Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas Baby

If you're like us here at FBF, you'll soon be waking up to the sights, smells, and sounds of Christmas, with kids or grand kids, nieces or nephews opening presents, relaxing and enjoying time with family and relatives, and eating as much food as humanly possible while praying that you still fit into your clothes when you go back to work in a few days.  What better way to get into the spirit than to hear some good old Christmas blues from some of your favorite artists.  Remember, even though it's a holiday of celebration, folks even get the blues during Christmas time.  Here we go.........

First up is John Lee Hooker and his ragged and raw "Blues For Christmas."  Hooker recorded this track for Chess in the early 50's, during his first brief stay with the label.  Hooker bounced around quite a bit, returning to Chess during the 60's, after several other stops in between.

Next, you have the great B.B. King, with "Christmas Celebration," from 1962.  We lost the great man earlier this year, but his music will live on forever, thank goodness.

Houston has had a whole bunch of great ladies sing the blues, and Ms. Trudy Lynn is one of the finest.  One of my Houston-area buddies turned me on to her music and I'm certainly glad he did.  If you're not familiar with her, you need to check out some of her music.  Hopefully, FBF will do so in the near future.  Meanwhile, check out "Christmas Time Comes But Once A Year," a tune she recorded during her stint with the late and much missed Ichiban Records.

Here's one of my favorite Christmas blues tunes, Sonny Boy Williamson's "Santa Claus."  Sometimes, when you listen to his recordings for Chess, it sounds almost like he was making the lyrics up on the spot.  I don't know if that's the case here, but I wouldn't be surprised a bit.  I just think it's cool that he was able to rhyme "Santa Claus" with "Dresser Drawers."

Another favorite is Eddie C. Campbell's "Santa's Messin' With The Kid," a holiday reworking of the Junior Wells' classic tune.  Campbell suffered a stroke and heart attack while he was touring in Germany in February of 2013, and his wife organized a fund raiser to help pay for him to fly back to the states for treatment.  Nearly two years later, this past January, he was able to play again at East Gate Cafe in Oak Park, IL.  He's still recovering and hopefully he will be hearing more from him soon.


We know that Santa's primary focus year round is to give, give, give to others.  It only makes sense that every once in a while, as Albert King states below, "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'," a funky tune he recorded for Stax in the early 70's.

Of course, you can't talk about Christmas blues songs without bringing up the great Charles Brown, who recorded two of the best ever Christmas blues songs......."Please Come Home For Christmas" and "Merry Christmas Baby."   Brown originally intended to be a Chemistry teacher, graduating from Prairie View A&M in the early 40's with a degree in Chemistry, and later worked as an apprentice electrician before settling in Los Angeles in the late 40's, as part of the Three Blazers.  Brown influenced a number of blues and soul piano men, notably Ray Charles, who started out very much in a Charles Brown vein before he went on to invent Soul music. Brown continued to work, but thanks to the efforts of Bonnie Raitt, he enjoyed a nice comeback in the early 90's, before passing away in 1999.  Here are Brown's two beloved classic Christmas blues.

Friday Blues Fix wishes all of its readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  We will return next week with our Top 20 releases of 2015, so be sure and come back for that next Friday.  For now, we'll sign off with one more tune......Charlie Musselwhite's splendid version of "Silent Night."

Friday, December 18, 2015

Roots of Rock II

When I was in my late teens and starting to really get into music in a big way, I began to read about many of my favorite artists of the time.  One of the interesting things about most of their stories was how much of their music was influenced by the blues or by R&B music that they listened to while growing up.  Artists like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, etc.....were not only influenced by the blues and R&B, but they faithfully covered tunes by their influences and even gave them some recognition (which actually benefited many of those influences who were still alive).

Way back in April of 2011, Friday Blues Fix took a look at three longtime rock favorites that had their origins in the blues......Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues" (featuring the original with covers from Taj Mahal and the Allman Brothers), Sonny Boy Williamson's "One Way Out" (covered by the Allmans) and Lead Belly's "Black Betty" (covered by Ram Jam).  It's past time to revisit this topic, so let's look at three more classic rock tunes that have their roots in the blues.

Clapton's Just One Night album

One of my favorite Otis Rush tunes is "Double Trouble," but the first time I ever heard the song was on Eric Clapton's 1980 live album, Just One Night.  Clapton's version was a dynamite 8-plus minute reading that featured some of his best guitar work (backed by fellow guitarist Albert Lee, who pushed Clapton to new heights for several years as part of his band) and a pretty fiery vocal to boot.  It was one of the better moments in an otherwise inconsistent album, and I played it frequently.  It's pretty obvious that Clapton was a fan of, and strongly influenced by, Rush in the way he approaches this song.  I didn't find out who Otis Rush was (or that he was born just twenty minutes or so from where I live) until a few years later, when I happened to find a couple of his songs on an Atlantic Records blues compilation.

Otis Rush

However, when I heard Rush perform this song a few years later, as part of the Antone's 10th Anniversary Anthology series, my sock were promptly blown off.  Though Rush's version on this disc was only about half the length of Clapton's version, the energy and sheer intensity of Rush's performance is just incredible.  I've heard several different versions of "Double Trouble" from both artists over the years, but these are still the best two to my ears, with Rush's Antone's version ranking as the undisputed champ.

