Friday, June 24, 2011

Random Thoughts

Last weekend, music fans were saddened to hear of the passing of Clarence Clemons.  The Big Man suffered a stroke earlier in the week and passed away on Saturday at age 69.  Clemons was a huge part of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band for over 30 years, his muscular saxophone providing one of the world's greatest rock and roll band with some R&B and Blues shadings over the years.  Springsteen knew how important Clemons was to his music, so much so that he included the Big Man on the cover of what would become one of the greatest rock albums of all time.  It's hard to imagine Springsteen's music without the presence of Clarence Clemons.

By now, you're probably wondering, "What does all this have to do with the blues?  Have I stumbled onto the wrong blog.  I was hunting for my Friday Blues Fix."  Well, hang in there, folks......without Clarence Clemons, there might not even be a Friday Blues Fix.  You see, it was an album by the Big Man that helped start me in that direction.

Like most teenagers in the early to mid 80's, I was a fan of Bruce Springsteen.  However, my usual music preferences by that time leaned more toward soul and R&B.  One of the things I liked about Springsteen was those roaring saxophone breaks from Clarence Clemons.  I can honestly say that I probably wouldn't have cared as much about Springsteen without Clemons.  That's why I was curious when I saw Clemons' on an LP cover in 1983.  I looked at it and on the back cover was a picture of Clemons and another black guy.  It looked promising, but I only had a cassette player at the time and, naturally, there was not a cassette of the album to be found.

In 1984, Springsteen released his latest album, maybe you're familiar with it.  That really threw them into the the summer of '84, most people knew at least half of the E Street Band and Clemons was really popular.  This meant many great opportunities for the Big Man, including more copies being available of his album from the year before.  By the fall of that year, I found a copy of the album, called Rescue, on cassette.  I played this cassette about as much as anything else I had for a long time.  Finally, it developed that inevitable cassette squeal that cassettes used to do.

"A Woman's Got The Power" was one of the singles released from the album.  How about that video?!!!  Makes you long for those fashions and all that hair spray, doesn't it? 

A few years ago, Rescue was re-issued as one of those "two-fers" that became the rage when CDs became the rage....where a record label combined two of an artist's best albums onto one CD.  Rescue was combined with Clemons' second CD, Hero, which became a big hit for the Big Man.  Me.....I hated it for a couple of reasons......1)  one of the best things about Rescue was the incredible vocals of J.T. Bowen, who sounded like Wilson Pickett's little brother.  On Hero, Clemons took most of the vocals himself and let's just say it was not an improvement and move on.  2)  The focus moved from that sizzling retro bluesy Soul/Rock sound to 80's Pop, so while it was a notable success in the mid 80's, twenty-five years later, you can't remember anything but that duet Clemons did with Jackson Browne that made the Top 40.  I guarantee that if you heard "Jump Start My Heart," or "Resurrection Shuffle" from Rescue, you would remember them now as much as you did in '83....I guarantee it. 

J.T. Bowen and Clarence Clemons

I didn't pick up the "two-fer" set... opting, after much searching, for a Japanese import of the original Rescue that I found on Ebay.  Listening to it today, I'm aware that some of the songs are thinly disguised 80's Power Pop, lifted up considerably by Bowen's raw, rugged vocals (whatever happened to him??!!!) and the Big Man's wailing sax.  Still, it's a lot of fun to listen to even today.  What Rescue did for me, though, was inspire me to dig deeper to get more of that sound that they were emulating.  From Rescue, I discovered the great vintage Soul catalog of Atlantic Records (Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Joe Tex).  From there, I wanted to read more and learn more, so I picked up Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music book (which deserves a post of its own and I promise I will do one soon).  Prior to that, even though I loved soul music, my knowledge was mostly limited to current acts, Motown, and a few artists I had picked up through friends (Maze, Bobby Womack, etc....).

From that point, it was a short hop and a jump to the blues, which was the place I wanted to be all along.  However, I might never have found my way there without the efforts of Clarence Clemons on his first album.  Thanks, Big Man......I owe you more than you'll ever know.

I'll bet that Heavenly Orchestra is raising the roof right now.

