Friday, August 29, 2014

A Few Items of Note

This week seemed like a good week to catch up on news and a few items that might have slipped through the cracks during the past few weeks.....a few items of note, a couple of reviews, and a little blues news to get you up to date.

Last week, James Kinds passed away after a couple of years of battling health issues.  The Drew, Mississippi native relocated to Chicago at an early age, and was on the fast track to being one of the next "Big Things" in the blues back in the mid 70's, but the stars didn't exactly line up for him and he caught a couple of bad breaks, including an ill-fated venture with Ike Turner during Turner's dark period (Turner allegedly stole a song from Kinds, "Basketball," which later became a hit for rapper Kurtis Blow).

Kinds ended up relocating to Dubuque, Iowa.  Though he still continued to play, he didn't really receive a lot of attention until he made a successful appearance at the 2007 Chicago Blues Festival, which resulted in him catching the notice of Delmark Records, who released his excellent CD, Love You From The Top.  I really enjoyed that release.  It was a mix of soul and Chicago-styled blues.  Kinds' singing was similar to a couple of soulful Chicago blues artists to me.....Magic Sam and Syl Johnson.....and he was a solid guitarist in the West Side tradition.  Kinds' health began to decline a couple of years ago and he had faded from the music scene.  He never really got the recognition that he deserved, but I'm happy that Delmark did give him the opportunity for a larger audience before it was too late.

Marshall Lawrence on Beale Street

I must let you know about this great little internet series, courtesy of musician, and fellow FBF'er, Marshall Lawrence.  It's called Why I Love The Blues and it features Lawrence, who was working as a judge during the IBC's in Memphis earlier this year, asking blues musicians, fans, and movers & shakers why they love the blues?  Here's how he describes it.

In January 2014, I went down to Memphis, Tennessee to be a judge in the International Blues Challenge (IBC) and also to perform a set for the Blind Raccoon showcase. It was my first time down there and I had a blast. The feeling of community and fellowship in the Blues was certainly prevalent throughout the week. I highly recommend that you attend whether you are a Blues lover or not.
One thing that struck me was the enthusiasm for the Blues that exuded from the musicians and from the fans. This gave me an idea, an epiphany of sorts. I wanted to find out where this passion for the Blues comes from. Armed with a video camera I decided to ask them. Initially I thought that maybe only a few people “might” be interested in coming in front of the camera for an interview. Boy was I wrong. The response from the Blues community at the IBC was overwhelming. In just a couple of days, we filmed over 50 interviews and got some interesting perspectives.
Based on these interviews, we created a series of 13 web episodes on “Why I Love The Blues”
They are a lot of fun and you might find yourself saying, "Hey, that's why I love the blues, too."  Each episode runs around three minutes and is certainly worth any discriminating blues fan's time.  Below, you can check out all thirteen episodes below in one sitting.  Go ahead......I can wait a few minutes.  While you're at it, please visit Marshall's website for more info about the series and to check out his own music.  You'll be glad you did.

It looks to be a very good year for FBF favorite Grady Champion in 2014.  The Canton, MS-based blues man kicked off his new DeChamp Records label earlier this year with outstanding releases from Eddie Cotton and JJ Thames, he's is the cover subject of this month's Living Blues (featured with several other up-and-coming harp players), and Bootleg Whiskey, his new release on Malaco Records, will hit stores on September 2nd.   Malaco label head Tommy Couch, Jr. produced the new release and proclaims Champion to be "the next big 'blues guy.'"  I can easily see that happening, based on this new release, which showcases Champion's masterful blend of traditional, contemporary, and soul blues and may be his best release yet.  I've been listening to him since the late 90's Shanachie recordings and all the signs were there even back then.  He's a charismatic performer and there's really nobody else out there right now who sounds like him.  There's really no bad place to start listening to his music, but Bootleg Whiskey is probably the most complete picture of his talents to date, so check it out.

