Friday, November 25, 2011

Five More Albums You Might Have Missed (V.3)

Once again, it's time for Friday Blues Fix to look at five more gems from the past few years that might have slipped past blues fans the first time a relatively new disc.  That's six CDs for the price of five.  Who says I'm not giving you the best deal in blues these days??!!!

Zuzu Bollin - Texas Bluesman (Antones):  Bollin led his own combo, beginning in the late 40's, recorded two 78's in the early 50's, and this recording in the 1980's.  That's it.  That's the list.  The Dallas native eventually gave up the music business for the dry cleaning business in the mid 60's.  He was rediscovered by the Dallas Blues Society in 1987, which led to this album being released by the society in 1989.  Texas Bluesman contains remakes of both sides of his first 78, "Why Don't You Eat Where You Slept Last Night" and "Headlight Blues," plus covers of songs by Big Joe Turner, Count Basie, Cleanhead Vinson, and Percy Mayfield.  There's also some great T-Bone Walker-styled guitar and outstanding jump blues.  Bollin passed away in 1990, not long after the album was initially released.  It was eventually re-issued by Antones, where it enjoyed wider distribution.  It will definitely make you wonder why this guy had such a hard time getting in the studio.

Bill Sims (Warner Brothers):  In the late 90's, NYC bluesman Sims appeared in the PBS documentary, American Love Story, which profiled his multi-ethnic family.  This 1999 album was released in conjunction with the series and received a lot of attention back then, but has proved to be Sims' last release so far, so many new blues listeners may have missed out.  Sims is an incredibly versatile musician, having played urban and country blues, R&B, jazz, and even doo wop.  This is a stellar mix of all those styles.  More recently, Sims has teamed up with harmonica player Mark LaVoie as an acoustic country blues duo.

Texas Northside Kings (Dialtone):  Austin-based Dialtone Records has assembled a neat little catalog over the past decade or so, focusing on the vast talent of the Austin/Houston area for the most part.  For this 2007 release, the label takes six of Austin's up-and-coming guitar slingers (Eva Monsees, Johnny Moeller, Shawn Pittman, Mike Keller, Nick Curran, Seth Walker) and gives each of them two or three tracks of their own, backing them with a tight set of area musicians (Earl Gilliam on keyboards, drummer Willie Sampson, sax man Spot Barnett).  This recording is a lot of fun, with some great songs and performances.  Several of these guitarists have since made some phenomenal recordings, so this is a good chance to catch them in their early stages.  Check out this funky Johnny Moeller instrumental, "Radio Groove."

Bobby Purify - Better To Have It (Proper):  James and Bobby Purify were one of the unsung soul duos of the 60's, with hits like "I'm Your Puppet," "Shake a Tail Feather," and "Let Love Come Between Us."  This is the 70's "Bobby Purify," whose real name is Ben Moore.  Moore had a successful career in Gospel during the 80's, but fell upon hard times after he lost his sight in 1998.  In 2005, he launched a comeback with this release, which teamed him up with veteran soul songwriter/singer/producer Dan Penn, who wrote several of the Purify hits of the 60's, including "I'm Your Puppet."  Penn, who had been involved in Solomon Burke's comeback release for Fat Possum the year before, brought in a bevy of Muscle Shoals music legends, including keyboardist Spooner Oldham and Carson Whitsett, bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, and Memphis Horns trumpet player Wayne Jackson, and thirteen new songs that capture the essence of that 60's southern soul sound.  Purify has just the right combination of smooth and grit in his voice to pull off this material. 

Bo Ramsey - Stranger Blues (CDBY):  Iowa's Bo Ramsey was influenced by the sounds of Sun Records and Chess Records.  He has built a pretty solid career both as a solo artist and a collaborator (with Greg Brown, Lucinda Williams, Pieta Brown).  His own music has a moody, atmospheric quality and it lifts this 2007 set of cover tunes several notches.  The opening track, a ghostly reworking of the Elmore James tune, is fantastic, with Ramsey's craggly vocal punctuated by the keyboards whooshing along behind Ramsey's twangy guitar and a piercing harmonica.  Ramsey also breathes new life into Little Walter's "Hate To See You Go," Muddy's "Little Geneva," Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Jump Baby Jump," and Sonny Boy Williamson II's "Unseen Eye."  The tunes will be familiar to most blues fans, but it's pretty cool to hear Ramsey's restructuring of them.

