Friday, April 29, 2016

Blues for Big Walter

In March, EllerSoul Records released Blues for Big Walter, a wonderful and loving tribute to one of the genre's most underrated harmonica players, Big Walter Horton.  Compiled and produced by longtime harmonica ace Li'l Ronnie Owens, this is a fantastic set of tunes from some of the genre's current harp wizards.  Current stalwarts like Kim Wilson (with Big Jon Atkinson), Nighthawks front man Mark Wenner, Mark Hummel, Steve Guyger, and Sugar Ray Norcia joins forces with up-and-coming players Kurt Crandall and Andrew Alli to play a mostly-familiar set of blues standards, many associated with Horton.  Another harmonica veteran, Bob Corritore, appears on two vintage recordings that feature a pair of Horton contemporaries, guitarists Jimmy Rogers and Robert Lockwood, Jr.  It's a fantastic listen for anyone who digs traditional blues and harmonica played well.

Friday Blues Fix paid tribute to Horton as part of the quartet that made up our Blues Mount Rushmore of harmonica players a couple of years ago, but he's certainly deserving of a lot more attention.  As a harmonica player, he had few peers, and few imitators.  He was a master of timing and tone (almost horn-like), both of these qualities are instantly recognizable in his music, and he was as adept an accompanist, backing such blues stalwarts as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Tampa Red, Jimmy Rogers, Honeyboy Edwards, and Johnny Shines, as he was a solo player.

Born in 1917 in Horn Lake, MS, he learned to play the harmonica by the time he was five years old.  His family had moved to Memphis by that time, and Horton also learned from two of the city's harp masters, Will Shade and Hammie Nixon.  Horton claimed to have recorded a couple of sides with the Memphis Jug Band in the 20's.....possibly so, since he did play with them during that time as a preteen.

In the 30's, he backed many of the artists listed above.....Johnson, Edwards, Shines, and Homesick James Williamson, even venturing north to Chicago for a time, where he backed a guitarist named Charlie "Little Buddy" Doyle on a few sides for Columbia Records.  Horton also claimed that he began to experiment with playing amplified harmonica during the late 30's/early 40's.  If this claim is true, then that would make him one of, or the first to play in an amplified setting.

Horton suffered from poor health throughout most of the 1940's and actually stopped playing harmonica for most of the decade, working odd jobs and giving the occasional lesson to musicians like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II.  In the late 40's, he returned to playing, backing B.B. King and Eddie Taylor while recording solo sides for Sam Phillips.  These were farmed out to Modern/RPM Records and released under the pseudonym "Mumbles," which was a name that Horton hated.

Around 1953, Horton hooked up with Muddy Waters and recorded and toured with him for a year after Waters' regular harp blower Junior Wells was drafted.  After one session, he was fired from the band, either for drinking too much or doing too many side gigs.  By that time, he was entrenched with Chess Records as a session player.  He also found time to return to Memphis to record for Phillips with Sun Records, including the classic instrumental "Easy."  In addition to his recordings with Chess and Sun, Horton recorded for Cobra, States, and Jewel Records during the 50's.  Horton's distinctive harmonica can be heard on several Windy City classics, such as Jimmy Rogers' "Walking By Myself," Otis Rush's "I Can't Quit You Baby," and Johnny Shines' "Evening Sun."

Horton continued to be active into the 60's, recording a full album for Chess, The Soul of Blues Harmonica, which featured Buddy Guy on guitar.  He also contributed several sides to the third volume of Vanguard's Chicago/The Blues/Today! series.  Those sides were some of Horton's best recorded work, and also featured one of Horton's prize students, Charlie Musselwhite.  During the 60's, Horton also worked and recorded with Rogers, Shines, Sunnyland Slim, Robert Nighthawk, and another pupil, Carey Bell, with whom he recorded the wonderful Big Walter Horton With Carey Bell LP for Alligator Records, the label's second-ever release, in 1973.

From The Blues Brothers

Also during the 70's, Horton performed with Willie Dixon's Blues All Stars on numerous tours of the U.S. and Europe.  He also toured solo off the success of the Alligator release with Bell, and backed Muddy Waters on his I'm Ready album in 1977.  During the same period, he recorded two excellent solo CDs for Blind Pig, Fine Cuts and Can't Keep Lovin' You,  A regular performer at the famed open-air market on Maxwell Street in Chicago, Horton also appeared briefly in the street scene of 1980's The Blues Brothers, backing John Lee Hooker.