Please remember singer/songwriter/keyboardist David Egan in your prayers as he battles some serious health issues.  Egan was a member of the famous Shreveport band, A-Train, with Buddy Flett and singer Miki Honeycutt, and later was a member of Jo-El Sonnier's band, the Lafayette Cajun band, File', and the all-star Swamp Pop group, Lil' Band 'o Gold.  Over the years, he has developed into one of the best songwriters around, penning tunes for Irma Thomas, Terry Evans, Marcia Ball, Solomon Burke, Joe Cocker, Percy Sledge, John Mayall, and Johnny Adams.  He's also released several excellent albums over the years, including his wonderful self-titled release from last year, which we reviewed here.  While you're sending prayers and well-wishes his way, take the opportunity, if you haven't already, to check out some of his music.  You'll be glad you did.

Today (August 29th) marks the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina pummeling the Gulf Coast, one of the worst storms in history.  I live 150 miles from where it reached land and it was still scary here several hours later.  Since we were without power for a few days, we didn't see how bad the storm actually was until several days later, when we saw the massive damage on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans.

Below is "Katrina," a new song describing the storm, from Generation Blues Experience, an interesting group that includes 14-year-old guitarist Ray Goren, 80-year old-guitarist Jamie Powell, and 70-something singer/harmonica player/Louisiana native Sammy Lee.  We will be discussing this group, and their great new album (Private Angel), more in the coming weeks.

Another sad anniversary this week was the 24th anniversary of the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan on August 27th.  Friday Blues Fix wrote at length about SRV and his impact on the blues and guitar players in general, as well as some of his influences, several years ago.  Most blues fans can remember where they were when they heard of his death and will gladly sit and tell you how much his music impacted their lives.  I can't add very much at all to what was written here four years ago, so just take a few minutes and listen to the man play.

We'll close out this week with another great release.  Singer/songwriter Etta Britt recently released an outstanding collection of songs written by or made popular by Delbert McClinton.  Etta Does Delbert is such a fantastic collection that Mr. McClinton himself asked to be included in the fun, and he sings harmony vocals on several tunes and shares lead vocals with Britt on one track.  Not that she needs a whole lot of help in the vocal department.....she can bring it pretty well on her own and she has some great musical support from husband Bob Britt on guitar, Lynn Williams on drums, Steve Mackey on bass, and Kevin McKendree on keys.  This is a real standout and definitely worth a listen for fans of Delbert McClinton, who will soon become fans of Etta Britt.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #13

Here we are again, revisiting one of FBF's most popular topics.  To recap, for those new to the blog, Something Old represents a blues artist from the Old School of blues.....could be from the 1920's through the 1980's.  Something New represents either a relative newcomer to the blues or a new album that you might enjoy.  Something Borrowed can be either a blues artists covering a song from a different genre (rock, country, jazz, etc....) or an artist from another genre covering a blues song.  Something Blue is an artist who is considered the epitome of the blues.  Everybody on board?  Then, let's get started......

For Something Old, here's Booker T. Washington White, a.k.a. Bukka White, who was an influence on his young cousin, B.B. King.  White was born in 1909 and learned to play guitar at the age of nine from his father, who worked on the railroad for a living.  A meeting with Charley Patton sealed the deal for White on being a musician, and he spent much of his early years riding the rails from the Delta to St. Louis, and playing parties and joints for tips.  He also played baseball, spending some time in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Black Cats, and also took up boxing as a professional.  In 1930, he recorded several songs in Memphis, both blues and gospel, under the name Washington White.  

In 1937, White shot a would-be assailant and ended up spending three years at Mississippi's notorious Parchman Farm.  Prior to his incarceration, he recorded two songs for Lester Melrose on the Vocalion label, one of which, "Shake 'Em On Down," became a hit while he was in prison.  Upon his release, he recorded twelve additional songs for Vocalion.  This songs are regarded as some of the most powerful blues ever recorded, with White ruminating on prison, isolation, loneliness, and misfortune.  Many of these songs were covered by other artists like Big Bill Broonzy, Bob Dylan, John Mayall, etc.....down the road, but White virtually disappeared soon after these tracks were recorded, serving in the Navy, then settling in Memphis, working in a factory.  Though he was thought to be dead by many new fans who had found his music, he was rediscovered in the 1960's by a pair of fans who, based on his song, "Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues," sent a message to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi."  White had a relative who worked in the post office and got the letter to him in Memphis.

