Friday, November 25, 2016

The Wicked Pickett

When Wilson Pickett died back in 2006 at the age of 64, it took a few people by surprise because even though the Wicked Pickett’s popularity and chart success occurred some 35 – 40 years previously, if you happened to see him perform in recent years, he was still as powerful and potent a voice as he was in his 60’s and 70’s heyday.  Usually, when you see a performer who is that far past his salad days, their voice has started to fail and they don’t have those old moves like they used to, but Wilson Pickett was still pretty much at the top of his game before he was forced to retire in late 2004 due to health issues.

Before I started listening to the blues, I was deep into southern soul of the Memphis/Stax/Hi/Atlantic variety.  In the early 80’s, I dug into the catalogs of several veteran soul men…..Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, James Carr, Solomon Burke, James Brown, Ray Charles, Al Green, Otis Clay, O.V. Wright, Joe Tex, and Wilson Pickett.  While I liked all of those artists immensely, it was the music of Wilson Pickett that seemed to grab me and refuse to let me go.

As I’ve written over the years here at FBF, during this period in my life, I was looking for something extra from the music I listened to…….rock and R&B…..something that would hold my attention.  Readers who lived during the 80’s may have had the same feeling that I did.  Both rock and R&B still had their nice moments, but there was a stagnancy that was setting in……maybe due to all the computerized music and sterile production values of most recordings.

When I started listening to old soul tunes, strictly on impulse because I found a discount-priced set of “Best of” cassettes from Atlantic Records by Redding, Sam & Dave, and Booker T & the MGs one day in a record store when I was in college, I got a little hop in my step because that was more like what I needed.  When I found one of these “Best of’s” from Pickett a few weeks later, I knew I was on the right track, and I eventually found my way to the blues.  Although I was familiar with Wilson Pickett's name.....he had done a memorable Schiltz Malt Liquor commercial back in the early 70's that is one of the all time classics.....I didn't know about much of his music.  That little cassette of ten songs was enough to convince me that he was something special.

Pickett's always been considered a soul man, but his style of music, particularly his vocals, are distinctive because they owe a considerable debt to the gospel groups he grew up singing with.  He was in a group called the Violinaires for four years, but he saw artists like Sam Cooke who moved from gospel to secular music with much success and he joined the vocal group The Falcons in 1959 at 18 years of age.  At the time Pickett joined The Falcons, they included Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice in their line-up, and Pickett co-authored "I Found A Love," a big hit in 1962 which featured an amazing vocal from Pickett and guitar work from the legendary Robert Ward.

Pickett backed by a young Jimi Hendrix - NYC, 1966

Most music fans are familiar with at least a couple of Pickett's hit songs of the 60's and early 70's - "In The Midnight Hour," "634-5789," "Land of 1000 Dances," "Don't Fight It," etc....  These hits were recorded at Stax Records, even though Pickett was a part of Atlantic Records.  Stax decided not to record outside artists in late 1965, so Pickett moved to Muscle Shoals and Fame Studios, where he recorded another batch of hits, which included "Mustang Sally," and "Funky Broadway." A couple of years later, Pickett moved to American Studios in Memphis and had more hits, including several written by Bobby Womack ("I'm A Midnight Mover," "I'm In Love").  He also recorded the blues standard "Stagger Lee" at American.

Pickett with Duane Allman

Later hits included a dazzling cover of the Beatles' "Hey Jude," with guitar from a budding session guitarist named Duane Allman.  Allman convinced a reluctant Pickett to record the song, which became a Top 20 pop hit in 1969.  He also covered the Archies, yes the Archies, in late '69.  "Sugar Sugar" also made the charts.  In 1970, he teamed up with the legendary Gamble and Huff for "Engine No. 9" and "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You."

Though Pickett continued to record in the early 70's, he enjoyed little chart success after 1974.  After that, he recorded sporadically, cutting a disco album in the late 70's, and eventually settling in during the late 80's for a decent album with Motown and later, he recorded his final album, It's Harder  Now, for Bullseye Blues in 1999, which was nominated for a Grammy and several BMA's at the time.  Amazingly, his voice sounded as great as it did in the 60's add 70's.  he was still able to hit those high notes just like back in the day and was as energetic and fiery as before.  Around the same time, Pickett had a memorable appearance in Blues Brothers 2000, performing "634-5789" with Eddie Floyd and Jonny Lang.  Incidentally, one of the show-stopping tunes in the first Blues Brothers movie was a Wilson Pickett song, "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love."

