Friday, September 29, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Eight

For track 8 of our Blues Fix Mix CD, I decided that a change of pace was in order, so we're looking a a pre-war blues artist this week, but with a twist. One of my favorite pre-war blues artists (for those new to the blues, "pre-war" actually indicates the time prior to World War II) is Nehemiah "Skip" James, the enigmatic artist from Bentonia, MS who introduced the Bentonia style of blues to the world.  James recorded for Paramount Records in 1931 and the recordings that survived over the years are considered masterpieces of recorded blues not just for the era, but for all time.

James' style was something that you couldn't immediately get over.  His voice was an haunting falsetto and his guitar worked coupled finger-picking with a hypnotic bass line, which gave it a totally unique sound.  Even in those horribly scratchy recordings for Paramount, which have been cleaned up about as much as they possibly could, you get that James was a unique blues artists.  There were only a few artists who played in the Bentonia style......there are still only a few that do.

I didn't really want to put one of his Paramount sides on a mix CD......remember these were set up for new listeners, who I didn't figure would have the patience to endure the scratchy quality of the recordings (That being said, once you get a taste of Skip James' music, I strongly suggest that you check these recordings out.  They're are on a par with the recordings of Son House, Bukka White, and yes, Robert Johnson).  Fortunately, even though James basically vanished from sight after his Paramount recordings.....they didn't sell very well and he only received $40 and a train ticket for his efforts, so he opted to become an ordained minister, also driving a tractor and working as a supervisor on various plantations......he was rediscovered by blues fans in the early 60's and was able to perform and record again.

James' best post-war recordings were for Vanguard Records.  His Today! release was the first time I heard him and it was amazing.  The recording was crystal clear, one of the best recordings of the rediscovered Mississippi country blues artists, and he really seemed to be at the height of his powers, almost like it was just 1932 instead of 1964.  He sounded incredible as he re-created many of his old songs, plus a few new ones. He was in the hospital when he was found, and sadly, he battled illness for most of his "Comeback" years, passing away in 1969.  The song I selected for our Blues Fix Mix CD was the opening track on Today!  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" really showcases James' haunting vocals and his delicate guitar picking and, trust me, that's only the tip of the iceberg.

If you'd like to read more about Skip James, check out this FBF post from 2013.

Your Blues Fix Mix CD (Volume One) to date......

Track 1:  "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Track 2:  "Son of Juke," Billy Branch
Track 3:  "Feel Like Blowing My Horn," Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Track 4:  "Big Boy Now," Big Jack Johnson
Track 5:  "Blues Man," B.B. King
Track 6"  "Four Cars Running," Larry Garner
Track 7:  "Cadillac Blues," Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Track 8"  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues," Skip James

More to come.........

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Seven

In the late 90's, a new record label had surfaced, Cannonball Records.  The first recording I ever saw from the label was a CD by Bernard Allison, the son of the recently departed Luther Allison. When I bought it, the first thing I noticed was the little ball bearing-sized "cannonball" that was placed in the corner of the CD case.  It slid up and down as you moved the cool!!  The CD was also pretty cool and showed that the younger Allison had big things ahead of him, fact, FBF subjected Mr. Allison to Ten Questions a few years ago, and you will hear one of his songs from that particular album later on in this mix CD.

Since I enjoyed that particular CD so much, I decided to go a bit deeper into Cannonball's group of recording artists and I discovered Johnnie Bassett, a Detroit blues man who deftly combined urban blues, jump blues, jazz, and even a bit of the Delta into his brand of blues.  One day while thumbing through the blues section in a Camelot Music store, I found Bassett's Cannonball debut, Cadillac Blues, and purchased it without hearing a single tune.  

I was pleasantly surprised with my purchase.  Bassett played guitar a lot like B.B. King.....just a crisp, clear ringing tone and his husky vocals were a plus as well.  The band featured horns, drums, and bass, the organ took care of the bass parts.  I found out later that Bassett had been around for a long time, backing Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Nolan Strong, Andre Williams, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, John Lee Hooker, Eddie Burns, and many many more, even releasing a few previous albums of his own, which I later bought and enjoyed.  The band played slow blues and shuffles and just had a great sound.....a straight-ahead Grade A blues band.

