Friday, January 15, 2016


Last year, FBF did a post on all of the blues artists who passed away in 2014.  After posting it, I realized that I left several artists off the list, thanks to some readers who were helpful enough to let me know.  This year, I started another post, but there were so many gaps in my list that I decided against finishing it, at least for now until I'm able to get a more complete list.  Maybe in a few weeks, I may be able to get the list more to my satisfaction, at least enough to do a post.

In the meantime........over the past couple of weeks, music fans have seen several musicians pass away.  Sometimes it seems like when it rains, it pours, but over the last week, we've lost a major pop music star with links to the blues.......David Bowie (January 10th) and the blues world also lost two major players as well........Long John Hunter (January 4th) and Otis Clay (January 8th).

I first heard Long John Hunter on his initial release for Alligator, 1996's Border Town Legend, and I was hooked.  Hunter's music was pretty basic and simple.  Albert Collins' once said, "Simple music is the hardest music to play and blues is simple music."  It's the mark of a master bluesman when he can take the most basic of blues and play it like no one else can.  Magic Slim had that quality, for sure, and truthfully, so did Long John Hunter's music idol, B.B. King.

Hunter was born in Louisiana and raised in Arkansas, but he ended up in Beaumont, TX working at a box factory in his early 20's.  He went to a B.B. King concert and his whole world changed.  He was amazed at the reception that King got, especially from the women in the audience.  He bought a guitar the next day and soon taught himself how to play, forming a band within the week.  Soon, he was headlining at the club where he saw King play.

Hunter tried recording in the mid 50's, cutting a pair of sides for Duke Records and spending some time playing there before moving to El Paso and becoming the headliner at the Lobby Bar in Juarez, Mexico for the next 13 years, seven nights a week from dark to daylight.  He recorded a few more sides for the Yucca label in the early 60's, collected on Ooh Wee Pretty Baby in 1999.  Hunter's guitar style was a combination of King, Albert Collins, and Gatemouth Brown, but with his own unique spin.

Lonnie Brooks, Long John Hunter, Phillip Walker

Hunter recorded Ride With Me for Spindletop Records in the early 90's, an excellent release which eventually led to his signing with Alligator and releasing two more solo albums (Border Town Legend from 1996 and 1997's Swinging From The Rafters).  The label also reissued Ride With Me to allow it more exposure than it received upon initial release.  All three of these albums are worth having.  He also released a collaborative effort with two artists who cited him as influences, Lonnie Brooks and Phillip Walker.  Lone Star Shootout was an enormously entertaining album and was something of a sequel to another Alligator collaboration from a few years earlier, Showdown!

Hunter didn't record as frequently in the 21st Century, releasing only two albums, One Foot In Texas (with his brother Tom) in 2003 and 2009's Looking For A Party.  He retired from performing in 2011 and settled in Phoenix, where he died at home on January 4th at age 84.  If you missed out on Long John Hunter's music, you really missed a treat.

The news that Otis Clay passed away on Friday night really knocked me for a loop.  From the first time I heard him sing "Trying To Live My Life Without You," in the late 80's on a Hi Records compilation, he was my favorite vocalist.  He was just an incredibly passionate singer, whether singing his righteous brand of deep southern soul and blues or his beloved gospel tunes.  He sounded like he felt every note he sang deep in his heart.  I've heard a lot of singers in my time that were very good at what they did, but Otis Clay just always took it to another level, as far as I was concerned.

 Clay was born in Waxhaw, MS on February 11, 1942, but moved with his family to Muncie, Indiana when he was a youth.  The church was always a big part of his life growing up and he joined a gospel group in Muncie.  In 1957, his family moved to Chicago and Clay became a member of the Golden Jubilaires, but he was also interested in performing secular music.  When he was 20, he recorded some R&B tracks in the hopes of selling them to a major label, but the sides were not released.  In 1965, he signed with One-Derful! Records, after being introduced to the label head by fellow gospel singer Maurice Dollison (later known as blues/R&B artist Cash McCall).  Clay released some impressive singles for the label that seamlessly merged soul and gospel, such as "That's How It Is (When You're In Love)" and "A Lasting Love."  These tracks were later collected on Testify! in 2003.

When One-Derful! folded, Clay's contract was sold to Atlantic Records and he was placed on their new subsidiary, Cotillion and was the first artist to record on that label, with a powerful cover of the Sir Douglas Quintet's "She's About A Mover."  Some of his later sides for Cotillion were produced by Willie Mitchell, which started a great partnership and helped guide Clay to Hi Records, where Mitchell was a producer.  In 1972, "Trying To Live My Life Without You" was his first release and was his biggest hit.  Many music fans, like me, probably first heard this song when Bob Seger's cover made it into the pop Top Ten in the early 80's.  Clay recorded for Hi from 1972 - 1977 and had many memorable tunes, such as "I Die A Little Each Day," "If I Could Reach Out (And Help Somebody)," "Hard Working Woman," and "Precious Precious," but Hi's primary focus was on Al Green, so Clay and other Hi artists like Syl Johnson, O.V. Wright, and Ann Peebles were sort of relegated to the background.  The cream of Clay's Hi recordings have been collected on Best of the Hi Records Years.

