Friday, November 9, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Sixteen

In a couple of weeks, Chicago blues guitarist Jimmy Johnson will turn 89 years old.  Johnson is the brother of soul-blues legend Syl Johnson and the late Mack Thompson, who was Magic Sam's bass player (Thompson is the family's given last name).  Johnson is still going strong, having most recently recorded a Magic Sam track for Delmark's Tribute album several months ago.  He still sounds as good as he did when I first heard his Bar Room Preacher album released by Alligator in the 80's.  He originally played soul and R&B, backing Otis Clay and Denise LaSalle, among others, and also leading his own group.  He gravitated to the blues in the mid 70's, backing Otis Rush on Rush's live disc recorded in Japan for Delmark and appearing on Alligator's Living Chicago Blues series in 1978.  Eventually, he recorded a pair of albums for the label (North/South and Johnson Whacks), beginning at the age of 50.  He's enjoyed a nice bit of success over the years and has released some quality recordings including a fine
one with his brother, Syl (Two Johnsons Are Better Than One).

Johnson's brand of blues combine blues, soul, and R&B in equal measure.....his soulful vocals are very distinctive, and his guitar work is equally distinctive and instantly recognizable to most blues fans.  His 1994 release for Verve Records was called I'm A Jockey and featured Billy Branch and Lucky Peterson, who also released albums for Verve during that same time period.  I'm A  Jockey is a fine mix of originals and cover tunes that Johnson does in his own unique style.  My favorite track is Johnson's slow burning take on Percy Mayfield's "The Highway Is Like A Woman," which is Track Sixteen on Volume Two of our Blues Fix Mix CD.

This song has special significance to me, as far as Friday Blues Fix goes.  Years ago, when I started Friday Blues Fix as a group email to some of my friends and co-workers, this was the very first song that I sent to them.  I have worked on many of the Mississippi highways in my area for over 30 years, so that was part of the reason I used it.  Also, I love Percy Mayfield's songs and this is one of my favorites.....I love the comparison of a highway and a woman ("soft shoulders and dangerous curves") and I really like Johnson's guitar work on this track.  The entire album is worth a listen, as is all of Johnson's catalog, so if you have a chance, check it out......and if you have a chance to see him live, check him out.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Fifteen

While compiling Volume Two, your humble correspondent thought that it would be cool to add another instrumental to the mix, and the one I had in mind was "Swanee River Boogie," a piano-driven instrumental I had first heard a few years ago by Ike Turner on his 2001 album, Here and Now.

Now today, Ike Turner is probably known most for being one of the most recognized symbols of the term "abusive husband" for his cruel and manipulative treatment of his former wife, Tina Turner (allegations that Turner has refuted somewhat awkwardly over the years).  The biopic of Tina Turner certainly helped solidify that reputation, as well as Turner's own erratic behavior over the last years of his life (he died in 2007 at 76), which makes him pretty difficult, if not impossible to defend. 

But that's not the Ike Turner we're talking about right, we'll briefly discuss Ike Turner, the musician who played a pivotal role in the early development of rock & roll, R&B, and the blues.....something that gets overlooked far too frequently in his biography.

Turner was born in Clarksdale, MS in 1931 and was taught to play piano by Pinetop Perkins.  He also worked as a DJ in his teens and formed his first band, The Kings of Rhythm, which traveled to Memphis to record at Sun Records.  One of their first recordings was "Rocket 88," with lead vocals from saxophonist Jackie Brenston.  This led the single to be mislabel as being from "Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats" instead of "Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm."  The song was a huge hit and is considered by many to have been the first true rock & roll song.

Turner and band soon became in-demand session musicians for many of the Memphis artists, including Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Robert Lockwood, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush (that's Turner playing 2nd guitar on Rush's "Double Trouble" side for Cobra Records), and many of Sun's artists.  Turner also doubled as a talent scout for the L.A.-based Modern Records, where he helped sign the Wolf and B.B. King.

