Friday, June 27, 2014

New Blues For You: Summer, 2014 Edition (Part 1)

Friday Blues Fix is back up and running this, thanks for your patience.  Over the next few weeks, we will look at several new and upcoming releases that are definitely worth your attention, including four super discs this week.  As always, full reviews of these albums and others can be found in current or future issues of Blues Bytes, so stop by there and check them out when you get a chance.

Andy T & Nick Nixon - Livin' It Up (Delta Groove Records):  This duo struck gold back in early 2013 with their debut release, Drink Drank Drunk, and they don't let up a bit on their sophomore effort.  Andy Talamantez's guitar work is crisp, clean, and concise, and Nick Nixon's robust vocals will make you wonder why you haven't heard of him before the last couple of years.  There are several excellent new songs, mostly written by Nixon, that cover a pretty wide range of blues from Texas to California to Chicago.  Anson Funderburgh produced their first release and he's back for this follow-up, which is appropriate because at times, Talamantez and Nixon make you think of the long, successful collaboration the Texas guitarist had with the late, great Sam Myers.  Hopefully, Andy T and Nick Nixon's partnership will last at least as long.

Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters - Good News (Stony Plain Records):  Guitarist Earl recently won the Best Guitarist award at the BMA's, and if you questioned the voters' decision, you definitely need to listen to his latest release to understand that voters knew their stuff.  For his eighth Stony Plain album, Earl and his band are joined by guest guitarists Zach Zunis and Nicholas Tabarias on a couple of tracks, as Earl moves from jazz to Chicago-styled blues to spiritual-based songs.  Singer Diane Blue, who appeared on Earl's previous release, also contributes some nice vocals on several tunes, but the real star here is, as always, Mr. Ronnie Earl.  Sometimes it's hard for a mostly instrumental album to hold a listener's attention for the duration, but Earl's wonderfully expressive string bending is always a pleasure to listen to, and the Broadcasters always provide great support.

David Michael Miller - Poisons Sipped:  Buffalo, NY resident Miller grew up in the church singing gospel music, but was also enthralled by blues and soul.  He puts those musical roots to good use with his remarkable debut release, which also features the contributions of Chuck and Darick Campbell's lap and pedal steel guitar on several tracks.  Miller doesn't need a lot of assistance though.....his versatile, soul-drenched vocals and guitar work are pretty fine as well, thank you very much.  Blues and soul lovers will want to get their hands on this one, and it's certainly worth finding.

David Vest - Roadhouse Revelation (Cordova Bay Records):  Piano man Vest has been playing professionally since the late 50's, starting with Jerry Woodard & the Esquires (which included several future Muscle Shoals session musicians), moving to Big Joe Turner, and later writing some of Tammy Wynette's first recorded songs, and touring with country star Faron Young.  He also shared frontman duties with the late Paul DeLay in DeLay's last band......pretty good credentials.  Vest's new release is just outstanding with lots of great blues and boogie-woogie piano, with some rock & roll thrown in to boot.  This is the second or third great piano blues release that FBF has heard this year.....a trend that I hope continues indefinitely.

That's just four of the great new releases hitting the racks this summer.  Friday Blues Fix will be back to look at a lot more in the next couple of weeks.  Next week, we sit down for Ten Questions with a young rising star.  Don't miss it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Technical Difficulties

Well, folks......the old computer shut down on me and is now in the shop. This means that new posts on Friday Blues Fix will be on hold until it's back up and running, because my fingers are just too stubby to do much of this typing on my phone.

If you're interested, you can take this down time to scroll down the page and check out our previous posts to see what you might have missed.  Hopefully, we will be back up and running in a few days, so be sure to check back for updates.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Luther Allison - The Soul Fixin' Man

"I didn't realize his potential to become a great artist.  One of the things I did know, though, was that he could sing........(Luther) could deliver a song and really make the lyrics speak.  He had that gorgeous kind of Memphis soul voice.  His voice reminded me of Otis Redding.  Played like Freddy King and had a voice like Otis Redding." - Bruce Iglauer on Luther Allison

The first time I ever heard Luther Allison was on the Atlantic Blues: Chicago album (which was one of four excellent compilations of blues from the legendary label).  Side Two of that collection consisted of live performances from various eras of the Windy City blues from various artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Koko Taylor.  Allison's contribution was from the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues Festival, a scorching cover of Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Somebody To Love."

