As a teenager in the mid-60s, Michael Frank was bitten by the
blues bug via such British Invasion bands as the Yardbirds, Animals
and Rolling Stones. Observing the simple fact that these bands were
covering material written by then unknown (to him) names like Willie
Dixon, Chester Burnett and McKinley Morganfield, Michael did his
homework, which led to the discovery that these compelling songs were
written and originally recorded by black blues musicians.
In 1965, Michael had the opportunity to see and hear Muddy Waters at a Jazz Fest in his hometown of Pittsuburgh. Shortly thereafter, a Thanksgiving weekend performance at New York's legendary Village Gate club where he attended a double-bill featuring Lou Rawls and Muddy added more fuel to an already burning fire of interest and growing admiration for black blues music. Today, Michael fondly recalls "That was one of the best bands that Muddy ever had, with Pee Wee Madison (guitar), Otis Spann (piano), Georgia Boy Luther Johnson (guitar), Sammy Lawhorn (guitar), Harmonica George Smith and (drummer) S.P. Leary!"
Michael's increasing thirst for "the real thing" stimulated him to start "Buying hundreds of records when I was in college: Prestige, Arhoolie, Yazoo, Delmark. I got a local record store to order their complete catalogs and I'd buy them wholesale." The few books chronicling the music's history were also absorbed along with issues of the English magazine Blues Unlimited (sadly now defunct) and Jim and Amy O'Neal's Chicago-based Living Blues (still going strong thanks to the University of Mississippi). In the late fall of 1970 he paid his first visit to Chicago and immediately set out to its illustrious Southside to witness it's then thriving club scene for himself. His first night found him at the wonderfully funky and friendly Theresa's tavern where "Junior Wells was playing. Sammy Lawhorn was there and so was Muddy Waters Jr. and Lefty Dizz. [Later] James Cotton and Buddy Guy showed up. It was great!"
The next logical stop was going to the Jazz Record Mart where Michael met owner Bob Koester and Bruce Iglauer (who was in the process of starting his own Alligator Records label). Exhilarated by his brief three day visit, Michael decided to move to Chicago in 1972 expressly for the purpose of hanging around in it's blues clubs.
Almost immediately, he met Delta bluesman David "Honeyboy" Edwards, along with Jim Brewer, Lester Davenport, Kansas City Red and Sunnyland Slim. All of these musicians established lifelong friendships with Michael. He also worked at the JRM part-time, spending all of his paycheck on records.
Michael began playing harmonica with Honeyboy and informally managing him as well and continues to do so to this day. He also made periodic visits to Mississippi and Louisiana, drinking in the sounds of such juke joint musicians as Frank Frost and the Jelly Roll Kings
After a few more years of hanging out, playing, touring and managing various musicians while working full time in child welfare, Michael took some advice and a large dose of encouragement from Koester and started a record label. In 1978, he began recording sessions for what would become Earwig Records.
Today Michael points out that "My entry in the record business seems like a natural outgrowth of my `60s perspective towards community organization and social justice. I wanted to produce records by people who weren't heard; in effect promoting cultural justice for blues musicians through arranging better gigs and recording deals."
Michael's first choice was the Jelly Roll Kings, a Mississippi-based blues trio centered around legendary harmonica/piano player Frank Frost. At the time, Frost hadn't recorded in over ten years and his first album on the small but highly influential Sun Records subsidiary Phillips International label (Hey, Bossman!) was a much sought after collector's item. Rounding out the band were Sam Carr on drums and guitarist Big Jack Johnson who Michael strongly feels is "One of the greatest guitar players ever!"
The Jelly Roll Kings' Earwig debut Rockin' The Juke Joint Down (Earwig 4901) was soon followed by Old Friends (Earwig 4902). Old Friends was a recording project developed out of the Honeyboy Edwards Blues Band Michael and Honeyboy put together in 1977, with Floyd Jones and Kansas City Red. The band was assembled especially for the purpose of obtaining more work for these musicians in the white bars and colleges which were starting to hire blues bands.
Since these humble beginnings, Michael has not only continued to record blues but jazz and storytellers as well. His experiments with jazz pianist Carl Arter (a local fixture in Pittsburgh) and storyteller Jackie Torrence didn't fare as well as his blues output. Frustrated by poor sales despite high praise for these records prompted him to concentrate exclusively on his first love: pure undiluted blues.
Each year since returning to its original blues roots, Earwig has increased the number of releases so that now the label's catalog lists more than 30 titles. Despite taking the year 2000 off by not issuing any new product, the label proudly maintains its well deserved reputation of issuing records by working Chicago-based musicians such as multi-instrumentalist Johnny Drummer and singer/songwriter Liz Mandville-Greeson as well as European-based slide guitarist Louisiana Red. Earwig is also distributed by another independent record label, Blind Pig, which helps to expand its visibility nationally.
Michael still oversees Honeyboy's bookings as well.
"What I'm going to do now with the label is slow down with new recordings because of the nature of distribution and the costs of a new record. I'm going to have a stronger presence on the web and make available material that I may not now or ever in the future put out that nobody else has or can get. I'll probably do some interviews with people as well and put them up. I've got unissued material by Jim Brewer, Willie Johnson and Maxwell Street Jimmy as well. I'm also going to put up my jazz stuff which has not been reissued or been on CD ever and there's some very fine music." Michael proudly proclaims, "That's where I'm going!"
Earvig's website can be found at: www.earwigmusic.com
Earwig's 2001 CD releases include Johnny Drummer Unleaded Blues, Earwig 4948, which will be supported by a performance Sunday afternoon June 13" on the Best Buy stage at the Chicago Blues Festival and a record release party at Rosa's June 30, and Louisiana Red Driftin' Earwig 4947.
4901 The Jelly Roll Kings Rockin' the Juke Joint Down
4902 Sunnyland Slim/Honeyboy Edwards et al Old Friends
4904 Jim Brewer Tough Luck
4910 Big Jack Johnson The Oil Man
4914 Frank Frost Midnight Prowler
4915 Sunnyland Slim Be Careful How You Vote
4916 Big Jack Johnson Daddy, When Is Mama Comin Home?
4918 Little Brother Montgomery At Home
4919 Louis Myers Tell My Story Movin'
4920 Jimmy Dawkins kant sheck dees bluze
4922 Honeyboy Edwards Delta Bluesman
4923 Lester Davenport When the Blues Hit You
4924 John Primer Stuff You Got To Watch
4926 H-Bomb Ferguson Wiggin' Out
4927 Aron Burton Past, Present & Future
4928 Lovie Lee Good Candy (+cass.)
4929 Homesick James Goin' Back In The Times
4930 Little Willie Anderson Swinging The Blues
4931 Big Leon Brooks Let's Go To Town
4932 Louisiana Red Sittin Here Wonderin
4933 Various Artists 16th Anniversary Sampler
4935 Aron Burton Live
4936 Lil Ed and Dave Weld Keep on Walkin'
4937 Johnny Yard Dog Jones Ain't Gonna Worry
4938 Liz Mandville Greeson Look at Me
4939 Big Jack Johson Live In Chicago
4940 David Honeyboy Edwards The World Don't Owe Me Nothing
4941 Lil Ed Williams & Willie Kent Whot's Been Talking
4942 Sunnyland Slim She Got A Thing Goin' On
4943 Louisiana Red Millennium Blues
4944 Johnny Drummer It's So Nice
4945 Liz Mandville Greeson Ready To Cheat
4946 Various Artists Earwig 20th Anniversary Collection (2 CDs)