Friday, June 24, 2016

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #18

Once again, it's time for one of FBF's oldest and favorite topics, dating back to the pre-blog days when I used to email a few blues songs to my friends every Friday morning.  This week, we will look at four artists, one that hails back to days of yore (Something Old), a relative newcomer to the genre or a new release (Something New), a blues artist taking a song from another genre, or vice versa (Something Borrowed), and finally, an artist who, to me is the essence and epitome of the Blues (Something Blue).  Let's get started, shall we......

For Something Old, let's venture to Bentonia, MS, home of the Bentonia Blues Festival, which was held last week.  The entire week featured music in the area, culminating in the daylong festival held at Jimmy "Duck" Holmes' farm just north of town.  Your humble correspondent was planning to go this year, but didn't make it because the afternoon temps peaked at roughly 1000 degrees and it just wasn't in the cards.  Fortunately, our occasional FBF contributor Joe did attend with his sons and verified the high temperatures as well as a great day of music.  

In honor of the Bentonia Blues Festival, let's listen to two of Bentonia's finest musicians, guitarist Jack Owens, a contemporary of the legendary Skip James, and harmonica player Bud Spires, who passed away in early 2014.  Owens played in the same idiosyncratic style of other Bentonia guitarist, but also experimented with other styles.  His vocal style was different from James' ,too, a bit rougher around the edges, but just as effective.  Here's Owens and Spires with an interesting take on the Delta standard, "Catfish Blues."

For Something New, check out Bing Futch, who became the first mountain dulcimer player to advance to the semi-finals of the IBC, doing so in 2014.  He went one better this year, making it to the finals and winning the Best Guitarist award.  Futch has been playing professionally since the mid 80's, getting his start as co-founder of a Christian techno-punk trio before moving to composing and producing soundtracks for movies and theatre.  He also teaches music, along with conducting Delta blues workshops, and has written a book on playing the blues on dulcimer. 

Though he's recorded frequently, Futch's Unresolved Blues is his first all-blues album and he played all the instruments on it......mountain dulcimer, a resonator dulcimer, and software called "Band-in-a-Box  RealTracks."  The dulcimer proves to be a very versatile instrument in Futch's hands as he moves effortlessly from Piedmont-styled playing to Delta-esque slide guitar, and even some gritty blues-rock.  He has a smooth vocal style, too.

One of the tracks on Unresolved Blues is called "Harperville," and one of the verses mentions Harperville in Scott County on Highway 35, which is interesting because about twenty miles from where I live in Far East Mississippi is a county called Scott, with a small community called Harperville, which is located on.....wait for it......Highway 35!

I had to find out how this song came to be, so I messaged Futch on Facebook.  He replied and told me that his great-grandfather lived in Harperville many years ago and he drove there to find out more about him.  There's actually a Futch Road about a mile north of Harperville.  Anyway, I thought that was a cool local connection to the blues, so here's Bing Futch with "Harperville," off his recent release, Unresolved Blues.

The Allman Brothers Band (L to R):  Gregg Allman, Duane Allman, Jaimoe, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley

For Something Borrowed, let's go back to the early 1970's......not as far back as we usually go, but bear with me for a few minutes.  Years ago, I picked up the Allman Brothers Band box set, Dreams, which traced the history of the band from their pre-ABB days to their solo days in the late 80's.  At the time, although I was familiar with the band itself, I wasn't that familiar with their music.  The year before, I had purchased Eric Clapton's box set, Crossroads, and had enjoyed it so much that I bought Dreams strictly on impulse.

The music I heard on those discs, especially the first two, just blew me away.  I was taken completely unawares by Duane Allman's amazing slide guitar virtuosity.  His playing sort of melded genres together......blues, rock, jazz, and soul all could be heard with his playing.  His fellow guitarist Dickey Betts was just as formidable and brought a bit of a country flair into the mix.  There was also Gregg Allman's vocals and work behind the keyboards.  Though he was a young man, he sang like a man who had lived the blues all his life.  The rock-solid rhythm section, bassist Berry Oakley and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks, were phenomenal.  

One of the standout tracks on the box set was a never-before released (other than bootleg version) recording that the band made at A&R Studios in New York on August 26, 1971 for radio broadcast.  The band had just released their essential At Fillmore East album, and were playing songs from that album to a very receptive audience.  

Duane Allman with King Curtis

The whole set was really inspired and sounded great......then Duane Allman took it all to another level.  About two weeks earlier, sax man King Curtis had been brutally murdered during an argument with drug dealers outside his Manhattan apartment.  After the band finished a sterling version of "Stormy Monday," Duane Allman took a minute to pay tribute to King Curtis and....well, you can hear it all right here.  The end result is possibly one of Allman's finest performances as he pays tribute to Curtis, one virtuoso to another.  Check it out below.  This is actually two tracks borrowed.....first is Willie Cobbs' "You Don't Love Me," which then segues into King Curtis' masterpiece, "Soul Serenade."

This track was one of the highlights of Dreams.  A few years later, a friend gave me a bootleg cassette of the whole performance at A&R, and the Allman Brothers eventually released the entire set on CD.  If you're a fan, I recommend you pick this one up.  If you're not, listen to the video above and you probably will become one.  It's a wonderful performance and it's hard to believe that Duane Allman would be dead in just over two months after this performance.

For Something Blue, you can't get much bluer than the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, which takes place this weekend, from noon on Friday (June 23rd) to midnight on Saturday (June 24th).  This festival honors Mississippi Hill Country artists like R..L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Otha Turner, showcasing many of the local bands with ties to these legendary figures.  Among the artists featured at this year's event.......Kenny Brown, the North Mississippi Allstars, Alvin Youngblood Hart's Muscle Theory, Duwayne Burnside, Gary Burnside and their respective bands, David Kimbrough and band, Robert Kimbrough, Jimbo Mathus, the Rising Star Drum and Fife Band, Bill Able, R.L. Boyce, and FBF friend Bill Steber and Libby Rae Walton.  

For more details to the weekend's events, you can visit the website.   In the meantime, enjoy the late, great Otha Turner tackling the Little Walter standard, "My Babe," with guitar accompaniment from Luther Dickinson of the NMAS, who also boasts Turner's granddaughter, Sharde Thomas, as a member.  This is the blues, my its purest and simplest form.

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