Friday, February 27, 2015

Just the Blues...

Hope it's been drier and cooler where you live than where we are.  It's pretty cold and damp in Far East Mississippi these days, with lots of snow and freezing rain in certain areas.  It was actually near 70 degrees four days ago and we were under a burn ban!  We wear shorts and flip flops one day and a big sweater the next day around here during the winter.  So, while we sit here and wait for the weather to change yet again, FBF offers up a well-balanced set of blues for you today….from a few people you may or may not be familiar with.  Let's check them out..... 

First up today is Roy Gaines.  Gaines got his start playing for Bobby Bland on many of Bland’s early Duke recordings, with his combination of T-Bone Walker’s urbane sound and his own grittier stinging leads.  Gaines moved to California in the late 50’s and played in Roy Milton’s band, and also with Chuck Willis'.  He later teamed up with Walker during Walker’s late few years performing.  Though he played a lot of sessions (both jazz and blues), he recorded sparingly on his own until the early 80’s, but has recorded several since then, plus appearing with his brother, Grady Gaines and his band, the Upsetters on the Black Top album, Full Gain.  Here’s the title cut from one of Gaines’ best discs, Bluesman For Life.  Gaines, now 77, released a new live disc with his Tuxedo Blues Orchestra a couple of years ago. 

Left Hand Frank & Jimmy Rogers (Photo by Jim Wydra)

Next up is a familiar voice to regular FBF visitors, the legendary Jimmy Rogers, subject of this Blues Legends post a few years back.  Best known for his role in one of Muddy Waters’ earliest bands, Rogers had a decent solo career during the 50’s, recording many songs that are considered classics in Chicago Blues.  He took a break in the early 60’s because he was frustrated with the lack of work many blues artists got after the advent of rock and roll and soul music, but was driven back to the blues after his clothing store was burned during the riots in Chicago that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  By the end of the next decade, he was back at it full time and had a nice resurgence before passing away in 1997.  In what was something of a change from his usual electric full-band setting, Rogers recorded some down-home blues in England in the  late 70’s with Left Hand Frank Craig on second guitar.  

Craig performed mostly as a steady and dependable sideman during his career, though he did record four tracks for Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues series and a live set atthe Knickerbocker Café.  He also played a big role in literally keeping the blues alive in the mid 70’s when he saved Alligator Records head man Bruce Iglauer (at the time one of the few US companies recording blues and one of the big names today) from some unruly gang members.  The first video below features Rogers on vocals and guitar, with backing by Craig on guitar and is called “Fishing In My Pond.”  While we’re here, let’s check out Left Hand Frank behind the mic, backed by Rogers, on “Baby Please.”  Both of these tracks are from the 1979 collaborative CD, The Dirty Dozens, from JSP Records.  Rogers and Craig are two often overlooked Chicago string benders who deserve more attention than they get.  

Back to Texas we go to meet Tutu Jones.  This track, “I'll Play The Blues For You,” is from his second recording, Blue Texas Soul.  Jones’s father, John Jones, was a R&B guitarist in Dallas and he grew up around musicians, getting his start as a drummer for Z. Z. Hill and R. L. Burnside, but eventually began leading his own bands, after learning to play guitar and developing his songwriting.  His debut,  I’m For Real, made a lot of noise when it first came out, featuring Jones’ B.B. King-influenced guitar work and his soulful vocals, and he later signed with Rounder's Bullseye Blues label and released two additional excellent CDs, Blue Texas Soul and Staying Power in the late 90's.  He also released a live disc in the mid 2000's and one more studio album, Inside Out, in 2009.   Though he hasn't released anything since, he’s still very active on the scene.  All of his discs are worth a listen, so check him out.

