Friday, January 31, 2014

Fenton Robinson - The Mellow Blues Genius

One of the first blues albums I bought was the initial volume of the Alligator Records' Genuine Houserockin' Music sampler series that the label released on a regular basis from the mid 80's to the mid 90's.  These sets were a great way to introduce new listeners to some fantastic music at a very nice price, and the first volume was my favorite.  I had only heard a couple of the artists from this collection before buying, so it was an eye-, and ear-opening experience listening to great traditional Chicago-styled blues from James Cotton, Jimmy Johnson, Lonnie Brooks, Koko Taylor, Texas styled blues from Albert Collins, Robert Cray, and Johnny Copeland, scorching blues/rock tracks from Johnny Winter, Lonnie Mack, and Roy Buchanan, and the inimitable Hound Dog Taylor, who was in a class by himself.

However, there was also a track from a guitarist named Fenton Robinson that sort of deviated from Alligator's motto (and collection title), "Genuine Houserockin' Music."  While it was certainly good, it wasn't what I would call "Houserockin'."  It was more in a jazz vein with Robinson's smooth understated guitar work and a swinging horn section.  I guess in a way it did "rock the house," but it was definitely in a different style than the other ten songs on that collection.  Before I started listening to the blues, I listened to jazz guitarists like George Benson, and Robinson's style sort of reminded me of them.  As time passed, and I was able to hear more of Robinson's music from his three Alligator releases, I became more impressed with his work.  When I found out even more about him and what he did before he made those recordings in the 70's and 80's, I realized that he didn't get nearly enough recognition for his accomplishments.  Like many blues artists of his era, Robinson was a victim of bad timing, bad breaks, and bad luck.

Born in Minter City, MS (near Greenwood) on September 23rd, 1935, where he built his own guitar from baling wire, inspired by the blues he heard on the radio.  Robinson moved to Memphis at age 16, where he really got his music career started, starting out with the Wednesday night amateur shows on Beale Street, later appearing on Rosco Gordon's "Keep on Doggin'" single released on Duke Records, then cutting his own single, "Tennessee Woman" on the Meteor label, based in Memphis, in 1957.  Like many of his contemporaries, his guitar work was influenced by T-Bone Walker, mixing Walker's smooth urban style with some of his own flourishes influenced by jazz guitarist Burrell and Montgomery, who also influenced George Benson.

By that time, Robinson has relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he teamed with Larry Davis, who played bass, and caught the attention of Bobby "Blue" Bland, who happened to see them perform and then mentioned them to his boss at Duke Records, Don Robey.  While with Duke, Robinson recorded an impressive series of singles (though he was mistakenly labeled as "Fention" Robinson on many of them), including "Mississippi Steamboat," a remake of "Tennessee Woman," "You Got To Pass This Way Again," and the original version of Peppermint Harris' "As The Years Go Passing By," a tune that has been recorded by numerous other blues artists (as previously discussed here last spring), notably Albert King and Otis Rush.  New Orleans piano wizard James Booker backed Robinson on piano on this track.  While at Duke, Robinson also appeared on some of Larry Davis' singles, notably as the guitarist on Davis' classic, "Texas Flood."

Robinson moved to Chicago in 1962, continuing to record for various labels, such as U.S.A., Palos, and Giant.  He also played with locals like Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller version), Junior Wells, Otis Rush, and the Prince James jazz combo.  It was with the tinyl Palos label that Robinson recorded what many consider to be his signature tune, "Somebody Loan Me A Dime," in 1967.  Unfortunately, just as the record was breaking, a severe snowstorm hit Chicago and screwed up the national distribution of the song.  Still, the record did tremendously well in the Windy City and is truly one of the post-war blues era's classic tunes.

Boz Scaggs

In 1969, Boz Scaggs recorded "Somebody Loan Me A Dime," for his debut album, and his version became a blues/rock classic, fueled in part by a lengthy guitar solo from Duane Allman.  At the time, composer credits for the song was attributed to Scaggs by a publishing error.  The error ended up resulting in much litigation over a number of years before composer credits were finally returned to Robinson.

