Friday, May 27, 2011

U.P. Wilson - The Texas Blues Tornado

U.P. Wilson

Like most music lovers, I sometimes tend to get in a rut with what I listen to.  I get to a point where everything sounds the same or I feel like I've heard it all before.  Ordinarily, I move between blues, jazz, soul, and gospel for the most part, mainly focusing on the blues.....but sometimes nothing really grabs you no matter what you listen to.  That was me ten or twelve years ago.  I was in a rut and couldn't get out of it for about six months.  Nothing I found really got my attention, until I discovered the Texas Tornado, Mr. Huary Perry Wilson.

Now, I had heard a track from U.P. Wilson before, on a compilation CD from Rounder Records' EasyDisc offshoot, and thought it was interesting, but the vocal, sung in falsetto, was rather strange, even though the rest of the track, especially the guitar work, was pretty good. 

Unfortunately, he recorded for a British label, JSP, that was next to impossible for me to find in record stores around my area (of course, this was really before the internet got kicked off, so ordering online was still a novel concept, at least to me).
During a family vacation, we stopped in an area mall and were just browsing around, so I decided to check out the record store.  This particular store happened to have a HUGE blues section.  Not only was it huge, it was loaded with hard-to-find CDs, including many imports that I had been wanting to hear, but hadn't been able to find, so yes, I blew my souvenir money on CDs....big time.  One of the CDs I found was U.P. Wilson's Whirlwind.

Wow, did that one blow me away.  A more appropriate album title could not be found.  This was a whirlwind from start to finish.  Wilson's guitar often sounded like it was strung with barbed wire, but man could this guy find a groove and not only hang on to it, but work it to death, too.  His vocals were a pleasant surprise, too.....raw, soulful, somewhat gospel-influenced.  The tracks ranged from rangy Texas style roadhouse blues ("Walk That Walk") to a taste of Chicago via the Mississippi Delta("Come on Baby, Go Home With Me") to even some smooth urban jazz ("Juicin'"), and it was all outstanding.  Needless to say, I was officially rut-free.

As time passed, I was able to track down a few more CDs from Wilson....his debut recording for JSP for starters.  He only sang on a few tracks (soul/blues belter Alanda Williams handled the bulk of the vocals), but the guitar work was really impressive.  Two tracks really stood out to me.....the irresistible "Boogie Boy" and the incredible slow blues cover of "T for Texas."  He didn't sound like anyone else I was listening to at the time.  The combination of these two releases really piqued my curiousity about him.....who he was, where he came from, who his influences were.

Wilson was born in Shreveport, LA, but was raised in West Dallas.  His earliest influences were from gospel music he heard in church, but he learned the blues from an outstanding group of musicians that included Zuzu Bollin, Frankie Lee Sims, Cat Man Fleming, Mercy Baby, and others.  He eventually settled in Fort Worth and started a band called the Boogie Chillun with drummer/vocalist Robert Ealey.  While playing music at night, with Ealey and other musicians, Wilson supported his family by working as a school janitor during the day. Ealey and Wilson teamed up again on Wilson's 1998 CD, The Good The Bad The Blues, with Ealey contributing drums and vocals to the track, "Lonely Guy."

U.P. Wilson (left) with Robert Ealey (courtesy Dallas Blues Society)
Wilson and Ealey played together off and on for many years, most notably at a Fort Worth club called the New Bluebird, where they acquired a huge following of fans (including Ray Sharpe of "Linda Lu" fame) who really knew how the blues were supposed to be played.  He was able to record a few albums in the 80's for overseas labels like Double Trouble and Red Lightnin' that unfortunately made little impact here at the time.

A master showman, Wilson would sit his guitar on a table, and play it with one hand while smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer.  However, there was much more to his music than theatrics.  He was a highly original and clever songwriter and his highly original and inventive guitar playing encompassed down-and-dirty and urban blues and jazz.  In addition to Ray Sharpe, many other artists were influenced by his of which  you may have heard of.  On the cover of his JSP debut is a blurb from Stevie Ray Vaughan stating, "U.P. Wilson was my greatest guitar inspiration for real blues."  On most of his JSP recordings, Wilson plays riffs that would have fit seamlessly on any SRV album.