When I was compiling my first blues fix mix tape for a friend way back in the late 90's, I knew that I had to have at least one Johnnie Bassett track on it.  I was really into him at the time, having seen him perform at the 1999 Blues Music Awards (then called the Handy Awards), where he and Cadillac Blues had received five nominations that year.  Bassett even performed at the show, performing "Cadillac Blues" and "Party My Blues Away," the title track from his upcoming album on Cannonball.  

It was so cool to see him perform and afterward, as everyone walked from the Orpheum to Beale Street, we fell in behind him and his wife, walking hand-in-hand, with Bassett carrying his guitar case.  He later released a couple of other discs, which I haven't gotten to hear yet, and was pretty active until he passed away in 2012 after battling cancer.

Track Seven of our blues fix CD is "Cadillac Blues," from Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents.  If you've listened to a lot of blues, you've probably heard at least one song about an artist hoping for better times when he can just ride around with the lady of his choice in a brand new car, preferably a Cadillac, or maybe one who's living the life and has his own Cadillac.  Well, in this case, Mr. Bassett has one and he's on Cloud Nine.  This is one of my favorite blues songs ever, and I just love Bassett's smooth vocal, his crackling guitar, the band's funky backing, and the overall good vibe.  I hope you dig it too.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Six

One of the things that people like about the blues is that the songs usually are about subjects that everyone can relate to.  Just about everybody has experienced some sort of heartbreak (or caused a little bit), lost a job, lost all their money, or any number of other hard luck stories....and there have been hundreds or thousands of songs written about those subjects over the years.  The trick is to make it interesting when you sing about it, put your own personal twist on it......something that will make it stand out in the blues fan's mind.  These days, with nearly a century of blues songs recorded (and a healthy number of songs written before the recording days), it's really a challenge for new songwriters to come up with a fresh take on these subjects.

In the mid 90's, I found an album by one of the new faces on the blues scene:  Baton Rouge resident Larry Garner.  I had read about him in Living Blues several times, but it was really hard to find any of his music in a record store back in the pre-internet days.  He had only recorded a couple of albums on one label, the British label JSP, and there were hard to find in my neck of the woods.  However, in 1994, Garner released You Need To Live A Little on the Gitanes Jazz subsidiary of Verve Records. During this period of the 90's, Verve released several blues albums from a diverse group of blues artists like Johnny Copeland, Gatemouth Brown, Lucky Peterson, Joe Louis Walker, James Cotton, Buddy Scott, and Larry Garner.

That's a solid group of artists and all of those albums were enjoyable, to be sure.  Garner's was my favorite though.  I liked his guitar playing and the arrangements were creative, but the songs were the thing.  He wrote about everyday life events, things that might seem mundane to some folks, but to folks who were dealing with the type of things he wrote about, it was really cool to hear that somebody else was not only dealing with those things, too, but also writing songs about it.  Even familiar blues subjects were given a unique and fresh spin.

If you happen to follow Garner on Facebook, a lot of his observations sound like future songs.  He has a very common sense approach to addressing things, whether it's traveling to other land and meeting their residents, hanging out with his friends and mentors at home, dealing with family issues, or just making observations about life, food, and even politics.  He's got to be one of the most down to earth guys in the blues world and always has a minute or two for a fan, even this one.  He's actually agreed to do three different interviews for this blog, including the very first one!!

For our Blues Fix Mix CD, I had to include a Larry Garner tune, and I included what is one of my favorite of his tunes from You Need To Live A Little, "Four Cars Running," which finds Garner up to his neck in trying to keep up with his family responsibilities, including maintaining the vehicles of all of his family members.  This was always an amusing song to me, but never more so than in the last few months, when I suddenly found myself trying guessed it......KEEP FOUR CARS RUNNING!!  Dads all over the place (and Moms, too) can definitely relate to this tune.  It's nice to hear that we're not alone.  Here's Track Six of our Blues Fix Mix CD.......Larry Garner's "Four Cars Running."

Friday, September 8, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Five

To be sure, there are no definite guidelines to compiling a Blues Fix Mix CD, but if there were any, Guideline #1 would be that at least one B.B. King song be included.  I mean, how could you not include one?  The main question would be, of course, which one and there are so many to choose from over King's eight decades as an entertainer.....the so-called Vintage Years of his tenure with RPM and Crown Records from 1949 - 1962, or his long association with ABC-Paramount, later MCA, later Geffin Records from 1962 until his death in 2015.  What a body of work.

