Sykes, to other venerable artists such as Jimmy Reed, harmonica legend Little Walter and Robert Lockwood Jr. John. Only one song is missing from this collection that would have made a worth inclusion and that is, ‘Be Careful’. Otherwise, an impeccable choice of songs. Brim would later re-record, ‘Ice Cream Man’, a perennial favourite among blues lovers, after a prolonged absence from the studio. He passed away in 2003, aged seventy-nine.

Tim Stenhouse