Last week, my family got on the Netflix bandwagon.  For a small fee each month, you have access to lots of great movies, old TV shows, documentaries, cartoons, etc....via your computer, your gaming console, or you can receive DVDs through the mail.  I know I'm as slow catching on to Netflix as I was catching on to CDs or mp3's or iPods (I promise to be more timely adapting to new technology when they promise that the next big thing will be the last big thing and I can stop investing in technology that's obsolete or outdated three months after I switch to it), but it's not a bad deal.  Best of all, they actually have some blues-related product out there.  I've already watched two of them......the documentary, Last of the Mississippi Jukes, and the movie, Honeydripper.

Last of the Mississippi Jukes was directed by Robert Mugge, who also gave us Deep Blues in the early 90's.  The newer film was released in 2003 and it's a look at what many consider to be a dying breed in Mississippi, the juke joint.  The film's primary focus is on two locations, the legendary Subway Lounge in Jackson, MS, and Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale.  Your mileage may vary on whether or not Ground Zero qualifies as a juke joint (who cares.....the blues is being played there, so go support it), but there's not much doubt about the Subway Lounge's authenticity.  During the filming of the documentary, there was an effort being made to save the Subway Lounge.  It was located in the basement of the Summers Hotel and the building was in bad shape and in danger of being condemned.  Unfortunately, the building was demolished a year after the film was released. 

The Summers Hotel - Home of the Subway Lounge
There's also some great music, although lots of it is interrupted by interviews (why don't these folks realize that most people watch these documentaries for the actual music.....I mean, I love Morgan Freeman, but I get to see and hear him a whole lot more than I do Alvin Youngblood Hart or some of the others whose performances get stepped all over).  Interrupted or not, it's still cool to see local legends like J. T. Watkins, Levon Lindsey, King Edward, Jesse Robinson, and Melvin "House Cat" Hendrex, and relative youngbloods like Vasti Jackson, Patrice Moncell, Chris Thomas King, and Eddie Cotton, Jr. get some exposure.  It just would have been nice to see more of them in action.  Fortunately, there is a soundtrack available with the music in its entirety, and it's a killer album (though I would have loved to see an Eddie Cotton track on there somewhere).  Overall, Last of the Mississippi Jukes is an enjoyable movie, but if you haven't seen Deep Blues yet, see it first.

In late 2007, the film Honeydripper was released. It was written and directed by John Sayles and set in 1950 Alabama, where a frustrated club owner named Pinetop Purvis (played by Danny Glover) is trying to breathe life into his struggling establishment.  Hoping to draw a crowd, he tentatively books one of the new electric guitarist, Guitar Sam, to appear in his club, but things quickly go awry.

Among the other performers in the movie are Charles S. Dutton (as Pinetop's friend and partner, Maceo), Lisa Gay Hamilton (as Pinetop's devoted, but conflicted wife, Delilah), Stacy Keach (as the corrupt county sheriff), and Yaya DeCosta (as Pinetop's beautiful young step-daughter, China Doll).

Musical performers are also prominent, with Mable John playing an old-school blues singer who's phased out (in more ways than one) at the beginning of the picture.  Keb' Mo' also appears as a mysterious blind street performer, who fades in and out throughout the film.  Finally, young Gary Clark, Jr., a up and coming Texas guitarist, stars as Sonny Blake, a drifting musician who shows up at just the right time.  Keen eyes will also spot sax man Eddie Shaw and harmonica ace Arthur Lee Williams in the club band.

I found this movie to be pretty entertaining.  Sayles always has interesting dialogue between his characters and this movie is no exception.  Some of the characters were fairly stereotypical and familar (redneck sheriff, blind street musician, revival meetings, etc...), but the actors and the story are strong enough that you can work your way through that pretty easily.  The movie moves along at a nice, leisurely pace, taking it's time and slowly building to the climax.

Gary Clark, Jr. does a great job playing Sonny.  He gives a nice, understated performance and his scenes with DeCosta show a lot of chemistry between the two.  Of course, he saves his best for the final scenes of the movie, which I won't spoil for you if you haven't seen it, but if you like the blues in any way, shape, or fashion, you will enjoy this movie.

