Friday, June 25, 2010

Five Albums You Might Have Missed

Part of Friday Blues Fix’s public service to blues fans, newcomers and vets alike, is to advise each of a few albums that might have slipped under the radar the first time around due to limited distribution or other circumstances…..sort of like poor Fenton Robinson’s first release of “Somebody Loan Me A Dime,” which was released the day of a freak snow storm in Chicago.  Here's five albums you might have missed the first time around that are worth a listen.  Some of these may be out of print, but you can probably find them on EBay for a reasonable price.  All are worth tracking down.

U. P. WilsonWhirlwind (JSP) 1997 – This Dallas-based guitarist languished in obscurity for years until he signed with JSP in England. Wilson played for years with Robert Ealey as the Boogie Chillun Boys and was an influence on Stevie Ray Vaughan. He could play anything from the prettiest jazz chords to Magic Sam West Side to T-Bone Walker Texas shuffles to gutbucket blues. JSP released five CDs of Wilson’s music and though they all had some nice moments, this one is the best from start to finish.  When this one came out, I was in something of a rut with blues music and this one was original and unique enough to get my attention and keep it for a while.  Definitely worth a listen.

Fillmore SimsMy Time After Awhile (Uptown Video) 1996 – Clarence Sims has an interesting story, to say the least. Starting out in music, he eventually became a pimp in San Francisco and became so notorious, that he was the subject of a documentary called American Pimp. During a stint in prison, he refocused on music and upon release, he put together a band and started touring. He’s recorded under his own name, as Fillmore Slim, and for this release, as Fillmore Sims. This release was on the tiny label, Uptown Video, and had a somewhat limited release in the mid 90’s. There's not much info in the liner notes, but apparently, Sims played most if not all of the instruments on this disc.  If you can track it down, it has some great urban blues with some impressive lead guitar work that more than offset the cheesy synth horns on a few tracks.

Eddie CusicI Want To Boogie  (Hightone) 1998 – In the 1950's, Cusic was a member of the Rhythm Aces, which also included Little Milton Campbell. Campbell always stated that Cusic was a big influence on his guitar work. Cusic also played with James “Son” Thomas for a time in the 60’s before retiring from music to work in a quarry. After retiring from the quarry, he picked up music again, but mostly played acoustic guitar this time around, and still can be heard from time to time at Delta blues festivals. I Want To Boogie is his only release so far and it features old songs he’s played throughout his career. It’s a great, soothing set of traditional Delta blues just like they used to play. 

The Delta Jukes - Working For The Blues (Black Magic) 2001 - This disc was a sequel of sorts to the wonderful Jelly Roll Kings discs from Earwig and Fat Possum that featured Sam Carr, Frank Frost, and Big Jack Johnson.  By 2001, Frost had passed away and Johnson was enjoying a successful solo career.  Guitarist Fred James had worked with Carr and Frost until Frost's death and wanted to continue to perform together, so they drafted harmonica player/singer/songwriter John Weston and up-and-coming singer/guitarist Dave Riley, made this recording and played a few festivals in the south.  Riley's ragged vocals and guitar was a great replacement for the Oil Man, and Weston lifted things up a notch with his excellent songs and his smooth vocals.  Best of all was Sam Carr, holding things down behind the drum kit (even getting his own instrumental, "Carr Hop").  There's nothing fancy here, just good old blues from the Mississippi Delta by a group of guys who know what they're doing.  Sadly, Carr and Weston have both passed on, but Riley is still a force to be reckoned with, coming off a pair of excellent releases with Bob Corritore.  Check out Riley's vocals (he and Weston alternated vocals on the disc) on "I'm Overdue."

Carol Fran & Clarence Hollimon - Soul Sensation (Black Top Records) 1992 - If you're a regular reader at Blues Bytes, you know that I am a Black Top Records fanatic.  About the time I started listening to the blues, Black Top was one of the labels that regular provided much listening pleasure.  Their specialty was recording artists from the Gulf Coast area (Houston to New Orleans to Baton Rouge to Mississippi) that had not recorded in ages.  Through Black Top, I was able to track down artists like Roy Gaines, James "Thunderbird" Davis, the Neville Brothers, Anson Funderburgh and Sam Myers, Grady Gaines, and one of my all time favorite guitarists, Clarence Hollimon.  Hollimon played on many of Black Top's releases over the years, and his wife, Carol Fran, recorded in the 60's and had a few R&B hits.  Eventually, they were given their own release at Black Top, and it was a fun mix of blues, R&B, zydeco, and whatever else they could throw in the stew.  Hollimon was known as a guitarist, and he had some fine instrumentals here, but he also took the mic occasionally and proved to be a solid vocalist in a Jimmy Reed or Mel Brown style.  He and Fran released two discs for Black Top, and one more for JSP before Hollimon's death in 2000.  Unfortunately, Black Top folded in the late 90's, but some of their releases have been reissued in the last couple of years.  Hopefully, someone will give Soul Sensation the reissue treatment soon.  Here's Fran and Hollimon at the 1993 Chicago Blues Festival.  Divided into three songs, the first three or four minutes is a typical Hollimon instrumental with a title taken from Hollimon's nickname, "Gristle."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Essential Recordings: Son Seals - Live and Burning

