Friday, October 28, 2016

Jammin' With The Stones

A couple of months back, it was announced that the Rolling Stones would be releasing an all-blues album on December 2nd of this year.  Called Blue & Lonesome, it's their first album in over a decade, and will feature their versions of a dozen classic blues tunes from legends Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, Eddie Taylor, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, and others.   The band.....Mick Jagger (vocals, harp), Keith Richards (guitar), Charlie Watts (drums), and Ronnie Wood (guitar) are joined by longtime collaborators Darryl Jones (bass), Chuck Leavell (keyboards), and Matt Clifford (keyboards), plus Eric Clapton on a couple of tracks.

Years ago, I probably would have made some kind of snide remark about how it would be nice if the media and the major record labels would publicize the release of an album by an actual blues artist or band with even half the fervor that they promote the arrival of a Stones blues album.  Okay, I actually did make that remark a few weeks ago somewhere.....probably on Facebook......but think about who the major blues recording artists of the past few years are.  You could come up with names like Buddy Guy or B.B. King for sure, and yeah, they got some publicity about their upcoming releases, but you don't really see it for any other artists, at least on a nationwide level.....even blues rockers like Joe Bonamassa, Devon Allman, or Gary Clark, Jr., although they do get a bit more exposure, still lag behind.

I think most blues fans are aware of this and don't really have an issue......they use other methods to track down new releases, even though they probably wonder the same thing that I have at times.  However, in recent years, I've come to the realization that the Rolling Stones have been a positive force for the blues during their fifty-plus years of existence.  Think about all of their fans who have had the opportunity to hear songs that they've recorded or performed by blues artists.  Think about how many of those fans were curious enough to backtrack and seek out the original versions of those songs and then started listening to the artists who released those original versions.

I think about that now because I was once one of those fans......a rock fan who dug artists like the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, the Blues Brothers, the Allmans, Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  One thing that the Stones and all of these other artists always did was pay tribute to the musicians who influenced them.  The Stones did this to the point that they invited many of their heroes to open for them on their massive tours, where these artists were exposed to thousands more listeners who became fans.  That's what will happen when Blue & Lonesome is released, which is something that ALL blues fans should appreciate.

The Rolling Stones' sound, which started out as rock n' roll with a heavy blues backdrop, has changed over the years, as they began to absorb influences from pop music, R&B, funk, and modern rock influences.  However, they never completely abandoned the blues and it still remains at the core of everything that they play.

Today, FBF will look at some of the best of the Rolling Stones' blues recordings, along with the original versions of each.

"Prodigal Son," from Beggars Banquet (1968)


"That's No Way To Get Along" was recorded by Robert Wilkins in the late 20's. Wilkins later became a preacher and revamped this song into a retelling of the Prodigal Son Biblical parable, re-titling it as "Prodigal Son."


"Little Red Rooster," released as a single by the Stones in 1964, and later appeared on one of their compilation albums.

"Little Red Rooster," by Howlin' Wolf (1961), was a latter-day masterpiece for the Wolf.

"Love In Vain," from Let It Bleed (1969)

"Love In Vain," by Robert Johnson (1937), one of the finest tracks from the King of the Delta Blues.


"I Can't Be Satisfied," recorded in the U.K. in 1965, released in the U.S. in 1972 on More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies).

"I Can't Be Satisfied," by Muddy Waters (1948).  Waters also recorded this in the early 40's, too, as part of his Plantation recordings with Alan Lomax.

Of course, the Rolling Stones recorded several fine blues of their own over the years.  One of their very best is "Midnight Rambler," which appeared on their 1969 release, Let It Bleed.

In a bit of turnabout, here's the great Larry McCray's version of "Midnight Rambler," from the late 90's "tribute" album to the Stones released on the House of Blues short-lived record label.  The label released five albums of blues and soul artists covering tunes by rock n' roll artists of the 60's and 70's (the Stones, Clapton, Dylan, Joplin, and Led Zeppelin).

Before we go, let's check out a clip of one of the songs from the new album, Blue & Lonesome......


 .....and the original, recorded by Little Walter in 1955.

So, check out the Rolling Stones' new release when it goes live in December, and be sure to thank them for their part in helping keep the blues alive for over 50 years.  Hopefully, a new group of fans will get to hear some of these great old blues classics and will be encouraged to check out the original releases.

