Friday, December 27, 2013

The "Live" Magic Sam

Magic Sam passed away in 1969.  He was only 32 years old and was well on his way to potential stardom.  He left behind a pair of essential studio albums from Delmark Records (West Side Soul and Black Magic), plus a significant number of singles recorded between 1957 and the beginning of his Delmark tenure, for labels like Chief, Cobra, and Crash Records.  However, it was a live appearance at the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival that really got people's attention.  Supposedly, based on that performance, Stax Records was ready to sign him once his contract with Delmark was fulfilled, but about six months later, Sam died from a heart attack.

That Ann Arbor appearance was captured and later released (in 1982) on a Delmark album that combined the Ann Arbor recordings with an appearance at Chicago's Alex Club in late 1963-early 1964, called, appropriately Live in Ann Arbor & in Chicago.  After I heard West Side Soul and Black Magic, naturally I wanted to hear more from this guy, so I managed to track down a cassette copy in the early 90's.  I didn't know much about Magic Sam, but I had read about his fabled Ann Arbor performance and wanted to hear it for myself.  It is an inspired performance, for sure, but it's hampered by the somewhat muted quality of the sound (though the Ann Arbor recording is a tad better than the Alex Club recordings), which gives it a "home recording" feel.

Despite the inferior sound, the performances are so dynamic that you are willing to overlook those shortcomings.  It's often been said that if these performances had been properly recorded with the best equipment available at the time, Live in Ann Arbor & in Chicago would rank among the best live recordings of all time.  As it is, it still ranks pretty highly.  It's clear from what you can hear that the attention Magic Sam received for this performance was well-deserved.

In 2002, Delmark released another set of Magic Sam live performances.  This time around, Rockin' Wild In Chicago captured him at three local clubs (the Copacabana, the Alex Club, and Mother Blues) over a five year period (1963-1968).  Again, the performances were inspired, but the sound was below average, gradually improving as the disc progresses.  For Magic Sam fans, however, the sound is a minor issue because live recordings of the guitarist have been so hard to find.  It has been said that the best way to hear him was in a club setting, similar to these recordings, and you have to agree after hearing him on these tunes.  He also covers a number of songs that you don't hear from him on any of his studio recordings...songs from Albert Collins, Albert King, and a great take on Earl Hooker's "Rockin' Wild," that closes the disc.  Like it's predecessor, great performances, but so-so sound.

There have been other live Magic Sam releases over the years, but the only other one I've heard is a live set, recorded at Sylvio's in 1966 that teams him with his uncle, harmonica player and singer Shakey Jake.  Black Top Records released this one as Magic Touch in 1992, and it offers up some good performances.  The sound is about the same home-recording quality, and Shakey Jake is featured on a few of the tracks, but Sam never recorded some of these tracks in the studio, so it's interesting to hear his take on them.  It's out of print, but is a nice listen, if you're able to track it down for a reasonable price.

For the most part, Magic Sam fans were content with these three releases, thinking that this was as good as they would ever be able to get from a musician who died 44 years ago, as far as live performances went.  Despite the lo-fi quality of the recordings, we were still able to get a feel of just how fantastically good Magic Sam was and what the fuss was all about by people who heard him in the club setting, but most Magic Sam fans thought that these were as good as a representation of his live recordings as they would ever be able to get.

But now those thoughts have been put to bed once and for all with the November release of Magic Sam's Live at the Avant Garde, by Delmark.  This set was recorded at a Milwaukee club on June 22nd, 1968, by a young high school senior named Jim Charne, who also provides vivid "behind the scenes" liner notes to this wonderful album that describe the recording process, background info about the club, and the sights and sounds of the club itself.

Due to the primitive nature of the recording process and the set-up and size of the club, Charne was unable to adjust or monitor the mix as it was being recorded, so it was "plug in, let it roll, and hope for the best" when he started recording.  Fortunately, Charne had recorded other artists there and was pretty familiar with the surroundings, plus he had a willing subject in Magic Sam, who according to Charne, "could not have been more gracious and accomodating."

