Friday, February 24, 2017

Signing Off.......For Now

Though it pains me to do so, dear readers, your humble correspondent is going to have to shut things down at Friday Blues Fix for the near future.  Due to a lot going on at work and at home, plus a huge backlog of CDs that I really need to review for Blues Bytes, something has to give, and unfortunately, the blog is what will have to give....hopefully, just for a while.

We just celebrated our seventh year of blogging...having started in February of 2010.  It's been a lot of fun to share some of my favorite blues with you over that time.  It's been great to hear from people who read the blog on a regular basis.  I hope I was able to open your eyes and ears to some brand new blues or even some that you might have missed previously.....or introduced you to some old or new blues artists who are worth hearing.

I hope that one day in the near future, I will get caught up with the things that I have to do and I can rejoin the blogging world.  In the meantime, I invite you to check out some of our previous posts (over 350) and see what you might have missed the first time around.

It's been fun, fellow blues lovers.  Hopefully, we can do it again soon.  Thank you for all of your support and encouragement over the past seven years.






Friday, February 17, 2017

Mardi Gras Mambo - Looking at a Few Prime Mardi Gras Music Collections

This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 28th, which is still a week and a half away.  However, your friends at Friday Blues Fix want to keep our faithful readers ahead of the game, so we are taking this week's edition to recommend several great sets of Fat Tuesday-related tunes to help put a hop in your step over the remaining few days.  Just scroll down and check out these four fantastic collections of tunes.  You can thank us later.





Probably the most popular collection of Mardi Gras tunes is the Mardi Gras in New Orleans album that was released on Mardi Gras Records (what else?) about 40 years ago.  This set collects a dozen of the most popular Mardi Gras singles at the time.  The owner of the label, Warren Hildebrand, had been around New Orleans music his whole life.  His father owned All South, the city's largest wholesale record distributorship, supplying the New Orleans market with R&B 45's.  All South distributed ALL of the local singles, so Hildebrand had the brilliant idea to compile some of the best Mardi Gras singles onto this album.

For a long time, Mardi Gras in New Orleans was the ONLY collection of Carnival music available.  It's still one of the best with songs from many artists that will be familiar with New Orleans music fans......Professor Longhair's standard tunes, "Go To The Mardi Gras" and parts 1 and 2 of "Big Chief" are here, Earl King's funky "Street Parade" is, too, as are several of the funky R&B workouts from the Wild Magnolias, a Mardi Gras Indian group fronted by Bo Dollis, one of the most underrated R&B singers in the city.  There's also the classic "Carnival Time," by Al Johnson, the Hawketts' "Mardi Gras Mambo," and a two-part version of Stop, Inc's "Second Line."

For years, the album sold pretty well during Mardi Gras season, mainly  because it was only distributed locally for the most part.  In the early 80's, however, as more distributors came on board, it began to sell nationally much better.  I'm actually on my second copy.....my first one was on cassette......and I can tell you that I pull it out every year about this time and play it several times.  It's that good and that much fun to listen to.






In 1991, Mardi Gras Records released the inevitable sequel to their fan favorite, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Volume II.  This set included eleven tracks, including several from the Meters ("Hey Pocky Away," "Mardi Gras Mambo," and "They All Asked For You").  Meters keyboardist Art Neville was one of the high school students who made up the Hawketts, so he was revisiting "Mardi Gras Mambo."  There were also classic tunes from the Dixie Cups ("Iko Iko") and Sugarboy Crawford ("Jockomo"), a trio of songs from the Olympia Brass Band, and several modern Mardi Gras songs ("If I Ever Cease To Love," by A.J. Loria, and "Dat's Mardi Gras," from Jake the Snake, and "Mardi Gras Medley," from the Mardi Gras Big Shots.

While it is a nice change from Volume I, with the addition of the brass band numbers and the Meters sides, and it is a good, enjoyable album of Carnival songs, it's not as strong a set as the first volume.  There's not a thing wrong with it, but you definitely need Volume I before you get Volume II.  Mardi Gras Records ended up becoming a pretty good label of local talent, with albums from Professor Longhair, Milton Batiste, the Olympia Brass Band, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Johnny Adams, and later ventured into the soul-blues market with albums from Peggy Scott Adams and Sir Charles Jones.  The label now has over 3,000 recordings of all kinds of Louisiana music.  Check out their site here for more information.






In the late 80's/early 90's, Rhino Records began releasing hit collections from many New Orleans groups.  Their wonderful 2-disc Neville Brothers history, Treacherous (later expanded to a third volume), remained the definitive Neville collection for a couple of decades, and they also released an awesome three-volume set of R&B favorites that spanned the 50's and 60's (now, sadly, out of print).

