Friday, April 26, 2013

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #9

Once again, it's time for another well-rounded look at the blues, with a look at what or who is new in the world of blues, a legendary artist or artists from years past, a blues song done rock style (or vice versa), and finally, someone who epitomizes the very essence of the music.  Let's get started, shall we.....

For Something Old, let's take a look at Skip James performing at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival.  James recorded some amazing performances for Paramount Records in the early 30's, but they didn't sell well, and a dejected James gave up the music, becoming choir director at his father's church and eventually becoming ordained as a Baptist and Methodist minister over the next thirty years.

Skip James (Photo by Dick Waterman)
James was rediscovered by a trio of blues enthusiasts in 1964 while in a hospital in Tunica, MS.  Once he had recovered, he was performing at  Newport, where he was received enthusiastically this time around.  Though he battled cancer off and on during his return, James stuck around long enough to record some excellent albums for Vanguard and continued to appear in various festivals around the country until he died in 1969.  In this video, he is shown performing one of his biggest songs, "Devil Got My Woman."

Jason Elmore
For Something New, FBF travels to Dallas, home base of Jason Elmore and his band, Hoodoo Witch.  Their latest release, Tell You What, showcases the band's versatility, as they move effortlessly from blues/rock to country-flavored rock to deep R&B/soul, as heard on this clip from their recent CD release party.  "Cold Lonely Dawn" is a great R&B-styled blues track that would be a hit in a perfect world.

Elmore is a first-rate guitarist, as you'll hear on the video, but he also impresses with his soulful vocal style.  He wrote most of the songs on the disc, but covers everyone from Buck Owens ("Buckaroo") to William Bell (a smooth cover of "You Don't Miss Your Water") to the late Sean Costello ("Don't Pass Me By").  His new disc will please not only blues fans, but fans of rock and soul, too.....definitely worth a listen.

For Something Borrowed, we visit with a pair of blues legends....Taj Mahal and James Cotton.  Back in the late 90's, House of Blues had their own record label for a couple of years and they came up with a series of albums where blues artists covered rock songs by particular artists who were inspired by the blues.  These included albums of songs by Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones.

I only heard a couple of these sets, one of them being the Rolling Stones disc.  It was the most interesting set to me, in that it featured the final recordings of Luther Allison, Junior Wells, and Johnny Clyde Copeland.  One of the more interesting tracks teamed up Taj Mahal and Cotton for an acoustic version of "Honky Tonk Woman."  While most of the songs were well-done to me, this one remains one of my favorites because it's completely different from the Stones' original.  This version has a more Delta blues-related feel to it, with the acoustic guitar and Cotton's animated harp backing.

Hound Dog Taylor and friend
Something Blue......"She's Gone" is really the first song I ever heard from Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers.  I picked up his self-titled debut release from Alligator Records in 1989.  This was actually the first-ever release on Alligator Records in the early 70's.... owner Bruce Iglauer actually formed the label for the sole purpose if recording Taylor.....he had previously worked at Delmark and couldn't convince Bob Koester to do so.  Technically, if it weren't for Hound Dog Taylor, there might never have been an Alligator Records.

When I plugged this cassette into my truck stereo and "She's Gone" began blasting through my speakers, my world changed.  This was the rawest, most ragged, relentless, and raucous blues I'd ever heard.  Taylor's guitar sounded like it was strung with barbed wire.  Second guitarist Brewer Phillips was equally unhinged, yet together, their playing was was almost like they could read each other's minds sometimes.

Taylor recorded three discs for Alligator, two studio and one live recording, before he passed away from cancer in 1975, but his legend lives on.  If you're a blues fan, you must have at least one Hound Dog Taylor album in your collection (this one is a great place to start).  He was one of a kind.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Moonshine and Mojo Hands - The Mississippi Blues Series

If you watch TV at all these days, more likely than not, you're hooked to some form of Reality TV.  I fought it as long as I could, but I do have a couple that I tune into on a regular basis.  From my limited experience, there are some that are pretty fun and some that are aggravating and some that are, well, disturbing.  I'm sure most of you feel the same, only you might have different shows under each description from mine.  That's the way the world turns, after all.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Friday Blues Fix Friends Roger Stolle (Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art) and Jeff Konkel (Broke and Hungry Records), you can add another fun series to the list.....just check out their press release below from a couple of weeks ago.....

