Friday, April 26, 2013

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #9

Once again, it's time for another well-rounded look at the blues, with a look at what or who is new in the world of blues, a legendary artist or artists from years past, a blues song done rock style (or vice versa), and finally, someone who epitomizes the very essence of the music.  Let's get started, shall we.....

For Something Old, let's take a look at Skip James performing at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival.  James recorded some amazing performances for Paramount Records in the early 30's, but they didn't sell well, and a dejected James gave up the music, becoming choir director at his father's church and eventually becoming ordained as a Baptist and Methodist minister over the next thirty years.

Skip James (Photo by Dick Waterman)
James was rediscovered by a trio of blues enthusiasts in 1964 while in a hospital in Tunica, MS.  Once he had recovered, he was performing at  Newport, where he was received enthusiastically this time around.  Though he battled cancer off and on during his return, James stuck around long enough to record some excellent albums for Vanguard and continued to appear in various festivals around the country until he died in 1969.  In this video, he is shown performing one of his biggest songs, "Devil Got My Woman."

Jason Elmore
For Something New, FBF travels to Dallas, home base of Jason Elmore and his band, Hoodoo Witch.  Their latest release, Tell You What, showcases the band's versatility, as they move effortlessly from blues/rock to country-flavored rock to deep R&B/soul, as heard on this clip from their recent CD release party.  "Cold Lonely Dawn" is a great R&B-styled blues track that would be a hit in a perfect world.

Elmore is a first-rate guitarist, as you'll hear on the video, but he also impresses with his soulful vocal style.  He wrote most of the songs on the disc, but covers everyone from Buck Owens ("Buckaroo") to William Bell (a smooth cover of "You Don't Miss Your Water") to the late Sean Costello ("Don't Pass Me By").  His new disc will please not only blues fans, but fans of rock and soul, too.....definitely worth a listen.

For Something Borrowed, we visit with a pair of blues legends....Taj Mahal and James Cotton.  Back in the late 90's, House of Blues had their own record label for a couple of years and they came up with a series of albums where blues artists covered rock songs by particular artists who were inspired by the blues.  These included albums of songs by Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones.

I only heard a couple of these sets, one of them being the Rolling Stones disc.  It was the most interesting set to me, in that it featured the final recordings of Luther Allison, Junior Wells, and Johnny Clyde Copeland.  One of the more interesting tracks teamed up Taj Mahal and Cotton for an acoustic version of "Honky Tonk Woman."  While most of the songs were well-done to me, this one remains one of my favorites because it's completely different from the Stones' original.  This version has a more Delta blues-related feel to it, with the acoustic guitar and Cotton's animated harp backing.

Hound Dog Taylor and friend
Something Blue......"She's Gone" is really the first song I ever heard from Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers.  I picked up his self-titled debut release from Alligator Records in 1989.  This was actually the first-ever release on Alligator Records in the early 70's.... owner Bruce Iglauer actually formed the label for the sole purpose if recording Taylor.....he had previously worked at Delmark and couldn't convince Bob Koester to do so.  Technically, if it weren't for Hound Dog Taylor, there might never have been an Alligator Records.

When I plugged this cassette into my truck stereo and "She's Gone" began blasting through my speakers, my world changed.  This was the rawest, most ragged, relentless, and raucous blues I'd ever heard.  Taylor's guitar sounded like it was strung with barbed wire.  Second guitarist Brewer Phillips was equally unhinged, yet together, their playing was was almost like they could read each other's minds sometimes.

Taylor recorded three discs for Alligator, two studio and one live recording, before he passed away from cancer in 1975, but his legend lives on.  If you're a blues fan, you must have at least one Hound Dog Taylor album in your collection (this one is a great place to start).  He was one of a kind.

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