What blew me away about Allison's performance was his incredibly soulful vocals and his powerful guitar.  He was the first blues man that I had heard that really had the "soul" aspect in his vocals.  What I didn't know at the time (around 1987 or so) was that Allison had been living in France for several years because he was frustrated at his prospects in his home country.  I could understand his frustration at the time because it was next to impossible in the late 80's to find any of his recordings.

Guitar World magazine had featured him in an article about a "Who's Who" of blues guitarists.  From that article, I learned that he had issued several recordings during the late 60's and early 70's, including three with Motown, but I couldn't find any of them.  The Motown trio was long out of print and a lot of his other recordings were done on labels in France or Germany that were pretty hard for me to track down during the old mail-order, allow-six-to-eight-weeks-for-delivery days.

Finally, I was able to find his recording for Blind Pig Records from the 80's, Serious.  By then, I found out that he also packed a rock-edged punch on guitar as well as those great soulful vocals.  This was basically the sound that I had been looking for when I first started listening to the blues.  Soon after I picked up Serious, Delmark issued Love Me Mama, Allison's solo debut from 1969, on cassette (my chosen format at the time), and I snatched it up.  Though it was a bit uneven, and maybe a bit dated in it's sound (it was almost twenty years old when I first heard it), Allison sounded great singing and playing.

As time passed, I began to find out more about this great artist.  Luther Allison was born in Widener, Arkansas on August 17th, 1939, into a family of cotton farmers.  He was the 14th of 15 children.  He first became familiar with the blues from listening to the radio, via B.B. King's show on WDIA.  When he was in his teens, his family moved to Chicago.  Even though he was a talented baseball player and even learned a trade as a shoemaker, he was also teaching himself how to play guitar, focusing on the blues he heard while hanging out in blues clubs and listening.

Allison and his family lived on Chicago's West Side and he was surrounded by blues guitarists....Freddie King, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, and Jimmy Dawkins, who Allison grew up with and in whose band Luther later played bass for a time.   He learned his lessons well, soon backing legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, James Cotton, Elmore James, and others.  Freddie King began working with Allison and the young guitarist soon took King's house band gig after King signed with King Records.

By the mid 60's, he was able to make a few records.  He cut the album, Underground, produced by Bobby Rush.  Allison played in Rush's band in the late 50's and had appeared on one of Rush's first singles.  Allison recorded the album for Rush's Wonderful Records, and sold it from the bandstand at his club dates.  It consisted of several classic blues tunes and shows the influence of guitarists like Magic Sam and the Three Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie).  While Allison was still a work in progress, the potential was there and it's a very good effort.

Around the same time, Allison cut a couple of tracks for the Delmark anthology, Sweet Home Chicago (which was discussed by FBF a few weeks ago), and subsequently recorded the complete album, Love Me Mama for the label.  Combining these two releases with his acclaimed appearances at festivals like the Ann Arbor Blues Festival resulted in people beginning to notice Allison.  His gritty vocals and his rock-influenced guitar (reminding many of Jimi Hendrix at times), gained attention, as well as his marathon live performances, which were so long and so intense that they left audiences as exhausted as the performers upon completion.

In 1972, Allison signed with Motown Records on their Gordy label, one of the few blues artists to ever do so.  He cut three albums for the label between 1972 and 1976.  Two of the three albums, Bad News is Coming and Luther's Blues, rank with his finest releases, as Allison tore through some fine Chicago Blues that showed both a traditional and contemporary feel.  When Allison began to hit his stride in the 90's, this was the sound that his recordings had.  Quite simply, he was years ahead of his time with his vision of the blues.  Unfortunately, no one bought his Motown releases at the time, but he did get more exposure as a result of his tenure with Motown and was able to tour overseas in Japan and, most importantly, Europe.

