Friday, January 30, 2015

The Soul Side of the Blues

This year, my ever-patient, ever-thoughtful wife gave me an Amazon Gift Card for Christmas.  Whenever I get one of these cards, I usually try to find some good deals on music that moves a bit beyond my usual listening patterns, though I usually mix in a few blues albums as well.  I try to focus on older albums that I missed first time around, or compilations by some of my favorite artists.  This year, I picked up discs from a pretty wide-ranging group, but most of them were linked in one way or another to the blues.....of course, most music is linked to the blues anyway, so yeah, it wasn't much of a reach.  Most of my purchases focused on the soul side of the blues, so let's look at a few of them this week, and some of their music that inspired others to listen or emulate.

I actually came to the blues via soul music, so I actually had a lot of music from these artists from years ago, albeit in a different format......cassette.  CDs usually offer many more tunes from artists at very comparable prices if you do a little bit of searching.  It was really good to hear some of this music again after a number of years and to realize that these artists influenced a lot of todays blues artists in one way or another.

Percy Sledge - It Tears Me Up:  The Best of Percy Sledge (Atlantic/Rhino):  I can remember when I worked in the grocery store as a teenager, I would take groceries out to this older white guy's car.  He was probably in his early 40's at the time.  He always had an 8-Track tape of The Best of Percy Sledge sitting on his console.  While I had heard Sledge's biggest song previously, "When A Man Loves A Woman," I was unfamiliar with the rest of his catalog and it intrigued me that this middle-aged white dude, who wore cowboy boots and looked like a old western gunfighter had this tape in his collection (later on, when I attended my first blues festival, this guy was one of the first people I saw in the crowd).  He and Percy Sledge appeared to be from two different worlds, based on appearances.  Later on, I was reading the paper and looking at the music section, I saw that Sledge would be appearing at The Country Music Palace in Vaiden, MS, which I really thought was surprising.  I later found out that he appeared there regularly, several times a year.

Several years later, I picked up this set on cassette and I finally saw the whole story.  Sure, I had read about Sledge over the years (Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music, etc....), but had not delved into the catalog very deeply until I picked up this one.  Suddenly, it all made sense to me.  Sledge's magnificent vocals blurred all sorts of musical lines.  The magnificent "When A Man Loves A Woman," for all it's deep southern soul, is also a blues song delivered with tremendous passion and anguish.  By the same token, the lyrics and feeling are equally appealing to country music fans......the guy at the grocery store was not the only middle-aged white guy I've met over the years that liked Sledge's music.  Percy Sledge was as much a crossover success in the Deep South as anybody.  You go anywhere in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, etc...... and you will still hear Percy Sledge's music today in all sorts of different venues.

 I actually made the 90 minute trip to Vaiden several years ago to hear Sledge.  The crowd was probably 95% white and he was backed by a local band who played about 45 minutes worth of Southern Rock prior to his taking the stage.  Believe it or not, Sledge DIDN'T sing "When A Man Loves A Woman" during his 90 minute set, but the audience didn't care (well, I cared a little bit).  This is the first thing that you will realize when you listen to this excellent set of Sledge's best songs.  If he'd never recorded that song (which was his first-ever single), he still would have had a catalog of southern soul classics that rivaled any other soul singer's.  That's the thing you get from listening to this......songs like "It Tears Me Up" (written by the great Dan Penn), "Take Time To Know Her," "Out of Left Field," and "True Love Travels on a Gravel Road" are soul masterpieces in Sledge's hands.  If you've never ventured beyond his biggest hit, you will find that there's much more below the surface and this is a good place to hear it for yourself.

Otis Redding - The Very Best of Otis Redding, Volumes 1 & 2 (Atlantic/Rhino):  I wrote several years ago about he started out as a singer/valet for Johnny Jenkins' band, the Pinetoppers, in the early 60's when he took advantage of some extra studio time during a Jenkins session at Stax Records to record the amazing "These Arms of Mine," which became a smash on the R&B charts.  For about three years, until his untimely death in a plane crash in December of 1967, Redding was one of the biggest soul singers around.  He covered such a wide range as a singer from party tunes to deep soul, and he was a very good composer (writing "Respect," which Aretha Franklin took to another level), and interpreter (his reading of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" is incredible, as is his impassioned version of the O.V. Wright classic, "That's How Strong My Love Is.").  Of course, he's best remembered for "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," a song he finished just days before his death that became his masterpiece.