Wilson's JSP recordings helped to earn him more exposure and allowed him to tour Europe and more widely across America, including appearances at the Chicago Blues Festival during the last decade of his life.  Unfortunately, he was arrested for possession of cocaine in the late 90's and spent six months in jail in 1997 and 1998.  Upon release, he left the country, moving to Paris, where he stayed until he passed away in 2004 at the age of 70.

Although U.P. Wilson wasn't widely known at the time of his death, we are fortunate that he was able to record on a regular basis over the last two decades of his life.  The JSP recordings are all good, though they sometimes verge on being overproduced, and his earlier recordings capture Wilson in a rougher rawer setting, warts and all.  What comes through on all his recordings is that Wilson had a unique talent.  He was a highly original and gifted songwriter as well as being a monster on guitar.  I can almost guarantee that you've never heard anyone exactly like U.P. Wilson.

Selected Discography

On My Way On My Way (Fedora) - a set of recordings the late 80's, originally on Red Lightnin' Records......a bit rawer than his later recordings, and with a few more cover tunes.
Boogie Boy! The Texas Guitar Tornado Returns!

Boogie Boy! The Texas Guitar Tornado Returns! (JSP) - Wilson's debut for JSP is a great introduction.  Wilson sings on about half the tunes and soul singer Alanda Williams does the rest.  Williams is a great vocalist, but his smooth singing is a jarring contrast to Wilson's.

This Is
This is U.P. Wilson (JSP) - Wilson's second JSP release is a loose-limbed jam session with him and a few buddies.  This is a really relaxed session with some fine music.  Wilson's decision to sing in a ghostly falsetto is a bit of a puzzle, but overall, it's a pretty fun release.

WhirlwindWhirlwind (JSP) - This is Wilson's best JSP release, although all of them are worth having.  It just seems that he was firing on all cylinders for this one, with some outstanding songs and his best and most diverse fret work.  Start here and work your way out.
The Good The Bad The Blues

The Good The Bad The Blues (JSP) - An appropriate title.There are some nice moments on this CD, including a track with longtime cohort, Robert Ealey, but there are too many different vocalists and too many tracks that sound alike.  However, the good songs are really good.


Booting (JSP) - This disc was recorded at the same time as the Whirlwind session and is a nice bookend with that set.  Not as diverse and creative as its predecessor, but still a good listen.

Best Of - The Texas Blues Guitar Tornado

Best Of - The Texas Blues Guitar Tornado (JSP) - A "Best of" set that reprises the best moments from the JSP recordings.  This is a nice set for completists, but believe me, you will want more than what's sampled here.

Texas Blues Party 1Texas Blues Party Volume 1 (Wolf Records) - This is a great live set recorded in the early 90's at Schooner's in Dallas, featuring Wilson with Dallas singer/guitarist Tutu Jones.  This a very nice set with some good moments from Wilson and Jones.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Essential Recordings: Buddy Guy - A Man & The Blues

One of the neat things about starting a blues collection when I did in the mid 80's was that there was very little chance of making an unwise investment.  At the time, most blues sections in record stores consisted of about two rows of LPs, CDs, or cassettes, and most of those selections were from familiar names......B. B. King, of course, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, maybe some Lightnin' Hopkins or John Lee Hooker on the traditional side, then you had Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Lattimore, Johnnie Taylor, Denise LaSalle, and Bobby Rush on the soul side.  There were also usually several albums from Alligator Records (Albert Collins, Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks, Johnny Winter, Lonnie Mack) and Hightone (Robert Cray, Joe Louis Walker, Otis Rush) and Rounder or Black Top Records (Johnny Copeland, Roomful of Blues, Ronnie Earl, Duke Robillard). 

Now, as you look over that list of artists, you'd be hard-pressed to think of any bad releases from any of them.  Everything I picked up in the stores or via mail order was something new and incredible that made me want to hear more music just like it.  How cool is it to strike gold every time you go digging???!!!

