Friday, November 30, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Eighteen

Well, we've come to the end of Volume Two of our Blues Fix Mix CD series.  It took a bit, with a few delays and interruptions thrown in, but we've reached the conclusion at last.  I recently put together Volume Six for a friend of mine, so there's still a chance we will revisit these in the future, but not for awhile.

After this post, we will be posting a year-end Top 20 Favorite Albums of 2018 in a few weeks, but the blog will be going on a bit of a hiatus after that.  We still have our FBF Facebook page and I will be sharing a few items there......album reviews and such.......but sometimes it gets pretty hard to put together a post that's worth stopping for in the time allowed.  I will post from time to time here and promise to let you know via Facebook when that happens, so by all means, please stop by our FBF FB page and join up.

This week's track comes from an artist that I discovered about 15 years ago named Dave Riley.  Riley was born in Hattiesburg, MS, but moved with his family to Chicago as a teen.  His dad was a preacher and, like many blues men, Riley started out in gospel as part of a family band.  His family moved from the West Side to the North Side near Maxwell Street, where young Dave heard live blues for the first time.  He sang and played guitar as a teen, mostly gospel and Motown.  After high school, he was drafted for duty in Vietnam.  While stationed in Seattle, he got to hear another musical influence........Jimi Hendrix.

After he was discharged, Riley played in a gospel group, occasionally playing soul and the blues, but quit the music business to help raise his son, working  as a prison guard at Joliet State Penitentiary.  He worked for 25 years in the prison system, developing an addiction to drugs and alcohol, two habits he kicked in the late 80's.  When his son was grown, he began playing the blues again, but suffered a broken neck in a car crash in the late 90's, which ended his career at the prison and greatly limited his ability to play guitar.  Through hard work and perseverance, Riley regained his guitar-playing ability.  He's released a few CDs, my favorite being his Fedora release, Whiskey, Money and Women from 2001.  He's also released three excellent albums with harmonica master Bob Corritore, the last one being Hush Your Fuss! in 2013.  He also performed with the late John Weston and Sam Carr in the Delta Jukes, a slight variation of the famous Jelly Roll Kings.  They released a very good album called Working for the Blues in 2002.

However, the song that closes Volume Two comes from an earlier release on the late, much-missed Cannonball Records, Blues Across America:  The Helena Scene, one of a series of albums that highlighted blues artists from different cities.  Similar to earlier anthology sets that featured three or four artists per album each contributing three or four songs, this album featured Riley, along with Weston, and Carr with Frank Frost (these were Frost's last recordings).  It's a pretty solid set, as you can imagine if you're familiar with any of these artists, but Riley really shines on his four songs, my favorite being "Automobile," a hard charging blues rocker that will close our Volume Two with style and pizzazz.  Enjoy and thanks for stopping by!!




Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two (to date)......
1.  Mannish Boy - Muddy Waters
2.  Big Legs - Zuzu Bollin
3.  If It Wasn't For Bad Luck - Lee "Shot" Williams
4.  Taylor Rock - Sonny Landreth
5.  How'd You Learn To Shake It Like That - Snooky Pryor
6.  The Score - The Robert Cray Band
7.  Ninety-Nine - Bobby Rush
8.  Your Love Is Like A Cancer - Son Seals
9.  Rats & Roaches In My Kitchen - Larry Garner
10.  Baby Scratch My Back - Slim Harpo
11.  If You Let A Man Kick You Once - Corey Harris & Henry Butler
12.  Bring Your Fine Self Home - Albert Collins & Johnny Copeland
13.  Down In The Delta - James "Super Chikan" Johnson
14.  Pocketful of Money - Frank Frost
15.  Swanee River Boogie - Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm
16.  The Highway Is Like A Woman - Jimmy Johnson
17.  Gristle - Clarence Hollimon
18.  Automobile - Dave Riley


Friday, November 16, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Seventeen

Clarence Hollimon
Only two more tracks to go before we wrap up Volume Two of the Blues Fix Mix CD series and the excitement is almost palpable.  This week features one of the finest guitarist to ever emerge from the Houston music scene - Clarence "Gristle" Hollimon.  Given the long list of stars to come from the Houston area over the years - Lightnin' Hopkins, Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Cal Green, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, etc......that's a pretty strong statement, but Hollimon's body of work will certainly attest to the fact that if he's not in a class by himself, it certainly wouldn't take long to call the roll.

Hollimon worked as a session guitarist for Duke/Peacock Records as a high school student, and he played with a prestigious list of artists including Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Big Mama Thornton, Charles Brown, O.V. Wright, Joe Hinton, Dionne Warwick, Buddy Ace, the original Jazz Crusaders and many other stars from the 1950's through the 1990's.  I first heard him on several recordings for Black Top Records during the late 1980's, beginning with Grady Gaines' first release, Full Gain, which also featured another great Texas guitarist, Grady's brother Roy Gaines.  That album is still one of my favorites and still gets regular play around the house, mainly because of the fantastic guitar work from Hollimon and Gaines.



Carol Fran and Clarence Hollimon
While working with Black Top, Hollimon had the opportunity to record two albums with his wife, singer Carol Fran.  The pair had worked together for years before they married in 1983.  Fran had been performing since the mid 50's, and had a regional hit, "Emmitt Lee," for Excello Records in 1957, along with other fine recordings for multiple labels over the following decades before taking a step away from the business, disillusioned with the musical and career opportunities that slipped past.  She reunited with Hollimon in the early 80's (they had dated briefly 25 years earlier.  Their two Black Top albums were top notch, and Hollimon's "Gristle" was recorded for their first album together, Soul Sensation, and really shows off his dexterity.  It's one of my favorite instrumentals.