White's later recordings didn't approach the power and majesty of his Vocalion work, but they were inspired and effective nevertheless.  He was pretty prolific, recording and playing for many years until his death in 1977, his slide guitar and robust vocals virtually intact from his early years.  Check out White's first hit, "Shake 'Em On Down," and be sure to listen to some of his other tunes when you get a chance.

For Something New, here's a taste of Eddie Cotton's most recent CD, Here I Come.  The title track features some mighty fine guitar work and Cotton's vocals, which bring to mind 70's Memphis-styled soul.  Here I Come is one of two new releases on Grady Champion's new DeChamp Records (the other being JJ Thames' debut, which we discussed at FBF with her a few weeks back).  Why Cotton isn't a bigger deal in the blues world is a mystery because he certainly possesses the total package as an entertainer......great singer, guitarist and songwriter.  Hopefully, that mystery will be solved once and for all if more fans get their hands on this disc.  It's a great mix of blues, soul, and funk.

For Something Borrowed, let's check out Johnny Winter's fiery cover of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," from Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival a few years ago in 2007, with backing from Derek Trucks and his band.   Although the song is Dylan's, I think that Winter made this song his own over the years and this performance is pretty impressive.  You can see the band members shaking their head and smiling in amazement and wonder at some of Winter's guitar fireworks on this version.  The guitarist had been battling some health problems before this performance, but you never would have guessed it by watching him play.......just a jaw-dropping performance from one of the all-time greats.....eight solid minutes of guitar heaven.

For Something Blue, let's check out Mel Brown.  Mel Brown backed some legendary blues stars over the years, including a lengthy stint with Bobby "Blue" Bland, Johnny Otis, Sonny Boy Williamson, Etta James, and Albert Collins.  He released a series of albums in the late 60's/early 70's that perfectly melded blues, funk, and jazz and are considered collector's items today.  He served for several years in the 80's as a member of Antone's house band in Austin, and even learned to play piano in the process.  He eventually relocated to Canada, where he enjoyed a late career boost with some fine recordings for Electro-Fi Records.  My favorite of his "comeback" releases was Neck Bones & Caviar, which has some really nice moments, one being Brown's cover of Muddy Waters' "Woman Wanted."  Brown, who passed away in 2009 at age 69, played a lot of different styles over his career, but his sound was always rooted in the blues.  Check out some of his consistently strong catalog, along with some of his recordings with Bland and others, when you get a chance and prepare to be impressed.

Friday, August 15, 2014

New Blues For You - Summer, 2014 Edition (Part 3)

This week, Friday Blues Fix takes a final look at some of the summer's hottest releases.  This week's selections cover a wide range of blues styles, from traditional to blues-rock to jazzy to a definitely modern take on the blues.  If you're a blues fan, there's bound to be something below that you'll want to hear.  As always, extended reviews of these discs can be found in current and upcoming issues of Blues Bytes, THE online magazine of blues CD reviews.

Sugar Blue and DMC - "Next Level" - To me, it makes sense that rap and hip-hop owe a huge debt to the blues.  The lyrical content in rap and hip-hop is basically the same as the blues, though the topics and musical content have been updated and magnified at times.  The subject was even part of the PBS documentary mini-series, The Blues - A Musical Journey, from several years back.  Although not all listeners may agree with the theory, it's hard to argue against it when you hear this recently-released single, which teams the inimitable Sugar Blue with hip-hop legend Darryl "DMC" McDaniels (of Run-DMC fame).  With oversight from star producer Sonix the Mad Scientist, "Next Level" begins with Sugar Blue's harmonica (based on the "Hoochie Coochie Man" riff) and vocals and quickly segues into DMC's rap and moves back and forth between the two from that point, backed by Sonix's propulsive rhythms and beats and Sugar Blue's fierce harmonica blowing.  I can tell you that you've probably never heard the blues played quite like this, but it is surprisingly successful and effective.  This is part of an upcoming EP release from Sugar Blue (that's his harmonica on the Rolling Stones 70's smash, "Miss You") and I certainly want to hear more where this came from.  This is definitely the blues taken to the "Next Level."

Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson - For Pops:  A Tribute to Muddy Waters (Severn Records):  So apparently, after Severn released Morganfield's last CD (Son of the Seventh Son) and the Fabulous Thunderbird's Severn debut (On The Verge) around the same period of time, label head David Earl was bombarded with emails and phone calls requesting that Morganfield and T-Birds frontman Wilson come together for a recording.  Once the two were brought together, it was decided that a tribute to Morganfield's father, Muddy Waters, would be a wonderful idea, with the blues legends 100th birthday fast approaching.  Severn then brought together an all-star team of musicians based in the Chicago style (guitarists Billy Flynn and Rusty Zinn, piano man Barrelhouse Chuck), along with their own house rhythm section (bassist Steve Gomes and drummer Robb Stupka).  The result is fourteen tunes of pure old school Chicago Blues magic.  It's uncanny how much Morganfield sounds like his father on these tracks.....not just the voice, but also the delivery.....and Wilson's harmonica work is equally impressive.  All of the tracks are from the Waters catalog, either written or performed by him, and a mix of the familiar and less familiar.  I'm sure there will be more than a handful of Muddy Waters tribute releases, documentaries, DVDs, etc....that will be released over the next year, but it's going to be hard for anybody to top this one.  If you like Windy City blues the way they used to play them, you should be seeking this one out on August 19th.

Dexter Allen - Bluez Of My Soul (Deep Rush Records):  Mississippi-born Allen has been playing music since he was in his daddy's gospel band at age 12.  He enjoyed a three-year stint with Bobby Rush's band and lead guitarist, but has fronted his own band for several years now, winning a big following in Mississippi (winning Male Vocalist of the Year at the 2008 Jackson Music Awards).  This is his third album, first on Rush's record label, and it's a stellar set of urban and soul/blues that his musical mentor would be right at home with.  Allen moves pretty seamlessly from country blues to urban to R&B and funk and even a few tunes that sound like they're out of Bobby Rush's catalog.  The great man himself appears on a couple of these tracks, blowing harp and adding vocals, but the spotlight is on Dexter Allen for this release, as he adds his name to the impressive list of up-and-coming Mississippi bluesmen.

The Alastair Greene Band - Trouble At Your Door (Eclecto Groove Records):  Guitar/vocalist Greene has backed Alan Parsons since 2010, but he's also led his own band for over fifteen years, backing artists like James Harman, Mitch Kashmar, and Paris Slim.  They've also released five albums of muscular blues/rock with his band over that time period, too.  The latest features this powerhouse trio working through a dozen tracks, eleven originals and a dynamite cover of the late Michael Burks' "Strange Feeling."  Greene is an excellent guitarist and is equally at home with electric, acoustic, and National Steel guitar.  He's also a strong vocalist and songwriter as well.  This is one of the better blues-rock discs I've heard this year.

Rev. KM Williams - Jukin' In The Holy Land - Live in Israel (Nobody's Fault Productions):  I first heard Rev. Williams on the John-Alex Mason tribute, Homeward Bound, where he delivered a stirring version of "Let Jesus Lead You."  It had been a lifelong dream of his to visit the Holy Land, and while he was there, he sat down long enough to do three live performances in front of three enthusiastic audiences.  This CD captures the best of those performances.  Williams plays electric, acoustic, and cigar-box guitars on these ten tracks, and he's backed by a pair of musicians (on harmonica and drums) that he'd never met prior to this trip.  You'd never know it, based on how well they work together.  If you're not familiar with Williams, and you like the real deal blues, raw and visceral, ragged but right, and mixing the Mississippi Delta and Hill Country with Texas country blues, you need to check out this disc.  I plan to investigate further into his catalog when I get a chance.

Davina & the Vagabonds - Sunshine (Roustabout Records):  This Minneapolis-based band plays traditional blues and jazz, but gives it a real modern spin.  Singer/keyboardist Davina Sowers has a distinctive and very soulful voice and is equally talented as a songwriter and on the keys.  Several of the songs are based in New Orleans style, with second-line rhythms, and clarinet and trumpet backing, but there's also a few ventures into pop, blues and even gospel....a splendid version of Patty Griffin's "Heavenly Day" is one of three great covers, the others being the traditional blues, I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water" and Fats Waller's "You Must Be Losing Your Mind."  There's no guitar on the album, but chances are that you will never notice because the band is so good, Sowers vocals are so riveting, and the music is so much fun to experience.  This should be required listening for traditional blues and jazz fans.