In 1992, Rhino released New Orleans Party Classics, a great 18-song set that includes a few tunes originally on Mardi Gras in New Orleans, plus songs from Dr. John, the Neville Brothers (in their own unit and with Mardi Gras Indian tribe, The Wild Tchoupitoulas), Huey "Piano" Smith, Allen Toussaint (the torrid instrumental "Whirlaway"), Frankie Ford, Fats Domino, and the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth Brass Bands.  This is a fine set to have as well, because it more or less builds on the concepts that the two Mardi Gras Records collections started.  It's really good to have the Neville Brothers play such a prominent role on this one, along with the two brass bands.  This one is fun to listen to all year long.  This one, too, inspired a sequel, which was released in 1999.






Around the same time as Rhino, Rounder Records began issuing new albums from New Orleans singers and bands.  They covered a lot of ground, embracing not only New Orleans R&B (Johnny Adams, Irma Thomas, Chuck Carbo, James Booker), but also blues (Marcia Ball, Walter "Wolfman" Washington), jazz (Alvin "Red" Tyler, Willie Tee, Tuts Washington), brass (Dirty Dozen and Rebirth Brass Bands), Mardi Gras Indians (Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles, Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias), and Cajun/Zydeco (Beausoleil, Zachary Richard, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas, Buckwheat Zydeco), along with reissues of many classics from the 60's and 70's.

In 1992, the label compiled 18 songs into a collection called Mardi Gras Party.  This set has a little something for every music fan.....R&B, blues, Cajun/Zydeco, and jazz.  This was a really great listen for me because Rounder Records actually was the launching pad for my love of all Louisiana music.  I picked up several of these collections by Rounder in the early 90's and they led me to more music from many of these artists, who I heard for the first time on these collections.






These are only four collections of great music to celebrate the Mardi Gras season......there are many more to choose from.....maybe we'll track a few of those down during a future Mardi Gras celebration.  If I were getting started as a listener, I would pick up Mardi Gras in New Orleans first and work my way down the list, but you really can't go wrong with any of these albums.  Check them out and "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!!!!! "




Friday, February 10, 2017

New Blues For You - Literary Edition

This week, your humble correspondent has been away on business, working on professional development for his real job.  Therefore, discussion and thoughts about the blues have been few and far between for a few days.

During the summer, I picked up a few books to read during my idle time, then I realized that I didn't have any idle time.....well, not much anyway.  I managed to finish a couple of interesting blues-related books that would be well worth any other blues fan's idle time.  I picked up about five or six books this summer, thanks to a couple of Amazon birthday gift cards, and picked up another one to review for Blues Bytes in an upcoming issue.  We discussed Sliding Delta a few months back and talked with its author, William Baldwin, but these next couple of books are what I read after I finished that great book.......


A few months ago, FBF contributor Joe suggested that I read Dispatches From Pluto:  Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by journalist Richard Grant.  Having lived in a cave for the past few years, I was unfamiliar with this book, but I found it in a book store during my birthday shopping this summer and picked it up.

A few years ago, Grant visited some friends from Oxford, MS and went with one of them to visit her family farm in Pluto, MS.  He fell in love with his friend's father's old home, a plantation home in a very isolated setting, and ended up buying the house and property, actually doing so before his girlfriend had ever even seen it.

Grant and his girlfriend make the move from NYC to MS, to the consternation of many of their city friend.  Pluto is in Holmes County, which is one of the poorest counties in Mississippi.  Grant takes a look at many aspects of life in Mississippi, particularly the Mississippi Delta.  He looks at poverty, crime, society, weather, hunting, race relations, and, of course, music in Mississippi, particularly the blues (note Po' Monkeys as the cover subject).

Though there is some focus on the blues in various chapters......Grant has a house party and invites a particular blues man to entertain and there is also a bit on a couple of other aging musicians.  The real focus is on Grant and his girlfriend's adjustment to living in Mississippi.  Grant is a great writer and that shows pretty regularly because he's able to tell the story so clearly and descriptively.  The characters at times seem to have sprung fully developed from a Faulkner novel, but I know people just like them and have all my life.  Their hospitality and generosity and remarkable to Grant and his girlfriend, who are used a city environment.

As a lifelong Mississippian, I found myself nodding and laughing at some of his discoveries and realizations, but some others really made me stop and think.....particularly in race relations.  I live about 25 miles or so from where the Civil Rights workers were slain in Philadelphia and I know that things have changed as far as race relations go......a lot, but I also know that, like everything, there's always room for improvement.  It's interesting to see this from the perspective of someone who is not a native.  The good thing is that he is very fair and clear in his assessment of relations.  It serves as a good read for Mississippians and for non-residents because it, hopefully, eliminates some of the stereotypes that have plagued the state for many years.  It's a very interesting book and there's is a focus on the blues and the environment from which it emerged.