Despite the issues Charne had to deal with while getting this recording, the sound is very good.  The instruments are especially clear and while the vocals are a bit fuzzy on a couple of tracks, it's not an issue that will impede the listening process.  Compared to what live recordings we've had to choose from previously, the sound is superior by leaps and bounds.

As for the performances.....Magic Sam sounds great.  The guitar work is very good and his vocals are as strong as on his studio recordings.  He's backed by Big Mojo Elem on bass and Bob Richey on drums and they provide pretty good support.  As far as I'm concerned, this is the live Magic Sam recording that I've been waiting for.  While I would love to have heard the other live recordings with sound this good, I know that it will never come to pass, and this one will do just fine, thank you very much.

On this set, which is 67 minutes long, we get Magic Sam doing some of his popular tunes from his then-new release, West Side Soul ("Don't Want No Woman," "Feelin' Good," "I Need You So Bad," and "That's All I Need"), some songs from his next release, Black Magic ("You Belong To Me," Freddie King's instrumental, "San-Ho-Zay," Lowell Fulson's "It's All Your Fault"), a few covers of songs by his contemporaries (Junior Wells' "Come On In This House," "Hoochie Coochie Man," Muddy Waters' "Still A Fool," Otis Rush's "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)," and Jimmy Rogers' "That's All Right"), and some old favorites ("Every Night Everyday," "Lookin' Good," "Bad Luck Blues," and "I Need You So Bad").

What amazes me...and I'm definitely not "in the know" about such things, by any the fact that these recordings basically sat on a shelf for 45 years and have never seen the light of day until now.  I could be wrong about that...maybe someone did know and they've just been hard to get access to or something like that.  Whatever the story behind them, I'm just happy that they are finally available for all of us Magic Sam fans to hear, and many thanks to Delmark Records for making that happen.  If you are a fan of Magic Sam's, or of that West Side sound, you simply have to get your hands on Live at the Avant Garde.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Blues News You Can Use

Here's a few items that you might have missed over the past few weeks while trying to get your Christmas shopping list completed.....

To begin, there was terrible news early Thursday morning in Chicago when it was reported that Eric "Guitar" Davis was shot and killed while sitting in his car, one of two victims that were shot and killed within blocks of each other.  As of today, details are murky as to who and why. Davis was 41 years old and was a rising star, having recently signed to Delmark Records, according to his website.  The Windy City blues community is mourning his loss.  Davis was the son of Bobby "Top Hat" Davis, who played drums for Otis Rush and Muddy Waters, and initially got his musical start drumming at the age of 10 behind Junior Wells, B.B. King, and others.  Buddy Guy later turned him on to guitar, teaching him to play his first chord.  Please keep the families of the victims of this absolutely senseless violence in your prayers.

Last week, the Blues Foundation announced the nominees for the 35th Blues Music Awards.  These awards will be presented at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis, Tennessee on Thursday, May 8, 2014.  I've had the opportunity to listen to many of the nominated albums this year and I'll just go ahead and say that this has been a fantastic year for blues recordings.  It will be really difficult to pick a Top Ten list this year because I can think of about twenty-five albums that I would put in my Top Ten.  

Congratulations to all of this year's BMA nominees, listed below......

Acoustic Album 
There's a Time - Doug MacLeod 
Juba Dance - Guy Davis featuring Fabrizio Poggi 
Soulscape - Harrison Kennedy 
Avalon - Rory Block 
Unleashed - The Hound Kings 

Acoustic Artist 
Doug MacLeod 
Guy Davis 
Harrison Kennedy 
Little G Weevil 
Rory Block 

Get Up! - Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite 
Remembering Little Walter - Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia & James Harman 
Rhythm & Blues - Buddy Guy 
Cotton Mouth Man - James Cotton 
Blues in My Soul - Lurrie Bell 

B.B. King Entertainer 
Bobby Rush 
Buddy Guy 
John Németh 
Kim Wilson 
Rick Estrin 

Lil Ed & the Blues Imperials 
Rick Estrin & the Night Cats 
Tedeschi Trucks Band 
The Mannish Boys 
Trampled Under Foot 

