There are only a few weeks left in Spring (although we're already approaching the low 90's on some days down here in MS), so Friday Blues Fix wraps up our look at a few more of the season's best new blues releases. As always, extended reviews of these albums can be found in current and future releases of Blues Bytes.....THE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.
Jackie Payne - I Saw The Blues (Blue Dot Records): Last spring, Payne finished up the recording of this album, his second solo effort, and was planning to release it at the end of 2014. He suffered a major stroke in October and the album was shelved until guitarists Kid Andersen (who owns Greaseland Studios, where the album was recorded) and Anthony Paule began working to get the album finished up and released. Soul/blues fans should send these two a big Thank You note for their efforts because Payne was at his best on these recordings. He penned six of the twelve tracks and the cover tunes are not the standard cover fare, so they will be new to a lot of listeners. Andersen and Paule provide excellent support on guitar and there's also a terrific horn section in tow.
Though Payne's prognosis was initially grim, he has made some amazing strides in his rehabilitation. There's a benefit show in San Francisco at Biscuits and Blues on May 31st (this Sunday) to help raise money for his medical expenses and for the release of this album. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by, check out the great music, buy this disc, and help one of the unsung heroes of the soul/blues genre get back on his feet again.
Tad Robinson - Day Into Night (Severn Records): Keeping in the soul/blues vein, Tad Robinson is one of the finest vocalists in the genre these days. His sound mixes Chicago and Memphis in equal measures and he's also a fine harmonica player. He's part of the great soulful roster at Severn Records and this is his fourth CD for the label. He's backed by one of the finest "house bands" around.......guitarist Johnny Moeller, bassist Steve Gomes, keyboardist Kevin Anker, and drummer Robb Stuppka....and they played a big part in the proceedings with Gomes and Anker co-producing (with David Earl) and collaborating on most of the songwriting with Robinson.
There's also an excellent horn section, plus some guest appearances by a pair of fine guitarist, Texas string-bending legend Anson Funderburgh and longtime Robinson collaborator Alex Schultz. The songwriting is uniformly excellent with a cool late-night vibe that brings to mind vintage 60's and 70's soul and R&B. For those who say that soul music is a thing of the past, Day Into Night will prove them wrong. Fans of Robinson or soul/blues shouldn't pass this one up.
Peter Novelli - St. Amant Sessions(Chalet Music, LLC): Singer/songwriter/guitarist Novelli has played with and written songs for a pretty impressive list of musicians, such as Dr. John, Sonny Landreth, Chris Thomas King, Greg "Fingers" Taylor, and many others. For his third release, Novelli travelled to St. Amant, LA to Brian Brignac's Sound Shack. Backed by a strong band that includes Brignac on drums, Chris Senac on bass, and Kevin McKendree (of Delbert McClinton's band) on keyboards, Novelli rips through a set of Louisiana-based blues and roots music that's bound to get you up and moving.
Landreth joins Novelli on one track, "Louisiana Surprise," which Novelli wrote in tribute to the legendary slide guitarist. Also joining in the fun is zydeco star Chubby Carrier, whose accordion adorns a couple of standout tracks. Novelli's songwriting is spot-on, and his versatile guitar and strong vocals are a plus as well. I plugged this one in prior to my trip to Jazz Fest and it really helped put me in the mood. It should do the same to you if you have a hankering for the sounds of the Bayou State.
Sherwood Fleming - Blues Blues Blues (Dynaflow Records): A few weeks ago, we looked at Dynaflow Records' fine release from Jewel Brown. The label's latest release features a transplanted Mississippian, Sherwood Fleming, who first found fame in the 50's, recording for Modern Records with a little success ("Good Woman Blues") before giving up on music for many years. Dynaflow label head Eddie Stout helped him get back on track with a few gigs, then teamed him up with some of Austin, TX's finest musicians, including Johnny and Jason Moeller and sax man Kaz Kazanoff for this outstanding release.
Fleming mixes six original tunes with six well-chosen covers that range from Mahalia Jackson's moving "Trouble of the World" to Andre Williams' "Jailbait" to the classic "My Time After Awhile." His own compositions show Fleming to be an underrated songwriter (he penned the late 60's/early 70's hit "For Five Long Years" for the late blues singer Larry Davis). Fleming is complemented perfectly by Johnny Moeller's guitar work. This is a nice and surprising comeback release for Fleming, who is approaching his 80's, and hopefully, we will be hearing more from him soon.
Hans Theessink & Terry Evans - True & Blue (Live)(Blue Groove Records): I have really enjoyed Theessink's last few recordings. His fluid guitar work and his warm baritone vocals are a nice combination. Since 2008, he has collaborated with native Mississippian and former Ry Cooder sideman Terry Evans on a pair of excellent studio recordings (2008's Visions and 2012's Delta Time). Evan's gospel-flavored soul vocals is a perfect complement to Theessink's vocals and their latest release together finds them performing a 14-song acoustic set in Vienna.