I had been looking for a copy of Bobby Womack's autobiography for a couple of years and finally found one this summer.  My Story is exactly that, as written by Womack with Robert Ashton.  Womack tells his story from his early days as a kid in Ohio, one of five sons of a deeply religious mother and father, who steered them into gospel, where the were billed as the Womack Brothers.  The group, accompanied by their mother and father, who played organ and guitar, respectively, soon attracted the attention of Sam Cooke, who signed them to his SAR Records label, where they eventually evolved into the Valentinos and enjoyed some success on the pop and R&B charts, all of which came to a halt after Cooke's untimely death.  Womack recounts his early family life, his close relationship with Cooke (and nearly career-ending marriage to Cooke's widow, scant months after the singer's death).

Womack is fairly forthcoming about his life, his decisions (good and bad and really bad), but not particularly introspective about a lot of it.  There's not much soul-searching behind it.....at least not as much as you usually see in these type of books.  There's a lot of discussion about his relationships and family, plus some fascinating tales about his time performing and traveling with Cooke, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Ike Turner, and Sly Stone.  There's also stories about Womack's days working with and hanging out with the Rolling Stones, the Faces, and a surprising story about Womack's encounter with Janis Joplin (on the last day of her life).  Music fans may find the lack of detail a bit frustrating.....he skims over quite a bit of it, but the stories throughout are fascinating.....sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking.  It seems a bit rushed and thrown together at times, and would have benefited from a little more detail and editing, but as a Womack fan (though he is a member of the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, I still think he's criminally underrated as a musician, composer, and singer), I enjoyed reading it.  It's probably as close as we'll ever get to knowing him.


I just started reading this several days ago, so this is more of a preview than a review, but trust me, FBF will be revisiting this book in the near future.  Marie Trout is the wife and manager of blues guitarist Walter Trout, and while she doesn't sing or play the blues, she probably understands the blues as well as anyone.  From what I've read so far, The Blues - Why It Still Hurts So Good is a study that seeks to explain what makes a person love the blues.  From what I've read so far, which isn't very far into it, there are different things that draw different fans to the blues.  So far, it has been pretty entertaining.  I understand that this was part of Dr. Trout's fulfillment of requirements to get her PhD, but it doesn't read like a dry research paper or study.  I'm really excited about getting deeper into it, and I plan to discuss it here at a later date.










Friday, February 3, 2017

New Blues For You - Winter, 2017 Edition (Part 2)

This week, we'll look at a few more new blues releases that are sure to please our faithful readers who are hankering for new listening.  Most of these albums came out in the latter part of the year and we didn't get around to reviewing them, but if the new blues albums of 2017 are half as entertaining as 2016's, this should be an interesting year.  As always, expanded reviews of these releases can be found in current and upcoming issues of Blues BytesTHE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.




Lady A - Loved, Blessed, & Blues (self-released):  A 20-year vet of the Pacific Northwest blues scene, Lady A has toured with and opened for a pretty impressive list of blues stars.  Two of her previous albums have garnered BMA nominations and this one should do the same.  Though she's based on the opposite side of the country, Lady A is all about southern soul-blues.....so much so that she traveled to Jackson, MS to record this first-rate set, enlisting Dexter Allen and producer (and guitarist).

Lady A has a smoky, sultry vocal style and it's perfectly suited for this material.  She wrote four of the ten tracks, with Allen adding a pair of his own, and her longtime collaborator John Oliver III penning three.  Lady A focuses mostly on soul-blues, but she also mixes blues and gospel effectively on several tracks.  This disc would be a nice fit in Malaco Records' catalog with its sharp production, songwriting, musicianship, and of course, Lady A's powerhouse vocals.  Soul-blues fans will want to give it a spin for sure.




The Jimmys - Live From Transylvania (Brown Cow Productions):  The city of Sighisoara in the historic Transylvania region of Romania has hosted their own blues festival since 2005.  2015's edition included performances from the Bruce Katz Band, Joe Louis Walker, Candye Kane, and this excellent Wisconsin-based blues band, who captured their set for posterity on this fine release.  The band was inspired by the late Ms. Kane who turned in a powerful performance ahead of their set, despite being in a serious struggle battling the cancer that took her life the next year.....so much so that they dedicated this album to her.

The band was recognized as a Top Ten Festival Act in 2015, and that becomes obvious from the energy and enthusiasm on display for each song on this set, which includes several songs from their most recent studio albums, along with covers of songs associated with Albert King, Freddie King, and The Band.  The seven-piece band has a full, rich sound with three horns allowing them to move easily from swing to R&B to blues to rock.  This is a versatile and entertaining set and a good place to start checking out the Jimmys for newcomers.




Starlite Campbell Band - Blueberry Pie (Supertone Records):  It might be hard for listeners to believe, but this is a debut release for this fine British band.  Bassist/vocalist Suzy Starlite and guitarist/vocalist Simon Campbell both have extensive backgrounds in the British blues and folk scenes and decided to put their talents into a collaborative effort.  The duo combines these two genres with bits from other genres......jazz, soul, rock, and R&B.