Finally......Lowell Fulson bridged the gap between Texas, Chicago, and West Coast blues, and is considered one of the pioneers of West Coast blues.  His blues mixed the urban sound, country blues, along with funk-influenced tunes, styles he picked up during his lengthy career, which started in the late 40's and lasted until a couple of years before his death in 1999.  He was never afraid to take a chance and do something different. His song, “Reconsider Baby,” was a big hit for Elvis in the 50’s.  Ray Charles recorded his song, "Sinner's Prayer," in the 50's, and his song, “Tramp,” was a hit for Otis Redding and Carla Thomas in the late 60’s. He recorded frequently with a number of labels ranging from Aladdin, Swing Time, Checker, Kent, Jewel, and Rounder, and managed to maintain a consistently high standard with his work.  Here’s Fulson doing his 1954 classic for Checker, "Reconsider Baby," plus a number Fulson recorded in the mid 80’s in London, with the great Eddie C. Campbell on second guitar, called “Meet Me In The Bottom.”

Note:  Back in the days when Friday Blues Fix was a weekly email that I sent out to blues fans, this was more or less the format that I followed with short bios and selected tunes (some of the other topics, like Something Old, Something New...., were used, too)......only I attached sample mp3's instead of videos.  These were always a lot of fun to do, and the recipients at the time seemed to like them.  It was pretty cool to revisit that format and I hope you enjoyed it.  Maybe we'll do it again in the future.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ten Questions With.......Tom Feldmann

Tom Feldmann

I first heard Minnesota guitarist Tom Feldmann when I reviewed his 2007 CD, Side Show Revival.  It was a mix of original tunes that sounded for all the world like classic pre-war country blues and spirituals.  He really captured the sound and feel of those old dusty sides with his gruff, soulful vocal delivery and his nimble guitar work.

I've also heard Feldmann's last three discs, 2010's Tribute, Lone Wolf Blues from 2012, and his most recent release, Delta Blues and Spirituals, which was released late last year.  On these three albums, Feldmann pays tribute to many of the early guitar players who influenced him in both the blues and gospel fields.  For fans of acoustic guitar, these should be absolutely essential listening, as Feldmann is a master interpreter and creator in both genres.  He has released 12 CDs on his own Magnolia Recording Company.

Feldmann has also released 13 instructional blues guitar DVD's produced by Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop.  On these videos, he shows guitar players the songs and playing techniques of guitar legends like Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Bukka White, Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Son House, Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and many others.

Feldmann has toured North America and opened for David Bromberg, David Lindley, and others, but is largely content to stay close to home and spend time with his wife and two daughters.  He graciously agreed to sit down with FBF and discuss his musical influences, techniques, and preferences, how he got into instructional videos, and tips for anyone who wants to learn to play guitar.

Ten Questions With Tom Feldmann

Friday Blues Fix:  Growing up, what kinds of music did you listen to? 

Tom Feldmann:  As a kid it was Christian music, that’s what was on the car radio mostly, and I was pretty much solely into Michael Jackson until my early teens.  It was the Beatles from that point to my late teens when I discovered Country Blues.  I obsess over 1 band, or 1 style, and really don’t stray from that.

FBF:  How did you get started playing music?  Was guitar your first instrument?

TF:  I had to take piano lessons as a kid.  I hated that and I can’t play a single note to this day.  I wanted to play guitar when I was like 12-13yrs old and took a handful of lessons but nothing stuck, the lessons were as boring as the piano lessons so I quit.

FBF:  Did you start out playing the blues on guitar, or did you gravitate toward the blues once you started?

TF:  Country Blues is the first music I heard and felt I had to learn how to play.  I didn’t know anything about the music, the form, the tunings, etc., nor did I really have any basic guitar know how.  I just figured I’d learn to play guitar from learning the songs, and that’s what happened.  It wasn’t like ,“I’m going to learn to play the blues.”  I heard John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins and Son House and inwardly felt a lightning strike go off and I had to learn how to play what they were playing.  As I think back on it, it really was a “had to” feeling and not an “I want to.”

FBF:  Who were some of your early influences on guitar?   Did you have influences from genres besides the blues?

TF:  John Lennon/George Harrison were my first guitar influences as mentioned before.  John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt were my earliest blues influences.

FBF:  Which of the early blues guitarists have the most challenging playing styles?

