Friday, March 30, 2012

Current Events

A few items of interest, blues-related, for you.

You might not have been aware that 100 years ago in March of 1912, the first twelve-bar blues song was published.  It was "Dallas Blues," by Hart Wand, an Oklahoma violinist and bandleader.  In commemoration of this event, Friday Blues Fix Friend Brad Vickers has recorded the song with his Vestapolitans (and guest violinist Charlie Burnham) and will be releasing it digitally at iTunes and CDBaby, and several other sites.  All proceeds from downloads of the single will go to the Blues Foundation's H.A.R.T Fund.

The H.A.R.T. Fund (Handy Artists Relief Trust) provides for blues musicians and their families who are in financial need due to a broad range of health concerns including acute, chronic, or preventative medical or dental care, as well as funeral or burial expenses.

The song is a blast, a real old school treat that features fiddles, clarinet, mandolin, and sax.  If you're not careful, you might find yourself singing along with Vickers and Margey Peters.  Great music for a worthwhile cause is always a good thing, so do yourself a favor and stop by one of these sites and check it out.

Another Friday Blues Fix favorite, soul singer Bobby Womack, was recently diagnosed with 1st Stage colon cancer.  He was released on Monday from the hospital, where he'd been battling pneumonia.  Bass player and longtime Womack friend Bootsy Collins posted about it on Facebook a few days ago, saying that Womack was in good spirits and was very "upbeat" about his future.  Womack just turned 68 and has a new album, The Bravest Man in the Universe, due out in June.  Please be sure to keep him in your prayers.

Chicago bluesman Eddie King passed away on March 13 at age 73, after a long illness.  King was born Eddie Milton in Talladega, AL, but transformed himself into Little Eddie King, based on his small stature and his guitar-playing style reminiscent of B.B. King) when he moved to Chicago in the late 50's.  As a child, he learned to play guitar by peeking through the windows at the local blues clubs, memorizing the runs and patterns he saw, then running home to see if he remembered them.  He learned the ropes playing with other artists like Luther Allison, Magic Sam, Eddie C. Campbell, Junior Wells, and Detroit Junior, and spent years backing the likes of Willie Dixon, Little Mac Simmons, Sonny Boy Williamson, and, for two decades, Koko Taylor.

He released a single for J.O.B. Records in the early 60's, and fronted his own band, beginning in the late 60's, but actually didn't get to release his own album  until the late 80's, when Black Magic Records released The Blues Has Got Me.  This disc featured King with one of his sisters, Mae Bee May, on vocals.  In the late 90's, the outstanding Another Cow's Dead was released on Roesch Records.  Featuring the Blues Brothers Horns, it showcased King's piercing guitar work and his wonderful soul-drenched vocals.  It's definitely one for the Five Discs You Might Have Missed list, so maybe we'll take a closer look at it in the near future.

Gadsden, AL-based harmonica player Jerry "Boogie" McCain passed away on Wednesday (3/28) at the age of 81.  McCain was active from the early 50's until just before his death (he recently recorded a single commemorating the Alabama NCAA BCS Championship).  He was influenced as a harmonica player by Little Walter, who actually gave the young McCain words of encouragement (and an opportunity to jam) during a stop in Gadsden.  McCain recorded for Trumpet, Excello, Jewel, and Okeh in the 50's and 60's and some of his classics include "Steady," "She's Tuff" (also covered by the Fabulous Thunderbirds), "My Next Door Neighbor," "Trying To Please," and "That's What They Want."

McCain faded into obscurity for many years before resurfacing with Atlanta-based Ichiban Records, where he recorded several well-received albums, then a disc for Jericho Records that featured guest artists like Jimmie Vaughan, Johnnie Johnson, Anson Funderburgh, John Primer, and the SRV rhythm section (Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon).  He last recorded with the Music Maker label back in 2006.  He was a true original with his clever songwriting and friendly manner and will be missed, most especially in his native Gadsden.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Five Albums You Might Have Missed (V.4)

As much great music as there is out there for blues fans, there's always a few releases that through no fault of their own slip through the cracks.  Friday Blues Fix feels like it's our obligation to advise lucky blues fans about those discs that they might have missed over the allow them the opportunity to backtrack and see what they might have missed, were it not for the dedication and devotion of FBF.  Let's look at five releases that deserve wider attention.