Though he didn't have hits after the mid 70's, he continued to tour and perform to receptive crowds, who loved his old songs and were impressed that he was still as potent a performer as he ever was.  Pickett continued working until he became ill in 2004.  Throughout his career, he battled personal problems....he had a short temper and was arrested on several occasions.  He also battled the bottle, hitting an 86-year-old in Englewood, CA in 1993, who eventually died from his injuries, which led Pickett to receive a one-year sentence in jail.  Despite those issues, Pickett remained popular, receiving induction into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.  Here he is during the 1999 ceremony with Bruce Springsteen, still getting it done.

Wilson Pickett's connection to the blues is anything but tenuous.  If you listen to the music, you're are more than likely to hear blues bands of all ages and caliber cover a Wilson Pickett tune.,,,,"Mustang Sally," anybody?  What about "Midnight Hour" or "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You," or  "Engine No. 9?"  Though he was considered a soul singer, his vocals and his songwriting showed a definite blues influence.  To these ears, he's as close to a blues singer that I've ever heard in a soul singer.

Recommended Listening

If you find any of Pickett's individual albums, or his work with the Falcons, they are uniformly good, especially the Atlantic recordings.  The later recordings from the mid-70's on are a bit more hit and miss, but have some excellent songs as well.  Pickett sounds great in all of them all the way to his final release in 1999, It's Harder Now.  The best way to get started, though, is to check out one, or both, of these collections, which cover his years with Atlantic.  Though there is a collection of his RCA highlights (Mr. Magic Man:  The Complete RCA Studio Recordings), we're still waiting for a comprehensive set that goes from the beginning to the end of his career.

The Very Best of Wilson Pickett (Atlantic/Rhino Records) 1993:  This may very well be the only Wilson Pickett recording you will ever need.  All of his most popular recordings are here from his days with Atlantic, from "I Found A Love" with The Falcons to his mid 60's/early 70's soul classics.  These 16 tracks are the epitome of soul music.

A Man And A Half - The Best of Wilson Pickett (Atlantic/Rhino Records) 1992:  If you want to hear more, this two-disc set will certainly satisfy.  A mind-boggling 44 tracks of classic soul music, including the 16 from the above set.  This is as definitive a set as we have for Wilson Pickett for now.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Ten Questions With.....Brian Langlinais

Most blues fans today probably gravitated to the blues via listening to what is called Roadhouse music.  It's been around a long time, but today's music is continually categorized and compartmentalized to within an inch of its life.  Most of us grew up calling it rock or maybe blues-rock, but it's actually a combination of several genres......blues, country, R&B, zydeco, Cajun, and soul music, played with a southern, Gulf Coast flair.  It's one of those things that most of us immediately recognize when we hear it, but we may not know, or even care, what's called.  It's just good music.  Some of the purveyors of roadhouse music would be Delbert McClinton, Marcia Ball, Sonny Landreth, Lee Roy and Rob Roy Parnell, Ronnie Hawkins, Jerry LaCroix, G.G. Shinn, etc......, and the subject of this week's post, Brian Langlinais.

Langlinais was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he grew up around music, the Roadhouse variety.  His dad played sax in the legendary Louisiana band, The Shondells, and he grew up playing in bands that covered soul and blues standards.  He headed up to Nashville and released a couple of Americana albums, but his latest release, Right Hand Road (Patoutville Records), was recorded in his hometown, sort of the result of a happy accident where the singer/guitarist made the best of a bad situation.....and how!!  The entire disc is a blast, with some well-chosen, creatively remodeled covers and a fantastic set of original tunes more or less written on the fly.  It's one of the best releases I've heard so far this year.

Mr. Langlinais was kind enough to sit down for Ten Questions with FBF and we are grateful for his time and consideration.  Please check him out below and visit his website if you want to hear more.  I'm pretty sure that you will.