Buddy Guy

One such time occurred in October of 1987.  I remember it because I had just finished taking a grueling eight-hour engineering exam and was unwinding a little bit before making the ninety-minute drive home.  I decided to hit one of the malls in town and check out a record store.  I had not been in this one since I started listening to the blues, so I wasn't even sure if they had a blues section, but they did.  They had several selections from a record company I was not familiar with called Vanguard Records.  I picked up a couple of cassettes from the from Junior Wells and one from Buddy Guy.  I had found several of their songs on some collections from Atlantic and Chess, but had not seen any complete albums by either of them until that night.

The Buddy Guy album was called A Man and the Blues and I had heard nothing about it.  I knew Buddy Guy from mostly reputation.  I had heard that he was a big influence on some of my other favorites (Clapton, Hendrix, etc...), but had only heard a few tracks.  Naturally, I was curious about an entire Buddy Guy album.

Buddy Guy had recorded on a fairly regular basis for Chess Records over the years (1960 - 67), producing classic tracks like "First Time I Met The Blues," "Leave My Girl Alone," "Let Me Love You," "Ten Years Ago," and "My Time After A While."  His vocals were nearly as potent as his no-holds-barred guitar.  He also recorded with many of the other Chess musicians as well as with his friend and musical partner Wells on his essential recording for Delmark, Hoodoo Man Blues.   

Fred Below

When Guy came to Vanguard Records in 1967, his first solo release was A Man and the Blues.  Backing him on the disc were a trio of blues legends.  Rhythm guitarist Wayne Bennett had backed Bobby Bland for years, Fred Below's distinctive jazz-influenced drumming had graced many of Muddy Waters' Chess sides, and Otis Spann was THE Chicago blues pianist, having spent years with Waters' band.  This was indeed an all-star cast! 

Otis Spann

Though this was Guy's first album as a leader, it still ranks with his best.  For years, he has been a fan favorite all over the world for his unbridled performances.  His guitar playing always seemed on the verge of absolute chaos and he was barely able to contain himself as a vocalist either.  To me, all that is well and good, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to turn things to "simmer" for a while and that's exactly what this release does for the most part.  Guy's guitar work is tasteful and even restrained at times....kept to a slow burn for the most part.  There are horns (including A.C. Reed) on several of the R&B-geared tracks ("Money," "Just Play My Axe"), but some of those tracks sound dated today.  The best tracks are the slower ones that feature Guy, Bennett, Spann, and bass player Jack Myers only.  These tracks stand the test of time incredibly well.

The secret weapon of the disc is Otis Spann.  As good as this album is, Spann takes it to a whole new level with his almost-telepathic interplay with Guy.  Spann's style was sparse and economical, but he said more with fewer notes than any piano player.  In his autobiography from the mid 90's, Damn Right I've Got The Blues, Guy discussed the band behind the album, and raved about Spann's presence on the disc.

"This was my favorite lineup:  Wayne Bennett on guitar, Fred Below on drums and Jack Myers on bass.  This was unrehearsed.  We just went in and started playing the blues.  That's how good these guys were.  They could feel what should be played to make the sound right.  Otis Spann was on piano.  He wasn't just saying, "I can outplay you."  He was answering me, expressing the feeling I had when I finished the verse.  Any other piano player on 'One Room Country Shack' would have run me crazy.  He's like just sitting there saying, 'Go ahead and say what you gotta say.  Then, I'll show you how it feels with my fingers.'.......Otis Spann was the best pianist I ever heard.  When he was ready to play on the low keys, he'd take the whole stool, pick it up and go sit down there.  He'd make you feel so good." 

That's not to say that there weren't some good up-tempo tunes as well.  One of the best was "Mary Had a Little Lamb," probably most familiar to modern blues fans as a mainstay in Stevie Ray Vaughan's repetoire, dating back to his debut release, Texas Flood.  Guy's playful version sizzles with intensity, despite the lighthearted lyrical content, and on this track, we hear some of his best, most unrestrained guitar work on the disc.