Friday, October 21, 2016

New Blues For You - Fall, 2016 Edition (Part 2)

It still doesn't feel like fall in far east Mississippi with temperature hovering in the low 90's a few days this week, but hopefully that will soon be changing.  There's a reason why most of the natives keep a pair of t-shirts and shorts and flip flops handy during the winter months. Still, we know that the cooler temps are on the way, and with those cooler temps come a whole bunch of cool new releases.  We've already discussed a few new ones here and here in the past few weeks, but now it's time to check out a few more.  As always, expanded reviews of these releases by your humble correspondent are available in current or upcoming editions of Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.

Lurrie Bell - Can't Shake This Feeling (Delmark Records):  This time around, the legendary guitarist rips through thirteen tunes.  Nine of the songs are covers of classic tunes from the likes of Eddie Boyd, T-Bone Walker, Otis Rush, Little Milton, Lowell Fulson, Buster Benton Willie Dixon, and his dad, the late Carey Bell.  He shows over and over again on these songs why he was the deserving winner of this year's BMA for Best Guitarist.

Bell also continues to develop as an excellent songwriter, penning the catchy title track and three others, including a moving collaboration with FBF friend Dick Shurman, who also produced this fine album.  As good a guitarist as Bell is, his vocals are often overshadowed, but he does a masterful job on these songs with his powerful, honest and emotional delivery.  This is another excellent release from one of the Windy City's finest artists and labels, neither of which ever disappoint blues fans.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds - Strong Like That (Severn Records):  The T-Birds are in their fifth decade of existence.  Over that time span, they have been one of the finest Texas roadhouse blues bands, blowing away appreciative audiences with their heady mix of Texas, New Orleans, and Gulf Coast blues and R&B.  In recent years, the band has expanded their sound to include southern soul on their last two impressive albums, including their newest effort.

Kim Wilson, the lone remaining founding member, is the heart and soul of the group and he turns in some fantastic vocals on this ten-song set.  Seven of the ten songs are covers that range from Motown (an ominous reading of the Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You") to songs associated with old schoolers like O.V. Wright, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, Paul Kelly, and Sandra Rhodes.  Wilson also contributes a couple of originals and bass player/producer Steve Gomes wrote the title track.  As much as I loved the original T-Birds and their sound, I've really enjoyed these last two releases.  Wilson is a natural with these soul tracks and he still leaves room for that magnificent harmonica.

Dan Bubien - Grinding These Gears:  Bubien's 2013 debut, Empty Roads, was a standout, even if it was difficult for some to categorize.  Though it's blues to the core, there are also elements of other genres present.....rock, soul, and even country from time to time.  He's a talented singer and guitarist, and he paints vivid pictures with his songwriting as well, often collaborating with Roman Marocco.

Some songs like "Palest Rider" have a moody, country-like vibe, while the title track ventures into pop/rock territory.  "Dark Hearted Woman" is a slow burner that combines rock, soul, and blues effectively, and "Second Hand Man" adds horns and funk to the mix.  There's plenty here to satisfy not only blues fans, but also fans of roots music.  Be sure to track this one down.

Owen Campbell -  Breathing Bullets (ROC Records):  Australian native Campbell is a singer/songwriter/guitarist who was once a finalist on the Australian TV program, Australia's Got Talent.  Since the early 2000's, he's traveled and busked in countries all over the world.  This is his third release, recorded in Memphis and produced by Devon Allman, with whom Campbell will be touring this fall.

Campbell wrote all of the songs, which present lifelike characters and situations that all listeners can relate to.  Several of the songs have a traveler's theme or involve a restless spirit, while a couple sing the praises of settling down.  His strong, weathered vocals mix blues and soul and he's a nimble guitarist, especially on slide guitar.  It's easy to see why he's so highly regarded Down Under.  This disc should get his some attention in a lot of other places.

Bruce Katz Band (featuring Chris Vitarello):  Out From The Center (American Showplace Music):  Master keyboardist Katz has been an in-demand sideman for years, playing on dozens of recordings and touring with Ronnie Earl, Duke Robillard, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, John Hammond, and Gregg Allman.  He's also managed to find time to lead his own band, releasing seven albums msince the early 90's.  His latest release features guitarist Vitarello in a prominent role with his strong fretwork and his fine voice out front on four cuts.

