Thursday, July 25, 2013

New Blues For You - Late Summer, 2013 Edition

Yes, I know we've already had a Summer post or two featuring some brand new blues releases, but there are just too many new releases out there that deserve to be mentioned.  2013 has been a pretty outstanding year for blues fans.  Below are five new and upcoming releases for you to consider spending your hard-earned dollars on.  As always, extended reviews of these discs will be found in upcoming issues of Blues Bytes, so stop by and check that site out when you have a chance.

Buddy Guy - Rhythm & Blues (RCA):  This double disc set comes out on July 30, Guy's 77th birthday.  You would never know that he was anywhere near that birthday based on the music on this release.  Guy works that polka dot guitar over on these tracks, which are divided into a "Rhythm" disc and a "Blues" disc.  To be honest, there's not much difference in either disc, far as the music goes, but that makes sense and I think that may be the point that Guy is trying to make here.

Tom Hambridge returns as producer and also plays drums and co-wrote most of the tunes, some with Guy.  Hambridge seems to have a really good grasp of what Guy is looking for in a recording, both as a producer and as a songwriter because Guy is really inspired both on guitar and vocals.  Hopefully, this relationship will continue to be a fruitful one for both.

There are also the requisite group of guest stars (Kid Rock, Beth Hart, Keith Urban, Gary Clark, Jr., and Aerosmith dudes Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford) on five of the 21 tracks, but they all adjust to Guy's style and not the other way around, as is sometimes the case with guest stars on blues albums, so it works pretty well.  The covers pay tribute to Guy's fellow Blues Brother, Junior Wells ("Messin' With The Kid," which teams Guy and Kid Rock) and his idol Guitar Slim ("Well I Done Got Over It"), plus a remake of a classic that Guy covered during his Vanguard days ("Poison Ivy").

I have to admit that I basically stopped listening to Guy's new recordings for several years...too many guest stars, too much of the Hendrixian wall o'sound pyrotechnics, not enough blues.....but since Hambridge came on board, it seems that Guy has been rejuvenated and has a little extra hop in his step.  Although I would have liked for there to be a little more grit in the production, that's a minor quibble and shouldn't keep anybody who loves the blues from hearing this set.  Rhythm & Blues shows that Buddy Guy is still pretty amazing, even at age 77.

Lurrie Bell - Blues In My Soul (Delmark):  If you're a fan of Chicago blues played the way they used to do in the 50's and 60's, you will absolutely love this disc.  Bell rips through a set of vintage blues tracks from artists like Jimmy Rogers, T-Bone Walker, Little Walter, Junior Wells, Otis Spann, and Big Bill Broonzy.  While most of these will be familiar to blues fans, they haven't been done to death, and Bell puts his own personal spin on them with his fiery guitar work and his soulful vocals.  He also contributes several of his own compositions that blend really well with the classic covers.

Friday Blues Fix friend Dick Shurman produced the disc and he really captures the atmosphere of the classic Chicago sound.  Bell's working band (keyboard master Roosevelt Purifoy, drummer Willie Hayes, bass player Melvin Smith, and harmonica ace Matthew Skoller) provides stellar backing, along with horns from Mark Hiebert (sax) and Marques Carroll (trumpet).  Bell is one of the nice stories on the blues scene these days.  After a great start as a teenage guitar prodigy, he has overcome several personal tragedies over the past couple of decades and is emerging as one of the mainstays of the Chicago scene.  You will be hearing more about Lurrie Bell next week, right here at FBF.

David Egan - David Egan (Rhonda Sue Records):  You may not know David Egan, but you probably know at least one of his songs.  He's penned tunes for John Mayall ("Wake Up Call"), Percy Sledge ("First You Cry"), Marcia Ball ("Sing It"), and Johnny Adams (one of my all-time favorite Tan Canary tracks, "Even Now").  He was part of the Cajun band File' during the 90's and is currently in the Swamp Pop group, Lil' Band of Gold.  He's also released several solo albums over the past few years that have received critical acclaim.  His latest, self-titled release is his best yet.....just bursting from the seams with that great Louisiana vibe.