In 1970, Robinson recorded with a Nashville label, Sound Stage 70/Seventy 7 labels.  Apparently, no one at the label had ever heard Robinson prior to recording, or they didn't like what they'd previously heard because they "rocked" his sound up considerably and didn't even let him play guitar on any of the sessions, resulting in a disappointing mess that sounds nothing like anything in the rest of Robinson's catalog, which is not a good thing at all.  These songs were collected several years back by Charly Records for an album called Mellow Fellow.

In 1974, Robinson's fortunes changed for the better.  He began recording with Alligator Records, and the label released Somebody Loan Me A Dime that same year.  Alligator head man Bruce Iglauer did it right, pairing Robinson with an excellent band that included Mighty Joe Young on rhythm guitar, Cornelius Boyson on bass, Tony Gooden on drums, Bill Heid on keyboards, and a crack four-piece horn section.  This is Fenton Robinson at his best and there are several outstanding tracks, including a remake of the title track that rivaled the original version, "The Getaway," "You Say You're Leaving," another future standard in "You Don't Know What Love Is," and a tasty remake of Davis' "Texas Flood."  Robinson's Alligator debut ranks as one of the finest blues albums of the 1970's.

In 1975, not long after Somebody Loan Me A Dime was released, Robinson was involved in an auto accident that left a pedestrian dead.  He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to three years in Joliet Penitentiary.  Fortunately, assisted by a furious letter-writing campaign led by Iglauer, Robinson was released from prison after serving nine months.

Robinson recorded two more albums for Alligator, I Hear Some Blues Downstairs in 1977, and Nightflight in 1984.  Both were very good recordings, just a notch below his Alligator debut.  I Hear Some Blues Downstairs was nominated for a Grammy Award, and featured a pensive remake of "As The Years Go Passing By," and had a nice tribute to T-Bone Walker ("Tell Me What's The Reason") and the title track was pretty cool, too.  

Nightflight was originally released on the Dutch Black Magic label as Blues in Progress) and is probably the jazziest release of Robinson's catalog, though it does feature Junior Wells on a couple of tracks.  In 1989, Robinson released Special Road, again on the Black Magic label, another solid disc with some good performances.  It was later reissued in the U.S. on the Evidence label (we discussed it here a few months ago).

By the mid 80's, Robinson had moved back to Little Rock.  At this point, he was frustrated, thinking that his laid-back, mellow style was ill-suited for the rowdy blues clubs and fans in search of the "houserockin'" brand of blues.  Although that seemed to be the case in the U.S., he was adored by blues fans in Japan, who dubbed him "The Mellow Blues Genius," years earlier.  

By the late 80's, Robinson had relocated again, this time in Springfield, Illinois, where he began teaching blues education in the Springfield school system as blues-artist-in-residence, a position he had previously held with the school in the late 70's.  He taught youngsters the basics of the blues and also the fundamentals of guitar.  He still performed occasionally, making an acclaimed headliner appearance at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1995.

In the summer of 1996, Robinson underwent surgery to remove what was believed to be a benign brain tumor.  The tumor turned out to be cancerous, but Robinson fought the disease courageously until he passed away on November 25th, 1997 at the age of 62.

Some of Fenton Robinson's finest moments as a performer, with songs like "Somebody Loan Me A Dime" and "As The Years Go Passing By" are unfortunately overshadowed by other artists' versions of each song (Albert King and Boz Scaggs, respectively).  However, blues fans would do well to go back and seek out the original source for both songs and take to time to seek out Robinson's own recordings.  It should prove to be a rewarding effort for most fans.

(Some of this information was taken from articles written by Bill Dahl and Jim O'Neal)

Friday, January 24, 2014

New Blues For You - Early Bird 2014 Edition

If the first few new releases are a sign, then 2014 looks to be another great year of blues recordings.  Here are six new recordings hot off the presses to help you get the New Year started.  As always, these albums will be given the full treatment by yours truly in an upcoming issue of Blues Bytes.  For now, just consider this a sneak preview and track down these discs as soon as you can.  You can thank me later.