Best New Artist Debut 
Double Crossing Blues - Adrianna Marie and Her Groovecutters 
Rooster - Clay Swafford 
Proof of Love - Gracie Curran & the High Falutin' Band 
What's the Chance... - Paul Gabriel 
Daddy Told Me - Shawn Holt & the Teardrops 
Pushin’ Against a Stone - Valerie June 

Contemporary Blues Album 
Get Up! - Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite 
This Time Another Year - Brandon Santini 
Rhythm & Blues - Buddy Guy 
Magic Honey - Cyril Neville 
Badlands - Trampled Under Foot 

Contemporary Blues Female Artist 
Ana Popovic 
Beth Hart 
Bettye LaVette 
Candye Kane 
Susan Tedeschi 

Contemporary Blues Male Artist 
Buddy Guy 
Gary Clark, Jr. 
Johnny Sansone 
Kim Wilson 
Otis Taylor 

High John Records - Time Brings About a Change (Floyd Dixon)
J&R Adventures - An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House (Joe Bonamassa)
Shake-It-Sugar Records – Live (Murali Coryell)
Ruf Records - Songs from the Road (Royal Southern Brotherhood)
Blue Star Connection - Live at Knuckleheads (The Healers)

The Sun Blues Box (Various Artists) - Bear Family
The Original Honeydripper (Roosevelt Sykes) - Blind Pig Records
The Jewel/Paula Blues Story (Various Artists) - Fuel Records
Death Might Be Your Santa Claus (Various Artists) - Legacy Recordings 
The Complete King/Federal Singles (Freddie King) - Real Gone Music

Bill Stuve 
Bob Stroger 
Danielle Schnebelen 
Larry Taylor 
Patrick Rynn 

Cedric Burnside 
Jimi Bott 
Kenny Smith 
Tom Hambridge 
Tony Braunagel 

Anson Funderburgh 
Gary Clark, Jr. 
Kid Andersen 
Lurrie Bell 
Ronnie Earl 

Brandon Santini 
Charlie Musselwhite 
James Cotton 
Kim Wilson 
Rick Estrin 

Big James Montgomery 
Eddie Shaw 
Jimmy Carpenter 
Sax Gordon 
Terry Hanck 

Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female) 
Diunna Greenleaf 
Lavelle White 
Teeny Tucker 
Trudy Lynn 
Zora Young 

Rock Blues Album 
Gone to Texas - Mike Zito & the Wheel 
Made Up Mind - Tedeschi Trucks Band 
Can't Get Enough - The Rides 
John the Conquer Root - Toronzo Cannon 
Luther's Blues - Walter Trout 

Pinetop Perkins Piano Player 
Barrellhouse Chuck 
Dave Keyes 
Marcia Ball 
Mike Finnigan 
Victor Wainwright 

Blues in My Soul” - Lurrie Bell 
He Was There” – James Cotton, Tom Hambridge & Richard Fleming 
That's When the Blues Begins” - James Goode 
The Entitled Few” - Doug MacLeod 
The Night the Pie Factory Burned Down” - Johnny Sansone 

Soul Blues Album 
Down In Louisiana - Bobby Rush 
Soul Changes - Dave Keller 
Soul for Your Blues - Frank Bey & Anthony Paule Band 
Remembering O. V. - Johnny Rawls 
Truth Is (Putting Love Back Into the Music) - Otis Clay 

Soul Blues Female Artist 
Barbara Carr 
Denise LaSalle 
Dorothy Moore 
Irma Thomas 
Sista Monica 

Soul Blues Male Artist 
Bobby Rush 
Frank Bey 
John Nemeth 
Johnny Rawls 
Otis Clay 

Traditional Blues Album 
Driftin' from Town to Town - Barrelhouse Chuck & Kim Wilson's Blues All-Stars 
Remembering Little Walter - Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia, James Harman 
Cotton Mouth Man - James Cotton 
Blues in My Soul - Lurrie Bell 
Black Toppin' - The Cash Box Kings 

Traditional Blues Male Artist 
Anson Funderburgh 
Billy Boy Arnold 
James Cotton 
John Primer 
Lurrie Bell

Also named last week were the recipients of the 2014 Keeping The Blues Alive Awards.  These awards are given to non-performers each year who have made significant contributions to the Blues World, not necessarily for their work in a particular year, but often as a "Lifetime Achievement" award.  Congratulations to all of the winners this year (including a few regular FBF visitors), who will be recognized during the 2014 I.B.C. in January at Memphis.

