Friday, September 28, 2012

New Blues For You (Fall 2012 Edition)

Once again, it's time for a look at some new and upcoming releases that deserve to be heard.  Today, FBF will be looking at four sizzling new CDs that cover a broad range of blues styles.  As always, expanded reviews of these discs will be available in an upcoming issue of Blues Bytes.

Ian Siegal & The Mississippi Mudbloods - Candy Store Kid (Nugene Records):  Siegal is a reformed rock and roller, who discovered the blues in the 80's, via the original sources like Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf.  His last CD, The Skinny, was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 2012 Blues Music Awards.  On that release, Siegal left his longtime backing musicians in England and traveled to the hill country of Mississippi, where he teamed up with Cody Dickinson, Garry Burnside, Robert Kimbrough, and drummer Rod Bland (Bobby's son).  On Candy Store Kid, Siegal doubles down with a return to the hill country, with a core band (dubbed the Mississippi Mudbloods) that includes Cody and Luther Dickinson, and Alvin Youngblood Hart.  Burnside returns for a cameo and the irrepressible Lightnin' Malcolm also joins in with contributing vocals.  Siegal, like Malcolm, incorporates elements of rock, soul, and funk in his hill country sound, but with extra swagger.  Plus, he has a fantastic gravelly voice that really lifts the proceedings up a notch.  I have played this one to death since my advance copy arrived a couple of weeks ago and I am pretty sure that you will, too.  Check out this snippet from one of the disc's highlights, a funky cover of Little Richard's "Green Power."

Hans Theessink & Terry Evans Featuring Ry Cooder - Delta Time (Blue Groove):  I really enjoyed Theessink's last release, Jedermann Remixed.  It was one of my favorites last year, and Terry Evans' phenomenal late 80's soul/blues album with former singing partner Bobby King, Live and Let Live, is one of my all-time favorites.  I was really excited to see these two performing together.  Actually, Delta Time is their second collaboration.....2008's Visions was their first.  Delta Time is an all-acoustic affair with Theessink playing guitar, banjo, mandolin, percussion, and harmonica, Evans playing guitar, and Cooder sitting in on three track.  The vocal interplay is wonderful, mixing Theessink's warm baritone with Evan's gospel-inspired tenor (plus marvelous backing vocals from Evans, Willie Greene, Jr., and Arnold McCuller).  The songs are a mix of originals and well-chosen covers.  This a nice, laid back session that just gets better every time I hear it.  These guys sound great together and I hope we will get to hear much more from them.  Check out the video for the title track below.

Mississippi Heat - Delta Bound (Delmark):  The Chicago-based band, Mississippi Heat is celebrating its 20th year of existence with a typically fun disc of, as they call it, "traditional blues with a unique sound."  Loaded with guest stars (drummer Kenny Smith, Carl Weathersby,   Chubby Carrier, and former Heat members Billy Flynn and Deitra Farr, Delta Bound is a wide-ranging set.  Of course, you also have the great harmonica work of founder Pierre Lacocque and the dynamic vocals of Inetta Visor.  Farr adds vocals on three tracks and the guitar work from Flynn, Weathersby Giles Corey, and Billy Satterfield is spot on.  This is a fun disc from start to finish, featuring one of the best Windy City blues bands currently in operation.  They rarely, if ever, disappoint, and Delta Bound is no exception to the rule.  Check out a clip of one of Farr's guest vocals, "Look-A-Here, Baby"....

Lou Pallo and Les Paul's Trio with Special Guests - Thank You Les (Showplace Music Productions):  This tribute to the legendary guitarist is not limited to blues, but is a must-have for anyone who's ever picked up a guitar with intent to play.  Paul did more to advance the development of guitar than anyone, inventing the solid-body electric guitar, developing various playing techniques, writing many songs that are a major part of the blues, jazz, and country canons, and serving as a tremendous influence to guitarists of all genres.  The CD (also available as a DVD) features a veritable who's who of modern guitar masters, including Steve Miller, Keith Richards, Billy Gibbons, Jose Feliciano, Slash, Bucky Pizzarelli, Johnny A, Nokie Edwards, and Pallo himself.   This is an outstanding set of music, a loving tribute to one of the true musical pioneers, and should be of interest to any fans of popular music.