Rush initially released "Double Trouble" as a single on Cobra Records in 1958, backed by Willie Dixon on bass (who also produced), Ike Turner (guitar, the distinctive vibrato parts), Little Brother Montgomery (piano), and others.  It also inspired versions by Paul Butterfield and John Mayall in later years in addition to Clapton's.  As you might have surmised, the song also inspired the name for Stevie Ray Vaughan's band.

Led  Zeppelin

Next up is "When The Levee Breaks."  Most people associate this song with Led Zeppelin because it was one of many standout tracks on their epic fourth album (commonly called Led Zeppelin IV). This album basically set the stage for hard rock to this day.  The band's version of this blues classic really served as a foreshadowing of future blues-rock ensembles like the North Mississippi Allstars, the droning, hypnotic guitar, the ghostly harmonica, the hard-driving percussion, the sweaty swampy atmosphere.  For many Led Zeppelin fans, "When The Levee Breaks" is as defining a moment for the band, and their fourth album, as "Stairway To Heaven."

Kansas City Joe and Memphis Minnie

The original version of "When The Levee Breaks" was written by Kansas Joe McCoy and his wife/musical partner Memphis Minnie (Lizzie Douglas).  It was written about the terrible 1927 flood that damaged a huge part of the Mississippi Delta and surrounding areas and caused the migration of many of the Delta's residents, mostly African American to the midwest (Chicago, St. Louis, etc..).  Many of the residents of Greenville, MS were forced to evacuate to one of the few levees that was relatively unscathed, in fear that this levee, too, would be compromised and further damage cause.  That was the basic theme of the song, and many others from other blues artists of the time.  The song was originally released in 1929, on Columbia Records.

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page made changes to the song structure on the band's version, modernizing it for public consumption, and taking advantage of their monster drummer John Bonham, who played the drums at the bottom of a stairwell, which gave them their distinctive sound, and singer Robert Plant's haunting harmonica backing.  The band kept most of the original lyrics, however, even giving her co-composer credit on the track.

The Animals

Back in 2005, a powerful video circulated on the internet that showed pictures of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.  Picture after picture of damage and desolation were accompanied by the haunting "House of the Rising Sun," which was a huge hit for the British rock group the Animals in 1964 (#1 in the U.S. and U.K.).  The song enjoyed a bit of a resurgence after Katrina and several oldie stations (at least those in my area) began playing it regularly.  The song itself, at least the Animals' version, deals with someone who has fallen upon hard  times in New Orleans, and Eric Burdon's distinctive vocals and the pulsating keyboards from Alan Price are what make the song really stand out, even now...over 50 years later.

Josh White

This song's origins are a bit harder to track, because it actually has, in part, been traced to a 16th Century English folk ballad called "The Unfortunate Rake."  The "Rising Sun" was referred to as a house of ill repute in a couple of traditional English songs and eventually made its way into the song.  The setting of the song was moved from England to New Orleans at some point, probably by American performers.  It was recorded many times, the first known was in 1933.  Roy Acuff recorded it in 1938, Alan Lomax recorded several people singing it during his Library of Congress musical expeditions, and Woody Guthrie recorded in 1941.  Josh White recorded it a couple of times, changing some of the lyrics along the way and this updated version was recorded by a variety of singers, including Glenn Yarbrough, The Weavers, Pete Seeger, Andy Griffith(!), Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, and the Chambers Brothers.  Lead Belly also recorded it a couple of times, 1944 and 1948.  Here's one of his versions, along with readings from Acuff, White, and Dylan.  

Hope you've enjoyed this look at the roots of rock.  We will revisit this topic again soon.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Boogie Chillen!!!

Sometimes I receive inspiration for posts in the most unusual places.  A few weeks ago, I drove down to south Mississippi to attend a community college football game (my oldest daughter plays on the drum line in the local college band).  During the second half of the ballgames, the bands usually stretch out and play a lot of different tunes they've learned during the school year.  With about ten minutes to go in the game, the opposing team's band launches into, of all tunes, "Boom Boom," by John Lee Hooker!!

John Lee Hooker was the first authentic old school blues man I saw perform live.  Back in 1987, I went with my friend Scotty to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for the first time.  We went to a midnight performance on the Riverboat President by the Fabulous Thunderbirds & Friends......a line-up which included Katie Webster, Duke Robillard, Lazy Lester, Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Rockin' Sidney, and the Roomful of Blues Horns.  What I didn't know prior to arriving (the trip was sort of last-minute) was that John Lee Hooker was going to be opening the show.

Now, I had seen Hooker on TV and in the movies.  He was part of the Blues Brothers movie, of course, and I had seen him on a few concerts that aired on Public Television over the years, so I kind of knew what to expect.  He came out onstage, I think he was probably close to 70 at the time, and he looked his age as he ambled to his stool at center stage.  I think he was carrying his guitar with him, but he was dressed sharp in a suit and matching hat.  He mumbled a few words into the mic, which I was unable to hear because everyone around me was still talking and continued to talk after he started playing (one of my FAVORITE things about attending a concert).

About three songs in, he launched into "Boom Boom," which was one song that everyone there was familiar with, so everybody began to stop chattering and started listening.  By the time he finished playing about thirty minutes later, the room was pretty much quiet and focused on him.  He played 12-15 songs and talked between several of the songs.....mostly asides regarding the boat like, "Whoa, is this boat movin'?"  Then, he stood up, took a bow, and ambled off stage just like he ambled onstage.  