Terry Gillespie - Bluesoul:  Gillespie has been a music legend in Canada for over 40 years.  He mixes his love for jazz, soul, gospel, rock, and pop with his brand of blues.  Bluesoul is probably Gillespie's purest blues record, but those other elements are still present in his music.  He plays guitar, trumpet, and harmonica and his vocals will sometimes bring to mind Mark Knopfler or J.J. Cale.  He's backed by a tight three-man band on this thirteen song set that includes four great covers that span soul, blues, and even New Orleans R&B via Professor Longhair.  I really like the range and diversity that Gillespie shows on this disc.  Whether you know it or not, there is some outstanding blues talent north of the border these days, and Terry Gillespie is one of those who's been there from nearly the beginning.

Mark T. Small - Smokin' Blues (Lead Foot Music):  This is another 40-year vet who's so good, you will wonder why in the world he's not better known.  He's as good a guitarist as you will hear and if you listen to Smokin' Blues, you will hear plenty of evidence of that, as Small tears through a dozen of his favorite songs from such guitar legends as Tampa Red, John Lee Hooker, Reverend Gary Davis, Elmore James, and Charlie Patton, along with some familiar blues favorites by Rufus Thomas, Jimmy Oden, and Howlin' Wolf.  With vocals as strong as sweet as his fret work, Small has made one memorable and amazingly versatile album right here that guitar fans will love.  Here's a brief clip of Small's dazzling take on Tampa Red's "Sell My Monkey."

Eddie Cotton - Here I Come (DeChamp Records):  Grady Champion's new label gets off to a fine start with a pair of great releases.  First, FBF favorite Eddie Cotton unleashes his first studio recording in over ten years and it's a beauty.  If you like your blues with a healthy dose of soul, R&B, and funk, look no further.  Cotton is a excellent guitarist and gets plenty of room to show it here.  His vocals are equally effective in a blues or soul vein as he nimbly works through these eleven original compositions.  Champion even joins the fun, adding harmonica on several tracks, but this is strictly Eddie Cotton's show and it's great to have him back on this stellar disc of soul blues that, hopefully, will finally get him the attention he deserves from a bigger audience. Check out this great track, "Pay To Play," featuring some of Cotton's excellent guitar work.

JJ Thames - Tell You What I Know (DeChamp Records):  A singer of stunning depth and passion, Thames' debut recording is a wonderful slice of old school gospel-flavored soul and blues.  Champion and Cotton both appear on this disc and wrote several of the standout tracks.  Thames delivers them all like she's been doing it for years, and, really, she has....having appeared with blues stars like Bobby "Blue" Bland, Willie Clayton, Marvin Sease, Denise LaSalle, and rockers like Fishbone, Bad Brains, Slightly Stoopid, and 311 over the past couple of decades.  How's that for range?  This is an excellent release that will appeal to fans of R&B and soul like they used to do it and it really deserves to be heard.  It looks like Grady Champion's new label is off to a great start. Check out the title track.

Debbie Bond and the TruDats - That Thing Called Love (Blues Root Productions):   Alabama-based singer/guitarist Bond, who's worked with such luminaries as Willie King, Johnny Shines, Jerry McCain, and Little Jimmy Reed, originally recorded this set for Radio Free Nashville WRFN's Mando Blues Show in early 2013.  However, after hearing a playback of the performance, she decided to release it as a CD.  It was a wise decision.  This set gives you a perfect picture of Bond's enthusiastic southern-styled brand of blues, rock and soul.  It sounds like the whole thing was a barrel of fun, which is what most blues fans are looking for when they pick up a CD.  This one won't disappoint them at all.

Steve Dawson - Rattlesnake Cage (Black Hen Music):  Over the past couple of years, I've enjoyed several great releases from the Canadian label Black Hen....recordings from artists like Jim Byrnes, The Sojourners, and the superlative Mississippi Sheiks tribute CD and DVD.  Dawson was the driving force behind most of those recordings with his exquisite guitar work.  Recently relocated to Nashville, Dawson has issued a CD of instrumental guitar tracks that simply must be heard.  I got this disc in the mail last weekend, and I have played it at least once a day since then, and each time I hear something wonderful that I had not heard before.  That's the mark of a great guitarist and tunesmith.  Rattlesnake Cage is a marvelous recording that continues to reward with each listen.  Below is a short clip of a tune where Dawson pays tribute to the lyrical style of Reverend Gary Davis, "The Altar At Center Raven."

