Mississippi Heat was born in January of 1992. That summer, the band was invited to perform at Punta Del Este (Southeastern Uruguay) for the following year. Having no recordings to offer the Uruguayan committee, we decided to record an album in the Fall of 1992 to promote our music. STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART was recorded on September 24th and 25th at Jerry Soto’s Sound Studio. Unfortunately, soon after its release in the Spring of 1993, we got the news that the South American deal fell through due to a lack of funds!
We held a CD release party at Rosa’s Lounge in April of that year. Some pictures from that evening are included here, while others date from the early 1990’s. All others, especially those of our two guests Sam Lay and Calvin Jones were taken through the years. Though Sam and Calvin do not perform on “Heartbroken” I decided to include them here since they are on the CD. At the time, both musicians were often part of our band line-up when Robert and Bob could not make a particular gig.
STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART on which “Heartbroken” appears, was our first Mississippi Heat recording (see band members’ and special guests’ biographical notes below). It was released in the Spring of 1993, and a mastered version came out in 1995.
This version of “Heartbroken” is taken from our 1995 mastered CD (Note #1). It was recorded in one take, with no overdubs. Not even Robert Covington’s vocals were redone. There also were no rehearsals for this song. It came to the band with only a bass line and lyrics written by me. That is why I set the tone and the mood for the band with the first verse by playing the bass line. Again, Robert Covington had never seen the song’s lyrics before. He did, however, know about my close relationship with bass player and singer Lawrence “Lil’ Sonny” Wimberly. Sonny had died a year earlier on August 24th and I had written “Heartbroken” in his memory (more on this below).
As with any other artistic endeavors, magical moments do sometimes occur during a recording event. When this happens, everything fits, nothing goes wrong. The moment is experienced as an eternal bliss, and you want to stay “in the zone” as long as possible. This feeling is really so powerful that it cannot be explained with words. That is exactly what happened here with the recording of this song. We could have played on and on, and indeed we were reluctant to stop! So, during the mixing of the song, Jerry Soto, Billy Flynn and I had to fade it at the end, as the minutes kept on ticking. It is over seven minutes long as it is! 7:36 minutes to be exact.
During the recording of “Heartbroken”, I stood up by Robert’s side, literally a few inches away from him. I could hear his breathing and feel his emotional power. We were in a perfect dialogue. As you will notice, other than the rhythm section of Bob Stroger on bass and guitarists Billy Flynn and James Wheeler, there are no other lead instruments here besides Robert’s voice and my harmonica. (I believe that it was Billy Flynn who suggested that “Heartbroken” should only be a harp song).
As I said above, “Heartbroken” was written for my friend and mentor Lawrence “[Lil’] Sonny” Wimberly (b. 1937, Mississippi – died 08-24-1991, Chicago). At the time of his death, I was a member of his band, “The Blues Invaders”. A year before this 1992 recording, Sonny had unexpectedly passed away at the age of 54, of heart failure.
Sonny was to have a huge influence on my life’s direction. As with Junior Wells in the early 1970’s, Sonny has to be credited for also giving me his blessing and unflinching encouragement to pursue my musical career at a time when I was hesitant to let go of everything else that was secure. Our chemistry and friendship on and off the band stand was indeed profound.
Sonny and I met in late November 1990 at a coffee-house called No Exit. This quaint café still stands today in Chicago’s Rogers Park area, on North Glenwood Avenue. No Exit held Blues Jam sessions every Sunday afternoons. These were scheduled between 4:00PM and 7:00PM. The sessions were typically led by piano player Carl Snyder (ex-Lonnie Brooks band member), and drummer Michael Linn. Guitar players Jon McDonald and Joe Zaklan were also part of the core group. By the Fall of 1990, I too played there regularly. The payment was the door and/or tips, which amounted to about 3.00 dollars each!
It was Joe Zaklan who introduced me to Sonny Wimberly. Sonny and I became instant friends, and I joined The Blues Invaders. We were regulars at the now defunct “U.S. Blues” club located on Chicago’s Near North side (on Wells Street, in Old Town). (More on Sonny’s life and recordings will be found below).
A studio recording was slated for late 1991, but Sonny unexpectedly passed away in August of that year. Though “Heartbroken” was recorded a year after his death, my grief was still raw. Moreover, it was also felt in Robert’s voice; and this, for his own personal reasons.
ROBERT COVINGTON AND “HEARTBROKEN”
Coincidentally, on August 26th of 1992, just a few weeks before “Heartbroken” was recorded, the band had lost another dear friend: Professor Eddie Lusk.