Horton passed away in 1981 of heart failure,  Although he was widely respected among his peer, he never became the major figure he could have been due to several factors.  First, he simply lacked the temperament to be a band leader or session leader due to his extremely shy nature.  He also drank heavily and had trouble holding on to his money.  Fortunately, he still managed to work steadily for several decades, appearing on many of the classic blues recordings of the 50's, 60's and 70's and making some fine recordings of his own at the same time.

Blues for Big Walter is highly recommended.....there are some terrific performances by many of the blues' finest current harmonica players, with a few surprises along the way.  However, it is also highly recommended that listeners check out some of Horton's own recordings.  Chances are good that you already own many sides that he backed other artists on, but his own recordings are also a treat as well.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Ten Questions With.......the Brothers Brown

The Brothers Brown are a unique new band that seamlessly blend blues, rock, and R&B.  If you're a fan of classic tunes from artists like Boz Scaggs, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Band, or Little Feat, you will most definitely enjoy the band's recent debut album on Funky Joint Records, Dusty Road.

On their album, the band featured a rock solid rhythm section, David Santos (bass/guitars) and Pete Young (drums), and a pair of front men, both named Paul Brown.  The first Paul Brown is based in Los Angeles (L.A. Paul Brown) and is a two-time Grammy winning singer/guitarist/songwriter.  The second Paul Brown is based in Nashville (Brother Paul Brown) and has been nominated for a Grammy as a keyboardist/producer/songwriter for blues legend Bobby Rush.  They also enlisted the great Little Feat guitarist Paul Barrere as slide guitarist on one track and another Little Feat alum, bassist Kenny Gradney, has replaced Santos in the band since the album's release.

One amazing fact about Dusty Road is that the four parties who made the album were NEVER in the same room while recording the album.  Despite that, the performances and instrumental interplay are remarkable, mainly because all four have roots in the same musical soil......blues, jazz, rock, and soul.  All those genres are found on this outstanding new album.

If you're a fan of any of these genres, or the artists cited in the first paragraph, Dusty Road is an album that you should be seeking out.  But......before you do, check out Friday Blues Fix's Ten Questions with the two Paul Browns.  FBF thanks the Browns for taking the time to discuss their new album, their musical backgrounds, their influences, and their future plans, which hopefully include much more great music.

Ten Questions with the Brothers Brown

Current Edition of Brothers Brown, with Kenny Gradney on bass

Friday Blues Fix:  For starters, can you tell us about your musical backgrounds?

L. A. Paul Brown:  I started on drums at an early age, then in my teens took guitar lessons from a couple amazing teachers…… Ted Green and Tommy Tedesco.   Even in bands as a drummer, I was writing the songs and arranging them.   First real pro gig was drumming for Long John Baldry, a blues singer from England.  Started working in the recording studio in my twenties for Warner Brothers, engineering and later producing.

Brother Paul Brown:  Man, in 1975 at the age of 12, I’d landed in a school for the Homeless in Nashville, TN after my Mom died from a drug overdose.  It was there that an old upright piano found me and surely saved my ass and pulled me through so much.  By my third year in High school I was playing every instrument I could get my hands on -mostly piano and trumpet, though.  
At 17 I ran away from that school, hitchhiked back to Memphis with a road map and a trumpet country legend Louise Mandrell gave me for my birthday.  After about ten years’ worth of crazy struggles and living in most every park in Memphis, I landed my first publishing deal and started growing my engineering and producing wings.  During that time I landed some pretty life-altering soul gigs with Stax legend Shirley Brown and Hi Records soul legends Ann Peebles and Don Bryant.  From there, the list of artists and musical genres has flourished on levels I’d have never imagined.

Paul Brown & Brother Paul Brown

FBF:  So, how do we tell the Paul Browns apart?    

L.A. Paul Brown:  L.A. P.B. is about a foot taller with salt and pepper hair. Brother Paul is a blonde sex god  

Brother Paul Brown:  L.A. Paul’s is like a totally hip super tall pepper haired Ward Cleaver whom you’d’ve never imagined co-engineered the first Van Halen album.  Me?  Man I’m the cat who never let go of the ‘70’s and I wear the threads to prove it. 

FBF:  Growing up, who were some of your musical influences?

L.A. Paul Brown:  The Dead, The Band , Wes Montgomery

Brother Paul Brown:  KISS, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, The Beatles/Paul McCartney Aerosmith, Foreigner, Pink Floyd, ELO and Supertramp were my early ones.