Not long after this appearance, maybe a couple of years, Hooker was in the spotlight again with his album, The Healer, for which he won a Grammy.  That album was loaded with guest musicians, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, Los Lobos, and Johnnie Johnson, and earned Hooker a lot of attention.  I picked up this album a few weeks after it was released, and at the same time, I found a collection of hits and rarities that the label released about the same time as The Healer.  It was called The Hook:  20 Years of Hits & Hot Boogie, and collected several of his major hits and mixed in a few seldom-heard tunes as well.  I have to say that, at the time, I preferred The Hook to The Healer.  With The Hook, you got the essence of John Lee Hooker's style.  With The Healer, you got what sounded like Hooker accompanying others.  There were some good songs on The Healer, but even a novice like me understood what was up.

So even though The Healer wasn't John Lee Hooker at his best, it nevertheless served its purpose by introducing him not only to a lot of new blues fans, but also to music fans in general.  Hooker's profile increased considerably, especially on TV with commercials and in magazine ads.  He also continued to record throughout the 90's, releasing a new album every couple of years until he passed away in 2001.

For a listener who's getting into Hooker for the first time, the sheer volume of his catalog can be was for me.  I wasn't sure where to get started initially, once I heard the first couple.  However, the great thing about listening to John Lee Hooker is that it really doesn't matter where you get the beginning going forward, near the end going backward, or in the middle going in either direction.  He maintained a pretty amazing consistency throughout his career, whether he recorded as John Lee Hooker, John Lee Booker, Texas Slim, Little Pork Chops, Johnny Williams, the Boogie Man, Johnny Lee, Delta John, or Birmingham Sam & His Magic Guitar.

Hooker recorded for multiple labels under those different names, but he started out with Modern Records under his own name, where he first recorded "Boogie Chllen" in 1948.  His dark and moody vocal, accompanied by only his guitar and his foot keeping time, was unlike anything that was being recorded at the time for the R&B charts.  Soon, the song was perched at the top of the charts, followed by several other hits......."Hobo Blues," "Crawling King Snake Blues", and "I'm In The Mood," sometimes using Eddie Kirkland as a second guitarist.

Hooker finally settled in at Vee-Jay Records in 1955.  Vee-Jay added a band to his recordings, not that Hooker hadn't previously recorded with bands (his time-keeping was interesting, to say the least), but his new label had some pretty impressive sidemen to choose from.  Two of them were guitarist Eddie Taylor and harmonica player Jimmy Reed.  The versatile Taylor, who backed Reed on all of his classic Vee-Jay hits, played on several of Hooker's Vee-Jay hits as well ("Dimples," "Baby Lee"), but Hooker enjoyed a long and prosperous stay with the label through 1964, releasing the aforementioned "Boom Boom" in 1960, which actually made the pop charts and spawned several covers from British blues bands the Yardbirds and the Animals.

After Vee-Jay, Hooker was still prolific, recording for several labels during the late 60's (Chess, Verve, Impulse, BluesWay among them), and teaming up with the blues-rock band Canned Heat to release the best seller Hooker 'n' Heat in 1970.  By now, based on the covers of his tunes by British bands and the album with the highly regarded Canned Heat, it was obvious that Hooker was a big influence on many of the up-and-coming rockers.  It's hard to find a rock band during this time period that didn't cover a Hooker song or incorporate his relentless boogie sound into their own.  He was a huge influence on ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons (listen to "La Grange," as fine a musical tribute as you'll ever hear).

The 70's found Hooker more or less hitting a wall.  Though his output during the decade was consistent, it wasn't quite as, um, magical as his Vee-Jay days, though he did have some peaks to go along with the valleys, though his minimalist approach was often compromised by more rock-oriented arrangements at times.  The appearance in The Blues Brothers movie in 1980, did bring him some much deserved attention, but it wasn't until he connected with guitarist Roy Rogers, who helped him record The Healer (and served as producer) that Hooker began his real upward climb.

In his last few years, Hooker enjoyed a nice level of prosperity that often eluded blues men.  He owned several house, and received a lot attention for his appearances in TV commercials, and released several popular albums during the 90's.  I didn't listen as much to these as I did to his older fare because, as stated above, Hooker was sometimes overwhelmed by the guest stars.  You can't blame him, though......these records sold very well and the recognizable guest list was definitely a factor in that.

Though Hooker has been gone for fourteen years, passing away in June of 2001, he remains a major influence on not only blues guitarists, but even rock and country guitarists.  Whenever anybody plays that hard-driving endless boogie riff, it's hard not to think of John Lee Hooker doing the same thing during his 50-plus year career.

A few suggested John Lee Hooker albums (for those just getting started):  This are some of the discs in my collection and I think they provide a pretty good starting point for new fans, covering a wide range of his career.....a couple of compilations and one of my favorite albums.  Others may have their own favorites, but these are mine.

The Legendary Modern Recordings 1948-1954 (Ace Records):  This is a nice collection of Hooker's early recordings....24 of his best-known songs.  He recorded a lot of these tunes multiple times, but these are the first versions and the deepest and rawest blues he ever made.......just him, his guitar, and his stomping foot for percussion.  This is a nice place to start, but I would recommend maybe starting with his newer material and backing up.  This is pretty raw and intense.

The Hook - 20 Years of Hits (Capitol):  This set collects some of Hooker's best work for Vee-Jay, plus a few rarities.  I would probably start with this one.  These are some of his most familiar tunes, the way they're most often heard.  You could probably find a better collection of his Vee-Jay hits, but this is the one I found and it works fine for me.