Ten Questions With......Brian Langlinais

Friday Blues Fix:  Your dad played sax with The Shondells in the 60’s……what is it like to grow up in a musical family?  Was he an influence in your ending up a musician, or do you think you would have done so anyway? 
Brian Langlinais:  You know it probably wasn’t as big a deal as you might think because we were all young and I think it was more like he had a second job.  But we did listen to a lot of music and that was a HUGE influence. 
What kinds of music did you grow up listening to? 
Totally 60’s Top 40 pop radio.  But in Lafayette that also included local swamp pop, Cajun and Zydeco bands as well. 
Who were some of your favorites? 
If it was on the radio or Dick Clark I was listening to it. 
Did you start out liking the blues, or did you gravitate to the blues from another direction?  Who were some of your favorites when you started listening?
Growing up in Lafayette and being exposed to all the amazing music of South Louisiana definitely had an impact on my love for blues based roots music and since I can’t remember a time when it all clicked I guess I’ll say I started out liking it. LOL But I do remember diving deep into the entire Bobby Bland and Stax catalogs in my early twenties.  Favorites?  Bobby Bland and Delbert McClinton are still at the top of the list, but the music scene in Lafayette is a small pond with some mighty big fish and the “local” guys are international stars.  Of them my favorites were Jerry LaCroix, GG Shinn, Warren Storm, Clifton Chenier, Buckwheat, Rockin' Dopsie, Zachary Richard, Sonny Landreth and the list goes on. 
Your music is defined as “Roadhouse Blues,” and blends the blues with rock & roll, R&B, country, soul, and even zydeco…..which musicians in each genre influenced, or continue to influence you, as a songwriter, guitarist, and singer? 
There’s a long list of performers that cover all those bases but I have to say Delbert McClinton has probably been the most influential.  The circle of writers and players that have been with him thru time are the benchmark of what Roadhouse is to me.  
Right Hand Road is one of my favorite releases so far in 2016.  You cover a lot of ground with your original songs and came up with them pretty fast during the session.  Can you tell us about how you came to create some of them…..were they some that had been stuck in your head or did you just come up with them on the fly?
Thanks that’s very kind of you to say.  We originally had planned on only being in Lafayette for a day.  D.L.’s (D.L. Duncan – producer) idea was to go down and do three or four covers (“Green Grass”, “Everyday” and “Whiskey”, “Don’t Go No Further”) to see how it felt being back home.  Easy and fun.  While we were there an ice storm hit Nashville leaving Patterson (Barrett), Ron (Eoff) and me stuck in Lafayette to wait it out.  D.L. had that week booked with Tony (Daigle – engineer) to finish another project they were working on but was able to rework his schedule to give us a couple more days… so we decided to keep going.  The only problem was we didn’t have songs.  D.L. is a writer’s writer and is always jotting things down and taking notes.  He and I would talk about a groove that we thought we might try, he would pull up a sketch of a lyric and we would roll from there.  The four co-writes that we cut in the Electric Comoland sessions (“Right Hand Road”, “My One Desire”, “Our Love is Slipping Away”, “Louisiana Love”) were all done that way.  
Once we were back to Nashville and had a little time to listen to what we had from Tony’s, D.L. and I decided that we needed a few more up tempo rockers (“You Can’t Say I Didn’t Love You” and “Tucumcari Tonight”)  to round out the CD.  He did all the heavy lifting on those two and had them just about finished when we went to the Dog House here in Nashville to track. 

You’re based in Nashville, but made the trip home to Lafayette to record Right Hand Road, bringing some of your fellow Nashville artists down for the session…..were you looking for something in particular by doing this, or did it just all fall into place? 
Good question…. 
I was looking for something in particular for sure.  I’m extremely proud of the music I’ve made over the last decade but after we released Tonight I Might I started feeling like something was missing.   When my time with the Mystiqueros ended I knew I needed a new CD to get my solo thing back on track but I also knew I owed it to myself to take some time to figure out what the missing “IT” was before I did.  My wife suggested I think back to when I had the most fun musically, try to identify what was so good about that time and then work from there.  For me it was when I was working in Lafayette.  But I wasn’t sure if it was the music, the musicians or the city itself I just knew I needed to go there to find out.  That’s what I mean when I say that D.L. and I wanted to go down to see how it felt to record there. 
From the moment we got to Tony’s it felt right.  Safe and familiar.  Being back home, talking about the music and food we all love made it so much easier to communicate ideas to each other.  And I think that shows up in the nuances that make songs like “Green Grass” or “Whiskey” work they way they do.  I guess in hindsight the ‘IT” that was missing, and this is totally on me, was my ability to get my musical ideas across to the musicians that I was working with.  It’s no secret that we Cajuns have a different way of talking.  LOL! Being able to use common references like names, places, foods, players, sounds, etc., to describe ideas all led to being able to be more accurate in what ended up on the final records. 
I really liked your choices in cover tunes….. Your take on “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You,” reworking it into a Cajun-style tune, is really inspired.  Is this something that you always try to do with cover tunes, reinterpret them into something a bit different than the original?  What do you look for in a cover tune?
Thanks…”Green Grass” is a song that gets covered a LOT by Zydeco bands but we wanted to try a little different take on it.  Thanks to Ron and Bryan (Brignac) I think the groove is unique but still pays homage to both Wilson Pickett’s and the zydeco versions.  And to me that’s one of the most important things I look for in choosing a cover.  Being able to respect the original while still making it my own. When I’m looking for new songs to cover I keep a couple/ three things in mind.  One… do I sound good singing it and does it make sense for me to cover it subject wise.  Two… how will the group of musicians that will be on the gig or session interpret it and create a new version of it.  And three… can we ultimately do one and two and still respect the original. 