Best of all is Guy's interpretation of the timeless "Sweet Little Angel."  Though this one was long associated with B.B. King, Buddy Guy OWNED this song after recording this doubt about it.  Spann shines on piano here, as well.  As good as this song has been done by other artists, dating back to Robert Nighthawk's "Sweet Black Angel," this has to be the definitive version.

Over forty years after its release, this album remains one of Buddy Guy's best recordings.  Though his subsequent recordings have usually had more fireworks, none of them possessed the subtlety and beauty of this release.  You can't truly say you've heard Buddy Guy unless you've heard A Man and the Blues.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ten Questions with Cee Cee James

If you've never heard of Cee Cee James, I promise that once you do, you won't soon forget her.  One of the most powerful vocalists you'll hear, she's also a gifted songwriter, using her life's experiences as a template for most of her songs.  She's also a dynamite performer who's won rave reviews all over the country.  Teaming with husband/guitarist/co-songwriter Rob "Slideboy" Andrews, James released two phenomenal albums in 2010, both for Blue Skunk Music.  The first, Low Down Where the Snakes Crawl, was a studio recording that put her on the map.  Her follow-up, also distributed by Blue Skunk, was a live release called Seriously Raw, which should keep her on the map for quite a while.  Ms. James was gracious enough to sit down and answer a few questions for FBF.

1. When did you realize that you wanted to be a singer and entertainer?

Oh my….well….humm.....My life growing up was extremely chaotic and so there was not a lot of personal decisions being thought on, nor did my Mother pay any attention to any talent that might have been noticed and encourage me to pursue it. I felt heavy passion in my soul however to do something big, like something huge was wanting to burst forth from me. I felt things very deeply and my only outlet was physical release through P.E. classes in school and writing poems. I did get to be in 'one' school for an entire year my senior year where I was able to join the Drama team. I won 1st and 2nd place ribbons my first time out and the teacher told me "I wish I would have had you all 4 years." One girl wrote on my yearbook, "Christina (my real name), you are going to be famous." So something was lurking... driving me, a destiny that was to reveal itself. This destiny got caught up in modeling for a few years and acting and then I purchased a turquoise Carvin bass, which I later sold. But that moment was the turning point. I was married then, about 23 years old, and we decided to move to California to pursue music since LA would be close by with its big shiny promise of attaining success. So I guess at that point the seed of performance and singing began to sprout.

2. How did you get interested in the blues?

Well, I don't know that I ever got 'interested' as I don't think I was ever 'disinterested.' As I was coming up as a young girl, what was on the radio was blues based rock and the 'newer' Stax R&B. Not the older 50's/60's type but the 70's type R&B. I fell in love most of what was being played. I was not attracted to anything that did not have that blues base to it. What the radio did not play was the 'traditional' type of blues. The real deal stuff. My family did not play records or have any influence on my musical journey. The other heavy thing that influenced me was Gospel, which to me is very blues-based. Had my Mother not taken us to one of the biggest Pentecostal churches in Oakland, CA, that had a full blown Gospel Choir with all the deep rooted African American Souls wailing every Sunday when I was young, I don't know how I would have discovered it. But to this day, hearing that old deep aching Gospel music - done by someone like Aretha, causes me to cry. I feel it like I knew it from some other life.

So I really never heard the 'real deal' blues until later in life and my introduction to that was Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bobby Blue Bland and some of those cats.

Without going into too much, because there is SOOO much, when I fully turned myself over to the blues was in a time of my life when I desperately needed acceptance and freedom. Freedom to be who I am truly and not worry about size, age, wrinkles, image, social standing…..all that 'stuff' that keeps us from just being from our core. That's the single most thrilling thing about the blues besides the 'feel' of the music, is the freedom of it. The freedom it allows people to just be and be loved for who they are….just who they are without any frills.