The Definitive Collection (Hip-O):  This is a pretty solid overlook of Hooker's career, going from his Modern recordings all the way through The Healer and mixing in some tunes from Vee-Jay and Bluesway and a few surprises.  It's about as comprehensive as you'll get on a single disc. It really shows that Hooker's sound did change over the years, but really the primal nature and raw urgency of his blues remained undiminished over his 50+ year career.  For those who want a more comprehensive set than this, check out Rhino's two-disc Ultimate Collection.

Sittin' Here Thinkin' (32 Jazz):  Late 50's recordings with not much information, although it sounds like Eddie Kirkland on second guitar.  This is a pretty laid-back, easygoing set.  I really enjoy putting this one on when I'm unwinding.  Most of the songs are slow-paced, with a very hypnotic feel and really take their time developing.  Again, there are probably better sets that Hooker has done over the years, but I find myself listening to this one an awful lot.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Too Many Irons in the Fire

It happens every once in a while to everybody:  you get too many things going on at one time and so something has to be set to the side for a bit.  Well, that's what is happening this week at FBF.  Your humble correspondent is burning the candle at both ends.....getting ready for the holidays, doing some unexpected traveling, trying to do end-of-the-year stuff at work, and catching up with the stack of CDs that need to be reviewed for the upcoming December issue of Blues Bytes.....all while battling a nasty cold.  Therefore, Friday Blues Fix is taking the week off.  

Sorry to disappoint our regular visitors, but while you here we invite you to check out some of our earlier posts to see what you might have missed.  There will be something new of interest for you when we return next week.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Five Albums You Might Have Missed (V. 14)

As we all recover from our Thanksgiving eating binges, it's time once again for Friday Blues Fix's look at five discs that might have slipped through the cracks upon first release.  If you're like me, you might have missed them because you weren't listening to the blues at the time, they might have been overshadowed by other new releases, they might have been hard to track down, 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, which is how it usually works for me.  Don't look now, but this is your golden opportunity to make up for lost time and track down these great albums.  Some of them may be out of print, but they can be found pretty easily online at eBay or Amazon.  You can thank me later.

Buddy Guy - Live at The Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1979 (JSP Records):  This may have slipped through the cracks for some because it was recorded and released by a U.K. label during a low point for the blues.  It was recorded at Guy's own club, The Checkerboard, which was located on Chicago's South Side, so Guy was pretty much in his ideal environment, playing for his friends and neighbors, backed by his own band, which included his brother Phil on guitar, Ray Allison on drums, and J.W. Williams on bass, among others.  Guy is in really good form here, with the sizzling guitar work and passionate vocals that we would expect from him and very little of the rock-edged shredding that we're also accustomed to hearing from him in recent times.  This is just the blues, pure and simple, or as pure and simple as Buddy Guy can play them.  You can hear the crowd and assorted racket during the tunes, even a few people who you really want to tell to shut up during the songs.  That just adds to the atmosphere and gives you the feeling that you are there.  If you're a Guy fan and you've missed this one, you'll want to check it out.

Mel Brown and the Homewreckers - Blues - A Beautiful Thing (Electro-Fi Records):  Guitarist Mel Brown played with just about everybody who was anybody in the blues during his long career, including Sonny Boy Williamson II, Etta James, Lou Rawls, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, and a lengthy stint with Bobby Bland in the 60's and 70's.  He recorded a few albums in the 60's, but was largely absent from the studio until the late 90's, when he was signed to Electro-Fi and released several excellent albums over the next ten years until his death in 2009 at age 69.  In 2006, he recorded this underrated effort, on which he wrote nine of the twelve tracks, mixing four tasty instrumentals in that verify his standing among the great elite modern blues guitarists.  Brown was also a keyboardist of note, and he plays on several of the tracks.  While Brown was a capable vocalist, the real star of his albums was his guitar and that's the case here as well.  Tasteful restraint is the best way to describe Brown's guitar work and this album will be pleasing to any blues guitar fan.

Wilson Pickett - It's Harder Now (Bullseye Blues):  If you're over forty-five and listened to popular music at all, you know who Wilson Pickett was.  Anyone younger than that has heard at least one of his songs in some musical setting.  To me, Pickett was the closest thing to blues that there was in the soul music world.  He was a force of nature in the world of southern soul with his fiery vocal style and his multiple hits, which included "In The Midnight Hour," "Mustang Sally," "Funky Broadway," and many others.  He faded from the recording scene for a lengthy period, along with many other soul singers in the 70's.  He resurfaced in 1999 with this excellent release.  One thing that most listeners notice when they plug this one into their stereo is how little his vocals diminished over time.  He could still shriek and growl and hit those notes as if it was 40 years earlier.  At the time this album was released, most soul records were heavy on synthesizers and drum machines, but It's Harder Now was different and ranks pretty high in The Wicked Pickett's musical catalog. 

Vance Kelly - Hands Off! (Wolf Records):  I'm not really sure what the deal is with Vance Kelly.  He's been on the Chicago scene since the late 60's/early 70's, working with A.C. Reed's Spark Plugs in the 80's and launching his own solo career in the 90's.  He plays rock solid Chicago blues and southern soul with the best of them, with guitar skills to burn and a strong, soulful vocal style.  Despite his obvious talent, he has never recorded an album for an American-based record label, recording eight albums for the Austrian-based Wolf Records.  All of his recordings are excellent, mixing some classic blues and soul covers with some highly original songwriting, but Hands Off! is my favorite because it was my first exposure to this deserving artist.  He takes several old blues war horses and breathes new life into them.  His own songs rest pretty comfortably in the soul/blues vein on this particular release, and I can't understand why he hasn't garnered more attention by a domestic label.  Oh well, it's their loss, but you shouldn't have to suffer from their neglect, so be sure and check out Vance Kelly.  This is a good place to least it was for me.

