Friday, October 13, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Ten

We're past the halfway point with our first Blues Fix Mix CD.  The most important thing to remember about a mix CD is that you have to put as much music as technologically possible on it, meaning you have to get as close to 80 minutes worth of content as you can, especially if you're a bit on the dorky side, like I am.  Therefore, when we're done, we will have a CD full of great blues tunes.

Our tenth track comes from one of the most prominent blues figures of the late 60's/early 70's.....actually the latter part of the 20th Century would fit there.  Taj Mahal (born Harry St. Clair Fredericks) started out playing acoustic blues, later expanding to electric blues, soul and R&B, reggae, Caribbean, folk, gospel, Latin, West African, and even Hawaiian music.  While doing that, he never strayed far from his acoustic blues roots, and has continued to make some excellent music over the past fifty years.

Back in the 70's, when they had this thing called record stores, one could always find a few Taj Mahal recordings on the shelves......he recorded for many years on the Columbia label, which was a major recording label (and still is, though now part of Sony Music) during that time, which guaranteed his recordings would have pretty wide distribution.  If Mahal had only recorded his first three albums, his self-titled debut, The Natch'l Blues, and the double LP Giant Steps would have cemented his place in the blues pantheon.

Mahal was able to help update, therefore revive, the country blues sounds of the 30's and 40's.  While he may not sound like anything special nowadays, just remember that when he first started doing this around 1967/68, there was nobody else in the blues world, or the rock world for that matter, who sounded like him.  It was a refreshing new take on the blues and his influence can be heard in a number of more recent artists, such as Alvin Youngblood Hart, Keb' Mo', Guy Davis, and Corey Harris.

I had to include my favorite Taj Mahal song, "She Caught The Katy and Left Me a Mule To Ride," from The Natch'l Blues.  Mahal wrote this song with Yank Rachell, the master of blues mandolin who began his career in the 30's and was active until his death in 1987, and it has become one of his most famous compositions.  It's been covered many times and many people will recognize it from the Blues Brothers' rendition over the opening credits of their 1980 movie, which made sense because it was one of John Belushi's favorite blues songs.  As you can hear below, Belushi had excellent taste in blues songs.



All of Taj Mahal's music is great, regardless of the genre he was exploring at the time.  Blues fans will enjoy his self-titled debut, The Natch'l Blues, both released in 1968, or more modern fare like Senor Blues (1997) or TajMo, his recent collaboration with Keb' Mo'. 


Friday, October 6, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Nine

One of my favorite albums from my early days as a blues fan was the first volume of the Antone's Tenth Anniversary celebration, a live show which took place at the Austin club back in 1985.  I wrote about this album in great detail here about three and a half years ago.  I have an iPod Shuffle that I use to work out......one of the tiny ones that you can clip to a shirt sleeve or belt loop....that will hold about 400 - 450 songs.  I have five songs from this album on that iPod, and could possibly include a few more.  It was actually one of the first live blues albums that I owned and it was a very energetic set of tunes by some of the genre's legends.

I've mentioned this track several times before, so it shouldn't be a surprise to longtime readers that I would include it.......Otis Rush's inspired reading of "Double Trouble," one of the classic tunes he recorded for Cobra Records during the late 1950's.  Though relatively brief at around 3:45, it's an action-packed 3:45.  Rush's vocal is one of his most intense and his piercing guitar work is awesome.  I've heard a lot of Rush's live recordings (and posted about them here) and to me, this is near the top of the heap for me.

Rush is one of my favorite blues artists, and has been for a long time.  I've always thought that his style would appeal to new blues fans because of his strong, soul-influenced vocals and his versatile guitar style, which mixes his own distinct qualities with influences from others such as B.B. King, Albert King, T-Bone Walker, and jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell.  When you listen to a collection of Otis Rush songs, you will hear hints of those other influences, but for this version of "Double Trouble," Otis is playing nothing but Otis.  Check it out!!!




Your Blues Fix Mix CD (Volume One) to date......

Track 1:  "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Track 2:  "Son of Juke," Billy Branch
Track 3:  "Feel Like Blowing My Horn," Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Track 4:  "Big Boy Now," Big Jack Johnson
Track 5:  "Blues Man," B.B. King
Track 6"  "Four Cars Running," Larry Garner
Track 7:  "Cadillac Blues," Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Track 8:  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues," Skip James
Track 9:  "Double Trouble" (Live), Otis Rush

More to come.........

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Eight

For track 8 of our Blues Fix Mix CD, I decided that a change of pace was in order, so we're looking a a pre-war blues artist this week, but with a twist. One of my favorite pre-war blues artists (for those new to the blues, "pre-war" actually indicates the time prior to World War II) is Nehemiah "Skip" James, the enigmatic artist from Bentonia, MS who introduced the Bentonia style of blues to the world.  James recorded for Paramount Records in 1931 and the recordings that survived over the years are considered masterpieces of recorded blues not just for the era, but for all time.