In July, we will be looking at a few new releases, a few old releases, and hopefully, we will have a Ten Questions, maybe two, as well.  Meanwhile, let's close out with a couple of Gary Clark, Jr. videos, including one of Clark with the Honeydripper band, which includes Shaw and Williams, from 2008, and one from the wonderful 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival DVD, with Clark and Doyle Bramhall II.  You're going to be hearing a lot more from this guy, I promise.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Blues Legends - Earl Hooker

If you’ve been a blues fan for any amount of time, you have probably caught yourself thinking about how amazing the music scene must have been in Chicago during the late 1950’s, with guitarists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Freddie King, Robert Nighthawk, Elmore James, Magic Sam, Hubert Sumlin, Eddie Taylor, Robert Lockwood, Jr., and Jody Williams holding court at various locations on many nights. I know I have, and that list is really just scratching the surface. However, at the time, if you asked any of them who the best guitarist in Chicago was at the time, most of them probably would have said “Earl Hooker.”

Reportedly, an Earl Hooker performance once brought B.B. King to tears, as he told Buddy Guy, “No one can play a slide that clean.” Earl Hooker could. Not only was he an absolute master of slide guitar (and a serious disciple of Robert Nighthawk), he was also one of the more inventive and technologically advanced guitarists of the time. He was able to incorporate gadgets like the wah-wah pedal into traditional blues with little effort. He was also skilled at playing other musical styles besides blues, such as country-western, rock n’ roll, jazz, and even hillbilly.

Born outside of Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta in 1929, Hooker was a cousin of another Mississippi blues man, John Lee Hooker. His parents moved the family to Chicago in 1930, so Hooker was exposed to a lot of music at a young age. He began playing guitar at the age of ten and improved quickly. He suffered from a speech impediment, stuttering, which he battled all of his life, which probably accounts for his lack of interest in singing. Unfortunately, his later success was limited because he was not so much a bad singer as a singer of modest ability or, more so, limited confidence, so most of his recordings were made with other people singing.  To make matters worse, he contracted tuberculosis during his youth, a condition that affected him all of his life.

Hooker started playing on street corners as a young teen and was influenced by T-Bone Walker, who played Chicago regularly. Walker was an influence both on his instrument, with his jazz-influenced blues licks, and his showmanship. Hooker also met Robert Nighthawk during this time, who taught Hooker how to play slide guitar. Hooker not only learned Nighthawk's crystal-clear style, but arguably, the  pupil eventually surpassed the teacher.  Eventually, in the late 40’s, Hooker travelled to Helena, Arkansas to play with Nighthawk. During this time, he also appeared with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) on Miller’s King Biscuit Time radio program. During this time, he began his "Road Warrior" ways, playing at clubs all through the south and even trying to set up a base in Memphis.

Hooker toured almost non-stop, hitting a regular group of clubs and roadhouses in the south stretching from Arkansas as far as Florida, sometimes within a day or two of each other. These long, difficult hours of driving, sleeping where and when he could, combined with the energy Hooker put into his performances, took a toll on his health, beginning in the 1950’s as his tuberculosis began to get worse and worse.

In the 50’s, Hooker began recording in Chicago for a number of labels, including King, Sun, Argo, Veejay, States, United, and others. He recorded as a front man (mostly instrumentals) and in support of others, like Pinetop Perkins, Arbee Stidham, Harold Tidwell, Boyd Gilmore, and The Dells.  Incredibly, many of Hooker's solo sides were not released at the time. Sun Records’ Sam Phillips sat on several Earl Hooker singles, including this cool instrumental, “The Hucklebuck.”

Hooker’s first vocal on record was a reading of the classic, “Black Angel Blues,” based on Nighthawk’s version and later covered by B.B. King and Buddy Guy as “Sweet Little Angel.” Another highlight was this instrumental for Argo, called “Frog Hop,” which mixes a little swing, early rock n’ roll, and blues.

Hooker suffered a major tuberculosis attack in 1956 and was sidelined for a while, but soon returned to his rigorous touring schedule of the south as well as various clubs in the Windy City. In the late 50’s/early 60’s, he teamed with longtime friend and associate Junior Wells on a series of songs for the Chief/Profile/Age labels. Hooker backed Wells on many recordings that became staples of Wells’ repertoire, including “Little By Little,” “Come On In This House,” “It Hurts Me Too,” and the classic “Messin’ with the Kid.”