For a newer disc that you might have missed, check out Denver bluesman Mojo Watson.  Watson is the son of 50's R&B singer K.C. "Mojo" Watson, and has been recording his own material for around a decade.  Watson's music was best described by a friend of mine as "part Muddy Waters, part Robert Cray, part Jimi Hendrix," which is not a bad combination when you think about it.  Watson's previous CDs have included mostly original songs (or songs previously done by his dad), but Geechy Woman also features a few cover tunes, including Elmore James' "Sunnyland," B.B. King's "Sweet Sixteen," the Wolf's "Killing Floor," and Hendrix's "Dolly Dagger."  Watson is an amazing guitarist, mixing old school riffs with the occasional journey into Purple Haze territory.  This is a set that will please both traditional blues and blues/rock fans, so stop by Mojo's site and check it out.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Master of the Telecaster

When Albert Collins passed away in November of 1993, it wasn't like it would have been if he had passed away this November.  The internet was still in its infancy, and the world was a little farther apart back then.  Collins was diagnosed with lung cancer, which had spread to his liver, in July of '93, and was gone four months later.  The first time I knew anything about his death, much less the fact that he had cancer, was several days after his death, when I read it on one of those newspaper sidebars about entertainment.  All it said was that he was a blues guitarist and that he was 61.  No cause of death, no background or history.....just the minimum required to fill a paragraph.

To me, that was a shame, because if anyone associated with the blues deserved the full treatment, it was Albert Collins.  As longtime readers of FBF are probably tired of hearing, he was one of the first blues guitarists I ever heard and once I did, I wanted to hear more, but I can safely say that I've never found another guitarist with a sound like his.  His slashing, screaming guitar that sounded like it was strung with barbed wire and about two notes in, you had no doubt who was playing.  His live shows were the stuff of legend as he was known for his forays into the audience with his guitar hooked to his amp by a 150' cord.  I never got to see him in person, but I got to see lots of video of his performances.  Obviously, he had a blast playing, with that Telecaster slung over his shoulder, massive fingers (sans pick) working magic on those strings.  Even when he was singing about bad times, you just didn't quite believe that he was down and out.  He was having too much fun.

He even had the coolest nicknames.....Master of the Telecaster, the Iceman, the Razor Blade.  He really honed in on the Iceman persona though, with songs and album titles that reflected that nickname ("Frosty," "Frostbite," "Ice Pick," "Sno Cone," "Icy Blue," Ice Pickin', Frostbite, Don't Lose Your Cool, Cold Snap, etc.), but were the total opposite of his scorching fretwork.  Many of his albums would include a song where Collins used his guitar to imitate various sounds.  On one song, "Snowed In," Collins' guitar imitated him walking through the snow and scratching the ice and snow off his windshield.  Another song, "Too Many Dirty Dishes," featured the tele as an S.O.S. pad scrubbing pots and pans. 

Believe it or not, this guitar monster started out playing keyboards while growing up in Houston.  His musical hero as a teenager was Hammond B3 wizard Jimmy McGriff.  He switched to guitar in his late teens and absorbed the music of artists like Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin' Hopkins (his distant cousin), Guitar Slim (where he picked up his walk through the audience), and John Lee Hooker.  Soon he was leading his own band, called the Rhythm Rockers, and was cutting singles, mostly instrumentals.  His first big hit was "Frosty" in 1962, recorded in Beaumont, with locals Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin in the studio.

Collins continued to record while working day jobs, doing club appearance and mini-tours during the weekends.  He ended up attracting the attention of Bob Hite from Canned Heat, who eventually got Collins signed to Imperial Records in the late 60's.  He recorded three albums with Imperial, and got to play the Fillmore West, which led to wider exposure and the opportunity to open for bands like the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead.  Though his recording came to a standstill in the early 70's, he was still able to do some touring, based on the success of those singles he had recorded years earlier.

