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Roosevelt Sykes (1906-1983)

Roosevelt Sykes

The Original Honeydripper

Roosevelt Sykes (January 31, 1906 in Elmar, Arkansas – July 17, 1983 in New Orleans, Louisiana) was an American blues musician also known as "Honeydripper". He was a successful and prolific cigar-chomping blues piano player who influenced blues piano playing with his rollicking thundering boogie. Sykes grew up near Helena, Arkansas but at age 15, began playing piano with a barrelhouse style of blues at various places until ending up in the St. Louis, Missouri area where he met St. Louis Jimmy Oden. He started recording in the 1920s, signing with multiple labels and recording under various names including "Easy Papa Johnson", "Dobby Bragg", and "Willie Kelly". After he and Oden moved to Chicago he found his first period of great fame when he signed with Decca Records in 1935. In 1943, he signed to Bluebird Records and recorded with "The Honeydrippers". Sykes, like bluesmen of his time, travelled around playing to all-male audiences in sawmill, turpentine and levee camps along the Mississippi River, and gathering a repertoire of raw, sexually explicit material. In 1929 he was spotted by a talent scout and sent to New York City to record for Okeh Records. His first release was '44' Blues which became a blues classic and his trademark. He settled in Chicago and began to display an increasing urbanity in his lyric-writing, using an 8-bar blues pop gospel structure instead of the traditional 12-bar blues. However, despite the growing urbanity of his outlook, he could not compete in the post-World War II music scene, though he did continue to record for small labels until he stopped recording in the 1950s . When he returned to recording in the 1960s it was to label like Bluesville Records, Storyville Records and Folkways Records, labels that were documenting the quickly passing blues history. Roosevelt Sykes left Chicago in 1954 for New Orleans as electric blues took over the Chicago blues clubs. He lived out his final years in New Orleans until he died on July 17, 1983. Roosevelt Sykes had a long career spanning the pre-war and postwar eras. His pounding piano boogies and risqué lyrics characterize his contributions to the blues. He was responsible for influential blues songs such as 44 Blues, Driving Wheel, and Night Time Is the Right Time. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1999. (quoted from

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