Award-Winning Film and Music Producers Set to Launch First Blues Music Reality Show This Fall

(CLARKSDALE, MS) – The creators of the award-winning documentaries “M For Mississippi” and “We Juke Up in Here” return in 2013 with “Moonshine & Mojo Hands,” a new weekly web-TV series dedicated to the rude, rowdy – and often ridiculous – world of Mississippi blues. The show follows hosts Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel as they travel the Delta’s back roads in search of juke joints, house parties, barbecue, moonshine and – of course – the men and women who keep this uniquely American music alive in the land of its birth.

The first season of the show will consist of 10 episodes streaming for free online this fall. Each 12-minute episode will take viewers on a wild ride through the Mississippi Delta and Hill Country to meet the region's most fascinating characters in truly unforgettable settings.

“There’s truly no place else on Earth quite like Mississippi,” Konkel said. “We can’t wait to introduce viewers to all of the great music, food, culture and characters that the state has to offer.”

The show’s producers are currently raising funds through Kickstarter at Marketing sponsorship opportunities also are available for interested individuals and organizations by e-mailing Roger Stolle at or Jeff Konkel at

“We’ve been really overwhelmed by the excitement and interest that the project has already generated,” Stolle said. “With the support of sponsors and fans, we’re confident we can create a show that will help the world understand what makes Mississippi such a weird and wonderful place.”

“Moonshine & Mojo Hands” is a joint production of Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art and Broke & Hungry Records in partnership with Tangent Mind, LLC and Lou Bopp.


Friday Blues Fix sat down with Konkel and Stolle earlier this week and asked a few questions about the upcoming series.  Here's what they had to say.....

Roger Stolle, Super Chikan, Jeff Konkel (Photo by Lou Bopp)

Friday Blues Fix:  What was the inspiration for Moonshine and Mojo Hands?  Was it something that came out during the making of the two documentaries?

Jeff:  Believe it or not, the biggest inspiration for the new show was Jerry Seinfeld! Last summer Roger got hooked on Seinfeld’s new web show, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. He turned me onto the show, and we both fell in love with the concept and Seinfeld’s DIY approach. We began to discuss how we could use a similar approach to explore all of the great music, food, culture and characters of Mississippi.

Roger:  Now, if we could just get some cool, vintage cars like Seinfeld has, we’d be all set! Actually, we also sound inspiration in reality TV shows like American Pickers and No Reservations since both are a similar travelogue narrative.

            FBF:    Will it be similar to the format of M for Mississippi and We Juke Up In Here?

JK:  I think anyone who has seen our earlier films will recognize our fingerprints all over Moonshine & Mojo Hands. Roger and I will once again be the “hosts,” and we will continue to travel off the beaten path to bring compelling stories featuring great music, quirky characters and plenty of humor. But there will be some differences. We’re approaching this project with more of a “television mindset.” The pacing will be faster and our production values will be a little higher, thanks to a larger production crew. But don’t worry: We’ll leave the “Jersey Shore” and “Honey Boo Boo”-type storytelling to someone else. Our reality show will put the emphasis on reality.

RS:  With all of our projects, we work very hard to bring the viewer — or listener, in the case of our recordings — on the journey with us. Jeff and I figured out a long time ago that it is the experience of visiting Mississippi and hanging out with all of the state’s insane blues characters that makes music fans travel to the Magnolia State over and over and over. This part of the world is like an onion; with every visit or project, you discover a new layer. Our goal is to capture these layers and present them to the blues-converted and the newbies alike.

FBF:  How much material do you have to work with?  Are there still a lot of Mississippi blues musicians out there waiting to be discovered?