All eleven tunes were written by the pair and they will bring to mind the blues sounds of those numerous British blues rockers who dominated the music scene in the late 60's/early 70's and who mixed influences in a like manner.  Campbell takes most of the vocals, but Starlite acquits herself pretty well when given the chance.  The stellar rhythm section (Starlite is a monster bassist) certainly do their part as well, and Campbell is a standout guitarist as well.  This is as solid and confident a debut release as I've heard in quite awhile, and I think many listeners will agree.





Jeff Chaz - This Silence Is Killing Me (JCP Records):  This is the second album released by The Bourbon Street Bluesman in 2016, and to these ears, it's the better of the two, though by a thin margin.  Both this release and Sounds Like The Blues To Me are packed wall to wall with Chaz's top notch songwriting, which features clever and unique takes on traditional blues topics, his strong and soulful vocals, and, of course, his outstanding guitar work......this one features some of the best and most inventive that I've heard from him.

A lot of Chaz's songs hit home so hard that they have to be based on personal experience.  Most people deal with the same issues on a regular basis, losing love, looking for love, finding love where you least expect it, etc......We all are obsessed with different things, whether it's a certain girl or guy, or a hobby, or a career.  Chaz touches on all of these topics in ways that will either make you smile or nod your head in agreement......or possibly both.  Combine that with his guitar work.......he's one of the best currently practicing, and you've got a winner.  Heck, I encourage you to check out BOTH of his new releases.  You can thank me later.





Raphael Wressnig & Igor Prado - The Soul Connection (ZYX Music):  For his follow-up to 2014's magnificent Soul Gumbo, on which he collaborated with some of New Orleans' finest musicians, Austrian keyboard wizard Wressnig journeyed to Brazil to work with the fine Brazilian guitarist Prado, his band, who certainly how to give us the funk, a terrific horn section led by Sax Beadle, and three legendary soul vocalist who work through a set of familiar soul and blues classics.

Wee Willie Walker handles most of the vocals, which include several tunes associated with Little Willie John, but singers David Hudson and Leon Beal also get a chance behind the mic as well.  These performances are good, but the real treat is the instrumental prowess and interplay of Wressnig and Prado.  It's almost like they've played together for years........they complement each other so well, and the backing band is superlative.  I could listen to this disc all day, and have already done so a couple of times.




Mike Zito - Make Blues Not War (Ruf Records):  For Zito's latest release, the focus is not so much on the singer/songwriter aspect of Zito's resume' (though it's still firmly in place), but more so on his stellar guitar playing.  This is a blues-rock album of the highest order and Zito hands most of the controls over to a producer who certainly knows his way around a blues-rock album, Grammy winner Tom Hambridge, who also plays drums and co-wrote most of the tunes with Zito and/or his longtime collaborator Richard Fleming.  Guitarist Walter Trout and harmonica ace Jason Ricci also stop by to lend a hand.

As might be expected, there's plenty of ferocious rocking blues on the album and Zito sounds fantastic, both on guitar and vocals.  He also mixes in some delta-styled electric blues, a couple of Texas shuffles, and plenty of tasty slide guitar, along with a couple of cover tunes from Luther Allison and Clarence Garlow.  Best of all is a track which teams Zito with his son, who more than holds his own playing guitar with his dad.  Mike Zito is one of the most compelling performers in the blues world these days, based on his tenure with Royal Southern Brotherhood and his own remarkable solo career.  You will feel the joy and exuberance that went into making this disc when you plug it in.





Sharon Lewis and Texas Fire - Grown Ass Woman (Delmark):  Five years after her well-received debut release (The Real Deal), Texas-born/Chicago-based singer Lewis returns with a set that's so good, we're willing to forgive the long span between releases.  The fiery vocalist is joined by her longtime musical partner, guitarist/songwriter Steve Bramer, a rock-solid backing band, and guests Joanna Connor, Sugar Blue, and Steve Bell.

Lewis is a fine songwriter, as is Bramer, and the focus seems to be on strong, independent women.  Lewis delivers these songs with plenty of swagger and confidence.  There's also a pair of covers from B.B. King and the Allman Brothers, that Lewis shines on, particularly the Allmans cover.  We really enjoyed Lewis' debut recording, but this one is even better and hopefully, it will get her more attention and appreciation as one of the best singers in the Windy City.







Friday, January 27, 2017

Instrumentally Speaking (Part 3)

Well, it's time once again, dear readers, for another all-instrumental day at FBF.  I've been listening to music for a long time now, and dating back to the mid to late 80's, one of my favorite things to do was make a mix tape of my favorite instrumentals collected off of my album collection, using an actual tape to do so.  I would throw in rock, R&B, jazz, and blues instrumentals and plug them into my Walkman (Google "Walkman" or ask your parents), so this is always kind of fun to do.  Here are four more instrumental tracks that are guaranteed to put a hop in your step and a smile on your face.  Happy listening

For this edition of Instrumentally Speaking, we're going to go with a "Stomp" theme.  In the first edition of Instrumentally Speaking, we included Otis Spann's "Spann's Stomp," so we will revisit that theme this time around.