Affiliated OrganizationCrossroads Blues Society of Illinois – Rockford, Illinois
ArtCristen Craven Barnard – Senatobia, Mississippi
ClubKingston Mines – Chicago, Illinois
EducationTas Cru – Chaumont, New York
Festival (International)Cazorla Blues Festival – Cazorla, Spain
Festival (U.S.)Mississippi Valley Blues Festival – Davenport, Iowa
Film, Television and VideoStefan Grossman – Sparta, New Jersey
Historical Preservation: George Mitchell – Fort Myers, Florida
InternationalThe Royal Mail Hotel – Goodna, Queensland, Australia
JournalismGene Tomko – Lafayette, Louisiana
LiteratureGerard Herzhaft – Lyon, France
ManagerMarcia Weaver – Jackson, Mississippi
PhotographyDick Waterman – Oxford, Mississippi
Producer: Tom Hambridge – Nashville, Tennessee
PromoterMyron Mu – San Francisco, California
PublicistFrank Roszak – North Hills, California
Radio (Commercial)Jerry Schaefer – East Islip, New York
Radio (Public)Larry Lisk – St. Petersburg, Florida
Record LabelStony Plain Records – Edmonton, Alberta
Special Committee AwardBlue Star Connection – Winter Park, Colorado

In 2006, Blues Bytes won a KBA Award in the Blues on the Internet category.  I wasn't able to attend the presentation of the award that year because of prior commitments and I really regret not going and missing out on the opportunity to meet Bill Mitchell, who puts together Blues Bytes every month.  I've been submitting reviews to Blues Bytes since 1999, and have yet to meet Bill in person, but have still managed to forge a great working relationship with him over the past 14 years.  If you've not ever visited the site, stop by and check it out. 

As I said above, 2014 has been a fantastic year for new releases, and the great ones are coming out right down to the wire.  Here's a few brand new releases that have run across my stereo over the past couple of weeks that should appeal to all blues lovers.  You will find more detailed reviews of these discs in the December issue of Blues Bytes.

Charlie Musselwhite has been pretty busy and pretty successful over the past couple of years.  He earned five Grammy nominations for two different projects...a collaboration with Ben Harper (Get Up!) and the Little Walter tribute album released by Blind Pig (Remembering Little Walter).  He also received five BMA nominations as you can see above.  Not one to rest on his laurels, Musselwhite has also released a new album, Juke Joint Chapel, recorded "live" at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS, teaming the legendary harp man with his superb band.  He mixes covers of songs by many Windy City harp legends (Little Walter, Billy Boy Arnold, Shakey Jake) with a solid set of his own songs.  It's a really inspired set and it continues his hot streak.  

Michael Packer has been a big part of the New York City blues scene for a number of years, but his musical career dates back to the early 1960's.  He recorded for Atlantic, Buddha, and RCA in the late 60's and early 70's with the bands Papa Nebo and Free Beer, performed as part of the Matt Murphy Band, and currently leads the Michael Packer Blues Band.  For many years, Packer battled alcoholism and drug addiction, eventually spending time in prison, but he has rebuilt his life and career over the past couple of decades.  His latest release, "I Am The Blues"  My Story, is a look at his life and career, completely unvarnished.  It mixes Packer's narration with songs from over the span of his career.  The narration portions are stunning in their imagery and their frank tone.....Packer has a good-natured humor about his past, but he pulls no punches and tells it like it is, taking responsibility for his own actions and reactions over the years.  The songs are impressive, too.  In the early part of his career, Packer was told that "White boys can't sing the blues," but he proves those critics wrong with these performances.  Blues fans will find this to be riveting listening.  It's nice that this blues story has a happy ending.