Rhino and Atlantic Records actually released two volumes of The Very Best of Otis Redding.  Volume 1 covers all the songs that most music fans will be familiar with, while Volume 2 covers some of his lesser-known singles ("Hard to Handle" and the awesome "Chained and Bound"), plus a few really impressive covers of popular songs of the time, such as Smokey Robinson's "My Girl," Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come," the Beatles' "Day Tripper, and James Brown's "Papa Got A Brand New Bag."  There have been other sets that covered more ground than these two discs as far as Redding's career goes, but if these are is all the Otis you ever get, you will be in excellent shape.  It has all the familiar songs and hits, plus a few tracks that you may not have heard before that you really shouldn't miss.

Sam & Dave - The Very Best of Sam & Dave (Atlantic/Rhino):  Sam Moore and Dave Prater's brand of soul had it's roots on the gospel side of things, as evidenced by their passionate delivery.  Their recordings were unsuccessful at first until they hooked up with Atlantic Records, who moved them to Stax Records in Memphis where they had their sound developed under the tutelage of producers/songwriters Isaac Hayes and David Porter.  Their body of work ranks with the finest soul artists of the 60's, with songs like "You Don't Know Like I Know," "Hold On, I'm Comin'," "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," "I Think You" (later covered by ZZ Top), and, of course, "Soul Man."  Many blues fans my age were first exposed to the blues by the Blues Brothers, who covered the song in the late 70's (utilizing guitarist Steve Cropper and bass player Donald "Duck" Dunn, who played on the original) and patterned a lot of their stage act after the duo.  Moore and Prater worked amazingly well together, all the more impressive considering the fact that they could barely stand to be in a room together by the time they broke up in 1970.  This disc pretty much contains all of Sam & Dave's hits, plus a few key album tracks and is all you could want in a Sam & Dave collection.

King Curtis - Instant Soul:  The Legendary King Curtis (Razor & Tie):  You may not know who King Curtis was, but chances are better than average that you own some music that he played on.  Considered the last of the great R&B tenor sax players, he played on numerous recordings by The Coasters, including "Yakety Yak," and other R&B acts on the Atlantic label.  He also had some of his own charting hits during that time, notably "Soul Twist" and the wonderful "Soul Serenade."  He later produced a pair of albums for Freddy King on Atlantic and led Aretha Franklin's band, the Kingpins.  Tragically, he was murdered in front of his NYC apartment in the summer of 1971, when he confronted two thugs who were taking drugs in front of his apartment.  After you hear the original, check out Duane Allman's moving tribute to Curtis just a few days after his death, when he played "Soul Serenade" on guitar with the rest of the Allman Brothers in support.  He was obviously grieved at this saxophone giant's passing, and only lived a couple of months after this performance himself.  This set collects most of his R&B hits and shows his amazing versatility.

Booker T & the MG's - The Very Best of Booker T & the MG's (Atlantic/Rhino):  I wrote at length about Booker T & the MG's soon after their bass player, Donald "Duck" Dunn, passed away, so you can find that post here.  Their sound was so influential during their heyday and even today, and it came to epitomize what we all call "Memphis Soul."  They played on nearly every Stax Records song, serving as the house band, and recorded numerous classic instrumentals on their own.  Booker T Jones' smooth work on the B3 and Steve Cropper's crisp and economical guitar work were the main features of the band, but Dunn and drummer Al Jackson were one of the tightest rhythm sections ever.  There are several "Greatest Hit" collections from the band, but this one covers the most territory and has all their classics.  It's hard to believe that "Green Onions" actually came into existence during a jam while the band was waiting for an artist to show up for a recording session.

Bobby Womack - Only Survivor:  The MCA Years (MCA Records):  The Womack was the last link for me between soul and the blues.  Womack's gritty vocals and amazingly personal songwriting appealed to a lot of R&B fans in the early 80's.  He touched on a lot of issues about love and romance that most regular folks could relate to.  I first heard Womack when he began recording for MCA in the mid 80's, and while he had more chart success earlier in his career, he released three very good albums for MCA, the best of which is collected on this set.  My favorite of his albums on MCA was the middle release, Womagic, from 1986 where he reunited with legendary Memphis producer, Chips Moman, and many of the musicians that he played with when he was a session player in the 60's.  Several of those songs are featured on this set, and they have held up well over the nearly 30 years since they were recorded.  Songs from the other two Womack MCA releases sound a bit dated musically, with those infernal drum machines and metallic-sounding synthsizers, but Womack's songs and his incredible voice stand the test of time.  There are also three songs featured that Womack recorded with saxophonist Wilton Felder of the Crusaders.  While Womack recorded better work earlier and later than these recordings, this was the starting point for me.  This is a nice place to start with his music, but please backtrack to the late 60's/early 70's work for even more listening pleasure.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Classic Live Blues - Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959 - 68

About two years into my discovery of the blues, I became curious about the older blues artists......the ones who recorded and performed in the 20's and 30's.  I was already familiar with Robert Johnson, because you could still find his music in stores, but it was pretty hard to track down anything else from other artists of his era.  I had read about many of them in Living Blues because LB often had reviews of album collections of these artists, but I really didn't know how to get started on listening, or what to listen to.