3. Who are your musical influences?

Anyone with deep feel - whether it's raw and rough or tender and soft; and artists that push the envelope of life right down through your heart and gut. Of course there's always a place for fun, light songs, but the songs that make me 'wake up' are the ones that grab me, turn me around and I say "who the hell….what the hell?!!!!"  Howlin' Wolf, Luther Allison, Robin Trower, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Paul Rodgers, Ike and Tina, Stevie Ray, Big Mamma Thornton, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, The Staple Singers, Curtis Mayfield, Chaka Khan and Rufus, and probably many more I cannot recall at this moment.

4. Several of the reviews of your CDs (including mine) cite the vocal similarities, at times, between you and Janis Joplin…… much influence did she have on your style, and do you feel like this comparison gets in the way of what you’re trying to do and say sometimes?

Oh boy... well humm...when I was just beginning to really work my chops, I was going to a vocal 'technique' teacher in San Diego, CA. She was an older gal and never worked with me on stylings. We only worked on vocal placement, breath, etc. She had me singing classical songs and doing vocal ease exercises. When I was on my own, in those earlier years, my record player (yes, 'record player' Ha!) was spinning Aretha, Chaka Kahn, Bill Withers, Al Green, Paul Rodgers, and Heart, with me singing along in my hallway (which had the greatest acoustics), working to try and gain range and the ability to flow smoothly from low notes to high notes, vocal expression runs, etc. I wanted a HUGE tool box so that I would have the ability to bring any song lyric to life through my singing. If it was sad or happy or painful or full of angst or funny, I wanted to give it the tone, feel and expression to make it come fully alive for my audience. But I never tried to sing like these singers or copy them.

So when you ask me about my 'style' I must say that it is all my own, influenced only by how I feel in my heart and soul and what the lyric is about. I worked this style over many years of singing on stage in endless gigs and rehearsals. I rarely sing a lyric the same way twice. It may sound similar but if you compare one of my live performances to another, you will hear subtle differences in almost every tune.

So in asking me about Janis, well she really had no influence what-so-ever. I knew who she was, who didn't... but I didn't listen to any Janis growing up and was introduced to her music by a drummer who was in my blues band, Stone Blue, in the late 80's, who gave me one of her CDs and said learn “Summertime” and we will play it. I had to study that thing for a million hours in order to do it justice.  Janis can sing an octave higher than I can so she's not someone I can copy easily.  However, I took on the challenge because I love singers that push the envelope of feel.

The bottom line is I can't copy Janis, and I don't want to because it is damn hard! And I'll tell you why….Janis had an incredible tool box of her own stylings and I don't feel them. I have my own way of 'feeling' and my own stylings. These came naturally to me over time…..because it's who I am. That is why I am NEVER worried about anyone trying to copy me... because even if you do, you don't have my soul and my personal life experiences, and that is truly what a singer should be singing from. I have heard many Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute guys and one thing is for sure…..they may cop his licks….BUT THEY AIN'T STEVIE!!!

As far the comparison getting in the way, I don't really think it has. It's a compliment to be compared to a person who let it all go from the depths of her entire body and soul when she sang. That's how I feel when I sing, and maybe that's why people relate me to Janis. I also love Luther Allison, Howlin' Wolf and Buddy Guy for these same reasons…..there ain't no frontin' with these performers.. it is RAW and DAMN REAL and you know it and you climb inside and take off to the other side of your reality where emotions and feel rise up like the lava from a raging volcano and spill all into your heart.

5. Obviously, from listening to your live release, you manage to build a very strong bond with your fans and audience, and it shows that you love what you’re doing…..what is the most gratifying thing to you about live performance and what is the hardest thing about it?

Well there are two on the 'most gratifying' list. The first most gratifying thing on a very personal level is when I disappear and become a vessel for the universe to pour through me, for the energy to flow out of my mouth and body as I sing. I disappear in those moments and 'BECOME' the Mojo. That is one of the highest of highs for me.

