My former wife Jennifer and I first saw Big George in the mid-1990s at a juke joint in St. Louis called Climmie's Western Inn. There were no cowboys, and it wasn't an inn, but the owner's name was Climmie. As we walked up to the entrance, we could hear the band running through a fast and frenzied blues instrumental. After a couple songs by the band, a series of bigger-than-life harmonica riffs came roaring through the band stand's PA system with no harp player in sight. Suddenly, everyone's attention was drawn toward the center of the club to the basement stairwell. Out of the downstairs ladies' restroom, up the steps and into the audience came a large man in a stunning 3-piece suit and hat. From that moment on, Big George Brock had both his cordless mic and the audience in the palm of his hand. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy II, B.B. King. He conjured up their sounds and a little of their souls that night. My wife and I were hooked.
A few months later, Big George surfaced again at a blues benefit at BB's Jazz Blues & Soups, also in St. Louis. This time he began the show from the stage, but by the middle of the second song, he had the entire band laying down on the floor with him and the drummer playing a cymbal on top his head. Other times, we saw Big George perform songs from golf carts at outdoor shows, moving floats in street parades, and out front of the club his band was playing in. He's a born showman who learned from the best.
Now in his mid-70s, he's been playing hard-hitting "Delta-went-North" style blues for over 50 years. Born in Grenada, Mississippi on May 16, 1932, Big George spent his teenage years near Clarksdale, Mississippi, before settling in St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1950s. While living in the Clarkdale area, he did back-breaking fieldwork, boxed on weekends, and played the blues. He remembers hanging out at house parties in the Delta where folks like Memphis Minnie would show up.
Even today, he still has relatives in the Clarksdale area, including his blues-playing nephew James "Super Chikan" Johnson and brother-in-law Big Jack Johnson. In St. Louis, Big George owned a series of blues clubs in the 1960s and 70s, including Club Caravan (formerly the Early Bird Lounge) - where his wife at the time was killed by stray bullets from a drunk's pistol - and New Club Caravan. Later, Big George & the Houserockers was the house band at Climmie's Western Inn for 12 years. During his career, Big George has played shows with blues legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed and many others. Garrick Feldman of the Arkansas Leader has said Big George is "about as good a harmonica player as any of the blues greats, and he knew and played with most of them." At various times, he's had fellow Mississippians Willie Foster, Big Bad Smitty, Terry "Big T" Williams and Jimbo Mathus back him at shows, but most often, you'll find him with one of the best "unknown guitar players" in the biz: Mr. Riley Coatie. Besides his 6-string skills, this native of the Arkansas Delta is also known for his amazing family blues band. Coatie taught his children Tekora, Latasha and Riley Jr. to play in the old classic style that Big George Brock loves. (Note the drummer's grunts on "Louisiana Blues." Talk about feeling the blues.)
In Living Blues Magazine (issue #78), Scott Bock and Jim O'Neal described Big George, saying "His tailored red or green outfits and classy fedora tell you he takes his gigs seriously. There's a lot of Howlin' Wolf in the roughness and depth of his sound ... But he's not an imitator. Brock sings in a straight-ahead style that packs a lot of power." Goner-records.com reviewed one Big George show like this: "Big George looked great in his pink suit and pink hat. We weren't ready for the onslaught to come - furious Muddy Waters-styled blues stomping. It was the closest thing to seeing Muddy Waters in his heyday that I'll ever get to see. I just kept looking at folks who should know, and we'd just nod, mouths open, or shake our heads in disbelief. It just doesn't seem possible that a band today could be that good." England's Blues & Rhythm magazine called Big George's set at Clarksdale's 2004 Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival "the real deal."
Big George brought the old-school Riley Coatie band with him to Clarksdale on Saturday, May 7, 2005 and recorded at ex-Squirrel Nut Zipper/ex-Buddy Guy sideman Jimbo Mathus' Delta Recording Studio. You are holding the result of this 3-1/2 hour recording session. The band was recorded "live" in the same small room where performers like Floyd Lee, Jelly Roll All-stars, Duwayne Burnside, Sonny Burgess and even Elvis Costello have recorded. Following Mathus' "future primitive" approach to recording, no overdubs or computer trickery was used. What you hear is what you get, and we hope you like it. - Roger Stolle
P.S. Big George Brock's "Round Two" CD -- the follow-up to "Club Caravan" -- will be officially released on August 8, 2006. His DVD "Hard Times" is currently available at www.filmbaby.com.