Hooker basically became the Chief Records house guitarist during this time, backing Magic Sam, Ricky Allen, Lillian Offitt, Bull Moose Walker, and A. C. Reed. Hooker also recorded his own sides during this time, too…..some of his best, including “Calling All Blues,” which features some impressive slide guitar, the amazing “Blues in D Natural,” and his best-known song, ”Blue Guitar.”  For the latter song, Hooker was noodling around in the studio and didn’t even realize he was being recorded.

Hooker also recorded for other labels during the early 60’s…..Bea & Baby (including the instrumental, “Dynamite”), Checker, C.J., and an extended stint with Cuca in the mid 60’s that produced some of his most underrated work, including an excellent instrumental version of "All Your Love." In 1967, however, he suffered another tuberculosis attack that was put him in the hospital for nearly a year. He also recorded with Muddy Waters on a few tracks, one of the few times that the Delta blues great laid his slide down for anyone. Their partnership was highlighted by Hooker’s incredible slide work on “You Shook Me.”

When Hooker left the hospital in 1968, he put together what many consider to be his best band (Pinetop Perkins on piano, Carey Bell on harmonica, Andrew “B.B.” Odom on vocals, and Freddie Roulette on steel guitar) and started performing in Chicago and touring again…..all against his doctor’s wishes. During this time, Hooker and his band recorded for Arhoolie Records and released the essential Hooker album, Two Bugs and A Roach. This album featured vocals by Odom, Bell, and Hooker. Among the highlights were a strong set of instrumentals, some of which took advantage of Hooker’s abilities with the wah-wah pedal (“Wah Wah Blues,” a sizzling duet between Hooker and Roulette), the jazz-influenced “Off The Hook,” and a reworking of Robert Nighthawk’s “Anna Lee,” with Hooker on vocals. His performance on this track alone is worth buying this album.

In 1969, Hooker was recommended by Ike Turner to Blue Thumb Records in California, where he recorded his own album and appeared on several others, including Charles Brown, Bull Moose Walker, Jimmy Witherspoon, and cousin John Lee Hooker. While these recordings were spotty at best, they all included some great moments with Hooker and his counterparts (Below.....with Charles Brown on "Driftin' Blues," and a improvised cut with John Lee Hooker, "If You Miss 'Im, I Got 'Im").

After the Blue Thumb sessions, Hooker returned to Chicago and played his usual haunts, even taking part in the first Chicago Blues Festival in 1969. In the fall of that year, Hooker joined the American Folk Blues Festival tour in Europe, playing twenty concerts in just over three weeks, travelling through nine different countries.  This grueling tour, combined with his California trip and the Chicago gigs over a short period of time, took a toll on his health, aggravated his tuberculosis, and he returned to Chicago and entered the hospital in December. He died in April of 1970, just 41 years old.

Though he wasn’t widely recognized at the time of his death, and is still not widely known today, he was regarded highly where it mattered… his peers. Many of them consider Earl Hooker to be the greatest modern blues guitarist of his time.

Whenever anyone dies young, fans are left to ponder what might have been and Earl Hooker is no exception in that regard. He continued to improve, develop, and create up until his death, so it’s obvious he still had plenty of great music ahead of him when he left us.

Selected Discography

Though Hooker mainly recorded 45's until the last couple of years of his life, these sides have been collected numerous time for the most part.  Paula Records in Shreveport has compiled Blue Guitar, an excellent set of his Chief and Age recordings (solo and backing others), covering 1959 through 1963.  Hooker cut some of his best instrumentals during this period.  The sound is not the best on these recordings, but the superior music rises above the inferior sound. 

In the late 90's, MCA released Simply The Best, which spanned nearly twenty years of Hooker's career, from his days recording with Checker/Chess ("Frog Hop") through his tenure with Blue Thumb near the end of his life (with solo tracks and backing John Lee Hooker, Charles Brown, Big Moose Walker, Brownie McGhee, etc....).  This is a good, solid collection that fills some gaps.

Arhoolie has a couple of excellent sets from his later period.  The previously mentioned Two Bugs and a Roach added a few tracks from early in Hooker's career when making the jump to CD back in the 90's.  It features Hooker with one of his best bands ever and is my personal favorite.  The Moon Is Rising is a mix of live and studio tracks and ranks with his best.  Either one of these is a great collection.