Relocating to St. Louis in the mid 50's, Turner and The Kings of Rhythm  became the hit R&B attraction of the town and recorded for various labels......Federal, R.P.M., Flair......and began using a series of vocalists, one of which was a teenager from Tennessee named Annie Mae Bullock, who later began a relationship with Turner and became his wife, Tina Turner.  Her immense talent as a singer and performer prompted Turner to reform The Kings of Rhythm to the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, which became a force in the soul and R&B genres in the 60's and early 70's.

The fame and fortune soon got to Turner as he developed a cocaine addiction, which was the beginning of the end of his career at the time.  The drugs were a bad combination with Turner's already combustible personality and temper and though the band enjoyed success until the mid 70's, Ike and Tina's marriage was done around the same time.

The rest of Tina Turner's history is fairly familiar to most music fans.  She became a major pop star in the mid 80's.  Meanwhile, Ike spiraled out of control with drug issues and prison time in the 80's and early 90's.  He launched a comeback in the 90's and toured with Joe Louis Walker as his keyboardist and guitarist, where he saw that the type of music he made as a youngster, blues and R&B, was still in demand.  This encouraged him to reform The Kings of Rhythm and to eventually record Here and Now.

Here and Now was a mix of old favorite tunes and a few new originals.  While Turner will never be mistaken for a standout vocalist, he was still a monster on guitar and piano, which really came to light on "Swanee River Boogie," a fast-paced instrumental that dares you to sit still.....go ahead and try.

Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two (to date)......
1.  Mannish Boy - Muddy Waters
2.  Big Legs - Zuzu Bollin
3.  If It Wasn't For Bad Luck - Lee "Shot" Williams
4.  Taylor Rock - Sonny Landreth
5.  How'd You Learn To Shake It Like That - Snooky Pryor
6.  The Score - The Robert Cray Band
7.  Ninety-Nine - Bobby Rush
8.  Your Love Is Like A Cancer - Son Seals
9.  Rats & Roaches In My Kitchen - Larry Garner
10.  Baby Scratch My Back - Slim Harpo
11.  If You Let A Man Kick You Once - Corey Harris & Henry Butler
12.  Bring Your Fine Self Home - Albert Collins & Johnny Copeland
13.  Down In The Delta - James "Super Chikan" Johnson
14.  Pocketful of Money - Frank Frost
15.  Swanee River Boogie - Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm

Friday, October 26, 2018

A Chat With........Barbara Blue, The Queen of Beale Street

It's been awhile since FBF sat down and talked with any blues folks.  Actually, time constraints have made it pretty difficult for your humble correspondent to put one together during the past couple of years and, hopefully, that will start to change in the near's just a day to day thing right now.  However, this week's post will feature a chat (yes, I know that we've been calling these "Ten Questions With......." in the past, but we slightly exceeded our Ten Question limit more so than usual this time around) with the Queen of Beale Street, Ms. Barbara Blue.  

Now, I've been listening to Barbara Blue for nearly 17 years, since I first reviewed her Sell My Jewelry album for Blues Bytes.  She was compared to Etta James and Janis Joplin (I've always leaned more toward the Etta comparisons).  Since then, we've kept in touch via email and later Facebook, and it's been a thrill watching her develop as a singer/songwriter/performer as each subsequent album has exceeded the quality of its predecessor.  She's one of the most powerful blues singers out there these days, equally adept in the soul/R&B vein and blues-rock, but trust me, she FEELS the blues from her head down to her shoes.  

Actually, I sent her these questions after the release of her previous album, Memphis Blues - Sweet, Strong & Tight, but for one reason or another, we were never able to get things started or finished, and when the blog went on hiatus, it sort of fell by the wayside.  Flash forward a couple of years and we touched base again and got it together just in time for her latest album release, Fish in Dirty H2O on her own BIG Blue Records, which is one that blues fans definitely need to add to their collection.  If you haven't heard her before listening to this one, though, you will definitely want to hear more.  After you finish reading here, be sure to visit Barbara's website and check out some of her music.  You'll be glad that you did.