The set list includes six Theessink originals and eight cover tunes, mostly tracks they performed on their studio releases, with a couple of songs from Theessink's own albums mixed in. There's also a Delta-styled reworking of one of Evans' tunes from his magnificent late 80's album with Bobby King (see below). This is a very enjoyable live set. The duo is obviously having fun with the songs and the audience is very receptive to their efforts. If you've not experienced the musical talents of Theessink and Evans, this would be a great place to start.
Last Friday, like many of you, I woke up to the news that B.B. King had passed away the night before. He passed away about twenty minutes before last Friday's post went live. Two weeks before that, there was an announcement on King's website that he was under hospice care, so most of us were probably prepared for the worst when we heard that.
Even though the inevitable happened two weeks later, it was still a jolt. For so many blues fans......heck, ALL blues fans......B.B. King has been the face of the Blues for as long as we can remember. For me, I can remember seeing him on the Tonight Show one night when I was probably six or seven and couldn't sleep. All I can remember of that first experience is his sharp tuxedo, his booming voice, those Doc Severinsen horns blaring, the way he clapped his hands to the beat (the back of his right hand hitting the front of his left hand), the funny faces that he made when he was bending the strings, and those sweet sounds coming from his guitar.
Later on, when I was watching one of my favorite shows, Sanford & Son, he was a guest star. He played "How Blue Can You Get," which remains one of my all-time favorite songs, mainly based on this performance. At that time, I was probably ten or eleven, but I thought that was the coolest song....I mean, who my age had ever heard a song about a woman trying to give seven children back. Whenever I hear that song now, I still think of that scene from Sanford & Son. I think I found out that King was born in Mississippi from that episode, too, so the fact that we had a home state in common made him that much more interesting to me.
In the late 70's, I can remember one of the TV record companies offering one of those 3 LP/2 8-Track or Cassette collections of King's greatest hits. That was the first time that I'd heard a lot of these songs, and even though they were mere snippets of the songs, they stuck in my mind. I would have probably sent a self-addressed stamp and money order to get this set if I'd had anything to play it on back then. That was probably the widest exposure I had to his music at that point.
When I started listening to the blues on a regular basis, I picked up a couple of B.B. King albums in my first round of purchases. Of course, when you went to the record store, there were lots of B.B. King albums in the racks. He had a lot of his regular albums still in print, plus a few budget compilations, on MCA Records, his label at the time. Plus there were also some budget albums that captured his earlier recordings.....you could really find these in convenience store racks or in truck stops and such. The first ones I picked up were Live At Cook County Jail and a collection called Great Moments with B.B. King.
Later on, I stumbled onto King's earliest recordings when I started doing the mail-order thing. The U.K. label Ace had several collections of King's earliest recordings for RPM or Kent Records from the 50's and early 60's. Even though I enjoyed the later recordings that King did for ABC (later MCA), those early recordings were incredible. Up until that point, I had no idea just how long King had been toiling away. His career lasted over 65 years! There were several qualities that enabled King to stand out among the crowd for so long.
1) His inimitable guitar work. No one played guitar exactly like B.B. King. Nobody could bend those notes quite like he did with that piercing vibrato sound. It was instantly recognizable when King did it. No blues guitarist has spawned more imitators.....that's not really the right word, more like disciples, followers, than imitators. Nearly every blues guitarist over the past 50 - 60 years owes a huge debt to King.....Luther Allison (you could hear King doing "Bad Love" pretty easily), Albert King, Freddy King, Eric Clapton, Long John Hunter, Carlos Santana, Otis Rush, Jimi Hendrix, Little Milton, Robert Cray, and so many others. King probably played less guitar than any other so-called "Guitar Hero"........he took short, crisp, concise solos, and he said as much or more in those few notes as most other guitarists did in a five - ten minute stretch. Even his instrumental tracks were a model of taste and precision. So, sit back for a few minutes and listen to King and his main lady, Lucille, play the blues.
2) His incredible voice. Influenced in equal parts by blues, R&B, and gospel, King's voice was as much a force of nature as his guitar work. He squeezed every ounce of emotion out of every lyric he ever sang. In his early years, he was capable of the highest highs and the grittiest "down-lows," usually within a few seconds of each other on some songs. Like his guitar work, his vocal style has been imitated, but never duplicated.
3) His versatility. If you get a chance, check out the box set, The Vintage Years. What an incredible collection of songs! King had a huge number of hits during his years with the Modern set of labels (which is the focus of this box set), and they are represented here, but there are also tracks that find King doing soul, gospel, doo wop, and even rock & roll. He incorporated these musical styles into his brand of blues, though his sound remained distinctively B.B. King. After King signed with ACB in the early 60's, he continued to blend these sounds into his blues, along with a generous portion of pop music and funk music, beginning in the 70's, when he had hits like "The Thrill Is Gone," "To Know You Is To Love You," "I Like To Live The Love," etc....Those last two were recorded at Philadelphia using the band that backed 70's hitmakers like the O'Jays and the Spinners. He even recorded several times with the Crusaders, scoring with "Hold On" and "Better Not Look Down," backed by the jazzy Houston group. In his later years, he covered a number of the R&B/swing legend Louis Jordan's tunes. He was always working, always experimenting with new styles while retaining his own sound.
