Friday, June 15, 2018

New Blues For You - June, 2018 Edition

It's time once again for a new batch of mini-reviews of new releases over the last few months.  As most readers know, your humble correspondent also writes reviews for Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.  I'm looking at a huge stack to review over the next few months, but I'm taking a little time to give you a sneak preview at a handful of the cream of the crop each month, so you can get your hands on them as fast as you can.  Hopefully, each month FBF will be offering up a few reviews of new and upcoming blues albums, so be sure to check back in on a regular basis. We appreciate your support, as always.

Victor Wainwright picked up another couple of awards a couple of weeks ago at the 2018 Blues Music Award - his second consecutive Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year and Blues Band of the Year.  Recently the keyboard master put together a new band called The Train, and their new self-titled release (Ruf Records) will probably result in Wainwright returning to the stage for a couple more BMA's next spring.  

The new release features a dozen new songs that touch on a variety of music styles.  Of course, there are several furious piano workouts that will have listeners moving whatever they're able to move, but there's also a couple of songs that find Wainwright mining the swampy blues territory of Dr. John and Leon Russell.  He also ventures into the deep soul arena on a couple of tracks and there's also a positively Allmanesque instrumental and a fine tribute to B.B. King that features guitarist Monster Mike Welch.  Wainwright is a great songwriter with a updated perspective on old blues subjects and several of these will make listeners smile knowingly, whether procrastinating on going to the doctor, keeping a positive outlook, or thinking about the one you love.  Blues fans should track this one down because anything from Victor Wainwright is a sure thing.

It only makes sense that young A J Ghent [J-ent] is a formidable steel guitarist.....his father is Aubrey Ghent, one of the current Sacred Steel guitar masters who has emerged over the last 20 years, his great uncle, Willie Eason is considered to be the creator of the Sacred Steel Tradition, and his grandfather, Henry Nelson, is the founder of the Sacred Steel rhythmic guitar style.  Young Ghent is not only carrying on their traditional Sacred Steel form, but he can also tear it up a slide guitar or resonator guitar) and he has expanded his sound to take in elements of blues, funk, pop, rock, and R&B.

His latest release, The Neo Blues Project (Ropeadope Records), is a six-song EP that not only shows off his mad guitar skills, but also reveals his talents as a singer, songwriter (he wrote five of the six tunes), and musician (he played all the instruments on the album).  Several of the songs mix the blues effectively with heavy doses of funk, There's one raw house rocker that folks will be talking about which combines the best qualities of Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, and Gary Clark, Jr.  There are a pair of deep soul ballads that showcase his singing ability, and a straight-forward rock n' roller.  The disc is just over 20 minutes, but you won't just listen to it one time anyway.  Hopefully, this disc will lead to a future full-lengther very soon.

Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys recently marked 20 years as one of the hardest-working blues bands in the business.  Long regarded as one of the finest blues bands in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee-based band recently released My Life (Nevermore Records), a compilation of 16 tracks from the band's previous four albums, remixed or re-recorded as a new version.  Raven and his associates are equally adept at Chicago-styled blues, Delta blues, and Swamp blues, not to mention jazz, swing, roadhouse and jump blues.  Raven enlists several harmonica players who have played and toured with the band over the years, Cadillac Pete Rahn, Benny Rickun, Madison Slim, and Westside Andy Linderman, along with sax man Big Al Groth on a couple of tracks, and the Reverend is a veritable force of nature himself on guitar and vocals. This is a fabulous look at some of the finest work of this excellent band over the last couple of decades and it will definitely make listeners want to dig deeper into the band's catalog.

I heard about Long Tall Deb and Colin John a couple of years ago, when they released the EP, Streets of Munbai a couple of years ago.  I never had the opportunity to hear it, but I have heard the follow-up, Dragonfly (Vizztone), and I recommend it without hesitation.  The duo has traveled the world over the past couple of years, visiting much of America and also Europe, India, and Nepal.  The new album embraces not only blues, but Americana, rock n' roll, jazz, surf, pop, and world music, and it's loaded with surprises.  John is a superlative guitarist and Deb is a great vocalist with a lot of range, which works well with these tunes, which meld a lot of different styles.  One song sounds like a mash-up between surf music and a spaghetti western, while John breaks out a sitar and a baritone guitar on another tune.  Another tune blends surf guitar and Spanish influences.  This all makes for a wonderful listening experience.  While all of it is not blues, it has strong roots in the genre, and the combination of John's guitar work, Deb's vocals, the excellent songwriting, and interesting musical twists make this one that deserves to be give it a listen!!