Lou Pride passed away in the Summer of 2012, but he had completed recording what would be his final disc for Severn Records, which the label just released a few weeks ago.  Ain't No More Love In This House is as good a soul/blues album as you will hear this year.  Pride had a warm, gospel-influenced vocal style and the disc, which features the great Severn house band, a sweet horn and string section, and Johnny Moeller on guitar, is a mix of some great Pride originals and well-chosen covers, including a Wayne Newton classic (yes, THAT Wayne Newton).  If you liked the Stax and Hi recordings of the late 60's/early 70's, you will go nuts for this disc.  Pride sounds fantastic and so does the band.  He definitely saved his best for last.  Here's a clip from Pride's reading of a classic 80's pop tune.

Downchild has been a Canadian tradition for over forty years.  The band has played swinging jump blues and their version of the classic Chicago-styled traditional blues since 1969 and have influenced scores of Canadian blues artists during that span, including a young man named Dan Aykroyd, who was inspired to form the Blues Brothers from what he'd seen from Downchild and even recorded several of the band's tunes during the band's brief tenure.  Can You Hear The Music is Downchild's 17th album and longtime fans won't be disappointed because there's plenty of swinging blues here and plenty of founder Donnie "Mr. Downchild" Walsh's tasty guitar work and harmonica present.  It's just a fun disc from start to finish.

I really enjoyed Brad Wilson's latest release, Hands On The Wheel.  The back cover reads that this California guitarist plays "high-octane rocked-up Blues," which should be music to blues-rockers' ears.  A more true description could not be found.  Wilson has guitar chops to burn, but he doesn't bang you over the head with endless meanderings.  He plays what the material calls for and he should know because he wrote all of the songs, which range from hard-charging boogie rockers to jazzy blues to ballads.  There's a cool tribute to boogie master John Lee Hooker that Z.Z. Top probably wishes they had thought of first.  In addition, Wilson is a strong, versatile vocalist and this disc should help him reach a bigger audience if there's any justice in the world.  Click on the song title to check out "Slide On Over" from the new disc, and see Wilson in action below.

In recent years, I've grown to enjoy the music of Eric Bibb.  Though he's rooted in the blues, he incorporates other styles into his music, such as world, soul, and folk music, and always focuses on the positive aspects of life, with a belief that man is basically good and that there is hope for all.  His latest, Jericho Road, is an album of stunning beauty and grace, with Bibb's acoustic and electric guitar work being augmented by various instruments, including a penny whistle, djembe, kora, harmonica, accordion, keyboards, and even a horn section on several tracks.  The music, as always, is upbeat and positive and you'll find yourself revisiting this one for quite awhile.  Jericho Road is the album that Eric Bibb has been working toward for the past few years and should be considered the apex of his musical vision.  

Friday Blues Fix wants to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hopes everyone has a wonderful holiday season.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ten Questions With......Vincent Hayes

If you've heard either of Vincent Hayes' releases (2010’s Reclamation and this year’s The Grind), you will realize that he possesses the total package.....excellent songwriting skills that give you his perspective on the world around him, a gritty and heartfelt vocal style, and guitar chops to die for, plus one of the tightest bands in support in David Alves (bass) and Donnie Hugley (drums).

Hayes has already received a lot of attention from fans and critics.  In 2011, he was a BMA nominee for Best New Artist, a 2011 Blues Blast nominee for Best New Artist, and the Sean Costello Rising Star Award, and he won the 2011 Jammies (given on the Grand Rapids, Michigan music scene) for Best Blues Album, Album of the Year, and Best Band….all for Reclamation.  One listen to The Grind, and it’s obvious that Hayes will hear his name called a few more times during the 2014 awards season.  

Mr. Hayes was kind enough to sit down and participate in FBF’s Ten Questions With….series. We thank him very much for his time.

Hayes' New Disc - The Grind
Friday Blues Fix:  What did you try to do differently with The Grind from your previous release, Reclamation?  The first disc was pretty impressive, but you seem to have kicked things up a notch with this new release.