A Chat With.....Barbara Blue, Queen of Beale Street

Friday Blues Fix:  How does a girl from Pittsburgh, PA become the Queen of Beale Street?

Barbara Blue:  Hmmmmmm….. I’ve been there 21+ years 5 nights a week…..  lots of hard work….  Over 5000 shows on the same stage night after night promoting Memphis, Blues & Memphis Music.  I guess I have to credit Mr. Larry Nix with “calling” me THE Queen of Beale Street …… and I opted for the Reigning Queen of Beale Street….  Ms. Ruby (Wilson) was still alive then and we were friendly ….and I wasn’t out to take her title or hurt her feelings ….but it stuck. Especially after I recorded my 7th CD …..Royal Blue out of Willie Mitchell’s “Royal” Studios.  It just all seemed to work.  

FBF:  Were you a fan of the blues from the beginning, or did you arrive there from another style of music?

BB:  I arrived in the world screaming Oct 12, 1958.  I had been born with colic.  My beautiful mother and I make a joke I arrived the same way I will exit.  Ha!!  There was ALWAYS music in my life…. if not the radio, records, or the TV, school choirs, school plays, church, HS marching band.  I was always exposed to the blues and always had the blues.  I was a chubby kid / tomboyish (I had 4 brothers) …… my mum & dad always played records: Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Petula Clark, Tom Jones, The Rat Pack, Eddie Arnold, Meet The Beatles, Peggy Lee, and on and on …..  I taught myself guitar and held concerts in my back yard with neighborhood kids…..  I didn’t play many song over 4-6 chords!!  But I have a LOVE for Jazz & Country…..  Moved to AZ in 1977 and played any gig I could, mostly biker bars and open mic nights and little gigs here and there…..Then I met my first ex-husband and moved to Detroit MI…..  I would go out on talent nights and sing.  One of the highest paying was a country gig …and I love singing Patsy Cline, Willie, Waylon & the boys …..and one night in particular the guitar player (Rob) said to me you have the best blues voice I’ve ever heard…. you should go and check it out.  So I did just that …..the year was 1980 and I joined the “City Limits Blues Band” … I found out a lot of the song I had loved and been singing all my life were blues rooted.

FBF:  Who are some of your influences as a singer?

BB:  Peggy Lee, Patsy Cline, Janis Joplin, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Bonnie Raitt, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson,  John Lee Hooker, Tom Jones, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Willie Dixon, Willie Nelson…… 

FBF:  What has changed about the music scene in Memphis since you moved there?

BB:  Cell phones & prescription drugs…… 

FBF:  You’ve pretty much played full time at Silky O’Sullivan’s since 1997.  What’s a typical nightly gig at Silky’s like?

BB:  There is no typical night at Silky’s … I think that’s why I’ve been there soooooo long… It’s like traveling but I stay put!!!  On an average night we might just have 3 countries represented England, Canada, and Australia…..but most nights there are many more from around the world and across the US.  It’s a blessing of a gig!!!

FBF:  Can you tell us about some of the songs on Fish In Dirty H2O? 

BB:  The original title was “MY HEART BELONGS TO THE BLUES,’ then Al Kapone knocked “Fish In Dirty H2O” outta the ball park …… 

The classic “Come In My Kitchen” hits two of my most fave things on earth ….  My Mama and my KITCHEN!!!  Ha!! 

FBF:  You co-produced this release with Jim Gaines….was this your first experience producing?

BB:  No … I have co-produced ALL 11 of my CD’s …..  I LOVE it!! 

FBF:  What is involved with producing a record?


Gathering materials, musicians, songs, studios etc. …. schedules, keeping production notes ….budgets ….on and on and on…. 

FBF:  How does it feel to be singing with this legendary group of Memphis & Muscle Shoals musicians backing you?   

BB:  It feels like HEAVEN!!!  I love working with totally dedicated, talented musicians!! AND Bernard “Pretty” Purdie!!

FBF:  Can you share one of your favorite memories about being a musician?