First up is the tune that was the inspiration for this week's topic, Robert "Wolfman" Belfour's "Hill Stomp."  Belfour was born in Red Banks, MS, a small community in north Mississippi between Holly Springs and Olive Branch, in 1940.  He learned to play guitar from his father and learned to play the blues from local musicians like Otha Turner, R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough.  He combined the north Mississippi sounds with others like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Fred McDowell, and his idol, Howlin' Wolf.  He relocated to Memphis in the 60's and started playing on Beale Street in the early 80's, encouraged by his wife.  He was recorded by musicologist David Evans for one of his anthology collections in the 1990's, which was released on a German label, Hot Fox.  From there, Belfour signed with Fat Possum Records and released two most excellent albums of his own, What's Wrong With You in 2000 and Pushin' My Luck in 2003.  "Hill Stomp" was the first track on his second disc and it was a perfect opening track to one of the best Mississippi blues albums of the decade......seriously, if you don't have this album, you should really make an effort to get it, and play it loud one hot summer night in Mississippi while driving down a dark, dirt road at midnight.  You'll get it then, for sure.  Belfour passed away in 2015, but these two albums are a great testament to his talent.







Let's take it down south for a couple of tunes.......down Louisiana way.  Check out the King of Zydeco, Mr. Clifton Chenier, who cut "Zodico Stomp," for Specialty Records in 1955 ("Zodico" being a variation of the actual word "Zydeco"), as part of the first tunes that really brought him to the public eye.  The 12 sides he cut for Specialty producer Bumps Blackwell were later compiled into an album called Bayou Blues.  Chenier enjoyed a long and productive career, bringing his great mix of blues, Cajun, and zydeco to an ever-growing fan base, recording into the early 80's and performing regularly up until a week before his death in December, 1987.  After his death, his son C.J. Chenier began leading his band, the Red Hot Louisiana Band, and continues to do so. 









Staying in the Pelican State, here's one of my favorite blues artists, Lazy Lester.  Lester enjoyed a successful tenure as a front man and side man for Excello Records, cutting a truckload of blues standards that are still played regularly by current blues, rock, and country bands ("Sugar Coated Love," "I'm A Lover Not A Fighter," "I Hear You Knockin'" for starters).  His numerous sides for Excello included a formidable set of  instrumentals, the most famous being the rousing "Ponderosa Stomp," which actually inspired the name of the current New Orleans music festival that brings together blues, zydeco, and roots artists together every few years.  Lazy Lester himself is still active after making a bit of a comeback in the 1980's.  He's recorded fairly regularly since then and is still a force to be reckoned with at 83.





What the heck.......let's just stay in Louisiana with another native, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.  The Vinton native bristled when he was called a blues man, preferring to say that he played "American Music."  That music encompassed blues, country, jazz, Cajun, rock n' roll, and rhythm & blues.  He played guitar, fiddle, mandolin, drums, and harmonica.  Inspired on guitar by T-Bone Walker, Brown first gained attention recording for Don Robey's Peacock Records, beginning in 1949.  Although he enjoyed several hits during his ten years with the label, but probably his biggest song during that time, his most influential anyway, was the instrumental "Okie Dokie Stomp," recorded in 1954.  Over his career, Brown moved to Nashville, recorded a few country singles, a great album with Roy Clark (even appearing on Clark's show, Hee Haw, a couple of times), recorded with Professor Longhair on his Rock N' Roll Gumbo album, toured the Soviet Union, and enjoyed a long recording career with a number of labels, recording just exactly what he wanted, paying no mind to musical genres or critics.  He passed away in 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home in Slidell, Louisiana, but he made quite a mark during his 81 years on the planet.





Friday Blues Fix hopes everyone enjoyed this "Stompin'" set of instrumentals!!!




Friday, January 20, 2017

New Blues For You - Winter, 2017 Edition (Part 1)


By now, maybe most of you have paid off those pesky Christmas bills and have a few extra bills in your pocket to spend on those new blues releases that your families failed to put under the tree for you.  Here at Friday Blues Fix, we feel your pain.  Sometimes, those subtle hints you leave around the house don't always get picked up on by your loved ones, but that's perfectly fine......they mean well and you usually still end up with some pretty nifty gifts in the long run.

This week at FBF, our crack staff has assembled a nice set of recent and upcoming blues album releases that may fit the bill for you after-Christmas shoppers.  Who knows......maybe you got a couple of Amazon or iTunes gift cards that are burning a hole in your pocket.  We are here for you, so sit back and check out these new releases.  You can check out expanded reviews of these disc in current or future issues of Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.