Artheniece "Gasman" Jones (Photo by Lou Bopp)

            JK:  Plenty! In fact, we’ve already come up with too many stories to cover in our first season. This format allows us to tell some stories that simply didn’t fit into the narrower themes of our films. In addition, “Moonshine & Mojo Hands” isn’t just about Mississippi’s blues musicians, but also about the larger culture that helped foster that music. We’ll be visiting a lot of folks who make the Delta and surrounding areas so captivating: folk artists, juke owners, soul food cooks, farmers, card sharks … really anyone who contributes to the overall story of Mississippi.

            RS:  To some, “the blues” is just another genre of music. To us — and other deep blues fans — it is so much more than that. It is a culturally-connected art form, so the venues, personalities, food, chaos and history behind the music are every bit as important and interesting as the tunes themselves. We’ve got some amazing blues experiences scheduled for our viewers in Season One!

(Photo by Lou Bopp)

FBF:  So far, your fundraiser has been a success.  What other needs do you have to get the ball rolling on this series?

            JK:  In truth, we still need to raise quite a bit more money. Our Kickstarter goal represented just a fraction of the overall money we need to make the show. Whatever we aren’t able to raise through our crowd-funding campaign will have to come from marketing sponsors. We hope that blues fans will continue to support our effort at

            RS:  Jeff’s exactly right. It is crazy how expensive it is to do these types of projects correctly and on-schedule. The travel costs (from gas to hotels to meals). The talent costs (from musicians to juke owners to general characters). The production costs (from designers to cameramen to editors). Everything adds up very quickly. Our Kickstarter campaign is just about getting the project done. The more we raise, the better the episodes and, frankly, the better chance that we’ll see a Season Two!

Thanks for the info, guys.  We can't wait to see it.  For anyone interested in contributing to the cause, please go to the Kickstarter site.  They are offering some nice prizes in exchange for certain contribution levels, so if you've got a few coins to spare, you will be certainly be rewarded in the coming months.

Before we go for the weekend, a reminder for all you local blues fans in Mississippi, particularly the east central region, Friday Blues Fix friend Lenard Ingram is hard at work, putting the final touches on Philadelphia, MS's own blues club, the 424 Blues Cafe'.  The official opening is just down the road a piece, but Ingram is opening it up this weekend to welcome Jarekus Singleton and his band for a Saturday night, April 20th show, beginning at 8:30 pm.  Admission is only $10 and if you're familiar with Mr. Singleton, a former All State high school basketball star who recently made quite an impression at the 2013 IBC in Memphis, you know that it will be a great show (see below, courtesy of another FBF friend, Ms. Peggy Brown).  The 424 Blues Cafe' is located on 424 Beacon Street in Philadelphia, MS.  Just look for the blue and red sign and listen for the blues.

Friday, April 12, 2013

New Blues For You - Spring, 2013 Edition (Part 2)

Continuing our theme of a couple of weeks ago, Friday Blues Fix will take a brief look at a few more new and upcoming releases that are worth your attention.  As always, extended reviews of these discs can be seen at the KBA award-winning site, Blues Bytes.  

Tinsley Ellis - Get It! (Heartfixer Music):  This is one of several instrumental CDs that has really put a hop in my step the past few weeks.  I first encountered Tinsley Ellis at the late, great Chunky Rhythm & Blues Festival in the late 80's, when he was part of the Alligator Records contingency.  His guitar work really raised some eyebrows that day among festival attendees, most of whom were hearing him for the first time.  Ellis has recorded for several different labels since then, including Telarc and Capricorn, plus a return to Alligator, but Get It! is being released on his own Heartfixer Music label.

There are ten tracks here, with Ellis moving pretty easily from blues/rock to New Orleans-styled funk to vintage rock & roll to world music to the down-and-dirty blues.  Ellis pays tribute to many of his influences here, too.....from Albert Collins to Roy Buchanan to Duane Eddy to Chuck Berry to Bo Diddley to Freddy King.  Guitar fans of all genres will dig this one.  Ellis shows some impressive versatility and imaginative guitar work throughout.