What are your future plans?  Do you have any other particular projects in mind or in the works?
Right now we’re just trying to get back out on the road and play for as many people as we can.  As for future projects …. If we can record the next CD in the same manner as Right Hand Road I’m ready to start that today.
What do you listen to in your spare time?
Oh man… I’m really guilty of getting stuck in ruts when it comes to my play list.  I have a musical crush on Danielle Nicole and Janiva Magness so they’re both in heavy rotation.  Bonnie Bishop is a dear friend and I’m addicted to her newest.  After that the list is pretty long.  Just about anything from Louisiana, Delbert, Bobby Bland, Curtis Salgado, Lloyd Jones just to name a few.  I’ve been digging into Lou Rawls’ and William Bell’s catalog lately as well.
If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you would be doing?
Not sure but I think it would involve being on the beach somewhere.  Maybe holding court behind a bar in a Tiki Hut.


Rock & Fire (2007) - Patoutville Records

Tonight I Might (2010) - Blue Boot Records

Right Hand Road (2016) - Patoutville Records

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ten Questions With......Blues Fiddler Ilana Katz Katz

(Photo by Holly Harris)

One instrument that was, ummm, instrumental in the early development of the blues is the fiddle.  The violin was featured prominently in African-American string bands, dating back to the 17th Century, but fell out of use in the 30's.  The Mississippi Sheiks included a fiddler, Lonnie Chatmon, and Muddy Waters' Plantation recordings of the early 40's used Henry "Son" Sims on occasion.  The legendary guitarist Lonnie Johnson also played fiddle, as did Big Bill Broonzy.  Other later fiddlers included Howard Armstrong, who was active into his 80's, Papa John Creach, and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.  More recently, there have been blues recordings from fiddlers Vassar Clements and Chris Murphy, and Charles Burnham appeared on several of guitarist James Blood Ulmer's mid 2000's blues recordings.

Ilana Katz Katz

A couple of months ago, I met Ilana Katz Katz on Facebook.  She is a blues fiddle player and singer who has played in the subways of Boston for seven years.  A couple of years ago, she was enticed by guitarist Ronnie Earl to emerge from the underground scene, and began playing with him and other artists, such as Earl, Bobby Radcliff, Bob Margolin, Cedric Watson, Barry Levenson, and many others.  She released her first solo album, I've Got Something To Tell You, in 2014, which earned very good reviews.  This spring, she released her second album, Movin' On, which consisted of a mix of originals and familiar classics that touch on traditional and modern styles.  Her fiddle playing is a combination of the old blues style, traditional Appalachian style.

Several of her friends join in on her latest disc, including Radcliff, Levenson, Watson, and guitarist Chas Justis and it's really fun to hear the interplay between the fiddle and guitar and, occasionally, gourd banjo played by Watson.  Listeners will find that she's a very good and creative songwriter as well....Earl covered her "Runnin' in Peace" on his CD, Good News, and her "Marlyn's Blues" was a finalist in Big City Blues Magazine's "Coolest Blues Song in the World 2015."

When she's not making music, Ilana manages to keep busy as a writer, having won awards in fiction, journalism, and technical communications.  Her debut novel, The Underground, is now available at  She's also a visual artist and a runner, successfully completing three marathons.  She lives in Boston and Newport, RI with her husband, Warren, and her cat, Boris.

We greatly appreciate Ms. Katz taking the time to sit down for Ten Questions.  I knew when I first met her and heard her album that she would be a most interesting subject and she didn't disappoint.  Please check her out below and then go and visit her website and check out her recordings.

Ten Questions With.....Ilana Katz Katz

Can you tell us a little about your musical background?  How old were you when started playing the fiddle?  Was it your first instrument or do you play others?

I began playing violin in 5th grade as part of a school program in Kansas City, where I grew up. I always loved the violin, but didn’t really connect with classical music. I always wanted to stray from the notes on the page, but I am grateful for the classical music experience. I quit playing entire for a period of 7 years not long after college. As far as other instruments…I am certain all the magic potential on that short little fingerboard will keep me busy my whole life, so I am sticking with – only – playing the fiddle right now. J I started singing three years ago – and that’s an ‘instrument’ too, and I’m thoroughly enjoying learning to sing and play at the same time. That’s a whole new experience.  