He recorded Love Me Papa while touring in France in the late 70's and also released several live albums, including a pair recorded in Paris (later combined into one CD, Live In Paris) and two recorded in Peoria, Illinois for the Rumble label.  His music was well-received in Paris and in most of Europe, especially France and Germany, while at the same time, his popularity, and the blues in general, dwindled in his home country.  By the mid 80's, he had settled in France, spending 2/3 of his time in Europe and returning to the States for the occasional blues festival.

During his time in Europe, Allison formed a close friendship with Thomas Ruf, who became his manager and formed the label Ruf Records to help promote his career.  Allison recorded extensively for the German label during the latter part of his life and was able to launch a comeback of sorts in the U.S., when Ruf teamed with Alligator Records to release his Soul Fixin' Man (a playful nod to his early years as a shoemaker) on the Alligator label in the States (as Bad Love on the Ruf pressing in Europe).  Iglauer had worked at Delmark while Allison was with the label and Allison played a big role in Iglauer becoming involved in the blues business.  The two actually had a falling-out when Allison left the label and didn't reconcile until the early 90's.  It was fortuitous for both men, and for blues fans everywhere.

Soul Fixin' Man was the real deal, winning Allison four W.C. Handy Awards in 1994, and it remains Allison's best release in my opinion.  It takes the musical vision started by Allison during his Motown days, mixing blues, soul, R&B, and funk into a perfect concoction.  For his part, Allison seemed to realize that this was his big opportunity and gave his best performance.  You hear that B.B. King influence on the opening track, "Bad Love," some incredible slide guitar (an underrated aspect of his guitar playing) on several tracks, and those fantastic vocals, especially on the nearly a cappella version (accompanied only by Ernest Williamson on organ) of the Guitar Slim classic, "The Things That I Used To Do."

Allison's stint with Alligator resulted in two more marvelous releases, Blue Streak and Reckless.  Each release showed Allison at his best as a performer, but also showed that he was improving significantly as a songwriter as well.  Both of these releases reeled in even more Handy Awards for Allison and he was also able to tour extensively, continuing those nearly-four-hour shows all over the world, blowing music fans' minds with his amazing guitar work, inspired vocals, and relentless energy.  He was finally getting the recognition that he deserved and was beginning to draw a huge number of fans to his shows and heading toward blues superstar status.

In July of 1997, in the middle of a summer tour behind his Reckless album, Allison began to experience dizziness and loss of coordination.  He was diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain and was given four to six weeks to live.

I can remember when I found this out.  It was on the old Blues Access message board.  It was like being hit in the head with a 2 x 4.  From reading the message board, I was not alone.  It was just devastating.  There was absolutely nothing that could be done.  Over the next month, blues fans heard bits and pieces about his condition, how the treatments affected his vision, how he lost the taste for his favorite foods, and finally, how he drifted into a coma, eventually passing away on August 12, 1997.....five days short of his 58th birthday.

Less than a month before, he seemed so vital and full of life.  It was a tragic end to one of the most satisfying comebacks in the blues.

Fortunately, for music fans, there was still plenty of great music to be heard.  Thomas Ruf has released several albums of Luther Allison music, including a reissue of Underground, a CD/DVD (Songs From The Road) of one of Allison's final performances in Canada, plus an interview, just days before his diagnosis, and a DVD of an amazing performance recorded on La Reunion Island (Live In Paradise) recorded in April of 1997.  Alligator released an excellent double CD of some of his best live performances (Live In Chicago).