The remaining seven tracks are all instrumental and feature Katz on piano and/or Hammond B3.  These songs mix the blues with jazz, funk, rock, and New Orleans R&B.  His keyboard work is spot on, whether as the lead instrument or in accompaniment of Vitarello.  Katz refers to his music as traveling "the wide world of blues" and it's really neat to see how easily he blends the other genres into the blues, showing where these other styles originated and updating the sounds of the blues at the same time.  This is a fun release that rewards with each listen.

Gonzalo Begara - Zalo's Blues:  This has been one of my favorite listens over the past few weeks.  Argentinian guitarist Begara is world-renowned as one of the masters of Gypsy jazz guitar, headlining festivals around the world as the leader of his own Gonzalo  Begara Quartet, but the blues was his first calling and has always been.  This is his first blues release and shows that Charlie Baty knew of what he spoke when he called Begara "one of the most talented guitarist in this universe."

The even dozen tracks showcase Begara's guitar in a number of settings.....shuffles, swing, rock, country, and the blues.  The disc is split between several tasty instrumentals which cover a lot of ground, mixing blues with jazz, rock, country, and even surf music.  It's easy to see that Begara digs the guitar work of Gatemouth Brown and SRV, a couple of blues guitarists who absorbed other sources besides the blues.  He's also a very versatile singer, as apparent on several of these tunes, one of which is an awesome cover of Jimmy Reed's "You Don't Have To Go."  I was really impressed with Begara's talents on guitar and vocals and I hope he has another blues disc in him in the future.

More new blues to come in a few weeks.

Friday, October 14, 2016


Yesterday, my copy of The Essential Jimi Hendrix , Volumes One and Two arrived in the mail.  I had seen a used copy available on Amazon, so I quickly snatched it up and listened to it on the way to work, lunch, back home, and at home.

Now, one might wonder why in the name of Les Paul would your humble correspondent be so anxious to grab a copy of two albums previously available in the mid/late 70’s and not available on CD since 1989 when there are multiple new collections of Hendrix’s music that have been available ever since on other record labels with even better sound and maybe more songs. 

I’m sure most of you already know the answer to that, if you collect music or have ever collected it.  Most people associate certain music with certain times (good or bad) in our lives.  For me, when I found this album over 35 years ago, the music I heard put me on a path that eventually guided me to discover the blues.  It wasn’t something that I set out to do, but it ended up leading me that way. 

Now, I had enjoyed music for a long time, beginning probably at age 12 or 13……Top 40 stuff to begin with…..later on, I got into the R&B/funk of the time and even (shudder) disco for a bit.  All during my early years, though, I had listened to some of the popular bands of the 60’s, mostly the Beatles at the beginning.  My uncle had given us a metal box full of 45’s from various 60’s bands.  There were singles by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, plus a lot of older 45’s that I assumed belonged to my grandparents.  When I was young, I’m saying four or five years old, I listened to nearly all of them. 

Later on, when I was in my early teens, my mom ended up with my grandparents’ stereo record player.  It was a beauty…....a turntable mounted inside a wooden cabinet.  I don’t even remember if it worked anymore when we got it, but inside of it, my uncle had left about twenty LP’s from various artists of the late 60’s……I remember the Doors, the Rascals, Vanilla Fudge, and a few odds and ends.  The one I remembered the most was record with no jacket…… was one of the LP’s from Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland

I had heard of Jimi Hendrix, but that was about it.  This was maybe 1979 or 1980, so he had been gone from the popular music scene about eight or nine years by then.  Keep in mind that this was in the pre-internet, pre-information-at-your-fingertips era, so there was no YouTube, Wikipedia, or to go to and reference him.  All I had was this lone LP, so I “borrowed” my sister’s turntable and gave it a spin.

There’s really no need to describe my first reactions……they were the same as most people’s when they first heard Hendrix.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but after I heard it, I knew that I wanted to hear much more of it.  It was leaps and bounds above what I was listening to at the time because it seemed daring and innovative.  Most of the sounds coming out of my radio were pretty standard, cookie-cutter, regardless of genre, so Hendrix sort of set my hair on fire.