Some of Hooker's best tracks from his days with Cuca in the mid 60's were collected in the mid 90's on Black Top Records' Play Your Guitar Mr. Hooker!  Sadly, it's out of print, but copies can still be found online.  It's worth a listen.

For more details on Earl Hooker's life, I highly recommend Sebastian Danchin's excellent biography, Earl Hooker, Blues Master.  It's a well-detailed account of Hooker's life and music that was 20 years in the making, with lots of interviews with fellow musicians and family. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Young Bob

I bet most people who started listening to the blues in the 80's owe at least a small debt of gratitude to Robert Cray.  I know I do.  I've stated many times that the style of music I was looking for at the time combined soulful vocals and serious guitar, but when I first heard Cray's mix of the blues and soul, I knew that was what I was looking for.  The first time I ever heard Cray was on the Grammy-winning Alligator Records collaboration between Cray, Albert Collins, and Johnny Copeland, Showdown!  Though Cray only took vocals on a couple of tunes, I knew I wanted to hear more from him.

A couple of months after I heard Cray, I found his debut release for Hightone Records from a couple of years earlier, Bad Influence.  That disc is one of his best, and is one of the unsung heroes of the blues resurgence of the mid 80's.  At the time, Cray was solid as a singer and guitarist, but still developing as a composer.  Most of his best songs at this time were written by Dennis Walker and/or Bruce Bromberg (as D Amy), but he also covered some strong tunes on this disc as well, one by Eddie Floyd ("Got To Make A Comeback"), and a scorcher by Johnny Guitar Watson ("Hit That Highway").  Many of the originals rank with his best, including the intense "Phone Booth" (later covered by Albert King), "Where Do I Go From Here," and the raucous "So Many Women, So Little Time."  The title track is still a crowd favorite at Cray's shows and Eric Clapton helped put Cray's name out there to the record-buying public by covering it on his August album. 

Good as Bad Influence was, False Accusations is not far behind and in some way, it's better.  This is largely due to the songs, which deal with pretty mature subject matter.  I don't mean that they're loaded with profanity and degrading to women, like "mature subject matter" usually implies these days.  I mean the songs dealt with adult topics, like temptation, lost love, and other disappointments.  "Change of Heart, Change of Mind (S.O.F.T.)" was a fun tune, reminiscent of a Stax tune from the late 60's, and "Payin' For It Now" is a humorous track about one bad decision having a snowball effect.  There are four or five tunes present here that rank with the best that Cray's ever done.  Those are "Porch Light," "Playin' In The Dirt," "I've Slipped Her Mind," "False Accusations," "The Last Time (I Get Burned Like This)," and, my personal favorite, "Sonny." 

If you're unsure of what a blues song should sound like, let me direct you to "Sonny."  It's an absolutely devastating song about a man who vows to take care of his friend's wife while the friend goes to fight in Vietnam.  In the process, the two fall for each other.  When Cray sings, "I'd hang around at night/And feel her lonely, lonely bed," you hear the anguish in his voice that he wasn't strong enough to resist temptation.  Then, to make matters even worse, Sonny comes home from the war.  Unfortunately, he's now blind and crippled, unable to live his life as he did before he left.  As the song closes, Cray's despair is staggering as he sings, "I'm so ashamed of what I've done."  When you sit down and read the lyrics to "Sonny," I'll admit they seem a bit cliche' and hokey, but it's really Cray's performance, from the passionate vocal to the sharp and concise guitar solo, that lifts this song above the mundane.  That's what grabbed me about it anyway. 

False Accusations is not as highly regarded as Bad Influence....some of the instrumentation and production that was supposed to be modern now sounds pretty dated.....which is a pity because Cray's performances on his second Hightone release lift it way above the norm for blues releases at that time. 

Showdown! appeared not long after False Accusations, and won Cray his first Grammy.  Not only after that, Cray inked a deal with Mercury and released what is acknowledged as his masterpiece, Strong Persuader.  While there is some debate about whether it is his best release, it's certainly his most accessible, as many music fans who didn't even own a blues record took the time to seek it out.  To me, it's simply an extension of what he had been doing on his Hightone releases, mixing blues and soul with smooth vocals, sharp guitar, and songs dealing with adult, blues-related topics. 