Colin James - Blue Highways (True North Records):  Canadian guitarist/singer/songwriter James is renowned for his mad guitar skills, and deserves to be even better known than he is.  His latest release is a set of his own favorite blues songs, each of which inspired him in one way or the other.  He recorded this set less than a week after his previous tour with his working band and it took two days.  Obviously, this was a labor of love for all involved.

James covers tunes familiar tunes from Freddie King, Tommy Johnson, Amos Milburn, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Junior Wells, but he interprets them in fresh and inventive new ways.  He also tackles a few lesser-known tunes from Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green-era), Memphis Slim, Blind Willie McTell, Jimmy Reed, and Howlin' Wolf, plus a dandy take on William Bell's "Don't Miss Your Water."  There's a lot of love in this set and James does a fine job with these classics.....good enough that you'll be checking out his catalog as well as the artists he covers.






Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch - Champagne Velvet (Underworld Records):  I really dug this Texas trio's previous release, Tell You What, but this one is even better.  There's more of a soul and blues focus on their third release, where their previous two focused more on the rock side of the blues.  There's still plenty of rocking edge to their sound, but they really mix it up this time around.

The fourteen original songs go from rousing jump blues to Texas-styled shuffles to countrified soul to West Coast R&B to funk to Mississippi Delta acoustic to jazz.  If that sounds like too many directions, don't worry about it.  It all works fine.  There's never a dull moment on this disc.  Elmore is a masterful guitarist and a strong and versatile vocalist on these tunes.  The band really steps out on these tunes......they still rock, but there's a lot more to enjoy than on previous releases.  This album will be satisfying to longtime fans and newcomers alike.





Eric Clapton - I Still Do (Surfdog Records):  Okay, this one's been available for quite a while, but it showed up in my Christmas stocking this year, and that's perfectly fine with me.  Clapton has long been a favorite of mine, but his last few releases slipped past me for one reason or another.  When the story came out a few months ago about his recent struggles with a nerve disorder that sometimes affects his playing, I was glad to get a copy of this one.  In recent years, Clapton has eschewed the major label routine and has been recording for the independent label Surfdog Records, where he's pretty much been able to record just what he wants when he wants.

Enlisting the Hall of Fame producer Glyn Johns (producer of his 70's smash, Slowhand), Clapton gives us a few blues covers from Skip James, Leroy Carr, and Robert Johnson, a couple of J.J. Cale songs, a Dylan song, and a couple of pop standards, along with a pair of memorable originals that measure up very well.  Despite the story about his difficulties playing, he shows no ill effects on these tunes, ably assisted by longtime comrades Andy Fairweather Low, Simon Climie, Henry Spinneti, Chris Stainton, and L'Angelo Mysterioso, who plays guitar and duets with Clapton on one tune.  That name was a pseudonym for George Harrison many years ago, when he appeared on the Cream tune, "Badge," but Clapton remains mum on who this Mysterioso might be. Clapton's latest is a good one, not a world beater by any means, but a good, steady, dependable album that you'll play over and over again.





Mississippi Heat - Cab Driving Man (Delmark Records):  25 years in now, Mississippi Heat remains one of the mainstays of the Chicago Blues scene.  Despite multiple changes in the line-up over the years, they are not only a Windy City favorite, but also reach across the country and abroad as well.  Band leader/harmonica ace Pierre Lacocque (longtime FBF readers recall our Ten Questions with him) continues to be a force on the harp, with Inetta Visor (vocals) and Michael Dotson (guitar/vocals) also featured prominently.

The disc is also loaded with guest stars/former alum like guitarist Giles Corey, drummer Kenny Smith, keyboardist Sumito Ariyo, and guitarist Dave Specter.  Visor takes the lion's share of the vocals, moving easily from bluesy R&B to jazz, funk, Latin, and traditional blues.  Dotson takes the mic for three tunes, his own compositions, and his gruff and gritty style is a perfect complement to Visor's smooth, urban style.  If you want to hear blues played at its best, you can't go wrong with Mississippi Heat, who's been doing it well for a quarter century now.






Rev. Billy C. Wirtz (featuring The Nighthawks) - Full Circle (EllerSoul Records):  I had only heard a few random tracks of Wirtz's repertoire prior to receiving this disc for review.  For the uninitiated, Wirtz is evenly split between serious blues man and manic rock n' roller in the Jerry Lee Lewis tradition.  He's quite the songwriter, too.  A couple of his crowd favorites are "Mama Was A Deadhead" and "Mennonite Surf Party."

Those two tracks appear on Wirtz's new disc, which is split between live acoustic tracks and a few studio tracks.  He's joined by several special guests.....The Nighthawks, guitarist Bobby Driver, and harmonica player Li'l Ronnie Owens.  Wirtz introduces a few new tracks, most of which are pretty memorable, and he plays it straight on a few cover tunes from Bill Black, Charlie Rich, Floyd Cramer, among others.  This is a really entertaining set.....a great introduction for new listeners and a welcome return to the record racks for his fans.





