Friday, December 29, 2017

FBF's Top Twenty Blues Albums for 2017

This was a somewhat chaotic year for the folks here at FBF, but despite a six-month sabbatical from blogging, we still managed to listen to a lot of new releases this year......over 150.  Due to the quality of nearly every new release, it's very difficult to actually trim our list down to 20 each year, and this year was no exception.  

To find out what FBF's Top 10 Blues Albums of 2017 are, we invite you to check out the upcoming January issue of Blues Bytes in a few weeks, when all of the site's reviewers (including yours truly) submit their Top 10 for the year.  

So without further ado, Here are Friday Blues Fix's Top 20 for Blues Albums for 2017 (in no particular order):


Gregg AllmanSouthern Blood (Rounder):  How many musicians get the opportunity to make their own closing statement on their career?..…..very few, for sure.  Allman made the most of his chance and has set the bar pretty high for future efforts.  This is a beautiful set of mostly cover tunes that Allman makes his own.  It will make you cry and smile, sometimes simultaneously, but it’s a perfect summation of his life.







Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul OrchestraAfter A While (Blue Dot):  One of the nicer comeback stories in recent years, Walker finds the perfect complement to his timeless voice in Paule’s band.  A masterful mix of original songs and well-chosen cover tunes that soul music fans will love over and over again.








The Milligan Vaughan ProjectMVP (Mark One Records)):  Two of Austin’s finest musicians, singer Malford Milligan (of Storyville fame) and guitarist Tyrone Vaughan (of Royal Southern Brotherhood), team up for a collaboration that should have happened years ago.  Milligan’s force-of-nature vocals are a perfect match for Vaughan’s formidable guitar skills.  Here’s hoping that this is the start of a long and fruitful relationship.







John NémethFeelin’ Freaky (Memphis Grease Records):  Németh’s  still in a Memphis state of mind with his latest, but he updates the groove a bit with flashes of pop, rock, funk, and soul as well.  It doesn’t hurt one bit that he’s also one of the best singers and songwriters currently practicing on the blues circuit either.  This one will be on a lot of Top Ten lists for the year……definitely mine as well.







Altered Five Blues BandCharmed & Dangerous (Blind Pig Records):  One of the finest up-and-coming blues bands on the scene, Jeff Taylor’s robust vocals and Jeff Schroedl’s guitar work and songs (with the superb rhythm section providing rock solid backing) guarantee this group will be making waves for years to come.  This is their best effort yet.








Big Bill MorganfieldBloodstains On The Wall (Black Shuck Records):  Morganfield’s most forward-looking release to date finds the singer/guitarist exploring traditional Chicago blues, but also casting an eye toward the future of the genre by successfully mixing some modern influences with the traditional.  I've enjoyed all of Morganfield's releases, but this my favorite so far.  His Papa would be proud.







Mr. SippKnock A Hole In It (Malaco):  The talented Mississippi Blues Child raises the bar significantly on his third release, which should find a home in the collections of not just soul/blues fans, but also contemporary blues, urban blues, blues-rock, and lots of other hyphenated blues fans.  Any disc that has flashes of Tyrone Davis, Howlin’ Wolf, and Jimi Hendrix should satisfy a lot of folks and this one does.  File under “Brave New Blues.”







Lazy EyePocket The Black (self-released):  This Australian trio really grabbed me with their brand of blues, which they describe as “Booker T. sharing a scotch with B.B. King at the crossroads at midnight.”  It’s a fantastic mix of urban blues, after hours jazz, and smooth silky soul.  This trio makes beautiful music together.









Robert CrayRobert Cray & Hi Rhythm (Jay-Vee Records):  Cray’s previous ventures into Memphis soul territory have always provided satisfactory results, but this time around, he teams with producer/drummer Steve Jordan, the surviving Hodges brothers, and the Royal Horns and Strings at Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios.  The collaboration seems to have put a definite hop in Young Bob’s step and he rips through a fine set of mostly vintage covers with flair and passion.




Monster Mike Welch and Mike LedbetterRight Place, Right Time (Delta Groove Music):   Veteran guitarist Welch and singer Ledbetter participated in the Otis Rush tribute at the 2016 Chicago Blues Fest, which led to this appropriately-titled album.  Guitarist Laura Chavez guests on four tracks, which is never a bad thing and the usual gang of Delta Groove contributors stop by for this entertaining set from Welch and Ledbetter, who deserve wider recognition in the first place.





Chris AntonikMonarch (self-released):  Speaking of deserving wider recognition........Canadian singer/guitarist Antonik overcame a couple of years of adversity and upheaval to produce his finest album yet.  Antonik shares what he’s experienced, what he’s learned from it, and what he hopes to gain from it moving forward.   He’s at his best as a composer and performer and proves that he’s one of the rising stars on the blues scene today with Monarch.