I was familiar with Vanguard Records because I had picked up a couple of great albums from the label.....Buddy Guy's A Man and the Blues and Junior Wells' It's My Life Baby.  I had actually found both of those in a mall record store (remember Camelot Music?), but that was about it.  Back then, if a record store had three columns of cassettes on their wall, I considered myself fortunate.

I also ran across Peter Guralnick's Feel Like Going Home, which I discussed in detail back in FBF's early days.  Guralnick had included chapters in this wonderful book on a couple of early blues pioneers, Skip James and Robert Pete Williams.  The Skip James chapter in particular was fascinating, and it really encouraged me to want to hear him, but as mentioned above, recordings of early blues artists were pretty scarce at record stores in my neck of the woods.  Of course, newer listeners may not be able to understand how hard it was for blues fans at the time to check out music in the days before the internet, when today it takes about two clicks of a mouse to pull the Skip James song of your choice up for your listening pleasure.

One day, while in a Jackson, MS mall, I happened upon Blues At Newport, a collection from Vanguard that captured highlights of the Newport Folk Festival between 1959 and 1964.  I saw a few familiar names on the track list, including James and Williams, along with John Lee Hooker and Reverend Gary Davis, another artist I had read about in Living Blues, but had never actually heard.  Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued and I hurried to the counter with my copy in hand.

Sadly, there was only one song from Skip James, and a pair from Williams and Davis, but I also got to hear Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Robert Wilkins, and Sleepy John Estes for the first time. My blues horizons were expanded greatly from this release, and I began to dig a little deeper into the catalogs of some of these artists, finding Vanguard's Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt releases and diving off into the extensive Yahoo Records discography.  However, even with finding additional recordings, I often returned to the Newport album....I think it was because the live setting really gave the music a more personal feel.

Around 2001, Vanguard embiggened their Newport blues recording by offering a 3-CD set of festival performances, dating from 1959 to 1968.  Newport Folk Festival:  Best of the Blues 1959-68 took many of the songs from the earlier single disc set and added two whole discs of songs from multiple artists.....several from the original release and many others, such as Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, and Son House.  This actually slipped past me when it was originally released and somehow, I never even knew about it until a few weeks ago, when I saw it on Amazon.

The Newport Folk Festival was started in 1959, by George Wein, as a counterpart to the ongoing Newport Jazz Festival.  Music fans owe more than they will ever know to Wein, who started these two festivals, plus the Playboy Jazz Festival and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.  While the Folk Festival definitely features folk music, it also showcases blues, country, bluegrass, rock, and Americana.

Son House, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt

It was around this time that many older blues artists were being rediscovered, such as John Hurt, Bukka White, Skip James, and Son House.  All of these artists eventually showed up at Newport to play.  For many of them, it went beyond the $50 fee they received for their 15 or so minutes of performing.  Many of the record companies at the time had representatives there, and a lot of these artists were able to sign deals with various labels, based on their performances.  Hurt and James signed with Vanguard Records, White with Takoma, and House with Columbia.

Best of the Blues 1959-68 is divided into three CDs.  The first disc is called Delta Blues, and features 17 tracks from Hurt, James, House, White, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and a pair of acoustic tracks from Muddy Waters.  The second is called Country Blues and features Robert Pete Williams, Mance Lipscomb, Jesse Fuller, Reverend Gary Davis, and the duo of Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry.  The third is called Urban Blues and showcases Lightnin' Hopkins, Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker, Waters and Otis Spann, the Chambers Brothers, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

On Delta Blues, you get a great glimpse of Mississippi John Hurt.  He obviously won over the crowd with his amiable personality and his sweet, gentle brand of blues.  Hurt sounded just as good as he did on his 1928 recordings, and his six tracks get the disc off to a nice start.  His diverse repertoire and guitar playing influenced many blues and folk artists and some of his songs ("Coffee Blues" and "Candy Man") are still favorites.