However, he might have toiled in obscurity forever if it weren't for Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records.  Collins signed with the label in the late 70's and recorded seven wonderful albums.  He gained confidence as a singer and composer, adding a whole new dimension to his act.  During his stint with Alligator, he recorded some of his best songs, like "Master Charge," "If Trouble Was Money," "Conversations With Collins," and "Lights Are On But Nobody's Home."  He was able to get even more exposure thanks to his tenure with Alligator, appearing on Late Night With David Letterman, a Seagram's Wine Cooler commercial (with Bruce Willis), and even scoring a hilarious cameo in the movie, "Adventures in Babysitting," teaming up with Elizabeth Shue to sing those lowdown "Babysitting Blues."

Johnny Copeland, Robert Cray, Albert Collins
Another highlight of Collins' tenure with Alligator was the classic Showdown! collaboration with fellow Houstonite Johnny Copeland and rising star Robert Cray.  The album won a Grammy in 1987 and remains one of Alligator's best-selling albums.  Collins was a big influence on Cray (who used to play the Collins instrumental, "Don't Lose Your Cool" during his shows), as well as other guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, who cited Collins as an influence numerous times, and Gary Moore, Coco Montoya, Debbie Davies, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and John Mayer.

In the early 90's, Collins signed with Virgin/Pointblank Records, a move that was sure to lead to even more exposure for him.  He was able to release a couple of well-received albums with Pointblank before being diagnosed with cancer in mid 1993.  He actually continued performing for a while, with some of his performances from the fall of 1993 appearing on the posthumously released Live '92/'93 album.  This appearance with the Allman Brothers took place about a month before he was diagnosed with cancer.

The saddest thing about Collins' death to me at the time was the fact that the Blues was enjoying such a great resurgence in popularity due, in part, to his efforts, and he was not able to fully benefit from the sudden rise in the music's popularity.  Thankfully, though, he was able to achieve some measure of fame before his untimely demise, and he left us a bounty of great recordings and for those who got to see him perform, some great memories.

Selected Discography

Truckin' With Albert Collins (MCA) - This set contains some of the Iceman's earliest recordings, including "Frosty."  Consisting of mostly instrumentals, the only vocal track is "Dyin' Flu."  These recordings hold up well with his later releases and serve as a great introduction to the Master of the Telecaster.

The Complete Imperial Recordings (EMI) - This set collects the recordings from Collins' three Imperial releases.  His tenure with Imperial allowed him to branch out a bit, perform throughout a wider area, and receive greater attention and popularity.  The highlights outnumber the misfires considerably, making this set worth seeking out.

Don't Lose Your Cool (Alligator) - While many of Collins' fans prefer his debut recording for Alligator (Ice Pickin'), this one is my favorite.  I like the diversity of the song selection, and there are some great songs here....."But I Was Cool," "Ego Trip," "Get To Gettin'," and the funky title track.  Picking the best Albert Collins' Alligator release is a happy exercise because you can't go wrong with your choice.

Deluxe Edition (Alligator):  This is a great place to start your Albert Collins collection, but by no means should it be a stopping point.  This set captures the best of his glory years with Alligator.  It includes a solid set of his instrumentals, live performances, and most of his crowd favorites, but there's so much more that's not here that deserves to be heard.

Live '92/'93 (Pointblank) - Others may argue that Collins did better live recordings, but this one is special because many of the tracks were recorded after Collins knew he had mere months to live.  The best thing is that you can't tell which tracks they are because he was a force of nature until the very end.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Odds & Ends

Anyone who's been buying music for a long period of time has had to endure format changes, going from records to 8-track tapes to cassette tapes to CD's to mp3's.  Fortunately, I've only dealt with the last three formats for the most part, but those were bad enough because, of course, you usually find yourself converting your particular favorites from one format to another so you can continue to enjoy them.  But sometimes, certain recordings don't make the next format, or they're not available very long in the new format.  Most long-time listeners have a few of these on their wish lists, hoping that one day they do move to a new format.  The same thing happens with books as well....they go out of print and soon become hard to find, even today.  Below are a few of the items on my own wish list.......