James' style was something that you couldn't immediately get over.  His voice was an haunting falsetto and his guitar worked coupled finger-picking with a hypnotic bass line, which gave it a totally unique sound.  Even in those horribly scratchy recordings for Paramount, which have been cleaned up about as much as they possibly could, you get that James was a unique blues artists.  There were only a few artists who played in the Bentonia style......there are still only a few that do.

I didn't really want to put one of his Paramount sides on a mix CD......remember these were set up for new listeners, who I didn't figure would have the patience to endure the scratchy quality of the recordings (That being said, once you get a taste of Skip James' music, I strongly suggest that you check these recordings out.  They're are on a par with the recordings of Son House, Bukka White, and yes, Robert Johnson).  Fortunately, even though James basically vanished from sight after his Paramount recordings.....they didn't sell very well and he only received $40 and a train ticket for his efforts, so he opted to become an ordained minister, also driving a tractor and working as a supervisor on various plantations......he was rediscovered by blues fans in the early 60's and was able to perform and record again.

James' best post-war recordings were for Vanguard Records.  His Today! release was the first time I heard him and it was amazing.  The recording was crystal clear, one of the best recordings of the rediscovered Mississippi country blues artists, and he really seemed to be at the height of his powers, almost like it was just 1932 instead of 1964.  He sounded incredible as he re-created many of his old songs, plus a few new ones. He was in the hospital when he was found, and sadly, he battled illness for most of his "Comeback" years, passing away in 1969.  The song I selected for our Blues Fix Mix CD was the opening track on Today!  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" really showcases James' haunting vocals and his delicate guitar picking and, trust me, that's only the tip of the iceberg.




If you'd like to read more about Skip James, check out this FBF post from 2013.

Your Blues Fix Mix CD (Volume One) to date......

Track 1:  "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Track 2:  "Son of Juke," Billy Branch
Track 3:  "Feel Like Blowing My Horn," Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Track 4:  "Big Boy Now," Big Jack Johnson
Track 5:  "Blues Man," B.B. King
Track 6"  "Four Cars Running," Larry Garner
Track 7:  "Cadillac Blues," Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Track 8"  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues," Skip James

More to come.........






Friday, September 22, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Seven


In the late 90's, a new record label had surfaced, Cannonball Records.  The first recording I ever saw from the label was a CD by Bernard Allison, the son of the recently departed Luther Allison. When I bought it, the first thing I noticed was the little ball bearing-sized "cannonball" that was placed in the corner of the CD case.  It slid up and down as you moved the case.......how cool!!  The CD was also pretty cool and showed that the younger Allison had big things ahead of him, too.....in fact, FBF subjected Mr. Allison to Ten Questions a few years ago, and you will hear one of his songs from that particular album later on in this mix CD.

Since I enjoyed that particular CD so much, I decided to go a bit deeper into Cannonball's group of recording artists and I discovered Johnnie Bassett, a Detroit blues man who deftly combined urban blues, jump blues, jazz, and even a bit of the Delta into his brand of blues.  One day while thumbing through the blues section in a Camelot Music store, I found Bassett's Cannonball debut, Cadillac Blues, and purchased it without hearing a single tune.  

I was pleasantly surprised with my purchase.  Bassett played guitar a lot like B.B. King.....just a crisp, clear ringing tone and his husky vocals were a plus as well.  The band featured horns, drums, and organ....no bass, the organ took care of the bass parts.  I found out later that Bassett had been around for a long time, backing Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Nolan Strong, Andre Williams, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, John Lee Hooker, Eddie Burns, and many many more, even releasing a few previous albums of his own, which I later bought and enjoyed.  The band played slow blues and shuffles and just had a great sound.....a straight-ahead Grade A blues band.

When I was compiling my first blues fix mix tape for a friend way back in the late 90's, I knew that I had to have at least one Johnnie Bassett track on it.  I was really into him at the time, having seen him perform at the 1999 Blues Music Awards (then called the Handy Awards), where he and Cadillac Blues had received five nominations that year.  Bassett even performed at the show, performing "Cadillac Blues" and "Party My Blues Away," the title track from his upcoming album on Cannonball.  

It was so cool to see him perform and afterward, as everyone walked from the Orpheum to Beale Street, we fell in behind him and his wife, walking hand-in-hand, with Bassett carrying his guitar case.  He later released a couple of other discs, which I haven't gotten to hear yet, and was pretty active until he passed away in 2012 after battling cancer.

Track Seven of our blues fix CD is "Cadillac Blues," from Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents.  If you've listened to a lot of blues, you've probably heard at least one song about an artist hoping for better times when he can just ride around with the lady of his choice in a brand new car, preferably a Cadillac, or maybe one who's living the life and has his own Cadillac.  Well, in this case, Mr. Bassett has one and he's on Cloud Nine.  This is one of my favorite blues songs ever, and I just love Bassett's smooth vocal, his crackling guitar, the band's funky backing, and the overall good vibe.  I hope you dig it too.