John Primer and Bob CorritoreAin’t Nothing You Can Do! (Delta Groove):  I’ll tell you, any time Bob Corritore teams up with another blues artists, the results are magical.  Few artists are as deeply immersed in the great traditional Chicago blues as the harmonica player and this second teaming with Primer is no exception to the rule.  Joined by the late Barrelhouse Chuck, Henry Gray, and others, the duo works through a set of familiar Windy City classics, even taking time to pay tribute to Primer’s former boss, Magic Slim.




Benny TurnerMy Brother’s Blues (Nola Blues Records):  Turner pays tribute to his late brother Freddie King with this wonderful set of tunes associated with the great guitarist.  Turner has enjoyed a career resurgence lately and this outstanding release (featuring appearances from Otis Clay, Marva Wright, Carolyn Wonderland, and others), along with his new autobiography (Survivor:  The Benny Turner Story) cap off a successful 2017.







Various ArtistsHowlin’ At Greaseland (West Tone Records):  The best Howlin’ Wolf tribute album ever.......this fabulous set brings together a number of artists influenced by the great performer (Alabama Mike, John Blues Boyd, Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, Rick Estrin, and Kid Andersen, whose Greaseland Studios served as Ground Zero for the project) as well as a couple who actually played with him (Henry Gray, Tail Dragger).  This is an excellent set of well-performed classics that was worth waiting for.






James ArmstrongBlues Been Good To Me (Catfood Records):  After a decade-long hiatus from the studio, Armstrong has settled in nicely with Catfood Records, releasing three of his best albums over the past few years.  His latest features some of his best songwriting and his unique interpretation of a couple of classics from other genres.  








Corey Dennison BandNight After Night (Delmark Records):  I left Dennison’s debut off my Top 20 last year, a grave error I do not intend to repeat this year.  Fact is, his sophomore effort is even better than his debut to these ears.  Dennison’s band combines the best aspects of Chicago blues and Memphis soul as well as any band I’ve heard in a long time, and he’s one of the best singers in either genre, plus a few others to boot.  Blues fans need this disc……you can thank me later.






Johnny RawlsWaiting For The Train (Catfood Records):  The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  Water is wet.  Ice is cold.  Johnny Rawls’ latest release is outstanding.  Some things never change.  Nobody does the blues with soul like Johnny Rawls does.  He’s been doing so long and so well that it’s just not in his DNA to do anything else.  May he continue to do so for many years down the road, but this set will be hard to top, even by Johnny Rawls.  Can’t wait until he does, though.






Kim WilsonBlues & Boogie, Vol. 1 (Severn Records):  The T-Birds front man plays some of his favorite tunes in this superlative set.  Backed by a powerhouse cast of blues all-stars, Wilson’s vocal chops are on full display as well as his harmonica playing.  Best thing about this disc is that it’s only Volume 1, which means blues fans have more to look forward to.








King James & The Special MenAct Like You Know (self-released):  Okay, if you have a remote interest in New Orleans R&B, then GO OUT AND GET THIS DISC!  These guys come about as close to capturing the rollicking good-time feel of the Crescent City beat as any band I’ve heard in a long time.  Words can’t fully describe the allure of this great music, but the last song on this disc sum it up as well as anything that can be said.






The Andy T Band featuring Alabama MikeDouble Strike (American Showplace Music):  Having lost his former singer, Nick Nixon, to health issues, guitarist Andy Talamantez recruited the charismatic vocalist Alabama Mike to fill Nixon’s shoes and the results were as great as might be expected. Even better, Nixon was able to perform on several tracks of his own……a great coming-out party for Alabama Mike and a great send-off for Nick Nixon.








Friday, December 8, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Eighteen

This week's selection brings Volume One of FBF's Blues Fix Mix CD to a conclusion.  I hope you've enjoyed listening as much as I enjoyed compiling this several years ago.  At this point, I've completed four volumes of the Blues Fix Mix CD series, which I usually put together for friends who are just becoming acquainted with the blues.  While it can by no means be seen (or heard) as a definitive set of blues, it is definitely a set of blues that I've enjoyed listening to over my thirty years of being a blues fan.  We'll be looking at Volume Two in the near future.

For my final selection of Volume One, I opted to conclude with an instrumental....one of my favorites.  If I had a theme song, this song would be on the short list.  It's the perfect song for driving down a hot, dusty Mississippi highway (and actually was featured a lot during the M for Mississippi documentary).  It's just a fun song overall and is an excellent example of modern Mississippi Delta blues from T-Model Ford and Terry "Harmonica" Bean........."Red's Houseparty."