4) His live performances. Probably nothing got the word out more effectively than his live shows. For years, he gigged an average of 300 nights a year, playing all over the world. His numerous live albums stand as testimony to his incredible stamina, durability, and resiliency. There are several of these albums that are indispensable......Live At Cook County Jail, Live in Japan, Blues Is King, and of course, Live At The Regal. The latter collection captures King at his best with a tremendously enthusiastic audience that hangs on his every word and his master showmanship is on full display. Despite the accolades that it represented him at his very best, King always insisted that it was more of a TYPICAL B.B. King performance than anything else. In other words, that's the way he did it every night in every town.
When I saw him several years ago, he was in his late 70's, midway through his struggles with diabetes, forced to sit in a chair, facing an audience of less than 200 people (you read that correctly.....apparently there were some problems with publicizing the concert). King might as well have been at Carnegie Hall.....he gave everything he had to that 200-person crowd, who loved every minute of his performance. He played well over two hours, and this was after he did a fairly extended meet-and-greet autograph session with endless kindness and patience. As much as I liked him before I saw him perform, I loved him for the time he took to that small group of fans.....making every one of them feel important.
5) Actually, that's the fifth thing that put King a cut above the rest.......his incredibly kind and generous nature to his fans and admirers. All I really need to cite for this example are his annual B.B. King Homecoming event that he did in Indianola and his annual appearances at the benefits honoring the late Medgar Evers in June of each year. This allowed King the opportunity to perform in front of the people that he grew up with and their families and it was probably the only chance that many had to see him. In a way, it was probably as big a deal to him to get to play for them as it was for them to actually see him perform. From what I understood from talking to Mary Shepard (longtime owner of Club Ebony) at his museum several years ago, King only insisted that his band be compensated for their performances at these events......he never took any money himself.
Speaking of the museum, if you are in the neighborhood, or within a couple of states, and you're a fan of B.B. King, you MUST take a couple of hours and visit. It's an absolutely wonderful experience.
It's hard to say just where the blues would be as a musical genre without the long and enduring presence of B.B. King. Sure, the music would still be played, but how many people came to the blues via B.B. King that probably would not have ever heard it otherwise......who were exposed to the blues via his appearances on TV shows (the Tonight Show, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall, Sanford & Son, The Cosby Show, Married.....With Children, etc....) or his numerous TV commercials (McDonald's, Toyota, Frito-Lay, the One-Touch Ultra diabetes monitoring devices)? Did you ever consider how many people were prompted to test for diabetes based on King's aggressive campaign against the disease? He showed many (me included) that you were able to live with it and continue to thrive with just a few changes in lifestyle.
When I heard that King had passed away, I was sad for a few minutes, but then I was actually relieved. I had really been sad a few months earlier, when he began having problems on stage and it was obvious that he was struggling with his health. .When it was announced that he was under hospice care, I really felt low. After he died, well.......I will close by sharing what my cousin posted on Facebook when he heard the news......it's more profound and eloquent than anything I've said so far.
Maybe it's just me, but I don't see this as a sad moment. I truly feel so fortunate that I was around at the time this man was on this Earth. He lived an incredible, FULL life and gave this world so much!
RIP BB King
R.I.P. B.B., and thanks for everything!
Previous Friday Blues Fix posts that featured King are listed below:
Over the past few weeks, I was sort of feeling nostalgic for some of my old favorites......artists that I started listening to in my early days as a blues fan when I was buying cassettes. As time passed, I moved on to other artists and other formats, like most listeners will do, but in recent weeks, I found myself drawn back to some of my old favorites. This week, FBF will take a look at three old favorites repurchased in new formats, plus another release from a few years ago that I finally decided to check out. Take a look.....
The Fabulous Thunderbirds - The Bad and Best of.....(Repertoire): About two months ago, I saw a great performance by the T-Birds at the MSU Riley Center. I had sort of lost track of the band in the early 90's after Jimmie Vaughan left and there was a bit of time between their releases, but they were one of the first blues acts that I got to see perform. Kim Wilson is one of the best harmonica players on the planet, and has been for a long time, and Vaughan was the epitome of cool in his snazzy outfits and cool and classy guitar work. I became a fan in the early 80's, actually before I had even heard of Vaughan's younger brother, after I heard the band playing on Carlos Santana's solo album, Havana Moon.
The Epitome of Blues Cool - The Fabulous Thunderbirds, late 80's
A lot of their later fans may not realize that the Thunderbirds released several albums before hitting it big with their hit album and song, Tuff Enuff, in 1986. Several of these albums were produced by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, who were part of the legendary late 70's/early 80's band Rockpile. The T-Birds had toured with Rockpile and Edmunds and Lowe were blown away by the band's talent and played a big role in getting the word out.