Elam McKnight - Made To Fall (Big Black Hand):  On his latest release, McKnight moves beyond his previous releases, which focused on blues or roots or soul music, into a rock and sometimes pop vein.  The singer/guitarist is expanding his musical palate, if you will, and he succeeds in proving that there's much more to his sound.  Most of the disc has a late 60's vibe, with catchy Beatlesque hooks on some tunes, while others songs have a soul/rock edge to them, a la Rare Earth (see below).  There's also a few tracks that veer slightly toward the country spectrum, along with some tight blues rockers.  Of course, the root of all of McKnight's music is the blues, and the blues is never too far from anything he releases. and the same thing applies to Made To Fall.  All this means that while his longtime fans will certainly enjoy this release, it is also recommended to fans of rock, country, and soul, and may bring the Tennessee-based performer's talents around to some new fans as well.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Five Albums You Might Have Missed (V.11)

Once again, it's time for Friday Blues Fix to look at a handful of discs that might have slipped under the cracks upon first release.  If you're like me, you might have missed them at the time because they were released simultaneously with  some other great releases that may have overshadowed them, or maybe they went out of print before you could find them, or maybe you just flat missed out the first time around due to total cluelessness (my usual excuse).  Regardless of the reason, this is your golden opportunity to make up for lost time and track down these great albums.....a mix of the urban and contemporary blues, blues-rock, soul, and one format or another.  You can thank me later.

The Holmes Brothers - Jubilation (Real World Records):  When this was released in 1992, the Holmes Brothers had only been recording for a couple of years and were still pretty new to most blues and roots fans.  Their initial releases on Rounder Records mixed equal doses of blues, soul, R&B, country, and gospel...sort of like they do today.  When I first heard them, they reminded me a bit of the Chambers Brothers, of "Time Has Come Today" fame, an earlier band following the same musical pattern.  Several things really stood out to me about their sound.....1) the gritty vocals of Sherman Holmes, 2) the positively angelic falsetto of Popsy Dixon, and 3) the amazing pedal steel guitar from Gib Wharton, which gave the brothers' music a totally new twist.

This release was on Peter Gabriel's Third World Records label, which featured a diverse group of artists from all over the world, and it was the Holmes' first complete album of gospel music.  The brothers take on many traditional tunes, such as a rousing version of "Amazing Grace," "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," "I'll Fly Away," and "Oh, How I Love Jesus," but some of the less familiar tunes really stand out, too.  Dixon's amazing vocal range is evident on the traditional "I Had My Chance," and the group harmonies on "All Night, All Day" is captivating.  The group is often backed by an unusual array of instruments, such as soukous and bamboo flute, but Wharton's pedal steel guitar is the real secret weapon here, and the fact that he's not better known in the music world is a real shame.  The Holmes Brothers now have an impressive set of recordings behind them now, but Jubilation is one that sort of slipped in under the radar during their early years and is certainly worth checking out.

Albert King - Talkin' Blues (Thirsty Ear Records):  This set was released in 2003, capturing a late 70's previously unheard live set in Chicago.  There are seven songs on the disc, mostly familiar to Albert King fans ("I'll Play The Blues For You," "Born Under A Bad Sign," "Blues At Sunrise," "As The Years Go Passing By," etc....) and there's plenty of his soulful guitar work and fiery vocals on these tunes, as well as a few other words, the Albert King that we all know and love.  It's a really good, well-recorded performance that is a great addition to any fan's King collection.  The added bonus is the inclusion of an interview that King did with Thirsty Ear label head Peter Gordon.  King discusses his early years, growing up poor, the influence of promoter Bill Graham on his career, and the blues and life in general.   It's just a solid disc all around and one that doesn't get nearly enough attention.....definitely worth it for both the music and the interviews.

Mason Ruffner - Gypsy Blood (CBS):  Ruffner was supposed to be the next big thing in the mid 80's, a guitarist, songwriter, and singer with good looks and talent to burn.  He got his start in Texas, playing with Robert Ealey, and later moved to New Orleans, backing blues artists like Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker, His first release, self-titled, was a hit with critics and mixed blues and rock in a way that was really catching on....remember this was during the time that artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Thorogood, Jeff Healey, were starting to break out.  Ruffner was a great fit with those guys.