This week, continuing FBF's look at Essential Recordings, we'll look at another classic live blues disc.  Son Seals' Live and Burning, from 1978, was a disc that absolutely blew me away from the first time I popped it in my truck stereo way back in the late 80's.

Live & BurningI first heard Son Seals on the Alligator Records collection, Genuine Houserockin' Music.  This was a budget set that the label released that featured the latest tracks from their roster of artists.  This set featured Seals, along with Johnny Winter, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Mack, Albert Collins, Fenton Robinson, Roy Buchanan, Lonnie Brooks, James Cotton, and Hound Dog Taylor.  Seals' track was the immortal "Goin' Home (Where Women Got Meat On Their Bones)".  When I heard it, I was mesmerized by Seals' gravelly roar and his guitar, which sounded like it was being ripped in two.  I had to hear more from this guy. 

Unfortunately, at the time, blues recordings (other than B. B. King's) were pretty hard to find in your friendly neighborhood record store.  A couple of years later, I finally found an actual Son Seals cassette, Live and Burning.  This album was recorded at Chicago's Wise Fools Pub in the late 70's.  Basically, this was a home game for Seals, who was probably surrounded by friends and fans who were as familiar with him as he was with them. 

When I plugged the cassette in my truck stereo, this was what greeted my ears.

I had never heard this song before (Elmore James' "I Can't Hold Out"), but I couldn't imagine that it was anything but a Son Seals original.  The absolutely manic guitar, along with Snapper Mitchum's thumping bass line, which was threatening to blow out my truck windows because I had it turned up so loud, made a believer out of me.  Talk about grabbing you by the throat from the very beginning.......this track did just that.

The next few tracks were even better.  Lowell Fulson's "Blue Shadows Falling" slowed things down a bit, but the mood was still sweaty and intense (despite the comically intoxicated fan sitting close enough to contribute a lengthy rebel yell to the proceedings).  Seals even tells one fan to leave him alone...."Can't you see me workin'?"  The next track, "Funky Bitch," eventually became a standard of sorts for Seals and was even covered by the band, Phish, in the late 90's.  Their version can't touch Seals' though, as he growls the vocals and lets loose with a blistering solo.

The breakneck pace never let up.  The next track, "The Woman I Love," was a slow blues.....well, as slow as Son Seals got, but it still had those incredibly raw vocals.  I was nearly breathless by the end of side one (cassette, remember).  The second side started pretty fast as well, with Seals being driven hard by Mitchum and sax man A.C. Reed on "Help Me Somebody."  The other tracks were just as good....."She's Fine" was a funky little number highlighting Mitchum on bass again, and the exuberant cover of Detroit Junior's "Call My Job" is almost as good as the original.  As things start to wind down, Seals raps to his appreciative audience, telling them not to forget about these blues, at the beginning of Little Walter's "Last Night." It's clear from Seals' easy banter with the crowd that the experience has been as rewarding for him as it's been for them.

"Hot Sauce" definitely was a Son Seals' standard. He played the blistering instrumental at most of his shows throughout his career. This high-speed version featured on Live and Burning could possibly cause smoke to rise from your CD player, and it closes the album on a high note. 

In addition to Reed and Mitchum, Seals' band included Lacy Gibson on second guitar, Tony Gooden on drums, and Alberto Gianquito on piano for "Last Night." Gooden was later killed in a train wreck in Europe during an Alligator Records tour with Seals.  Reed enjoyed a nice solo career highlighted by his wry song lyrics, which took a blues-based look at everyday life.  Lacy Gibson was a solid solo performer who also released a couple of discs as well.  Mitchum played with Seals for ten years, before striking out on his own.

Son Seals recorded a couple of other live discs, one for the B.L.U.E.S. label (live at the club, but now out of print and a definite collector's item) and a second set for Alligator.  While both were top notch, they didn't come close to capturing the raw energy and intensity of Live and Burning

We'll be showcasing a couple of other Son Seals recordings in future posts of FBF's Essential Recordings series.  For more on Seals, you can check out the recent DVD biography of his life called Journey Through The Blues: The Son Seals Story, an excellent, but brief study which features reminiscences from fellow musicians and family, along with, best of all, three live performances from various times in his career that give you a sense of how much he put into every one of his performances.