Hollimon was known as "Gristle" for many years, but no one ever really knew how he came about that nickname.  Some figured it was because of his thin, wiry build, but no one knows for sure.  He was also known as one of the nicest and most humble musicians in the Houston area.  Singers loved to work for him because he never overplayed or showboated.  He played just what needed to be played and man, did he play it well.  Sadly, Hollimon died in 2000, just after he and Fran finished recording It's About Time for JSP Records.  He was only 62 years old.  Fran, now 85, has continued to work and record a couple of albums, even recovering from a stroke several years ago to return to performing.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Sixteen

In a couple of weeks, Chicago blues guitarist Jimmy Johnson will turn 89 years old.  Johnson is the brother of soul-blues legend Syl Johnson and the late Mack Thompson, who was Magic Sam's bass player (Thompson is the family's given last name).  Johnson is still going strong, having most recently recorded a Magic Sam track for Delmark's Tribute album several months ago.  He still sounds as good as he did when I first heard his Bar Room Preacher album released by Alligator in the 80's.  He originally played soul and R&B, backing Otis Clay and Denise LaSalle, among others, and also leading his own group.  He gravitated to the blues in the mid 70's, backing Otis Rush on Rush's live disc recorded in Japan for Delmark and appearing on Alligator's Living Chicago Blues series in 1978.  Eventually, he recorded a pair of albums for the label (North/South and Johnson Whacks), beginning at the age of 50.  He's enjoyed a nice bit of success over the years and has released some quality recordings including a fine
one with his brother, Syl (Two Johnsons Are Better Than One).


Johnson's brand of blues combine blues, soul, and R&B in equal measure.....his soulful vocals are very distinctive, and his guitar work is equally distinctive and instantly recognizable to most blues fans.  His 1994 release for Verve Records was called I'm A Jockey and featured Billy Branch and Lucky Peterson, who also released albums for Verve during that same time period.  I'm A  Jockey is a fine mix of originals and cover tunes that Johnson does in his own unique style.  My favorite track is Johnson's slow burning take on Percy Mayfield's "The Highway Is Like A Woman," which is Track Sixteen on Volume Two of our Blues Fix Mix CD.





This song has special significance to me, as far as Friday Blues Fix goes.  Years ago, when I started Friday Blues Fix as a group email to some of my friends and co-workers, this was the very first song that I sent to them.  I have worked on many of the Mississippi highways in my area for over 30 years, so that was part of the reason I used it.  Also, I love Percy Mayfield's songs and this is one of my favorites.....I love the comparison of a highway and a woman ("soft shoulders and dangerous curves") and I really like Johnson's guitar work on this track.  The entire album is worth a listen, as is all of Johnson's catalog, so if you have a chance, check it out......and if you have a chance to see him live, check him out.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Fifteen

While compiling Volume Two, your humble correspondent thought that it would be cool to add another instrumental to the mix, and the one I had in mind was "Swanee River Boogie," a piano-driven instrumental I had first heard a few years ago by Ike Turner on his 2001 album, Here and Now.

Now today, Ike Turner is probably known most for being one of the most recognized symbols of the term "abusive husband" for his cruel and manipulative treatment of his former wife, Tina Turner (allegations that Turner has refuted somewhat awkwardly over the years).  The biopic of Tina Turner certainly helped solidify that reputation, as well as Turner's own erratic behavior over the last years of his life (he died in 2007 at 76), which makes him pretty difficult, if not impossible to defend. 

But that's not the Ike Turner we're talking about right now.......today, we'll briefly discuss Ike Turner, the musician who played a pivotal role in the early development of rock & roll, R&B, and the blues.....something that gets overlooked far too frequently in his biography.

Turner was born in Clarksdale, MS in 1931 and was taught to play piano by Pinetop Perkins.  He also worked as a DJ in his teens and formed his first band, The Kings of Rhythm, which traveled to Memphis to record at Sun Records.  One of their first recordings was "Rocket 88," with lead vocals from saxophonist Jackie Brenston.  This led the single to be mislabel as being from "Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats" instead of "Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm."  The song was a huge hit and is considered by many to have been the first true rock & roll song.

Turner and band soon became in-demand session musicians for many of the Memphis artists, including Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Robert Lockwood, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush (that's Turner playing 2nd guitar on Rush's "Double Trouble" side for Cobra Records), and many of Sun's artists.  Turner also doubled as a talent scout for the L.A.-based Modern Records, where he helped sign the Wolf and B.B. King.

Relocating to St. Louis in the mid 50's, Turner and The Kings of Rhythm  became the hit R&B attraction of the town and recorded for various labels......Federal, R.P.M., Flair......and began using a series of vocalists, one of which was a teenager from Tennessee named Annie Mae Bullock, who later began a relationship with Turner and became his wife, Tina Turner.  Her immense talent as a singer and performer prompted Turner to reform The Kings of Rhythm to the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, which became a force in the soul and R&B genres in the 60's and early 70's.

The fame and fortune soon got to Turner as he developed a cocaine addiction, which was the beginning of the end of his career at the time.  The drugs were a bad combination with Turner's already combustible personality and temper and though the band enjoyed success until the mid 70's, Ike and Tina's marriage was done around the same time.

The rest of Tina Turner's history is fairly familiar to most music fans.  She became a major pop star in the mid 80's.  Meanwhile, Ike spiraled out of control with drug issues and prison time in the 80's and early 90's.  He launched a comeback in the 90's and toured with Joe Louis Walker as his keyboardist and guitarist, where he saw that the type of music he made as a youngster, blues and R&B, was still in demand.  This encouraged him to reform The Kings of Rhythm and to eventually record Here and Now.