When the T-Birds signed with CBS, their sound changed a bit, moving away from the rough-edged blues and R&B of their first four albums to a more slick and polished sound that leaned more toward rock and pop. After Vaughan's departure, several standout guitarists filled the void admirably, including Duke Robillard, Kid Bangham, the late Nick Curran, and Kirk "Eli" Fletcher. Most of the band's "Greatest Hits" sets have focused more heavily on the CBS recordings, which is not a bad thing because the T-Birds have consistently made quality music, but either the Wilson/Vaughan edition was missing a big portion of their best work on the collections or the collections that did feature the early years left off the later hits.
Then I found this release, from the UK label Repertoire, that offers the most complete look at the Wilson/Vaughan edition to date, beginning in the late 70's, offering three or four tracks from each of their first four lesser-known albums, and wrapping up the hits from "Tuff Enuff" to "Powerful Stuff," from the 1989 album of the same title. For blues fans, this is the collection that will be the most satisfying (even though the track below is not included......one of their best show-stoppers back in the day.....and a couple of others that would have fit in nicely, such as their "Staggerlee" track from one of the Porky's movies during their CBS years) and it proves two things.....1) Kim Wilson may not be in a class by himself as a harmonica player, but as Bum Phillips used to say, "it don't take long to call the roll," and 2) Jimmie Vaughan is one of the finest blues guitarists currently drawing breath.....just watch below.
More recently, the band has settled into a nice groove with a pair of outstanding young Texas string-benders....Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller. If you haven't checked out their latest release, On The Verge, a modern soul/R&B classic, or seen them in performance, where they have a great mix of new tunes and old classics, you need to seize the opportunity.
R.L. Burnside - Too Bad Jim (Fat Possum) and Junior Kimbrough and the Soul Blues Boys - All Night Long (Fat Possum): I first heard Burnside and Kimbrough on the Deep Blues soundtrack (which should be REQUIRED listening for any blues fan, despite it's out-of-print status), and was completely mesmerized by the hypnotic quality of their music. I had never heard anything quite like it, which may be hard to believe for blues fans now because there are so many purveyors of the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues sound these days. Twenty years ago, that wasn't the case at all.....there were really only these two guys.
Around the same time that Deep Blues hit the racks, Fat Possum Records came into existence out of Oxford, MS. They put a beautiful color ad on the inside front cover of Living Blues, which is how I found out about it. Their first three albums were from Burnside, Kimbrough, and the underrated Arkansas singer/songwriter/harmonica player John Weston. Back in those days, the only way to order anything was to either fill out an order form and drop it in the mail with a check or money order or call an 800 number. I ordered all three albums on cassette and played them over and over again (I wrote about Weston's album here a few years back), and continued to listen to their new releases for several years afterward.
Burnside and Kimbrough
Too Bad Jim is actually Burnside's second Fat Possum release, out in 1994. Though I did enjoy his Fat Possum debut, Bad Luck City, this one has a slight edge to me, maybe Burnside sounds a little more comfortable on this one, or the band is a little sharper, or the songs are more varied or cohesive.....I don't know for sure, but it was really cool to plug this one in the CD player after not hearing it for nearly twenty years. I really like his version of Fred McDowell's "Shake 'em on Down"......it's really loose and funky, "Fireman Ring the Bell," with it's distinctive guitar tone," the hypnotic "Peaches," the frenetic ".44 Pistol," and the best version ever of Burnside's "Goin' Down South," which closes this fantastic album, which was produced by Deep Blues author Robert Palmer and featured Burnside with drummer Calvin Jackson, bass player (and son) Duwayne Burnside, and guitarist Kenny Brown.
Kimbrough's Fat Possum debut, All Night Long, was recorded in his juke joint, a converted church. He's backed by Burnside's son, Garry, on bass, and Kenny Malone (Kimbrough's son) on drums. Rockabilly legend Charlie Feathers once called Kimbrough "the beginning and end of all music," and that's as apt a description as I can come up with myself. The songs sort of fall together at the beginning and fall apart at the end, but it's completely mesmerizing. Kimbrough's world-weary vocals, his guitar playing, at once droning and hypnotic, then eerily melodic, and just the sheer energy of the music is just amazing. Although other artists have tried to duplicate Kimbrough's music since his death in 1998, including various family members who grew up around that sound, I can say that I've never heard anyone sing and play just like Junior Kimbrough, and I don't think I ever will. His sound was completely and uniquely his own, and some of his most memorable tunes, the title track, "Meet Me In The City," "Do The Romp!," "You Better Run," and "Done Got Old," are here in probably their best versions.