Several years ago, I met a fellow blues fan named Jim Shortt on the old Blues Access music board.  Jim was a retired computer ace at the Johnson Space Center, but he had been a lifelong blues fan, even helping Johnny and Edgar Winter book a few shows when he was in college and the brothers were in their teens.  He knew just about everybody who was anybody on the Houston music scene and introduced me to a whole lot of great music that I'd never heard before.  He loved to send me mix CDs of bands from his area, plus lots of swamp blues and pop songs from years ago....many of which I still listen to.  He also would send me songs via email that he thought I would dig.  One of those was from a guy named Tommy Dardar, who was a music legend in Houston.  He was known by all as "Big Daddy Gumbo" and he played along side nearly all of Houston's blues and R&B stars over the years, singing and playing harmonica up until his sudden death in July of 2017.

Dardar released a great album in 1999, Fool For Love, that brought a lot of attention to him....enough to encourage him to start recording a follow-up in 2001.  Sadly, he had to suspend production due to financial and health issues and never was able to get back to it. Happily, his friend and producer Tony Braunagel was able to locate the tracks Dardar recorded and finish them up with help from the original studio band (including Braunagel on drums, Johnny Lee Schell on guitar, Jon Cleary on piano, and Hutch Hutchinson on bass), plus a lot of Dardar's buddies on the music scene.....including Mike Finnigan, Joe Sublett, vocalists Tommie Lee Bradley and Teresa James.  The finished product, Big Daddy Gumbo, features Dardar's eight recorded track, an excellent set of originals written by Dardar and his friends, plus a loving tribute by the friends that closes the disc.  There's plenty of great blues, Gulf Coast-flavored R&B, and Swamp Pop in these track and Dardar's powerful vocals and harp are front and center.  It's too bad that this great artist didn't get the recognition he deserved, but thank goodness Braunagel and friends were able to get this out there to allow blues fans to hear what they missed.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Chief

Late last week, the blues world lost one of its great characters when Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater died on Friday of heart failure at the age of 83.  He was still active on the of my friends saw him a couple of weeks ago during the Beale Street Festival, where he put on quite a show.  In fact, he was renowned for his live performances and his music, both of which combined the best qualities of the blues, 50's-era rock n' roll, a little bit of country as well as gospel.  He was also inclined to wearing Native American headdresses during his performances, which earned him his nickname.

I listened to Clearwater a lot over the years, beginning back in my early days as a blues fan, when I purchased his Flimdoozie album at Stackhouse Records in Clarksdale.  I had heard a lot about his album, The Chief, which, like Flimdoozie, was released on Rooster Blues Records, but was unavailable the day I traveled to the Delta.  Just as well, I played Flimdoozie quite a bit in the coming weeks.....Clearwater was joined by one of my favorites, Otis Rush, on a couple of tracks and harmonica master Sugar Blue as well.  Later on, I finally got to hear The Chief and I understood what the fuss was all about.  My favorite Clearwater song is on The Chief, "I Wouldn't Lay My Guitar Down."

Over the years, I've heard much more from The Chief......I really liked his Chuck Berry approach to the blues.  It helped him to stand out from the pack, but he was equally adept at the straight ahead West Side blues, too.  I found the Delmark album, Chicago Ain't Nothin' but a Blues Band, which collected several recordings from Clearwater's uncle, Reverend Houston H. Harrington's small 50's label, Atomic-H, including a pair of Eddy Clearwater first tracks, as Clear Waters.

Clearwater was born Eddy Harrington in Macon, MS in 1935, but he was Clear Waters as a takeoff on Muddy Waters.  After recording in the early 60's for Federal Records, he was known as Eddy Clearwater and that name stuck as he recorded singles for Federal, USA Records, and other labels during the 60's all the way through those great recordings for Rooster Blues in the 80's.

In the 90's, Clearwater recorded albums for several labels......his own Cleartone Records, Blind Pig Records, and an extended run with Rounder's Bullseye Blues subsidiary, including an interesting album with the surf rock band Los Straitjackets.  His last disc came from Alligator Records in 2008, West Side Strut, but he continued performing, appearing at the aforementioned Beale Street Festival in early May and at Buddy Guy's Legends a couple of weeks before he passed away on June 1st.