From September 27 through October 8, the state of Mississippi will be celebrating "Bridging The Blues," a 12-day celebration that will be taking place throughout the Mississippi Delta as various communities host festivals, concerts, and other activities promoting the blues.  The event will be coinciding with the upcoming King Biscuit Festival in Helena, AR (first weekend in October), so the state is hoping to attract some of the many fans who will be in the Delta for that event, and they're pulling out all the stops.  The festivities started Thursday night with Stevie J performing at the Ameristar Casino in Vicksburg, followed by Bobby Rush appearing at Club Ebony in Indianola tonight.

Saturday will feature the Highway 61 Blues Festival in Leland, which features an impressive two-day roster that includes L.C. Ulmer, Eddie Cusic, Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, John Horton, and Mickey Rogers.  The King Biscuit Festival is the next weekend (Oct. 4 - 6), and the Cat Head Mini Blues Festival and the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming will wrap things up on the 7th.  Plus, there will be other activities, such as a tour of Dockery Plantation, an exhibition of blues photography from Dr. Bill Ferris, and much, much more.

To view a full schedule, go to this website and see for yourself.  Looks like all the blues a blues fan could ask for.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mount Chessmore

Several months back, we explored the "Mount Rushmore" of the blues and I showed you my "Significant Figures of the Blues" Mount Rushmore (for the record, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, and B.B. King made up my significant foursome).  This week, I thought we would come up with a Mount Rushmore of Chess Records.  This one has some tough choices involved....I mean, you can figure on a couple of them being there, for sure, but there are some pretty close calls between the remaining members.  As we said previously, your gang of four may be somewhat different from mine, but I would love to hear about your foursome and your reasons for selecting them.

The first two positions on Mount Chessmore are pretty much no-brainers to me.  You simply can't have a serious discussion about Chess without mentioning Muddy and the Wolf.  Both artists have huge catalogs of blues standards.  Their band members were a who's who of Chicago blues, many of whom moved on to their own solo careers or appeared on memorable recordings with other artists.  The biggest reason of all has to be the huge influence these two men had on not only blues artists of the future, but also a lot of rock 'n rollers that were getting their start around the same time, and who subsequently influenced other later artists by paying tribute to their mentors.  So Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf make up the first two faces on Mount Chessmore.  In other news, water is wet, gas is expensive, and fire is hot.

The next two choices are a bit tougher, and I have to admit that I did pause briefly before making my third choice, but only briefly.  When you think about it, Little Walter really should be a no-brainer, too.  After all, Walter Jacobs revolutionized the harmonica as a lead instrument, adding amplification and therefore hugely expanding the potential sounds the tiny instrument was capable of.  Also, Little Walter was the most successful of the Chess blues recording artists...more so than his former boss, Muddy Waters, and more than Howlin' Wolf, too.  Every blues harmonica player, no exceptions, owe a massive debt to Little Walter's efforts.  For those reasons, Little Walter is Face #3 on Mount Chessmore.

Finally.....our last member.  This one is really tough.  There are lots of choices, like Jimmy Rogers, who was a mainstay of Waters' first Chess band and also a fine solo artist who recorded several standards, or Otis Spann, whose distinctive piano work was another major contributor to many of the Chess blues recordings, or Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), who enjoyed great success with Chess and is one of the most original songwriters of all time.  You could also consider Etta James, who had huge success on the blues and R&B charts in the late 50's/early 60's, or John Lee Hooker, or Buddy Guy.  All logical choices, but when you think about it, the fourth spot is a no-brainer, too.  When I finally thought of him, I did one of those "V-8" slaps to the forehead because I didn't think of him sooner.