Friday, January 17, 2014

Five Albums You Might Have Missed (V.9)

As we observed around this time last year, the first couple of weeks in January of each year are a sort of transition period between the maddening rush of Christmas and the arrival of the first of the new year's album releases.  While Friday Blues Fix has already heard some pretty good forthcoming releases (which we'll be discussing in the coming weeks), we usually use the first couple of weeks of the year to relax, recharge our batteries, and rediscover a few "old friends" from the record collection.  This week, FBF will revisit a few classics from the CD shelf that might have slipped through the cracks after their initial release.  As usual, most of these discs are still available in stores (online and brick & mortar, etc....).

Rockin' Tabby Thomas - Swamp Man Blues (AIM Records):  Tabby Thomas passed away on New Year's Day.  In Baton Rouge, he was a legendary performer (his 1961 hit, "Hoodoo Party," is a Swamp Blues anthem) and was the owner of Tabby's Blues Box, the club that almost single-handed kept the blues alive in the city.  If there was ever an album more appropriately titled, I haven't seen it.  This set was recorded in the mid 1990's and issued on AIM Records in 1999.  There's no musician information listed in the liner notes, but whoever was backing Thomas knew exactly what they were doing.  This is one of the most representative albums of Louisiana music that you will hear.  There's raw blues, gritty funk, greasy soul, and irresistible island rhythms thrown all together.  You can almost feel the humidity and see the Spanish moss hanging from the trees.  It's a shame that this great blues man didn't record more than he did, but his legacy can be seen and heard from the likes of Larry Garner, Kenny Neal, Troy Turner, and Thomas' son, Chris Thomas King.  If you're into the Swamp Blues sounds of Louisiana, this is a really good disc that blends the old school sounds with a nice modern feel.

Chick Willis - Mr. Blues:  The Best of...So Far (Benevolent Blues):  Willis passed away on December 8th, after a battle with cancer.  I got to see him many years ago at the Chunky Rhythm & Blues Festival not far from where I lived and it was quite an entertaining performance.  In the early 70's, he released the now-classic "Stoop Down Baby Let Your Daddy See," a tune that has been covered by blues bands of all sizes, shapes, and colors since then (including several re-do's by Mr. Willis himself).  From the late 80's until his death, Willis was very prolific, releasing albums for several different labels...Ichiban, Deep South, Rock House, and Benevolent Blues, who released a "Greatest Hits" collection in 2010 that is the best summary, so far (like the title says), of his catalog.  It includes a rare studio version of his signature song, along with some other risque' tunes in the same tradition ("Jack You Up," "Bootie Call," "Old Man With Freaky Ideas") a few live tracks that capture his essence pretty well, and some more traditional blues that show that he was not a one-trick pony.....the title Mr. Blues summed him up pretty well.  He was a great singer and as a guitarist, he was influenced by Guitar Slim, so that should let you know something about his playing style.  I spoke to him via Facebook a few times after he was diagnosed and he was always very cordial and determined to beat the sickness that plagued him the last couple of years of his life.  This is a great introduction to his music, but you probably don't need to plug it in at your kid's birthday party.

Chuck Berry - Blues (Chess/MCA):  When I picked up this collection on Ebay several years ago, I was blown away.  While Berry was obviously influenced by blues artists like Muddy Waters, his sound and his songs were more upbeat and basically served as a blueprint for Rock & Roll.  However, while he was with Chess, he also laid down some pretty awesome blues tracks as might be expected, given the line-up of musicians backing him (Hubert Sumlin, Johnnie Johnson, Willie Dixon, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Fred Below, Odie Payne).  Berry's version of "Wee Wee Hours," with some incredible piano runs by Johnson, is one of my all-time favorite tracks (incidentally, this track was the "B" side of the single that put Berry on the map, "Maybelline".....not a bad purchase way back in 1955).  Even though he is playing the blues, he still has that unique sound in place on these tracks.  Blues indicates that had Chuck Berry stuck strictly to the blues, he would have done just fine.