Here and Now was a mix of old favorite tunes and a few new originals.  While Turner will never be mistaken for a standout vocalist, he was still a monster on guitar and piano, which really came to light on "Swanee River Boogie," a fast-paced instrumental that dares you to sit still.....go ahead and try.



Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two (to date)......
1.  Mannish Boy - Muddy Waters
2.  Big Legs - Zuzu Bollin
3.  If It Wasn't For Bad Luck - Lee "Shot" Williams
4.  Taylor Rock - Sonny Landreth
5.  How'd You Learn To Shake It Like That - Snooky Pryor
6.  The Score - The Robert Cray Band
7.  Ninety-Nine - Bobby Rush
8.  Your Love Is Like A Cancer - Son Seals
9.  Rats & Roaches In My Kitchen - Larry Garner
10.  Baby Scratch My Back - Slim Harpo
11.  If You Let A Man Kick You Once - Corey Harris & Henry Butler
12.  Bring Your Fine Self Home - Albert Collins & Johnny Copeland
13.  Down In The Delta - James "Super Chikan" Johnson
14.  Pocketful of Money - Frank Frost
15.  Swanee River Boogie - Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm
16.
17.
18.





Friday, October 26, 2018

A Chat With........Barbara Blue, The Queen of Beale Street

It's been awhile since FBF sat down and talked with any blues folks.  Actually, time constraints have made it pretty difficult for your humble correspondent to put one together during the past couple of years and, hopefully, that will start to change in the near future.......it's just a day to day thing right now.  However, this week's post will feature a chat (yes, I know that we've been calling these "Ten Questions With......." in the past, but we slightly exceeded our Ten Question limit more so than usual this time around) with the Queen of Beale Street, Ms. Barbara Blue.  

Now, I've been listening to Barbara Blue for nearly 17 years, since I first reviewed her Sell My Jewelry album for Blues Bytes.  She was compared to Etta James and Janis Joplin (I've always leaned more toward the Etta comparisons).  Since then, we've kept in touch via email and later Facebook, and it's been a thrill watching her develop as a singer/songwriter/performer as each subsequent album has exceeded the quality of its predecessor.  She's one of the most powerful blues singers out there these days, equally adept in the soul/R&B vein and blues-rock, but trust me, she FEELS the blues from her head down to her shoes.  

Actually, I sent her these questions after the release of her previous album, Memphis Blues - Sweet, Strong & Tight, but for one reason or another, we were never able to get things started or finished, and when the blog went on hiatus, it sort of fell by the wayside.  Flash forward a couple of years and we touched base again and got it together just in time for her latest album release, Fish in Dirty H2O on her own BIG Blue Records, which is one that blues fans definitely need to add to their collection.  If you haven't heard her before listening to this one, though, you will definitely want to hear more.  After you finish reading here, be sure to visit Barbara's website and check out some of her music.  You'll be glad that you did.

A Chat With.....Barbara Blue, Queen of Beale Street


Friday Blues Fix:  How does a girl from Pittsburgh, PA become the Queen of Beale Street?

Barbara Blue:  Hmmmmmm….. I’ve been there 21+ years 5 nights a week…..  lots of hard work….  Over 5000 shows on the same stage night after night promoting Memphis, Blues & Memphis Music.  I guess I have to credit Mr. Larry Nix with “calling” me THE Queen of Beale Street …… and I opted for the Reigning Queen of Beale Street….  Ms. Ruby (Wilson) was still alive then and we were friendly ….and I wasn’t out to take her title or hurt her feelings ….but it stuck. Especially after I recorded my 7th CD …..Royal Blue out of Willie Mitchell’s “Royal” Studios.  It just all seemed to work.  

FBF:  Were you a fan of the blues from the beginning, or did you arrive there from another style of music?

BB:  I arrived in the world screaming Oct 12, 1958.  I had been born with colic.  My beautiful mother and I make a joke I arrived the same way I will exit.  Ha!!  There was ALWAYS music in my life…. if not the radio, records, or the TV, school choirs, school plays, church, HS marching band.  I was always exposed to the blues and always had the blues.  I was a chubby kid / tomboyish (I had 4 brothers) …… my mum & dad always played records: Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Petula Clark, Tom Jones, The Rat Pack, Eddie Arnold, Meet The Beatles, Peggy Lee, and on and on …..  I taught myself guitar and held concerts in my back yard with neighborhood kids…..  I didn’t play many song over 4-6 chords!!  But I have a LOVE for Jazz & Country…..  Moved to AZ in 1977 and played any gig I could, mostly biker bars and open mic nights and little gigs here and there…..Then I met my first ex-husband and moved to Detroit MI…..  I would go out on talent nights and sing.  One of the highest paying was a country gig …and I love singing Patsy Cline, Willie, Waylon & the boys …..and one night in particular the guitar player (Rob) said to me you have the best blues voice I’ve ever heard…. you should go and check it out.  So I did just that …..the year was 1980 and I joined the “City Limits Blues Band” … I found out a lot of the song I had loved and been singing all my life were blues rooted.

FBF:  Who are some of your influences as a singer?

BB:  Peggy Lee, Patsy Cline, Janis Joplin, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Bonnie Raitt, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson,  John Lee Hooker, Tom Jones, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Willie Dixon, Willie Nelson…… 

FBF:  What has changed about the music scene in Memphis since you moved there?

BB:  Cell phones & prescription drugs…… 

FBF:  You’ve pretty much played full time at Silky O’Sullivan’s since 1997.  What’s a typical nightly gig at Silky’s like?