Next to Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon played the biggest role in shaping what the post-war blues sounded like in Chicago.  Without Dixon, there really was no Chicago blues sound.  He was one of the most prolific songwriters ever, writing scores of songs over a fifteen-year span from 1950 to 1965....songs like "Little Red Rooster," "Back Door Man," "Spoonful," "I Just Want To Make Love To You," "My Babe," "Wang Dang Doodle," "Evil," "Hoochie Coochie Man," and many, many, many more.  He not only wrote songs, he played bass on many of the recordings.  He also produced and arranged many of them.  In addition, he worked as a solo artist occasionally and also discovered many new artists.  Without Willie Dixon, you probably wouldn't have had a Chess Records, at least not one that lasted any amount of time or enjoyed much success, or made nearly as big an impact.  Mount Chessmore Face #4 has to be Dixon, for his numerous contributions to Chess, and Chicago, blues.

Okay, there you have man's Mount Chessmore.  If you disagree, I would love to hear who you would prefer and why.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #7

Welcome back.  Here we are once again visiting one of Friday Blues Fix's most popular themes.  In case you're visiting for the first time, or you just haven't been paying attention all the other times, FBF will take a look at a blast of blues from the past (Something Old), a shot of blues from the current scene (Something New), either a blues man doing rock or a rocker doing blues....whatever suits me at the moment (Something Borrowed), and someone who sums up the essence of Blues as we know it (Something Blue).  Are you with us?  Outstanding!   Let's get started.

The Mississippi Sheiks (L to R):  Bo Carter, Walter Vinson, Lonnie Chatmon

For Something Old, let's go way back to the 1930's, for a good ol' shot of Mississippi Delta blues, courtesy of the Mississippi Sheiks.  The Sheiks were basically a family group, consisting of members of the Chatmon family from Bolton, MS.  The Chatmons were a musical family dating back to slavery times.  Their most famous member was Armenter Chatmon, better known to most pre-war blues fans as Bo Carter, who was a successful solo artist as well, having recorded the original version of "Corinne, Corrina," but also specializing in ribald songs like "Banana In Your Fruit Basket" and "Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me."

The first version of the Sheiks was Carter, his two brothers Sam and Lonnie Chatmon, and Walter Vinson.  They played guitars and fiddles and were adept at several different styles of music (blues, country, popular....even in Carter's risque style) since they made their living playing parties for many different groups of people.  They are probably best known for their song, "Sitting on Top of the World," which has been recorded by Bob Wills, Howlin' Wolf, Bill Monroe, the Grateful Dead, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Eric Clapton, Jeff Healey, and many others.  Robert Johnson actually redid the song, transforming it into "Come On In My Kitchen."  If you've seen the Andy Griffith movie, A Face In The Crowd (highly recommended), you've heard it played there.  The Sheiks recorded numerous songs for several labels during the 30's and their music is still well-loved today, as evidenced by the release of a wonderful tribute CD and DVD from a couple of years ago.  Meanwhile, check out the Mississippi Sheiks performing their big hit.

For Something New, check out Joanne Shaw Taylor.  This British singer/guitarist was discovered by Dave Stewart if the Eurhythmics around ten years ago when she was 16.  Stewart recruited her to play in his supergroup D.U.P. for a European tour.  She released her first disc, White Sugar, for Ruf Records in 2009, and will be releasing her third disc, Almost Always Never, next week (Sept. 18).  Ruf Records has built an impressive arsenal of female blues guitarists over the past few years, and Taylor has the potential to be the best of them all.  Her guitar playing was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Albert Collins.  She's also a great singer and her songwriting has improved with each album.  Check out "Blackest Day," a cut from her first CD.

For Something Borrowed, let's revisit Boz Scaggs.  Scaggs enjoyed a measure of pop success in the 70's and early 80's, with a hit list that ranged from R&B to disco to country to pop.  While most pop fans may remember the slick, schmaltzy pop hits like "We're All Alone" and "Look What You've Done To Me," most longtime fans realize that Scaggs got his start playing the blues with schoolmate Steve Miller.  His first couple of releases were full of blues tunes and his marathon cover of Fenton Robinson's "Somebody Loan Me A Dime" featured guitarist Duane Allman.  However, these records didn't sell, so Scaggs veered more to the mainstream with subsequent releases and more success until he took a lengthy hiatus in the 80's.

