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Robert Lowery

Taken from the liner notes of the debut album Earthquake Blues.

Hello out there blues lovers. For the past ten years I have been building a catalogue of releases by artists as diverse as Danny Barker and Guitar Slim Jr. Each and every production has been special to me. This is the first country blues recording on the Orleans label and I'd like to tell you how it came to be.

In the Spring of 1988 I was working at the New Orleans branch of Tower Records. It was here that I Encountered Ice Cube Slim who runs a booking agency in Santa Cruz, California, called Bon Ton West. He manages the blues diva Katie Webster and had brought in some of her records during the Jazz and Heritage Festival. We got to talking about Santa Cruz and the group of blues freaks loosely based around radio station KUSP (a station equipped with two 78 rpm turntables and collectors who frequently air rare recordings). I was intrigued, as I had fond memories of Santa Cruz from childhood visits there. That very summer my wife and I headed West in search of a better life, just as Robert Lowery had done thirty years earlier.

I was introduced to Robert by a guitar player named Boogie Bruce Engelhardt who took me to a coffee house (shades of Lightnin' Hopkins!) where throngs of college students from the UC Santa Cruz campus would congregate to listen to Mr. Lowery's down home blues. A native of Arkansas, Robert Lowery is the genuine article and although he was just a child of five when Robert Johnson was recording those precious tracks in San Antonio, Texas, he is definitely a link on the same chain. This was a major country blues talent who had never been recorded by Arhoolie Records' Chris Strachwitz. I was amazed.

Robert Lowery had to be carefully and correctly recorded. He had made a couple of 45's for the Blues Connoisseur label and had the odd track on long out of print anthologies of San Francisco Blues, but that was all. I decided to make a field recording in the tradition of Alan Lomax's work for the Library of Congress and the Folkways and Arhoolie records that stand today as landmarks in their field. The last blues records made this way were done in the early '60s. It was fall of 1989. I had a day job at the time in a guitar store called Union Grove Music on the Pacific Garden Mall. Robert used to come in on a regular basis and I would supply him with strings and slides while we talked about making the record. I was working in the store when the big quake hit. Vintage guitars came flying off the walls and I narrowly escaped serious injury.

My first child, Sarah, was born twelve days before the earthquake. Robert had helped me pour the foundation for her bedroom just the month before. A week after the quake I recorded Robert on my front porch in an old section of town called "The Circles" where all of the streets circle around a church that Robert regularly attends. "Earthquake Blues", is Robert Lowery's original composition, a pure folk blues chronicle of the catastrophe he survived. Even the worst devastation can provide opportunities for the person with a creative mind and a positive outlook. 

Three months after the 'quake I moved my family back to New Orleans where we only have to worry about hurricanes. I released "Earthquake Blues" on Orleans with the catalogue number 1017 for the October 17th in 1989 that many people will never forget. The release garnered enthusiastic reviews from Billboard, Living Blues, and other national press. One of the blues truest friends, Mr. Ben Sandmel heard the CD and told Quint Davis, director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to get Robert Lowery for the 1992 Jazz Fest. Quint did not need any encouragement, he had seen Robert at the Smithsonian Bi-Centennial Folk Festival in 1976 and had been trying to find him for the next 15 years!

The New Orleans crowd went crazy for Robert's two sets at Jazz Fest. Stephen LaVere, the famous Robert Johnson historian, helped secure Robert a spot on the Robert Johnson Festival in Greenwood, Mississippi, and Ice Cube Slim who has known and admired Robert Lowery's work since 1975 is now booking and managing Santa Cruz' very own country blues legend. This coming fall Robert lowery will make a triumphant return to the San Francisco Blues Festival with his new recording for the 20th Anniversary of the oldest ongoing blues festival in the U.S. It's organizer [sic], Tom Mazzolini wrote an article for Living Blues Magazine about it's organizer [sic], Robert Lowery, in the May, 1976 issue. Here's a quote from that article, "If one should happen to close one's eyes, the feeling could be that Robert Johnson is performing."

I hope that these recordings will prove as satisfying for the listener as they were for the producer. At present Ice Cube Slim, Robert Lowery, and Orleans Records are planning the next recording sessions; So take a tip from Mr. Lowery and stay ready!
                                                                                                                                                 --- Carlo Ditta
                                                                                                                                                 Orleans Records
                                                                                                                                                 June 30th, 1992

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