Friday, August 9, 2013

My Favorite Things - The New Bluebloods (Part 1)

For a budding blues fan in the mid 1980's, Alligator Records was an absolutely indispensable source for good music....certainly to this budding blues fan.  The first blues recording I ever owned was from Alligator (Showdown!), and the label's Genuine Houserockin' Music series of budget samplers constantly opened my ears to new, at least for me, blues artists (Lonnie Mack, Lonnie Brooks, Hound Dog Taylor, Fenton Robinson, Son Seals, etc....) to check out.

For newer blues fans, it may be hard to believe that in the 80's, there were very few blues labels out least there were very few that had any sort of presence in mainstream record stores.  By the time, I came on board, Alligator had pretty decent distribution in most of the stores that I frequented, which were of the mall record store variety for the most part.

The mall was where I ended up finding another great Alligator release in the summer of 1987.  The New Bluebloods was subtitled "The Next Generation of Chicago Blues."  Up until this point, the only really young blues artist I had heard was Robert Cray, so the prospect of other younger blues artists sort of excited me.  I looked at the back cover of the album and, nope, didn't know a single one of these artists.  Nevertheless, I decided to buy it and see what it was about.  It turned out to be a great decision, as we will hear over the next couple of weeks.

The first track was from a band called the Kinsey Report.  Based in Gary, Indiana at the time, the band was fronted by guitarist/singer Donald Kinsey, who started out backing Albert King as a teenager, before leaving the blues to first form a hard rock band (White Lightnin') in the mid 70's.  He eventually was drawn to reggae music, backing Bob Marley in the late 70's and Peter Tosh in the 80's, laying down a great guitar solo on Tosh's funky version of "Johnny B. Goode."  In the mid 80's, Kinsey returned to the blues, where he joined guitarist Ron Prince and two other Kinsey brothers, drummer Kenneth and bass player Ralph, backing their father, respected bluesman Big Daddy Kinsey, appearing with him on the Rooster Blues release, Bad Situation, in 1984.

The Kinsey Report
Donald Kinsey's serpentine guitar work is the highlight of the band's contribution to the set, "Corner of the Blanket," and the band was so well-received that Alligator soon signed them to the label, where they recorded two albums in the late 80's, and returned for a later release in the late 90's after a short stint with Pointblank Records.  Kinsey and his brothers still perform today, though Prince went off on his own in the early 90's, joining James Cotton's band, and later forming his own band, Hard Time.

Next up was Valerie Wellington, a powerhouse singer who moved from opera to the blues in her early 20's.  She recorded a fine disc for Rooster Blues in 1984 (Million Dollar $ecret).  Wellington also worked as an actress, playing blues singers Mamie Smith and Ma Rainey in various stage productions.  In fact, many TV watchers might have seen Wellington on a WGN commercial promoting the Windy City in the mid/late 80's.  She also played Big Maybelle in the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic, Great Balls of Fire, in 1989, performing "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."

Valerie Wellington
For this release, Wellington performed the old Ray Charles song from his Atlantic days, "A Fool For You."  This was really a good song for Wellington to wrap her robust vocals around.  She really knocks it out of the park, bringing to mind those great female blues singers back in the 30's and 40's with her roaring performance.  Wellington continued to perform in the states and abroad, but sadly, she died suddenly at age 33 after suffering a cerebral aneurysm, her powerful voice stilled much too early.

Dion Payton
Singer/guitarist Dion Payton was born in Greenville, MS in 1950, but got his start recording with a few gospel groups on Chess Records and later touring with Albert King, Millie Jackson, and O.V. Wright.  When he backed Lonnie Brooks on Brooks' Alligator album, Hot Shot, the label noticed him and lined him up for this album.  He recorded this track, "All Your Affection Is Gone," with his band, the 43rd Street Blues Band, which included Joanna Connor on guitar.

To date, that's the only recording currently available that Payton has done as a solo artist.  He's battled some personal problems over the years and was supposed to record for Pointblank Records in the 90's, but that didn't work out, which is a shame because he's a great guitarist and singer.  "All Your Affection Is Gone" was covered by Michael Burks on his I Smell Smoke CD and by Carl Weathersby on Weathersby's debut release, Don't Lay Your Blues On Me.  Payton still performs occasionally at Kingston Mines in Chicago, but is one of those blues artists who deserves to be heard more than he is.  Hopefully, he can get it together enough to make another run.  It would be a nice story if it were to happen.

The Sons of Blues/Chi-Town Hustlers
The Sons of Blues & Chi-Town Hustlers were both well-established Chicago bands in the early 80's when Hustlers founder J.W. Williams and S.O.B.'s harp man Billy Branch decided to join forces and renamed themselves The Sons of Blues/Chi-Town Hustlers.  The consolidated band released an album in 1984 called Romancing the Blues Stone on Red Beans Records and then appeared on The New Bluebloods, with the smoldering track, "The Only Thing That Saved Me."

The group included Williams, who sang and played bass, Branch on harmonica, Carl Weathersby on guitar, and Moses Rutues, Jr. on drums.  All are still active on the Chicago scene today, still performing in various incarnations of each band from time to time.

Gloria Hardiman & Prof. Eddie Lusk
Last up this week is a track from the Professor's Blues Review Featuring Gloria Hardiman, which featured "Professor" Eddie Lusk, whose churchy keyboards were the band's signature sound, and former gospel belter Hardiman, who had previously performed with Andrae Crouch and James Cleveland.  Lusk was an in-demand session player who appeared on recordings by Jimmy Johnson, Phil Guy, Koko Taylor, Syl Johnson, and Sunnyland Slim, and was also a big part of the Chicago gospel scene.  Their selection was Jeannie Cheatham's "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On."

The group was pretty popular, touring throughout the states pretty regularly.  Lusk eventually recorded a complete album for Delmark in 1989 (one of the label's first "new" recordings), with Karen Carroll replacing Hardiman.  Unfortunately, Lusk was diagnosed with colon cancer, brought on by AIDS, and committed suicide by jumping into the Chicago River in August of 1992.  Hardiman left Chicago, moving to Iowa, but is still active.

More on The New Bluebloods next week, when we look at the performers on Side Two.

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