"Red's Houseparty" was part of Ford's Jack Daniel Time release from 2008.  The album was a live session recorded at Red's Lounge in Clarksdale, MS, which happened to be Ford's favorite juke joint.  It was a mix of band tracks, which featured Ford with Bean on harmonica (of course) and drummers Lee Williams and Sam Carr, and several acoustic solo tracks by Ford (a rarity).  There's nothing at all fancy on this set, just the blues played well by a man who came to recording late in life, but made the most of it while he was here.




Your Complete Blues Fix Mix CD (Volume One)......

Track 1:  "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Track 2:  "Son of Juke," Billy Branch
Track 3:  "Feel Like Blowing My Horn," Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Track 4:  "Big Boy Now," Big Jack Johnson
Track 5:  "Blues Man," B.B. King
Track 6"  "Four Cars Running," Larry Garner
Track 7:  "Cadillac Blues," Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Track 8:  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues," Skip James
Track 9:  "Double Trouble" (Live), Otis Rush
Track 10:  "She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride," Taj Mahal
Track 11:  "Give Me Back My Wig," Luther Allison
Track 12:  "Garbage Man," Bernard Allison
Track 13:  "Walking By Myself," Jimmy Rogers
Track 14:  "Fast Train," Bobby Parker


Track 15:  "Beefsteak Blues," James "Son" Thomas
Track 16:  "Honky Tonk Blues," Roy Gaines
Track 17:  "Caldonia," Pinetop Perkins
Track 18:  "Red's Houseparty," T-Model Ford (with Terry "Harmonica" Bean)

Volume Two coming soon, but Friday Blues Fix will be back in a couple of weeks with our Top Twenty Albums for 2017.  


Friday, December 1, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Seventeen

We're just about to wrap up our Blues Fix Mix CD.......this week's and next week's will conclude Volume One.  We've tried to provide a pretty wide base of blues styles for listeners, but we haven't had much blues piano to speak of, so far......I did put more in my later volumes, but for Volume One, we only have one track and Track Seventeen is it.

Although I've never posted much about blues piano, I have several favorites artists and several favorite tunes.  The one I decided to put on here is not from my favorite blues piano player, but it is one of my favorite blues performances.  It is such an exuberant performance that it just had to be included.  It's from the first volume of the Antone's Tenth Anniversary Anthology (the same album that featured Otis Rush's "Double Trouble," Track Nine) and it's from Pinetop Perkins and friends playing the old favorite, "Caldonia."

Perkins started out as a guitarist, but was involved in a fight with a chorus girl, who injured his left arm with a knife.  He moved to piano and in his early years backed Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson on their respective radio shows, and later backed a young Earl Hooker.  He appeared on hundreds of recordings and replaced Otis Spann in Muddy Waters' band in the late 60's, serving with Waters for ten years.

As busy as he was over most of his career, he didn't record his own album until the late 80's.  He was fairly prolific from that point, however, and remained active until he passed away in March of 2011 at age 97  There's a nice DVD that covers his career called Born In The Honey that is worth finding (there's also a live CD included in the package).

For this rousing cover of "Caldonia," Perkins is joined by guitarists Luther Tucker and Jimmie Vaughan and harmonica master James Cotton.  It's such an easy, freewheeling performance that you can't help but smile while you listen.  Enjoy!







Friday, November 24, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Sixteen

This week's selection is a bit different from the others.  When I started putting this together several years ago, I decided that I wanted to include a few songs that were maybe a little bit off the beaten path as far as blues goes, but they had to be tunes that I enjoyed listening to regularly.  During the first incarnation of the blues fix mix tape, I was really listening to Texas/West Coast blues.  Most of the guitarist who made up the West Coast blues sound came from Texas......T-Bone Walker, of course, along with Pee Wee Crayton, Lowell Fulson, and many others.

Guitarist Roy Gaines was also in that group, though maybe a generation behind.  Gaines was born in Texas in 1933 and actually backed Walker as a teenager in the Houston area.  He later moved to Los Angeles, and also served as a session guitarist for acts like Bobby "Blue" Bland, Junior Parker, Big Mama Thornton, and Chuck Willis.  He also worked in the bands of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Everly Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight, and was in demand as a session guitarist.

Gaines worked closely with T-Bone Walker over the years, he was even billed as "T-Bone Jr." and occasionally teamed up with the legendary guitarist in the years before he passed away.  One can hear a lot of T-Bone Walker in Gaines' guitar playing, which can also be said of many other guitarists, but Gaines took what he learned from the older guitarist and built upon it.  Over the years, he has recorded solo albums and is a fine vocalist in addtion to his guitar skills.