Eomot RaSun - Three Days Walkin' (APO):  Remember listening to those old Chess, VeeJay, and Excello recordings and wondering why they don't make cool recordings like those anymore?  Well, Eomot RaSun brought those days with his debut recording, way back in 1999.  RaSun only started playing the blues in the 80's, backing Windy City legends like Jimmy Rogers and Pinetop Perkins.  This session was recorded by Analogue Production Originals (APO) just like they used to do them, stick the band in the studio and let them go.  RaSun is backed by an outstanding band.....Jimmy D. Lane on guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, and Sam Lay on drums.....for ten great songs, several originals (most written by RaSun and Lane), two songs by Little Walter ("Last Night" and "Blues With A Feeling") and one by Howlin' Wolf ("Poor Boy").  RaSun's harmonica playing, like nearly everyone else who's ever played the blues, is strongly influenced by Little Walter.  Lane's guitar work pays tribute to the Chicago blues guitarists of the 50's.  The disc recaptures everything that was great about those old recordings.....strong songs that touch on familiar themes, a great band that places every note right where it needs to be, and a more-than-capable front man with harmonica chops to die for and a soulful voice that sometimes brings to mind a young Bill Withers.  Hopefully, this guy will record a second disc in the near future.

Buddy Scott - Bad Avenue (Verve/Gitanes):  Scott was from a musical family...his brothers, singer Howard and guitarist Walter, are longtime members of the Chicago music scene, and his son Kenneth "Hollywood" Scott, was guitarist/bandleader for the late Tyrone Davis.  Scott himself led the family band, Scotty and the Rib Tips, for decades as they built a huge following in the Windy City.  The Rib Tips even recorded a set of songs for the second set of Alligator's Living Chicago Blues series.  By the time Scott finally got to release a solo album in 1994, his health was declining rapidly.  However, he sounds really good on this set of songs, which leans heavily on old blues standards.  Shortly after the album's release, Scott passed away after a battle with stomach cancer.  He left us with this release, a poignant reminder of how good he really was and how good he could have been had he gotten more opportunities to record.

James Hunter - Kick It Around (Ruf):  Something of a well-kept secret, Hunter specializes in singing soul, R&B, and blues of the 1950's variety, with vocal influences like Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Clyde McPhatter, and Bobby Bland.  He also plays a mean guitar.  Hunter appeared on a couple of Van Morrison's 90's recordings and also was part of Morrison's Rhythm & Blues Revue.  For Kick It Around, his 2001 release, Hunter wrote most of the songs (the covers are a splendid version of McPhatter's "Lover's Question" and Bo Diddley's "Dearest Darling") and the emphasis is more on R&B and soul than blues, but Hunter's stinging guitar leads add a bit of the blues to the proceedings.  This is a really good set that needs to be heard by more people.  Actually, a listener would do well to own any of James Hunter's recordings.

Dennis Jones - Pleasure and Pain (Blue Rock):  If you're a fan of blues/rock, this one will absolutely knock your socks off.  Baltimore native Jones grew up listening to the rock of the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Santana, combined with the great R&B, Blues and Motown of the late 60's, and guitar monsters like Hendrix, Page, and Johnny Winter.  After paying lots of dues leading various bands (including the L.A. group Blackhead), he formed the Dennis Jones Band in the late 90's and decided to play his incredible brand of rock-ribbed blues.  This album doesn't have a bad track on it.  There are some great songs, some with a message, some that are just pure fun.  The disc rocks hard with some crunching guitar, but there are also some tracks that also feature horns.  When this disc first came out in 2010, I almost let it slip past because I had a boatload of CDs to review at the same time, but after hearing several of the songs shuffled on my iPod, I returned to it and was glad I did.  You will be, too.

Ricky Allen - Live (Jefferson):  Ricky Allen, like many blues singers, got his start singing in the church.  He moved from his native Nashville to Chicago and had a recording contract within a year, recording such regional favorites as "You Better Be Sure" and "I Can't Stand No Signifyin'."  His best-known and most often-covered song was the classic "Cut You A-Loose," which reached the Top 20 on Billboard's R&B Chart in 1963.  At one time, his popularity nearly rivaled Muddy Waters'.  Allen walked away from the music business in the 70's, running a dry cleaning business and later, a limousine service for a number of years.  He tried a brief comeback in the early 90's, but was persuaded to return to performing at the turn of the century for the 2001 Monsteras Festival in Sweden (where this recording was done) and the Chicago Blues Festival in 2002.  Live finds Allen in great form, his vocals are nearly as good as they were in the 60's, and he reprises many of his old hits on this set.  It would be nice if somebody were to try to compile Allen's 60's recordings in one collection, but this set features live versions of most of his hits and is well worth searching for.