Angels in Houston:  The Legendary Duke Blues Recordings (Rounder) - This release has only been issued on LP and cassette.  I picked up the cassette in the late 80's.  The main reason I picked it up was because I had bought a cassette on Black Top Records by James "Thunderbird" Davis and liked it so much that I wanted to hear more from him.  In the process, I got to hear some other fantastic artists that I liked even more......Fenton Robinson and Larry Davis.  I was already familiar with the great Bobby "Blue" Bland and he gets four songs on here, all from his peak years and all of which are familiar to most blues fans, including the incredible "Yield Not To Temptation."  The two Davises get three songs apiece, including James Davis' "Blue Monday" and "Your Turn To Cry," and Larry Davis' "Texas Flood" and the title track.  Fenton Robinson has long been underappreciated, which is a shame.  He was an immensely talented singer, composer, and guitarist.  He gets four songs, including "As The Years Go Passing By" and "Tennessee Woman."  These were considered "rare" recordings at the time, as most had never even been on LP before.  Now they are fairly easy to find, thanks to the internet, but this collection is pretty special by itself and it's never been available on CD.  Since all of Duke's catalog belongs to another label now (MCA or whatever they're called now....Universal?), it's highly unlikely that this particular collection will ever see the light of day on CD.  Too bad, but at least they're still available for listening on other collections.

Magic Slim - Live at B.L.U.E.S. (B.L.U.E.S. R&B) - This was the first Magic Slim recording that I ever owned and it's one of the best he's ever done.  It was recorded at B.L.U.E.S. in Chicago and Slim was in really fine form that night, as was this particular incarnation of the band (John Primer - guitar, Nick Holt - bass, Nate Applewhite - drums).  The coolest thing about this recording is that the set list includes some of Slim's less familiar songs from his vast catalog, such as "Luv Somebody," "Poor Man But A Good Man," "Gambler's Blues," "Keep a Drivin'," and "Help Yourself."  The only tune that might be familar to some Magic Slim fans is a long-play version of "Mother Fuyer."  I keep hearing rumors that this one will eventually make it to CD, but I've been hearing them for nearly ten years.  If it ever does make it, you must give it a listen.  You will thank me later.

The Down Home Guide To The Blues - by Frank Scott and the Down Home Music Staff (A Capella Books):  One of the best of the mail order catalogs for blues recordings was Down Home Music.  They specialized in those hard-to-find recordings and had them for a very nice price most of the time.  Their monthly catalog was indispensible because nearly each item came with accompanying review written by Scott or one of his staff members.  Best thing about those reviews was that if it was worth having, they would tell you it was worth having, and if it wasn't, they would tell you it wasn't.  It covered about 3,500 recordings ranging from the pre-war country blues of the 20's and 30's, all the way through the early 90's (which was when it was published).  Of all the books I have on the blues, I've probably looked at this one the most, at least a few times a week, until it came up missing some time back, during our house remodel event last year.  Hopefully, it will turn up again soon because it's still a great source of information about a lot of blues artists and recordings.  Down Home Music is still going strong today and have their own website, so stop by and see what you're missing.

The Listener's Guide To The Blues, by Peter Guralnick (Facts on File):  I first heard about this book in an issue of Guitar World, their annual blues issue.  There was an article about essential recordings, publications, and video (no websites or DVD way back then).  Guralnick's book was listed among the essential publications.  This is the only Guralnick book that I was never able to find in print.  I may have to order it online, but it's similar to the Down Home Music book in that it covers artists and recordings....the difference being, from what I've heard, that it takes you through the blues as if you're a newcomer and starts you from scratch.  I'm such a fan of Guralnick's work that I know it has to be as good as the rest of his books. 

There you have man's blues wish list.  Anyone who's ever collected any type of music over an extended period has a wish list, whether they're aware of it or not.  What's on your wish list?

Happy belated birthday to one of my longtime favorites, the Texas Roadhouse King, Delbert McClinton.  He turned 71 last week.  McClinton's music fits many genres, including rock, soul, and country, but his roots are firmly planted in the blues, the music he grew up around as a youngster in Fort Worth.  In addition to his vocal talents, he remains one of the best harmonica players around.  If you've never seen him perform, you need to make a point to check him out next time he's in your neighborhood.

How about a couple of mini-reviews......I received a copy of Chicago guitarist Toronzo Campbell's new release for Delmark Records, called Leaving Mood.  It's been in my stereo since yesterday and might be there for a while.  Wow!  From what I understand, this guy has played in a couple of bands around Chicago (Wayne Baker Brooks, Joanna Connor) before forming his own band, the Cannonball Express.  From listening to Leavin' Mood, he learned well.  He's an outstanding guitarist and singer, mixing the blues and soul with a dash of rock and even some 70's era R&B.  Even better, he's writes his own songs and they are clever and distinctive, touching on familiar subjects but with a fresh coat of paint.  Standout tracks include the opener, "She Loved Me," a third cousin of Hound Dog Taylor's "She's Gone," "Chicago's Song," "Hard Luck," with Carl Weathersby playing some blistering guitar, the title track, and "She's Too Much."  Delmark has really done a good job in recent years recording many of the younger Windy City performers and this one is one of their best recent releases.

