Standing 6'5" and weighing 300-plus, Ernest "Big" Crawford loomed large in Chicago's explosive postwar blues scene. Crawford's slapped upright lines pushed recordings by the likes of Little Walter, Big Bill Broonzy, and Memphis Slim, but his work with former plantation hand Muddy Waters carved Crawford's name for all time in the blues bass hall of fame. In April 1948, fellow South Side denizens Waters and Crawford recorded "I Can't Be Satisfied" for the Chess brothers' Aristocrat label. (Seven years earlier in Mississippi, Waters had recorded the song as "I Be's Troubled" for musicologist Alan Lomax.) On the'48 track, Crawford's slap-bass accompaniment begins with a simple root-5 pattern that hangs on the I chord's G and D notes even when Waters goes to the IV. On the turnaround, Crawford pedals an A under the V chord (and tosses in a non-chord E), and on the IV he introduces a chromatic lick with a syncopation that returns on the next bar's tonic G. Crawford plays the pattern on the intro and first verse, but then on the second verse he shifts the syncopated figure to the first two bars . It's all a buildup to the guitar solo, where Crawford lays into wildly syncopated riffs that fully match the virtuosic intensity of Waters's slide lines . Throughout the tune, Crawford keeps his rhythms crisp as his slapped acoustic drives the track in the twin roles of bass and percussion. Spurred by the local success of "I Can't Be Satisfied" and its straight-from-the-Delta sound, Phil and Leonard Chess paired Waters and Crawford on classics like "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and "Rollin' Stone" before Waters began filling out his studio band with local aces like harp man Little Walter and guitarist Jimmy Rogers. Then, in the early '50s, Waters teamed with the musician who would create blues history as a bassist, songwriter, and producer: Willie Dixon. March 7, 1956. Big Crawford died in Memphis, TN, USA. Age: 64
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