One of my favorite releases of Gaines' is his tribute to T-Bone Walker, 1999's I Got The T-Bone Walker Blues on Groove Note Records.  The album consists of eleven songs, nine T-Bone Walker songs (two versions of "Stormy Monday"), plus one track that's a bit of an variation.....Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues."

People who might scratch their heads at the inclusion of this tune on a T-Bone Walker tribute album don't really know about the contributions Hank Williams made to not just the country music genre, but multiple other genres, including country, blues, rock, rockabilly, folk, and gospel music.  He was one of the most influential singers, songwriters, and performers in modern American music.  Most of the great Texas-born guitarist were exposed to a variety of musical styles while growing up in the Lone Star State, but blues and country were probably the most prevalent, and Hank Williams was probably one of the most heard by a lot of blues men during the 40's and 50's.

Gaines does a magnificent job with this classic country tune, one of his personal favorites that he'd always wanted to record.  His guitar work is fine and his vocals are equally effective, but what really raises this song above the norm is the presence of Alejandro Velasco on pedal steel and the fiddles.    Gaines' "Honky Tonk Blues" mixes blues, country, and swing to excellent effect.  Just check it out below......


For good measure, here's Williams' original version.....





Friday, November 17, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Fifteen

One of the first Mississippi blues musicians I was familiar with was James "Son" Thomas.  I'm not sure exactly how I knew about him, but I remember seeing his name in the Jackson, MS newspaper, The Clarion-Ledger, maybe in one of the occasional articles they featured on blues in the early/mid 80's.  It seems like there was a mini-documentary about Thomas on Mississippi's public television station, but from what I remember, it talked a lot more about his artwork, which was mostly sculptures he made from the clay he dug from the banks of the Yazoo River.  His artwork was mostly skulls (often with real teeth), some of which can be seen in various blues museums in the Delta.  I do know that I was more familiar with that aspect of his life than I was with his musical talents at that time.

Around 1990 or 1991, my future wife and I went to the Delta Blues Festival in Greenville, MS.  One of the things I remember, other than the fact that there were tents set up by fans all in front of the stage that made it difficult to see the performers (a tradition I wasn't aware of at the time), was Thomas's appearance on the main stage.  Though I couldn't really see anything other than the top of his hat, I was able to hear him, along with harmonica player Walter Liniger, who accompanied Thomas often during the latter part of his career.  Though it was just the two of them on that big stage, Thomas commanded a lot of attention and the audience was mostly silent during his performance.

That was the only time I got to see him....Thomas died in the summer of 1993 after suffering a stroke.  For a long time, it was hard to find any of his music......I was into cassettes at that time and it was getting harder for find new releases on cassette, especially blues.  Finally, in 1998, Evidence Records released a collection of some of Thomas's 80's recordings.  Beefsteak Blues was a mix of live and studio recordings with Thomas doing a few of his own songs and several blues classics from others.  It served as a great introduction to his music and I still listen to it regularly.

The title track, "Beefsteak Blues," really grabbed me when I first heard it.  When I heard it, I was driving around in the northern part of my work district across a long, lonely piece of flat land that really favored the Mississippi Delta.  The sun was setting and it was a relatively clear, but humid, day.



The sound of Thomas' somber voice and his sparse guitar work was a perfect backdrop to that scene and the lyrics......well, what red-blooded American male wouldn't want the things he is asking for in the first verse??!!!  In fact, when Thomas died, rocker John Fogerty paid for his headstone and put that first verse on the back.



Thomas' son Pat continues his tradition as a musician.....and an artist and sculptor.  He's recorded for Broke & Hungry Records (recording a few of his dad's songs) and appeared in one of the more entertaining segments of the documentary, M for Mississippi, playing guitar at his father's grave.


Your Blues Fix Mix CD (Volume One) to date......

Track 1:  "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Track 2:  "Son of Juke," Billy Branch
Track 3:  "Feel Like Blowing My Horn," Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Track 4:  "Big Boy Now," Big Jack Johnson
Track 5:  "Blues Man," B.B. King
Track 6"  "Four Cars Running," Larry Garner
Track 7:  "Cadillac Blues," Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Track 8:  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues," Skip James
Track 9:  "Double Trouble" (Live), Otis Rush
Track 10:  "She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride," Taj Mahal
Track 11:  "Give Me Back My Wig," Luther Allison
Track 12:  "Garbage Man," Bernard Allison
Track 13:  "Walking By Myself," Jimmy Rogers
Track 14:  "Fast Train," Bobby Parker
Track 15:  "Beefsteak Blues," James "Son" Thomas


Friday, November 10, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Fourteen

We are rapidly approaching the end of first Blues Fix Mix CD.  It's been a lot of fun going over these tunes with readers.  I've learned a lot about some of these tunes that I wasn't aware of when I first listened to them.  Your humble correspondent has completed four volumes to date, each one an improvement on its predecessor as far as I'm concerned.  At a later date, we'll probably look at those, but for right now, let's keep rolling with Volume One.