Skip James at Newport

James and House provided a sharp contrast to Hurt's songs.  I can only imagine what the crowd's reaction was when James sang the first notes of his "Devil Got My Woman."  Dick Waterman, whose wonderful photos brought the festival to life for numerous blues fans, is quoted in the liner notes describing his reaction to James' singing:
"He took that first note up in falsetto all the way, and the hairs on the back of my neck went up, and all up and down my arms, the hairs just went right up.  Even now I get a reaction to that note when I listen to the recording......It's almost a wail.  It's a cry.  There was an audible gasp from the audience."
That performance is on this collection, and I'm pretty sure that most listeners will get the same reaction when they hear it for the first time.  I know I did.  It STILL gives me goose bumps.  The video below is not from Newport, but you will get the idea.

Son House

For sheer intensity, it's hard, or impossible, to top Son House, both on his guitar and vocally.  He does four mesmerizing songs on this set, including "Preaching Blues" and the harrowing "Death Letter."  House was a huge influence on many of the later generation of blues men, such as Muddy Water and Howlin' Wolf and was a revered figure among them.  Here's a clip of House performing "Death Letter Blues," taken from Vestopol's Legends of Country Blues Guitar DVD series.

Both House and James had to be retaught their songs upon their rediscovery, but on these tracks, it sounds like they'd never put their instruments down for a minute.

Mississippi Fred McDowell

The remainder of Delta Blues consists of Bukka White's fierce version of "Aberdeen Mississippi Blues," two tracks from McDowell ("Louise" and "If The River Was Whiskey"), and a pair of acoustic tracks from Waters.......House's "Walkin' Blues" and Waters' own "I Can't Be Satisfied."  It's sort of neat to hear Waters' acoustic guitar will remind you of his Library of Congress recordings from the early 40's (Waters recorded both of these for Alan Lomax during the L of C session).

Disc 2, Country Blues, features blues artists from various locations.  The ones that stood out to me were Robert Pete Williams from Louisiana, Mance Lipscomb from Texas, and Reverend Gary Davis, who was born in the south, but spent most of his years in New York City.

Robert Pete Williams

Williams had recently been released from the penitentiary in Louisiana, where he served a sentence for murder.  Williams' music was completely unique.  There were no other blues artists, or any musicians really, who sounded quite like him.  His lyrics were largely autobiographical and sometimes brutally honest and could be an acquired taste of sorts for some music fans.  It actually took me a bit of listening to catch on, but it's compelling stuff, especially the chilling "Levee Camp Blues" (below is Williams' version on Arhoolie Records).

Mance Lipscomb

Texan Mance Lipscomb had a distinctive guitar style, using a pocket knife as a slide instead of the traditional glass or metal slide, and was more of a "songster" than a blues man....similar to Mississippi John Hurt, he was adept at different styles ranging from blues to ballads to spirituals and pop tunes.  He actually spent most of his life as a sharecropper and farmer and didn't record until he was in his mid 60's.  He became a favorite on the festival scene until a couple of years before he passed away in 1976 at the age of 81.  His three songs show his range, including a narrative of the sinking of the Titanic.

Rev. Gary Davis

The Reverend Gary Davis was one of the most influential guitarist in blues and folk music.  His fingerpicking style influenced a wide range of artists, from Bob Dylan to Taj Mahal to Ry Cooder to Jorma Kaukonen to Donovan.  He was self-taught, began to play at the age of six and was basically blind since birth.  In the beginning, as a street musician he played a mix of blues and spiritual tunes to make it harder for the police to interrupt him, but by the late 30's, he began to focus exclusively on the gospel material and became an ordained minister.

I remember reading (don't remember where) that he broke his arm as a youth and it didn't heal correctly, which may have attributed somewhat to his unique playing style.  Good as his guitar work was, his vocals were at times astounding.  One of his more amazing songs was his version of Blind Willie Johnson's  "Samson and Delilah (If I Had My Way)," which he performs on this disc.

The remainder of the disc includes a couple of entertaining songs from Bay Area one-man-band  Jesse Fuller ("San Francisco Bay Blues" and "I Double Double Do Love You"), a track from Tennessee blues man Sleepy John Estes ("Clean Up At Home"), and five tracks from the duo of Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry.  McGhee and Terry had played a big part in bringing the blues to the folk scene in the early 50's, so they were more than comfortable by this time at Newport, and their stirring five-song set is top notch, with a rousing version of "Long Gone," "Drink Muddy Water," and "Key To The Highway."