Shane Dwight moved to the Nashville area from California several years ago with mixed results.  The good results involved getting good management, associating with some great musicians, and signing with a record label.  The bad side was seeing his marriage come to an end.  Most musicians thrive on adversity...often the best songs come from living the worst times.  Dwight's latest release, A Hundred White Lies, lays bare his soul as he pull no punches, either with himself or with others.  His songs mix blues, rock, and country rhythms seamlessly.  Lending Dwight a hand are several members of Delbert McClinton's band, including Kevin McKendree, who produced the disc and played keyboards and guitars, and Nashville blues guitarist Mike Henderson and singer Bekka Bramlett.  If you're not familiar with Dwight (he's played with such luminaries as B. B. King, Johnny Winter, Jimmie Vaughan, Los Lobos, and Los Lonely Boys), you should be.  He's the real deal.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ten Questions With Brad Vickers

Brad Vickers' vision of the blues encompasses several styles of blues, including Mississippi Delta blues, Chicago blues, and even a bit of the Hill Country sound.  However, it's not limited to just the blues, but is also subject to mixing in old time jazz and ragtime.  In addition to the usual guitar, piano, drums, sax, and bass, there's also a good chance that you will hear clarinet or fiddle on some songs.  Vickers and his group, the Vestapolitans, have released three unforgettable discs over the past three years on the ManHatTone record label, with songs from the 30's through the 60's, plus original compositions that seamlessly blend with the classics.  Mr. Vickers has graciously agreed to sit down with Friday Blues Fix and answer a few questions.

1. When did you become a blues fan and what attracted you to the music?

I became a blues fan in 1964, at the age of 13, when I heard Leadbelly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Jimmy Reed’s recordings. What attracted me, I guess, was this music’s simplicity and truthfulness—and the vocal delivery that relies entirely on the individual artist’s range of talent and life experience. In other words, this music, the blues, doesn’t hide any good or bad feeling you may have about life, like problems with the opposite sex or working at a job you didn’t like. Though these were adult themes, as an adolescent I was becoming aware of these things by observing how people got along, and how they handled themselves when problems came to them. And, I also loved the beat and tempo of the fast blues: boogie-woogie and R&B jump.

2. What was your favorite blues album as a youth?

My favorite blues album as a youngster was a record called “Jimmy Reed Plays 12-String Guitar”. On this, he overdubbed the 12-string on top of his original recording, matching the melodies that he’d used for his vocals. Then they took out the vocal track. It was all instrumentals. There were ten of his greatest hits, and two new instrumentals written for the project. I wore that album out, drove my family crazy. My mother gave me the album as a Christmas gift because she knew that I was interested in guitar. This was when the Beatles and the Stones were making it big. Neither she nor I knew that Jimmy Reed sang, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I found many more of his recordings. It was when I discovered his voice, that I really got bitten by the blues bug!

3. What made you decide to play the music as a career?

Starting in 1968, I played on weekends with various groups, playing the hits of the day at church youth gatherings, coffee houses, and school auditorium concerts.

I took up the electric bass, honoring my grandfather’s wishes. He played lap-steel and drums back in the’30s, and said that if I played the bass I’d work all the time, that “Guitar players are a dime-a-dozen!” So, about 1982 I left my day job and worked a steady 4 to 5 nights a week in music. I liked the job, and I liked the hours. By then I was playing nothing but the blues. It was about that time that I joined the group Little Mike and The Tornadoes, and for the first time began to back up some of the great bluesmen on the road, and forging long relationships with them.

Tampa Red
 4. Who are your biggest musical influences as a performer and a songwriter?

There are three performers, who are also songwriters, who have had an everlasting influence on me: Tampa Red, Jimmy Reed, and Chuck Berry.

5. Your musical catalogue spans quite a number of years, including songs from the ’30s to today. Which era of blues is your favorite, and why?