Floyd McDaniel & the Blues Swingers - Let Your Hair Down (Delmark):  McDaniel moved to Chicago from Alabama when he was 15 and began to sing and play the blues.  In the 40's, he learned to play electric guitar and joined what would become the Five Blazes, who recorded for Chess subsidiary Aristocrat in the late 40's.  Over the years, McDaniel alternated between playing music (including a stint with the Ink Spots) and operating his own tavern, but he eventually got to record with his band, the Blues Swingers, for Delmark in 1994, when he was 78 years old.  Let Your Hair Down shows McDaniel easily moving between 40's and 50's-era jazz and classic urban blues with his smooth vocals and rich guitar sound on a varied set of covers, both familiar and obscure.  The Blues Swingers, an eight-piece with a tight rhythm section and four horns, are wonderful in support.  McDaniel passed away the next year just after his 80th birthday, but this is a fine testament to his talents.

Travis "Moonchild" Haddix - Daylight at Midnight (Earwig):  Like Chick Willis, Travis Haddix has been very prolific over the past quarter century, recording for several now defunct labels, including his own Wann-Sonn label.  Born in north Mississippi in the late 30's, Haddix was inspired by the music he heard on Memphis' WDIA radio station, most notably B.B. King.  Settling in Cleveland, OH in the late 50's, Haddix made a name for himself playing in juke joints and at various festivals with his King-influenced guitar, his gravelly vocals, and his original songwriting, finally getting to record in the late 80's.  Haddix recorded Daylight at Midnight in 2008 and it's a textbook example of his sound.  It's hard to believe that he's not better known than he is, given the high quality of everything that he's recorded and released since 1988.  If you check out this release, I guarantee you will want to hear more.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Essential Recordings - Chicago/The Blues/Today!

In 1966, Vanguard Records issued the three LP set, Chicago/The Blues/Today!  To say it sent shock waves through the music world would be an understatement.  While all of the artists on these recordings had previously recorded over the past ten to fifteen years, their exposure was limited mainly to black audiences who bought their singles on labels like Chess, Veejay, Duke/Peacock, or others,  plus a few white kids who happened to hear their songs on the radio and became interested in the blues from there.

With the release of this set, all of these artists became exposed to a wider audience....those people who bought albums instead of singles, who were, at the time predominantly white and predominantly rock & roll fans who had heard whatever blues they had previously heard through the efforts of British performers like the Rolling Stones, John Mayall, and others, along with American artists Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield.  Now, they were hearing the music from the original sources, which had to be exciting for these new blues fans.

In 1966, the blues was losing a lot of its original core audience as many black listeners were gravitating to the new sounds of soul music from Memphis, Philadelphia, Detroit, and other locales, so all of the artists on this collection suddenly found their services in demand by a whole new set of fans that they probably never expected to have.  More than any other recording of it's time, Chicago/The Blues/Today! played a pivotal road in expanding the audience for blues throughout the country, and eventually the world.  It's impact is still being felt nearly fifty years later.

The artists represented on Chicago/The Blues/Today! were Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, J.B. Hutto, Otis Spann, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Homesick James Williamson, Johnny Young, Johnny Shines, and Big Walter Horton.  They truly did represent the music of the Windy City at that time, but most of these artists (with the possible exception of Guy, Wells, and Spann) were probably not widely known outside of their core audiences in Chicago.

Sam Charters
Sam Charters was a noted blues historian, who at the time has mainly focused on country blues, but had reissued many blues recordings on the Vanguard Records label, which was noted for its folk records.  Unlike many historians, Charters knew that the blues was still alive and well, not a musical dinosaur to be viewed in a library somewhere.  He sought and got permission from Vanguard to record these "new" artists, but since he was limited in budget and some of them were under contract with other labels, he opted to do union-approved 4-6 song sessions for each artist, putting three acts on a album.

Buddy Guy & Junior Wells
The first volume featured Junior Wells & Buddy Guy, J.B. Hutto and his Hawks, and Otis Spann.  Wells put his band (Guy - guitar, Jack Myers - bass, and the great Fred Below on drums) through a tight five-song set, including a heartfelt tribute to one of Wells' mentors, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), who had passed away earlier in the year, some of his familiar tunes ("It Hurts Me Too," "Messin' With The Kid, and "All Night Long (Rock Me Baby)"), and a new song ("Vietcong Blues").  Guy's guitar work is impeccable, some of his best....Junior Wells always seemed to bring out his best.