Do you come from a musical family?  What kind of music did you listen to/like when you were growing up?

Music was a big part of our household. I grew up with a lot of folk music around. I’m the youngest of four and my parents wanted to be sure we each took music lessons. I’m the only one who stuck with it. My dad bought the violin that I still often record and perform with  – for $5 at a garage sale when I was a kid. We had singalongs – literally singing "Kumbaya" – and Bob Dylan’s "Blowin' In the Wind" – along with all kinds of traditionals. I loved it all. The Peter, Paul, and Mommy record was my favorite. I used to play it over and over and dance around the living room in pre-school. My mom also listened to show tunes a lot and listened to opera and told me that when I grew up I’d love opera, which I don’t, but I do thoroughly enjoy some musicals (Jesus Christ Superstar, for example).
J My mom wanted me to play klezmer music, but my passion for the blues and Appalachian music kept my focus and continue to do so. My mom died a few years ago before my first record, but she loved knowing that I played in the subway and she got to see me start to perform on local TV shows. I was happy that she got to see that.

Who are some of your musical influences on the fiddle?   Who influences you as a writer and performer?

I have many, many, many musical influences. Here are a few:  My favorite no longer on the earth musicians of all time are Tommy Jarrell – who was a tremendous old-time fiddler from Toast, NC with his own sound that has a lot of sliding “Blue” notes that drew me in. The other musician – who was not a fiddler – but continues to influence my fiddling – was the great John Lee Hooker. He is my go-to musician more than anyone. A few other no-longer-on-the-planet-musicians who influence me a great deal are Stuff Smith, Howard Armstrong and Claude Williams. But discovering the Blues fiddling of Big Bill Broonzy and Lonnie Johnson – who were known more widely as guitarists – had a huge impact on me. 

There are so many others. I also want to mention those who inspire me today. In the blues world, the amazingly talented and extraordinary violinist/singer/songwriter and wonderful human J Anne Harris is a huge inspiration. She has her own sound, is very versatile, energetic, so joyful and soulful in her vibe in live settings as a performer. J

I’m quite influenced by many live performers, but I am mesmerized by certain musicians who perform as solo artists – in addition to with their bands. I’ll mention just a few of my favorites: Bruce Molsky, Paul Oscher, and Rickie Lee Jones. They are each transcendent in their solo performances. I always learn when I get to see them. I love making music with full bands, and duos, but also really enjoy performing solo – which is how I mostly play in the subway.

As far as writers, I was very influenced by James Baldwin when I began to get into writing. I read everything he wrote, but these days, I don’t have a ‘favorite’ author, but a few writers whose books I savor: Margaret Atwood, and my friend Barbara Shapiro who is a stunning writer. Some of the passages I read from these writers are so beautiful. I’ll stop and read a sentence over again and it’s like a sort of poetry tucked inside a novel.

Have you always been a fan of the blues?  If not, when did you discover them?

(Photo by Laura Carbone)

I first heard a John Lee Hooker record when I was 14 or 15 and felt that music in my bones. I immediately had a thought of wanting to play blues on the fiddle like John Lee Hooker played on the guitar. Of course, I don’t play like John Lee… nobody does! But I do draw from him – or at least I try to. J I love a lot of music under the blues umbrella – old-timey to the modern electric sound.

The fiddle is an unusual instrument in the modern blues, which is odd considering its prevalence during the pre-war days.  How difficult was it for you to break into the modern blues scene with it?

I’m so glad that you mentioned the fiddle is from way back because people always think it’s “new” to the blues. Honestly, I wasn’t trying to ‘break into’ the modern blues scene. My connection to playing with blues musicians unfolded like magic.  My experience with the fiddle – nearly always – is that people are very excited to welcome it in most music contexts, whether there is a pop band, old-time, blues, duo, big band, or whatever… I feel very blessed to be welcomed to so many different kinds of musical configurations.

You have worked in the subways for the past seven years, playing your music for commuters and travelers.  Can you describe to us what that’s like and tell us the positive and negative aspects of it…..what you’ve learned from it?

It’ll be eight years in February. J The subway is truly a melting pot of people. The subway is where I go to pray with music, and I am always pulled to return there. I just got back from recording my third record out in Los Angeles last night. Because of that, I have been away for three weeks, and I can’t wait to get back there tomorrow morning. I miss it so much!  