Eddie Shaw - In the Land of the Crossroads (Rooster Blues):  Shaw is a rarity in the blues....a sax player that leads a blues band.  The former Howlin' Wolf side man has led his own band since the Wolf passed away in 1976 and he also played with Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Freddy King, and Muddy Waters during his long career.  His own band, the Wolf Gang, features his son Eddie Jr., also known as Vaan, on lead guitar.  Shaw has recorded pretty regularly since the late 70's, but this 1992 release on Rooster Blues, recorded in his native Mississippi, stands as his best.  I like a lot of things about this disc.....the songwriting is really unique with songs like "Dunkin' Donut Woman" (one of my all time favorites), "My Friend Rosco," "Wine Head Hole," "Fannie Mae Jones," and the vividly descriptive "Delta Bound."  The younger Shaw is a powerhouse on guitar and provides some nice moments, and his Dad blows the sax like a hurricane and is a strong vocalist to boot.  This one may be a bit hard to find, but you'll be glad you tracked it down.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Talkin' 'Bout Hard Times

Well, as the late, great Gary B.B. Coleman once sang, "Romance without finance is a nuisance."  Truer words were never spoken, and not just with romance-related items.  It's hard to get by without some money in your pocket and it seems like it happens quite a bit for most folks these days.  Today, let's take a listen to a few songs that reflect the state of the pocketbook.

First up, let's visit the soul side of the blues with O.V. Wright's "Nickel and a Nail."  Now I don't care how broke you've ever been, you've probably never been this broke or this heartbroken.  Wright was one of the all-time great soul singers, and we discussed his music here at FBF a few years ago.  He recorded in Houston for the Peacock label's subsidiary Back Beat and later in Memphis on Hi Records, produced by the legendary Willie Mitchell at both stops.  He scored with a lot of tunes that are frequently covered today by soul and blues artists, including "You're Gonna Make Me Cry" and "I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled, and Crazy," but "Nickel and a Nail" is among his best efforts.

A.C. Reed was a vital part of the Chicago blues scene for nearly 60 years.  Born Aaron Corthen, he took his stage name from his friend, Jimmy Reed, and played and recorded with many of the Windy City's greats......Junior Wells, Son Seals, Earl Hooker, Willie Mabon, Ricky Allen, Buddy Guy, and Albert Collins.  He also released several 45's and albums of his own over the years, fronting a band cleverly named the Spark Plugs.  A lot of his own songs dealt with being broke or fed up with the music business and one of his best was from his appearance on Volume 3 of Alligator Records' essential Living Chicago Blues series.  It's called, naturally, "Hard Times."

In 1990, Alligator Records released Harp Attack, which featured a "Dream Team" of Chicago blues harmonica masters......Junior Wells, James Cotton, Carey Bell, and Billy Branch.  Each were featured on several tracks paired with one or more fellow harp wizards accompanying them.  It was really noteworthy because it was Wells' first recordings in at least ten years.  He was in pretty fine form, like he's never been away and this track was one of my favorites on the album, teaming him with Branch.  Here's "Broke and Hungry" for your listening pleasure.

Here's an old favorite, originally done by Bessie Smith back in the 20's, "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." This smooth blues has been recorded by many over the years, but this version is by Eric Clapton and is taken from his 1992 MTV Unplugged appearance and subsequent album. Clapton has always moved between blues and other styles, but on this session, one of the biggest selling albums of the 90's, he really embraced the blues, covering a variety of blues classics from artists like Big Bill Broonzy ("Hey Hey"), Muddy Waters ("Rollin' and Tumblin'"), a couple from Robert Johnson ("Walkin' Blues" and "Malted Milk"), and this classic. It served as a great intro to the blues for a lot of fans in the early 90's.

Next up, we have Lonnie Shields, from the Mississippi Delta.  Twenty to twenty-five years ago, some believed that Shields was in line to becoming the "next big thing" in the blues, with his mix of soul and blues being looked at as the next phase beyond the "big thing" at the time.......Robert Cray.  A lot of this was based on his early 90's release, Portrait, which was released by Rooster Blues Records.  Shields started out playing R&B and funk, but was encouraged by Sam Carr to take up the blues and soon he was playing with Carr, Frank Frost, and Big Jack Johnson.  Shields has recorded several other albums since, and continues to perform all over the U.S. and Europe, but never really got the big break that was expected, which is a shame because he certainly deserves to be heard.  If you've never checked out Portrait, put it on your "To Hear" list.  In the meantime, check out this poverty-related tune, which is one of the disc's highlights, "Fistful of Dollars."

A lot of blues fans are familiar with Muddy Waters' son, Mud Morganfield, who has released several excellent albums on Severn Records, including an award-winning effort last year with Kim Wilson, but Waters' has another son who plays the blues who made his debut in the late 90's and continues to perform and record today.  Big Bill Morganfield was raised in Florida by his grandmother and had little contact with his dad.  The music bug bit him relatively late.....he earned a degree in English at Tuskegee University and one in Communications from Auburn University, and didn't start playing music until after Waters passed away in 1983.  After taking six years to learn his craft while paying his bills working as a teacher, he won over an audience at Center Stage in Atlanta, which encouraged him to work harder.  He eventually signed with Blind Pig Records and released a couple of acclaimed albums, also winning a Handy Award as Best New Blues Artist.  Morganfield's contribution to our post is called "Dead Ass Broke," from his first album, Rising Son.