Vincent Hayes:  Well, I just let go of all of the “have to's” and said, "screw it, I'm going to stop trying to fit into this or that blues genre and just write music." Reclamation was an accumulation of tunes that I had been writing for the format of the Vincent Hayes Project, but I was feeling too constricted by the identity that band had developed over the years as this big powerful funky blues show. I found myself getting caught up in the entertainment side with that band, where for me, it has always been more about presenting songs and stories from an honest perspective. I was no longer being true to who and what I am, so The Grind is an attempt to get back to that.

FBF:  What do you think separates your brand of blues from the rest of the pack?  What makes you stand out from the crowd?

VH:  Maybe because I don't consider myself a “blues man”, just a musician who plays the blues. Muddy Waters was a blues man. Willie Dixon, Little Walter...those are blues men. I'm really not concerned with defining myself as much as focusing on writing the best songs I can write, and looking for a way to get that story into your soul. I want the music to form a connection, and for the story to come through clearly, and for you to feel those vibrations up and down your spine long after I unplug my guitar. I know that sounds like a lot to expect of myself, but that is what great music does for me, and I hold myself to the standards of the musicians who have inspired me. I really don't care what anyone thinks of my guitar playing, because I got most of it from someone else who got their stuff from someone too, and so on.

FBF:  Obviously, your music is influenced by other styles beyond the blues, but you manage to combine those styles into such a solid, cohesive brand of blues…What types of music have you listened to besides the blues?

VH:  Man, you name it. I was raised on a steady diet of 50's and 60's rock n' roll, from Dylan, Beatles, Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Zeppelin, and the Ventures to Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, etc. In the 80's I got into all of the hair bands like Van Halen, Kiss, Dokken, Motley Crue, etc.....then dove pretty deep into the early Euro Punk/New Wave movement in my college years. These days I listen to a lot of roots rock stuff like Ray Lamontagne, Amos Lee, Ryan Adams, John Mayer, Black Keys, etc. I've been digging Gary Clark Jr's stuff a lot too. I've always got my mainstays too like Miles Davis, Bob Marley, and I'm a huge fan of The Verve, from UK.

FBF:  When did you decide that you wanted to be a musician?

VH:  When I was 9 years old, I told my mother that I was gonna be a rock star. Honestly, I somehow always just knew that this is what I was called to do. I tried to do the college thing for 5 years. I declared a major in World History and a minor in Japanese. About a year short of graduation, I decided to take a semester off to reconnect with the guitar and during that time I discovered a local blues jam, and was offered a job teaching private lessons. I've been a full time musician ever since.

FBF:  Who were some of your influences as a performer and a songwriter?

VH:  I have so many. Where to start? I honestly can't claim too many influences in the way of “performers”. For me, the music and the performance of it are synonymous, so in my world anyway, there can't be a great performance without the musical integrity to back it up.

FBF:  What drew you to the blues and led you to decide that you wanted to play the blues?

VH:  The honesty, the struggle, the raw human emotion, that deep pocket, those 3 chords and 5 pentatonic notes that seemed to have limitless possibility. I'm not sure I decided anything, I mean, I believe that it was decided for me. Like many, once that door was opened, there was no turning back. I felt like I was betraying God if I wasn't playing the blues, and I couldn't get enough. I grew up in Muskegon, which has always been racially segregated by a strip of highway that borders the white middle class, and black underclass parts of town. I was a white kid from a trailer park that lived in the poorer side of town, though I went to a mostly white middle class school. Next to the trailer park was a huge outdoor recreation park, which was mostly African American. I used to ride my bike over there as a kid and hang out, not even thinking any differently about it. My buddies and I used to play Space Invaders all afternoon and they had a stereo in the Pavilion playing stuff like Rick James, The Time, Prince, Gap Band, Meters, Parliament, Marvin Gaye. I think it was only natural that I discovered the blues a few years later.

FBF:  What was the first blues album you heard?

VH:  Well, I'm not sure of the first blues album I heard, but I can tell you that the first two full blues releases I owned were SRV's Couldn't Stand The Weather, and a compilation called The Electric Blues Gold Collection, which had about three songs each from Muddy Waters, BB King, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf. I wore them both out in the tape player in my car, and after I figured out how to play all of the songs on those two records, I started picking up everything blues I could get my hands on!