Deb Ryder - Grit Grease & Tears (BEJEB Music):  If there's any justice in this mean old world, this disc will put Ms. Ryder front and center in the blues world.  Both of her previous releases were standouts and this one puts those two in its rear view mirror.  Ryder is a powerful singer.....this much we know from her previous efforts, but this set puts her near the top as far as blues vocalists go.  She tears through these songs with a vengeance.

Joined by an all-star cast of musicians, including drummer Tony Braunagel, guitarists Johnny Lee Schell and Kirk Fletcher, keyboardist Mike Finnigan, and guests Albert Lee, Sugaray Rayford, and Bob Corritore, Ryder does a wonderful job on these tunes, which spans southern rockers, gospel, soul, and traditional and urban blues.  This is just a superlative effort from start to finish and hopefully Ryder will see some much-deserved success from it.





Donald Ray Johnson - Bluesin' Around (self-released):  Johnson has been around music all his life, working as a drummer for years behind dozens of blues and R&B stars.  If you were a part of the disco era, you might remember one of Johnson's former bands, A Taste of Honey, who had several hits in the late 70's, including the monster hit, "Boogie Oogie Oogie."  Johnson relocated to Canada a few years back and began focusing on a career as a blues vocalist, where he's enjoyed some success, at least enough to release a Best Of collection a couple of years ago.

Recently, Johnson released his latest album, which consists of mostly blues and R&B cover tunes from the likes of B.B. King, Willie Dixon, Phillip Walker, Lucky Peterson, Nat Dove, and Joe Louis Walker's title track, which Johnson pretty much transforms into an autobiographical track.  He also covers one A Taste of Honey tune from their debut, which works well in this setting.  He's backed by the Gas Blues Band, a two-lead-guitar unit that do an excellent job in support of Johnson's strong vocals.  Anyone who likes urban blues and old school R&B will be glad to have this set in their collection.





The Joey Gilmore Band - Respect The Blues (Mosher St. Records):  Florida-based guitarist Gilmore has been active for a half century, playing with many blues legends (Little Milton, Etta James, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Little Johnny Taylor).  He's also enjoyed a long solo career, recording the occasional album.  This is only his eighth release, and features his version of eleven songs originally performed by his musical mentors and influences.

The set list consists of mostly familiar blues and R&B tunes from a wide variety of artists......New Orleans legend Johnny Adams, Little Milton, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Albert King, William Bell, Sunnyland Slim, Ray Charles, Don Covay, and Johnny Rawls.  Gilmore's guitar work and vocal style will bring to mind Little Milton at times, and he welcomes singers Edilene Hart and Domino Johnson on a few tracks.  His band is really solid on these tunes, too.  Joey Gilmore has been a well-kept secret for many years, but with any luck, this release should expand his audience well beyond the Sunshine State.





The Kentucky Headhunters - On Safari (Plowboy/Practice House Records):  Heading into their 28th year, dating back to their monster debut 1989 release, The Kentucky Headhunters are still a force to be reckoned with.  Though they first garnered attention on the Country charts, they have gradually made it over to the Roots and Blues columns over the years, including having released a couple of albums with the late piano master Johnnie Johnson on Alligator Records.

Their latest release is a bittersweet one because just prior to their beginning recording, brothers Richard and Fred Young lost their 93-year-old father.  Since most of the band members are related and basically grew up together, the loss hit hard and the band poured everything they had into these songs.  This is one of their strongest sets of tunes in a while and they also cover Alice Cooper and Charlie Daniels.  How's that for diversity?!!  Though you may have lost track of these guys over the years, they are still making some mighty music and anyone who digs blues, rock, or country will find something to love here.





Led Zeppelin - The Complete BBC Sessions (Atlantic Records):  I was a late arrival to Led Zeppelin.  I was a little young when they were in their heyday in the early/mid 70's, and by the time I started listening to music seriously, their recordings were a bit more sporadic, though I did enjoy what I was able to hear.  I never really took them that seriously until a couple of years ago, when I picked up a used copy of Mothership, a double-disc collection of some of their finest tunes, and was amazed at how many of their songs I knew and also at how much the blues played a role in their musical vision. I turned my daughters on to this music while I was listening, so they gave me this three-disc set for Christmas.

