Two CDs capturing live performances by Big Bill Broonzy will be released in the U.S. as a box set by Munich Records on September 19. Featuring the long awaited recordings of two shows from February of 1953, Big Bill Broonzy: Amsterdam Live Concerts 1953 contains 25 songs and between-song storytelling, plus extensive liner notes about Broonzy's legacy and his little-known second life as a European, and dozens of previously unseen photos.
After an afternoon performance in Holland in 1953, Broonzy was taken to a pub in old Amsterdam. When he was asked to sing a few more songs he refused, to the surprise of his Dutch friends. When they asked for the reason, he explained that he was afraid he'd be arrested for being black. After it had been explained to him that there was no reason to fear that in the Netherlands, Bill played for over an hour. Thus was Big Bill's experience of Europe, but especially the Netherlands, where he was made to feel welcome and would live different life than he knew in the States. He met and fell in love with a Dutch girl, Pim van Isveldt. Together they had a child named Michael who still lives in Amsterdam.
Although these performances were recorded in the early '50s, Louis van Gasteren, who was a sound engineer at the time and went on to become one of the Netherlands' most acclaimed filmmakers, ensured the integrity of the recordings. Locked away in van Gasteren's safe for more than 50 years, they are finally surfacing now after a few failed attempts at releasing them between the '50s and '80s. The first concert took place on February 26 at the Ons Huis club in the Rozenstraat in Amsterdam and the second on February 28, in the middle of a sold-out European tour.
Also included in the box set are never before published photos from the private collections of Michael van Isveldt, The Maria Austria Institute and the Netherlands Jazz Archive.
Broonzy was born in Scott County Mississippi in 1901. Learning guitar from his uncle Jerry Belcher, he played country dances and picnics. Bronzy served in the U.S. Army during World War I, and in 1924, following his discharge plus a short return to Arkansas, he moved to Chicago, where he joined such musical contemporaries as Memphis Minnie, Tampa Red, Jazz Gillum, Lonnie Johnson and John Lee Sonny Boy" Williamson. In 1938, Broonzy performed as part of John Hammond's famous Spiritual & Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall -- his first show for a white audience. He recorded more than 260 blues songs as he traveled between Chicago and the South. With the arrival of electric artists like Muddy Waters, Broonzy's brand of folk blues was pushed aside. He found adoration in Europe, where he first toured in 1951. The material from Amsterdam Live Concerts was recorded on tour in '53. In 1957, Broonzy was diagnosed with throat cancer, and died in August 1958. His early '50s work in Europe represents some of the best performances of his career.