The second is the Fans’ response, when they climb inside the magic of the rhythm section and roll with me as I work the expression of the lyric within the pocket of the music. When they laugh and cry and relate! When we become one in the waves of soul release. Sounds kind of airy fairy, but it happens and I know it because of how they come up and thank me. And that's my job, damn it!!! To bring it to ‘um and have them devour it. And when they do, they feed me with their joy.

The hardest thing is how much I give and how I hurt afterwards. Physically I use my body so deeply to pull up what I give that when I'm done I need a hot bath and serious recuperation, like 8 hours sleep, which on the road one doesn't always get. Plus I'm usually pretty drenched and drained right after a show and that's when the fans want to talk with me and it's hard. I appreciate them so much and I want to be there for them, but I'm EXHAUSTED. Of course I am there for them and I do the best I can to be as present as I can but usually my make-up is stinging my eyes, my hair is soaking wet, my clothes are sticking to me, my feet hurt and I'm trying to come down from that other world of being the spinning banshee of soul to being present with each person. A challenge? Hell yes. But I wouldn't not do it for the world.

6. When you write songs, how much of your own life experiences figure into what you’re writing?


Here's the thing…..a teacher cannot truly teach unless they have 'lived,' 'experienced' what they are teaching. Here's a very simple example which you can apply to anything really:

I joined a dieting group once, twice, maybe three times (hee hee), and the teachers had never had extra weight on them. You could tell they were just going through the motions of teaching the program like robots who had been trained what to say. Had they ever had the experiences of being heavy or overweight, the life experiences of “what that feels like,” they would have taught from the deeper place of “knowing,” with a compassionate understanding in their eyes and a real caring touch.

When I write, I write from the experiences of my life. I cannot write any other way and personally I have no idea how anyone can. To fabricate a lyric about something you have not experienced on some level of 'feel' is extremely foreign to me. Writing this way, allows me to BRING the song to the people, bring it all to them in full blown emotional release.

As a side note to this question which applies directly to what I have experienced in relationships, I was not able to truly write my first “love song” until recently which by the way, will be appearing on our upcoming CD due out late summer.

Rob "Slideboy" Andrews

7. Who are your biggest influences as a composer?

Well, I turned to Rob "Slideboy" Andrews to answer this one for the most part since he puts the chord progressions together for me to write to. Here's what he said: Lightnin' Hopkins, Fred McDowell, Keith Richards, Earl Hooker, Muddy.

8. Of the songs that you’ve written, which ones are your favorites?

For me – “Done Love Wrong.” For Rob – “Black Raven.”

9. What are the best and worst things about being a musician?

The best thing is being able to give what I feel so deeply and have it touch people and sometimes change their lives in certain ways. Being able to access the power of creation and wield it into lyrics and songs and voice and mojo and sweat.

The worst thing is being judged by reviewers and their outlooks and opinions after you put what you have worked so hard on and spent your lifes savings on, out there. I think reviewers need to be trained by someone who will tell them.. "Look if you don't like it, ignore it rather than say negative things." It's that simple. "One man’s trash is another man’s treasure." But inflated egos must speak, yes? LOL! I personally don't believe that bad reviews help - you know. The old adage, 'any press is good press?' NOT. They hurt my heart very badly and I'd rather not read them or have some uncompassionate idiot write them. It just spreads bad competitive energy around in our world, causing us to compare ourselves and feel less than. It's a rampant disease in our society however and a big commerce tool in all commercial sales of goods.

10. What does your record collection look like? What music do you take with you on the road?

Humm... well, that's a lot to talk about. Everything from Otis Spann to Prince to Robin Trower to Judas Priest to Lynyrd Skynyrd to JJ Grey and Mofro to Aretha to Earl Hooker, Howling Wolf, Bad Company, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Luther Allison, to a group from the Seattle area called the Bone Poets Orchestra which is genius stuff. Not much country per se' even though we LOVE anything that Johnny Cash did and some of the older country stuff like “King of the Road!” And then…..I've got an entire collection of New Age music, American Indian music, and World music.

Rob tends to drift more toward traditional Blues music whereas I go for music that fits my mood and where my heart is dwelling in any particular moment.