J.B. Hutto
J.B. Hutto was strongly influence by Elmore James and his fiery slide work and enthusiastic singing is magnificent here.  It's a truly inspired performance from Hutto, bass player Herman Hassell, and drummer Frank Kirkland.  Only one of his five songs goes over three minutes, but each song is loaded with energy and intensity.  If you've not heard Hutto before (he passed away in 1983), chances are that you've heard his nephew, Ed Williams of Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials, who continues his uncle's legacy.  However, it is recommended that you check out Hutto's recordings themselves, which are uniformly fine.

Otis Spann
Otis Spann was nursing a cold on the day of his recordings, so his voice sounds a bit froggy on a couple of the tracks, but that's okay because that splendid piano is what you'll be listening for and enjoying, and there's plenty to be heard.  Accompanied by drummer S.P. Leary, Spann rips through an exuberant five-song set, proving with these five songs that Spann was one of the finest post-war blues piano players, if not the finest.

James Cotton
The second volume featured James Cotton (billed here as Jimmy Cotton), Otis Rush, and Homesick James Williamson.  Cotton, who had been the harmonica player in Muddy Waters' band since 1957 but had recorded on his own previously, teams with Spann, Leary, and James Madison (guitar).  Among his selections are "Cotton Crop Blues" (which he had previously recorded for Sun Records), a moody version of "Black Night" (titled here as "The Blues Keep Falling"), and a frenetic version of the early rock & roll classic, "Rocket 88."  Cotton has been one of the most consistently-recorded blues artists since the 60's, recording several albums during each decade, and is still going strong despite throat issues that have rendered him unable to sing.  He can still blow the back off that harmonica though, even at age 78.

Otis Rush
At the time of these sessions, Otis Rush had been virtually unheard from for years.  He had left Chess to sign with Duke Records, who basically sat on him for five years, releasing only one 45 during that time.  Frustrated beyond measure by this, Rush made the most of his opportunity here...these five songs are among the finest he ever recorded...two instrumentals, including his reworking of Earl Hooker's "Universal Rock" ("Rock"), and three vocals (including a breathtaking version of his old hit, "I Can't Quit You Baby").  His guitar work is inspired, his vocals are incredible, and his band (Sax Crowder on sax, Roger Jones on bass, Willie Lion on drums, and Luther Tucker on second guitar) really pushes him hard.  This is some of Rush's best studio work and it's a shame he never reunited with Vanguard for additional recordings.

Homesick James (far left) with Elmore James
Homesick James Williamson was, like Hutto, inspired by Elmore James, who was his cousin.  Williamson, in fact, was a longtime member of James' band and was reportedly present when James succumbed to his fatal heart attack.  Williamson's slide guitar work was a bit rawer than his cousin's, seemingly owing more of a debt to Robert Johnson's style at times, and his vocals were equally raw and ragged, but effective.  His four tracks, with Willie Dixon on bass and Kirkland on drums, are raw and ragged, and man, do they sound good, including a cover of "Dust My Broom," and a delightfully ragged take on his own "Somebody Been Talkin'."  Homesick James recorded and performed well into his 90's, passing away in 2006.

Johnny Young
Volume 3 is the country side of Chicago blues and features Johnny Young, Johnny Shines, and Big Walter Horton.  Johnny Young played guitar and mandolin and his band includes Horton (harmonica), Hayes Ware (bass), and Elga Edmonds (drums).  Young's style brings back memories of those early Muddy Waters recordings with the down-home meets urban mix.  The tracks where he plays mandolin are really worth a listen.  It's an instrument rarely heard in the blues these days, and Young's energetic playing is a highlight.  His six songs are a lot of fun.

Johnny Shines
Johnny Shines was one of the first blues artists I ever saw perform (on public television in the mid 80's) and I was a bit put off initially by his raw sound and his coarse vocal style.  However, as I listened to other blues artists as time passed, I grew to appreciate his music.  He traveled extensively with Robert Johnson when he was a youngster and it showed with his music.  He was an excellent slide guitarist and made the move from unplugged country blues to electric urban blues with relative ease.  However, by the mid 60's, he had pretty much quit the music business, until he was persuaded to record for Chicago/The Blues/Today!   Based on these tracks, featuring Shines with Horton, Floyd Jones (bass), and Kirkland (drums), his career was put right back on track and he recorded quite a bit for multiple labels after that, even doing a couple of recordings with Robert Lockwood, Jr., another Johnson protege.  Shines suffered a stroke in the early 80's, which affected his guitar playing, but continued to sing with that robust voice until his death in 1992.

