When I heard Foree Wells' voice and guitar booming from the radio last Saturday on WFPK's Saturday Night Blues Party, it was an emotional feeling of satisfaction. The release of Foree's CD, It's A New Day Brother!, has been a long time coming.
Foree had total artistic control when he refined and perfected the thirteen tracks in Audio Visions Studio from 1992 to 1994. For Foree it was a labor of love collaborating with his three sons, Foree III, Michael and Greg, who were the nucleus for the Walnut Street Blues Band. Other Walnut Streeters included Dennis Williams and Donnie Bridges. Additional local musicians like Paul Bennett, Barrington 'Boogie' Morton and Maurice Hamilton were dubbed into the mix. This record was set to be Louisville's first blues CD to be nationally distributed.
This blues odyssey would have a long and twisted journey. When the studio work was completed, Foree first approached Bruce Iglauer with Alligator Records in Chicago. After meeting Jim O'Neal in 1993 for an interview and later in 1995, Foree signed a contract with Jim, who owned Rooster Records in Clarksdale, Mississippi. With an advance of $2,000 and royalties guaranteed at 8% of sales, the future looked bright. Foree had just retired from CSX in 1994, after 38 years, to become a full time musician again. Then the agonizing wait began. Sadly, Foree died suddenly on January 8, 1997. What was to be the launching of a rekindled career, became a posthumous tribute. Then Foree's devoted wife, Lorene, who had managed the Walnut Street Blues Band, died on February 20, 1999. With both the co-producers gone, there was less incentive to get the record out. That same year Jim got out of owning his record business and sold Rooster Blues to Bottled Majic Music but retained the artistic rights to his projects.
In 1998 Jim moved from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Kansas City but he kept his Stackhouse operations going in Clarksdale. A Rooster Blues 20th Anniversary Sampler was released in 2000, which included Foree's mournful, "Walkin' and Cryin' the Blues." With Bottled Majic Music and Rooster Blues working together under the new president, Robert Johnson (How could you lose with a name like that?), there were ambitious plans for many releases. But Rooster had its hands full with too many projects and Foree's CD got postponed again. During this time Jim continued to work on the liner notes, based on his past interviews with Foree and other sources. He wanted these notes to be a definitive tribute to Foree, since this would be his only recording. During 2001, repeated inquiries by the Kentuckiana Blues Society to Bottled Majic got little results, except for a proposed and disappointing piece of art work for the cover, depicting an indistinguishable outline of Foree's head. When the business bottomed out, Robert Johnson got out of the blues and all the scheduled releases, including Foree's, were cancelled. For the next few years there was no word about the release from anyone. We were reconciled that this venture would fade away as an unfulfilled dream. In February 2005, Jim O'Neal was able to reacquire the rights to the record through a lease agreement with Rooster. After a CD sponsorship agreement was made between O'Neal, who owned Stackhouse Recording Company and the ten hopeful sponsors who underwrote the production and release of Foree's CD, the future looked bright again. Stackhouse agreed to release the CD in six months, from May to November 2005. I wrote an upbeat article in the July 2005 issue of Louisville Music News, titled "It's A Long Day Brother."
When the six months passed with no release, Jim responded that there were just a few details left to be done, like barcodes, and it would be off to the printer in a few days. A small ad appeared in the November/December issue of Living Blues announcing the upcoming CD release of Foree's record. The distributor, City Hall Records, announced an official release date of February 21, 2006. In early March, Jim sent another e-mail saying the CD was coming together with the launch of his new label, which involved getting the distribution and publicity ready. In May Jim burnt a copy of the CD with the rough layout of the cover art, which I distributed to the sponsors. At least we could now hear Foree!
It had been a year since the agreement had been completed and still no CD. Another round of apologies came from Jim O'Neal with a revised release date of September 19, scheduled by the distributor. Jim expressed his frustrations in October, saying he thought this CD was jinxed, bemoaning the fact that his freelance booklet designer left the country with the original photos and graphics and how he had to get another designer to piece it together again. In addition his only employee abruptly left him and how overwhelmed he was trying to keep up. He also admitted how much tougher the CD business had gotten from when he was in the business in the 1990s. But he was not giving up. The September/October issue of Living Blues had a full-page ad by Stackhouse with a large portion of it devoted to Foree's CD. The last sentence read, "Our thanks to the members of the KBS, who joined together to help sponsor the release of this CD." After overcoming a last-minute computer design glitch at the manufacturing plant, arrangements were made to deliver the CDs to the patient sponsors. They arrived just before Christmas and copies were available at ear X-tacy in January, 2007. It took ten years from when Foree died to when the world could hear Foree's music. Was it worth the agonizing wait? Definitely! It was a labor of love for "Louisville's Godfather of the Blues."
A CD release party is planned for Sunday, April 22 at Alumni's Hopps (formerly Big Hopps) at 800 W. Market starting at 7 p.m. Jim O'Neal, the Walnut Street Blues Band and the Unfinished Blues Band will be playing and paying tribute to Foree.
During the 1980s the Metropolitan Blues AllStars were the unofficial house band at the Butchertown Pub when they were not on the road. They achieved regional recognition with several recordings on June Appal Records. When Caroline Dahl moved to California in 1991, the group disbanded. with the members pursuing other interests. Dahl will return briefly to Louisville to show off her embroidery and keyboard skill and a reunion of Caroline, Nick Stump and Rodney Hatfield will happen at WFPK's "Live Lunch" performance on April 6. Another concert is planned at the Center for the Arts that same weekend. Stay tuned for more details.