Leroy Foster (musician)
|Also known as||"Baby Face" Leroy Foster|
February 1, 1923|
Algoma, Mississippi, United States
|Died||May 26, 1958
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, drums|
|Associated acts||Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers|
"Baby Face" Leroy Foster (February 1, 1923 – May 26, 1958) was an American blues singer, drummer and guitarist, active in Chicago from the mid-1940s until the late 1950s. He was a significant figure in the development of the post-war electric Chicago blues sound, most notably as a member of the Muddy Waters band during its formative years.
Foster was born in Algoma, Mississippi, United States. He moved to Chicago in the mid-1940s, and by 1946 was working with pianist Sunnyland Slim and harmonica player John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. He was introduced to singer and guitarist Muddy Waters by an acquaintance Waters met at a recording session in 1946, and was soon playing guitar and drums in Waters’ band, along with guitar and harmonica player Jimmy Rogers, with the band later joined by Little Walter on harmonica. Calling themselves the Headhunters, the trio were known for going from club to club and “cutting” (i.e. engaging in musical duels with) other bands.
Foster’s first recordings were made with pianist Lee Brown in 1945 for J. Mayo Williams' Chicago label. In 1946, he appeared on another session with Lee Brown and recorded with James "Beale Street" Clark for Columbia. He also accompanied Sunnyland Slim on a 1947 or 1948 session for the Opera label. Further recordings followed, both under his own name and backing Sunnyland Slim, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and pianist Johnny Jones, before his most notable session, for the Parkway label in 1950.
The Parkway session
This session featured the personnel of Muddy Waters' band of the time: Foster, Waters, Little Walter and (on two tracks only, since he was late for the session), Jimmy Rogers. Four singles were released from the session, two by Foster and two by Little Walter. One of the singles, the two-part "Rollin' and Tumblin'" was notable enough to be reviewed, unusually for a down home blues release, in the Chicago Defender by Edward Myers, who described it as having "the sound and beat of African chant". The track featured only Foster’s drumming and singing, Walter’s harmonica and Waters’ slide guitar, with hummed ensemble vocals on one side. Unfortunately, Waters’ guitar playing and backup singing were distinctive enough for it to come to the attention of Leonard Chess of Chess Records, who had Waters under an exclusive recording contract. As a result, Waters was made to record his own version of the song for the larger Chess label in order to "kill" the Parkway recording.
Later career and death
After the Parkway session, Foster left Waters’ band, possibly in the hope of a solo career resulting from the releases on Parkway, but unfortunately the label soon folded. Afterwards, Foster recorded a further three sessions under his own name for the JOB label between 1950 and 1953, but died from a heart attack, possibly as a result of alcoholism, at the age of 35 in 1958.
Influences and performing style
Foster sang in a style influenced by Sonny Boy Williamson and Dr. Clayton, and while he played guitar and drums competently, the talents for which he was popular have been described as “drinking, singing and clowning”.
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