Big Walter Horton
Big Walter Horton played on all of the tracks on Volume 3, but he gets a track of his own, an instrumental featuring a young Charlie Musselwhite on second harmonica.  Horton was regarded as one of the finest harmonica players in Chicago, but by the 60's, he was battling numerous health issues, and was by nature, very shy.  He preferred to stay in the background as a band member rather than a band leader.  His harmonica sound was distinctive and influential.  You might have seen him playing harmonica with John Lee Hooker during the Maxwell Street scene in the original Blues Brothers movie.


Even though it was originally released as three separate volumes, Chicago/The Blues/Today! is now available as a three-volume package, relatively inexpensive, with improved sound, added liner notes, and some fantastic pictures taken by Charters' wife, Ann.  There's also a picture of Jimi Hendrix that many might find interesting.  In the picture, Hendrix is listening to records and is holding several album jackets under his of which is Volume 3 of Chicago/The Blues/Today!  If that's not a ringing endorsement for blues fans that this is an essential recording, then I don't know what is.

Friday, January 3, 2014

In Memoriam: 2013 Passings

Friday Blues Fix wishes a safe and happy 2014 to all of our readers.

In 2013, we saw a number of notable blues artists pass away that you may or may not know.  This week, Friday Blues Fix will pay tribute to a few of them.  If you're not familiar with some of these artists, we highly recommend that you check out some more of their music.

Precious Bryant (January 4, 1942 - January 12, 2013):  Georgia country blues artist

Robert "Chicago Bob" Nelson (July 4, 1944 - January 17, 2013):  Atlanta-based singer/harmonica player

George Higgs (1930 - January 29, 2013):  North Carolina-based bluesman

Ann Rabson (April 12, 1945 - January 30, 2013):  Singer/guitarist/piano player...founded Saffire-the Uppity Blues Women

Roscoe Chenier (November 6, 1941 - February 7, 2013):  Louisiana blues singer/guitarist

Magic Slim (August 7, 1937 - February 21, 2013):  Chicago blues legend

"Dangerous" Dan Toler (September 23, 1948 - February 25, 2013):  Guitarist for Dickey Betts & Great Southern, the Allman Brothers Band, and the Gregg Allman Band

Alvin Lee (December 19, 1944 - March 6, 2013):  British singer/guitarist, founded blues/rock band Ten Years After

Johnny Billington (1935 - April 1, 2013):  Clarksdale bluesman, creator of the Delta Blues Education Fund

Jimmy Dawkins (October 24, 1936 - April 10, 2013):  Chicago blues guitar icon

George Jackson (March 12, 1945 - April 14, 2013):  Singer/songwriter ("Down Home Blues," "Old Time Rock & Roll," "Annie Mae's Cafe," "Wall to Wall," "Aretha, Sing One For Me")

Artie "Blues Boy" White (April 16, 1937 - April 20, 2013):  Soul/blues singer

Bob Brozman (March 8, 1954 - April 23, 2013):  Amazing guitarist/ethnomusicologist

Sid Selvidge (1943 - May 2, 2013):  Singer/musician/radio producer ("Beale Street Caravan")

Arthneice "Gasman" Jones (July 16, 1946 - May 22, 2013):  Clarksdale blues musician

Piano C. Red (September 14, 1933 - June 3, 2013):  Chicago blues piano player

Bobby "Blue" Bland (January 27, 1930 - June 23, 2013):  Legendary soul/blues singer

Texas Johnny Brown (February 22, 1928 - July 1, 2013):  Houston-based guitarist/singer/songwriter ("Two Steps From The Blues")

T-Model Ford (June 27, 1921 - July 16, 2013):  Mississippi Delta blues singer/guitarist

Bobby Parker (August 31, 1937 - October 31, 2013):  Highly influential blues singer/guitarist

Aaron Moore (February 11, 1918 - November 27, 2013):  Chicago blues piano player

Chick Willis (September 24, 1934 - December 7, 2013):  blues singer/guitarist...."The Stoop Down Man"

Eric "Guitar" Davis (March 19, 1972 - December 19, 2013):  Chicago blues singer/guitarist