Louisiana Red, a.k.a. Iverson Minter, was one of the more creative performers and songwriters in the blues.  He was also very prolific, recording over 50 albums for a multitude of labels, including Chess, Earwig, Severn, Ruf, and Tomato .  He lived a tough life, losing his mother to pneumonia when he was just a week old.  His father was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan when he was five.  One of his biggest tunes was called "Too Poor To Die," released in the mid 60's on the Glover label, and it features his creative and often humorous knack with a blues theme.  Red moved to Germany in the early 80's and built a big following in Europe over the next thirty years, regularly returning to the U.S. to record and perform.  His recordings are all great, and he was still pretty active up until his death in February, 2012.

Let's close on a more positive and upbeat note.  Money isn't everything, but it doesn't hurt to keep a dollar in your pocket, just in case.  Back in 2008, Elvin Bishop released The Blues Rolls On, which featured Bishop with a veritable who's who of blues musicians, including Tommy Castro, John Nemeth, George Thorogood, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, R.C. Carrier, and the Homemade Jamz Blues Band.  One of the coolest tracks was with one of Bishop's idols, B.B. King.  It started out as an interview and led into a wonderful cover of Roy Milton's "Keep a Dollar in Your Pocket."  Sounds like they had a fun time recording it.

That's all for this week, but when you're digging through your pockets or the sofa cushions for loose change this week, just remember that it could always be worse.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Random Blues

This week, we will be rambling around, looking at several different topics.  Let's start off with a couple of Desert Island Discs submissions.  FBF would like to thank Glenn Holley of Murrells Inlet, SC and Daniel Tenero of Westfield, MA for sharing their lists with us, so check them out......

Glenn Holley's Desert Island Discs

The Nighthawks - Jacks and Kings (Genes)
Muddy Waters - Hard Again (Sony)
Johnny Winter - Third Degree (Alligator)
Albert Collins - Ice Pickin' (Alligator)
Hound Dog Taylor - Natural Boogie (Alligator)
Otis Rush - Right Place, Wrong Time (Shout Factory)
Roy Buchanan - You're Not Alone (Rhino/Atlantic)
Mothers of Invention - Weasels Ripped My Flesh (Zappa)
The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet (ABKCO)
Oliver Nelson - The Blues and the Abstract Truth (Verve)

Daniel Tenero's Desert Island Discs

Johnny B. Moore - Rockin' In The Same Old Boat (Delmark)
Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson - Doin' The Sugar Too (Rooster Blues)
James Montgomery Blues Band - Bring It On Home (Conqueroot)
Mighty Sam McClain - Soul Survivor (Audioquest)
Tony Z - Kiss My Blues (Tone-Cool)
Curtis Salgado - More Than You Can Chew (Rhythm Safari Party, Ltd)
Janiva Magness & Jeff Turmes - It Takes One To Know One (Fat Head)
Rick Holmstrom - Hydraulic Groove (Tone-Cool)
John "Juke" Logan - The Chill (Re-Chilled) (Mocombo)
The Paul DeLay Band - Take It From The Turnaround (Evidence)

If you'd like to see your list in print, just send it to me at

The new issue of Blues Bytes should be going live in a few days.  It's a two-monther this time around.  Your humble correspondent submitted nearly 30 reviews, or two months worth, so you can figure that I've been listening to a lot of great new music.  Not only that, but I still have a lot of great music that I will be reviewing for the December issue.  This is one of the reasons why I haven't been doing the New Blues For You posts here at FBF.......I'm usually writing up about four or five CDs a week and just haven't had the time or inclination to double up on reviews.  Don't worry though.....when I get caught up, I will be highlighting more new releases here at Friday Blues Fix.

It's pretty amazing how much great music is being produced these days by blues artists.  Although CDs are my preferred method of taking this music in, I have many friends who get their blues fix in other ways, by downloading music via iTunes or Amazon, etc.....or listening to the multiple online sources like Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Soundcloud, etc....  Whatever your preferred method of listening, there's a lot of great new blues out there and that's a good thing.

While I was working on the Desert Island Discs posts over the last couple of weeks, I pulled out a few of my Living Blues magazines from 1988 and 1989.  I'm a bit of a geek when I look at old magazines or record catalogs (yes, I saved many of the old Down Home Music and Roundup Records catalogs that I used to get in the mail) because they bring back memories of when I was starting out listening to the blues and discovering new artists or old (but new to me) artists.  I learned so much about these musicians reading interviews and album reviews in LB and the catalogs.

Back then, in the days before internet and unlimited access to all sorts of information, Living Blues was the only connection that I had with the music and the artists in my little corner of the world.  It was the only time that I was able to read interviews with the artists I'd just discovered, or see pictures of them in action.  Living Blues used to put out a "Festival Issue" with lots of pictures from the various blues festivals that had gone on during the year.  Right after I subscribed, one of those issues was published.  Not only did it have festival pictures of many of the artists I'd never seen before, there was also a ton of record reviews, a list of that year's Handy Award winners, and a list of ALL the albums that had been reviewed by the magazine over it's history and which issue the review appeared in....something I wish they would do again one day.