BB:  There is no typical night at Silky’s … I think that’s why I’ve been there soooooo long… It’s like traveling but I stay put!!!  On an average night we might just have 3 countries represented England, Canada, and Australia…..but most nights there are many more from around the world and across the US.  It’s a blessing of a gig!!!

FBF:  Can you tell us about some of the songs on Fish In Dirty H2O? 

BB:  The original title was “MY HEART BELONGS TO THE BLUES,’ then Al Kapone knocked “Fish In Dirty H2O” outta the ball park …… 

The classic “Come In My Kitchen” hits two of my most fave things on earth ….  My Mama and my KITCHEN!!!  Ha!! 






FBF:  You co-produced this release with Jim Gaines….was this your first experience producing?

BB:  No … I have co-produced ALL 11 of my CD’s …..  I LOVE it!! 

FBF:  What is involved with producing a record?

BB:  A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT!!!

Gathering materials, musicians, songs, studios etc. …. schedules, keeping production notes ….budgets ….on and on and on…. 

FBF:  How does it feel to be singing with this legendary group of Memphis & Muscle Shoals musicians backing you?   

BB:  It feels like HEAVEN!!!  I love working with totally dedicated, talented musicians!! AND Bernard “Pretty” Purdie!!

FBF:  Can you share one of your favorite memories about being a musician?

BB:  I have many ……  I’m so blessed!!!  Singing HBD to James Cotton on stage at the Black Diamond (when it was the big room) with Sean Costello…. Sean was shy….he was like “Barbara you sing it …” & I was like ok no prob!!”  Maybe that was 1998??  I can’t remember …. BUT IT sho’ was FUN~!!! 

FBF:  What music do you listen to in your spare time?

BB:  Well I have 2 radio shows now  (“Blues off Beale” on ROYAL RADIO MEMPHIS Thursdays 3-5pm CST & “Shout Sista Shout”  on WYPL 89.3 Sunday 8-9pm CST) ….so I’m listening to new CDs a lot. And I love classical on my rides home from Beale Street …..   I live in a forest so sometimes I just roll the windows down … Yep... I love crickets, tree frogs & cicadas!!! 

FBF:  I’ve read that you’re a fantastic cook……what are some of your signature dishes?

BB:  Well…..too many to choose from …faves are Italian ~ Mexican & Comfort!!!  AND I LOVE to BAKE!!!  Been baking since I was a little girl.  I used to make my dad pies/cookies/ cakes for his lunch…. he always told me they were GREAT so I believed him!!  The power of positivity!!

FBF:  What would you be doing if you weren’t a performer?

BB:  Not sure, maybe a restaurant entrepreneur or a nurse or doctor.

FBF:  Is there anything musically that you haven’t done that you would like to do?

BB:  The Apollo Theater in Harlem.

FBF:  Do you have any future projects already in the works?

BB:  Writing songs for my next CD ….  #12 ….hopefully with Mr. Jim Gaines & Bernard Purdie AGAIN!!! 




Friday, October 19, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Fourteen

Frank Frost
In the mid 80's, there was a movie, Crossroads, that hit the theaters.  It was sort of a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy obsessed with the blues who meets an old blues man who supposedly performed with Robert Johnson and knows of a "missing song" that Johnson performed, but never recorded.  It mostly deals with the two of them traveling around the Mississippi Delta, encountering different groups of people and eventually ending up in a head-cutting contest with the Devil's representative, played by metal guitarist Steve Vai.  It's not a great movie, but it was about all a young blues fan had at the time.

The main thing that I liked about it was the soundtrack, which was done by Ry Cooder, Bobby King, Terry Evans, and several blues musicians that included harmonica player Frank Frost.  Frost actually made a cameo appearance in the movie, from what I remember, and he had one song on the soundtrack.  I really liked the downhome feeling of Frost's song, "Cotton Needs Pickin'," which was a rowdy roadhouse rocker compared to most of the other songs on the movie's soundtrack.

Later on, I discovered a few other Delta blues artists, such as Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr (who was also on the Crossroads soundtrack), and Booba Barnes.  These guys led me to Earwig Record's album Rockin' The Juke Joint Down, by the Jelly Roll Kings, a trio that included Johnson on guitar, Carr on drums, and, yep, Frank Frost on harmonica and keyboards.  I listened to that album over and over again.  It was just mesmerizing to this young blues fan.

I tried to track down as many recordings by these artists as I could......I was able to find most of Johnson's recordings over the years, picked up a couple of Sam Carr releases, several more Jelly Roll Kings albums, and a few by Frank Frost.  One of my favorites was Jelly Roll Blues on Paula Records, which collected recordings by Frost on Jewel Records, where he was backed by Johnson and Carr in a pre-Jelly Roll Kings gathering.  The album was produced by Scotty Moore, former guitarist for Elvis Presley.  The trio had recorded previous for Sun Records' Sam Phillips, and actually recorded many of the same songs, but this is a really good set that captures the essence of the Mississippi Delta blues in a live-in-the-studio setting.

One of my favorite songs on the album is "Pocket Full of Money."  I actually heard it first by a West Coast blues band called the Fremonts, sung by Mighty Joe Milsap.  The Fremonts is a fine group who play outstanding Delta and Swamp blues covers and original tunes, and you should really check them out sometime if you're not familiar.  However, I really like Frost's version of this tune with it's relatively laid-back musical and vocal approach.  I hope you do, too.






