Jimmy Witherspoon – Handbags and Gladrags

More Jimmy Witherspoon

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • With KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish, this vintage ABC pressing is one of the best we’ve heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are doing practically everything right – they’re super big, rich and lively, with tons of extension at both ends
  • Spacious and transparent, this copy has the three-dimensional soundstaging and natural vocal reproduction that makes these kinds of records such a joy to play (and in the process a record this good makes a mockery of the veiled, lifeless, ambience-free sound of the modern Heavy Vinyl reissue)

This vintage ABC pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What The Best Of Sides Of Handbags and Gladrags Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For On Handbags and Gladrags

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Bill Szymczyk (along with Ed Michel and Gary Stauffer) in this case — would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight, punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Players

  • Bass – Byron Garafolo
  • Bass, Electric Bass – Ray Brown
  • Drums – Earl Palmer, Larry Bunker, Paul Humphrey, Russ Kunkel
  • Electric Piano – Gildo Mahones
  • Guitar – Arthur Adams, Joe Walsh, Mel Brown
  • Organ – Art Hillery, Stu Gardner
  • Tenor Saxophone – Pete Christlieb, Plas Johnson
  • Trombone – George Bohanon
  • Trumpet – Harry Edison
  • Vocals – Clydie King, Jimmy Witherspoon, Merry Clayton, Venetta Fields

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.


Side One

Handbags And Gladrags
Evil Man Blues
Stay With Me Baby

Side Two

Spoon’s Beep Beep Blues
It’s Time To Live
Don’t Get Flakey With Me

Jimmy Witherspoon Bio

James Witherspoon (August 8, 1920 – September 18, 1997) was an American jump blues singer. He first attracted attention singing in Calcutta, India, with Teddy Weatherford’s band, which made regular radio broadcasts over the US Armed Forces Radio Service during World War II. Witherspoon made his first records with Jay McShann’s band in 1945. He first recorded under his own name in 1947, and two years later with the McShann band, he had his first hit, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”, a song that came to be regarded as his signature tune. In 1950 he had hits with two more songs closely identified with him—”No Rollin’ Blues” and “Big Fine Girl”—and also hit with “Failing by Degrees” and “New Orleans Woman”, recorded with the Gene Gilbeaux Orchestra (which included Herman Washington and Don Hill) for Modern Records. They were recorded at a live performance on May 10, 1949, at a “Just Jazz” concert in Pasadena, California, sponsored by Gene Norman. Another classic Witherspoon composition is “Times Gettin’ Tougher Than Tough.”

Witherspoon performed in four of the famed Cavalcade of Jazz concerts held in Los Angeles at Wrigley Field which were produced by Leon Hefflin Sr. His first performance was at the fourth Cavalcade of Jazz on September 12, 1948 and Dizzy Gillespie was the featured artist along with Frankie Lane, Little Miss Cornshucks, The Sweetheart of Rhythms, Joe Liggins’s Honeydrippers, Joe Turner, The Blenders, and The Sensations. The program description stated that Witherspoon “is one of the most sought-after blues singers in the business. He has a strong, clear voice and diction that you would hear in the classics. Although he has been quite successful singing the blues, Witherspoon can sing ballads with a surprising sweetness.” He played at the fifth Cavalcade of Jazz concert on July 10, 1949, along with Lionel Hampton, The Hamptones, Buddy Banks and his Orchestra, Big Jay McNeely, and Smiley Turner. Witherspoon came back again for the seventh Cavalcade of Jazz concert on July 8, 1951 and performed alongside Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton and his Revue, Percy Mayfield, Joe Liggins’s Honeydrippers, and Roy Brown. His last appearance at the eighth Cavalcade of Jazz concert was on June 1, 1952. Also featured that day were Anna Mae Winburn and Her Sweethearts, Jerry Wallace, Toni Harper, Roy Brown and His Mighty Men, Louis Jordan and his Orchestra, and Josephine Baker.

Witherspoon’s style of blues—as a “blues shouter”—became unfashionable in the mid-1950s, but he returned to popularity with his 1959 album Jimmy Witherspoon at the Monterey Jazz Festival, which featured Roy Eldridge, Woody Herman, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines, and Mel Lewis. Witherspoon later recorded with Gerry Mulligan, Leroy Vinnegar, Richard “Groove” Holmes, and T-Bone Walker.

In 1961 he toured Europe with Buck Clayton and returned to the UK on many occasions, featuring on a mid-’60s live UK recording, Spoon Sings and Swings (1966), with tenor sax player Dick Morrissey’s quartet. In 1970, Witherspoon appeared on Brother Jack McDuff’s London Blue Note recording To Seek a New Home together with British jazz musicians, including Dick Morrissey, again, and Terry Smith. In the 1970s Witherspoon also recorded the album Guilty! (later released on CD as Black & White Blues) with Eric Burdon and featuring Ike White & the San Quentin Prison Band. He then toured with a band of his own featuring Robben Ford and Russ Ferrante. A recording from this period, Spoonful, featured Witherspoon accompanied by Robben Ford, Joe Sample, Cornell Dupree, Thad Jones, and Bernard Purdie. He continued performing and recording into the 1990s.

Witherspoon died of throat cancer on September 18, 1997, in Los Angeles, California.


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