Soon, I was thumbing through the album racks at the closest record store trying to find more.  Back in those days, most record stores kept the most current albums and singles available, with the occasional catalog item from the longer-lasting, better-known artists.  The only Hendrix item in the store on cassette (my favorite media form at the time) that day was Smash Hits, which was all I needed for starters……a ten-song intro to get me going…..and get me going it did!!

A few months later, I was in another record store, much bigger with a much bigger selection, and I found Volume One of The Essential Jimi Hendrix.  Upon its initial release in the mid/late 70’s, it was a double album which collected nearly everything of note in the studio that had previously been released.  Most of Smash Hits was on it, but there were many, many more that I got to hear for the first time.  It was also available as a cassette, so I snatched it up and listened to it on a fairly regular basis for the next twenty years.

A few months later, I found Volume 2.  It featured several songs that were also on the first volume, but it included several famous live tracks……his memorable version of “Wild Thing,” from the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, the incredible twelve-minute “Machine Gun,” recorded at the Fillmore East with his newly formed Band of Gypsys in early 1970, the requisite “Star Spangled Banner” from Woodstock, plus a wild studio version of Van Morrison’s “Gloria,” previously only heard as a single.

Shortly before Warner Brothers/Reprise Records lost the rights to the Hendrix catalog in 1989, they issued both volumes of Essential on a 2-CD set, which is what I picked up this week.  For many fans, these two albums are all the Jimi Hendrix they will ever need, but it wasn’t enough for me.  I eventually went back and picked up more of his recordings…..Electric Ladyland, for starters.  The Jimi Hendrix Concerts captured many great, and some previously unheard live performances.  I also grabbed his Monterey album that he split with Otis Redding, plus a later release that collected many of his live-in-the-studio recordings at Radio One for the BBC.  

Though Jimi Hendrix is more often associated with rock than with blues, he also served as a HUGE influence to many blues guitarists over the past forty-plus years.  Listening to any of his live recordings, and many of his studio efforts, will show that the blues had deep roots within his music (just check out the 90’s compilation, appropriately titled Blues).  He was influenced by blues guitarists like Johnny “Guitar” Watson (check out his “Space Guitar”), Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Albert King, Ike Turner, Robert Johnson, and others. 

One of Hendrix’s early singles was “Hey Joe,” was an old folk song with a heavy blues theme to its lyrics.  He also recorded Earl King’s “Come On” on Electric Ladyland.

Hendrix with Johnny Winter

Meanwhile, many of Hendrix’s own songs have been covered by blues artists......Stevie Ray Vaughan alone has covered “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” “Come On,” and “Little Wing”….and he influenced so many guitarists in his time and in later times…..Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Johnny Winter, Ernie Isley, James Blood Ulmer, Gary Moore, Joe Bonamassa, Vernon Reid, Joe Satriani, and so many others.  If you go see Buddy Guy, the blues legends almost always does a Hendrix medley.  Guy’s antics as an up-and-coming blues guitarist were the stuff of legend and that was before he’d heard Hendrix.  Today’s version of Buddy Guy combines the early qualities with a healthy dose of Hendrix fireworks.  

When FBF talked with rising star Toronzo Cannon a few years ago, he explained the impact that Hendrix, one of his biggest influences as a guitarist, had on his music….

“WOW.  The visual and conjunction with sounds.  His moves went right along with what was being played.  A lot of players in that time and now don’t ‘move’ when they play, they don’t dance with their instrument… gotta move and get the feeling.”

Now does what Cannon is describing sound familiar to any blues fans?  Can you think of any other guitarists who might have done similar things before Hendrix made the scene?  The aforementioned Buddy Guy did that, and he was strongly influenced by another Louisiana-born bluesman…..none other than Guitar Slim.  Hendrix not only absorbed the sounds of blues guitarists like Slim, Guy, Watson, Albert Collins and others, but he also picked up some of their showmanship and moves in the process and basically kicked things up a notch or two in the process.

Really, that's what all new blues artists are obligated to do.....take what's there and either improve on it or do their dead-level best to keep what's already there alive and kicking.  Jimi Hendrix did that, and much more, and has become as influential to blues guitarists as many of the genre's earliest pioneers.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Hidden Gems, via eBay

Well, this was another long week, working every day and several least enough nights so that I wasn't able to do a lot of work on a post, which means that this one is clocking in just before Friday morning arrives.  Hopefully, things will slow down a bit and soon there will be time to devote to a longer, more informative post.  I have several in the works that I just need to get to.  In the meantime, let's look at a couple of hidden gems in the FBF collection.