Friday, October 12, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Thirteen

Rooster Blues Records was one of my favorite labels.  I really enjoyed the raw feel of their recordings, basically live in the studio, which obviously made the label's artists most comfortable because all of their recordings were exciting.  Looking back, it's hard to think of even one recording from Rooster Blues that wasn't a favorite at one time or another.  I really need to devote an entire post to the label in the near future, but today I'm just going to talk about one of their recording artists and that artist's song that made its way onto Volume Two of our Friday Blues Fix Mix CD.

James "Super Chikan" Johnson is one of the unique characters of the blues, no doubt about it.  He's played music since he was a boy, like many youngsters in Mississippi during his early years, his first instrument was a diddley bow.  He bought a guitar, an acoustic two-stringer from the Salvation Army store in Clarksdale.  He drove a truck when he reached adulthood, but still worked on his music and songwriting and carving out his own unique style.

His first release was on Rooster Blues, Blues Come Home To Roost, in 1997.  It was one of my favorites that year.  It was raw and funky and had some of the coolest songs.  My favorite was the title track, "Down In The Delta," a sly and slippery funky blues about a regular day in the Mississippi Delta that packs more of a punch than listeners might expect.

The imagery is vivid, painting pictures of peach trees blooming, clothes hanging out on the line, the hum of tractors, cotton blooming, agricultural planes flying, catfish farms, April showers, May flowers, watermelon etc....., but at the end of each verse reflecting on what's perceived as good things about the Delta, Super Chikan drops a line stating that below the surface, thing aren't as blissful as they appear, at least for him.......his shoes are worn out, his front porch is about to fall off the house and his 25 year old car is about to be repossessed.  It's a sobering touch to what would appear to be a celebration of life in the Delta.....and really, life in general.   Not everything is as rosy a picture as one would believe, which is certainly the case in the Delta. 

Super Chikan later re-recorded "Down In The Delta" on his album Chikadelic, which came out about ten years ago, but this original version is still my favorite.  He's maintained a fairly high standard with his recordings and he remains a crowd favorite.  He's also established quite a reputation for designing unique guitar made out of gas cans, toilet seats, and anything else he can think of. 

"Down In The Delta" is a great example of modern Mississippi Delta blues, even twenty years after its original release........I can't believe it's been that long ago.  Anyway, enjoy Track Thirteen!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Tributes

Several years ago, I wrote a post called "This Week...... No One Dies!!!!" During that time, the blues world had lost several stars in a matter of months and, to be honest, it got pretty depressing for blues fans.  As I wrote then, that's one of the risks you take when you become a fan of the blues......a lot of the best known and best loved of the blues world are a bit long in the tooth and, though most of them continue to play to a ripe old age, it's still a jolt when they depart this world, which happens with a lot more frequency than it used to.

That post also focused on six artists that I enjoyed who were still with us nearly seven years ago.......Magic Slim, Daddy Mack Orr, Otis Clay, Eddie Cotton, Bobby Womack, and B.B. King.  Well, as most of you are aware, four of those six have passed away since that post, so as a favor to blues artists everywhere, I'm NOT going to repeat that post's theme this time around, but I will acknowledge a couple of my favorites who recently passed away and pay tribute to them.



Lazy Lester
Lazy Lester died a few weeks ago after suffering from cancer.  The first time I saw Lazy Lester, which I've recounted here several times already....I'm pretty sure, he was playing at the 1987 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.  That had already been a pretty impressive night for me, seeing John Lee Hooker for the first time as he actually opened for the Fabulous Thunderbirds (Kim Wilson/Jimmie Vaughan edition), who hosted an old school revue of sorts with a bunch of blues artists coming on and playing a pair of songs apiece.  There were some great acts there....Duke Robillard, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Katie Webster (who came onstage throwing rubber crawfish into the crowd), and the Roomful of Blues horn section to name a few.

When Kim Wilson introduced Lazy Lester, I had no idea who he was, but Wilson recognized him as one of the band's greatest influences.  At this point, I was a fledgling blues fan and knew next to nothing about the history other than the Chess Records reissues I'd found in a local record store.  When Lester came out, he was wearing a tank top, work pants, and a baseball cap of some kind (I think it said "Louisiana Yard Dog" or something like that) and looked like he'd just gotten off work and walked over to the show.  However, when he started blowing that harmonica and singing in that swampy drawl, I was hooked.  I wanted to hear more than two songs (I think one of them was "Sugar Coated Love," but my memory has faded), but it was next to impossible for me to find any of his recordings.

Lazy Lester - Late 80's
A few months later, Alligator released Harp & Soul and I tracked it down as quickly as possible.  Not long after, I found Lazy Lester Rides Again, his "comeback" album from a few years ago (which I wrote about here).  Those two recordings were played quite a bit around my house and later on, my girlfriend (now wife) enjoyed them as well.  Lester was all blues, but the Louisiana swamp blues had a nice mixture of blues, R&B, and country, which meant it appealed to a wide variety of people back when Excello Records (Lester's first home) was active.  It wasn't until the late 90's that I found any of his Excello recordings and I still listen to them all the time (along with his labelmates Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, Lonesome Sundown, etc.....).

Around that same time, Lester signed with Antone's Records and released a couple of new albums that showed he had plenty of fuel in the tank in his 60's.  In fact, he was still pretty active up until the months before his death and I was so excited to see him in that Geico commercial (which they've sadly quit running since his death).

I strongly recommend Lazy Lester to any blues fan.  His Excello recordings are the place to start, but everything he recorded is worth checking out.  Trust me, if he's not a favorite now, he will be once you start listening.