Eddy Clearwater was one of the most consistent and durable blues artists on the scene for a long time.  For over 60 years, The Chief packed quite a punch.  Please remember his family in your prayers and be sure to check out some of his most impressive catalog.

Eddy Clearwater - Beale Street Music Festival - May 5th, 2018 (Photo by Scotty Russell)

Friday, June 1, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Six

Robert Cray with Hi Rhythm and Steve Jordan
When your humble correspondent began listening to the blues, one of the first artists whose work he followed closely was Robert Cray.  Young Bob was one of the featured artists on the first blues album I ever owned (Showdown! on Alligator Records).  Not long after that purchase, I found a copy of Cray's Bad Influence, which only reinforced my admiration for this music.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Though I have discovered many other blues titans during my 30+ years of listening, I still check out the occasional Robert Cray release, including his last one, where he's backed with the great Hi Records Rhythm Section in a "Dream Team" setting.

Over the years, I've compiled a couple of Robert Cray "Greatest Hits" compilations in my time to introduce his music to fledgling blues fans, but one of my all time favorite tracks from Young Bob actually came from his debut release, Who's Been Talkin', which was actually recorded in the late 70's and released in 1980 to limited distribution.  Atlantic Records reissued it in 1986, around the time that Cray's breakthrough album, Strong Persuader, hit the charts.  Cray's usual brand of the blues mixes the blues with the classic sounds of Memphis soul in a very effective way, but this early release is considered by many to be Cray's most "blues-oriented" album.

I agree to an extent......there are some fantastic covers here of tunes associated with blues legends like Freddie King ("The Welfare Turns It's Back On You"), Sam Myers ("Sleeping In The Ground"), Willie Dixon ("Too Many Cooks," a hit for Jessie Fortune back in the 50's), and Howlin' Wolf (the haunting title track), but there is also a dynamite soul-drenched take on O.V. Wright's "I'm Gonna Forget About You" (a duet with a young Curtis Salgado, who was a huge influence on John Belushi's Jake Blues character).  Cray wrote several of the noteworthy original tunes as well and they're in his classic blues-soul format, but my favorite song on the disc was "The Score," a tune from Dennis Walker and Bruce Bromberg (as D Amy) about a wronged lover who finally figures things out.  Cray launches it with one of his best solos.......he's always been a crisp and concise soloist, but this one really packs a lot of wallop in a short burst.  I would have loved to have heard B.B. King do this song.......that's who it reminded me of when I first heard it.  If you've not heard this album, it's well worth seeking out.

Friday Blues Fix Mix CD, Volume Two track list to date........

1.  Muddy Waters - "Mannish Boy" (from the album Hard Again)
2.  Zuzu Bollin - "Big Legs" (from Texas Bluesman)
3.  Lee "Shot" Williams - "If It Wasn't For Bad Luck" (from Cold Shot)
4.  Sonny Landreth - "Taylor's Rock" (from Hound Dog Taylor:  A Tribute)
5.  Snooky Pryor - "How'd You Learn To Shake It Like That" (from Antone's Tenth Anniversary Anthology - Volume 1)
6.  The Robert Cray Band - "The Score" (from Who's Been Talkin')

Friday, May 25, 2018

Music From The Morganfields

Mud and Big Bill, with brother Joe Morganfield (Photo - Lynn Orman Weiss)
During the last year or so, two members of one of the First Families of the Blues have issued new releases that show that the blues is doing just fine continuing into the next generations.  There have been other blues families that have carried on the tradition over the years (Carey Bell and family, Raful Neal and family, James and Lucky Peterson, Luther and Bernard Allison, Tabby Thomas and Chris Thomas King, etc.......) and all have enjoyed a healthy measure of success, but it's been a really cool thing to see Big Bill Morganfield and Mud Morganfield, the descendants of Muddy Waters, find the spotlight as well, because though they had a huge pair of shoes to fill, they've repeatedly proved that they are more than up to the task.

Big Bill Morganfield had little contact with his famous father as a child.  He was born in 1956 in Chicago, but was raised in Georgia by his grandmother.   Growing up, he did listen to Muddy Waters records, but also the standard popular fare of the day.....R&B, soul, etc....  He also earned degrees at Tuskegee University and Auburn University and became a teacher.  Though he always dabbled in music, Morganfield began to seriously pursue it after his father passed away in 1983.  He bought a guitar a few years after his father died, and spent the next six years learning to play by studying his father's music as well as many of the old masters.