By the late 70's, Clay was recording for the Kayvette label, and later on his own label, Echo Records.  He cut a fantastic live album, Soul Man:  Live in Japan, for Rooster Blues in 1983 (Clay enjoyed a phenomenal following in Japan) that was later reissued on Rounder's Bullseye Blues label in 1991.  A couple of years later, he released two excellent studio albums for Bullseye (I'll Treat You Right in 1992 and This Time Around in 1998), the second one being produced by Mitchell.

During this time, Clay also continued to record gospel songs, releasing sets for Bullseye and Blind Pig in the early 90's (On My Way Home and The Gospel Truth, both in 1993) and Walk A Mile In My Shoes in 2007 on his Echo label.  Someone on Facebook stated last week that it seemed like Clay sang at nearly every blues man or woman's funeral over the past few years.  He did perform a stirring "When The Gates Swing Open" at B.B. King's funeral last May, and that song was a favorite of many of his fans.

Clay also recorded a live album for Blind Pig (Respect Yourself) at the 2003 Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland that was released in 2005 and in 2013, he released Truth Is:  Putting Love Back Into the Music on Echo.  Since then, he's recorded duet albums with Johnny Rawls (2014's Soul Brothers) and most recently with Billy Price (2015's This Time For Real), and over the years, he appeared on albums from The Bo-Keys, Dave Specter, Calvin Owens, and many others.

Clay was preparing for a upcoming tour when he died suddenly of a heart attack last Friday night.  Over the weekend, Facebook was blowing up with testimonies and tributes about him, citing his kind and gentle spirit, his generosity and devotion to local causes and charities in Chicago, and his unending devotion to soul, blues, and gospel music.  I was friends with Clay on Facebook and talked to him a couple of times on there, the last time to complement him on his singing at King's funeral.  He was always cordial and always gracious.  He will be much missed in the blues community by fans and fellow musicians alike.  If you're not familiar with Otis Clay's music, any of the albums cited above are a great place to start.

Though he wasn't usually associated with the blues, blues fans owe David Bowie a debt of gratitude.  When I first started listening to music seriously in the early/mid 70's, I became familiar with David Bowie's music.....mostly after his "Ziggy Stardust" days, though.  He had several songs that were played on the radio....."Changes," "Fame," "Golden Years," "Rebel Rebel," and "Young Americans."  I liked all of these songs, but he changed so often, hence the nickname "Pop Chameleon," that it was sort of hard for me to really keep up with him.  There were certain styles I liked then, more in the R&B/pop vein and I was pretty rigid in those "likes" at the time....not wavering from that path for very much of anything, so I did miss out, and not just on Bowie, but other groups that I've since gone back and rediscovered.  Thank goodness the passage of time clears the head and the ears.

Bowie, Vaughan, and Let's Dance producer Nile Rodgers

One of Bowie's albums that really got a lot of attention was released when I was in college.  Let's Dance was all over the radio, the TV (via MTV's constant airing of his videos), and on many stereos and turntables.  The title track was a major hit, and a couple of other songs followed suit...."China Girl" and "Modern Love."  In 1982, Bowie had been impressed by a American band called Double Trouble that was performing at the Montreux Festival, particularly their guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Bowie asked Vaughan to play on his upcoming album, Let's Dance, and the young guitarist's foot was in the door (the Montreux appearance was very beneficial for the band......Jackson Browne also heard them and offered them free recording time in his studio, which is how and where Texas Flood was recorded in 1983).  The clip below is from rehearsals for Bowie's Serious Moonlight tour (May to December, 1983), with SRV on guitar.  Vaughan eventually dropped out, some say because of contract negotiations......I remember reading at the time that Vaughan left because Double Trouble was originally slated to open for Bowie, but the offer was withdrawn and he refused to go without them.

Whether you're a fan of Bowie or not, you have to acknowledge that he was a tremendous influence on modern pop music, especially during the 70's.  I've backtracked over the years and listened to more of his music, even discovering that the first two or three bands he was a member of were actually blue bands.....the King Bees, the Manish Boys, and the Lower Third.  His musical vision was pretty amazing, especially when one considers the number of artists he influenced over an extended period of time.  However, blues fans should forever be grateful for his choosing of Stevie Ray Vaughan to play on one of his best-selling albums, helping the guitarist and his band get their start (by the way, when Bowie was recording music for the movie Labyrinth in the mid 80's, he employed another guitarist for a song...the Iceman Albert Collins).

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