I have many, many subway stories. Subway performing lifts my spirits – on even the most mundane day. I feel like a conduit of music and I love sharing music with people who aren’t expecting to hear it. A couple of stories: I once serenaded a bride and groom on their way to city hall – white dress and all – to get married. I played a waltz and they danced around the subway platform until their train came. I’ve also had some very deep conversations with all kinds of people – homeless, abuse victims, … people hear me and seem to want to talk to me and tell me about themselves, how the music I am playing makes them feel. They listen to me and I listen to them. In that experience and exchange, I feel we help one another.

There is also a lot of spontaneous dancing on the subway platform. I love that. It is a great honor to be a musician and bring people joy. I feel that with every note.. how lucky I am! Occasionally, the subway gets a little dodgy and I have to diffuse situations. That doesn’t happen all the time, but I do have to always have my antennae up and be prepared for anything…odd-balls, people who are under the influence, people who want my hard-earned money. I must be ready for anything. Recently I had to stop a woman from jumping down into the train pit where you can get killed. It has a big sign that reads ‘Danger third rail” but she accidentally dropped her cell phone there and she was about to jump down and get it. It took quite a bit of convincing her to get the train personnel to assist her. Finally, she went upstairs and within five minutes they helped her get her cellphone back. Sometimes people forget that it’s okay to ask for help!

I try not to dwell on the negative experiences where I feel physically threatened - which can be quite intense – and fortunately those are pretty rare. Mostly, there are magic moments to be cherished, and interesting, kind people I meet and get to know. Each time I go down there, it begins as an adventure. I never know what stop will be available, although I certainly have my favorite station to play at and when I get there I just feel excitement and hope and joy.

You have played with some great, talented musicians over the years, such as Bobby Radcliff, Ronnie Earl, Barry Levenson, Cedric Watson, etc…..what are some lessons that you’ve learned from them?  Any interesting stories you’d like to share about recording/performing with these greats?

I have a deep love for all of them as my friends, as extremely talented musicians and I have found them to be kind, compassionate human beings who put their soul into their work. I know that making music with people you love, respect and feel genuinely connected to is most important. This is true whether you are sitting on a porch in the middle of the woods jammin’ or on a stage playing for thousands of people. Connection is key.

I’ll share my first recording experience with Ronnie Earl. We recorded my entire first record in my house. There were no rehearsals, a few live takes of each song. I was very nervous at first, but I learned from him to trust in the feeling of the music and just play and sing from my heart, and I carry that lesson everywhere. That philosophy has helped me  ‘go with the flow’ and tap into that spirit when I perform on-the-fly with people from all walks of life. Each artist brings their particular joy or pain to their music and I feel honored whenever they include me in that intimate process and I certainly put all of myself into my music. I feel like the artists I work with are teachers and I’m lucky to learn about music and life from them.
J I also meet amazing people through each collaboration – like the incredible Diane Blue who I met through Ronnie. She is a world-class singer/songwriter who has her own band and is also in Ronnie’s band. I was lucky enough to meet her and he suggested I invite her to sing on my first record. Lucky for me she accepted! Diane is an exceptional artist and human being. Movin’ On is on her record label, Regina Royale. I’ve learned – and continue to learn – a great deal from all of the people I play and record with. 

As I said, I just got back from finishing my third record with Barry Levenson producing and playing. We’re close friends and it’s really cool to get to record with people who I feel connected to and who know me so well that we communicate in an almost unspoken shorthand. Barry is my soul brother and I feel really fortunate to get to spend time with him and collaborate. The two of us look forward to playing festivals together very soon….it’s in the works! I continually learn from Barry and it’s a great joy to collaborate on songwriting and recording with him.

Along that vein, recording with my dear friend Bobby Radcliff and his trio was its own kind of wonderful. I cherish my friendship with Bobby and you can feel that when we play together. He is one of the nicest, coolest, most intelligent people I’ve ever met. Not only is Bobby an amazing guitarist, songwriter, singer, but he’s an incredible visual artist… and we always have a great time hanging out and talking about music, art, life, and eating good food! Whenever I have the honor to sit in with him, it is really special.  

I’ve really enjoyed listening to your latest CD, Movin’ On.  Can you tell us about some of the songs on the album?  What is your songwriting process like?  How did you choose some of the cover tunes on the album?