Our next blues fix mix track comes from Bobby Parker (1937-2013).  Few people today may recognize the name (and probably few did during his seven-decade career), but he was one of the most influential blues/R&B artists of the 50's and early 60's.  He recorded for a number of labels in the 50's and 60's and enjoyed several hits on the R&B charts during that time.   

The B-side to his first single ("Blues Get Off My Shoulder") was "You Got What It Takes," which was recorded by Motown's Marv Johnson.  One problem with the Motown release was that composer credits were claimed by Motown founder Berry Gordy and two others, so Parker was not able to reap the royalty benefits from the sales of the song.  

Bobby Parker - early 60's
In 1961, Parker released his biggest hit, "Watch Your Step," on the V-Tone label.  The song made the Billboard Hot 100, but not the R&B charts.  However, numerous acts covered the song over the years, including the Spencer Davis Group.  The Beatles performed it in concert and the guitar riff was a big influence on the Fab Four's hits "I Feel Fine" and "Day Tripper."  Later, Led Zeppelin used the riff for their instrumental "Moby Dick." 

Parker was not as well known on the blues circuit as some, but he was a major influence on other artists as well......Eric Clapton, Robin Trower, and Carlos Santana.  It was on Santana's early 80's solo album that first heard "Watch Your Step."   It's really a shame that he wasn't better known.  He was a dynamic performer (and how could he not be, playing with some of those entertaining artists listed above), but he was also a first rate guitarist, singer, and songwriter.......the "Total Package" that many musicians can only dream about .  

Parker settled in the Washington D.C. area and become the go-to artist in that area for many years.  He took another area guitarist there, Bobby Radcliff, as a protege', and Radcliff described Parker as "Guitar Slim meets James Brown".....which is about as well as you can put it.  In the 90's, Parker released two superlative CDs on the Black Top label, Bent Out of Shape and Shine Me Up.  Though both are out of print now, copies can be pretty easily had and are well worth tracking down.  

Track Fourteen of our mix CD is from Parker's Bent Out of Shape album, the dazzling opening track, "Fast Train."  Climb aboard and hang on!!!






Friday, November 3, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Thirteen

For our next Blues Fix Mix CD track, we are going back a bit to the 1950's.......1957 to be exact.  I've always been a fan of the artists who recorded for Chess Records.  Some of the first vintage blues recordings I heard were from Chess, thanks to MCA Records reissuing some of Chess's classic sides in the mid-late 80's, which was about the time I started listening to the blues.  I heard all of the stars from the label......Muddy, the Wolf,  Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, etc......, but my favorite ended up being Jimmy Rogers.

Rogers' brand of blues really resonated with me.  I always liked his relaxed vocal style, always expressive and never over the top or overdone.  His guitar work was always sturdy and workmanlike.  His songs were pretty memorable, too, and the supporting cast on his recordings was always a blues fan's dream band.  Of course, he was part of what many consider the blues Dream Team......Muddy Waters' band that consisted of Waters, Rogers, Little Walter, Otis Spann, dubbed "The Headhunters" for their habit of dropping in on other musicians' gigs, and either outperforming them on their own stage, or stealing their gigs completely.

During the 50's, Rogers recorded several songs as a front man for Chess.....many of which are now considered standards.  Over the past 60 years, many a blues band has covered "You're Sweet," "That's All Right," "Ludella," "Chicago Bound," "Sloppy Drunk," and my personal favorite, which is track thirteen on this mix CD, "Walking By Myself."  He also served as a go-to session guitarist for Chess.

"Walking By Myself," recorded in 1957, was inspired by a T-Bone Walker song called "Why Not," which the legendary guitarist recorded during a Chicago session for Atlantic Records where Rogers backed him on rhythm guitar.  It can be heard on Walker's essential release, T-Bone Blues.  "Walking By Myself" became Rogers' only hit on the Billboard R&B chart. 

By the end of the 50's, the blues had fallen out of favor with music lovers and Rogers' musical opportunities waned.  He left the business for about a decade, running a clothing store in Chicago through most of the 60's.  When his store was burned to the ground during the riots which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., he gradually returned to performing and recording, releasing several fine albums which showed his skills to be virtually intact.  He worked steadily until shortly before his death from cancer in late 1997.