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters - Just For Today (Stony Plain):  I'm a late arrival to Ronnie Earl's solo music.  Sure, I enjoyed his work on numerous Black Top releases in the late 80's and early 90's (notably his work with Earl King and Roomful of Blues on Glazed and also on Hubert Sumlin's Blues Party).  For some reason, I missed out on a lot of his solo work with the Broadcasters over the past couple of decades until a few years ago.

Earl backed off the touring circuit a few years ago for health reasons, limiting most of his live dates to locales near his Massachusetts digs.  The break from the pressures of constant touring seems to have recharged his batteries, so to speak, and his tenure with Stony Plain Records has been a productive one, as far as creativity goes.  Just For Today captures Earl at three live dates in Massachusetts and, as always, Earl's guitar work shows a mastery of both blues and jazz stylings, and an amazing rapport with the Broadcasters.  This particular group has been playing together for 13 years and it shows with every note.

The Duke Robillard Band - Independently Blue (Stony Plain):  Robillard has enjoyed a productive relationship with Stony Plain Records, consistently releasing some great albums that mix urban blues, jump blues, swing, and early rock & roll.  This latest release is no exception as Robillard and band are joined by another powerhouse guitarist, Monster Mike Welch.  The Duke and the Monster complement each other perfectly, engaging in a couple of cool instrumentals and some good-natured "head cutting."

The songs themselves are very strong, with three being written by Robillard's former Roomful of Blues band mate Al Basile.  Robillard's own compositions are equally well-done.  As far back as I can remember, Duke Robillard has never released anything less than an above average album.  This one falls right in there with the rest.  Over the past year, there have been some outstanding releases from several former Roomful members (Robillard, Earl, Basile, and Ron Levy) that all blues fans need to have in their collection.

Big Papa and the TCB - Six Pack Of Cool (Inland Blue Records):  If you're a jump blues fan in need of a fix, then look no further.  This is the disc for you.  You might have heard these guys in a Papa John's commercial over the past couple of years, playing their song, "Go Big Papa!" and have had a couple of songs featured on the A&E series, Breakout Kings  They mix jump blues with rock and swing for the most part, but this disc is firmly focused on jump blues.

The disc will definitely get you on your feet with several rousing numbers, but they also mix in some pretty solid slower tunes, too, and several tracks also have a definite New Orleans flavor to them, too.  Their front man, singer/guitarist Chris "Big Papa" Thayer does a fine job and the band is fantastic.  Singer/guitarist Gino Matteo joins the band on one tune, too.  This one will definitely move you and groove you, get you on your feet and keep you there for a while.

Hadden Sayers - Rolling Soul (Blue Corn Music):  After a prolonged absence from the music business, Sayers returned a couple of years ago with his Hard Dollar album, which was pretty well-received by fans and critics and got his career back in gear.  His song, "Back To The Blues," was nominated for Song of the Year at the BMA's.

Rolling Soul consists of songs that Sayers mostly composed while on the road touring.  Sayers' tunes are great and vivid images of the human condition.  He has an expressive and soulful voice and it works well on the variety of tunes here, which range from Texas shuffles to swing to after-hours blues to rock and soul.  Ruthie Foster, who hired Sayers as her guitarist a few years back (which helped jump-start his career) and appeared on his last disc, also appears on Rolling Soul.  Hadden Sayers is a talented musician who hopefully will receive more attention the second time around.

I wanted to say a few words about Jimmy Dawkins, who passed away Wednesday, April 10th.  Dawkins was one of the first blues guitarists that I heard.  It was on a concert broadcast on PBS during Black History Month.  His nickname was "Fast Fingers," but it really didn't suit his style.  He played some fierce, fiery, intense guitar, and his songs were often pretty intense, too. He got his start on the West Side with other guitarists like Otis Rush, Luther Allison, Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson, Buddy Guy, Eddie C. Campbell, and many others, and was devoted to getting the blues out to a larger audience and working to get younger artists an opportunity to record.