The third and final disc, Urban Blues, features the occasional electric instrument with mostly familiar artists......Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, Muddy Waters (with Otis Spann), The Chambers Brothers and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  Despite the electricity involved on some of these tracks, they're pretty subdued for the most part, probably for the benefit of the mostly folk audience.....after all, many of them booed Bob Dylan when he showed up in 1965 with a Stratocaster and plugged in.

Lightnin' Hopkins at Newport

Despite packing an electric guitar onstage, Lightnin' Hopkins was usually pretty subdued anyway and his performance (three songs featured here...."The Woman I'm Leaving, She's Taken My Appetite," "Baby Please Don't Go," and "Shake That Thing".), delivered in his usual amiable manner, were probably crowd pleasers.  Seriously, I can't imagine anybody booing Lightnin' Hopkins for any reason at all.

John Lee Hooker

I saw John Lee Hooker back in the late 80's in New Orleans, and he had a boat full of party goers hanging on his every word sung and note played......just him and his guitar.  I'm pretty sure that the same thing happened at Newport.  This set includes six of his songs, accompanied on a few tracks by Spike Lee's dad, Bill, on bass.  One of their collaborations was the moody and intense "Tupelo."  Hooker also included a somber narrative about the horrible 1940 fire at the Rhythm Room in Natchez, MS, and his old favorite, "Boom Boom."

Memphis Slim at Newport

Memphis Slim gets four songs (previously unreleased before this set was issued), and Waters and Spann get a pair of tracks, also heard here for the first time.  The set starts wrapping with a gospel-flavored reading of "See See Rider," from the Chambers Brothers, whose electrifying mix of soul, psychedelic rock, blues, funk, and gospel was very popular at the time, culminating in their massive hit, "Time Has Come Today."  The Butterfield Blues Band closes with strong readings of "Blues With A Feeling" and "Born In Chicago."

How's this for a line-up.....Butterfield - harmonica, Mike Bloomfield - guitar, Elvin Bishop - guitar, Jerome Howard - bass, Sam Lay - drums, Al Kooper - keyboards, Barry Goldberg - keyboards)?  Sounds pretty impressive, considering what several of these musicians went on to achieve, but some in the crowd, which took a more "purist" approach to the blues were aggravated by the "integrated" nature of the blues band, and according to the liner notes, Butterfield's manager Albert Goldman got in a fight backstage with musicologist Alan Lomax, who was belittling the band.

The Newport Folk Festival continues to this day at the end of July every year.  Usually the tickets sell out before the line-up is even finalized or announced.  While there doesn't seem to be as many blues artists as in years past, the music is still great and the blues world owes a huge debt to the festival for getting the word out in the late 50's/early 60's about the blues and these new and rediscovered blues artists.

For blues fans who are just getting into acoustic blues from the artists of the pre-war era, Best of the Blues 1959 - 1968 is a great and fairly inexpensive way to get started, and will probably encourage you to dig deeper into their earlier recordings.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Five Albums You Might Have Missed (V.12)

Here we are again with 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 at the time because you weren't listening to the blues at the time, they might have been overshadowed by other releases at the time, or maybe they went out of print before you could find them, or perhaps 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.

Corey Stevens - Albertville (Ruf Records):  When Stevens got started in the early 90's, he drew the inevitable comparisons  with Stevie Ray Vaughan, but he worked hard to move beyond SRV's shadow to prove himself a fine songwriter and performer in his own right.  Like Vaughan and numerous other modern-day blues guitarists, Stevens was influenced by Albert King, and this 2007 release paid tribute to the legendary guitarist.  Stevens covers nine of King's tunes, ranging from the familiar ("Breaking Up Somebody's Home," "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," "I Get Evil," "Got To Be Some Changes Made") to the fairly obscure ("A Real Good Sign," "Little Brother (Make A Way)," and my favorite on the disc, "That's What The Blues Is All About.").  Stevens plays in King's style, but more in reverence than imitation, and he has developed his own distinct vocal style over time as well.  This is well worth seeking out, as are most of Corey Stevens' other releases.