First edition of Brothers Brown, with David Santos on bass

FBF:  How did Brothers Brown come to be?

L.A. Paul Brown:  I had wanted to start a blues band and play the style music I grew up listening to and playing. I had met Brother Paul on Facebook and knew he was a great blues B3 player and producer. My manager encouraged me to get out of L.A. and play with guys I didn’t know to do something completely different than I had been doing. I reached out to Paul and we starting formulating a band idea. Then called David Santos to play bass, and he brought Pete Young on board to play drums. We got a little gig in Nashville to see if there would be any magic, and bam, we vibed from the first note.

Brother Paul Brown:  Ok, Just for the record, I’ve never considered myself a Blues cat and quite honestly wasn’t ever even that interested in the genre (In the purest sense – I repeat  IN the purest sense) In the last part of 2001 I’d actually just ended a 2 year stretch with the Rock Icon Jimi Jamison (R.I.P.) and Survivor ("Eye of the Tiger") and had found myself in between gigs.  Then out of nowhere I get a call from Blues legend Bobby Rush who had seen me play over the years with Ms. Brown and Ann Peebles.  I jumped in without blinking twice and although Bobby is a poster child for “The Blues” right off the bat.....loved how he had this insanely funky left of center approach and anyone who knows me KNOWS I’m left of center.  We hit it off and before I knew what hit me in the head I was making my first full on blues funk album with Mr. Rush (Show You a Good Time).

Fast forward to 2014.  Three Bobby Rush Blues albums later I’m finding myself at the Grammys with a nominated album in a category I never even considered myself that connect to......BLUES!  It was there that I met up with L.A. Paul who, while I was mentally ready to get away from “The Blues,” was dying to play “The Blues”!   We hit off super-fast though and within one hang, L.A, Paul had me convened to put a killer band together so he could fulfill his “Blues Destiny”.   During that conversation I remember saying “Man I’m done with the Blues for a while”. He says “Man you can’t outrun The Blues.”  I said “Man watch me.” I lost that bet…   L.A. Paul called a killer bass player in Nashville, David Santos, who then called drummer Pete Young and started writing and flying all the crazy brilliant ideas that stretched so much further than just “The Blues”

FBF:  One of you is based in L.A., the other in Nashville?  What are the differences in the musical environments between the two cities?

L.A. Paul Brown:  L.A. is a real hybrid of genres, including the movie and TV biz. Nashville is more country , blues, Americana

Brother Paul Brown:  I second L.A. Paul except to add that I’m seeing a lot of great rock cats moving to Nashville and making killer albums.  Wait till you hear the forthcoming Whitford/St. Holmes album by Derek St. Holmes and Brad Whitford.  Crazy amazing stuff, man.

FBF:  How difficult is it to record an album when all four of the musicians involved are never in the same studio (or city) together?

L.A. Paul Brown:  With the right cats, it can work. We went into it thinking these recordings would act as demos, and when the time was right, we would get in the studio together and cut them again. But we ended up loving the way they came out and just decided to put it out like this. There’s a lot of personality in each part.

Brother Paul Brown:  For me, this album and these four beautiful cats……it was incredible easy and, even more bizarre, very natural.  Every time I put on the cans to cut a Hammond B3 or keyboard track, it always felt like I was in the same room with the guys cutting.

FBF:  Can you tell us about how some of the songs on Dusty Road were created?

L.A. Paul Brown:  David Santos and Pete Young would go into the studio and lay down some great grooves and send them to me. I would sing and play guitar and send to Brother Paul to do the keys, then get all the tracks together and mix them in LA.

FBF:  How would you define your particular brand of blues?  It’s really a hybrid of several different styles...blues, of course, with a little New Orleans, a little Memphis, a little blue-eyed soul.  Which blues artists/bands (or other genres) do you think influenced the sounds of the album the most?

L.A. Paul Brown:  We are all influenced by various bands and solo artists and we let those influence run freely when writing and recording.  Didn’t want to be an all blues band, and hope that the many layers of styles will appeal to the listener the way they do to us.  For me, it was the Grateful Dead and Clapton I listened to as a kid.

Brother Paul Brown:  Again, I second L.A. Paul……an Americana hybrid and the truest musical snapshot of where we all come from musically.

FBF:  What kind of music do you listen to in your spare time?  You’ve both worked with a lot of different artists and in different genres, so I assume your record collections are pretty diverse.

