Friday, August 26, 2011

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #4

One of FBF's oldest themes is back!  Let's check out a few tunes via YouTube.

Hound Dog Taylor
For Something Old this week, we'll go back to the early 70's with the legendary Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers.  If you're a fan of Alligator Records, you owe a big debt of gratitude to the Dog.  Bruce Iglauer started the label with the intention of recording Taylor.  At the time, Iglauer worked for Delmark and had no luck getting the label to record his favorite act, so with a small inheritance, he started his own label to do just that.  Iglauer ended up releasing four more albums of Taylor's music, each one perfectly capturing that raw, ragged sound that captivated Iglauer and so many others in the first place.

The hand of the Hound
Taylor was born in Natchez, MS, but moved to Chicago in his early 20's, becoming a full time musician in the late 50's.  He was known for his wild shows at local bars and on Maxwell Street, his cheap Japanese guitars and for having six fingers on his left hand.  His band consisted of drummer Ted Harvey, and bass player Brewer Phillips and they were also the basis for Alligator's motto - "Genuine Houserockin' Music."  The first track I ever heard of Taylor's was the opening tune on his debut Alligator recording, "She's Gone."  From that point, I was hooked.  Some Taylor recordings that have become classics are the immortal "Give Me Back My Wig," "Wild About You, Baby," "Walking The Ceiling," and this manic instrumental track, "Taylor Rock."  If you want to hear more from Hound Dog Taylor, a great place to start is Alligator's compilation, Deluxe Edition, but by no means should you stop there.  That fine collection merely scratches the surface.

Something New comes from one of the surprises of the summer, Ruf Records' Girls With Guitars disc, featuring three amazing young female guitarists.....lead guitarists Samantha Fish and Dani Wilde and bassist Cassie Taylor, all three in their early 20's.  Fish has been wowing blues fans in Kansas City for a couple of years, Wilde has two well-received CDs to her credit, and Taylor has appeared on several of her father Otis' recordings as well as one of the late Gary Moore's releases as a vocalist. 

The trio made up this year's edition of Ruf's Blues Caravan tour and released this impressive album earlier this summer.  Fish also released a marvelous CD on Ruf just a few weeks ago, Runaway.  Keep an eye on these ladies.....I imagine you will be hearing much more from them over the next few years.

Boz Scaggs
For Something Borrowed, we could almost call this tune Something Stolen.  In 1968, on Boz Scaggs' self-titled second recording for Atlantic Records, one of the highlights was a marathon version of "Somebody Loan Me A Dime," featuring some simply incredible guitar work from Duane Allman.  For some reason (not his doing), the label listed Scaggs as composer of the song, when credit should have gone to the actual composer, Fenton Robinson.  Robinson eventually sued (successfully) for composer credit, and later on, he re-cut his own masterful version of the song for Alligator Records a few years later, but the version by Scaggs and Allman really eclipses all comers.  Listen for yourself.

Even though Scaggs has proven to be something of a musical chameleon over his lengthy career, as a teenager he got his start as vocalist for in a blues band formed by his high school classmate and fellow Texan, Steve Miller.  The pair played in several blues bands in college before Scaggs moved overseas to England to join the R&B scene there.  He eventually reunited with Miller, appearing on Miller's first two recordings, then embarked on a solo career, seeing his biggest success from the mid 70's to the early 80's with pop hits like "Lowdown," "Lido Shuffle," "We're All Alone," "Miss Sun," "What Can I Say," and "Look What You've Done To Me."  In the 80's, he backed off the music scene, operating a blues club in San Francisco, Slim's, and recording sporadically.  In the late 90's, he returned to his blues roots, recording Come On Home, a mix of some classic blues and R&B tunes, mixed with a few originals.

Jack Owens (guitar) and Bud Spires (harmonica) with friend
You might have previously seen the duo selected for Something Blue.  If you glance to the right of the wonderful Bill Steber picture that heads up this site, you will notice Jack Owens and Bud Spires, from Bentonia, MS.  Owens was a contemporary of Skip James, and both played in the Bentonia style.  Owens, however, never really intended on making a career as a musician, being content to play on his front porch (often with Spires playing harmonica), farm, and sell bootleg liquor.  He did make a couple of recordings, played many festivals, and entertained a lot of passer-bys from his front porch before passing away in early 1997 at the age of 92.  Bud Spires, whose father was Arthur "Big Boy" Spires (who recorded for Chess in the early 50's), played with Owens for many years and later accompanied Holmes on his first Broke & Hungry release. 

Now, I'm not a music scholar by any means, but for me, the Bentonia style is highlighted by an ominous and eerie guitar tone, which is accentuated by the falsetto vocal stylings of both James and Owens (current Bentonia resident Jimmy "Duck" Holmes' vocals are different, but the guitar work is very similar).  In the past, the only people who played in the Bentonia style were native to the area, which adds to it's uniqueness.  I can promise that you've never heard anything quite like it and while it's more than likely not to everyone's taste (James' 1931 recordings sold poorly upon release), the Bentonia style of blues has been a major influence on the blues over the years, from Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Albert Collins (who all used the Bentonia tuning at one time or another on one song or another) to Eric Clapton (who recorded the Skip James tune, "I'm So Glad," while with Cream, ensuring the ailing guitarist a little income from royalties).

By the way, this video is part of a fascinating series on YouTube collecting various artists filmed by folklorist Alan Lomax over the years.  If you're interested, there are some additional, equally cool clips under AlanLomaxArchive.  Check them out.

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