TF:  I can only speak to what’s been most challenging to me.  Blind Blake, Lonnie Johnson, Rev Gary Davis…Piedmont and ragtime styles prove to be my biggest struggle.  Delta Blues, Texas, Chicago, those styles and players I’ve taken too easily, or naturally.  Again, that’s just me. 

FBF:  How did you get started doing the instructional videos?

Tom Feldmann & Stefan Grossman

TF:  In 2010 I put out a CD called Tribute.  It was my first all-covers CD which featured the gospel recordings of my blues influences.  I sent a copy to Stefan Grossman as a thank you for exposing me to video performances of many of the artists that had influenced me.  A few days later he asked me if I would be interested in helping with some videos, I had no idea what he meant and said “of course.”  He said he wanted me to teach lessons on Blind Willie Johnson, Gospel Blues of Mississippi John Hurt, and Bottleneck Gospel Blues.  I had never taught before, this was my first time teaching and so I watched a bunch of his videos and Stefan and Woody Mann’s styles of teaching appealed to me the most, so I developed my lessons around there approach.  After I got done filming those first 3 lessons Stefan gave me a sheet of paper with a ton more lessons to do…Charley Patton, Son House, Bukka White, Fred McDowell, Robert Johnson, Skip James, etc., etc., He said, “here, do these next.”  I couldn’t believe it! #1, how were these lessons not already taught, and #2, how is it that I got to be the one to teach them?  Huge honor, blows me away to this day.

FBF:  Your albums move back and forth between blues songs and spirituals… much influence did gospel music have on the blues?

TF:  The form itself, blues and gospel, have always been the same thing.  Listening to early recordings you get a sense of that.  Charley Patton and Rev. Edward Clayborn were playing the same thing.  It’s hard to say what influence it had because some early artists that was their first musical reference while others not.  I think they’ve fed off each other musically and we can see both in each other.

Tom's new CD

FBF:  If you had to choose between the two styles which ones would you prefer to play?

TF:  As a songwriter, Gospel.  That’s what I prefer to write about.

FBF:  What music do you listen to in your spare time?  Are there any  modern guitarists that you enjoy hearing?

TF:  I can say that I haven’t had “spare time” listening in the past 6 or so years.  I’m constantly working on a lesson or a workshop, and so that’s got my full attention. 

FBF:  What advice would you have for anyone who wants to learn to play the guitar?

TF:  You can learn guitar by playing any song…the songs hold the chords, the scales, the form, etc.,  Chord charts, scales, theory, not important at first.  You will need to develop in those areas as you progress but as a beginner work through songs you actually want to play.  Even complex songs can be broken down to the basic melody.  There is no better way to learn to play music than by playing music.  

Lastly, patience and practice are the only secrets.  I get asked for “secrets to get better” and honestly, patience and practice are the only real secrets.

Other Releases from Tom Feldmann

Selected Albums

Side Show Revival (2007)

 Tribute (2010)

Lone Wolf Blues (2012)

Selected DVDs

Masters of Bottleneck Blues Guitar (2012)

Delta Blues Guitar:  From Dockery Plantation (2013)

Bottleneck Slide Guitar for Beginners (2012)

The Guitar of Robert Johnson (2014)

Friday, February 13, 2015

New Blues For You - Winter, 2015 Edition (Part 2)

This week marks Friday Blues Fix's FIFTH anniversary!  It's been a a lot of fun sharing my love for the blues with all of you.  I'm looking forward to continuing to do so for many years to come, so I hope you continue to come by every week for a visit (and also check back to our previous post to see what you might have missed).  There are several big posts in the works that you will not want to miss.

Right now, I am working feverishly to finish up a new set of CD reviews for the next issue of Blues Bytes, which should be out in a week or two.  I thought I would pick up where I left off last week and give you a sneak peek at five more new releases that should definitely be on your radar.  For more details, check out the upcoming issue of Blues Bytes.