FBF did a profile of Rogers in 2011 which can be found here.

Rogers left a strong catalog of fine music......his later recordings compared very favorably with his early Chess recordings.  One of the steadiest, and underrated of the 50's blues giants, Jimmy Rogers deserves to be heard.  Here's track thirteen, my favorite of his tunes.


As a bonus, here's the track from T-Bone Walker that inspired the Rogers' classic.....




Your Blues Fix Mix CD (Volume One) to date......

Track 1:  "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Track 2:  "Son of Juke," Billy Branch
Track 3:  "Feel Like Blowing My Horn," Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Track 4:  "Big Boy Now," Big Jack Johnson
Track 5:  "Blues Man," B.B. King
Track 6"  "Four Cars Running," Larry Garner
Track 7:  "Cadillac Blues," Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Track 8:  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues," Skip James
Track 9:  "Double Trouble" (Live), Otis Rush
Track 10:  "She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride," Taj Mahal
Track 11:  "Give Me Back My Wig," Luther Allison
Track 12:  "Garbage Man," Bernard Allison
Track 13:  "Walking By Myself," Jimmy Rogers


More to come......

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Twelve

Bernard Allison
I promised last week that we would be hearing more from the Allison family.  It wasn't planned or anything like that......I was simply compiling a CD of some of my favorite blues songs for my listening pleasure and, later, others' listening pleasure.  When I was putting them in the order I wanted, it just so happened that I had listed back-to-back songs from Luther Allison and his son, Bernard Allison.

Not long after Luther's death, I was flipping through CDs at a record store and discovered a CD from Bernard, called Keepin' The Blues Alive on a new label called Cannonball Records.  Fans of 90's-era blues may recall the Cannonball label, which featured some standout artists and were recognizable due to the tiny "cannonball" that the label placed in their CD cases.

Father and Son
The only thing that I really knew about Bernard Allison was that he had appeared on one track of his father's last studio release for Alligator, Reckless.  I wasn't aware that he had done anything on his own, but later discovered that he had released several albums on European labels.  He's every bit as energetic on stage as his father was and his music fits the same mold.  The only difference to me is that Bernard injects a healthy dose of 70's funk and soul into his brand of blues.......the music he grew up with.





Keepin' The Blues Alive was a real eye-opener.  Released in early 1997, Allison was joined by a select list of Chicago musician friends (drummer Ray "Killer" Allison, bassist Greg Rzab, guitarist Will Crosby, and harmonica player Matthew Skoller) and recorded a powerful set of originals and a few choice cover tunes from his father, Jackie Brenston, Freddie King, and Aron Burton.  In fact, it's Burton's song, "Garbage Man," that makes our list this week.  Burton was a Chicago bass guitarist who was a member of Albert Collins' Icebreakers, but also enjoyed a solid solo career with releases on Earwig and Delmark Records during the 90's.  "Garbage Man" was released as a single by Cleartone Records in 1993.

Allison's version of Burton's song is a nearly-seven minute slow-burner that finds the guitarist really stretching out on guitar.  I really liked Allison's vocal as much as I did his guitar work.  His vocal style has a bit of the styling of the 70's and 80's funk and soul singers, which gives it a really cool sound to me.  Although I've listened to a lot of Bernard's subsequent recordings and they're all very good (be sure to give a listen to his latest from a couple of years ago, In The Mix.....fantastic!!), "Garbage Man" is one of my favorites of his songs.




If you would like to hear more from Bernard Allison, check out this "Ten Questions With......" session he did for FBF back in 2015 right after In The Mix was released.




Friday, October 20, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Eleven

When I started listening to the blues back in the mid 80's, one of the artists that really got me fired up was Luther Allison.  He played the blues, sure enough, but he also had the soulful vocal style and the rock-edged guitar that was sort of the connecting factor for me at the time.  I had really gotten into rock and soul a few years before, but the blues sort of combined those two styles ideally to me.  When I first heard Luther Allison, that was the Great Connector......the act that really sealed the blues deal for me.

Of course, at the time, there wasn't a lot of product available of Allison's that I was aware of.  In the early 70's, he's actually been signed to Motown Records, where he recorded three albums, but they had been unavailable for years.  Having moved to Europe in the mid 70's, he recorded regularly for the German label Ruf, but at the time not many of those sets were making it to my neck of the woods.  There was a release on Blind Pig Records (Serious), and later I found his release on Delmark (Love Me Mama), but that was about it until he signed with Alligator Records, which really allowed his career to blossom.  Always popular in Europe (a big reason why he'd relocated years earlier), the Alligator releases (Soul Fixin' Man, Blue Streak, and Reckless) really opened a lot of American eyes and ears to what they'd been missing.

