Friday, March 9, 2012

New Blues For You

Your humble correspondent has a pretty full plate this week and next.  Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, this combination of mental and physical challenges will ease a bit and we can return to our usual routine.  In the meantime, over the next two weeks, Friday Blues Fix will be looking at a couple of new releases each week that are well worth your time.

After battling the sinus bug for a solid week, it was a nice surprise to find a new CD from Windy City bluesman Eddie C. Campbell in the mail the other day.  For some reason, I was a latecomer to the charms of Mr. Campbell.....probably due to the fact that he left Chicago for a decade in the mid 80's for the more calming environs of Europe.  One of the last of the famed West Side guitarists (learning from and with Luther Allison and Magic Sam), Campbell paid his dues in the 60's and early 70's playing behind Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, and behind Willie Dixon as a Chicago Blues All-Star.  Most recently, Campbell has been recording for Delmark Records.....Tear This World Up was one of the top releases of 2009. 

Campbell's latest release, Spider Eating Preacher, is a great example of Campbell's vision of West Side Chicago blues.  Musically, he showcases that great West Side guitar sound mixed with a heavy dose of funk and some very distinctive fretwork.  Unique as the music may be, it can't hold a candle to Campbell's vocals or his incredibly original songwriting.  Backing Campbell on several tracks is his wife Barbara, who lays down some nasty bass guitar, and their son David, who play violin on a couple of tracks.  Two tracks feature another great Chicago guitarist, Lurrie Bell.  The disc is also produced by Chicago stalwart Dick Shurman.  I worry about a lot of things in life, but an album that reads "Produced by Dick Shurman" in the liner notes ain't one of them.  There's never a dull moment on this great set of Chicago Blues.  If you've not experienced the wonders of Eddie C. Campbell, prepare to be amazed.

Willie Foster, a local legend in Greenville, MS, bought his first harmonica as a kid with a quarter he earned hauling water to the cotton fields for two weeks. He first played onstage while in the Army during World War II, but met Muddy Waters after returning home and spent some time in Chicago playing with him.  He returned to Mississippi in the 60's to care for his ailing dad and began playing the juke joints there and built his reputation.  He was even invited to perform in New Zealand by a fan from there who had traveled to Mississippi to hear the blues.  However, Foster's troubles began after he was stung by a jellyfish while in New Zealand, an injury which later resulted in the amputation of his leg.  A couple of years later, he lost the other leg to diabetes (but recovered sufficiently enough to play a gig in a wheelchair TWO DAYS after surgery).  The diabetes also started causing him to lose his sight, but it never caused him to lose his drive and determination.  In fact, Foster played up until the night he passed away in 2001.  In the end, only the Creator could stop Willie Foster from playing the blues.

Actually, this review is a two-fer, because I55 Productions out of Memphis has just released two of Foster's finest albums.  First up is a reissue of his classic 1999 recording, Live at Airport Grocery.  Airport Grocery was once a grocery store in Cleveland, MS, but is now a BBQ joint that also plays the blues.  Foster performed regularly there for a long time, and this set captures the raw and down-home quality of his brand of blues.  He pays tribute to his mentors, like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, and John Lee Hooker.  This is one of the best sets of Delta blues to be released in recent memory and sadly had been out of print for several years until I55 secured rights to release it.  Be sure to send them a nice Thank You note after listening.

The second set is called My Inspiration and is a mix of studio tunes that Foster did over the last few years of his life.  While it's not as strong a set as the live set, it's got some nice performances from Foster, someone we really don't have enough recordings from.  Both of these sets are worth having and if you consider yourself a Delta Blues fan, it should be a prerequisite that you own a Willie Foster CD to truly earn that title.

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