Robin Banks - Modern Classic (self-released):  The talented Miss Banks teams up with Duke Robillard on her first release since 2010.  Robillard plays guitar on these sessions and brings along his regular band mates, plus the Roomful of Blues Horns.  The songs, all written by Banks, range from jump blues, urban blues, jazz, country, and some really nice Memphis-styled soul.  She has a wonderfully diverse vocal style and moves from sultry to soulful pretty effortlessly.  Great songs, too.  Robillard adds his always impeccable guitar work and the band is spot-on as well, regardless of what genre Banks is working in.  This is an entertaining release and, hopefully, these two will continue to work together for years to come.

Mike Osborn - In The Dog House (Je Gagne Records):  guitarist/singer Osborn started out playing country and rock before moving to blues/rock after hearing Stevie Ray Vaughan shortly after the gutiarist's untimely death.  This is Osborn's second release and it is a pretty solid mix of blues, rock, and country.  The Bay Area-based Osborn has guitar chops to burn and a voice that blurs the line between the three above-mentioned genres.  With strong songwriting, outstanding support from his backing band, and Osborn's considerable talents, this is a disc that will appeal to blues, rock, and country music fans.

Brad Absher & Swamp Royale - Lucky Dog (Montrose Records):  Absher has been around the music scene for over twenty years.  Born in Houston, but raised in Lake Charles, LA, he was influenced by the music of both areas.....the swamp pop sounds of Lake Charles and the blues and soul coming from Houston.  He competed in the 2014 IBC and has built a pretty sizable following in the Gulf Coast region of the U.S.  This album, his fifth, shows why with it's mix of strong originals mixing R&B, country, gospel, and blues with several great wide-ranging covers of songs originally done by artists as diverse as William Bell, Bill Withers, and Allen Toussaint.  For blues fans who dig Delbert McClinton, Brad Absher has a lot of the same qualities, plus he plays some serious guitar to boot.

Tinsley Ellis - Tough Love (Heartfixer Music):  In 2013, Ellis formed his own label, Heartfixer Music, and has released three of his best albums since then.  Ellis' guitar has always been the feature attraction of his performances, but on Tough Love he really outdoes himself on vocals, showing an impressive versatility moving between blues, rock, and soul.  He even breaks out a harmonica on one track.  He also penned all ten of the tracks, which are uniformly strong.  To me, since he began recording on his own label, maybe Ellis is following his own muse more......he seems to be leaning more to the blues side of blues-rock, and proving to be more than up to the task.  Any of Ellis' 17 recordings are worth hearing, but Tough Love stands as his best album to date.

Pete Herzog & Dennis Walker - Waiting for the Rain (self-released):  You heard FBF rave about Herzog's previous release, Steel Guitar:  A Blues Opera, a couple of years back.  Well, prepare for more raving.  On this follow-up, Herzog has joined forces with producer/songwriter/bass player Dennis Walker.  You may not be familiar with Dennis Walker, but he has produced and written some modern blues classics with Robert Cray, B.B. King, Joe Louis Walker, Lowell Fulson, Frankie Lee, Phillip Walker, Maria Muldaur, Lonesome Sundown, Philipp Fankhauser, and Ted Hawkins, picking up multiple Grammys and Blues Music Awards in the process.  Walker has penned some new songs and he's found a great interpreter in singer/guitarist Herzog, whose warm, expressive vocals and dynamic acoustic guitar fits Walker's tunes like a nice, comfortable sweater.  Recorded during the 2014 Oregon drought (which explains the multiple "rain" tracks on the disc), this whole set sounds like two buddies getting together to play a few of their favorite songs and is perfect for acoustic blues fans.

More new releases to come in a few weeks.....

Friday, February 6, 2015

New Blues For You - Winter, 2015 Edition (Part 1)

By now, you should be winding down from the holidays and maybe itching to sit back and hear some new blues releases.  Well fear not, faithful readers, because Friday Blues Fix offers up a few new and upcoming releases for you to check out this week, with more to come in the next few weeks.  As always, expanded reviews of these new discs can be seen in current and future issues of Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine for reviews of new blues CDs.

Your humble correspondent has been overloaded the past few weeks, so we only have time to list a few this week.  However, check back in a couple of weeks for a look at even more new releases to help you shake those winter doldrums.