Egan plays keyboards and sings in this wonderful, vulnerable style that just screams deep blues and soul.  To me, each song is a mini-masterpiece, each with their own charms and high points.  Songs like "That's A Big Ol' Hurt," "Outta Mississippi," "Blues How They Linger," "Root Beer Baby," "Call Your Children Home" (with guest guitarist Lil' Buck Senegal), and "Sad, Sad Satisfaction deserve to be heard by a huge audience.  I don't usually start compiling a Top Ten list this early, but this one should easily be on there.  If you like blues and soul singing and songwriting at it's best, you owe it to yourself to find this one.  For a great sample, and one of my favorite songs on the disc ("That's A Big Ol' Hurt"), go here and give David Egan a listen.  You can thank me later.

Mike Zito & the Wheel - Gone To Texas (Ruf):  Singer/guitarist Zito is a member of last year's big blues "supergroup," Royal Southern Gentlemen, but he's also released several top notch albums of his own.  Gone To Texas, so named because Zito moved there several years ago to straighten his life out, is a raw and ragged foray into Texas blues and roots music (with some Louisiana thrown in for good measure) that features guest appearances from slide guitar wizard Sonny Landreth and Texas roadhouse legend Delbert McClinton.

Though both make nice contributions, Zito is very much his own man, moving through a wide range of styles ranging from blues (blues rock and acoustic) to crunching hard rock to soul  to funk.  Some of the material is autobiographical, like on most of Zito's other albums.  That said, it's obvious that Zito has a strong affinity for the music and culture of the Lone Star State (his wife is from Texas and he was able to overcome his addictions while living there) and it really comes out on this disc, which is a standout from start to finish.

The Soul of John Black - A Sunshine State of Mind (Yellow Dog Records):  If you're looking for the perfect Summer soundtrack, it's closer than you might think, and all on one disc.  The Soul of John Black is the brainchild of John "JB" Bigham, and his musical vision can best be described as "soul-roots."  It mixes the blues, soul, R&B, and funk.  If you grew up during the 70's, you're familiar with this style of music and you probably wonder why it ever went away.  These tunes all have a lighthearted, carefree vibe to them that should put a smile on your face.

The songs range from mellow soul in an Al Green vein ("Summertime Thang"), inspirational ("Higher Power"), funk ("East L.A. Lady"), and blues ("Johnny Bear (Give It To Me))," a tribute to the suggestive lyrics of the early bluesmen).  Bigham is a Chicago native who takes the music he grew up with and blends it with the music he's played over the years with other artists like Miles Davis, Fishbone, Dr. Dre', and Eminem.  While A Sunshine State of Mind has a definite Summer feel, you will probably find yourself listening to it all year.

Friday, July 19, 2013


This week's post will be a short one....Next week, we will look at some new releases, including a sneak preview of the upcoming Buddy Guy double-disc set.  This week, we will pay tribute to a couple of blues giants who recently passed away.

Texas Johnny Brown passed away on July 1st, at the age of 85.  He was diagnosed with liver and lung cancer about three months earlier.  Born in Choctaw County, Mississippi, Brown became a music icon in Houston, getting his start playing with his dad, who had to retire from the railroad when he lost his sight, but was a guitarist in the Lightnin' Hopkins tradition.  Part of the elder Brown's retirement package was a pass that he could use to travel anywhere on the railroad for either half price or for no ticket.  Together, they traveled from town to town, playing clubs and street corners.

Brown eventually settled in Houston, where he found work as a session man for Duke and Peacock records in the late 50's/early 50's, backing Lightnin' Hopkins and Joe Hinton, among others.  He was also a member of Amos Milburn's band, the Chickenshackers.  During this time, he recorded several tracks for Atlantic Records (in 1949), including "There Goes The Blues."  In the late 50's, he toured with Bobby Bland (as lead guitarist) and Junior Parker, also recording with them and cutting a few sides himself.  Brown also wrote some tunes as well, the biggest of them being "Two Steps From The Blues."

