Friday, November 17, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Fifteen

One of the first Mississippi blues musicians I was familiar with was James "Son" Thomas.  I'm not sure exactly how I knew about him, but I remember seeing his name in the Jackson, MS newspaper, The Clarion-Ledger, maybe in one of the occasional articles they featured on blues in the early/mid 80's.  It seems like there was a mini-documentary about Thomas on Mississippi's public television station, but from what I remember, it talked a lot more about his artwork, which was mostly sculptures he made from the clay he dug from the banks of the Yazoo River.  His artwork was mostly skulls (often with real teeth), some of which can be seen in various blues museums in the Delta.  I do know that I was more familiar with that aspect of his life than I was with his musical talents at that time.

Around 1990 or 1991, my future wife and I went to the Delta Blues Festival in Greenville, MS.  One of the things I remember, other than the fact that there were tents set up by fans all in front of the stage that made it difficult to see the performers (a tradition I wasn't aware of at the time), was Thomas's appearance on the main stage.  Though I couldn't really see anything other than the top of his hat, I was able to hear him, along with harmonica player Walter Liniger, who accompanied Thomas often during the latter part of his career.  Though it was just the two of them on that big stage, Thomas commanded a lot of attention and the audience was mostly silent during his performance.

That was the only time I got to see him....Thomas died in the summer of 1993 after suffering a stroke.  For a long time, it was hard to find any of his music......I was into cassettes at that time and it was getting harder for find new releases on cassette, especially blues.  Finally, in 1998, Evidence Records released a collection of some of Thomas's 80's recordings.  Beefsteak Blues was a mix of live and studio recordings with Thomas doing a few of his own songs and several blues classics from others.  It served as a great introduction to his music and I still listen to it regularly.

The title track, "Beefsteak Blues," really grabbed me when I first heard it.  When I heard it, I was driving around in the northern part of my work district across a long, lonely piece of flat land that really favored the Mississippi Delta.  The sun was setting and it was a relatively clear, but humid, day.



The sound of Thomas' somber voice and his sparse guitar work was a perfect backdrop to that scene and the lyrics......well, what red-blooded American male wouldn't want the things he is asking for in the first verse??!!!  In fact, when Thomas died, rocker John Fogerty paid for his headstone and put that first verse on the back.



Thomas' son Pat continues his tradition as a musician.....and an artist and sculptor.  He's recorded for Broke & Hungry Records (recording a few of his dad's songs) and appeared in one of the more entertaining segments of the documentary, M for Mississippi, playing guitar at his father's grave.


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
Track 10:  "She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride," Taj Mahal
Track 11:  "Give Me Back My Wig," Luther Allison
Track 12:  "Garbage Man," Bernard Allison
Track 13:  "Walking By Myself," Jimmy Rogers
Track 14:  "Fast Train," Bobby Parker
Track 15:  "Beefsteak Blues," James "Son" Thomas


Friday, November 10, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Fourteen

We are rapidly approaching the end of first Blues Fix Mix CD.  It's been a lot of fun going over these tunes with readers.  I've learned a lot about some of these tunes that I wasn't aware of when I first listened to them.  Your humble correspondent has completed four volumes to date, each one an improvement on its predecessor as far as I'm concerned.  At a later date, we'll probably look at those, but for right now, let's keep rolling with Volume One.

Our next blues fix mix track comes from Bobby Parker (1937-2013).  Few people today may recognize the name (and probably few did during his seven-decade career), but he was one of the most influential blues/R&B artists of the 50's and early 60's.  He recorded for a number of labels in the 50's and 60's and enjoyed several hits on the R&B charts during that time.   

The B-side to his first single ("Blues Get Off My Shoulder") was "You Got What It Takes," which was recorded by Motown's Marv Johnson.  One problem with the Motown release was that composer credits were claimed by Motown founder Berry Gordy and two others, so Parker was not able to reap the royalty benefits from the sales of the song.  

Bobby Parker - early 60's
In 1961, Parker released his biggest hit, "Watch Your Step," on the V-Tone label.  The song made the Billboard Hot 100, but not the R&B charts.  However, numerous acts covered the song over the years, including the Spencer Davis Group.  The Beatles performed it in concert and the guitar riff was a big influence on the Fab Four's hits "I Feel Fine" and "Day Tripper."  Later, Led Zeppelin used the riff for their instrumental "Moby Dick." 

Parker was not as well known on the blues circuit as some, but he was a major influence on other artists as well......Eric Clapton, Robin Trower, and Carlos Santana.  It was on Santana's early 80's solo album that first heard "Watch Your Step."   It's really a shame that he wasn't better known.  He was a dynamic performer (and how could he not be, playing with some of those entertaining artists listed above), but he was also a first rate guitarist, singer, and songwriter.......the "Total Package" that many musicians can only dream about .  

Parker settled in the Washington D.C. area and become the go-to artist in that area for many years.  He took another area guitarist there, Bobby Radcliff, as a protege', and Radcliff described Parker as "Guitar Slim meets James Brown".....which is about as well as you can put it.  In the 90's, Parker released two superlative CDs on the Black Top label, Bent Out of Shape and Shine Me Up.  Though both are out of print now, copies can be pretty easily had and are well worth tracking down.  