I love the blues and the bluesy pop of the ’30s, and also the ’20s, and as far back as the ragtime of the early 1900s. I like the R&B jump of the ’40s and ’50s that turned into Rock ’n’ Roll and Rockabilly. I also like some of the early country artists like Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow. It’s all become music to my ears—And it all probably figures into the sound I get with my songs and my group.

 6. Over the years you’ve played with a diverse set of great musicians. Are there any cool stories that you would like to share about our years playing with all these musicians, whether in the studio or onstage?

Yes, I have lots of stories about the people I’ve played with. I don’t know where to start. I guess I’ll start with my favorite story, my first experience onstage with Chuck Berry.

In 1969 I had already been playing bass for two years and was already experienced in playing with other musicians in a non-rehearsed way. In other words, “winging it.” I was 18 years old and living a home, when my neighbor called and asked if I could replace him the following night in a band that would be playing in a club a few neighborhoods away. This neighbor, Ron, was also a bass player. He was about five years my senior, and liked the way I played—and he had come down with the flu.

I accepted the job, and the next night I arrived in good time, an hour before the show. It was the Friday between Christmas and New Year, and there were no marquee lights or posters to be seen. I had taken a taxi with my Kustom plush white bass amp, and I had two speaker cabinets, each with two 15” Jensen speakers. (I was ready for any volume of music.) After I got my gear inside the club, I saw that it was empty except for two musicians setting up onstage, a drummer and a keyboardist. I noticed that they were both Hispanic. I became concerned, as there were two kinds of music I knew nothing about playing: Latin Salsa and Cuban Jazz.

I introduced myself, and explained that I was the substitute. They had already heard from Ron and were happy to meet me. Then I asked what kind of music we’d be playing. The drummer said, “Hey, man! Ron didn’t tell you who the job is for tonight?” I shook my head “No.” He smiled and said, “We’re backing up Chuck Berry!” I began to turn pale and broke out in a cold sweat. The mere mention of his name gave me goosebumps I was a super Chuck Berry fanatic, and my friend Ron didn’t tell me on purpose. He knew I’d be so nervous that I’d have bailed out.

Before I even had time to understand the situation, Chuck walked in and slammed his guitar case on the stage, opened it, and looked around for the amp he was to use. As he unraveled his guitar cable, he asked, “Who’s the bass player?”

I was sinking into the floorboards as I raised my hand. He looked at me very business-like and said, “No walking.” He plugged his Gibson Stereo into the two Fender Deluxe amp that the club had provided, and strummed one loud chord before going off to his dressing room.

I was still very green, and didn’t know too much about musical terminology, but I felt relieved that I knew his entire catalogue, and left it at that. I was debating whether to have a drink at the bar before show time, but show time was in two minutes. Just then the club opened its door, and at once the place became packed. At least three hundred stood in front of the stage, and I got a sick feeling in my stomach. I’d never played for so many people before. Two minutes turned into twenty, and the crowd began to chant, ”We want Chuck, we want Chuck!” and stomping their feet. I stood beside the stage with the rest of the group, awaiting instructions from the management. Soon a man with a dark suit and sunglasses came through the crowd and motioned for us to hit the stage. I put on my bass, the drummer and keyboardist sat behind their instruments, and the stage lights dimmed. There was no announcement, but as Chuck, with his guitar on, walked through the crowd, it parted for him like the Red Sea. The cheers and roar from the crowd was so intense that I could hardly concentrate. Then Chuck plugged in his guitar and began his famous intro. The band kicked in on the second change, the IV chord. Thank God I could read his hand on the guitar neck, because the song keys were never given. When we got to that second change, I walked that bass line like crazy, in the fastest tempo that I could. Chuck began to sing “Roll Over Beethoven”, and I was in complete control of the song, until Chuck shot a scorching glance at me. I didn’t know why. He stopped the song halfway through. The crowd cheered wildly, and he started again with his signature beginning. As we came to the IV chord, I again began to walk bass line, cutting it so deep that my amp was roaring. Chuck began to sing “Bye, Bye Johnny.” After two verses, he shot me another withering look. I thought that maybe I was playing too loud, so I turned down and he stopped the song. The crowd went ballistic with hoorahs and cheers, as Chuck started another song the same way. Naturally, I began to walk another cool bass line with confidence to his rhythm. He sang a verse of “Let It Rock,” then broke into his famous “scoot” and headed right toward me. I smiled. He didn’t. He stood crouched, moving his leg in time with the music and yelled, “I said no walking! Why are you defying me?” I felt my face turn red and I said, “Chuck! I’m not walking. I’ve been standing completely still!” His eyes popped, and he looked me up and down and smiled. He might have realized then that I was very young. He went back to the microphone and ended the song. Then he started the “Maybelline” intro. I knew this was a country beat, so I played the minimal punch of notes on the one and five. He looked at me and smiled. “Yeah!” he said, “Do that all night long.” And I did. We did two shows that night, and I tweaked that country beat into playing 4/4 time on the root of every change through every song.