By the mid 90's, he had his own band, The Stone Cold Blues Band, and began to attract attention, but his career really took off after his first release on Blind Pig Records, Rising Son, hit the streets in 1999.  It featured several of his father's former band members, including Pinetop Perkins, Paul Oscher, and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith.  Morganfield sounded a lot like his father as a vocalist and showed some pretty impressive skills on guitar, particularly slide.  The best thing about it was that while he did cover some of his dad's tunes (and some other classics as well), he brought several great songs of his own to the table.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I first heard it...these were the days before songs were blasted all over the internet like they are today....but I have to say that I was really blown away by his talent and the fact that he was the son of Muddy Waters played very little into that.

Since then, Big Bill has released several very good albums, including last year's Bloodstains On The Wall, which to these ears, is his best release yet.  Like on his previous releases, he offers up some choice cover tunes from a wide variety of sources......Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, Lonesome Sundown, the title track from Alabama blues artist Frank "Honeyboy" Patt, Jimmy Reed, and Jimmy McCracklin, and his own songs are as strong as the covers.  He even ventures into more modern sounds with one track, blending his voice and guitar with hip and electronica......even if that's not your bag, it's pretty cool that he's venturing into what must be unfamiliar territory music-wise.

Bloodstains On The Wall was released about this time last year, during my extended leave of absence from blogging, but it really stood out to me.  It's nice to hear the traces of Muddy Waters in Morganfield's voice and his guitar.....who wouldn't want to hear that.....but it's also great to see him branching out from that sound and developing his own distinctive sound.

Like his brother, Larry "Mud" Morganfield never really got to know his father.  He was born in 1954 in Chicago and was raised by his mother and her seven brothers.  Though his father, busy with touring and traveling, did occasionally visit him (giving him a drum set when he was a kid) and despite being around music most of his life, like his brother, he never seriously pursued it until his father passed away, even though he played drums and later moved to bass guitar.  He actually made a living driving a truck, but a recurring dream about his dad performing on stage encouraged him to give the blues a shot.

His vocals strongly resemble his father's in their tone and phrasing, but again like his brother, Mud grew up listening not only to his father's music, but also the popular music of the time, particularly R&B, soul, and Motown, and his live sets featured a mix of those styles.  His first album release came much later in 2008 on the Gypsy Woman/Pops Daisy label, but he also released a live disc that year with the Dirty Aces.  In 2012, after signing with Severn Records, he released Son of the Seventh Son.  A powerful set, Morganfield wrote most of the songs, but covered one of his father's tunes, a chilling read of "You Can't Lose What You Never Had" that sounds for all the world like his father singing it back in the day.

Though I've never heard his early recordings, I did review Son of the Seventh Son for Blues Bytes and the vocal resemblance was just amazing to me.  Morganfield's next release, For Pops:  A Tribute To Muddy Waters, was, as the title would indicate, a loving tribute to his dad.  Morganfield covered fourteen of his father's most beloved tunes, backed by the incredible harmonica legend Kim Wilson.  Severn Records president David Earl reported that he was inundated with phone calls and emails after Morganfield's debut release, demanding that he and Wilson (also with Severn) join forces.

More recently, Morganfield released They Call Me Mud, also on Severn Records. It's a bit of a change from his previous efforts in that while he does cover a few of his father's tunes in that magnificent voice, and also offers a few originals that touch on that traditional Chicago-from-the-Delta quality, there's a definite soul/R&B feel to about half of the album, sometimes combining funk and even a touch of jazz to the soul/R&B tunes.  On these tunes, Morganfield doesn't sound as much like his father, but he still sounds great, and there's even one song that he sings with his daughter, Lashunda Williams.

Like his brother, Mud Morganfield manages to carry on the proud musical traditions of his father, but he also shows that he is more than capable of branching out to other styles with relative ease.


I think Muddy Waters would be extremely proud of his sons doing their part to keep the blues alive.  If you haven't had the chance to check out either of these fine artists, I highly recommend you give their music a spin.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #21

Once again, dear readers, it's time for Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something Blue.......our 21st edition.  This has been one of our favorite themes over the years, dating back to FBF's early days as a weekly email to co-workers.  For those unfamiliar with the format, we offer a song from the early days of the blues (Something Old), a song from a recent blues artist (Something New), a blues artist covering a rock song or vice versa (Something Borrowed), and finally, someone who epitomizes the blues.....usually a legendary artist (Something Blue).  Pretty simple format that can be worked in a lot of different ways.  Here we go......