Several years ago, while browsing Amazon, I stumbled onto a live CD from Robert Randolph & the Family Band called, appropriately, Live in Concert. I had been a huge fan of Randolph, since hearing his Live At The Wetlands CD (one of the best live albums ever) several years earlier, but I had heard next to nothing about this live album and there was little information about it online that I could find. I placed it on my Wish List and basically forgot about it, picking up two more of Randolph's later recordings over the past couple of years.
This spring, I ran across it on my list (which is several pages long), and decided to give it a try. I have to say that it is definitely worth a listen. It's a bit different from the previous live album. Most of the tracks on the first live release were long, extended jams, while the songs on this disc are tunes from his previous studio releases, with more structure (though there are still a few great instrumental runs present), There are also a few guest stars present this time around, including Susan Tedeschi, who sings on the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There," Ryan Shaw guests in the EW&F classic, "Shining Star," Steel guitarist Chuck Campbell also appears, along with Joey Williams of the Blind Boys of Alabama. Also, as you might have guessed from a couple of the tracks listed above, there are several tunes here that are not on other Randolph albums,.....a few originals, like "Peekaboo," which is sort of a throwback to the Wetlands disc, and a few covers, including a scorching version of "Purple Haze" closes the disc.
This is a very enjoyable disc and it's a nice complement to Live At The Wetlands, showing that Randolph continues to evolve as a guitarist, singer, and interpreter. We'll be looking at his latest collaboration with The Word (Soul Food) in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.
Greetings! We will be touching on a few different topics this week......
First off, B.B. King announced last week that he was under hospice care at his home in Las Vegas. There have been conflicting reports that he was having issues with his blood pressure and diabetes, that he suffered a mild heart attack or stroke, that his management was abusing him, keeping friends and musicians from seeing him, and stealing from him. His family and his management are in a big dispute over who is handling his affairs. It's really sad that it's come to this. A court decision today stated that King was not being abused by his management, but the family is still trying to wrest power of attorney away from King's longtime manager. I'm not sure who's in the right and who's wrong, but please keep this great man in your prayers and hope that this can be resolved with as little turmoil as possible, so his final days can at least be peaceful ones.
More sad news.......Randy Chortkoff, founder, president, and CEO of Delta Groove Productions, passed away on May 4th. Chortkoff worked tirelessly as a producer, promoter, and performer for a long time before founding Delta Groove about 15 years ago, where he continued his work with Delta Groove Records, Eclecto-Groove Records, No Respect Records, and Festivals Exclusive Booking Agency. He also continued to promote independent artists and festivals. Delta Groove is one of the major players in the blues these days, thanks to his tireless work. Chortkoff was 65 years old.
(Thanks to American Blues Scene for the information)
Last night (May 7th), the 2015 Blues Music Awards were held at Cook Convention Center in Downtown Memphis. Below are the categories, nominees, and winners (in bold). Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees.
Acoustic Album Hard Luck Child: A Tribute to Skip James – Rory Block Jericho Road – Eric Bibb Jigsaw Heart – Eden Brent Son & Moon: A Tribute to Son House – John Mooney Timeless – John Hammond
Eric Bibb John Hammond
Album Can’t Even Do Wrong Right – Elvin Bishop Living Tear To Tear – Sugar Ray & the Bluetones Memphis Grease – John Németh Refuse to
Lose – Jarekus Singleton Wrapped Up and Ready – The Mannish Boys
B.B. King Entertainer Bobby Rush
Elvin Bishop Band
John Németh & the Bo-Keys
Rick Estrin & the Nightcats
Sugar Ray & the Bluetones The Mannish Boys
Best New Artist Album Chromaticism – Big Harp George Don’t Call No Ambulance –
Selwyn Birchwood Heavy Water – Fo’ Reel Making My Mark – Annika Chambers & the Houston All-Stars One Heart Walkin‘ – Austin Walkin’ Cane
Contemporary Blues Album Can’t Even Do Wrong Right – Elvin Bishop Original – Janiva Magness Refuse to
Lose -Jarekus Singleton Hornet’s Nest – Joe Louis Walker BluesAmericana – Keb’ Mo’
Contemporary Blues Female Artist
Bettye LaVette Janiva Magness
Contemporary Blues Male Artist
Elvin Bishop Gary Clark Jr.