Keyboardist Professor Lusk (b. 09/21/1948, Chicago, IL) was a well-liked musician in Chi-town. He worked and recorded with such luminaries as Luther Allison, Fenton Robinson, Kenny Neal, Gloria Hardiman, Syl Johnson, Karen Karrol, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Michael Coleman, Jimmy Dawkins, Phil Guy, Otis Rush […]. He also fronted his own band, the Professor’s Blues Review. He had only one solo album which had been well received by fans and critics alike: PROFESSOR STRUT (Delmark Records, 1989, DE-650).
In the summer of 1992, Professor Lusk was diagnosed with colon cancer, brought on by AIDS. In desperation, he committed suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Chicago River. He died one month short of his 43rd birthday. During “Heartbroken” the immediacy and urgency in Robert’s voice is so palpable, because he felt the loss of his friend Eddie.
MORE ABOUT SONNY WIMBERLY
Lawrence “Little Sonny” Wimberly was born and raised in Mississippi. He came to Chicago at age 27 (1964). He first played with Little Walter for three years [1964-1967]. Sonny then worked for seven years [1967-1974] with Muddy Waters. Sonny can still be seen and heard today on YOUTUBE videos with Muddy, Otis Spann, Paul Oscher, Luther ‘Snake Boy’ Johnson, SP Leary and others. Through Muddy, Sonny Wimberly met and played with the Rollin’ Stones, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Jr. Wells, O. Rush, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, Johnny Winter … Sonny was a walking blues encyclopedia, and was never short of a good story.
From 1974-1976 he formed his first band, “Little Sonny and The Sunglows”. He had three recordings of his own. These likely were 45″ singles or EPs: SOMETHING ON YOUR MIND; MOE AND JOE (45″ on King James Records); and FUNKY BROADWAY.
Sonny Wimberly also recorded with Muddy Waters (VINTAGE MUD on the Sunnyland label, 1970), as well as two recordings with Otis Spann: DOWN TO EARTH, which was recorded on November 20th, 1967 in New York City), and THE BOTTOM OF THE BLUES (recorded in Los Angeles on October 2, 1968). It first appeared on the Beat Goes On label, and was later released under the Bluesway label (BLS 6013). He also appears on an album by “The Stars of Faith” (a gospel group).
Sonny cut tracks for the well-known blues label Victoria Spivey (VICTORIA SPIVEY: THE BLUESMEN Of THE MUDDY WATERS CHICAGO BLUES BAND (vol.1, vol. 2; 1966-68); sometimes with the Muddy Waters band members (Sammy Lawhorn, Paul Oscher, Carey Bell, Luther ‘Snake’ Johnson, with and without Muddy Waters, and others); and other times with Victoria Spivey herself on vocals, and/or with Lucille Spann. Sonny Wimberly also plays bass on the CHICAGO BLUES MASTERS (Capitol Label, 1997, vol. 3); and on BLUES MASTERS: HARMONICA CLASSICS (Rhino label, 1992, vol.4). They are still available in specialized stores and websites like Amazon.com. Finally, with George “Harmonica” Smith he recorded the classic album, TRIBUTE TO LITTLE WALTER – BLUES WITH A FEELING (recorded October 2-4, 1968 for BGO Records; BGOCD 1035).
He retired from music for a decade or so. When I first met him in November 1990, he was working as a janitor in an elementary school. He had come out of retirement in the 1980’s to rekindle his musical career. By the time we met, Sonny was fronting his own band, The Blues Invaders. By then he played bass sporadically, as he much preferred being a singer/front man.
STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART CORE MUSICIANS AND GUESTS
ROBERT COVINGTON: DRUMS AND VOCALS
(b. 12/13/1941, Yazoo City, MS – died 01/17/1996, Chicago)
Robert plays drums on all tracks (except for three songs where Sam Lay appears). He sings on three songs of my songs: “Heartbroken”, “Lovin’ You”, and “Straight From The Heart”. He also did background vocals on Billy Flynn’s tune, “She Knows What Love is About”. He is Mississippi Heat’s original drummer/singer.
Robert had been Sunnyland Slim’s drummer for the past 9 years when we recorded STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART. He became a full-time Sunnyland Slim band member in 1983, and stayed with him for 10 years (1983-1993).
Besides leading his own band, Robert toured and recorded with Sunnyland Slim, Fenton Robinson, James Cotton, Lester Davenport, Maurice John Vaughn, and others. He was also a member of the Fabulous Four (Bob Stroger, Robert Covington, and Steve Freund; led by Chicago-based Swiss saxophonist Sam Burckhardt).