Many years ago, I was a regular on eBay.  Well, I wasn't buying very much, but I was browsing quite a bit.  I eventually made it over to the music section and I found a treasure trove of blues CDs that were available for releases, old releases, imports, out-of-prints, etc....  I couldn't believe that so much was available.  It had gotten to the point that I couldn't find anything in stores and what I could find was so expensive that I could only get one or two at a time, if that.  Soon, I was picking up five or six CDs, new or used, a week for a small amount of money.  The post office folks soon got tired of selling me money orders.

As time passed, I sort of moved away from eBay.  It got to the point that the low prices weren't quite as low and I had more than enough music to listen to, but I picked up a LOT of great music by going that route.  This week, let's look at a couple of my favorites that came to me via eBay.

D.C. Bellamy - Water to Wine (Rooster Blues):  A Chicago native, Gregory "D.C." Bellamy was half brother to Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions would often hold rehearsals in his family's living room.  Bellamy began playing guitar at age nine and was a rock n' roll fan at first, but living in Chicago, he just couldn't avoid the blues.  For years, he worked as a sideman to Betty Everett, Donny Hathaway, Gene Chandler, Brook Benton, Jimmy Reed, Artie "Blues Boy" White, Otis Clay, and many others.  

Bellamy relocated to Kansas City.  In 2000, Rooster Blues was relaunched and one of their first releases was Water to Wine, Bellamy's debut recording.  It was a great set of mostly original tunes and Bellamy really has a sound all his own, mixing the blues with R&B, with a writing style that's similar to his half brother Mayfield.  In addition, he has a fine voice and a distinctive guitar style.  He later released another album, Give Some Body to Somebody, on Stackhouse Records in 2006, but that's been it, as far as I can find, which is a shame because he is a real talent.

Big Al Dupree - Swings The Blues (Dallas Blues Society):  Dupree was an in-demand tenor sax player by the time he reached high school in Dallas in the mid to late 30's.  He played in several touring combos until World War II.  When the war was over, he played in Dallas, fronting the Heat Waves of Swing and backing artists like Pee Wee Crayton and T-Bone Walker, until he decided to step back, content to work as a singer/piano player in cocktail lounges.  That's what he did until 1994, when he made his first festival appearance at the Texas Blues/Soul Barbecue.  Soon, he was signed by the Dallas Blues Society, who released this, his debut CD, in 1995.

If you like classic blues, this should be on your shopping list.  It's ten tracks, nine covers and one original song by Dupree.  He plays piano and sax very well, and he's backed by Teddy Morgan on guitar.  Blues fans who dig the smoky, jazzy blues of Walker and Clayton will really enjoy this one.  Dupree has a warm and confident vocal style and breathes life into these classic tunes.  Every once in a while, I'll run across this one and when I do, I have to plug it in.  In fact, I'll be plugging it in again as soon as I get finished posting tonight.  Wonderful stuff.

Big Bad Smitty - Cold Blood (HMG/Hightone Records):  I heard Smitty (born John Henry Smith) on an HMG sampler, where he was roaring through "Don't Mess With My Wife."  The raw, visceral nature of his vocals, his guitar, heck....the whole song.....just grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go.  His vocals strongly resembled Howlin' Wolf and his whole style brought to mind those great Chess recordings of Wolf and Muddy Waters.

Growing up, Smitty played with another Delta legend, Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes, before settling in Jackson, MS, where he played with the likes of King Edward, Sam Myers, and Johnny Littlejohn.  After recording a number of sides for Jackson's Ace Records, he relocated to St. Louis.

Cold Blood was actually his second release, and it's a fantastic set of rugged, old school, Mississippi blues.  Smitty roars through these songs with his rugged vocal style and spirited guitar work.  He's joined by former Wolf sideman, guitarist Hubert Sumlin, on four tracks, all of which were associated with his former boss.  Smitty does a fine job on these tracks, but all of the songs really stand out.  Sadly, Smitty suffered a stroke in the early 90's, not long after these recordings, and passed away in 2003.  This is a great set of old fashioned, wild and wooly Mississippi blues.