L.A. Paul Brown:   I like R&B singers like Luther, Aretha ….. Don’t find myself listening to blues generally except on Saturdays in LA on the radio, “Nothin’ but the Blues.”

Brother Paul Brown:  Man, I rarely go out and buy or sit down and listen to blues albums.  What I find myself listening to a lot at the moment are Native American flute, New Age, super-exotic Indie and Crooner albums.

Listening to “Out of the Fog,” by Mel Torme right now.  Man what an incredible voice...

FBF:  Is there anything in music that you haven’t done, or anyone that you’d like to work with?

L.A. Paul Brown:  I like Ed Sheeran a lot, and still love Aretha and would love to do a jazz record with her.

Brother Paul Brown:  Man, I'd LOVE to make a record with and share the stage with Lou Gramm.

L to R:  L.A. Paul Brown, Brother Paul Brown, Kenny Gradney

FBF:  What’s next for Brothers Brown?

L.A. Paul Brown:  Touring and more touring. We’ve recorded enough material for a second CD and part of a third, so we want to play shows all over the world to get as many people to listen to our music.

Brother Paul Brown:  I totally second L.A. Paul.  We've really got some amazing new music in the can including this ultra-vibed-up 15 minute piece!  We're really looking forward to the touring and taking our new fans along for this ride!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Blues Standards - The Sky Is Crying

One of the most familiar blues tunes to even the newest of blues fans is "The Sky Is Crying."  It has been recorded by numerous blues and rock artists since it's original release by Elmore James in 1960.  I even heard it on the 2013 Sacred Steel collaboration, Robert Randolph Presents The Slide Brothers.  I was listening to that CD this week in my truck and it occurred to me that I've probably heard more "definitive" versions of this song than any other blues's been done so well so many times by so many people.  Let's look at a little bit of the history of this song.

Elmore James

As stated above, James initially released "The Sky Is Crying" on Bobby Robinson's Fire label in March of 1960.  It was recorded in November of 1959 and basically made up on the spot by James, who was inspired by a rain storm which took place during the recording session.  He was backed by his longtime band, the Broomdusters, a formidable group that included James' cousin Homesick James on bass, J.T. Brown on sax, Odie Payne on drums, and Johnny Jones on piano.  James' distinctive slide guitar was even more distinctive on this recording, although no one is really sure why.  According to Steve Franz in his book, The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James, there is a debate over whether he used a different guitar or amplifier or setup.  The song was actually James' last charting hit before he passed away in May of 1963, making it to #15 on the Billboard R&B chart.

Over the years, I've heard many different versions of this song by other artists.  One of the first I ever heard, even prior to hearing Elmore James' version, was Eric Clapton's mellow cover, which showed up on his 1988 career retrospective box set Crossroads.  The song originally appeared on Clapton's 1975 album, There's One In Every Crowd, and is a unique perspective on the song.....a highly underrated song in Clapton's musical catalog, featuring some pretty torrid guitar playing and an appropriately world-weary vocal from Slowhand.

Another distinctive version of "The Sky Is Crying" was recorded only three years after the original.  Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) recorded an intimate 1963 acoustic session with guitarist Matt "Guitar" Murphy (with a couple of appearances from Murphy's longtime musical partner, Memphis Slim) in Denmark for Storyville Records.  These guys sound fantastic together, like they'd been doing this sort of thing together for years.  I first heard this session in the late 80's/early 90's, when Alligator reissued it, and I have to say that it's pretty essential listening for any fans of Williamson or Murphy.   It's currently available on APO Records as Keep It To Ourselves.

The song later became associated with the great Albert King, in part due to his splendid version on his 1969 Stax album, Years Gone By.  King recorded the song on several of his live albums and it was a crowd favorite, probably to the point that many listeners associated it more with King than with Elmore James.  King's version was followed by several other notable blues guitarists' own versions, notably Luther Allison (on his Love Me Mama album for Delmark, also in '69), and Johnny Winter, who recorded it several times as well, most notably on his Live in NYC '97 album.

When their guitarist Duane Allman was killed in 1971, the Allman Brothers Band played "The Sky Is Crying" at his funeral.  It quickly became a staple of their live set and later on with Allman guitarist Derek Trucks and the Tedeschi Trucks Band.  I'm just amazed at the various forms this song has taken on over the years, far beyond it's humble beginnings in 1960.