In terms of song choice, I am constantly listening to music and some of those – “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and some of the old-time tunes “Lazy John/Sail Away Ladies” – just called out to me and I intuitively knew I wanted to record them. Songwriting varies. “Demon Blues” was written over time, during various bouts of depression. Everytime I would come out of a dark personal time, I would think that I would never be depressed again, and then I would find myself –quite suddenly – really depressed. This – I am happy to say – is much better than it used to be. Far fewer episodes than the past 20 years. The lyrics from “Forevermore” woke me up abruptly from a deep sleep – and so those words felt like they were “sent” to me. I am inspired to write by various people and life experiences. I never know when the muse will come. Sometimes an entire song will come quickly as was the way with “You Crush My Soul” and sometimes I get snippets of ideas and a hint that more is coming the more I play. My next record with Barry Levenson has been a blast to make as we collaborated on many of the songs. It really was a lot of fun. He always takes my ideas and makes them better. J He’s brilliant… There are a few more songwriters I am starting to work with and each one brings their own thing to the table. 

And I can’t explain what an incredible experience it was to record most of Movin’ On in the very soulful Lafayette, LA with Cedric Watson. We spent a week recording there and just hanging out. He is such a passionate, creative musician with a big, loving heart and his ideas were so amazing. I felt each song blossom when we played them together. He helped me with my dream of recording great acoustic old-timey blues and we both loved how it came out. I love Cedric and it is a joy to spend time with him and play music…. To record with him was a beautiful experience.

So you see, I am always learning from all the artists I am fortunate enough to record with. I end up falling in love with each one, music and soul! That’s the bottom line.

You are also a novelist and a visual artist.  What can you tell us about your work in those areas?

I started out wanting to be a novelist, and music was mostly just for fun. I love writing. I studied journalism in college, and have written a number of novels, but only put out one so far because I’ve been so busy with music. I am about to turn that novel into a screenplay – which was optioned a while ago – but I just haven’t had time to write it. Now that I am finished recording, I’ll start on that and I am very excited. Each of these art forms pull different pieces of my mind and I really love them all. I haven’t had much time to paint or draw lately, but I recently just decided to paint my leather boots, and bought some special paint for that and I loved doing that. So you might see some one-of-a-kind Ilana Katz Katz painted boots for sale soon at my shows soon! J I’m sure I’ll do more watercolor paintings and drawings soon, too. I’m always getting all kinds of fun art ideas, but there isn’t enough time. I have my old used fiddle strings and have made a few pieces of jewelry and things and I really want to do more of that, too. I love to make things… I think it’s fun… music, story writing, painting…

What kind of music do you listen to in your spare time?  I ask that even though it doesn’t sound like you have very much spare time.  Do you listen to blues or other genres?

I listen to music much of the time. I live in downtown Boston and even if I go walk an errand that is five minutes away, I have my iPod on shuffle. I listen when I go jogging, when I’m cooking, in the car. I can’t listen if I’m writing or when I’m working at my desk because it’s too distracting. I’m often listening to blues and Appalachian music. As I said, John Lee Hooker is always in there, but I also listen to some – but not a lot – of pop music. I love and listen to a lot of old-time jazz, swing, folk music, singer songwriter genre. There is SO much amazing music and I love discovering new artists.. from past or current. I particularly love to experience live music and go out as often as I can and am fortunate enough to live near many venues that have live music many nights a week. You are right, I don’t have a moment of ‘spare’ time, but I do multi-task my listening. Some of my favorite live artists who I get to see regularly in New England are Diane Blue, Dennis Brennan, Lisa Marie, Racky Thomas and Neal Vitullo… Sometimes I like to flip around the radio stations when I’m in the car. That is still really fun and I never know what’s going to catch my ear.
J Thanks for all the fun and thought provoking questions, and thanks to everyone for supporting musicians – live and otherwise.   


I've Got Something To Tell You (Katz n' Fiddle Records) - 2014

Movin' On (Regina Royale Records) - 2016

Friday, November 4, 2016

One Very Productive Day

For Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, October 31st in 1979 had to be one of the most productive days they ever enjoyed as musicians.  The pair was busy touring overseas in Europe and were spending some time in France.  Sad to say, but at the time, blues artists frequently enjoyed larger followings in Europe and other countries than they did in their home country (a condition that exists for some blues artists even to this day).  It was difficult for many blues artists to even record an album in the time, neither Guy or Wells had recorded a domestic album in several years.

While they were touring in France, Guy was approached by French promoter Didier Tricard, who asked if the guitarist was interested in cutting an album while there.  Guy agreed, on the condition (half-jokingly) that Tricard named the record label that was being created for the album after Guy's mother, which Tricard agreed to do.