Low Down Where The Snakes Crawl  Low Down Where The Snakes Crawl (Blue Skunk Music)

Seriously Raw: Live At Sunbanks  Seriously Raw: Live At Sunbanks (Blue Skunk Music)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #3

Back again by popular demand, it's time for one of the favorite topics on Friday Blues Fix.  If you're new to the scene, here's how it goes......we discuss an elder statesman of the blues from the 20's to the 50's (Something Old), a relative newcomer or new release to the blues world (Something New), a classic song of the past (blues or rock) reinterpreted by what may be an unlikely source (blues or rock) (Something Borrowed), and someone who epitomizes the very essence of the blues (Something Blue).  Let's get started, shall we?

For Something Old, this time we're just going back to the 50's, looking at one of the legendary piano men of the Chicago era, Mr. Otis Spann.  Folks, I could sit and listen to Otis Spann play the piano all day long.  Spann was longtime member of Muddy Waters' band, beginning in the early 50's until the late 60's.  He also played with Howlin' Wolf and Bo Diddley on some of their Chess recordings and, memorably, he appeared on Buddy Guy's classic Vanguard recording, A Man and the Blues.  He also recorded as a frontman, releasing several wonderful albums, notably a couple of sessions for Candid Records in the early 60's with Robert Lockwood, Jr. and St. Louis Jimmy Oden, but passed away at the young age of 40 in 1970.  Spann will get the full FBF treatment in the near future, but in the meantime, enjoy this splendid version of "Spann's Blues," accompanied by Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Willie Dixon on bass, and Billy Stepney on drums.

For Something New, let's look at a veteran of the blues/roots scene and his latest release.  Some of you that were TV nuts in the 80's and early 90's may remember Jim Byrnes from his role as Lifeguard on the TV show, Wiseguy, and also on Highlander in the early 90's, but he's also been a musician since way back.  He's a St. Louis native, who relocated to Canada and has recorded with Black Hen Music for the last few years, releasing some great diverse albums of blues and roots music.  His latest release, Everywhere West, came out at the end of 2010 and was one of my favorites of the year, and was a great mix of covers and new music written by Byrnes and producer Steve Dawson.  One of the best tracks was an excellent reworking of Bobby Bland's "Yield Not To Temptation."

For Something Borrowed, let's check out Freddie Roulette.  Roulette is something of a rarity in the blues.  He plays lap steel guitar and his unique sound has spiced up recordings by Luther Allison, Earl Hooker, Harvey Mandel, John Lee Hooker, and Charlie Musselwhite.  He moved to San Francisco in the 70's and eventually stepped away from music for a while to raise his children.  In the late 90's, he resurfaced, returning to the Windy City to record Back In Chicago, with an all-star band featuring Willie King and Chico Banks.  Chances are when you hear a track featuring Roulette, you will agree that he hasn't recorded nearly enough over the years.  For Something Borrowed, check out Roulette's haunting take of the old Santo & Johnny rock & roll classic, "Sleepwalk."

For Something Blue, how about some more lap steel guitar?  This time around, it's Sonny Rhodes.  The self-proclaimed "Disciple of the Blues" got his start in the 50's, playing clubs in the Austin, TX area as Clarence Smith and the Daylighters.  After serving in the Navy, he relocated to California, where he worked as a DJ and learned to play the bass, backing Freddie King and Albert Collins on occasion. He never recorded consistently until the late 70's, when he released the single, "Cigarette Blues," and the album, Just Blues, on his own Rhodesway label.  He eventually caught on with the Atlanta-based Ichiban Records in the early 90's, then enjoyed a decade-long window of recordings for Ichiban, Kingsnake, and Stony Plain.  Up until 9/11, Rhodes was famous for wearing a turban when performing, but he now wears more conventional head gear.  If you were a fan of the short-lived sci-fi TV series, Firefly, you may be aware that Rhodes performed the theme song, "The Ballad of Serenity."  Here's Rhodes from 2009, playing the Hop Wilson (another lap steel master) classic, "Black Cat Bone."