The legendary Etta James recorded the song for her Grammy-winning album, Blues To The Bone in 2004.  The album consisted of many old blues standards, traditionally done by blues men, but Ms. James breathed new life into these old chestnuts, with her version of "The Sky Is Crying" being the biggest standout on an excellent album.  It was given a stripped-down sound, but the magnificence of the track still came through loud and clear.

While I do enjoy James' version of the song, and many of the others presented here, my all-time favorite version is by Stevie Ray Vaughan......a track recorded during the session for his mid 80's album Soul To Soul that amazingly didn't make the cut......I could actually see it replacing a couple of songs that did make the cut.  Fortunately, it did see the light of day, albeit posthumously, on an album of the same title compiled by Jimmie Vaughan and released about a year after SRV's death.  When you listen to this version, you truly realize what an influence Albert King was on Vaughan's guitar playing.  It's probably my favorite SRV track of all, with some positively fierce string bending going on.

Here's SRV with Albert King, from an outtake taken from their In Session album.  It's 14 minutes of blues guitar heaven that, believe it or not, didn't make the album.

In 1991, "The Sky Is Crying" was inducted into the Blues Foundations Hall of Fame in the "Classics of Blues Recordings" category, and deservedly so.  This song remains a go-to track for blues artists all over the world, over 56 years after Elmore James first recorded it.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Ten Questions With......Guy King

About fifteen years ago, I purchased a CD by Chicago blues man Willie Kent called Comin' Alive.  If you've never heard it, I recommend it's a great set of Chicago blues.  The highlight for me was the guitar work from Kent's band leader/lead guitarist, who was listed as Haguy F. King.  I wrote in Blues Bytes that King's guitar had to be smoking after that session and that his fretwork was highly reminiscent of Albert King.  It was just a textbook example of guitar playing, in my opinion, and more or less summed up everything that I enjoyed about listening to the blues.

Fast forward about 6 1/2 years.......I receive a CD in the mail from a young guitarist named Guy King.  It's his debut release as a solo artist, called Livin' It.   Like the Willie Kent CD, it was recorded in Chicago at Twist Turner's House of Sound and featured that same stinging, piercing fretwork, though King mixed traditional blues tunes from the likes of T-Bone Walker with some classic old-school R&B and soul/blues tunes from Jimmy McCracklin, Percy Mayfield, Little Johnny Taylor.  He also wrote songs of his own and displayed a fine singing voice.

After I reviewed Livin' It, I contacted King via email and we have remained in contact off and on over the past decade, via email and Facebook.  He's a really cool guy and was always nice enough to take the time to correspond.  I have to admit that when I decided to start the page, one of my original ideas was to do a Ten Questions post with him, but it never materialized until now.

I was pretty excited when I found out that King had an upcoming release with Delmark Records, and that it would be produced by FBF friend Dick Shurman.  When I got to listen, I was not disappointed in the least.  Truth is one of the best releases, if not the best, that I've heard this year.  It's loaded with 15 stellar tracks, 4 originals and 11 covers, and there's plenty of great guitar work, as might be expected, along with some outstanding covers of tunes by some of King's musical idols.

After the album's release, I asked Guy if he'd be interested in doing a Ten Questions post for FBF, and he graciously accepted and took the time from his busy schedule to do so.  We at FBF thank him for his time.  I strongly recommend that you check out his new album, Truth, right after you check out Ten Questions.......With Guy King.

Ten Questions with Guy King

Friday Blues Fix:  You were born and raised in Israel…….what exposure did you have to the blues during your early years?

Guy King: My first instrument was the clarinet, which I played as a child since about 7 years of age. As I also played in an orchestra/big band, my Blues exposure was more of the Jazz/Blues and Big Band type.  I remember the radio playing early in the morning before I went to school and in the afternoon when I came back from school and at times, hearing Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong songs on the radio. I guess you may say it was the “more orchestrated Blues” that made it on the radio when I was a child in Israel. Later on, when I picked up the guitar, and through more popular guitarists such as Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughn, I was made aware of some of my main influences on the guitar:  B.B. King, Albert King, Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker, Robert Johnson and more.

FBF:  How popular are the blues in Israel?  I’ve met a few fans online from Israel, but are they more the norm or the exception?  What other genres did you listen to while growing up?