Motown also reissued a pair of Allison's releases and Evidence Records reissued Love Me Papa around the same time.  In addition, there also continues to be an Allison in the blues world.  Bernard Allison, Luther's son, has developed into one of the blues' finest performers, often covering at least a couple of his dad's tunes in concert (notably "Bad Love") and carrying the blues into the next generation

The blues world lost a giant figure 17 years ago.  He was years ahead of his time when he recorded in the 70's.  People who listen to his Motown sides from the early 70's can see very little difference between those tracks and his later work.  It just took the rest of the world 20 more years to catch on to what he was doing.  However, try as they might to duplicate that sound, no one has ever done it like Luther Allison.  Ironically, the last thing he recorded, just days before his diagnosis, was a cover of the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," as part of a "tribute" album.  Fortunately, Allison did get to savor some of the accolades and respect that he deserved before he left us, and he continues to be recognized as one of the finest blues guitarists of the modern blues era.

"Leave your ego, play the music, love the people." - Luther Allison

Selected Discography (These are just a few of my favorite Luther Allison releases, but I strongly encourage you to check out as many of his recordings as you can).

Bad News Is Coming (Motown/Gordy):  This is my favorite of Allison's earliest recordings.  It just seems like he was hitting on all cylinders here, just brimming with confidence and energy.  If this had been released in the early 90's instead of the early 70's, I think he would have been a star  then and there.  As it was, like his other Motown releases, it was virtually unnoticed and Motown really didn't do much to get the word out either.....their focus was on the hitmakers, of course, so

Love Me Papa (Evidence Records):  This disc features some of Allison's best performances.  It's a bit heavy on cover tunes, but it's a pretty versatile set of tunes that covers a lot of ground.  Plus there's a lot of his slide guitar on here as well.  He recorded this one in France and it's just amazing that he was making music this good and no one in the U.S. was hearing it.

Soul Fixin' Man (Alligator Records):  All of Allison's Alligator albums are great listening, but this one, his first, is just a little bit better to me for the reasons I listed above.  There's not a bad track on the disc....all killer, no filler.  I can just remember being so excited when I saw it in the record store because I knew how great he was, just based on what little bit I had heard previously.  This album pretty much confirmed everything.

Where Have You Been?  Live in Montreux 1974 - 1994 (Ruf Records), Live In Chicago (Alligator Records), Songs From The Road (Ruf Records):  Allison released several great live recordings and you really could include Live In Paris (Ruf Records) in this list as well.  The Montreux set covers the twenty years that he performed at that festival and really shows his development over that time span.  The Alligator set collects his best moments during several Windy City performances (plus a couple from Lincoln, Nebraska for good measure), and the second Ruf set (with accompanying DVD), recorded just a month or so before he died in Montreal, shows that he was a force of nature up until the end.  The marathon Live in Paradise DVD is also worth seeing, too.


Friday, June 6, 2014

More Questions For Who????

A couple of years ago, FBF did a Ten Questions With.......session with......FBF.  A couple of years ago, I had scheduled a Q&A with a musician who had just released a new disc and he requested that we do an audio interview.  Unfortunately, the only thing I hate worse that seeing a picture of me is hearing me talk in my "Gomer Pyle on Helium" voice, so I politely declined.  All of this happened on a Thursday morning, so here I was with nothing lined up for that weekend's post, so desperate times call for desperate measures and, hey, I was available.

This week, I had a great post lined up that I'm pretty sure everyone who reads would have enjoyed, but it just wasn't in the cards.  It's been an extremely busy time at busy that I've been doing some of it at home.  My birthday was on Tuesday, and you know that you can't do anything constructive on your birthday.  I've also got a boatload of reviews to write for the upcoming issue of Blues Bytes (some really great music, by the way, that we have and will later discuss here).  Needless to say, the post didn't get finished, but I promise it will be done in a couple of weeks and I think you will enjoy it.

I tell you all this to let you know that on this week's edition of Friday Blues Fix, we sit down with, um, ourselves again to answer a few questions that you might or might not want to know.  Hopefully, you won't mind and maybe you can even relate to some of what we're talking about.  By the way, if you would like to answer any of these questions yourself in the Comments section below, please feel free.    

If you could see any blues artists of the past perform live, who would it be?

Muddy Waters with Little Walter.....I know Waters had an All-Star team of harmonica players over his long career, but his tenure with Little Walter stands out among an elite pack.  It was almost like they had a telepathic bond.  I can picture them in a recording session at Chess....Waters tearing up some slide guitar and Little Walter just bouncing off the walls with youthful exuberance.  You can almost feel that happening on their early Chess recordings.