FBF:  On a lot of your songs, both on Reclamation and The Grind, you seem to draw from personal experience and make it easy for the listener to relate to what you are saying….Is there a particular method that you use to do your songwriting or do they just come naturally?

Hayes' 2010 Release - Reclamation
VH:  No, I don't really have a “method” per se. The best ones just happen on their own, whether it's a great hook that happens at a jam, or a lyrical phrase that comes into my head while doing something else, like taking a shower or running errands. Then it's kind of like making soup, and I just start throwing things in until it tastes good. Luckily, unlike making soup, it's easier to take something out of a song if it doesn't fit or something better comes along. It's like making a painting or a sculpture-the fun is in the process, and it's done when it's done. Yeah, I definitely draw most of my material from personal experience, but sometimes it's my experience in being exposed to someone else's story just as well. I like to write about real life, because I find it's usually so much more twisted and interesting than fiction. For me, it's all about the story and the lyrics. I can forgive myself for a bad note, or even an awkward musical phrase, but lyrics are what most people are going to sing along to at the show. Think about the new breed of “soulless pop” out there. Musically some of it is pretty interesting, but if the lyrics are just ridiculous it's hard to justify to anyone that it's a “good song.”

FBF:  What are some of the blues albums that are mainstays of your collection?

VH:  Off the top? I have all of the early Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac stuff, TheyCall Me Muddy Waters, tons of Robert Cray, Albert Collins, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, BB King's Live At Cook County Jail is an all time favorite, and my favorite album of all time, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.

FBF:  What’s your next project?  Are there some things you would like to try in the future that you haven’t already tried?

VH:  Well, as you know I have a new line-up, which has re-invigorated my creativity. For the time being, we are a just a power trio, but when budget allows it's always nice to bring other instruments on board. I also play Native American and Japanese flutes, percussion, and basic keyboards, so you never know. I like to experiment with loops and weird sounds, delays, and I'm a huge fan of strings, especially cello. I have a sitar, which is collecting dust, but I can get around a little on it, and would love to write something around it. Jeff, my bassist, plays upright and he's very creative on the electric bass too. Steve, the drummer, is one of the best drummers I've ever heard, and can find a groove in anything, so the options are wide open. I know the next record won't be a straight blues thing, though I may do another one someday for fun. There are just too many melodies and sounds, vibrations and emotions to get stuck in a genre or even a sub genre. The blues will always be my strongest roots, but the sky is the limit.

FBF (Free Bonus Question):  What are some of your favorite songs on the new disc?

VH:  Well “Things That Get Me By” has become my favorite song to date. It was actually written back in 2007, and I've played it at most of my solo shows ever since. It stands the test for me, and I think the lyrics, vibe and composition feel the most complete of any song I've ever written. I can always go back to a song and think “yea, I could have done such and such differently”, but every time I play or hear that song it never leaves me wanting nor wishing for something else. Of course I like all of the tracks on the new disc too, but I'll leave it to the listeners to decide what they like best. I'm always curious to know why certain songs are more or less attractive to people. I really dig this disc, and I really enjoy them all. It's complete, and these songs were chosen because they all mean something to me. Hopefully others will connect with them somehow and will get something out of this disc that isn't easy to forget.

Friday, December 6, 2013

My Favorite Things - Five Great Songs

This week marks Friday Blues Fix's 200th post!!!!  Now that's hard to believe!  When I started doing this almost four years ago, I figured it would be fun for awhile, but I would lose interest pretty fast and move on to the next thing.  Instead, it's turned out to be a lot of fun and I've met and heard from a lot of interesting people from all over the place.  Thanks so much to all of you who have been visiting and those of you who provide feedback.  I don't know much about the blues, but what I do know, I will do my best to share it with all of you as long as I can.