There are some differences though.  The Memphis Horns back the band on this release and they lift everything a notch on tracks like "I Guess I Showed Her" and the irresistible "Nothin' But A Woman."  Really, there weren't any clunkers among the ten songs, the best two, of course, being the most familiar...."Smoking Gun" and "Right Next Door (Because of Me)." 

The success of Strong Persuader was phenomenal at the time, and even now.  Cray's videos appeared on MTV, the album went gold, and he was able to appear on all the late night talk shows of the era.  Best of all, his success drew a lot of people to the blues that wouldn't have ordinarily looked in that direction, opening the door for other blues artists, who started appearing in commercials, on movies, and on television, a trend that continues over 25 years later.

A nice bonus to Cray's sudden success was the resurfacing of his debut album, which had been released in 1980.  Who's Been Talkin' consists of half covers and half originals.  The covers are all very well done (to me, "Too Many Cooks" is one of the most annoying songs ever......your mileage may vary....but Cray does as well as anyone ever has with it), with a harrowing version of the title track being the highlight and Sam Myers' "Sleeping In The Ground" running a close second.  The originals are outstanding.  "The Score" ranks with Bromberg's best songs and Cray contributes several standouts ("If You're Thinking What I'm Thinking," "That's What I'll Do," "Nice As A Fool Can Be").  Who's Been Talkin' is probably Robert Cray's most blues-based album and we might never have heard it if it hadn't been for the success of Strong Persuader.

Of course, Cray's career didn't stop there.  We will continue to look at his career in future Friday Blues Fix posts.

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Favorite Things.....Currently

I honestly don't know how so many bloggers are able to post stuff daily.  It's amazing to me how creative and resourceful some people are.  I read a lot of blogs covering many different areas of interest and they all post daily or every other day.  When I originally started Friday Blues Fix, I figured I would at least post on Fridays, along with a few items during the week.  Nope.....can't do it.  Weekly is about all I can manage, so I try to at least give you a quality post once a week and hope that it's enough to make you think about stopping by at least once a week.

This week, I thought I'd give you a glimpse at some of the blues items that I'm currently enjoying.....some new recordings, books, DVDs, or other blues-related items.  Maybe you're already enjoying some of these things yourself.  If not, well......maybe you should be.

First up is an impressive CD from Texas guitarist Hamilton Loomis called Live in England.  A friend of mine in Houston send me a mix CD several years ago with a couple of Hamilton Loomis tracks on it, with a note that I needed to keep an eye on this young dude because he was just getting started.  After a couple of indy releases, Loomis eventually recorded for Blind Pig in the early 2000's and released this live set about a year and a half ago.  I got a copy in the mail for review a couple of weeks ago and, folks, let me tell you....if you haven't heard this guy perform, you need to pencil him into your busy schedule because this man can raise the roof.  An incredibly talented guitarist, Loomis also sings with the best of them.  This disc features a dozen great tracks, mostly originals from his earlier releases, plus a few surprises (a tribute to Loomis' idol, Bo Diddley, is a standout).  Live blues CDs are a dime a dozen and a lot of them leave you as soon as you take them out of your CD player.  This one is different.  If you've not experienced Hamilton Loomis, this is a fantastic place to start.

Still on the music side, Stony Plain Records, the Canadian label of roots music, celebrates its 35th year in existence this year.  As part of that celebration, the label recently issued a 2 CD/1 DVD set that will serve as a wonderful introduction to Stony Plain.  Disc 1 collects many of the label's foremost country, folk, and vocal performers.  Disc 2 is all blues, R&B, and swinging jazz and the DVD captures some of both areas.  The blues disc also includes four excellent previously unheard blues recordings from Robert Nighthawk's final session in 1965 in Montreal.  Now if you're a blues fan of any merit at all, by now you should be halfway to your computer or to your favorite record store (if it still exists).  Probably the most noteworthy thing about this release is the amazing diverse number of blues artists that the label has recorded over the years, ranging from mainstay Duke Robillard to relative new kid on the label Joe Louis Walker to lap steel wizard Sonny Rhodes to Chicago legend Billy Boy Arnold to the swinging jazz and blues of Big Jay McShann to the blues/rock of the late Jeff Healey, who gets a nice tribute on the DVD.  If you're a fan of roots music in general, this has something for everybody and I have to admit that I enjoyed the first CD of country and folk almost as much as I did the blues CD.