GK: I think that today the Blues are more known in Israel. I wouldn’t say popular, but more known. But for your question, it is still more an exception than the norm. When I was coming up it was probably even more of an exception: it was not very much known or talked about. I remember traveling from my small country town to the city to find an Albert King CD and having to get there only to learn that they will order it for me, and coming back about three weeks later to pick it up. I will say that it was well worth the wait. I did listen to Pop, and some Rock as well. I enjoyed listening to popular and older Israeli songs which often had a wonderful sense of melody and harmony and which opened my ears up to Brazilian Bossa-Nova as well. I sang before I played an instrument, so I believe that anything heartfelt and that had a nice groove and caught my attention was what I went for; either listening to, or trying to perform. I also remember listening to Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Dire Straits, Queen, Elton John, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder. There was a lot of music being played and that I had the pleasure of being exposed to through friends and family.

FBF:  Who were some of the artists that you listened to when you were growing up?  Did you listen to various styles of music?

GK: When I think of this, I did listen to various styles of music: My parents enjoyed Classical music, and Opera as well, and playing the clarinet in the big band, I played classical music, some orchestral Jazz and even Klezmer. I heard certain Soul and Pop based music that I liked a lot as well. When the Blues came in with its power and “simplicity”, things changed for me, and I felt that I was getting closer to the source. I spoke about a few artists I was listening to at the time in my previous answer, but really, I always was drawn to the combination of a beautiful melody, the harmony that comes with it, and the beat-the groove that makes it click, that makes things move.

FBF:  Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to be a musician?  Was guitar your first instrument?  How old were you when you first started performing and what were your first public performances like?

GK: I knew that I wanted to sing and play. I started out singing, then playing the Clarinet. When I finally picked up the guitar at about 13 years old, it felt very comfortable and natural. My first performances were playing recitals and concerts with the orchestra I was a member of as a child and it was nice. I remember being a little excited and a bit nervous. My first performances singing and playing guitar were already with a teenage band, playing original material and even some Blues based material, and it was more involved and satisfying! We worked on our music and our sound, and we were looking forward to performing it in front of the public, hoping that people would enjoy it as we did at the time.  
FBF:  You came to the U.S. to perform as a teenager, but came back to stay at age 21…..What was your first experience like in America?.  When you came back, did you start out in Chicago, or did you work other places before coming to the Windy City?

GK: My first experience was “wow”… Everything was so big, the roads, the cars, the land. I grew up in a small country, and in a small village in that small country, so the size of the US was very shocking to me.      I also remember appreciating and loving the fact that the Blues and Soul music that I already loved very much at the age of 16, was so easy to hear, listen to and experience firsthand. 

When I came back to the US at 21 years of age I first came to Memphis, Tennessee. From Memphis I continued to New Orleans, Louisiana, and then came north to Chicago. I spent time in Memphis and New Orleans going out and listening to music, both live and on records, observing sounds and experiences that helped me shape my own sound.

FBF:  You have a very distinctive style on guitar….that’s what grabbed me the first time I heard you on disc……but I hear others in your playing as well.  Who are some of your influences on guitar and how difficult was it to incorporate your own style in with other blues guitarists who influenced you?

GK: Thank you very much! I do have quite a few musical influences that I learned and still learn things from.  I learned a lot from Albert King, B.B. King, Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker, Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Ray Charles, Wes Montgomery, count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Erroll Garner, Nat King Cole, Joao Gilberto, Jimmy McGriff, George Benson and a few more whom I listened and still listen to today. I listened to other wonderful players who opened my ears and influenced my playing.  Johnny Guitar Watson, Otis Rush, Freddie King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown were guitarists that I also listened to after arriving to Chicago.   There were also the musicians that I enjoyed seeing live since moving to Chicago, whether on the Jazz or Blues scene.

About incorporating my own style: I think that I already had my own touch, my own feeling for the music, but after coming to Chicago, learning more and absorbing more influences, I remember being a little frustrated and thinking that I sound too much like others. This was when I was still playing with Willie Kent. One night Willie smiled and told me: “You sound more like you every day that I hear you. Just keep doing what you’re doing, be patient, let things take their course”. He was right, and this is a memory that makes me smile today.

FBF:  You also have a very natural, warm quality to your vocals, equally suited for blues and R&B.  Who are some of your influences as a vocalist? 

GK: Thank you again!  I must admit that I am probably influenced by more things and people than I am aware of. This being in music in general, singing or playing.

I love and enjoy a lot of music, but some of my biggest vocal influences are: Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Joao Gilberto, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Percy Mayfield, and Johnny Guitar Watson. There are many wonderful vocalists that I listened to and still do, who influence me and I try to learn from.