Joe Louis Walker
Historical From His Head to His Heart to His Hands – Michael Bloomfield
(Columbia/Legacy) Live at the Avant Garde – Magic Sam (Delmark) Soul & Swagger: The Complete “5” Royales 1951-1967 – The
“5” Royales (Rock Beat) The Modern Music Sessions 1948-1951 – Pee Wee Crayton (Ace) The Roots of it All-Acoustic Blues – Various Artists (Bear Family)
Bob Stroger Lisa Mann
Michael “Mudcat” Ward
Willie J. Campbell
Instrumentalist-Drums Jimi Bott
Anson Funderburgh Joe Bonamassa
Instrumentalist-Harmonica Charlie Musselwhite
Sugar Ray Norcia
Al Basile Deanna Bogart
Koko Taylor Award
Alexis P Suter
EG Kight Ruthie Foster
Pinetop Perkins Piano Player
Eden Brent Marcia Ball
Rock Blues Album Step Back – Johnny Winter Goin’ Home – Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band Time Ain’t Free – Nick Moss Band heartsoulblood – Royal Southern Brotherhood The Blues Came Callin’ – Walter Trout
“Another Murder in New Orleans” written by Carl Gustafson & Donald
Markowitz, performed by Bobby Rush and Dr. John with Blinddog Smokin’
“Bad Luck Is My Name” written and performed by John Németh “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” written and
performed by Elvin Bishop
“Let Me Breathe” written by Janiva Magness & Dave Darling, performed by
“Things Could Be Worse” written by Ray Norcia, performed by Sugar Ray & the
Soul Blues Album Blues for My Father – Vaneese Thomas Decisions – Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’ In My Soul - The Robert Cray Band Memphis Grease – John Németh Soul Brothers – Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls
Soul Blues Female Artist
Sharon Jones Sista Monica
Soul Blues Male Artist Bobby Rush
Traditional Blues Album Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill
Broonzy – Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin For Pops (A Tribute to Muddy Waters)
– Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson Livin’ it Up – Andy T-Nick Nixon Band Living Tear To Tear – Sugar Ray & the Bluetones The Hustle is Really On – Mark Hummel Wrapped Up and Ready – The Mannish Boys
Traditional Blues Male Artist
Billy Boy Arnold
John Primer Lurrie Bell
Sugar Ray Norcia
It's been a great week for the blues in the Bluff City but it's not quite over. There's another major event taking place this weekend in Memphis......the Grand Opening of the Blues Hall of Fame. We will be taking a closer look at it in a few weeks.
This past weekend, I attended the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for the first time in 21 years. From 1987 to 1994, I was a regular attendee, going at least once each year until family obligations, bills, etc...put our annual excursions on hold for a bit, then other things began to happen and soon, Jazz Fest became an afterthought.
Then, I made The Promise. My daughter is a huge fan of a musician named Ed Sheeran and for Christmas, she asked me for tickets to one of his shows. Well, Mr. Sheeran wasn't scheduled to appear anywhere in our vicinity for the next extended period, so no tickets were to be found. When I reported this to her, she asked if I would promise to take her to see him if he ever came close to us. Being the wonderful dad that I am, I promised to do so.
Although my kids had never been to Jazz Fest, I have been telling them how cool it was for years. They listened attentively, or pretended to do so in hopes that I would soon stop talking about it, and I told them we would have to go one day in the future. Well, I always look at the roster of musicians that will be performing at Jazz Fest and, lo and behold, this year's list included one Ed Sheeran. I decided that I would wait and see what day he was performing.....in case it was during the week since she would not be able to attend because of school.
Turns out that she was checking his tour dates all along and soon she found about he was at Jazz Fest. So, next thing you know, my sister and I are taking my daughter to Jazz Fest this past Saturday to see Ed Sheeran, an artist that I was almost totally unfamiliar with. Oh well, I figured, I'll learn more about this guy and it will give me an opportunity to show my daughter some of the other great music and culture that comes forth from Louisiana.
Cyril Neville at 2015 Jazz Fest (courtesy Offbeat)
That was the plan anyway. There were some pretty good acts playing that day. Aaron Neville was playing at the Blues Tent, the Royal Southern Brotherhood was playing, piano man Davell Crawford was doing a Fats Domino tribute, Kermit Ruffins, Terrence Blanchard, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc....plus there's always a jazz parade....those are cool to see. The craft tents are really neat. The food is fantastic......I'd been thinking about crawfish bread for two weeks before Saturday.
A few things have changed since the last time I attended. One of them is that the prices have soared. I think it used to cost maybe $10 to go in when I started going, and you could actually park inside the Fairgrounds for about $5 or so if you got there early enough. Now, you can park outside the Fairgrounds if you can find a parking spot, or pay someone in the neighborhood to let you park in their yard, or you can take a shuttle bus from either City Park or the Downtown area.
We opted to park at City Park and take the shuttle, which cost about $85 total....$70 for the Fest, $15 for the shuttle. Unfortunately, they were a few buses short for us to go in, so we waited about two hours at City Park, standing in a really long line. Luckily, it was fairly cool and everyone was in pretty good spirits and very patient. Also, the Jazz Fest staff stationed at the park (all unpaid volunteers from what I understand) were very nice and very helpful.
Once we made it to the Fairgrounds, I was totally unprepared for what I saw. I can safely say that I have never seen so many people in one place in my nearly 52 years of living. When we stepped onto the Fairgrounds, it looked like somebody had stirred up an ant bed. I have read reports stating that there were over 100,000 people in attendance that day (I would bet that it was closer to 150,000). I think approximately 40,000 of them were lined up at the Port-a-Johns.