At the end of the night Chuck thanked us for a good show. I felt brave and confident enough to ask him if he would like a steady bass player. He said, “Hold that thought. Excuse, me, I’ll be back in a minute.” He never came back, but I’ve had the pleasure of playing with him again through the years. I lost contact with him in the mid ’80s. From that first show I began to play the bass the way he wanted, and I became a favorite of choice with many blues bands and performers. All I can say is “Thanks, Chuck!”

7. Who would be the members of our dream band, your all-star team of musicians, living, dead, well-known, lesser-known, etc.

This is a hard question, but I’ll answer it by saying that instead of a “dream band” I would want a “dream revue.” I’d have my favorite musicians, who have played on my recordings back up all my heroes: Tampa Red, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley. I would bring them out one-by-one and play all their most influential songs.

8.  Do you have any projects in the works?

I have many projects in the works!

>A folk-blues album,

>An old-time string band album with every stringed instrument possible

>An album of diverse styles from Louisiana

>More Blues and R&B albums.

>More original songs

I have enough projects to keep me going for a while.

9. Where do you see the blues genre in 10 years? Who do you think will emerge to succeed the current list of elder statesmen?

Ten years from now the blues genre with probably be the same as it is today, but with more diverse sounds woven in. I see that many of the younger players are drawn to related styles, like soul music on one hand, and in another direction, there seems to be some interest in earlier styles like jug band or string band music, and Gypsy jazz. So all that will probably be in the mix.

In answer to the second part of the question, it’s really bittersweet to think of all the great elders who have passed on recently: Honeyboy Edwards, Mojo Buford, and of course, Pinetop Perkins and Willie Smith. These have been our links to the original blues, and to Muddy Waters. The next line of great blues artists will inevitably become the new elder statesmen, and will be revered, i.e.: Taj Mahal, John Hammond, Jr., Maria Muldaur. Buddy Guy is already approaching that status.

As long as there is an appreciation for the blues, there will always be a new crop of players, and there will always be elder statesmen.

10. What are some of our favorite blues albums—the ones that you keep going back and listening to over and over?

My favorite blues albums are:

>”Sonny Terry is King” with Lightin’ Hopkins and Brownie McGhee (Arhoolie)

>”Muddy Waters’ Greatest Hits” (issued in 1964 on the heavyweight black label) (Chess)

>All Bo Diddley’s albums

>J.B. Lenoir “Natural Man” (Chess)

>Little Walter “Confessing The Blues” (Chess)

>Jimmy Rogers “Chicago Bound” (Chess)

>”Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade” (Chess)

>Chuck Berry “St. Louis to Liverpool” (Chess)

>All of Jimmy Reed’s early albums on Vee Jay

>and one newer one, in particular called

“The New Jimmy Reed Album” (1965 Bluesway)

It had five guitars playing different lines with no solos, except for Jimmy’s harmonica It’s an incredible album Wayne Bennett, Eddie Taylor, and Hubert Sumlin are among the guitar players.

>All of Tampa Red’s albums were great, especially the one issued on Krazy Kat records in the early ’80s. It had songs form 1947-1953, with Johnny Jones on piano, Ransom Knowling on bass, and Odie Payne on drums. Johnny and Ransom sing harmonies with Tampa. This is probably my favorite album of all times. I visit it quite often.


All of Brad Vickers' recordings with the Vestapolitans are on the ManHatTone label.  They are listed below in chronological order.  Each release is a slight improvement over its predecessor, but all are worth picking up.  They offer a unique blend of blues over the years, plus roots, jazz, and ragtime mixed in for good measure.  For more information, visit Brad and the band's brand new website.