A couple of times on previous editions of Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, we've taken variations of a familiar blues song.  We're going to do that this time with the North Mississippi hill country blues classic "See My Jumper Hanging On The Line."  Most blues fans have heard it before from the late R.L. Burnside, but they may not know what the phrase means.  Supposedly, in blues lore, if a married woman hung her housecoat, or "jumper," on the clothesline, it was a signal to her lover that the coast was clear, so to speak.  The song was one of Burnside's most recorded songs, and certainly one that his fans loved to hear him perform.  It was the first Burnside song I ever heard, on the soundtrack to Deep Blues in 1992.  For the Something Old portion of today's post, here's the great Mr. Burnside performing this tune sometime in 1978, filmed as part of a documentary by Alan Lomax.  I realize that for some,  like me, 1978 is not OLD, but it's old enough for today's purpose.

For Something New, check out this rendition of "Jumper" from Muddy Gurdy, the recent collaboration by the French trio Hypnotic Wheels and a host of the current cream of the North Mississippi hill country crop.......Cedric Burnside, Sharde' Thomas, Cameron Kimbrough, and Pat Thomas.  The interesting thing about this collaboration is the inclusion of the Hurdy-Gurdy into the mix.  The Hurdy-Gurdy is a traditional French instrument, operated by a hand crank, and has a most interesting sound, sort of a combination of an accordion and a fiddle.  This sound works really well with this album, which is a set of mostly older tunes made popular by various hill country artists and one of them was "Jumper On The Line," of course.  Cedric Burnside, R.L.'s grandson, takes the mic for this rendition.  

For Something Borrowed, here's the Kansas roots rockers Moreland and Arbuckle's version, first heard on their 1861 album in 2008.  This trio (guitarist Aaron Moreland, vocalist/harmonicist Dustin Arbuckle, and drummer Kendall Newby) has recorded for several labels, Northernblues Music, Telarc, and most recently Alligator, but their 1861 album is my favorite because it has their smoking version of "Jumper On The Line."  If you've not heard these guys, you certainly need to.  They're the real deal.  This live recording was taken in early 2009, not long after 1861 was released, as part of a broadcast on Wichita Public Television.

For Something Blue, here's another look at Burnside performing this tune......this time with his band, The Sound Machine from recordings he made in the late 70's/early 80's for Dr. David Evans (later released as Sound Machine Groove).  These were Burnside's first recordings with his band (made up of family members) and also his first electric recordings.  If you've never heard these recordings, you need to check them out because these are some of his best and they really have a funkier edge than most of Burnside's recordings.  This is probably my favorite version of "Jumper On The Line," and just one of the great songs on this set, which is worth seeking out, as are all of Dr. Evans' series of recordings from that time period.

Friday, May 11, 2018

New Blues For You - May, 2018 Edition

A little change of pace this week as FBF looks at a few new releases that are well worth your time.  As always, expanded versions of most of these albums will appear in upcoming issues of Blues Bytes, the monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.  Your humble correspondent has been listening to a LOT of great new releases lately and reviews of each of these (and many others) will be available at Blues Bytes in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, here's a few quick picks to check out......

A longtime vet of the L.A. blues scene, drummer Johnny Tucker backed Phillip Walker for over 30 years, as well as other area greats, but still found time to make a few recordings of his own, showing a fine voice as comfortable singing soul as he was the blues.  His latest, Seven Day Blues (High John Records), is his first release in nearly 12 years, and has a definite Chicago feel to it with several guest musicians who know the sound very well - guitarist Big Jon Atkinson (who also produced), guitarist Kid Ramos, and harmonica ace Bob Corritore.  Tucker wrote all fifteen songs and there's not a dud in the bunch.....each tune sounds like a long-lost track from the 50's, lyrically and instrumentally.  His warm, seasoned vocals are a great fit for this style of blues and fans of old-school, traditional blues will be hitting "Replay" on this one for sure.

