Friday, July 16, 2010

Red Hot Blues

The temperature is not the only thing that's hot these days.  There's plenty of red hot blues out there, either on stage or on disc.  Let's take a look at some new live releases and see what else we can find along the way.

One of the first Friday Blues Fix posts was a mini-interview with Larry Garner.  He mentioned an upcoming release with the Norman Beaker Band called Live at the Tivoli.  It was recorded in 2009 at the Tivoli in England and provides a pretty wide retrospective of Garner's recordings, ranging from his early standouts ("No Free Rides," "Shak Bully") to his newer material ("Heavy Pieces," "Raised In The Country") to crowd favorites ("Jook Joint Woman," "Kleptomaniac," "Cold Chills," "The Road of Life," "Had to Quit Drinking").  Of course, you get a sample of Garner's unique rapport with his audiences as well.  Norman Beaker, a longtime member of the UK blues scene, provides some great guitar work and takes the mic for a couple of his own tunes, and his band is first-rate.  This is a great set of blues that is well worth tracking down.  Check out Garner and Beaker in action from a few weeks ago, performing the Henry Gray tune, "Cold Chills."

A few months ago, I received a set of CDs to review for Blues Bytes from Blue Skunk Records.  There was some stellar releases from Los Angeles (Solomon King's urban blues fest Under The Sun) to Cincinnati (R&B local legend Keith Little) and New York (blues/folk artists Michael Packer's Free Beer).  Among those releases was a CD from a young lady named Cee Cee James, called Low Down Where The Snakes Crawl, which was a mesmerizing vocal performance.  Though her singing brings to mind Janis Joplin at times, she is capable of so much more.  If you can find that release, I highly recommend it...along with the rest of the Blue Skunk releases mentioned above, but I wanted to talk about her latest release......a live performance.  Her latest CD, Seriously Raw, Live at Sunbanks, captures James at her very best with a great band in support, playing a mix of original tunes, classic blues tracks, and, yes, a masterful Janis Joplin segment.  You can visit her website to hear song clips and purchase the disc if you're interested.  You'll be glad you did. 

The next live disc is not a new one.  Grady Champion's Back In Mississippi Live at the 930 Blues Cafe was initially released about a year and a half ago but saw fairly limited distribution.  Earwig Records of Chicago has picked up distribution of the CD, which proves that there is justice in the world.  Champion took a bit of a sabbatical from music a few years back, but has resurfaced in Mississippi over the past couple of years, playing many of the local clubs just like Jackson's 930 Blues Cafe.  Joining him for this wonderful set is another local favorite, Eddie Cotton, who's recorded a couple of outstanding live discs himself.  Cotton plays guitar on this set, and Champion takes the spotlight for a memorable performance.  It's easy to hear why Champion won the IBC Best Band competition this year.  He's a powerful and charismatic performer.  Hats off to Earwig for getting this one out there for all to have a chance to hear.  Below is a song from the performance.  "Policeman Blues" also features some sweet guitar from Cotton and an appearance from local rapper Jacktown Swiff (Champion actually got his start in music as a rapper before moving on to the blues).  I'm proud that there are still young guys in Mississippi that are keeping the blues alive.

The third Saturday in July used to be marked on my calendar every year in the late 80's. That was when the Chunky Rhythm & Blues Festival was held, about fifteen miles from my house. I guess it started in the early 80's, but at that time, I wasn't really into the blues.....more into soul and R&B and jazz, so I didn't keep up with it that much. Chunky is a pretty small town, just a couple of stores, churches, a post office, and a great place to eat catfish, but I spent a lot time there in my early 20's, playing basketball a couple of days a week in one of the churches that had a gym. The festival was actually a couple of miles outside of town in a big pasture that was called Richardson's Farm.

The pasture was a natural amplitheatre, with a sloping field surrounded by trees. The sound was pretty good and there was plenty of room to move around. The only hazard was at night, when you walked back to your vehicle, there was no lighting at all once you left the music area, and the parking was a pretty good walk away, so finding your ride could be pretty interesting, even if you were sober.

Despite it's size (or lack of), the festival drew some pretty big acts at the time. I think B. B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland played it before I started going, at least once, but I never saw them there. The first year I went, the main acts were The Kinsey Report (just before their first album, Edge of the City, was released), Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets (and Sam Myers), Koko Taylor, and Lonnie Mack. Now that wasn't a bad lineup at all.

The Kinsey Report was pretty impressive....I've always loved to hear Donald Kinsey play the guitar and Ron Prince wasn't too shabby either. Their set was short and proud papa Big Daddy Kinsey came out and did a few songs with them, too. I've always been a fan of Funderburgh and Myers and they didn't disappoint either. Funderburgh was so cool playing guitar and Myers' down home vocals and harmonica were the perfect complement to the Rockets' sound.  Oddly enough, by the time Koko Taylor came onstage, a good portion of the crowd had dispersed, so my buddies and I walked right down to the front of the stage to see her. She sounded great and had two guitarists that just took turns kicking butt for a solid hour. When Lonnie Mack came onstage, it was either past his bedtime or someone woke him up from his nap because he was one cranky son of a gun. He eventually warmed up to the crowd though, after performing his classic "Oreo Cookie Blues," and I still remember him tearing through "Wham!" not five feet from where I was standing. That was one of the first blues shows I saw and it was a great experience.

In later years, I saw Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials (though I never got a good look at Ed since he never stopped moving), Lonnie Brooks (who unfortunately had to follow Ed that night), Omar and the Howlers (always entertaining), and Buddy Guy (who was a bit frustrating as he kept throwing in Hendrix riffs right in the middle of his tunes for no good reason.....Dadgum it, Buddy, I didn't pay to watch you play Jimi Hendrix....I wanted you to play Buddy Guy!). As you can see, the festival was able to attract lots of the bigger names (Junior Wells, Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal, and lots of others also appeared there). The festival was underwritten in part by the University of Mississippi (who publishes Living Blues and also has a huge Blues Archive), so that probably helped a lot with attracting performers. In the early 90's, all the fun stopped for some reason. I don't know what happened, but I figure that by that time, there were a lot of other blues festivals getting started, in locations worldwide that were probably more appealing to musicians than Chunky, MS was. Money probably was an issue as well, as far as paying the musicians went....expenses got more expensive.

They tried to move the festival to nearby Meridian for a few years and even had the artists from Fat Possum Records appear one year, but it never really caught on as well. It was fun while it lasted though, and gave me the opportunity to see some great blues artists close up and close by.

Happy 79th birthday to Long John Hunter.  Hunter made some fine recordings for Alligator in the 1990's, including a collaboration with Lonnie Brooks and Phillip Walker called Lone Star Shootout.  He got his start playing the blues in Juarez, Mexico on the Texas/Mexico border way back in the 50's, after hearing B. B. King play a gig at Beaumont.  He bought a guitar the next day and was soon playing at the same club in Beaumont.  After that, he was the main attraction at the Lobby Bar in Juarez for thirteen years.  He's still active today, having released a CD last year for Blues Express that was well-received.  Happy Birthday, Long John!

To close things out this week, please enjoy one of my favorite Long John Hunter tracks.....from his Border Town Legend disc......the slow burner, "Ice Cold."  Have a good weekend, Blues lovers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can tell you what happened to the festival. Newton County is dry; plus I heard the festival had some tax issues due to cash ticket sales. At any rate, combined with all the roadblocks from local law enforcement (at the time) trying to curb drinking it just kind of fizzled and took the fun out of everything. This is heresy from the locals but I grew up nearby in Newton County myself so its likely true to some degree.