When he resurfaced in the late 80's, he released an all-blues album, Come On Home, in 1997 that featured his renditions of some classic blues and soul tunes from the past.  There were some great tunes on this album, notably a cover of Earl King's wonderful "It All Went Down The Drain," "Goodnight Louise," and "Picture of a Broken Heart," a Scaggs tune that Robert Cray had recorded a few years earlier, but my favorite tune was his cool cover of Chris Kenner's New Orleans R&B classic, "Sick and Tired."  I love the original version from the 60's, but Scaggs' take just clicked for me and is still one of my favorites.

For Something Blue, we present Mr. Otis Spann.  If you look up "blues piano" in the dictionary, more than likely there's a picture of Spann next to the definition.  Spann was an important member of the quintessential Muddy Waters band, playing on most of Waters' recordings between 1953 and 1969.  Spann didn't really launch his own solo career until the late 50's/early 60's, when he recorded two amazing records for Candid Records with Robert Lockwood Jr.  All of his solo work throughout the 60's, with Candid, Vanguard, Bluesway, Testament, Prestige, and other labels is uniformly great.  Unfortunately, cancer cut Spann's career short and he passed away in 1970 at the age of 40.  He was a talented singer, too, as evidenced on this track, "Ain't Nobody's Business."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Blues Legends - Albert King

It's hard to find any blues guitar player, and very few rock guitarists as well, who don't owe a debt to Albert King.  Certainly some of the biggest names (Otis Rush, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughan) were heavily influence by King's rugged, muscular style.  In fact, many modern guitarists owe a huge debt to King, and may not even realize it because they learned from other guitarists who picked up King's style.  He's influenced multiple generations of guitarists in blues and rock.

The amazing thing about King's style was that, even though he grew up listening to blues guitarists like Lonnie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, from the very beginning his style and his tone was uniquely his own.  He played guitar left-handed, but strung right-handed, which accounted for the difference in his tone......he pulled down on the strings that most right-handed guitarists pulled up on when bending notes.  As a result, he possessed one of the most distinctive and recognizable styles of all blues distinctive that you can identify his influence on scores of blues musicians today whenever they step up to take a solo simply by listening.

King was born Albert Nelson in Indianola, MS in 1923, but was raised in Forrest City, AR.  As a youngster, he grew up singing in a family gospel group, where his dad played guitar. King built his first guitar out of a cigar box and taught himself to play.  In 1950, he met the owner of the T-99 nightclub in Osceola, AR, MC Reeder, and joined the T-99 house band (The In The Groove Boys), enjoying regional success playing local gigs and appearing on various radio programs.

Soon, King moved to Gary, IN, where he joined a group that included Jimmy Reed and John Brim.  As Reed and Brim were both guitarists, King switched to drums (even playing on several Reed singles) and adopted Albert King as his stage name, trying to capitalize on the success of B.B. King, who was enjoying popularity with his newest hit, "Three O'Clock Blues."  It was also during his stint in Gary that King chose the electric guitar, eventually settling on the Gibson Flying V, as his signature instrument.

King also met Willie Dixon during this time and Dixon set him up an audition with Parrot Records.  His first session was in 1953 and two sides were released ("Be On Your Merry Way"/"Bad Luck Blues"), which was a limited regional success, not enough to get a second session with Parrot.  King returned to Osceola in 1954 and rejoined The In The Groove Boys, staying in Arkansas for the next two years. 

In 1956, King relocated to St. Louis, where he was soon headlining several local clubs in the area.  In 1958, he signed with Bobbin Records, where his first sides featured a piano and horns, giving them more of a jump feel than his usual traditional fare, though his guitar was clearly out front.  His Bobbin sides sold well in St. Louis, and King Records picked up his single, "Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong," in 1961, sending it to #14 on the Billboard R&B charts.  King also picked up an album's worth of material, called The Big Blues.  Some of King's Bobbin recordings also ended up at Chess Records in the late 60's.

After a short-lived stint with King Records, King briefly signed with Coun-Tree Records, but his local success made the label owner, jazz singer Leo Gooden, jealous and he dropped King from the label after a brief period.  At that time, 1966, King signed with Stax Records and things began to get exciting.