Sonny Rhodes - Out of Control (King Snake Records):  I plan to devote an entire post to the amazing Sonny Rhodes, one of the only proponents of lap steel guitar in the blues, really soon.  He's also a great electric guitarist, is actually the complete package as a blues excellent songwriter and strong vocalist.  Though he's been playing since the late 50's, entertaining crowds with his guitar prowess, his colorful suits and turbans, he really came into his own as a recording artist in the late 80's/early 90's with releases on Atlanta's Ichiban label and the late, much-missed King Snake Records out of Sanford, Florida.  Released in 1996, Out of Control was Rhodes' second and best release for King Snake, and it burns from start to finish.  Rhodes alternates between lap steel and electric guitar and contributes some of his best songs.  The late Bob Greenlee, owner of King Snake, co-wrote several of these tracks with Rhodes.  Any of Rhodes' great albums are worth a listen.....many, like this one, are out of print, but can be found pretty easily.  Out of Control is one of the best of the bunch.

Robert Belfour - Pushin' My Luck (Fat Possum):  This is Belfour's second Fat Possum release and came out in 2003.  Somehow, I missed it until last summer, when I found it in the great Jackson, MS bookstore, Lemuria.  Belfour plays guitar in that stark, hypnotic Hill Country style that artists like Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, and Mississippi Fred McDowell perfected, but Belfour's coarse, growling vocals make his music stand out.  This is raw, sweaty, ragged, Mississippi blues at its best.  Belfour hasn't recorded since this one, though he did make an appearance in the M for Mississippi documentary a few years back.  Someone really needs to fix that situation and soon.

Hash Brown - Hash Brown's Texas Blues Revue (Cannonball Records):  I've always enjoyed these "Revue" albums that feature several different singers and a host of musicians backing them.  Texas guitarist Brown has assembled such an album, with vocalists Sam Myers, Darrell Nulisch, and Zuzu Bollin (in what may have been his late recordings).  Fans of Texas blues will be familiar with the song list, and all of these vocalists sound great (Brown himself takes the mic for one track), and the music is fantastic with Brown's T-Bone Walker-influenced guitar work really standing out.  This one came out in 1999 and Cannonball Records closed shop soon afterward, but this one can still be found with a little searching.  It's worth it, as are most of Cannonball's other albums (remember the little cannonballs inserted into the CD case?),

Earl Hooker - Sweet Black Angel (MCA/One Way Records):  This one might take a little bit more searching, but it's well worth it.  Hooker recorded this short session (28 minutes) in the late 60's, just before his death, with old buddy Ike Turner behind the controls.  It's a pretty diverse set, with Hooker covering James Brown, Roosevelt Sykes, Robert Johnson, Robert Nighthawk, and R.G. Ford, plus bringing some sharp instrumentals that belie their rather bland song titles ("Shuffle," "Country and Western," "Funky Blues," etc....).  Some might want to start elsewhere if they're just discovering Hooker, but this is a really nice sampling of just how great he was and you will definitely want to hear more after this one, whether you're a newcomer or a longtime fan.

Friday, January 9, 2015

FBF's Top Twenty Blues Albums for 2014

This week, Friday Blues Fix presents our Top Twenty new blues albums of 2014.  This was a great year for new releases and it was EXTREMELY difficult to narrow it down to that number.  There were 150 new releases that I got to hear this year and nearly all of them were top notch.  I receive most of them for review at Blues Bytes and in the upcoming January issue, all of the reviewers' Top Ten will be listed.  Today's FBF post will feature my twenty favorites (in no particular order) and, if you are interested, you can check Blues Bytes in a week or so to see which of mine (and the other reviewers') made the Top Ten.

Friday Blues Fix's Top 20 Blues Releases for 2014

Linsey Alexander - Come Back Baby (Delmark):  Guitarist Alexander provides the perfect mix of Chicago-styled soul and blues.

Daddy Mack Blues Band - Blues Central (Inside Sounds):  This band never lets me down when I'm looking for greasy, funky Memphis blues.

The Knickerbocker All-Stars - Open Mic at the Knick (JP Cadillac Records):  This is a fun release featuring various former and current members of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Roomful of Blues and some of the East Coast's finest musicians working through a set of familiar blues and R&B classics.

Rory Block - Hard Luck Child:  A Tribute To Skip James (Stony Plain):  My favorite of Block's "Mentor Series" of releases paying tribute to her musical influences.

HowellDevine - Modern Sounds of Modern Juju (Arhoolie):  Wow!  This one really took me by surprise.  It's a great mix of traditional classics, fresh new songs, and great musicianship.

Jarekus Singleton - Refuse To Lose (Alligator):  Singleton broke out this year with these new release, and deservedly so.  He brings a lot of influences into his brand of blues, and his approach to songwriting is totally original.  