Brown recorded and performed until 1963, when he took a series of regular day jobs, including truck driving, landscaping, operating equipment, and working as a mechanic.  When he retired in 1991, he reformed his band, The Quality Blues Band, and performed with them until his death.  He was also able to record a couple of his own albums on Choctaw Creek Records, in the late 90's and early 00's, showing that he still was a force to be reckoned with.  He continued to play festivals and club dates until shortly before he died.

T-Model Ford didn't even start playing the guitar until he was 58, after his wife, the fifth of six, left him.  I'm not sure what was different about her departure from the first four in that she inspired him to play guitar and take up the blues (reportedly she left him a guitar as a parting gift), but I'm certainly glad she did because we almost certainly never would have been able to experience Ford's unique musical vision if she'd decided to stick it out.

Ford passed away this week in Greenville, MS, from respiratory failure after a series of strokes and heart issues.  He was either 89 or 93, depending on who you ask (Thursday morning on Facebook, Roger Stolle confirmed he was 92).  He was born in Forest, MS, and was plowing a field behind a mule in his early teens.  He also worked as a truck driver, in a saw mill, and killed a man in his early twenties and went to prison (where he got the scars from prison shackles that he wore on his ankle for the rest of his life).

He taught himself to play guitar, never learning to read music but doing his best to sound like his favorite guitarists, eventually working his way to an opening slot for Buddy Guy, playing rhythm guitar on Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes' The Heartbroken Man, and later signing with Fat Possum Records, where he released six albums of his compelling mix of blues from the Delta and Chicago.  He followed these recordings up with a really cool acoustic/electric release for Mudpuppy in 2008 (which includes one of my favorite instrumentals, "Red's Hideaway"), and later a pair of collaborations with the Seattle band, GravelRoad, before suffering a second stroke in 2012.

If you're not familiar with T-Model Ford, I highly recommend Jeff Konkel and Roger Stolle's documentary, M for Mississippi, which includes a profile of Ford, where he recounts his long and interesting life, plus he does one of his incredibly raw tunes, backed by his teenage son, Stud, on drums.  Lots of fun!!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Five Albums You Might Have Missed (V.7)

This week, Friday Blues Fix will look back at five releases from the past few years that should be part of every blues fans' library, but might have just slipped through the cracks for one reason or another.  All of these releases are available in one format or another today and all are definitely worth a listen, so track them down.  You can thank me later.

Roy Gaines - I Got The T-Bone Walker Blues (Groove Note):  I first heard Roy Gaines on his brother's outstanding release on Black Top Records (Full Gain) in the late 80's and really liked his guitar work and his growling vocals.  Upon further investigation, I found out that Gaines was a protege of the great T-Bone Walker and was later called T-Bone Jr. when he was starting out on guitar.  He played clubs in Houston during his early years, even playing guitar on a few of Bobby "Blue" Bland's early sides for Duke, before moving to California and later playing with Roy Milton, Chuck Willis, and Walker himself during the legend's later years.  

Though he often appeared as a sideman on numerous releases, Gaines has recorded a few of his own albums over the years, all of which are worth having.  My favorite, however, is the recording he did in tribute to Walker in 1999.  The eleven tracks, ten originally made famous by Walker, show just how big an influence T-Bone Walker was on Gaines, but there's also a couple of unique tracks in here that make the disc stand out above the standard "tribute album."  There's an acoustic version of "Stormy Monday" that is pretty cool, but even cooler is Gaines' cover of Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues."  On that track, Gaines teams up with pedal steel guitarist Al Velasco for four and a half minutes of sheer guitar heaven.  As I said, everything Gaines has recorded is worth having, but this one stands just a little above the pack for me.

Davis Coen - Magnolia Land (Soundview):  This release from 2009 finds Coen mining the Mississippi Hill Country blues sound for inspiration, while also blending a little bit of the Delta with Memphis soul and Chicago blues for good measure.  He's a very versatile guitarist, moving from blues to rock to rockabilly pretty easily.