If you were a music fan in the late 60's or early 70's, chances are very good that you heard a song that was recorded in Muscle Shoals, AL with musical backing from The Swampers.  These guys (keyboardist Barry Beckett, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, bassist David Hood, and drummer Roger Hawkins) played on hits for Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, Percy Sledge, the Staple Singers, Bob Seger, the Rolling Stones, Delbert McClinton, and many, many others.  Lynyrd Skynyrd refers to them in "Sweet Home Alabama" (hence the title of this album).  Malaco Records discovered a set of recordings by the rhythm section.....some of them were studio jams, some were recordings they made by request.....and has collected the set as Muscle Shoals Has Got The Swampers.  It's a fine set of 14 instrumentals that cover a lot of ground......blues, R&B, Southern rock, and soul......think of a Booker T & the M.G.'s/the Meters/Sea Level merger and you've got The Swampers.  Glad Malaco saw fit to get these out to the listening public.

I was listening to Beale Street Caravan a few weeks ago and their featured artist was Paul Thorn.  During a short interview, Thorn stated that his next album would be a collection of gospel tunes, which intrigued me.  Paul Thorn fans are aware that the singer's dad was a Pentecostal preacher and young Paul grew up singing and playing tambourine at church.  He traveled to different churches with his dad to perform and Thorn fell in love with the music in the black churches, which were R&B-based.  Thorn's Don't Let The Devil Ride (Perpetual Obscurity Records) pays tribute to those old timey Southern gospel songs, covering 14 familiar and not-so-familiar tracks.  Thorn's gritty, weathered vocals are a snug fit with these tunes, and he gets some very complimentary backing from a prestigious list of guest artists.....the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's horn section, and, have mercy, the McCrary Sisters.

What makes a good live album?  For me, it's three things.  First, it has sound just like you're in the audience.  Second, the band really has to be firing on all cylinders.  Third, it has to be so good that you wish you had been there to experience it.  Backstage Pass, the newest release by Memphis' Ghost Town Blues Band has all three of those qualities and probably a few more to boot.  One of the things I really like about GTBB is that it's obvious from the beginning that Matt Isbell and company are having as much fun as their audience is and that really comes through on this album.  The band itself is like a well-oiled machine and their influences range from the blues and soul that's central to their home base to Crescent City R&B to the Southern rock of the Allmans and even classic rock.  Speaking of which, It's really cool the way that the band inserts bluesified snippets of rock classics into their songs, and the way that they transform songs from other artists, classic tunes even, giving them a unique GTBB makeover.  I will tell you that you will not want this 9-song, 65-minute set to end.....seriously.  This is one of the best live discs I've heard in a long, long time.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Five

Track Five of our second Blues Fix Mix CD comes from one of my favorite blues albums.  In fact, there are several tracks in this series that come from this album, including a pair that showed up on Volume One.....Otis Rush's "Double Trouble" and Pinetop Perkins' "Caldonia."  Volume Two's selection is the opening track from the album, which was a collection of live recordings in the mid-80's from some of the living legends of the blues celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Austin club Antone's.  The opening track teamed harmonica pioneer James "Snooky" Pryor with guitarist Eddie Taylor for a show-stopping version of Pryor's "How'd You Learn To Shake It Like That?"

Born in Lambert, MS in 1921, Pryor claimed to be the first harmonica player to play through a P.A. system.  He claimed to have done it during his tenure in the army and it inspired him to assemble his own set-up after he was discharged and returned to Chicago in the mid 40's.  In the late 40's/early 50's, he recorded some pioneering tracks with the guitarist Moody Jones, including "Boogie" and "Telephone Blues."  He recorded for several labels in the 50's, including Vee-Jay, Parrot, Planet, and J.O.B., but while his recordings were influential to other artists, he never really achieved any sort of success with them, either on the charts or in the pocketbook, so he bowed out of the music scene during the 60's.  He eventually resurfaced about twenty years later in the late 80's, recording for Blind Pig Records, Antone's, and Electro-Fi and playing numerous festivals right up until his death in 2006 at 85.

"How'd You Learn To Shake It Like That?" was the first Snooky Pryor song that I'd ever heard and it was the first track on that Antone's anniversary album.  When I plugged that in, I was immediately hooked.  Backed by the legendary guitarist Eddie Taylor, Pryor has a blast with this song in front of a really enthusiastic audience.  It goes on for over eight minutes.....Pryor does a verse, a powerhouse harmonica solo, another verse, another solo.  It sounds like he's going to blow the back off the thing a few times.  Taylor launches into a brief solo that sounds like he's using barbed wire for strings about midway through, then Pryor takes it home, but it's almost like the song itself doesn't want to end.  This was just a fun experience to hear.....I can't imagine how much fun it was to hear in person.  I think if you weren't a blues fan before you heard "How'd You Learn To Shake It Like That," you probably became one pretty soon afterward.