Andy T & Nick Nixon - Livin' It Up (Delta Groove):  I liked their first release and I love their sophomore effort.  Very reminiscent of the old Anson Funderburgh/Sam Myers collaborations (Funderburgh produced this one) with Nixon's powerful vocals and Andy T's crisp, clean fretwork.

Giles Corey - Giles Corey's Stoned Soul (Delmark):  Corey was pretty busy this year, playing on Mississippi Heat's latest release and Devon Allman's new one.  However, he saved his best for his own release, which mixes rock, soul, and a healthy, heaping dose of funk.  This one will put a hop in your step, folks.

Dave Keller - Soul Changes (Tastee-Tone):  Splitting time between Memphis (backed by the Hi Rhythm Section) and Brooklyn (backed by the Revelations) for this album, you won't be able to tell where one session starts and the other one starts.  This is a great mix of originals and covers, and Keller's "17 Years" is as good a soul tune as I've heard in a long time.

Eden Brent - Jigsaw Heart (Yellow Dog):  Brent's first release since 2010 finds her in Nashville with producer Colin Linden.  This is her best set of songs to date and she effortlessly blends the blues with jazz, country, and gospel.  She's never sounded better.

Tweed Funk - First Name Lucky (Tweed Tone):  Tweed Funk has become one of my favorite bands with their last two releases of great powerhouse blues, funk, and soul.  Their passion and energy comes through with every note they play.

Jimmy "Duck" Holmes & Terry "Harmonica" Bean - Twice As Hard (Broke &  Hungry):  One of two "Dream Team" match-ups on our list this year, this is two of Mississippi's finest blues artists working together and separately, bringing to mind the old Jack Owens/Bud Spires team.  Every fan of Mississippi blues needs this disc in their collection.

James Armstrong - Guitar Angels (Catfood):  Armstrong's fifth album is excellent from start to finish, with some great original songs and several pretty clever cover tunes.  It's great to have Armstrong back on the scene and hopefully he's here to stay.

JJ Thames - Tell You What I Know (DeChamp):  This is a fantastic set of Southern soul and blues.  Thames is not only a wonderful singer, but she's also a talented songwriter, collaborating on ten of the eleven tracks here.

Rev. KM Williams - Jukin' In The Holy Land - Live in Israel (Nobody's Fault):  Williams did three live dates while visiting Israel, and this disc captures the best of those dates.  Raw and visceral, ragged but right, this is real deal blues in front of an enthusiastic audience.

Grady Champion - Bootleg Whiskey (Malaco):  I've been listening to Champion since his days with Shanachie Records in the late 90's.  I think this is his strongest and most consistent release and will appeal to fans of traditional, urban, and soul blues.

Johnny Rawls & Otis Clay - Soul Brothers (Catfood):  The second "Dream Team" match up of the year.  This is soul blues heaven.  Rawls and Clay work so well together that you will definitely be wanting to hear more when the last track finishes.  Hopefully, we will hear more from them soon.

Devon Allman - Ragged & Dirty (Ruf):  Allman went to Chicago, assembled some of the city's finest musicians (keyboardist Marty Sammon, bass player Felton Crews, and guitarist Giles Corey), along with producer/drummer Tom Hambridge, and put together one of the best, and most appropriately titled, blues rock albums of the year.

Billy Boy Arnold - The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold (Stony Plain):  Arnold returns to Stony Plain Records, and producer/guitarist Duke Robillard, to cut an album of some of his favorite tunes.  As indicated by the title, there's a lot of blues and a lot of soul here and he does both equally well.

George Taylor - Rain or Shine:  Taylor blurs the line completely between the blues and country, proving that Jimmie Rodgers was as much a blues man as Jimmy Rogers was.  This is a fine disc with some excellent songwriting and performances.

Friday, January 2, 2015

In Memoriam: 2014 Passages

Hope everyone had a Happy (and safe) New Year.  Before we kick off 2015, Friday Blues Fix would like to take time to pay tribute to those in the blues world who passed away in 2014.  The list is pretty long, but take the time to check out some of these talented artists that you may not be familiar with.  Hopefully, we didn't leave anyone off the list.

Earnest Joseph "Tabby" Thomas (January 5, 1929 - January 1, 2014):  Baton Rouge blues man/club owner (Tabby's Blues Box)

Jeff Strahan (April 4, 1960 - January 15, 2014):  blues/rock singer/guitarist/keyboardist

James Timothy Shaw, a.k.a. The Mighty Hannibal (August 9, 1939 - January 30, 2014):  Georgia R&B/soul artist.