Otis Rush
I read about Otis Rush passing away on Saturday afternoon.  Dick Shurman wrote a very nice tribute to him.......he did a lot to try and help Rush over the years, probably as much as anyone did.  I talked to Shurman several times over the years about Rush and he was always very gracious and very honest about him.  Rush had some really tough breaks over his career (I wrote about his career here), so it sometimes made him a little leery of dealing with people and sometimes he wasn't able to capitalize on some opportunities because of it, which is unfortunate.

While Rush didn't record a lot of albums over his 40+years as a musician, nearly all of it is excellent.  If he'd never recorded anything after those fantastic Cobra sides in the late 50's, his place in blues history would be secure.  They are simply astonishing........his guitar playing was so distinctive (he played guitar left-handed, but didn't restring it for a left hander) and his vocals would send chills down your spine......the original recordings of "Double Trouble" and "I Can't Quit You, Baby" are just amazing.

While he didn't record a lot of studio albums (the Cobra sides, several sides for Chess Records, one appearance at Duke Records, a handful of sides for Vanguard's Chicago!  The Blues!  Today! series, and several studio albums in the 70's and 90's (netting him a Grammy Award), over the years, he had several live albums released that revealed that as good as he was in the studio, he was even better as a live performer.  While some are better than others, the best ones are fantastic.  I recently heard the early 70's performance from Cambridge and it's very good.  I wrote about the rest of Rush's live albums here, if you want to check them out.

Otis Rush at his 2017 Blues Marker Dedication, Philadelphia, MS
I never got to see Rush perform live.  I did get to see him when Mississippi dedicated a Blues Marker to him in his native Philadelphia, MS in 2007.  It was clear that the honor really moved him and he enjoyed seeing some old friends and relatives while he was there.  I wish I'd had the nerve to go and speak to him, shake his hand, and tell him how much I enjoyed his music.  What really amazed me more than anything was that one of the most influential blues guitarist in the world, not only in blues but also rock music, was born about 20 miles from me and he's hardly even known in his home county, other than by relatives, a few friends, and a few blues fans.

The night I heard he passed away, I plugged in his Live in San Francisco DVD and just watched it.  It's the closest I ever got to seeing him live.  If you'd like to see or hear more from Otis, you can check out my recommendations here and here.


While it's sad to see these two blues legends go, blues fans can take comfort in the fact that there is a whole younger generation doing their part to keep the blues alive.  Every week, I hear new releases from young musicians who have taken what Rush and Lester did and expand upon it, adding their own unique flair to keep the music fresh and interesting.

Friday, September 28, 2018

New Blues For You - September, 2018 Edition

I decided this week to post a few mini-reviews at FBF's Facebook page......just a few lines here and there.  Well, our Facebook page has a few members, but the blog has a few more visits each week, so I thought I'd share those reviews on the blog this week.  I'll be sharing a few here and at Facebook whenever I get a chance.  


I first heard Houston harmonica ace Steve Krase a couple of years ago as he backed Trudy Lynn on her Connor Ray Music recordings.  Not long afterward, I got to check out one of his solo releases and was really impressed with it.  Recently, he released Just Waitin' on Connor Ray and it's an excellent album that not only includes several tough blues songs, but also a couple of tracks that flirt with country......a rocking Hank Williams cover kicks off the disc......and a zydeco reworking of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett."  Yes, you read that correctly....."The Ballad of Jed Clamplett".......and it's guaranteed to get toes to tapping and booties to shaking.  There's a lot of great harmonica players out there today, and Steve Krase is certainly near the top of the heap.  Blues fans need this one in their collection, no question about it.


City Soul is the new release from Chicago singer/harp player Russ Green. It's a rock solid release of Chicago blues and R&B. Green began playing music as a young adult and was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, seeking to replicate the guitar legend's sound on an instrument he could afford at the time, his harmonica. After hearing Sugar Blue, he found his sound. Not only is he an excellent harmonica player, he's a smooth and soulful singer and a great songwriter. This is a fine disc of modern Windy City Blues and Soul that is worth a listen.





Several months ago, I listened to a podcast interview with Dick Shurman and he mentioned that he had worked with Steve Wagner on an upcoming Carey Bell tribute album, Tribute To Carey Bell, with Lurrie Bell (guitar/vocals) and his brothers Steve (harmonica), Tyson (bass), and James (drums, vocals). I couldn't wait to hear it and I was not disappointed at the results. 
Let me tell you right now, that if you're a blues fan, particularly a Chicago Blues fan, you need to have this disc in your collection. This was truly a labor of love for all involved and includes appearances from Billy Branch, Charlie Musselwhite, Surrito Ariyoshi, and Eddie Taylor, Jr. The Bells, dubbed the Bell Dynasty for this release, need to consider doing future recordings together because this one was very enjoyable.


Several years ago, I met a drummer from Denmark named Tim Lothar Petersen on the old Blues Access message board. Tim was looking for an article on the great drummer Fred Below. I sent him a copy of one that I had and we struck up a friendship. Turns out that he was the drummer in a Danish blues band called Lightnin' Moe. A few years ago, he taught himself how to play guitar and embarked on a solo career, releasing several very good albums, which show his dexterity as a guitarist and his ability to interpret old songs and write his own compositions.

His most recent album, called More Stories, is a sequel of sorts to his previous solo effort called, you guessed it, Stories. He allowed me to look in on the creative process with this one......how he developed the songs and the early "scratch" recordings that he did on them and it really opened my eyes to the entire creative process. It's a great disc with some very personal songs, some reflective, some humorous, some poignant.

