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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Big Maceo born 31 March 1905

Big Maceo Merriweather (March 31, 1905 - February 23, 1953) was an American blues pianist and singer, active in Chicago in the 1940s.

Born Major Merriweather on the outskirts of Atlanta, March 31, 1905 on his family's farm, one of 11 children. As he grew older he would eventually stand well over six-feet and weigh more than 250 pounds, which garnered his nickname “Big.” In 1920, the family moved to the College Park section of town and the young Major developed an affinity for the piano. He began working the cafes and honky tonks located on Harvard Street, as well as playing at house rent parties and fish fries throughout the city.

In 1924, at the age of 19, his family relocated to Detroit where he began playing parties and clubs. In 1941, a desire to record led him to Chicago where he met and befriended Tampa Red. Red introduced him to Lester Melrose of Bluebird Records, who signed him to a recording contract.

Within just a few weeks Maceo was recording for the famed Bluebird label. The first session would prove to be extremely fruitful for Big Maceo, as his friends called him. He recorded a total of 14 sides, with the first single becoming the most important of his career: “Worried Life Blues”, which promptly became a blues hit and remained his signature piece.

Other classic piano blues recordings such as "Chicago Breakdown", "Texas Stomp", and "Detroit Jump" followed. His piano
developed from players like Leroy Carr and Roosevelt Sykes, as well as from the Boogie-woogie style of Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. He in turn influenced other musicians like Henry Gray, who credits Merriweather to helping him launch his career as a blues pianist.

Unfortunately, Big Maceo's career was cut short after he suffered a stroke in 1946 that left him almost completely paralyzed on his right side. Over the next few years, he would attempt to record several more times despite his handicap. Occasionally other pianists would play while he sang, and other pursuits found him sharing the keyboards with a second performer working the right side of the piano for him. Among the artists who filled this role would be Eddie Boyd in 1947 for sides done for Victor and Johnny Jones in 1949 for Specialty.

Another pianist to occupy this spot would be Otis Spann, who idolized Big Maceo. He would also sometimes fill in for the elder musician for gigs whenever Maceo was unable to perform. All three of these musicians went on to become headliners on the Chicago Blues scene, incorporating their lessons learned at the side of Big Maceo. Spann would become the most prominent of all the Chicago Blues pianists identified with his tenure in the Muddy Waters Band.

Big Maceo retired from playing in 1949 following yet another stroke. Poor health and a lifetime of heavy drinking eventually led to a fatal heart attack. He died on February 23, 1953 in Chicago.

He was an influential blues piano players of the 1940s and his style had an impact on practically every post World War II blues pianist of note. His most famous song, "Worried Life Blues" is a staple of the blues repertoire, with artists such as Eric Clapton featuring it regularly in concert. "Worried Life Blues" was in the first batch of songs inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame "Classic Blues Recordings - Singles or Albums Tracks" alongside "Stormy Monday," 'Sweet Home Chicago," "Dust My Broom," and "Hellhound On My Trail."

Left to right: Big Maceo Merriweather, Rose Allen Broonzy, Big Bill Broonzy, Lil Green, "Jimmy", Lucille Merriweather, Tyrell Dixon c. late 1940s.source: Harrison 1995, p. 25 ("courtesy Mike Rowe"/Lucy Kate Merriweather); damages cleared up by Stefan Wirz. Photo first published in Blues Unlimited 146 (autumn/winter 1984), p. 35

His sparse recordings for Bluebird were released in a double album set as Chicago Breakdown, in 1975. They have since been reissued on a variety of labels.

In 2002 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.(Info edited from Wikipedia & All about Jazz)


boppinbob said...

For Big Maceo - “Worried Life Blues” go here:,209179912.rar(archive)

01. County Jail Blues
02. Why Should I Hang Around
03. Anytime For You
04. Since You Been Gone
05. I Got The Blues
06. Worried Life Blues
07. Winter Times Blues
08. Big Roads Blues
09. Detroit Jump
10. Texas Blues
11. Tuff Luck Blues
12. Have You Heard About It
13. Strange To Me
14. Worried Life Blues #2
15. Leaving Blues
16. Without You My Life Don't Mean A Thing

Jonathan F. King said...

Thanks for this post. I first heard of Big Maceo in the early '60s ... he got the writer's credit for "Worried Life Blues" when it appeared on the Animals' first LP. (And a fine version they did, too!) It was years later when I actually got to hear him, though...