Of course, nothing you like is ever more exciting than when you first start doing it, because everything is new and waiting to be discovered.  However, I can truly say that I still get a hop in my step when a new blues artist arrives on the scene that offers something a little bit different, or offers a refreshing new take on traditional sounds.

This week, New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint passed away suddenly after a performance in Madrid, Spain.  The 78 year old pretty much defined the New Orleans R&B sound of the 60's and 70's and was a major influence on R&B and funk in the 70's.  He also wrote many classic tunes that have been covered, and continue to be covered by blues bands all over the world.  Check out just a few of Toussaint's songs and see how many have been recorded by blues artists over the years.  I didn't even realize that he had written several of these until a few years ago.  It's a pretty impressive list.

"A Certain Girl"
"Southern Nights"
"Get Out of My Life, Woman"
"What Do You Want The Girl To Do"
"Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)"
"Working In The Coal Mine"
"On Your Way Down"
"Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley"
"What is Success"
"Fortune Teller"
"Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)"
"Ruler of My Heart"
"Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky"

Toussaint was also a pretty formidable piano player, appearing with Professor Longhair and Tuts Washington in the documentary Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together, which was produced in the late 70's/early 80's.  He had an early hit in 1958 with this dazzling instrumental.

Toussaint had enjoyed a bit of a career resurgence over the past ten years, after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home and studio.  He relocated to New York and began making appearances there.  He also collaborated with Elvis Costello and began performing with him, which inspired him to start doing more concerts.  More recently, he returned to New Orleans and continued to perform and produce other artists.  I've enjoyed reading other musicians' remembrances of him over the past few days.

This week, my brother and I saw JJ Grey & Mofro at the MSU Riley Center.  For those who may not know, Mofro is a band from Jacksonville, FL that plays a combination of blues, Southern rock, soul, and funk.  They've recorded several acclaimed albums, mostly for Alligator Records, over the past 10 - 15 years.  If they should come to your area, I highly recommend that you check them out.  Grey is a versatile singer with a lot of soul and a great guitarist.  The rest of the band is really, really good, too, with a great rhythm section and horns, and the crowd loved it (particularly the enthusiastic group seated in front of us).  Although I had only heard a few of the band's songs prior to the show, I will definitely be checking out more of their music and will be seeing them again if they should return to the Riley Center.

Over the years, I've seen some great music at the Riley Center.  There are always several blues acts that appear.  This year alone, I've seen Grey and Mofro, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and the North Mississippi Allstars and in previous years, I've gotten to see Buddy Guy, Honeyboy Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, Paul Thorn, and Ruthie Foster.  It's a great venue and I can think of several others that I would love to see there in the future.

That's all for this week.  Thanks for rambling with me.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Desert Island Discs - FBF's Top Ten

Believe it or not, this is Friday Blues Fix's 300th post.  Thanks so much to everyone who has stopped by to visit over the past five and a half years.  It's been a lot of fun to write these post and to meet and interact with so many fellow blues fans.  It's nice to know that there are so many others out there who love and appreciate this wonderful music and I hope that I've managed to entertain and inform you about the world of the blues.  There's still a lot of things for us to discuss, so hopefully, you will stick around for the next 300 posts.

Last week, we discussed Desert Island Discs, and I asked if any of you would like to share your own lists of those blues albums that you absolutely positively could not live without.  I've heard back from several folks who intended to send me a list and I've actually gotten one at the address I listed last week (, which we will share in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, see below for FBF's Top Ten Desert Island Discs.

The way I look at the items on this list is........say you're taking a road trip and you want to pick a few CDs to listen to on the way there and back.  The discs on your shelf that you pick up for your trip every time you see them without hesitation are the CDs that you would have with you if you were stranded on a desert island.  These are not in any particular order and it was really tough to keep it to just ten albums.  Of the ten listed, I would say that probably six of them will be in the Top Ten at all times, with a few others rotating in and out.  I'm sure everyone else is the same way, so if you're surprised by the absence of some artists on my list, just keep in mind that they are probably just out of the Top Ten this particular week and could return at any time.  Here we go......

Friday Blues Fix's Top Ten Desert Island Discs

Son Seals - Live and Burning (Alligator Records):  When I picked up this one in the late 80's, it nearly caught my car stereo on fire.  it was one of the first live albums I heard that actually made me feel like I was in the audience.  I enjoyed Seals' banter with the audience (including setting one rowdy patron straight), and his band was first-rate, but whenever he started singing in that rough and ragged voice, or ripping those jagged, piercing notes from his guitar, I was absolutely positively hooked.  I've heard a lot of great live blues albums since then, but this one is the one that I would take with me anywhere I went, including said desert island.

Albert Collins, Robert Cray, Johnny Copeland - Showdown! (Alligator Records):  This was the album that officially set me off on the trail of the blues, way back in 1986.  I'm probably not alone in that department either.  I had never heard any of these great blues men before, but I was convinced after I did hear them that I wanted to hear as much of them and this music as I could.  This one eventually led me to check out other great artists from Alligator like Lonnie Mack, Lonnie Brooks, Son Seals, Jimmy Johnson, and other great labels like Rounder, Delmark, Black Top and Chess.

Various Artists - Deep Blues:  Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Anxious Records):  This is a fantastic set of what could well be called a modern set of field recordings.  Deep Blues author Robert Palmer set out to capture the sounds of the Mississippi Blues of the early 1990's and came back with recordings from R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Booba Barnes, Frank Frost, Big Jack Johnson, Lonnie Pitchford, Jessie Mae Hemphill, and Jack Owens.  The disc and the movie that inspired it brought the blues to a new audience and most of the artists benefited from the exposure  This is just an incredible listening experience.  One of the great mysteries in life is why this recording has been out of print for over 20 years.