He recorded sporadically over the years, starting with Delmark, where his debut, Fast Fingers, was one of his best recordings and a great example of late 60's electric Chicago Blues.  The follow-up, the underrated All For Business, included Otis Rush on second guitar, and Andrew "Big Voice" Odom on the majority of the vocals....not a bad line-up at all.  Another keeper is A Tribute To Orange, recorded when Dawkins was on a European tour in the early 70's and matching Dawkins with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Otis Rush.  He later recorded for Excello, Earwig (one of his best, Kant Sheck Dese Bluze), Ichiban/Wild Dog, and Fedora, where he released his last disc in 2004.

Roosevelt Jamison passed away a couple of weeks ago.  Jamison was responsible for the discovery of O.V. Wright and James Carr, two of the greatest soul singers ever.  Jamison also wrote the soul classic, "That's How Strong My Love Is," which was recorded first by Wright, later by Otis Redding, and still later by the Rolling Stones.  There was a possibility that someone might have discovered O.V. Wright, but there's little doubt that without the efforts of Roosevelt Jamison, we might have never heard James Carr and that would have been a terrible thing.  There's no way that I can do Jamison's story justice, so I encourage you to read Peter Guralnick's recent blog post and also Red Kelly's wonderful post on his great blog, The "B" Side to learn more about this great man.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Johnnie Billington - Keeping the Blues Alive

Johnnie Billington (photo by Lou Bopp)
Earlier this week, a Clarksdale, MS institution passed away.  Johnnie Billington, bluesman, singer, auto mechanic, and most importantly, teacher, died on Monday, April 1st, in a Clarksdale hospital.  Mr. Billington suffered a heart attack a few weeks ago and never recovered.  He was in his late 70's.  Billington taught many of Clarksdale's latest generation how to play the blues....Terry "Big T." Williams, Anthony "Big A" Sherrod, Lee Williams, and many, many others.

He was born in Panola County in 1935, in Crowder, MS.  His father was a sharecropper, and he grew up farming, too.  When he was ten, his dad bought him a guitar and he taught himself to play while listening to the musicians on the radio show, King Biscuit Time.  By the time he was a teenager, he was playing with a band throughout the Delta.

Billington left the Delta in 1954, winding up in Chicago, where he worked at several different automobile plants during the day, and played the blues at night, sometimes crossing paths with legends Muddy Waters, Earl Hooker, and Elmore James.  He eventually opened his own auto repair shop in Robbins, IL.

By the late 70's, Billington had returned to Mississippi to help care for his ailing mother.  He opened an auto repair shop in Clarksdale, but noticed that a lot of the children in the area had very few opportunities for advancement.  He began opening up his shop at night and teaching these kids to play the blues, using the shop as a rehearsal site.

Billington was able to expand his efforts through grants made available by the Mississippi Arts Commission, and by the early 90's, he had established the Delta Blues Education Fund (DBEF), which was a non-profit that offered a year-long blues music instruction program for Delta youth free of charge.  He was able to work with these kids, forming them into bands, teaching them songs and how to play and work together.

Billington with students (AP Photo)

He also taught them important life lessons, like learning to be prompt, to dress neatly, how to conduct themselves, and to take pride in their accomplishments.  He even found them places to perform in public, sometimes letting them back him as part of his band, J.B. and the Midnighters, at his gigs around town.

He received many honors for his work with kids, including, appropriately, The Blues Foundation's Keeping the Blues Alive Education Award.  He was also awarded the Artist Achievement Award from the Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts in Mississippi.

Billington with students (Photo by Annie Leibovitz)

Roger Stolle of Cat Head said it best in an article in the Clarion-Ledger published after Billington's death....."So many people talking about keeping the blues alive....he's been doing it for decades.  He literally kept the blues alive here when it just was not thriving."  Now, thanks to "Mr. Johnnie," blues lovers have a great opportunity to hear the blues on a nightly basis when they come to Clarksdale.  He trained and influenced scores of local musicians there, ranging from kids to 50+ years old.

Anyone who is a fan of the blues, especially the Mississippi Delta Blues, owes a huge debt of gratitude to Johnnie Billington.  He really did keep the blues alive.

More New Blues For You to come next week.....