A few years ago, Atlantic released a two-disc set of the band's recordings for the BBC from the late 60's/early 70's......back in those days, the BBC recorded many of the era's greatest rock bands live in a studio or theatre setting. There have been numerous sessions released over the years, including sessions from Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and the Yardbirds to just name a few.  The song lists, from sessions recorded between 1969 and 1971, includes a large number of blues standards from associated with Muddy Waters, Sleepy John Estes, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Otis Rush, and a healthy dose of the band's own original tunes.  The third disc on this release includes songs that were accidentally erased, but were preserved on bootleg copies.  If you're familiar with the band, you'll want these recordings since there are only a few live Led Zeppelin albums available, but it's good listening for newcomers to the band, too, and will encourage them to pick up more of their work, and probably a few of the artists' work that the band covers as well.




More new blues coming up in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.



Friday, January 13, 2017

2016 Tributes


As most music fans are well aware, 2016 saw the deaths of numerous musicians in numerous genres.  Artists like David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner, Earth, Wind & Fire founder (and former Chess Records drummer) Maurice White, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, Prince, Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley, Parliament/Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, Bobby Vee, Leonard Cohen, and George Michael all died in 2016, a stunning number of major and influential musicians.

2016 also saw a large number of blues artists breathe their last, some major stars among them, and some you may not have known.  This week Friday Blues Fix pays tribute to a few......









Long John Hunter (7/13/1931 - 1/4/2016) - Texas blues singer/guitarist



















Otis Clay (2/11/1942 - 1/8/2016) - Soul/blues legend

















Jerry Beach (12/11/1941 - 1/10/2016) - Shreveport guitarist and songwriter ("I'll Play the Blues For You")










L.C. Ulmer (8/28/1928 - 2/14/2016) - Central Mississippi singer/guitarist















Elmo Williams (2/6/1933 - 2/16/2016) - Natchez, MS-based singer/guitarist















Clarence Lewis, Jr. (8/20/1934 - 2/26/2016) - Alabama-based singer/songwriter (co-wrote "Ya Ya," "Fannie Mae," "The Sky Is Crying"), also known as C.L. Blast


















Aron Burton (6/15/1938 - 2/29/2016) - Chicago bass player/bandleader



















David Egan (3/20/1954 - 3/18/2016) - Louisiana-based singer/songwriter/keyboardist ("First You Cry," "Even Now," "Wake Up Call")



















Boo Hanks (4/30/1928 - 4/15/2016) - North Carolina blues man











Lonnie Mack (7/18/1941 - 4/21/2016) - legendary guitarist/singer











Harrison Calloway (11/6/1940 - 4/30/2016) - founding member of Muscle Shoals Horns/arranger for Malaco Records













Charlie Fite (1930 - 5/3/2016) - Nashville-based R&B singer (Frank Howard & the Commanders)



















Candye Kane (11/13/1961 - 5/6/2016) - Blues singer/entertainer



















Chips Moman (6/14/1937 - 6/13/2016) - legendary Memphis producer/songwriter (co-wrote "Dark End of the Street," "Do Right Woman-Do Right Man")












Bill Ham (2/4/1937 - 6/20/2016) - Music impressario, manager/producer for ZZ Top














Wayne Jackson (11/24/1941 - 6/21/2016) - Memphis trumpet player (Memphis Horns, Mar-Keys, Robert Cray)



















Sir Mack Rice (11/10/1933 - 6/27/2016) - singer/songwriter ("Cheaper To Keep Her," "Respect Yourself," "Mustang Sally")










Scotty Moore (12/27/1931 - 6/28/2016) - influential guitarist (Elvis Presley)



















L.T. McGee (7/7/1945 - 6/29/2016) - Chicago singer (the Homewreckers)



















Jesse Yawn (9/4/1937 - 7/5/2016) - blues/R&B singer




















Leo Graham (12/5/1941 - 8/5/2016) - Chicago-based producer/songwriter ("Turning Point" and "So Good (To Be Home With You)" for Tyrone Davis, "Shining Star" for the Manhattans)

















Ruby Wilson (2/29/1948 - 8/12/2016) - Memphis singer, "The Queen of Beale Street"


















Preston Hubbard (3/15/1953 - 8/17/2016) - bass player (Roomful of Blues, Fabulous Thunderbirds)



















Clifford Curry (11/3/1936 - 9/7/2016) - Nashville blues/R&B singer ("She Shot a Hole in My Soul")


















Buckwheat Zydeco (11/14/1947 - 9/24/2016) - Zydeco legend

















Leon Russell (4/2/1942 - 11/13/2016) - singer/songwriter/keyboardist/producer (Freddie King's Shelter Recordings)


















Bob Walsh (1948 - 11/15/2016) - Quebec-based singer/guitarist/songwriter




















Mose Allison (11/11/1927 - 11/15/2016) - blues/jazz singer/pianist/songwriter



















Sharon Jones (5/4/1956 - 11/18/2016) - NY-based funk/soul singer (Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings)












Barrelhouse Chuck (7/10/1958 - 12/12/2016) - Chicago singer/keyboardist/songwriter














Sven Zetterberg (1952 - 12/18/2016) - One of Sweden's most celebrated blues artists