Memphis Slim with Matt "Guitar" Murphy.....I wrote at length about this pair several years ago.  Both have done some fantastic work over the years, but I don't think they ever sound better when they're playing together.  I could listen to them all day.....and actually have a few times.

Luther Allison......Allison died just as he was hitting his career stride.  His live shows are legendary for their relentless energy and his boundless enthusiasm.  I'm glad that he did live long enough to enjoy some measure of success and I hate that I never got the opportunity to see him.

What are your top ten favorite blues recordings?

I used to ask this one to whoever I did Ten Questions with, and a few of them declined to answer.  I can understand's pretty hard to limit mine to ten, but here goes.......

Showdown! - Albert Collins, Robert Cray, Johnny Copeland:  One of the first blues records I owned and still one I listen to a lot.

Hoodoo Man Blues - Junior Wells with Buddy Guy:  If you can only have one blues album, this is a nice choice.

Original Soundtrack:  Deep Blues - Various Artists:  I have absolutely no idea why this continues to be out of print.  A wonderful introduction to the Mississippi blues scene of the late 80's/early 90's.  Don't stop with it though.

Live and Burning - Son Seals:  I've heard a lot of live blues recordings, but this one is my all-time favorite.

The Soul of O.V. Wright - O.V. Wright:  I came to the blues from the soul side.  O.V. Wright is the closest link to the blues from the soul side.  This collection of his early sides shows why.

Soul Fixin' Man - Luther Allison:  The album Luther Allison waited nearly all of his life to record....and the one his fans always knew he had in him.

T-Bone Blues - T-Bone Walker:  Should be in every blues fan's collection.

His Best: 1947 - 1955 - Muddy Waters:  Ditto.

I Hear You Knockin'!  The Excello Singles - Lazy Lester:  Worth tracking down if you're able.  Some of the best swamp blues you will ever hear.

Simply The Best - Earl Hooker:  I could sit here and listen to Earl Hooker play slide guitar all day and most of the night.

Check back next week and there will be a few different ones on here, but there are six or seven that will always be on the list.

What other kinds of music do you listen to?

Most of the time, I listen to blues, but I also enjoy jazz, soul, zydeco, gospel, and classic rock from time to time.  Most of these other styles owe a thing or two to the blues, so it's not really a big stretch.

Does your family like the blues as much as you do?

They like other genres more, but they all listen to the blues.  If they ride anywhere with me, they don't have much choice, but they do enjoy it, or at least that's what they tell me.  Usually when I listen to the blues at night, our two cats will come in and listen with me.....okay, they mostly sleep, but I like to think they are listening.

Which of your blog topics are your favorites?

I've always liked to do the Something Old, Something New.....posts.  When I was doing FBF in weekly email format to my friends, that was one of the topics that I used, and it was a great way to introduce new artists to them.  Most blues fans focus on the newer stuff, so it's a good way for them to see where a lot of the music they love came from.  It's one of the most popular FBF topics.

I also like the Ten Questions.  I have met some really nice people involved in the blues business and they have all been very cooperative and patient with me.  It takes a while for me to do these because I hate to waste their time with a lot of goofy questions that they've probably heard a million times.  I try to ask questions that I figure their fans would want to know.  I plan to do more of these in the future, revisiting a few people and introducing you to some talented folks that you really should get to know.

The Mount Bluesmore series is pretty neat, too.  There's so many different ways that you can go with it, so many different subjects you can tackle.  It gets pretty good response from visitors, too.  What's really neat is that there's usually a couple that everyone agrees on, but there's at least one, sometimes two, choices that will always invite some discussion.

If you had a theme song for Friday Blues Fix.....or just for entering a room, what would it be?

Three choices:

1)  "Red's Houseparty," by T-Model Ford and Terry "Harmonica" Bean.

2)  "Coming Home Baby," by The Bo-Keys.

3)  "The Hucklebuck," by Earl Hooker