Friday Blues Fix Mix CD, Volume Two track list to date........

1.  Muddy Waters - "Mannish Boy" (from the album Hard Again)
2.  Zuzu Bollin - "Big Legs" (from Texas Bluesman)
3.  Lee "Shot" Williams - "If It Wasn't For Bad Luck" (from Cold Shot)
4.  Sonny Landreth - "Taylor's Rock" (from Hound Dog Taylor:  A Tribute)
5.  Snooky Pryor - "How'd You Learn To Shake It Like That" (from Antone's Tenth Anniversary Anthology - Volume 1)

Friday, April 27, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Four

One of my favorite things about listening to the blues has always been the slide guitar, whether one of the bottleneck masters of the pre-war era (Son House, Robert Johnson, Tampa Red, etc.....) or the post-war era (Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Earl Hooker, Homesick James, etc....) or the many current stars currently practicing.  One of my favorites for a long time now has been Sonny Landreth.  Since the first time I heard him playing with John Hiatt in the late 80's, I've been a fan.  He's released some quality music over the years and some of his albums are among my favorites (South of I-10 should be in any music fan's still gets played an awful lot at my house, some twenty three years after I originally purchased it).

Hound Dog Taylor and friend
My favorite Sonny Landreth tune is not actually a Sonny Landreth's a Hound Dog Taylor tune......the Dog's rumbling, stumbling, raggedy instrumental called "Taylor's Rock,"  To be honest, listening to Taylor's original version on his self-titled 1971 Alligator release (the first ever for the label) was a life-changing experience for me......the whole album was, in fact.  I've never heard anyone play the blues quite like Hound Dog Taylor and chances are good that most other blues fans might say the same thing.

Landreth recorded "Taylor's Rock" as part of a Taylor tribute album that Alligator released in 1998.  There are numerous great songs on the album by a host of Alligator's then-current roster, plus others, but Landreth's reading of "Taylor's Rock" is different.  Not nearly as raucous and ragged as the original (and who else could do it that way as well as Taylor), Landreth's version almost seems to soar into the clouds.  It's hard to listen to it in your vehicle without risking a speeding ticket.  I had to include this version in the second Blues Fix Mix CD.  Enjoy!!

Just for kicks, here's Hound Dog Taylor's original version.....

Friday, April 20, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Three

For our next selection, let's move over to the soul-blues side of the aisle with Lee "Shot" Williams.  Williams was raised in Mississippi near his cousin, Little Smokey Smothers, and earned the nickname "Shot" from his mama, because when he was a kid, he loved to wear suits and dress up like a "big shot."  Williams moved to Detroit in the mid 50's and then to Chicago in the late 50's, where he began singing in Smothers' band, later joining Magic Sam's band and after that, he joined Earl Hooker's band.  He recorded singles for multiple labels in the 60's and 70's with a few minor successes, finally releasing his own album in 1977.  In the 80's, he moved to Memphis, where he knew he could catch on with the soul-blues circuit, which he did......I can remember seeing his name plastered on those colorful old posters for various soul-blues festivals in my area.

In the early 90's, Williams sang guest vocals on Smothers' album for the Dutch label Black Magic, Bossman:  The Chicago Blues of Little Smokey Smothers (produced by Dick Shurman).  Based on that performance, the label decided to record Williams with his own band (and Smothers guesting on guitar).  The result was Cold Shot, which was voted Best Blues Album of 1995 in Living Blues magazine's Readers' Poll.  Cold Shot definitely boosted Williams' profile.  He signed with Ecko Records in Memphis and released, naturally, Hot Shot, which is arguably his best effort, along with several other albums for Ecko and, later, CDS Records.  Despite his larger profile from Cold Shot, Williams still mostly toured clubs in the South, though he did play the Chicago Blues Festival in the mid 90's.  He passed away in 2011 at age 73.