Approximately 20,000 were lined up at the Food Booths, so we opted for the shortest line we could find, which served a shrimp/sausage bisque that was very tasty, but not the crawfish bread I had been dreaming of.....maybe next time. The inner circle of the Fairgrounds area, where the craft tents and such are located were nearly packed by folks who were sitting in chairs under the trees cooling off or visiting with friends, so it was pretty hard to get around in there and we opted out of there pretty fast.
It was taking a while to move from one place to another, and when we did make it near a stage, it was between acts, so I missed out on the Royal Southern Brotherhood and Kermit Ruffins (though I did get close enough to hear a little bit of his show). My daughter wanted to try and see a bit of Elton John's show before we headed to the opposite end of the Fairgrounds to see Ed Sheeran, so we tried to work our way over there, but quickly ran aground in a solid mass of humanity who had the same idea. We couldn't get within a quarter mile of the Acura Stage, where John was playing, so we backed off and headed to the race track area, hoping to work our way around to the other side, but struck out there as well.
Ed Sheeran at 2015 Jazz Fest
We decided that if we were going to actually see Ed Sheeran perform, we had better start in his direction, so we trudged across the packed soil of the race track and managed to get a pretty decent view of the stage. There were probably 35,000 to 40,000 folks waiting with us. Soon, Mr. Sheeran came out onstage. As I said, I was not familiar with him at all, but he did a great job, playing solo with his acoustic guitar, mixing a little bit of rock, soul, pop, and even a bluesy tune that most of the crowd talked through around us. I liked it okay, but my daughter LOVED it and when we finally headed for the exits a short time later, she began talking about going to Jazz Fest next year.
One of the other things that has changed about Jazz Fest over the years is the fact that they now feature some big name acts that lean more toward rock and pop mainstream music, such as John, Sheeran, the Who, and in recent years Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton. While this decision might have put off longtime fair goers, who enjoyed the earlier, more regional, feel of the festival with more local acts, it has really increased attendance in recent years. Hopefully, some of those who come to see the mainstream acts find time to take in some of the local Louisiana or southern-based musicians while they're visiting.
I think that if we do come back next year, we will look at possibly attending on Thursday or Friday. Back in the day, those days were usually less crowded, there were more local acts that played, and you could get around a lot better. While it was nice to actually return to Jazz Fest, it was a bit frustrating trying to get around and actually see or do anything.
It wasn't all frustration though......the T-shirts this year were really cool and those lines weren't so bad to deal with, and I would say that about 99% of the people we encountered were extremely nice. Also, the record tent is still there, with CDs from all or most of the acts playing the Fest. I also found out that Jazz Fest also offers CDs, DVDs, and downloads of previous performances dating back to around 2005 from many of their acts.
One of the great things I remember about my previous Jazz Fests was the music that I picked up in the tent from acts that I'd heard there. Now, you can actually buy CDs and occasionally DVDs of the performances you just watched (there's a place to buy them at the Jazz Fest website). I picked up CDs from two of my favorites....Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas and Walter "Wolfman" Washington, both from their 2011 Jazz Fest appearances.....but would have loved to have brought home a couple of others.
All in all, I've had better experiences. All the standing in long lines reminded me of registration during my college days and I'm not a real crowd person anymore. However, I remember what a huge influence that my previous Jazz Fest experiences were on my current music interests. My love for the blues really took off during those years and I discovered a lot of blues musicians that I probably never would have heard otherwise. Hopefully, my kids will one day be able to have such an experience, only maybe it will be on a day where it's a little easier to get from Point A to Point B so they can actually see a few things.
Besides, the smile on my daughter's face when her musical hero walked on stage was worth all of the crowds and lines we endured, so yeah, I'm pretty sure we'll be going back. So will a couple of hundred thousand other people as well.
Here we go.....another week, another set of great new recordings for you hungry blues fans to consume. This week, FBF will look at five new discs that deserve to be heard and should be in your collection in one format or another. There's plenty more where these came from, too.....enough that possibly we will be running a four-part New Blues For You for this spring, so keep checking back with us over the next few weeks. As always, expanded, more detailed reviews of each of these discs can be found in current or future issues of Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews. Let's get to it, beginning with......
Ian Siegal (with Alvin Youngblood Hart, Cody Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, Jimbo Mathus) - The Picnic Sessions(Nugene Records): About two years ago, British blues-rocker Siegal attended the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic near Oxford, MS, where he met up with local residents Luther and Cody Dickinson and Alvin Youngblood Hart (with whom he released the marvelous Candy Store Kid in 2012 as the Mississippi Mudbloods) and Jimbo Mathus. The five decided to meet up the next afternoon and jam at the Dickinson's Zebra Ranch studio, just five guys hanging out playing whatever instruments were within reach, impromptu, very old school with no modern technology involved whatsoever.....just sitting around a bunch of old microphones with an old tape machine.