King's tenure with Stax Records was phenomenal.  For all of his 60's recordings, King had the Stax house band for backing.....none other than Booker T. & the MG's.  The result of that collaboration gave King a slicker sound, similar to the soul recordings that Stax was renowned for at the time.  This resulted in more crossover appeal for King, and more success....three songs ("Laundromat Blues," "Crosscut Saw," and "Born Under A Bad Sign") were Top 50 R&B hits.  Other songs, like "As The Years Go Passing By," "The Hunter," "Personal Manager," and "You're Gonna Need Me" became blues standards.

King also recorded a landmark live album in the late 60's, called Live Wire/Blues Power (backed by a young drummer named Son Seals), recorded at the Fillmore in San Francisco in 1968.  During the late 60's, King became a favorite performer not just for the blues crowd, but also for young rock & roll fans, so he appeared at the Fillmore many times, inspiring artists like Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Gary Moore, Joe Walsh, Warren Haynes, and Robbie Robertson.

In the 70's, Stax teamed King with the Bar-Kays, the Memphis Horns, and Isaac Hayes' backing group, The Movement.  Adding additional rhythm guitarists and strings, King's sound was now funkier and with a fuller sound.  During these sessions, King produced another of his standards, "I'll Play The Blues For You."

After Stax folded in the mid 70's, King jumped around to several labels (Utopia, Tomato, and Fantasy), and his music began moving back more toward traditional blues and away from the soul underpinnings.  All of these recordings were strong, with some fine moments, but King began to experience health problems and contemplated retirement.  In the mid 80's, he briefly retired, but soon returned to playing concerts and festivals.

King was planning another overseas tour and had just released a new album in 1992, when he died suddenly from a heart attack on December 21.  He had played a concert in Los Angeles two nights earlier.  His loss was a major one for the blues one has really been able to completely capture Albert King's unique sound, but you can hear a little Albert King in just about every blues and rock guitarist you hear, even twenty years after he played his last note.

Selected Discography

Fortunately for blues fans, there are several compilations of Albert King's recordings, so it's pretty easy to get a comprehensive set of his best sides.  Here are a few to choose from.....

The Big Blues (King) - This is a pretty solid set of some of King's best recordings for Bobbin Records in the late 50's/early 60's, and includes songs like "Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong," "Natural Ball," "I Get Evil," "I've Made Nights By Myself," and "Dyna Flow."  His Bobbin recordings are underrepresented on the compilations for licensing reasons or whatever, so this set captures this underrated era of King's nicely.

Born Under A Bad Sign (Stax) - Okay, if you can only one album's worth of music from King's Stax recordings, it should be this one.  You won't find a stronger set of music on a single CD.  This is the majority of King's uniformly fine work for Stax, with superlative backing from one of the greatest bands of all time (Booker T & the MGs).  It's the perfect blend of blues and soul and should be part of every blues fan's collection.

King of the Blues Guitar (Atlantic) - When I made the switch to CDs eons ago, this was one of the first CDs I bought and is still a favorite.  It was originally released to capture all of King's Stax singles on one LP.  When the CD version came out, it added extra tracks, including all of Born Under A Bad Sign and one of my all-time favorite King tracks, "You're Gonna Need Me."  The sound could be better, but just turn it up because the music can't be beat.

The Ultimate Collection (Rhino) - Welllll, not exactly.....this two disc set doesn't have any of the Bobbin recordings, but what's here is pretty darn close to ultimate, including a healthy selection of his later work for Utopia, Tomato, and Fantasy, and plenty of his Stax recordings.

Live Wire/Blues Power (Stax) - This stellar set, recorded at the Fillmore in 1968, is a textbook on blues guitar.  Scores of blues and rock guitarists were influenced by King's fretwork here, which is amazing and makes this disc one of the finest live blues recordings ever.

In Session (Stax) - King is joined by Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1983, just prior to SRV's breakout album, Texas Flood, and before his time with David Bowie on his Let's Dance tour.  Anyone who has heard both guitarists knows that SRV was influenced by King, and it's even more obvious when you hear them playing together.  It's really cool though, because each guitarist really pushes the other to greater heights during this session.  I like the DVD a little bit more though, because you can actually see how much fun each man is having while they're playing.