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The High Water Recording Company was founded by David Evans in 1979, as part of Memphis State University’s College of Communication and Fine Arts. Original funding came from the NEA. Such factoids make High Water sound like one more exercise in academic blues-ology, producing more fodder for the folkways archives, destined to be alphabetized by German collectors. However, thanks to Evans’ grasp of his local scene, and his embrace of the good old commercial impulse and its ultimate format, the 45, the records he produced transcend more traditional field recordings made by Alan Lomax, Chris Strachwiz, and Evans himself on earlier outings.


But Evans wanted to model High Water after what Sam Phillips originally did at Sun Records by making the first records by a younger generation previously unknown beyond their own home turf. Evans even began numbering the High Water catalog by picking up where Sun had left off with their last single. The first of these was “Going Down” b/w “Cotton Fields” and “Boss Man” (HW 408), by one of Ike Turner’s original sidemen, sax honker Raymond Hill and his wife Lillie. Also in that original set of four was Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Jessie’s Boogie” b/w “Standing in My Doorway Crying” (HW 409), R.L. Burnside’s “Bad Luck City” b/w “Jumper Hanging Out on the Line” (HW 410), and Rainie Burnette’s “Coal Black Mattie” b/w “Hungry Spell” (HW 411).

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