Friday, March 16, 2012

More New Blues For You - Unplugged Edition

FBF continues our look at some interesting upcoming releases. 

This one's still a few weeks out, but I promise it will be worth your time when it gets here on March 27.  Eric Bibb comes from a musical family....his father is folk singer Leon Bibb and his uncle was the late John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet.  Bibb himself has been playing guitar since the mid 60's, when he attended New York City's High School of Music and Art.  He had some great teachers over the years, including Bob Dylan and Mickey Baker, and has amassed an impressive body of work in the field of blues music since the late 90's. 

Bibb's upcoming Stony Plain release, Deeper In The Well, is a smooth, refreshing take on the music of Louisiana that meshes Creole and  country with his traditional blues sound.  Backed by a stellar set of musicians (including Dirk Powell on mandolin, accordion, fiddle, and banjo, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Cedric Watson on fiddle, and Grant Dermody on harmonica), Bibb eases his way through a laidback set of classy originals ("Bayou Babe," "Money In Your Pocket," ) and solid covers (Dylan's "The Times They Are A'Changin'," "Sinner Man," and Taj Mahal's "Every Wind In The River").  Bibb has never been hesitant to venture into new directions and this move suits him just fine.  This one will appeal to fans of blues and roots music.

Continuing in the same vein, an acoustic one, is an interesting new release by Guy Davis that may capture your attention.  Davis, the son of actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, has always mixed acting with music, appearing in the soap opera, One Life To Live, and the movie, Beat Street, during the 80's.  He was finally able to combine the two in the early 90's, when he appeared on Broadway in the Zora Neale Hurston/Langston Hughes play, Mulebone, and later in an off-Broadway appearance as Robert Johnson.  Just prior to starting his recording career in earnest, Davis wrote and starred in a one-man play, called The Adventures of Fishy Waters, which was an off-Broadway production and received critical acclaim, despite a limited run.

Davis recently recorded the play as a 2-CD set on his own Smokeydoke Records.  The play is a mixture of song and narration, both tall tales and serious recollections, and captures the setting perfectly.  There are some songs written by Davis and a few songs from artists like Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Willie McTell, and Reverend Gary Davis.  It's a wonderful journey, done masterfully by Guy Davis, and definitely worth a listen for any blues fan.

An upcoming release, this one of the non-acoustic variety, that I will be reviewing for you shortly is from one of Friday Blues Fix's favorite bluesmen, Mr. Larry Garner.  His newest release, Blues For Sale, looks like it could be one of his best.  I've heard four songs from the new disc so far ("Miss Boss," "Broken Soldier," "Talking Naughty," and "It's Killing Me") and they are excellent additions to the Garner catalog, so naturally I am looking forward to hearing the rest soon.  It will be out on March 20, on Dixiefrog Records, so keep an eye out for it.  While you're waiting, if he happens to make an appearance near you, please make every effort to check him out.  You can thank me later.


Friday, March 9, 2012

New Blues For You

Your humble correspondent has a pretty full plate this week and next.  Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, this combination of mental and physical challenges will ease a bit and we can return to our usual routine.  In the meantime, over the next two weeks, Friday Blues Fix will be looking at a couple of new releases each week that are well worth your time.

After battling the sinus bug for a solid week, it was a nice surprise to find a new CD from Windy City bluesman Eddie C. Campbell in the mail the other day.  For some reason, I was a latecomer to the charms of Mr. Campbell.....probably due to the fact that he left Chicago for a decade in the mid 80's for the more calming environs of Europe.  One of the last of the famed West Side guitarists (learning from and with Luther Allison and Magic Sam), Campbell paid his dues in the 60's and early 70's playing behind Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, and behind Willie Dixon as a Chicago Blues All-Star.  Most recently, Campbell has been recording for Delmark Records.....Tear This World Up was one of the top releases of 2009. 