Floyd Taylor (January 25, 1954 - February 20, 2014):  Soul/blues/R&B singer, son of Johnnie Taylor

Hoshal Lee Wright (January 12, 1947 - January 29, 2014):  guitarist (Taj Mahal, Electric Flag, Cass Elliot, the Pointer Sisters).

Willie Lee "Rip" Butler (August 17, 1948 - February 13, 2014):  Mississippi Delta bass guitarist/singer (Wesley Jefferson, Robert "Bilbo" Walker).

Elijah Staley, a.k.a. Carolina Slim (September 15, 1927 - February 16, 2014):  NYC subway musician.

Benjamin "Bud" Spires (May 20, 1931 - March 21, 2014), Bentonia, MS harmonica player, played with Jack Owens, Jimmy "Duck" Holmes)

Floyd Murphy (January 30, 1935 - March 27, 2014):  Memphis guitarist (Junior Parker, Rufus Thomas, Little Geneva), brother of Matt "Guitar" Murphy.

Tim Kaihatsu (December 23, 1945 - April 7, 2014): guitarist (Robert Cray Band, Buddy Guy, Charlie Musselwhite, John Lee Hooker)

James Knowles (died April 17, 2014):  drummer (Sugar Blue, Deitra Farr, Carlos Johnson, Bernard Allison, Melvin Taylor)

Janice Scroggins (July 17, 1955 - May 27, 2014):  Portland, OR pianist (Lloyd Jones, Paul Delay, Curtis Salgado, Linda Hornbuckle)

Mabon "Teenie" Hodges (November 16, 1945 - June 22, 2014):  Legendary Hi Records guitarist/songwriter

Bobby Womack (March 4, 1944 - June 27, 2014): soul singer/songwriter/guitarist

Nick Charles (died July 1, 2014):  longtime Chicago bassist (Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Son Seals, Buddy Guy, Earl Hooker)

James Govan (September 2, 1949 - July 18, 2014):  Memphis-based soul/blues singer

Johnny Winter (February 23, 1944 - July 16, 2014):  legendary blues/rock guitarist/singer

Richard Dennis Duran, a.k.a. Lynwood Slim (August 19, 1953 - August 4, 2014):  L.A.-based harmonica/flute player/singer

Steve Gannon (November 5, 1947 - August 16, 2014), guitarist (Sugar Pie DeSanto, Jimmy McCracklin, Sonny Rhodes, Birdlegg, Lady Bianca)

Hubert Joe Burns, a.k.a. "Poonanny" (January 6, 1940 - August 17, 2014):  soul/blues performer, "The Blues Comedian"

James Kinds (April 23, 1943 - August 19, 2014):  Midwest/Chicago blues singer/guitarist

Cosimo Matassa (April 13, 1926 - September 11, 2014), New Orleans recording engineer/record label owner, developer of the "New Orleans Sound"

Joe Sample (February 1, 1939 - September 12, 2014) - Houston-born jazz/blues keyboardist (The Crusaders, Creole Joe Band)

Rudy Richard (September 5, 1937 - September 22, 2014):  Baton Rouge guitarist, played on many of Slim Harpo's classic Excello recordings

Linda Hornbuckle (November 22, 1954 - October 4, 2014):  Portland, OR soul/blues/jazz vocalist

Monica Parker, a.k.a. Sista Monica (April 27, 1956 - October 9, 2014):  blues/soul/gospel singer

Jack Bruce (May 14, 1943 - October 15, 2014):  blues/rock bass player/singer (Cream, John Mayall)

Odell Harris (? - October 7, 2014), elusive Mississippi Hill Country Blues singer/guitarist

Michael Coleman (June 24, 1956 - November 2, 2014):  Chicago singer/guitarist (James Cotton, Junior Wells, John Primer)

Finis Tasby (1940 - November 2, 2014):  L.A. blues singer (solo and with the Mannish Boys)

Johnny Dyer (December 7, 1938 - November 11, 2014):  L.A.-based singer/harmonica player (solo and with the Mannish Boys)

Marion "Little Joe" Washington (March 1, 1939 - November 13, 2014):  Houston-based singer/guitarist

Joe Cocker (May 20, 1944 - December 22, 2014):  English rock, blues, and soul singer

Alberta Adams (July 26, 1917 - December 25, 2014):  Detroit blues singer

James Wheeler (August 28, 1937 - December 25, 2014):  Chicago singer/guitarist (solo and with Mississippi Heat)