FBF:  I first heard you with Willie Kent about ten or twelve years ago.  Who else did you play with while coming up the ranks?  What are some of the lessons you learned from the musicians you worked with coming up?  Are there any interesting stories from your career that you would like to share with us?

GK:  When Willie got a hold of me, it was shortly after I came to Chicago: I played a few shows with Little Mac Simmons and Aaron Burton before I joined Willie Kent’s band. Willie played a lot of shows, as you know, so I did not feel the need to play for other bandleaders. You can probably say that I am a little “old school” in that sense: I felt that I need to be loyal and give what I need to give to the person who I choose to play with.

Playing in Willie’s band, and forming my own after his passing, I had the pleasure of traveling and performing with many wonderful musicians. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do, things to cherish and things to try to avoid when you are in the music business.

You know, when you play music and get to travel and perform there are many stories to tell, many wonderful people you encounter, beautiful (and less beautiful) situations and scenarios.  It is really a constant story, and hopefully the best part still lies ahead.

FBF:  To me, your latest release, Truth, is your best yet and one of the best I’ve heard this year.  It has some marvelous original songs, some co-written with author David Ritz.  Can you describe your songwriting process, and how some of your originals on this album came to be?  How long have you and Ritz collaborated? 

GK: Thank you Graham, I as well think that Truth is my best recorded work today.

“King Thing” is an instrumental that I wrote for the album; I actually had the melody in my head for years, but finally finished it and featured it on the album.

David Ritz and I met in Chicago a few years ago when he was in town co-writing the autobiography of Buddy Guy. Buddy had told him about me as they were upstairs at Legends working on the book, and they came downstairs and watched the show. David enjoyed my music (I remember singing “Georgia on My Mind” that night), and we met the next day and started writing together!  Things happened very naturally and David and I had a wonderful understanding very quickly which made it very comfortable to talk and write.

As far as the songs writing process; there is not really a formula: Sometimes I have a melody or harmony in mind and the story (lyrics) will come to match it, and sometimes the idea is the lyrics, and then the composition needs to come in and complement it.

David is a wonderful writer and writing together was a pleasure. We are looking forward to writing more songs together soon.

FBF:  Who are some of your songwriting influences?

GK:  Probably the same names I mentioned above as my musical influences, but by listening and being exposed to different shades of music (I had the pleasure of listening to a lot of different music since I was a child): the songwriting can take different forms at times, but in my opinion, as long as the soul of the music is there, this is what matters most.

FBF:  There are some great cover tunes on Truth as well……How do you decide which songs to cover on an album…..are these some of your personal favorites or did you work from a list of suggestions from (album producer) Dick Shurman, or a combination?

GK: We wanted to tell a story- that being my story, do songs that I love, that I enjoy and that fit me. Dick introduced me to a few of the songs and thought it would be good for me to give them my rendition. He wanted to see what I though and felt. A few of the songs I sent to Dick and told him that I wanted to rearrange and record. We got together at Dick’s house, talked and listened to music, until, along with the original songs, we knew that we had the material for Truth. There were actually more songs that almost made the session but due to time limit stayed out and didn’t make the album.

It was great to have Dick produce Truth. It was really a pleasure working together during all phases of the album and I hope we will have the opportunity to continue doing so.

FBF:  What are your essential blues recordings (song or album)?

GK: The BLUES… There are many so it is difficult to name only a few, but I will name a few that left a mark and come to mind first:

Albert King – Born Under A Bad Sign as well as the early recordings
B.B. King – Live At The Regal
Ray Charles – "Georgia On My Mind," "Drown In My Own Tears"
Louis Armstrong – "I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues"
Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings
Wes Montgomery – "The Thumb," "D Natural Blues," "Nap Town Blues"

Guy King Discography


Livin' It (2006)

I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

By Myself



"Are You Thinking of Me"

"Love Me Now"

"Where Do We Go From Here"

Friday, April 1, 2016

Five Albums You Might Have Missed (V.15)

It's time once again for Friday Blues Fix's look at five discs that might have slipped through the cracks upon their first release.  If you're like me, you might have missed them because you weren't listening to the blues at the time, or these albums might have been overshadowed by other new releases, or hard to track down, or maybe they went out of print before you could find them, or maybe you just flat missed out the first time around due to total cluelessness, which is usually my excuse.  Don't look now, but this is your golden opportunity to make up for lost time and track down these great albums.  Some of them may be out of print, but they can be found pretty easily online at eBay or Amazon.  You can thank me later.