One more new one and then we'll move on........Ruf Records recently added Lightnin' Malcolm to their already impressive roster.  Malcolm's latest release, Renegade, came out in April.  I've seen Malcolm off and on over the years, first as a part of the M for Mississippi documentary and soundtrack, then as part of the recent Big Head Blues Club tour.  This latest CD, which features Malcolm along with drummer Cameron Kimbrough (grandson of Junior Kimbrough), continues the update of the Hill Country sound that has been ongoing with various members of the Burnside and Kimbrough families, mixing elements of funk and rock with the droning, hypnotic rhythms of Hill Country blues.  It's safe to say that this brand of blues is nowhere near reaching its peak and Lightnin' Malcolm proves that there's still plenty of exciting music to be heard from its many purveyors.   

I want to give you a heads-up on one of the coolest books on the blues that I've read in a while.  Cat Head's Roger Stolle has penned an indispensible volume on the history of the land where the blues began - the Mississippi Delta.  Hidden History of Mississippi Blues is a comprehensive look at the music from its beginnings all the way through its current status, with lots of fascinating stops in between, with some magnificent photos by Lou Bopp.  Whether you're a newcomer to the blues or an old hand who's seen it all, this book is a must-have.

I asked Stolle to give us some background on the story behind the book and he was gracious enough to respond.

For almost a decade, I've talked to blues fans, tourists and musicians from across the counter at my Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Through that time, I've heard certain questions over and over, and I've taken note about what folks want to know more about. After hours, I've enjoyed many amazing blues nights at local juke joints, blues clubs and house parties. I've interviewed dozens of older Delta bluesmen for magazines like Blues Revue, and I've spent quality time hanging out with juke owners and other Mississippi natives.

When The History Press approached me last year about writing the Hidden History of Mississippi Blues book, I thought, "Hmm. Here's a chance to take everything I've learned and share it with fellow fans of blues music, Southern culture and American history." From there, it really just became a question of what to include and how to present it in an entertaining way. I tried very hard to write a book that would appeal to both newbie and long-time blues fans. Chapters about the music's origins, cotton plantations, race records, Delta radio, "The Crossroads" and juke joints cover many of the questions and discussions I've had with Cat Head customers through the years. Additionally, the series of interviews towards the back of the book provides deep blues history from the mouths of the men who were there and lived to tell about it. Finally, because a picture is worth a thousand words, I called on my buddy Lou Bopp to use 40 or so of his stunning Mississippi blues photos. Most of the shots are in color, and all of them capture both the men and the environment behind the blues -- from highly personal portraits to live juke joint happenings.

If our new book is successful, then it will hopefully inspire many repeat visits to the Magnolia State. After all, part of the "Hidden History of Mississippi Blues" is that the tradition is still being carried on today in a handful of decaying Delta jukes on steamy Saturday nights. It's happening this weekend and next, but it could be over the weekend after. We really don't know. The world needs to experience it now -- while it still can.
For more information, visit the History Press website.

Roger Stolle interviewing Cedell Davis for his book, Hidden History of Mississippi Blues

This weekend, I went with the family to Orange Beach and vegged out for a few days with a good book (see above) and some good music (ditto).  On the way home, my brother suggested we stop in Mobile and take in some BBQ at The Shed.  The Shed got its start when former Ole Miss student Brad Orrison and his sister Brooke decided to open their own BBQ joint in Ocean Springs, building the original basically from junk that Orrison collected from dumpsters.  Word soon got around about the wonderful BBQ and the great blues music featured, both live (Broke & Hungry Records recorded their Odell Harris CD here) and via air waves.  Now The Shed has locations in Mobile, Gulfport, MS, Scott, LA, Destin, FL, and Hattiesburg, MS.  Trust me when I tell you that these folks know what they're doing with some of the best BBQ you will ever put in your mouth....and they're not playing around with the sides either.....great potato salad and macaroni salad, too.  I'm getting hungry just typing this.  The closest one is two hours away from me, but it sure doesn't seem like it's that far away right now.  Great food, great atmosphere, and, best of all, great music.

Yes, they taste as good as they look!!!!!

Now you're set for a great weekend of nothing but the blues.  You can thank me later.