While I liked his debut release, his follow-up really blew me away.  It rocks relentlessly.  When I first bought it on cassette in 1987, I almost played it non-stop.  I remember some critics not really liking it because they thought producer Dave Edmunds gave it a too-slick feel, and it is a little slicker, but it doesn't matter when everything is firing just right.  I managed to track this one down a few years ago on CD (still haven't gotten a CD copy of his debut yet), and like 25 years before, I played it almost non-stop.  This is a great listen for blues fans, rock fans, and music fans in general.  Ruffner didn't release another album for ten years, which was always a mystery to me.

Clarence Spady - Nature of the Beast (Evidence Records):  I remember this one receiving a lot of attention in 1996, but didn't pick it up at the time because it was only available on CD, and I was still stubbornly buying cassettes.  Several years after I switched formats, I found it in a used CD bin and snatched it up.  Spady is a Pennsylvania native, who started out playing in R&B bands.  Like other young musicians in the 80's, he battled personal and substance problems, and some of those issues come through in his original songs and his selection of covers, which vary from tracks from a diverse list of performers including Raful Neal ("Change My Way of Living"), Son Seals ("Bad Axe"), Willie Dixon ("Built For Comfort"), Robert Higgenbotham ("Hi-Heel Sneakers"), and jazz man Clifford Brown ("Blues Walk").  Spady himself proves to be a good songwriter and guitarist, and a strong vocalist.  He uses his previous experience in R&B to good effect in his brand of blues, also mixing in some funk elements.

The music business is a funny thing sometimes.  Spady cut this album in the early 90's, and Evidence picked it up and reissued it to wide acclaim.  At the time, he signed a multi-disc deal with the label, but nothing else materialized from this contract.  He didn't release anything else until 2008, when Severn Records issued his second album, which you might have also missed as well (I did).  Regardless, Nature of the Beast is a remarkable debut release from an artist who should be more widely heard.

Bobby Womack - Back to My Roots (Capitol Records):  The late, great Bobby Womack was my bridge between soul and the blues.  There was something extra in his vocal style that made him much more than a soul/R&B artist.  Listening to his recordings over the years, you can almost feel the link between soul, R&B, and the blues, and Womack moved almost effortlessly between those styles, even occasionally tackling country, jazz, and most importantly, gospel.  Womack actually got his performing start in gospel as part of the Womack Brothers, a gospel group consisting of young Bobby and his four brothers.  In the early 60's, the quintet recorded for Sam Cooke's SAR Records.  Eventually, Cooke persuaded the group to record R&B, against the wishes of Womack's father, who dreamed of his sons being a gospel group, and the Womack Brothers became the Valentinos.  Womack later became a session guitarist (that's him on Sly & the Family Stone's "Family Affair"), a songwriter, and solo performer of high regard in the late 60's, eventually landing him in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Womack experienced his up's and down's over his career, battling drug abuse and personal tragedies.  He bounced back multiple times with hits in R&B, jazz (with the Crusaders' Wilton Felder), and even rock & roll (singing back-up on the Rolling Stones' hit, "Harlem Shuffle").  In 1999, he came full circle, recording a complete album of gospel and inspirational music and fulfilling a promise he made to his father, to whom the album is dedicated.  If you're familiar with Womack, you already know that he sings these songs as if his life depends on it......that's the only way that he could sing, and maybe his life did depend on it, in a way.  The  whole album comes off as a labor of love, and it melds all of his musical influences together, heavy on gospel, blues, and soul......the only way he knew how to do it.  I think his dad would have been proud of this release.

Friday, August 1, 2014

New Blues (To Me) - Disc, Page, and Screen

What you see when you Google "Blues Birthday Cakes"
So I had a birthday in June.  Obviously this slipped past most of you, but that's okay.....there's always next year.  As we discussed here last year, one of the best birthday gifts for the blues lover in your family, is a good ol' Amazon gift card.  With Amazon's vast catalog of blues items, CDs, books, DVD's, the huge list of individual sellers who work through Amazon, the sky is the limit on what you are able to find and purchase.  This year, I've been able to find some previously hard-to-get, out-of-print items at very good prices.  Let's take a look at a few of these items that are definitely worth checking out for other blues fans.

