Tough Luck

Tough Luck is Delta blues at its best — its’ words and melodies sing of the human condition in its’ most expressive manner....


  • Notes from the original LP Record Jacket, written by Howard L. Sacks

    One of the last acoustic blues guitarists in Chicago, Jim Brewer was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi on October 3, 1920. The oldest of seven children (five boys and two girls), Brewer lost his sight at an early age. Brewer chose the guitar early as a means of survival. His father wanted him to play blues as the most likely means of earning a living, while his mother demanded he play only religious music. During the past 40 years, as a street singer in Chicago, he shifted constantly between the demon and the saint, playing gospel when weary of the blues’ wild street craziness; playing blues in club and festival performances.

    While playing on the streets and in the stores of Brookhaven in the 1930s, he learned most of the religious songs that he continues to perform today. Brewer’s father, however, told him that people would pay more to hear the blues than to hear church music. As he grew older, Brewer started performing at play parties, playing blues he had learned from store records.

    Following the death of Jim’s mother, the family moved to Chicago; Jim followed a year later and began playing on 43rd and 47th streets near his family’s home. By the late 1940s he was playing on Maxwell Street. Originally an open-air market for Russian and Polish immigrants who came to Chicago at the turn of the century, by the 1930s, Maxwell Street had become a showcase for blues and gospel singers on Chicago’s South Side. Except for a short period when he left the city, Brewer has been a regular on Maxwell Street for nearly forty years.

    In the early 1950s Jim Brewer decided to travel, and he lived in St. Louis for three years, where he played on streetcars, in taverns, and on the streets. During that time he also joined a washboard band for a while. By the mid-1950s he had returned to Chicago and was introduced by a mutual friend to Fannie, who became his wife. Brewer’s new mother-in-law bought him a good electric guitar and amplifier, the first decent equipment he ever owned.

    Returning to Maxwell Street, Brewer decided to devote himself exclusively to singing religious songs. He wanted to separate himself from the lifestyle of trouble that surrounded blues musicians there, and he realized that many people had a low opinion of the blues. But in 1962, two white college students found him on Maxwell Street and asked him if he could sing the blues. He answered that he could and two weeks later he found himself scheduled to give a concert at Northwestern University. Before the concert, Brewer was taken to Chicago’s No Exit Café, and the manager, Joe Moore, asked him to audition. That successful debut resulted in a regular job at the No Exit coffeehouse that has continued for two decades. In recent years Brewer has played at major festivals and clubs throughout the Midwest, the East, Canada and Europe.

    Jim Brewer’s major influences include Big Bill Broonzy and Tommy Johnson. Other influences include Big Joe Williams, Big Maceo, Teddy Darby, Lonnie Johnson, and Tampa Red; musicians Brewer heard on records and radio in Chicago.

    Jim Brewer is a powerful singer and guitarist, his style clearly conveying his roots in the Mississippi Delta blues. Today he plays an acoustic Martin six-string guitar. His music and performance style have, no doubt, gained an amount of polish over the years, and he seems comfortable playing to audiences who frequent the club and festival circuit. In addition to performing songs he learned from others over the years, Jim is also an accomplished songwriter and has been known to make up songs on the spot concerning his mood, the events of the day, or his immediate surroundings.

    Postscript by Producer Michael Frank

    Jim Brewer was a stalwart of the Maxwell Street Market blues scene for forty years, and at the time of this recording was still playing there every Sunday. He was also working in coffeehouses, folk clubs and folk festivals when later Earwig founder Michael Frank met him in 1972 and became his manager. This is one of only two Jim Brewer album sessions ever released. The first was on Silo Records and is long out of print.

    Jim was an outstanding player on acoustic and electric guitar. This album is all acoustic. In his live shows he played some gospel piano and autoharp as well.

    Tough Luck is Delta blues at its best — its’ words and melodies sing of the human condition in its’ most expressive manner. Listeners who enjoy Son House or Mississippi John Hurt will welcome the music of Jim Brewer. — Cadence

    1. Kansas City Blues 2:39
    2. Come Back Baby 3:16
    3. Rock Me Mama 3:46
    4. Goin’ Away Baby 3:55
    5. Big Road 3:14
    6. Long Ways From Home 3:13
    7. Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad 3:12
    8. Hair Like a Horse’s Mane 3:25
    9. Poor Kelly 2:48
    10. Mean Ole ‘ Frisco 2:39Tough Luck Blues 3:08
    11. Oak Top Boogie 3:07Pea Vine Whistle 3:51
  • Release Date: May 19, 1983

    Jim Brewer, Martin acoustic guitar and vocals
    Produced by Michael Robert Frank
    © P 1983 Earwig Music Company, Inc.
    Songs 4,6,8,14 written and arranged by Jim Brewer, Song 7, traditional, arranged by Jim Brewer
    Other Songwriters: 1 Jim Jackson, 2 Walter Davis, 3 and 10 Arthur Crudup, 5 Tommy Johnson 9 and 11 Maceo Merriweather, 13 Charley Patton
    tracks 1,2,8,10,11,13 recorded March 20, 1982 by Michael Rasfeld and Doug Durham at Acme Studios, Chicago, Illinois
    tracks 3,9,12 produced and recorded March 1978 by Jeff Meier and Mark Leach at Reel Recording Co., DeKalb, Illinois
    tracks 4,5,6,7 recorded in concert November 1, 1980 at the 9th annual Gambier Folk Festival, Gambier, Ohio
    The Gambier Folk Festival was sponsored by the Gambier Folklore Society and funded by the Kenyon College Student Council, Kenyon College Faculty lectureships and and the Ohio Arts Council. Tapes courtesy of the Gambier Folklore Society. Sound Engineer: Howard L. Sacks; Recording Engineer:Douglas M. Gertner
    LP liner notes by Howard L. Sacks. Reprinted courtesy of John Edwards Memorial Foundation. “Jim Brewer: An Interview”, appears in the JEMF Quarterly, Vol. XVII (Winter 1981), published by the John Edwards Memorial Foundation, an archive and research center located in the Folklore and Mythology Center of the University of California at Los Angeles
    Special Production assistance and encouragement by Andy Cohen
    Much appreciation to Mark Leach and Jeff Meier for the donation of their master recordings