Track Fourteen of our mix CD is from Parker's Bent Out of Shape album, the dazzling opening track, "Fast Train."  Climb aboard and hang on!!!






Friday, November 3, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Thirteen

For our next Blues Fix Mix CD track, we are going back a bit to the 1950's.......1957 to be exact.  I've always been a fan of the artists who recorded for Chess Records.  Some of the first vintage blues recordings I heard were from Chess, thanks to MCA Records reissuing some of Chess's classic sides in the mid-late 80's, which was about the time I started listening to the blues.  I heard all of the stars from the label......Muddy, the Wolf,  Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, etc......, but my favorite ended up being Jimmy Rogers.

Rogers' brand of blues really resonated with me.  I always liked his relaxed vocal style, always expressive and never over the top or overdone.  His guitar work was always sturdy and workmanlike.  His songs were pretty memorable, too, and the supporting cast on his recordings was always a blues fan's dream band.  Of course, he was part of what many consider the blues Dream Team......Muddy Waters' band that consisted of Waters, Rogers, Little Walter, Otis Spann, dubbed "The Headhunters" for their habit of dropping in on other musicians' gigs, and either outperforming them on their own stage, or stealing their gigs completely.

During the 50's, Rogers recorded several songs as a front man for Chess.....many of which are now considered standards.  Over the past 60 years, many a blues band has covered "You're Sweet," "That's All Right," "Ludella," "Chicago Bound," "Sloppy Drunk," and my personal favorite, which is track thirteen on this mix CD, "Walking By Myself."  He also served as a go-to session guitarist for Chess.

"Walking By Myself," recorded in 1957, was inspired by a T-Bone Walker song called "Why Not," which the legendary guitarist recorded during a Chicago session for Atlantic Records where Rogers backed him on rhythm guitar.  It can be heard on Walker's essential release, T-Bone Blues.  "Walking By Myself" became Rogers' only hit on the Billboard R&B chart. 

By the end of the 50's, the blues had fallen out of favor with music lovers and Rogers' musical opportunities waned.  He left the business for about a decade, running a clothing store in Chicago through most of the 60's.  When his store was burned to the ground during the riots which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., he gradually returned to performing and recording, releasing several fine albums which showed his skills to be virtually intact.  He worked steadily until shortly before his death from cancer in late 1997.

FBF did a profile of Rogers in 2011 which can be found here.

Rogers left a strong catalog of fine music......his later recordings compared very favorably with his early Chess recordings.  One of the steadiest, and underrated of the 50's blues giants, Jimmy Rogers deserves to be heard.  Here's track thirteen, my favorite of his tunes.


As a bonus, here's the track from T-Bone Walker that inspired the Rogers' classic.....




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
Track 10:  "She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride," Taj Mahal
Track 11:  "Give Me Back My Wig," Luther Allison
Track 12:  "Garbage Man," Bernard Allison
Track 13:  "Walking By Myself," Jimmy Rogers


More to come......

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Twelve

Bernard Allison
I promised last week that we would be hearing more from the Allison family.  It wasn't planned or anything like that......I was simply compiling a CD of some of my favorite blues songs for my listening pleasure and, later, others' listening pleasure.  When I was putting them in the order I wanted, it just so happened that I had listed back-to-back songs from Luther Allison and his son, Bernard Allison.

Not long after Luther's death, I was flipping through CDs at a record store and discovered a CD from Bernard, called Keepin' The Blues Alive on a new label called Cannonball Records.  Fans of 90's-era blues may recall the Cannonball label, which featured some standout artists and were recognizable due to the tiny "cannonball" that the label placed in their CD cases.

Father and Son
The only thing that I really knew about Bernard Allison was that he had appeared on one track of his father's last studio release for Alligator, Reckless.  I wasn't aware that he had done anything on his own, but later discovered that he had released several albums on European labels.  He's every bit as energetic on stage as his father was and his music fits the same mold.  The only difference to me is that Bernard injects a healthy dose of 70's funk and soul into his brand of blues.......the music he grew up with.





Keepin' The Blues Alive was a real eye-opener.  Released in early 1997, Allison was joined by a select list of Chicago musician friends (drummer Ray "Killer" Allison, bassist Greg Rzab, guitarist Will Crosby, and harmonica player Matthew Skoller) and recorded a powerful set of originals and a few choice cover tunes from his father, Jackie Brenston, Freddie King, and Aron Burton.  In fact, it's Burton's song, "Garbage Man," that makes our list this week.  Burton was a Chicago bass guitarist who was a member of Albert Collins' Icebreakers, but also enjoyed a solid solo career with releases on Earwig and Delmark Records during the 90's.  "Garbage Man" was released as a single by Cleartone Records in 1993.

Allison's version of Burton's song is a nearly-seven minute slow-burner that finds the guitarist really stretching out on guitar.  I really liked Allison's vocal as much as I did his guitar work.  His vocal style has a bit of the styling of the 70's and 80's funk and soul singers, which gives it a really cool sound to me.  Although I've listened to a lot of Bernard's subsequent recordings and they're all very good (be sure to give a listen to his latest from a couple of years ago, In The Mix.....fantastic!!), "Garbage Man" is one of my favorites of his songs.




If you would like to hear more from Bernard Allison, check out this "Ten Questions With......" session he did for FBF back in 2015 right after In The Mix was released.