For several years, I have been trying to replace some of my albums on CD that I originally purchased on cassette.  A few of them have been pretty hard to replace because they went out of print years ago and used or new copies can run pretty expensive.  Sometimes I buy the occasional mp3, but I'm one of those old-school cats who like to hold product in hand when I buy it (apparently a dying breed).  This year, I was able to track down a couple of long-sought albums that I'd always wanted on CD, a couple of DVDs I happened to find while searching, and a long-sought reference book.  Since I listen to so much blues during the year, I sometimes venture into other genres when shopping for CDs and this year was no exception.

In the 80's, I listened to a lot of reggae music.  Around that time, there were a lot of reggae influences creeping into popular music, and being the inquisitive soul that I am, I decided to delve deeper into the source music.  I liked most of what I heard from artists like Bob Marley (of course), Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, etc.....  Much later, I found out that one of my favorite blues guitarists, Donald Kinsey,backed Bob Marley (and was present during the assassination attempt on Marley) and Peter Tosh prior to forming the Kinsey Report.

Anyway, one of the finest singers in the reggae genre is Toots Hibbert, whose band, Toots and the Maytals, was one of the most successful.  Hibbert's vocals show an obvious affinity for soul music, particularly the brand played in Memphis via Stax and Hi Records.  In the late 80's, Hibbert released Toots in Memphis on Mango Records, and the reggae legend tears through an incredible set of 60's and 70's soul classics from the likes of Al Green, Otis Redding, James Carr, Ann Peebles, Eddie Floyd, and J.J. Malone.  Hibbert does a wonderful job on these songs, and he's assisted by a phenomenal group of musicians representing the best of reggae (killer rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare) and some of Memphis' finest (Teenie Hodges, Eddie Hinton, Jim Dickinson, Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns).  One of Hibbert's biggest hits was "Reggae Got Soul," and this disc proves it once and for all.  Whether you like reggae music or not, this set deserves a spot in your collection...and you may end up being a fan before you're done listening.

Speaking of Hi Records, I also decided to delve into that outstanding label's catalog while I was at it, picking up several "Best of's" that I had wanted to pick up for a while.....from Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles, and the hard-to-find Definitive set of Al Green, which includes several hits released after his initial Greatest Hits set (which only had ten songs), plus his first-ever hit from the mid 60's, and a couple of tracks from his comeback with Blue Note Records in the early 2000's.  I plan to write more about the Hi Records and their blues and soul recordings in a few weeks, so we will revisit this area in more detail soon, but if you've not ever experienced the wonders of Hi Records and the man behind the music, Willie Mitchell, you really should give it a shot.  One music critic called it "a fantastic introduction to recorded sound."

Speaking of Syl Johnson, we've discussed him and his brother, blues guitarist Jimmy Johnson, in a previous FBF post.  While I was listening to Syl Johnson's greatest sides for Hi Records, I decided to go back and check out some of his pre-Hi recordings for Twilight and Twinight Records from the late 60's/early 70's.  These 18 tracks represent some of Johnson's best work and some of his most familiar......"Dresses Too Short," "Different Strokes" (one of the most sampled soul tunes), and "Come On Sock It To Me."  He also handled topical themes, such as "Concrete Reservation" and "Is It Because I'm Black" with ease.  Johnson has had a long career that's spanned both blues and soul.  He's often visited both genres equally on his later releases in the 90's and early 00's with Delmark and Antone's.  This is another great artist who deserves to be heard, and this set, along with his Hi recordings, is a great place to start.

Professor Longhair was one of my early favorite blues artists, and is still one of my favorites (see this earlier FBF post for more info).  This set, Rock 'N' Roll Gumbo, has been one of the hardest for me to replace on CD, as it usually was priced out of my range on Amazon, and has been out of print a long time.  Oddly, the week I found it on Amazon, I found it in a record store in the "Used" bin for nearly the same price I paid......go figure.  I think that this may be my favorite Fess album.....the sound is excellent and he works so well with "Gatemouth" Brown, who plays guitar and fiddle.  From what I remember, Fess had lost everything he had in a house fire a few days earlier, but you'd never know it from his performance.  His repertoire was pretty slim, but what he played can only be imitated, never duplicated.  Every blues fan needs some Professor Longhair in their music collection.