Tim also recently released an acoustic album with some of his friends, harmonica player Peter Nande and percussionist Mik Schack, called Walk Right In. It's a delightful set of mostly old classic pre-war blues and gospel blues recorded at Schack's home in Copenhagen in front of an appreciative audience. The trio plays acoustic guitars, harmonica, suitcase drum, washboard, woodblocks, and jub, and they are joined on a couple of tracks by Svante Sjoblom Vrak, who plays banjolin and lapsteel. It's obvious that this isn't their first rodeo because they complement each other so well.
Tim's recordings are on iTunes and some are available on Amazon or CDBaby, so check this talented guy out. There are a lot of talented folks in Europe like Tim and Peter that are making some fine blues music.

More reviews coming in the future.  You can check them out here or on our Facebook page.  

Friday, September 21, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Twelve

As I've mentioned several times, the first blues recording I ever picked up was Showdown!, from Texas blues legends Albert Collins and Johnny Clyde Copeland, along with a newcomer who was attracting a lot of attention during the mid 80's, Robert Cray.  It's not much of an exaggeration to say that listening to this album was a life-changing experience for your humble correspondent.  Today, some 32 years later, I'm still hooked on the blues in a big way.  The music still grabs me just as tightly as it did in March of 1986, when I plugged this cassette into my car stereo.

There are several songs from Showdown! that would be an excellent fit on a blues fix mix CD, but the one I chose for Track Twelve of Volume Two was the song that drew me to the music the most.  Copeland wrote "Bring Your Fine Self Home," and he and Collins are at their absolute best (Cray sat this one out).  The Iceman even broke out his harmonica for this track and he and Copeland set the mood from the beginning with a little banter.  

Copeland was always a powerful singer, and he really pulls out all the stops on this one.....yes, Shemekia Copeland is his daughter, in case you didn't know.  Although he recorded frequently, beginning in the late 50's, he really didn't break out until the 80's, when he recorded Copeland Special and Texas Twister (the latter with appearances from Stevie Ray Vaughan), both of which were still fairly new releases when Showdown! hit stores.  His vocal made a believer out of me, and when Collins launched into his barbed wire solo about midway through, it raised chill bumps the first time I heard it.



Like I said, this CD was a life-changer, and this is only one of the fantastic tunes featured.  Each guitarist had some great moments on Showdown! and the end result was a Grammy in 1987 for Best Traditional Blues Album.  It's still Alligator Records' best-selling album of all time and I can't recommend it highly enough.  It's unfortunate that these guys never got the chance to team up again, though Collins did appear on one of Cray's early 90's albums shortly before his death. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Eleven

I apologize for the rather sporadic posting schedule over the summer.  I've been trying to spend what spare time I have working on CD reviews for Blues Bytes.  Due to being very busy at work and at home, I've been pretty backed up for quite a while, which is why I haven't been posting reviews here as much.....I hate to write them up twice when I could be working on another release.  I'm hoping to catch up, maybe by the end of the year, but I'm still about two months behind.  It's a nice problem to have, though, because there are some great new releases that are out there right now.  Anyway, you didn't come by to hear my blues.....you want to hear some real good down-home blues, right?  Well, check out this week's selection from our Blues Fix Mix CD.......Track Eleven to be exact.


This week's track is a bit of a change of pace and features one of my favorite tracks from one of my favorite duos, guitarist Corey Harris and New Orleans' late, great piano man Henry Butler, who passed away just a couple of months ago.  Harris' acoustic blues really made their mark when he signed with Alligator back in 1995.  His version of the Delta blues was refreshing and dynamic on his debut, and he also added other influences to his music with each new album, such as New Orleans jazz, Latin, Island, and World Music.  On his 1999 masterpiece, Greens From The Garden, Harris collaborated with Butler for the first time.  Butler's catalog was nearly as eclectic as Harris', with ventures into not only jazz, but blues, funk, and even a bit of classical and gospel.


In 2000, Harris and Butler collaborated for Vu-Du Menz, a wonderful set of blues guitar/piano duets that bring to mind the classic sounds of 20's and 30's blues.  The pair also dove into soul, barrelhouse,  ragtime and a couple of gospel tracks.  There are so many good songs on this set, but my favorite has to be the lively, piano-driven "If You Let A Man Kick You Once."  Written by Harris, this is a fun track that would have been a great fit during the 20's and 30's.  His lyrics are entertaining and Butler really tears it up on piano.  The line "From the time you're born, 'til you're ridin' in the hearse/ain't nothin' so bad that it couldn't get worse" is one that each of us can use just about every day of our lives......I know I have used it many times.  

As stated above, Butler died in early July from colon cancer.  He recorded a few albums after Vu-Du Menz, including a fantastic collection of solo live performances in 2008 that spanned a couple of decades called PiaNOLA Live.  Harris has continued to record as well, though he's into African and Jamaican music as much as he is the blues.  Whatever music he chooses to make is compelling music.






Friday, August 31, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Ten

For Track Ten, we're going to keep things rolling in Louisiana, with one of the most successful of Excello Record's stable of swamp blues artists, Slim Harpo.  As I mentioned in my previous post a couple of weeks ago, I've been digging deep into the sounds of the swamp with Ace's Bluesin' By The Bayou series, and Mr. Harpo has several tracks included in that series (and graces the cover of the second volume).  I first got into the Excello catalog via Hip-O's House Rockin' & Hip Shakin' series of releases in the late 90's and if you can track either of these series down......even a volume or two of each, they are well worth any blues fan's time.

Mr. Slim Harpo was born James Moore in 1924 and worked as a longshoreman and construction worker as a youth, playing music on the side under the name Harmonica Slim, sometimes accompanying his brother-in-law Lightnin' Slim.  When he started recording for Excello in the late 50's, he changed his stage name to Slim Harpo to avoid confusion with another performer using the Harmonica Slim name.  Harpo's first recording, and hit, was "I'm A King Bee," but it wasn't his last.  His first chart hit was "Rainin' In My Heart," in 1961.