Just as all that happened for Allison, it abruptly ended.  Diagnosed with lung and brain cancer in July of 1997, he passed away less than a month later.  At the time, I had just gotten access to the internet, and had discovered a few blues-related bulletin boards.  It was at one of those boards where I first read about his diagnosis and the fact that he had little time left.  It was like getting hit in the gut with a 2x4, and the year got even worse with the deaths of several other blues artists (Johnny Copeland, Fenton Robinson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jimmy Rogers in 1997, Junior Wells and Junior Kimbrough in early 1998).  It was a tough several months for the blues.

In 1998, Alligator released a tribute album honoring their very first recording artist, Hound Dog Taylor.  A number of the label's artists and other popular blues artists at the time recorded several songs from Taylor's catalog.  Taylor's wild shows and showmanship were what inspired Alligator founder Bruce Iglauer to start his label, with Taylor serving as his introductory release.  Most of the artists who recorded the tribute acquitted themselves very well, but few captured Taylor's manic charm in a way that came close to the original.  Allison's version of the Dog's "Give Me Back My Wig," was the one that came the closest.  At the time I was putting together this set, I was really into Allison's slide guitar playing, which I've always thought was the most underrated part of his style.  There are lots of great Luther Allison songs that could be part of a mix CD, and "Give Me Back My Wig" was one of the best choices.




Your Blues Fix Mix CD (Volume One) to date......

Track 1:  "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Track 2:  "Son of Juke," Billy Branch
Track 3:  "Feel Like Blowing My Horn," Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Track 4:  "Big Boy Now," Big Jack Johnson
Track 5:  "Blues Man," B.B. King
Track 6"  "Four Cars Running," Larry Garner
Track 7:  "Cadillac Blues," Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Track 8:  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues," Skip James
Track 9:  "Double Trouble" (Live), Otis Rush
Track 10:  "She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride," Taj Mahal
Track 11:  "Give Me Back My Wig," Luther Allison

More from the Allison family next week.......


Friday, October 13, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Ten

We're past the halfway point with our first Blues Fix Mix CD.  The most important thing to remember about a mix CD is that you have to put as much music as technologically possible on it, meaning you have to get as close to 80 minutes worth of content as you can, especially if you're a bit on the dorky side, like I am.  Therefore, when we're done, we will have a CD full of great blues tunes.

Our tenth track comes from one of the most prominent blues figures of the late 60's/early 70's.....actually the latter part of the 20th Century would fit there.  Taj Mahal (born Harry St. Clair Fredericks) started out playing acoustic blues, later expanding to electric blues, soul and R&B, reggae, Caribbean, folk, gospel, Latin, West African, and even Hawaiian music.  While doing that, he never strayed far from his acoustic blues roots, and has continued to make some excellent music over the past fifty years.

Back in the 70's, when they had this thing called record stores, one could always find a few Taj Mahal recordings on the shelves......he recorded for many years on the Columbia label, which was a major recording label (and still is, though now part of Sony Music) during that time, which guaranteed his recordings would have pretty wide distribution.  If Mahal had only recorded his first three albums, his self-titled debut, The Natch'l Blues, and the double LP Giant Steps would have cemented his place in the blues pantheon.

Mahal was able to help update, therefore revive, the country blues sounds of the 30's and 40's.  While he may not sound like anything special nowadays, just remember that when he first started doing this around 1967/68, there was nobody else in the blues world, or the rock world for that matter, who sounded like him.  It was a refreshing new take on the blues and his influence can be heard in a number of more recent artists, such as Alvin Youngblood Hart, Keb' Mo', Guy Davis, and Corey Harris.

I had to include my favorite Taj Mahal song, "She Caught The Katy and Left Me a Mule To Ride," from The Natch'l Blues.  Mahal wrote this song with Yank Rachell, the master of blues mandolin who began his career in the 30's and was active until his death in 1987, and it has become one of his most famous compositions.  It's been covered many times and many people will recognize it from the Blues Brothers' rendition over the opening credits of their 1980 movie, which made sense because it was one of John Belushi's favorite blues songs.  As you can hear below, Belushi had excellent taste in blues songs.



All of Taj Mahal's music is great, regardless of the genre he was exploring at the time.  Blues fans will enjoy his self-titled debut, The Natch'l Blues, both released in 1968, or more modern fare like Senor Blues (1997) or TajMo, his recent collaboration with Keb' Mo'. 