I thought about doing some kind of big, special post to honor the occasion, but instead I just opted to share a few more of my favorite things about the Blues.  This week, I will share some of my favorite songs from over the years.  A favorite song is defined as follows.....If you're listening to a CD or your iPod and a song comes on that you always listen to from start to never forward to the next song or cut it off while it's playing....that would be a favorite song.  These are a few that I always hear from beginning to end.

One of the first blues bands that I really enjoyed was The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  I went to see them with a friend of mine in Jackson, MS in early 1987, right after I finished college.  They were touring behind their big hit "Tough Enuff," but I had actually heard them before their big break-out on their album, T-Bird Rhythm.  "My Babe" was one of my favorite tracks on that album, but it was loaded with some great tunes.  I thought Jimmie Vaughan was the coolest cat around, but his solos on record was short and sweet.  When he played live, he really stretched out.  When he left the T-Birds in the late 80's/early 90's, citing musical differences, I sort of tuned them out for awhile, but in recent years, I have rediscovered them.  With their latest release, On The Verge, they moved more toward the soul/blues bag, which is a style that longtime front man Kim Wilson really sinks his teeth into.  They now have two great guitarists in Mike Keller and Johnny Moeller, too, so they're still a fun band to hear.

Now, I've been listening to music for a long time, and I have to say that I still pause when I hear Son Seals' "Your Love Is Like A Cancer." I'm not sure how you define this song. In a way, it's a love song....Seals has got it for this girl and got it bad that he compares her love to a cancer, eating away the very essence of his life. I have to admit that if I were trying to let somebody know how I felt about them, I would have probably chosen a different simile to express my thoughts. More than likely you would have, too, but not Son Seals. If you've ever heard him, you know that he was no shrinking violet. He was all grit, muscle, and passion....right up there in your face. This track is the same way and, sure, it makes me squirm whenever I first hear it, but I can't stop listening. The best thing of all is that it's just one of several great tracks on Seals' first album for Alligator, The Son Seals Blues Band, which is one of his best.  You can hear another one, the gritty "Mother-In-Law Blues," immediately following on this clip.

I first heard Larry McCray in the early 90's, when he released Ambition, an album he recorded in a friend's basement in Detroit at night while he worked at General Motors during the day.  Ambition set the blues world on it's ear upon release and McCray followed it up with the powerful Delta Hurricane, from which this track, "Last Four Nickels," was first heard.  Actually, Son Seals recorded it a little earlier and later recorded McCray's "After Awhile," which also appeared on Delta Hurricane (both songs were written by Dave Steen).  McCray really made "Last Four Nickels" his own though, in my opinion, and it's still one that he plays on a regular basis.  It's a really high-energy tune that will get your blood pumping when McCray tears into one of his string-shredding solos.

Corey Harris was a big change from the usual Alligator Records recording artists, who veered sharply toward electric blues.  Harris was more of a pre-war, unplugged who took old songs and updated them without changing them, so he didn't come off as an interpreter or imitator.  There were numerous acoustic blues musicians who surfaced around the time Harris did in the mid 90's, but he was one of the best at playing this brand of blues.  When he released Vu-Du Menz with New Orleans piano man Henry Butler, Harris was starting to move from the pre-war blues into more of a funk, world-based style of blues, and this was basically his last stop in that genre.  Butler's incredible work on the keys really complemented Harris well and one of the best was their splendid version of Tampa Red's "If You Let A Man Kick You Once."  The whole album is a treat, but this is my favorite track.

Let's end today's post with one of my all-time favorite instrumentals.  Hound Dog Taylor didn't play pretty, but he could blow your doors off with that roaring slide guitar.  Sonny Landreth is one of the finest slide guitarist currently practicing and this incredible cover of Taylor's own "Taylor's Rock" should serve as proof positive of his status.  Taylor's original is a model of chaotic mayhem that deserves to be heard in and of itself, but Landreth's version, from Alligator's star-studded tribute album to Taylor, is sheer slide guitar nirvana.  This is just the tip of the iceberg with Landreth's talents.  Any of his recordings are worth a listen, but every self-respecting blues fan needs at least one Hound Dog Taylor CD in their collection, too.

That's all for today.  Thanks for your support and I'm looking forward to the next 200 posts.