This disc was produced by Jimbo Mathus, and features Mathus backing Coen on bass and guitar, with Afrissippi bassist Justin Showah and Kinney Kimbrough on drums.  Half originals and half covers from the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, Magnolia Land is a great example of Coen's versatility as a guitarist and songwriter.  Though he shifts musically from disc to disc, from country to soul to blues, hopefully he will return to this same format for his next release.

Mel Brown - Neck Bones & Caviar (Electro-Fi):  Mel Brown played guitar with just about everybody who was anybody during his long career, including stints with Bobby "Blue" Bland and B. B. King, as well as Etta James, Johnny Otis, Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, Albert Collins, and even The Outlaws.  His 60's albums, including Chicken Fat, are universally acclaimed by guitar fans in the know.

When he recorded Neck Bones & Caviar in 1999, he had been away from the studio for over a decade.  However, he had not stopped playing as he continued to blow audiences away in Canada, where he had relocated, with his band the Homewreckers, and that shows with this recording, which allows Brown to really stretch out on guitar.  The production is pretty spare and really lets his fretwork stand out.  He also proves to be a pretty good vocalist on songs by Muddy Waters ("Woman Wanted"), Joe Liggins ("I Ain't Drunk"), Ray Charles ("I Believe To My Soul"), and John Lee Hooker ("I'm In The Mood").

Brown continued to record for Electro-Fi for several years, including a great set with harmonica legend Snooky Pryor, but passed away in 2009.  Though you may not be familiar with him, if you're a blues fan, you've probably heard his guitar on one or more recordings, and this disc gives you a great opportunity to hear what all the fuss was about.

Toni Price - Talk Memphis (Antone's):  You may not be too familiar with Ms. Price, since the Austin-based singer rarely ventures far from the Gulf Coast area, but she's an excellent vocalist, focusing on the blues, soul, R&B, and occasionally country.  As the title would indicate, this 2007 release features tracks that have a Bluff City bent, with lots of greasy soul, blues, and funk involved.

The title track is a Jesse Winchester tune that Price makes her own, and the funky "Am I Groovin' U" should have been a hit single if there were any justice in the world.  She also does songs from Ashford & Simpson ("Runnin' Out"), Isaac Hayes ("Leftover Love"), Booker T. Jones ("Sorry About That"), and Don Bryant ("99 Pounds").  There are also several country-flavored blues tunes that show her vocal versatility.  Price is a great singer who should be better known.  This is a great place to get started.

Walter "Wolfman" Washington - Blue Moon Risin' (Go Jazz Records):  I discovered Walter "Wolfman" Washington during one of my Jazz Fest trips in the late 80's and went back and bought everything he ever recorded, plus a lot of the recordings he did backing Johnny Adams.  Over the years, his repertoire moved from soul/R&B to more of a blues/funk/jazz direction, which is where he basically is now.

In 1994, he recorded this album overseas while he was between record labels.  It finds the Wolfman in more of a blues direction than previously and still remains his most blues-oriented work to date.  As always, he's backed by his crack band, the Roadmaster, plus a horn section that includes Maceo Parker and Pee Wee Ellis.  There are several great tracks here, but my favorites are his masterful cover of Ray Charles' "Drown In My Own Tears" (re-titled "Drown" here), and the outstanding title of his best.

Amazingly, this disc wasn't even released until 1999, and then by a German label, but is more readily available now.  Hopefully, in the near future, FBF will devote an entire post to the wonderful Wolfman.

Friday, July 5, 2013

FBF's Burning Question of the Week with......Larry Garner

This week, Friday Blues Fix introduces a new topic that we hope everyone will enjoy.  We're calling it The Burning Question of the Week.  Our first subject is FBF favorite, Larry Garner. A few weeks ago, we were listening to one of Garner's albums, and since Garner is one of the best songwriters in the blues right now, there was a burning question that crossed our minds.  Since Mr. Garner has always been more than willing to sit down with FBF in the past (go here and here), we shot the question his way and he was gracious enough to give us a reply.  So, without further ado, here we go.....