The afternoon expanded to two afternoons and a session in which everyone obviously had a blast participating. The result is a spellbinding set of blues and roots music, mixing original tunes by Siegal (some written or re-written on the spot) with a few traditional songs. The vibe is definitely laid back, relaxed, and spontaneous with instrumentation that includes guitar, banjo, mandolin, mandocello and harmonica. Siegal's songs always hold your attention because they usually consist of subjects that all of us can relate to, plus his uniquely original knack with a lyric holds your attention. If you're into the Hill Country blues sound, or roots and Americana styles, this is a disc that you will want to hear. Check out a few samples below.....
Toots Lorraine - Make It Easy (self-released): This warm and classy set from velvety smooth singer Toots Lorraine and her husband/guitarist/producer Chad Dant mixes West Coast-styled blues with a few Chicago-esque blues tunes. Recorded at Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studios in the Bay Area using some of the West Coast's finest musicians,
Lorraine and Dant penned seven of the twelve tracks, and they blend pretty seamlessly with the cover tunes. Dant's guitar work and tone occasionally brings to mind the work of T-Bone Walker, and Lorraine's vocals shine on all the tracks. She's equally comfortable whether in blues, jazz, or gospel mode (check out her take on the gospel classic, "Wade in the Water," with backing from Dant and Andersen). This is a varied and well-rounded set that really shows the range and depth of Lorraine's voice and some fine old-school guitar work from Gant.
Guitar Heroes (James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett, David Wilcox) - Making History (Stony Plain Records): This is one of two great guitar collaboration discs that just hit stores (we'll talk about the other one in a couple of weeks). Most fans of well-played guitar will know these cats, whose marvelous string-bending spans multiple genres. This was originally planned as a one-time-only appearance at the Vancouver Island Musicfest in May of 2013 by festival artistic director (and a pretty tough guitarist himself) Doug Cox. It was recorded with the intent of giving each of the guitarists a souvenir disc of the occasion, but the end product was so good that Cox and Stony Plain chief Holger Petersen decided to release it for public consumption....and we should all send them a nice Thank You note for their efforts.
The foursome works through a 11-song set of blues, rock & roll, rockabilly, and country tunes, most of which will be familiar to any music fan. The set was taken live off the board, with no overdubs, no edits or fixes. Keep that in mind when you listen, as you hear how much room each guitarist gives the other to shine. There's no ego involved at all, nobody trying to one-up anybody else, just four legendary guitarists giving their best effort while playing with their peers. The only thing better than the disc would be to have witnessed it in person. Hopefully, this one-time deal will expand and we will get to hear these guys again soon.
Jewel Brown(featuring Bloodest Saxophone) - Roller Coaster Boogie(Dynaflow Records): Ms. Brown was part of one of 2012's best releases, Milton Hopkins & Jewel Brown. That disc led to a European, Asian, and South American tour, along with a nice gig at the Chicago Blues Festival. It also led her to Japan to record this great album with the fantastic Japanese swing band, Bloodest Saxophone.
The disc features thirteen classic blues, jazz, swing, pop, and R&B tunes and the 77-year-old Ms. Brown is like a force of nature on these tracks, sounding as great on the pop tunes as she does on the urban blues and R&B numbers. There's a wide range of songs here, too, both familiar and unfamiliar, including the theme to the old TV series, "Bewitched," and the jazz workout, "Afrodesia," but Ms. Brown shines the brightest on the blues and R&B tracks, with the highlight being "Ain't Nobody's Business."
Ms. Brown retired from the music business in the early 70's to take care of her parents, but has stepped back into the spotlight over the past decade. It's a shame we went so long without hearing her powerful vocals, but it's great to have her back for sure. Check out the video below for a little "Behind the Scenes" look at the making of the album.
John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - Live in 1967 (Forty Below Records): John Mayall has been singing and playing the blues since the late 50's, and his Bluesbreakers band served as a launching pad for numerous musicians, including a few who went on to do pretty well themselves....Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Walter Trout, Coco Montoya, Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar, and numerous others. One of the most formidable lineups included three future members of Fleetwood Mac. Bass player John McVie and guitarist Peter Green both served lengthy tenures with Mayall in the mid 60's, but they were joined for a three-month period in early 1967 by drummer Mick Fleetwood. From about February to May, 1967, this was the Bluesbreakers' line-up and because their time together was so brief, the band never made it into the studio.
During early 1967, a Dutch fan, Tom Huissen was able to sneak a one channel reel-to-reel tape recorder into five different London clubs during this three-month period, and was able to capture this band in performance. The tapes remained unheard until Mayall recently acquired them and began restoring them. Even though the final product is not pristine sound, it's good enough that you will be able to hear how great these performances are, especially Peter Green. I had heard for years when I started listening to the blues about this great British guitarist, but these recordings really show him at his best. The set list includes a lot of Otis Rush and Freddy King songs, two of Mayall's biggest influences, but also a few tracks from the Bluesbreakers' early recordings and a few that have never appeared before. Green and company left to form Fleetwood Mac not long after this, so it's really cool to see how things developed and how they turned out. This is definitely required listening for blues guitar fans.