Harpo was influenced by Jimmy Reed, but his music was actually more accessible to a wider audience than Reed's.  One of the best descriptions I've read of Harpo was that his voice reminded one writer of a cross between a black blues singer singing country and a white country singer singing the blues.  His music used rock n' roll influences at times and his singing was reminiscent of country music at times.  In fact, his music has been recorded by artists of multiple genres over the years.

Harpo's biggest hit was released in 1966 and is this week's Blues Fix Mix track, "Baby Scratch My Back."  Largely instrumental, it hit #1 on the R&B charts and #16 on the pop charts.  Like most of his other recordings, it had a little blues, a little rock, and a little country music mixed together.......the essence of Swamp Blues.


   


Harpo was beginning to expand his audience in the late 60's with regular touring, and was gaining a larger fan base from young rock n' roll fans.  While getting ready for a tour of Europe with some recording sessions mixed in, he suddenly died of a heart attack at age 46.  His impressive body of work is available in several different collections for several different labels and any blues fan needs to have some of it in their collection.


Since our posting has been a bit erratic this summer......thanks for hanging in there with us.....here's a list of Volume Two's tracks to date:

"Mannish Boy" - Muddy Waters
"Big Legs" - Zuzu Bollin
"If It Wasn't For Bad Luck" - Lee "Shot" Williams
"Taylor Rock" - Sonny Landreth
"How'd You Learn To Shake It Like That" - Snooky Pryor with Eddie Taylor
"The Score" - The Robert Cray Band
"Ninety-Nine" - Bobby Rush
"Your Love Is Like A Cancer" - The Son Seals Blues Band
"Rats & Roaches In My Kitchen" - Larry Garner
"Baby Scratch My Back" - Slim Harpo


Friday, August 3, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Nine

Over the last few weeks, your humble correspondent has been taking in quite a bit of swamp blues via the Ace UK Bluesin' By The Bayou series (which I hope to post about in the near future).  I spent a large chunk of the Amazon card I received for my birthday to catch up with this series, along with some previously mentioned items and a few others that I haven't gotten to just yet, and I'll save the details for that later post, but one of the songs in the collection is a little blues ditty from 1962 by Silas Hogan called "Trouble At Home Blues," that's is a classic example of swamp blues......a little country and a little rock n' roll and a lot of blues.




Hearing that track again reminded me of the next selection on Volume Two of our Blues Fix Mix CD, which is a reconstruction of "Trouble At Home Blues" from one of my favorite modern-day swamp blues artists, Mr. Larry Garner, who recorded it as "Rats And Roaches In My Kitchen" (as Hogan did later in his career) for his mid 90's Verve/Gitanes release You Need To Live A Little.  Where Hogan was backed by harmonica on his version for Excello, Garner opted for a little extra guitar support from that slide guitar master Sonny Landreth (who previously appeared on Track Four of this volume).  

Garner has a lot of fun with his version....it's not quite as somber and forlorn as Hogan's rendition.....and he and Landreth work very well together.  You Need To Live A Little is probably my favorite Larry Garner album (and the first I was able to track down) and this tune is a big reason.  Check it out and see if you agree.


Garner is also one of the finest songwriters currently practicing in the blues genre, so if you aren't familiar with him and you dig the blues, you really should be.  


Friday, July 27, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Eight

Apologies to those who stop by regularly for the absence of new posts this month.  Your humble correspondent has been battling computer issues and a multitude of other unplanned events during the past few weeks, but this week, there's been enough time to sneak in a look at the next track on Volume Two of our Blues Fix Mix CD, so here we go......


I've written before about the music of Son Seals.  He's been on FBF's list of favorites for a long time, ever since I first heard him sing about "going home where women got meat on their bones" on Alligator's first Genuine Houserockin' Music anthology back in the mid 80's.  One of the first CD I actually purchased of Seals' was his Live & Burning set from a mid 80's appearance at the Wise Fools Pub, which remains one of my favorite live recordings of any genre, but most especially the blues genre.......just a dynamite set from start to finish.  From there, I collected everything else he released on Alligator, plus a live date on the old B.L.U.E.S R&B label that was cassette only and really needs to be released on CD or even digitally (same label as the amazing Magic Slim Live at B.L.U.E.S. album discussed here many years ago.

The last Son Seals recording I was able to track down was ironically his very first one, The Son Seals Blues Band.  The story goes that Bruce Iglauer got a call from his friend Wesley Race, who was attending a Seals performance at the Flamingo Club on Chicago's South Side.  Race called Iglauer to rave about Seals and held the receiver of the pay phone out in the direction of the bandstand, so Iglauer could hear the band.  The Alligator head man wasted little time getting Seals in the studio and it became the label's third-ever release.  Rough and ragged, befitting the label's future motto ("Genuine Houserockin' Music"), the album was loaded from can to can't with Seals' rugged vocals and his raw guitar work, which you felt down your backbone when he was at his best.

My favorite tune on the track was one of the most unusual, "Your Love Is Like A Cancer."  Obviously not your typical love song, this is Seals at his most intense.  The guitar work and the vocal sound like they're coming from a man who's at the end of his rope, desperate for something to change, but at the same time reluctant to let it go.  Most people have lived long enough to encounter a lover who fits this particular description, so they can definitely relate to Seals' plight here.  I thought it was a perfect fit for a mix CD of this type, to give new listeners a taste of the real, REAL thing and to make longtime listeners smile.  Enjoy!!