Hill Country Revue - Make A Move (Razor & Tie Records):  This is a spin-off group from the North Mississippi Allstars, or as the group calls "extended band."  When Luther Dickinson took a break to join the Black Crowes for their 2008 tour, brother Cody Dickinson moved from drums to guitar and fronted this ensemble, which included NMAS bass player Chris Chew, and includes appearances from a pair of Burnsides (bass guitarist Garry, who also wrote seven of the ten songs here, and guitarist Duwayne).  While this set encompasses a lot of the sound of NMAS, there's more of a Southern blues rock edge to these tunes, really more rock-edged than the usual Allstars fare.  Think of a fusion of R.L. Burnside (the group covers two of his songs) and Duane Allman and you have the idea.  Fans of  either of those artists will really dig this one.

Chico Banks - Candy Lickin' Man (Evidence Records):  In the late 90's, Vernon "Chico" Banks was mentioned with many of the young blues guitarists taking the genre by storm.....Bernard Allison, Melvin Taylor, Rico McFarland, etc.  His father, Jesse Banks, was guitarist with the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and the younger Banks paid his dues backing and performing with a bunch of blues artists, including Taylor, James Cotton, Buddy Otis Clay, Little Milton, Buddy Guy, and Mavis Staples, but he was also influenced by other non-blues artists, like Hendrix, George Benson, Ahmad Jahal, the Isley Brothers, and Parliament/Funkadelic.  All of those sounds are present in this album, which was released in 1997.  Banks covers tunes by Albert King, another influence, King Floyd, Elmore James, and Detroit Junior., but he also acquits himself well as a songwriter, co-writing several tunes with his brother, keyboardist Stanley Banks.  He plays some pretty impressive guitar on these 14 tracks, and seem poised for stardom, but he developed health problems, undergoing surgery for a faulty heart valve in 2007 and passing away in December of 2008 at the young age of 47.  Check out some of his dynamic fretwork below.

Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham - Moments From This Theatre (Proper Records):  Longtime readers here at FBF are well aware of that Dan Penn is one of my favorite songwriters.  He's composed hit tunes for dozens of soul/blues artists.....Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin, James Carr, the Box Tops are just a few of the artists who have covered Penn tunes, many of which were collaborative efforts with keyboardist Spooner Oldham.  The duo recreate many of their classic tunes on this live recording, which collects performances from several appearances in Ireland in 1998.  In addition to being a great songwriter, Penn is one of the finest blue-eyed soul singers to ever step behind a mic and his talents are on full display on these 14 tracks.  He strums guitar, while Oldham provides a cushy backing with his Wurlitzer piano.  Newcomers to both will not only be surprised that Penn wrote so many familiar songs, but they'll also be amazed at his voice.  This is one
discs that is well worth seeking out, especially for soul/blues fans.

Henry Butler - Blues After Sunset (Black Top Records):  Prior to this CD's release in 1998, I was familiar with New Orleans' Henry Butler as a jazz incredibly talented one.  Having become familiar with other New Orleans piano masters over the years, I often wondered what Butler would sound like if he chose to do a full-fledged blues album.  This amazing disc provided the answer.  Butler did everything on this disc, producing it, writing 8 of the 12 tracks, did all the arrangements, and played piano and sang (he's also a classically trained vocalist who just tears these tunes up).  He's joined on several tracks by another Crescent City master, guitarist Snooks Eaglin, and harmonica player Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff.  This is just an extraordinary release that fell by the wayside after Black Top folded in the late 90's, but is one that would fit in any music lover's collection.

Johnny Jones - I Was Raised On The Blues (Black Magic Records):  In the late 90's, longtime Nashville-based blues/R&B artists made a bit of a comeback, notably singers Earl Gaines and Roscoe Shelton.  Guitarist/singer/songwriter Jones also resurfaced in 1999 with this fine comeback effort, actually his debut as a leader.  Born in Tennessee, he had moved with his family to Chicago and played with a small group that included Freddy King and Junior Wells, After leaving Chicago in the late 50's, he worked regularly in the 60's and 70's in the Nashville area, playing with Hendrix for a couple of years and "Gatemouth" Brown during that time, but pretty much retired in the late 70's after becoming frustrated with the music business.  He resurfaced in the late 90's, backing Shelton and singer Charles Walker.  This release is very enjoyable.  Jones had a piercing guitar style that occasionally brings to mind Albert Collins and was a very good singer as well.  Jones recorded two additional albums before passing away in October, 2009 at age 73.