Roosevelt Sykes - biography

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   Roosevelt Sykes - biography

   Also known as: The Blues Man, Dobby Brag, The Honeydripper, Easy Papa Johnson

   “ Roosevelt Sykes is one of the most important urban bluesmen of all time.”  


                                                            -  Bob Koester, Delmark Album  DL – 607

   “ [In the 40s]he recorded important transitional records that bridged the gay between Southern rural blues and the modern, electric Chicago blues style.”


                                       – Don Heckman, BMI: The Many Worlds of Music” 1969, p.26

      Roosevelt Sykes was born on 31 January 1906, Elmar, Arkansas, USA and died on 17 July 1983, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. His father was a musician and all his brothers (Johny, Willie, Walter) Sykes learned piano (self-taught) at the age of 12 and frequently played the organ in the local church. Ran away from home in order to work. By the early 20s was playing in local barrelhouses. He moved to St. Louis in 1928, worked in Jazzland Club, and his first recordings for OKeh Records and Victor Records were made from 1929-31. During the 30s, Sykes recorded for Decca Records and acted as a talent scout for the label. Among his most popular compositions were "Night Time Is The Right Time" and "The Honeydripper', which was Sykes" nickname, because he was a known ladies-man. At that time he also played in local clubs in Memphis and later in such in Chicago. In the late 1930s teamed with St. Louis Jimmy to tour one-nighters across the U.S.. He settled in Chicago in the early 40s, becoming the piano accompanist on numerous city blues records by artists such as Lonnie Johnson. From 1943 he formed his own Honeydrippers group to tour one-nighters throughout the southern states. Then, worked with Memphis Minnie and during 1947-48 recorded with Jump Jackson Band, Speciality label, Chicago. During 1947-49 he appeared in his own The Toast of the Coast Show. In the early 50s began working in clubs in St. Louis and Chicago.   In 1954, he moved to New Orleans and continued to record prolifically for Decca, Spivey, Prestige Records, Folkways Records, Delmark Records and other labels. The Prestige album Honeydripper featured King Curtis on saxophone. His versatility in different piano styles meant that Sykes was well placed to take advantage of the increased European interest in blues and he made his first visit to the UK in 1961, performing with Chris Barber's jazz band. He also appeared in the Belgoum movie: Roosevelt Sykes “ The Honeydripper”. During the early 60s recorded mainly in Chicago and NYC. He returned to Europe in 1965 and 1966 with the Folk Blues Festival package ( made some records with Storeyville label) and played many US blues and jazz festivals in the 70s: Chicago Folk Festival, Miami Blues Festival, Mariposa Folk Festival, etc.. In 1972 he was shown in the French film, “Blues Under the Skin, Out of the Black into the Blues. In 1976 appeared in “The Devil’s Music – A History of the Blues”, BBC-1-TV, England. As a result of his popularity with new audiences (Europe), much of his pre-1945 work was reissued in the 70s and 80s.

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Influenced by: “Red Eye” Jessie Bell, “Pork Chop” Lee Green

Influence upon: Detroit Jr., Fats Domino, Pinetop Perkins, Smiley Lewis, etc.

Instruments: guitar, organ, piano.

Songs: “Ice Cream Freezer”, “A Woman Is A Demand”, “Ace Boogie”, “All Days Are Good Days”, “Big Time Woman”, “Coming Home”, “Hangover”, etc.

                                       “St. James Infirmary” – lyrics

   Performer: Roosevelt Sykes

  Composer: Roosevelt Sykes

1. Down about ol’ Joe’s bardroom,

    On the corner of the square,


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