Today, few recognize the name. But back in the 1920s and '30s, the Mississippi Sheiks were huge in North America.
Now Vancouver's Steve Dawson -- the Juno-winning guitarist, producer and songwriter -- has embarked on a one-man campaign to thrust the Sheiks back in the public eye.
He has just released Things About Comin' My Way on his Black Hen Music label. Dawson's disc is a tribute to the music of the Mississippi Sheiks as played by such notable musicians as John Hammond, Madeleine Peyroux, Bruce Cockburn and Bill Frisell.
In Victoria, Dawson promises to serve up the Sheiks' music -- as well as blues, Hawaiian music and his own originals -- when his trio plays Hermann's tomorrow night.
The Mississippi Sheiks, hailing from Jackson, Miss., played a mix of blues and country tunes. The string band's greatest hit was Sittin' on Top of the World, subsequently covered by Howlin' Wolf and Ray Charles.
Dawson, a connoisseur of old roots music, discovered the Mississippi Sheiks a dozen years ago. He came across a Bob Dylan album containing Sheiks songs. Intrigued, Dawson tracked down some scratchy 78 r.p.m. records at a Nanaimo shop. He loved them.
What struck Dawson about the Sheiks was their energy, and the fact the fiddler seemed to solo right through all the tunes. "They're very physical and they're very loud," he said. "I think it was because they were playing country dance and things like that. It was before sound systems and PAs."
The notion of a tribute album was hatched after Dawson and his wife discussed how under-appreciated the Mississippi Sheiks are.
As well as Dawson, the musicians on Things About Comin' My Way include Ndidi Onukwulu, Oh Susanna, Jim Byrnes, Kelly Joe Phelps and Geoff Muldaur.
While artists added their own stamp to the material, Dawson wanted the album to have sonic continuity. With that in mind, recording sessions were held using the same house band -- an approach Dawson compares to that of the Stax/Volt soul label in the 1960s. Seven songs were recorded in one day. Dawson's wife and a friend would chat to arriving musicians to keep them entertained as they awaited their sessions.
"Some people just nailed it [on the first takes]. Other people, we had to sit there and really work at it for a few hours."
Dawson is pleased with the crew he assembled for Things About Comin' My Way. Some he already knew, others were friends of friends. He approached Peyroux after opening for her last year at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Like some of the other musicians, Peyroux was not familiar with the Mississippi Sheiks. But the name intrigued her.
"People, even if they don't know them, are like, 'Well, that sounds cool,' " Dawson said.
John Hammond, Jim Byrnes, Geoff Muldaur and others from Things About Comin' My Way will perform a high-profile tribute concert together. The large sponsoring organization has sworn Dawson to secrecy on the details, but he did give out two tantalizing clues.
Think Vancouver. And think early 2010.