BB:  I have many ……  I’m so blessed!!!  Singing HBD to James Cotton on stage at the Black Diamond (when it was the big room) with Sean Costello…. Sean was shy….he was like “Barbara you sing it …” & I was like ok no prob!!”  Maybe that was 1998??  I can’t remember …. BUT IT sho’ was FUN~!!! 

FBF:  What music do you listen to in your spare time?

BB:  Well I have 2 radio shows now  (“Blues off Beale” on ROYAL RADIO MEMPHIS Thursdays 3-5pm CST & “Shout Sista Shout”  on WYPL 89.3 Sunday 8-9pm CST) ….so I’m listening to new CDs a lot. And I love classical on my rides home from Beale Street …..   I live in a forest so sometimes I just roll the windows down … Yep... I love crickets, tree frogs & cicadas!!! 

FBF:  I’ve read that you’re a fantastic cook……what are some of your signature dishes?

BB:  Well…..too many to choose from …faves are Italian ~ Mexican & Comfort!!!  AND I LOVE to BAKE!!!  Been baking since I was a little girl.  I used to make my dad pies/cookies/ cakes for his lunch…. he always told me they were GREAT so I believed him!!  The power of positivity!!

FBF:  What would you be doing if you weren’t a performer?

BB:  Not sure, maybe a restaurant entrepreneur or a nurse or doctor.

FBF:  Is there anything musically that you haven’t done that you would like to do?

BB:  The Apollo Theater in Harlem.

FBF:  Do you have any future projects already in the works?

BB:  Writing songs for my next CD ….  #12 ….hopefully with Mr. Jim Gaines & Bernard Purdie AGAIN!!! 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Fourteen

Frank Frost
In the mid 80's, there was a movie, Crossroads, that hit the theaters.  It was sort of a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy obsessed with the blues who meets an old blues man who supposedly performed with Robert Johnson and knows of a "missing song" that Johnson performed, but never recorded.  It mostly deals with the two of them traveling around the Mississippi Delta, encountering different groups of people and eventually ending up in a head-cutting contest with the Devil's representative, played by metal guitarist Steve Vai.  It's not a great movie, but it was about all a young blues fan had at the time.

The main thing that I liked about it was the soundtrack, which was done by Ry Cooder, Bobby King, Terry Evans, and several blues musicians that included harmonica player Frank Frost.  Frost actually made a cameo appearance in the movie, from what I remember, and he had one song on the soundtrack.  I really liked the downhome feeling of Frost's song, "Cotton Needs Pickin'," which was a rowdy roadhouse rocker compared to most of the other songs on the movie's soundtrack.

Later on, I discovered a few other Delta blues artists, such as Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr (who was also on the Crossroads soundtrack), and Booba Barnes.  These guys led me to Earwig Record's album Rockin' The Juke Joint Down, by the Jelly Roll Kings, a trio that included Johnson on guitar, Carr on drums, and, yep, Frank Frost on harmonica and keyboards.  I listened to that album over and over again.  It was just mesmerizing to this young blues fan.

I tried to track down as many recordings by these artists as I could......I was able to find most of Johnson's recordings over the years, picked up a couple of Sam Carr releases, several more Jelly Roll Kings albums, and a few by Frank Frost.  One of my favorites was Jelly Roll Blues on Paula Records, which collected recordings by Frost on Jewel Records, where he was backed by Johnson and Carr in a pre-Jelly Roll Kings gathering.  The album was produced by Scotty Moore, former guitarist for Elvis Presley.  The trio had recorded previous for Sun Records' Sam Phillips, and actually recorded many of the same songs, but this is a really good set that captures the essence of the Mississippi Delta blues in a live-in-the-studio setting.

One of my favorite songs on the album is "Pocket Full of Money."  I actually heard it first by a West Coast blues band called the Fremonts, sung by Mighty Joe Milsap.  The Fremonts is a fine group who play outstanding Delta and Swamp blues covers and original tunes, and you should really check them out sometime if you're not familiar.  However, I really like Frost's version of this tune with it's relatively laid-back musical and vocal approach.  I hope you do, too.