Friday, October 6, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Nine

One of my favorite albums from my early days as a blues fan was the first volume of the Antone's Tenth Anniversary celebration, a live show which took place at the Austin club back in 1985.  I wrote about this album in great detail here about three and a half years ago.  I have an iPod Shuffle that I use to work out......one of the tiny ones that you can clip to a shirt sleeve or belt loop....that will hold about 400 - 450 songs.  I have five songs from this album on that iPod, and could possibly include a few more.  It was actually one of the first live blues albums that I owned and it was a very energetic set of tunes by some of the genre's legends.

I've mentioned this track several times before, so it shouldn't be a surprise to longtime readers that I would include it.......Otis Rush's inspired reading of "Double Trouble," one of the classic tunes he recorded for Cobra Records during the late 1950's.  Though relatively brief at around 3:45, it's an action-packed 3:45.  Rush's vocal is one of his most intense and his piercing guitar work is awesome.  I've heard a lot of Rush's live recordings (and posted about them here) and to me, this is near the top of the heap for me.

Rush is one of my favorite blues artists, and has been for a long time.  I've always thought that his style would appeal to new blues fans because of his strong, soul-influenced vocals and his versatile guitar style, which mixes his own distinct qualities with influences from others such as B.B. King, Albert King, T-Bone Walker, and jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell.  When you listen to a collection of Otis Rush songs, you will hear hints of those other influences, but for this version of "Double Trouble," Otis is playing nothing but Otis.  Check it out!!!




Your Blues Fix Mix CD (Volume One) to date......

Track 1:  "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Track 2:  "Son of Juke," Billy Branch
Track 3:  "Feel Like Blowing My Horn," Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Track 4:  "Big Boy Now," Big Jack Johnson
Track 5:  "Blues Man," B.B. King
Track 6"  "Four Cars Running," Larry Garner
Track 7:  "Cadillac Blues," Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Track 8:  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues," Skip James
Track 9:  "Double Trouble" (Live), Otis Rush

More to come.........

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Eight

For track 8 of our Blues Fix Mix CD, I decided that a change of pace was in order, so we're looking a a pre-war blues artist this week, but with a twist. One of my favorite pre-war blues artists (for those new to the blues, "pre-war" actually indicates the time prior to World War II) is Nehemiah "Skip" James, the enigmatic artist from Bentonia, MS who introduced the Bentonia style of blues to the world.  James recorded for Paramount Records in 1931 and the recordings that survived over the years are considered masterpieces of recorded blues not just for the era, but for all time.



James' style was something that you couldn't immediately get over.  His voice was an haunting falsetto and his guitar worked coupled finger-picking with a hypnotic bass line, which gave it a totally unique sound.  Even in those horribly scratchy recordings for Paramount, which have been cleaned up about as much as they possibly could, you get that James was a unique blues artists.  There were only a few artists who played in the Bentonia style......there are still only a few that do.

I didn't really want to put one of his Paramount sides on a mix CD......remember these were set up for new listeners, who I didn't figure would have the patience to endure the scratchy quality of the recordings (That being said, once you get a taste of Skip James' music, I strongly suggest that you check these recordings out.  They're are on a par with the recordings of Son House, Bukka White, and yes, Robert Johnson).  Fortunately, even though James basically vanished from sight after his Paramount recordings.....they didn't sell very well and he only received $40 and a train ticket for his efforts, so he opted to become an ordained minister, also driving a tractor and working as a supervisor on various plantations......he was rediscovered by blues fans in the early 60's and was able to perform and record again.

James' best post-war recordings were for Vanguard Records.  His Today! release was the first time I heard him and it was amazing.  The recording was crystal clear, one of the best recordings of the rediscovered Mississippi country blues artists, and he really seemed to be at the height of his powers, almost like it was just 1932 instead of 1964.  He sounded incredible as he re-created many of his old songs, plus a few new ones. He was in the hospital when he was found, and sadly, he battled illness for most of his "Comeback" years, passing away in 1969.  The song I selected for our Blues Fix Mix CD was the opening track on Today!  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" really showcases James' haunting vocals and his delicate guitar picking and, trust me, that's only the tip of the iceberg.




If you'd like to read more about Skip James, check out this FBF post from 2013.

Your Blues Fix Mix CD (Volume One) to date......

Track 1:  "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Track 2:  "Son of Juke," Billy Branch
Track 3:  "Feel Like Blowing My Horn," Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Track 4:  "Big Boy Now," Big Jack Johnson
Track 5:  "Blues Man," B.B. King
Track 6"  "Four Cars Running," Larry Garner
Track 7:  "Cadillac Blues," Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Track 8"  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues," Skip James

More to come.........