Donald Ray Johnson - These Blues:  The Best of Donald Ray Johnson (Mar Vista Records):  You may not be familiar with Donald Ray Johnson, or even know that he could put together a "Greatest Hits" collection, but Johnson has been around music for many years, backing artists like Joe Houston, Phillip Walker, Lowell Fulson, Sonny Rhodes, and Big Mama Thornton in California in the 70's, and playing drums for the R&B/Disco band A Taste of Honey ("Boogie Oogie Oogie") in the late 70's, helping them win the 1979 Grammy for Best New Artist.  Since the late 80's, Johnson has been living in Canada, where he became a respected member of the Canadian blues community.  He has recorded a half dozen albums during that time and this set collects his best moments.  Johnson's repertoire is mostly old school urban-styled blues, with a few soul/blues tracks mixed in.  He wrote most of the songs on this collection and they are very good.  He also does a varied set of covers, including a spot-on reading of Al Green's "Ain't No Fun To Me," the Johnnie Taylor hit, "Last Two Dollars" (penned by George Jackson), and a dynamite acoustic reading of "Always On My Mind" (yes, that one!).  There are no musician credits listed on the CD, but it's pretty easy to catch Sonny Rhodes' steel guitar on a couple of tracks.  This is a very good set of blues from an artist who should be definitely be better known on the blues circuit.

Colorado Blues Society - Jam for Blues in the Schools:  Good music for a good cause, the CBS has sponsored a Blues in the Schools program in area schools for years.  The program objective has been to help educate students about the history of the music and other blues-related music.  This disc is part of a fund-raising program and was assembled by Colorado harmonica player Dan Treanor, who put together some of the state's finest blues musicians.  100% of the proceeds go toward the funding of the Blues in the Schools program and it is well worth your time and money to pick this set up.  The disc is a mix of originals and some familiar cover tunes that should appeal to blues veterans or newcomers, and it's very well done.  The artists are obviously used to working together and there's a strong rapport between them, complemented by some great vocals from Erica Brown, guitarist Randall Dubis, and guitarist David Booker.  Definitely worth a listen and not just because it's for a good cause......there's some mighty fine music here.  It's available for $10 (plus shipping) at any Colorado Blues Society-sponsored events, or by contacting CBS at (303) 694-2000, or at their website.  Check out this short feature about the Blues in the Schools program.

Magnus Berg - Cut Me Loose (Screen Door Records):  Guitarist Berg, just 18 years old, leads his own band in his native Norway.  He met singer/songwriter Kirsten Thien at a Florida gig a couple of years ago and they began a songwriting correspondence across the Atlantic and he played lead guitar for her during her USA/European tour.  Now the youngster has released his debut on Thien's record label and it's a powerhouse set with some impressive songwriting from Berg to go along with his considerable guitar skills and strong vocals.  He displays a lot of versatility with his own tracks, mixing blues/rock with jump blues, Texas shuffles, urban blues, and even a touch of country.  This is as solid a debut recording as I've heard in a while and I think you'll be hearing much more from Berg for many years to come.

Eric Bibb - Blues People (Stony Plain Records):  It's always a wonderful musical experience to hear a new album from Bibb.  His blues are so gentle and elegant, the music is a delight and the message is usually thought-provoking.  His latest is no exception, focusing on the historical journey of African-Americans (the original "blues people").  Actually, the album title has a double meaning, as Bibb is joined on this release by several current "blues people," including Popa Chubby, Guy Davis, J.J. Milteau, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Taj Mahal, Ruthie Foster, Harrison Kennedy, Leyla McCalla, and producer Glen Scott.  There's always a spiritual undercurrent to Bibb's music and usually an upbeat nature.  The centerpiece of this release is "Rosewood," a narrative of the small town in Florida that was the site of a horrible racially-driven massacre in the 1920's.  Despite its subject matter, the song still manages to project a message of optimism for the future.  Every blues fan should have at least one Eric Bibb disc in their collection, and this is not a bad choice.

Check back next week to find out about even more new and upcoming releases.