It had been seven years since Guy had stepped into a studio to record Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues, a solid, yet frustrating release on Atlantic Records that included Eric Clapton, Dr. John, and the J. Geils Band.  On the album recorded with Tricard, Guy employed his working band, which included his brother Phil on rhythm guitar, J.W. Williams on bass, and Ray "Killer" Allison on drums, and was given total artistic control and freedom.  He could record what he wanted the way he wanted, and that's just what he did.

The album, originally released by Isabel Records as Blues Giant, was without a doubt Guy's rawest and most honest recording at that time.  There were only six tracks on the album, but no one complained.  He opened with "I Smell A Rat," which can best be described as "nine minutes of organized chaos."  This was one of the first Buddy Guy tracks that I ever heard, and it blew me away with the wild guitar, the nearly hysterical vocals and the powerful rhythm section holding everything in place.

Guy also cut "Stone Crazy," retitled here as "Are You Losing Your Mind," with razor-sharp lead guitar and vocals seemingly on the edge of despair.  The remaining four cuts are the rocker "You've Been Gone Too Long," the smooth "She's Out There Somewhere," the slow burner "Outskirts of Town," and the fiery closer, "When I Left Home."

The album didn't make much noise in the U.S. at the time, but when Bruce Iglauer picked it up for release on Alligator Records in 1981 and re-titled it as Stone Crazy!, it became one of the label's best-selling discs and continues to sell well today.

That alone would probably be considered a very good day by most bluesmen's standards, but Guy's day was just beginning.  That same evening, his musical partner Junior Wells recorded an album with Guy and his band in the same studio for Tricard.  It was called Pleading The Blues.

As raw and unleashed as Guy was on his own album, he was impressively understated, reserved, and totally under control when backing Wells on this disc.  The harmonica player was in top form on this session, both vocally and blowing his harp.  His last recording had been Delmark's On Tap in 1975, so he was making up for lost time, too.

Pleading The Blues included seven tracks, opening with the title track, a smoldering eight minute cut that featured Wells' pleading vocals and Guy's busy fills.  Phil Guy provided crystal clear rhythm guitar on both of these albums and he and his brother really work well together.  Next up is my favorite Wells reading of the Tampa Red classic, "It Hurts Me Too."

Wells also shows his soul side on a few tracks, including the Brook Benton hit, "I'll Take Care Of You," and a pair of funky tunes ("Turn Out The Lights" and "I Smell Something"), where he goes into his James Brown schtick.  When I first saw Wells do this, I thought he was copying the Godfather, but I later heard from some other blues fans that Junior Wells was doing James Brown before James Brown was doing James Brown.

You really have to take your hat off to the rhythm section of Phil Guy, Williams, and Allison.  You would be hard-pressed to find two more different sessions mood-wise, but they handle the rhythm chores on each with relative ease.  Apparently, Tricard was an ideal producer.....apparently, he pretty much turned everything on and sat back and let the magic happen.

Pleading The Blues was not released in the U.S. until the early 90's, when it was issued by Evidence Records, who did blues fans a huge service at that time by reissuing dozens of recordings that had never been released stateside or suffered from poor distribution upon earlier releases.  In fact, this was how I was able to hear a lot of these great recordings, as we discussed here several years back.

At the time that I first heard it, Stone Crazy! was one of my favorite albums, but over time, I've come to enjoy Pleading The Blues more for its subtlety and balance.  I guess at the time I first started listening to the blues, I was more in a rock vein, but my listening tastes slowly moved toward the blues side of blues-rock and came to appreciate their collaborative effort more.  It's still a blast to pull from the shelf and listen to every once in a while, though.

After these two albums were released, both artists were largely silent in the studio for over a decade.  Guy released a couple of albums on JSP Records in the UK in the early 80's, but didn't record again until he signed with Silvertone in the early 90's and cut Damn Right I've Got The Blues, which helped him obtain his first real mainstream success.  Wells recorded Harp Attack for Alligator with Carey Bell, James Cotton, and Billy Branch in 1990 and later signed with Telarc Records, where he cut several albums prior to his death in 1998.

Phil and Buddy Guy

Phil Guy enjoyed some success as a solo artist before passing away in 2008 from prostate cancer.  Ray "Killer" Allison died this past month (October 5th) at the age of 60.  J.W. Williams is still going strong in Chicago, leading his band, the Chi-Town Hustlers.

Though both Buddy Guy and Junior Wells went on to greater success, blues fans can check out Stone Crazy! and Pleading The Blues to hear both of them during one of their most creative periods.