Campbell's latest release, Spider Eating Preacher, is a great example of Campbell's vision of West Side Chicago blues.  Musically, he showcases that great West Side guitar sound mixed with a heavy dose of funk and some very distinctive fretwork.  Unique as the music may be, it can't hold a candle to Campbell's vocals or his incredibly original songwriting.  Backing Campbell on several tracks is his wife Barbara, who lays down some nasty bass guitar, and their son David, who play violin on a couple of tracks.  Two tracks feature another great Chicago guitarist, Lurrie Bell.  The disc is also produced by Chicago stalwart Dick Shurman.  I worry about a lot of things in life, but an album that reads "Produced by Dick Shurman" in the liner notes ain't one of them.  There's never a dull moment on this great set of Chicago Blues.  If you've not experienced the wonders of Eddie C. Campbell, prepare to be amazed.

Willie Foster, a local legend in Greenville, MS, bought his first harmonica as a kid with a quarter he earned hauling water to the cotton fields for two weeks. He first played onstage while in the Army during World War II, but met Muddy Waters after returning home and spent some time in Chicago playing with him.  He returned to Mississippi in the 60's to care for his ailing dad and began playing the juke joints there and built his reputation.  He was even invited to perform in New Zealand by a fan from there who had traveled to Mississippi to hear the blues.  However, Foster's troubles began after he was stung by a jellyfish while in New Zealand, an injury which later resulted in the amputation of his leg.  A couple of years later, he lost the other leg to diabetes (but recovered sufficiently enough to play a gig in a wheelchair TWO DAYS after surgery).  The diabetes also started causing him to lose his sight, but it never caused him to lose his drive and determination.  In fact, Foster played up until the night he passed away in 2001.  In the end, only the Creator could stop Willie Foster from playing the blues.

Actually, this review is a two-fer, because I55 Productions out of Memphis has just released two of Foster's finest albums.  First up is a reissue of his classic 1999 recording, Live at Airport Grocery.  Airport Grocery was once a grocery store in Cleveland, MS, but is now a BBQ joint that also plays the blues.  Foster performed regularly there for a long time, and this set captures the raw and down-home quality of his brand of blues.  He pays tribute to his mentors, like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, and John Lee Hooker.  This is one of the best sets of Delta blues to be released in recent memory and sadly had been out of print for several years until I55 secured rights to release it.  Be sure to send them a nice Thank You note after listening.

The second set is called My Inspiration and is a mix of studio tunes that Foster did over the last few years of his life.  While it's not as strong a set as the live set, it's got some nice performances from Foster, someone we really don't have enough recordings from.  Both of these sets are worth having and if you consider yourself a Delta Blues fan, it should be a prerequisite that you own a Willie Foster CD to truly earn that title.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Arrivals and Departures

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, due to the wonderful Mississippi winter we're having (50 degrees one day, 85 degrees the next, cold and dry one day, rainy and humid the next), your humble correspondent is down with the sinus infection blues.  The following is an abbreviated version of FBF, but rest assured we will be back to full strength next week.

First up is the oldest son of a blues legend.....Mud Morganfield.  You know his dad as Muddy Waters, who dabbled in the blues for a few years.  The younger Morganfield has been playing music for a long time, having taken up the drums as a kid.  He even took up singing in the early 80's, but only stepped behind a mic after coaxing from singer Mary Lane in 2005.  He later appeared at the Chicago Blues Festival in 2007 to a rousing reception and the rest, as they say, is history.  He's built quite a following over the past few years, appearing at various festivals across the world, and he just released his newest recording on Severn Records, Son of the Seventh Son.  With powerhouse backing from harmonica player/producer Bob Corritore, keyboard wizard Barrelhouse Chuck, drummer Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith, and Harmonica Hinds, Morganfield has released a superb disc that captures and updates the best of the traditional Chicago sound.  Morganfield wrote most of the songs, and they are a strong set, but he does take time to cover one of Dad's favorites, "Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had."  Not only does he look like his Dad.....he sounds a lot like him, too, which can never be a bad thing.  In this case, it certainly isn't.  This is a disc well worth having if you're a fan of the traditional sounds of the blues.  It's nice to know that Muddy Waters' kids (Mud and Big Bill Morganfield) are working hard to keep the blues alive.

We must pay tribute to Louisiana Red, who passed away last Saturday at age 79, after suffering a stroke.  Red was one of the most prolific blues artists ever, starting his recording career in 1949, for Chess Records, then going on to appear on over 50 albums during his lifetime, including last year's Memphis Mojo, recorded in Norway with Bob Corritore and Little Victor's Juke Joint.  His raw and rugged sound never wavered over that span of sixty years plus, with powerful guitar work, warm and weathered vocals, and a composition style that could be best described as unique.  We may never see his like again and the blues is worse off for it.  R.I.P. Red.