Various Artists - Mistakes Were Made:  Five Years of Raw Blues, Damaged Livers, & Questionable Business Decisions (Broke & Hungry Records):  This two-disc set serves as a sequel of sorts to Deep Blues.  Jeff Konkel's Broke & Hungry Records label began in the mid 2000's with a great series of recordings from Mississippi blues artists like Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, Odell Harris, Wesley Jefferson and Terry "Big T" Williams, Pat Thomas, Terry "Harmonica" Bean, and the mysterious Mississippi Marvel.  Konkel also collaborated with Cat Head founder Roger Stolle to produce two documentaries on the state of the Magnolia State's blues scene.  These two discs capture some of the label's best moments and it also includes a lot of previous unreleased gems as well.  Based on these two discs, the future of Mississippi blues is in good hands and we owe fans like Konkel and Stolle a huge debt of gratitude for their work in helping keep the blues alive.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - The Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (Epic/Legacy):  One of my college roommates turned me on to SRV.  He knew I liked Clapton and Hendrix and he said, "This guy sounds like both of them!"  Although he did sound like both of them, I slowly began to realize that there was much more to him than that.  Vaughan, along with Clapton, inspired me to dig a little deeper into what they were doing musically, the original sources.  I had all of his recordings on cassette back when dinosaurs walked the earth, and this two-disc set (I actually have the three-disc set, with the third disc being really a half disc worth of music) collects all of my favorite songs.  I probably listen to this as much as anything in my collection and wonder just what else he might have done musically had he decided to wait until morning to leave Alpine Valley.

Magic Slim and the Teardrops - Raw Magic (Alligator Records):  Magic Slim recorded a boatload of albums over his long career.  This was one of the first that I owned and it's still one of my favorites.  It only has seven tracks, but these really capture the band in their zone.  Although most of the band's material consisted of cover tunes, there are three originals on this set and they are all excellent.  This is one of the earlier 1980's line-ups, with Slim, Coleman "Daddy Rabbit" Pettis, Nick Holt, and Nate Applewhite, and they were one of the most formidable, which is really saying something.

Bobby Parker - Bent Out of Shape (Black Top Records):  It has always been a mystery to me how Parker (who passed away in October of 2013) wasn't better known.  FBF will be taking a longer look at his career soon.  When I first heard the title track of this album on the Highway 61 radio show on Mississippi Public Radio, I knew that I had to track this album down, and was I ever glad I did.  Parker just blows the doors off with this album with some incendiary guitar work and a great soulfully gritty voice.  Parker did have some success in the 60's with songs like "Watch Your Step" and "Blues Get Off My Shoulder" (both recreated on this album), and was a big influence on Carlos Santana, and this one really should have paved the way for more success.  Anyway, it didn't really work out that way, which is a shame.  This guy was the total package and deserves to be heard.

Luther Allison - Soul Fixin' Man (Alligator Records):  I've got a lot of Luther Allison music to choose from......I've been listening to him since right after I started listening to the blues.  When this one came out in 1994, I played it almost non-stop for several months.  To me, Allison's sound mixed the blues with soul and rock in equal measures.  This is the release where it all fell together perfectly.  The difference in this one and his previous releases were the songs.  The covers were on the soul side of blues, with a pair written by Malaco's Mosley/Johnson combination and a terrific almost-a Capella reading of Guitar Slim's "The Things I Used To Do" among the highlights, but Allison's originals were his best yet, including "Bad Love," which paid tribute to one of Allison's major influences, Mr. B.B. King.  This is a great jumping-off point for anyone not familiar with Luther Allison, but there's much more to enjoy.

Junior Wells (with Buddy Guy) - Hoodoo Man Blues (Delmark Records):  No way this one can be left off.  I have several favorite Wells/Guy recordings that I've discussed over the years (Play The Blues, Pleading the Blues, Drinkin' TNT & Smokin' Dynamite), but this one is just such a ground-breaking record.  It pretty much ushered in the blues album as a product.....before this, most blues albums were collections of three-minute singles.  Delmark's Bob Koester wanted to capture the atmosphere and feeling of seeing Wells and Guy in performance at one of their regular Chicago club gigs, and he succeeded beyond even his wildest dreams.  This was released by Delmark in 1965 and continues to be their best seller, and deservedly so.

Various Artists - Blues Guitar Blasters (Ace Records UK):  When I started listening to the blues, I found a lot of great collections featuring different blues artists on the British label Ace.  This one is a great place for a newcomer to get a quick education.  Some of the guitarists featured here are B.B. King, Albert King, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Guitar Slim, T-Bone Walker, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Ike Turner, and Pee Wee Crayton.  There are also some lesser known artists like future James Brown guitarist Jimmy Nolen and Lafayette Thomas, both of whom contribute some memorable sides.  This one, I'm afraid, is long out of print, but copies can still be found, so if you're just getting started, this would be a good one to get.  If you're a longtime listener, it's pretty neat to have these artists and songs on one disc.

Well, there you have it!  FBF's Ten Desert Island Discs!  As I said earlier, a few of these might change from time to time, but these are ten that I have returned to again and again for years.  Now's your chance.  If you'd like to share your Desert Island Discs, please submit your list to me at the address at the top of the post.  You can send your list, or you can put comments with your selections....either way is fine.  We want to hear from you.