FBF's Burning Question of the Week:  You're given the opportunity to do an album of nothing but cover tunes.  Which songs would you choose to do? 

Larry Garner:  "Yeah, that's a thought that's traveled through my mind for some time....I would like to do..."

"Hoodoo Party," by Tabby Thomas

"Hound Dog Man," by Lonnie Mack

"As Long As I Can See The Light," by Creedance Clearwater Revival

"Boogie Train," by T-Bone Singleton (Click on song title for clip).....

"When The Fat Lady Sings," by the Norman Beaker Band

"Option On You Baby," by the Norman Beaker Band

"A Little Good News," by Anne Murray

"Just Like Dynamite," by Roomful of Blues

"Chain Gang," by Sam Cooke

"Let Me Be Your Hatchet," by Silas Hogan

"Rock This House," by Tabby Thomas

"Rocky Mountains," by Clarence Edwards

So there you have it.....all in all, not a bad list of songs at all.  I would definitely be listening.  I love the swamp blues sound that Garner grew up with, and there's plenty here with tracks from Tabby Thomas, Clarence Edwards, Silas Hogan, and T-Bone Singleton.  There's a nice mix of old favorites from different genres that helped influence his sound and his songwriting (Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang," CCR's swampy "As Long As I Can See The Light," and Anne Murray's pensive "A Little Good News," actually sounds like a Garner composition).  Finally, there's good old traditional blues favorites from Garner's touring partner, Norman Beaker, Roomful of Blues, and Lonnie Mack.

Garner has mixed in the occasional cover on his previous releases with excellent results, so I would love to hear his take on some of these songs.

Many thanks to Larry Garner for taking the time to answer our Burning Question.  Hopefully, if you like this topic, we will revisit it again with a different question for a different artist in the near future.  In the meantime, take a few minutes to check out Larry's awesome body of work.  You will not be disappointed.

Here's Garner's tour schedule for the next several months, U.S. and European dates.  Be sure and catch him live if you're anywhere near these locations.

August 23, Blues Tavern - Mobile, AL  
August 24, Bradfordville Blues Club - Tallahassee, FL  
August 25, Oyster Bar - Montgomery, AL       
September 5, Brackin's Blues Club - Maryville, TN  
September 6, Blue 5 - Roanoke, VA   
September 7, Charlie's Place - Pomeroy, OH
September 27, Jazzclub - Bieldfeld, Germany
September 28, Steinbruch - Duisburg, Germany

October 1, Bunter Vogel - Münster, Germany
October 2, Downtown Blues Club - Hamburg, Germany
October 3, Denmark / Blueskartellet Horsens
October 4, Denmark / Kattrup Forsamlingshus
October 5, Denmark / B`Sharp Silkeborg
October 7, Alte Heuwaage - Gütersloh, Germany
October 9, Grand Jam Ökologiestation - Bergkamen, Germany
October 10, Grand Jam Blue Note - Osnabrück, Germany
October 12, Nuit Du Blues - Arras, France
October 15, Salle d'Imiere - Argenteuil, France
October 16, Dud Des Lombards - Paris, France
October 17, La Bouche d'Air - Nantes, France
October 18, Beaumont En Verron
October 24, Burgerhaus - Dudenhofen, Germany
October 25, Charivari - Ulm, Germany
October 26, Festhall Durlach - Karlsruhe, Germany
October 31, Kuly Bahnhof - Gifhorn, Germany

November 1, TSBW - Husum, Germany
November 2, Bischofsmuhle - Hildesheim, Germany
November 6, Kulturbesen - Schramberg, Germany
November 7, Lab - Stuttgart, Germany
November 8, Z7 Galerie - Pratteln, Switzerland
November 9, Baden Baden, Germany
November 14, Lucerne Blues Festival