Big Maceo Merriweather was a powerhouse pianist and a surprisingly expressive vocalist who played a huge role in creating the template for what would come to be known as the Chicago blues. Often playing in support of his friend guitarist Tampa Red
, Maceo recorded several classic sides for RCA Victor's Bluebird subsidiary between 1941 and 1950, along with a handful of sides for Specialty Records and Fortune Records during his autumnal years, and they're all presented here in this two-disc set. Maceo's amazing piano presence influenced the likes of Johnny Jones
, Otis Spann
, Willie Mabon
, and Henry Gray
, among many others, but, unfortunately, in 1946 Maceo suffered a severe stroke that left him with a paralyzed right side. It's amazing that he returned to recording in 1947, this time with Eddie Boyd on piano, and while Maceo contributed only vocals, Boyd copied his previous stride style so well that these tracks flowed seamlessly from the earlier ones, and when Johnny Jones took over on piano a year later, again, it all felt cut from the same cloth. Maceo's last tracks, cut for Fortune, are heartbreakingly sad, though. Big Maceo played the left-hand piano parts and James Watkins
played the right-hand parts for these, and while one has to admire Maceo's spunk in such a valiant effort, truthfully the fire was largely gone, and Maceo died shortly after these recordings were made. This set has the story. At his prime, there wasn't a better or more exciting piano player on earth.