Robert moved to Chicago from Mississippi Heat at age 23 (1965). He played with Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Lonnie Brooks. By the time “Heartbroken” was recorded, he had recorded a highly acclaimed 1988 LP on Red Beans called ROBERT “GOLDEN VOICE” COVINGTON. Red Beans Records also recorded Johnny “Big Moose” Walker, Blind John Davis, Steve Freund, Estelle Yancey, among others. Led by Erwin Helfer, it released about 12 sides in the 1980’s, before folding. However, ROBERT “GOLDEN VOICE” COVINGTON and other Red Beans artists can still be found on specialized music distribution websites such as Evidence Music, CD Universe, or Wreckless Records.
He only recorded once with Mississippi Heat. As his health was quickly failing he was eventually replaced on drums by Allen Kirk, and on vocals by Deitra Farr (1993).
BOB STROGER: BASS
(b. 12-27-1930, Hayti, MO — )
Before STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART, Bob had already a huge playing and recording history. Bob played and recorded with Otis Rush, Jimmie Mabon, Eddie King, Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Carey Bell, Maurice Pejoe, Snooky Pryor, Louisiana Red, Buster Benton, and Sunnyland Slim. As with Robert Covington, Bob Stroger was also a member of the Jazz/Blues Quartet “The Fabulous Four”. Bob played six years with Mississippi Heat (1991-1997″. He is the Heat’s original bass player.
BILLY FLYNN: GUITAR/VOCALS
(b. 08-11-1956, Greenbay, WI — )
Billy had played with the Legendary Blues Band, Jimmy Dawkins (1975-1985), John Brim, Junior Wells, Pinetop Perkins, Jim Liban, Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, and others. Billy sings three of his own compositions: “Leavin’ Town”; “Lonely Without You”; and “She Knows What Love is About”.
At the time of this 1992 recording, Billy had already begun releasing his own recordings on his own label, Easy Baby. He played for 5 years with Mississippi Heat (1992-1997).
JAMES WHEELER: GUITAR/VOCALS
(b. 08-28-1937, Albany, GA — )
James had played nine years with Billy Boy Arnold (“The Jaguars”, 1963-1972), Otis Clay and Willie Mabon. He was also Robert Covington’s and Frank Pellegrino’s sideman (among others) at the famed Kingston Mines Club, in Chicago. Robert recommended him to us for full-time work. He sings on two cover tracks: “Bad Luck”; and “Mother-in-Law Blues”. James had been with the Otis Rush Band (1986-1993) for about six years prior to joining Mississippi Heat for 4 years (1992-1996).
PIERRE LACOCQUE: HARP
(b. 10-13-1952, Jerusalem, Israel — )
I started my musical career in Montréal, Québec between 1970 and 1976 while studying Psychology at McGill Unversity. With the group Oven (1973-1976), we won the Montréal Battle of the bands (1975). Back in Chicago, I was a member of The Blues Invaders, led by Sonny Wimberly, and with Tre and the Blue Knights. Prior to forming Mississippi Heat in January of 1992, I was also a member of the Doug McDonald’s Blue Mirror Band. For a full overview on my personal and musical background, please click here.
CALVIN JONES: VOCALS
(b. 06-09-1926, Greenwood, MS – died 08-09-2010, Southhaven, MS):
Calvin Jones sings lead vocals on “Ruby Mae”, a song written by Billy Flynn in honor of Calvin’s wife, Ruby Mae Jones.
Calvin “Fuzz” Jones was Muddy Waters’ bass player for 10 years (1970-1980). He also had recorded and played with The Legendary Blues Band (Louis Myers, Jerry Portnoy, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Pinetop Perkins); Cassandra Wilson; The Howlin’ Wolf Tribute Band, and with The Jelly Roll All-Stars. Calvin also appears playing in the blockbuster movie, THE BLUES BROTHERS (He plays bass on “Boom, Boom”, a John Lee Hooker tune. John Lee Hooker is also in that particular film clip).
SAM LAY, “The Shuffle Master”: DRUMS
(b. 03-20-1935, Birmingham, AL — ):
Sam plays Drums on “Leavin’ Town”; “Ruby Mae”; and “She Knows What Love’s Is About”. Sam Lay was already famous for playing and recording with Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf (six years with the “Wolf”, 1960 to 1966), Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, James Cotton (his original drummer), Magic Sam, Muddy Waters (He plays drums on Muddy’s classic FATHER AND SONS, on Chess Records), Bob Dylan, and Paul Butterfield (Butterfield’s first album), among others. He also appears on over 40 recordings for Chess Records (and many other labels since, like Appaloosa, Evidence and Alligator). He had just been inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame (1992).
(Note #1): Over the years, Mississippi Heat recorded “Heartbroken” twice: On our first CD, STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART (1993) (sung by Robert Covington); and on our 5th recording, FOOTPRINTS ON THE CEILING (2002, sung by Inetta Visor). Same song, with the same tempo and bass line, yet with a totally different feel.