Lee "Shot" Williams' contribution to our second Blues Fix Mix CD comes from Cold Shot, and it is a terrific, bombastic cover of "If It Wasn't For Bad Luck," a single released by Ray Charles and Jimmy Lewis in the late 60's.  Where the original version is stripped down and funky, Williams' version benefits greatly from his world-weary vocal, Smothers' stinging guitar break and the Chicago Playboy Horns.  This is one that all of us blues fans can certainly relate to, so sit back and enjoy!!


Friday, April 13, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Two

For the second track of our second mix CD, we'll journey down to Texas and meet Zuzu Bollin.  Bollin's recorded output was pretty limited, but memorable.  Born in 1922, he formed his own combo in the late 40's and later toured with R&B legend Percy Mayfield.  After returning to the Dallas area, he released a pair of 78's in the early 50's on Torch Records....."Why Don't You Eat Where You Slept Last Night"/"Headlight Blues" and "Stavin' Chain"/"Cry Cry Cry."  After that, he toured with a few bands until the mid-60's, when he left the business to go into the dry cleaning business.

Bollin was thought to be dead until Chuck Nevitt of the Dallas Blues Society found him in Dallas in 1988.  After forming a backing band, Nevitt recorded and produced Texas Bluesman, Bollin's first album on his own Dallas Blues Society Records, releasing it in 1989.  Bollin toured behind the album, making appearances in the U.S. and overseas, but unfortunately, he passed away in October of 1990.  Nevitt later sold the record to Antone's Records in Austin, who released it on CD and cassette around 1991.

I first heard of Zuzu Bollin in the late 80's via the full page ads that the Dallas Blues Society placed in Living Blues, but I didn't order it because I didn't have a turntable.  When Antone's released it on cassette, I snatched it up and later bought it on CD.  I really enjoyed Bollin's guitar work, which owed more than a passing debt to another Texas guitarist of note - T-Bone Walker, and his strong, booming vocals.  He re-recorded both sides of his first 78 for the album and included tasty covers of several other familiar jump blues tunes dating back to his first stint in the business, including Track 2 of our collection, a rip-roaring reading of Gene Phillips' "Big Legs."

By the way, Zuzu Bollin was born A.D. Bollin, but earned the nickname "Zuzu" in his early days as a musician from his band mates because he loved a particular brand of ginger snap cookies, called ZuZu's.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track One

Last year, I decided to share the track list of a mix CD that I compiled for a couple of friends who were just starting to get into the blues several years ago.  It served as an introduction to the music for them and included some of the songs that have become favorites of mine over the years.  In all, I've done four volumes that I've shared with some local folks over the years.  The first volume actually existed as a mix cassette tape that's probably about 15-20 years old now.

(By the way, I realize that a lot of folks don't do CDs anymore, opting for downloads and such.  I like to do that sometimes, too, even though I've been around since shortly after man discovered fire.  However, the CD is still a solid way to introduce new listeners to new music, so you youngsters bear with me.)

When you put together collections, sometimes you can get lost in the compiling because you start thinking, "What about Robert Johnson?  I've got to have one of his songs on there.......and T-Bone Walker.......and Howlin' Wolf.....can't have a mix tape without Muddy Waters.....etc...."  I tried on these collections to concentrate more on my favorite songs from over my 30 years of listening to the blues.....more than making sure I covered all the great artists (most of them eventually do make it on one CD or another) or all the classic tunes.  I figured those artists and songs would be easy enough to track down on their own.

Anyway, starting today, we look at FBF's Mix CD, Volume 2.......track 1 is actually by one of those great artists, Muddy Waters, who was born 105 years ago this week (April 4, 1913).  The track that kicks off Volume 2 is his 70's version of "Mannish Boy," which was also the opening track of his "comeback" album in 1975, Hard Again.

Though Waters had been releasing new material for Chess Records until the label folded the same year, none of his later work for Chess was a raw and visceral as the material he recorded under the oversight of Johnny Winter for Winter's Blue Sky label, beginning with Hard Again.  Winter wisely went for a bare-bones production and backed Waters on guitar, along with old musical partners Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, and Bob Margolin.

It's obvious from the beginning that Waters is having more fun than he's had in a while....Winter captures some of the between-song banter to prove it.  Waters released four albums for Blue Sky and really recaptured the feeling of those early Chess sides.  It's a great way to open a collection for new blues fans, who might have actually heard this song on a movie or TV soundtrack over the past thirty years or so.

For those interested, here's Waters' original version of "Mannish Boy," recorded about twenty years earlier in 1955 on Chess.  I prefer the wild and woolly '75 version myself.