Recently, I noticed that JSP Records had released several DVDs of live performances from some of their label's artists that were filmed by Blues Archive.....a team consisting of BBC documentary film cameraman Paul Reed, TV sound recordist Bob Webber, and University of Oxford sociologist Amanda Palmer, who have been collecting blues interviews and performances.  One of them was from FBF favorite Larry Garner and captures a live performance recorded in Oxford, England in late 1997.  Although I've been following Garner since the mid 90's, I've never actually seen him perform live, other than the occasional YouTube video.  This DVD gives you the feeling of actually being there.  Everything about it is just great.....the filming, the recording, the production.  It shows Garner running through an eight-song set and carrying on with his audience during and in-between songs.  There's also an interview and soundcheck included.  Like JSP founder John Stedman, I continue to wonder why Larry Garner isn't a bigger deal.  He's the total package as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist and this DVD provides proof positive of his talents.

The other JSP DVD that I picked up was a real surprise for me.  I had no idea that there was footage of U.P. Wilson performing anywhere.  A few years ago, I posted about Wilson and what a revelation he was for me when I first heard him in the late 90's.  All of his JSP recordings are worth having, but I had always heard how mesmerizing he was as a performer, not just with his guitar work, but with his showmanship and rapport with his audiences.  Wilson's set was filmed at London's 100 Club in the spring of 1998, and he is in great form, working through a set list that features several strong instrumentals and even one track with Wilson playing his patented one-handed guitar.  Like the Larry Garner DVD, this one is impeccably filmed and the sound is wonderful.  There's also an interview and soundcheck included as bonus tracks.  This is a real treat for fans of Wilson's recordings who never got to see him perform live.

One documentary that I had wanted for a long time was Deep Blues.  It was not in print for very long upon it's initial release, or at least it was hard to find in my neck of the woods.  A friend of mine made me a copy several years ago on a VHS tape and I was able to watch it a couple of times, but have wanted it on DVD for a while now.  I finally picked it up last month.  I've posted at FBF about the documentary soundtrack and the book on which the movie was based, but I haven't said much about the movie itself.  It's a look at the current (in the early 90's) Mississippi blues scene and features interviews and performances from R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Big Jack Johnson, Frank Frost, Booba Barnes, Jack Owens, and several others.  Deep Blues author Robert Palmer serves as a sort of master of ceremonies, taking us from the Mississippi Hill Country to Memphis to the Mississippi Delta to Bentonia.  Musician Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, who was a driving force in getting the film made, also appears during the early part of the movie, playing with Burnside in a somewhat awkward sequence.  There's also some nice footage of Lonnie Pitchford playing a diddley bow, a mesmerizing performance from Kimbrough, and Palmer's interviews with the artists are interesting.  Deep Blues should be required viewing for all blues fans.

For years, I had been searching for The Listener's Guide To The Blues, by Peter Guralnick.  I first read about it in the 1990 blues issue of Guitar World magazine in their list of essential items for blues fans.  At the time I read about it, it had been out of print for several years and in those days, it was nearly impossible to find.  Thanks to the internet, it has been easier for several years to find a copy, but they were pretty expensive and not in ideal condition.  I finally got my hands on a copy (sadly, no dust jacket as pictured, but otherwise in excellent shape), and I can see what all the fuss was about.  Guralnick breaks it down into fifteen chapters, ranging from ideal sets for new fans to country blues to modern blues of all kinds from urban to Texas to Delta to Chicago and everything in between (oddly, no section on piano blues though).  He does short biographies on key artists for each brand of blues and also gives a list of recordings for interested fans.  Of course, since the book is over thirty years old, a lot of the recordings are either out of print, or maybe available as a different title from a different record label, but it's still indispensable for blues fans as a source of information about some of the pioneers of the blues.  It would be great if one day, Mr. Guralnick would have an opportunity to update this book for the many new fans who have come on board over the past thirty years.