I decided to use one of my favorite of his later tunes, from his 1998 album, Blues on the Bayou.  This was the first album that King produced himself and he took his sweet time putting it together.....just he and his band playing a collection of old B.B. King songs and a few new B.B. King songs.  It was all done live in the studio, no overdubs, no bells and whistles.....just the blues played by the King of the Blues and his band.

"Blues Man," to me, is King sitting back and reflecting over his long career.  At the time he recorded this album, King was 73 years old and this song was no doubt a great representation of his thoughts at the time, and probably represented the feelings of many a blues man before and after him.....the long hours of travel and the long nights of work, followed by more long days of travel to the next town, the lonely days on the road, not seeing family for a long time, even not being able to keep family together, not having any money, or not enough to be able to do anything, even get to the next town.......but still hanging in for that big break, because "Good things come to those who wait."

Since King's death in 2015, listening to "Blues Man," makes me sort of sad, but at the same time, it's a perfect retrospective of his career in just over five minutes.  He waited a long time, too, but he did taste a huge amount of success over most of his career and was certainly was one of the most beloved figures in the blues, and will continue to be for a long time.  That  make me feel better.  Right now, sit back and relax and listen to Track Five of our Blues Fix Mix CD, B.B. King's "Blues Man."

So maybe not your first choice for the B.B. King song to include on a blues mix CD, but it's a good one.....understand?

I've traveled for miles around
It seems like everybody wanna put me down
Because I'm a blues man
But I'm a good man, understand

I went down to the bus station
Looked up on the wall
My money was too light, people
Couldn't go nowhere at all
I'm a blues man
But a good man, understand

The burdens that I carry are so heavy, you see
It seems like it ain't nobody in this great big world
That would wanna help old B
But I will be all right, people
Just give me a break
Good things come to those who wait
And I've waited a long time
I'm a blues man but a good man, understand
  • Writer(s): Riley B. King

Friday, September 1, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Four

For this week's selection, we selected a tune from one of my all-time favorite blues albums......the original soundtrack to Deep Blues, Robert Mugge's 1992 incredible documentary that looked at the early 90's blues scene in the Mississippi Delta that introduced a lot of blues fans to R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Booba Barnes, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Lonnie Pitchford, Frank Frost, and Big Jack Johnson.  Well, it introduced me to several of them anyway.  I wasn't that familiar with Burnside or Kimbrough at the time.  I had heard or seen the other ones.....Frost on the movie Crossroads, Hemphill and Pitchford on a couple of documentaries shown on Mississippi Public Television, and Barnes from my recently-purchased copy of his Rooster Blues release, The Heartbroken Man.

I found out about Big Jack Johnson via his Earwig debut release, The Oil Man in the late 80's.  His guitar playing cut to the bone and just sent shivers down my spine.  I really enjoyed his songwriting, too.  It was so down-to-earth and covered situations that you could relate to.  Backtracking, I found out that he and Frank Frost and Sam Carr were renowned in the Delta as the Jelly Roll Kings, which led me to their self-titled album, also on Earwig and another one of my favorites.

I had heard about Deep Blues via Living Blues, but of course, the actual documentary didn't get within 150 miles of where I lived, so it was much later when I had the opportunity to actually watch it, but I was hoping that I could get my hands on the soundtrack.....which wasn't as easy as you might think.  Though it was on a subsidiary of a major label (Atlantic Records), it took a bit of time to track it down, but I managed to finally grab a cassette copy at a newly-opened record store nearby.  It was a wonderful collection, just bursting at the seams with energy and excitement, with sound that was so clear, you could hear the bottles clanking on the tables near the stage.  It would be impossible to pick a single favorite song, but I loved two of Big Jack Johnson's selections......."Catfish Blues" (coming in a future post) and "Big Boy Now," Track Four of our Blues Fix Mix CD.

Big Jack Johnson in a scene from Deep Blues
"Big Boy Now" is an autobiographical track about Johnson's childhood infatuation with the country singers he heard on the radio.....Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, Hank Snow, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry.  Johnson used to want to yodel like those country singers, but his mom told him, "You can't do like them white folks on that radio," to which Johnson replied that oh yes, he could, "'cause I'm a big boy now and I can do what I please!" at which point he launches into a blue yodel that would rival his childhood favorites and then launches into a guitar solo that sounds like his instrument is strung with barbed wire.  It's a wild experience to hear on the CD and I can only imagine how it was to hear it in person.

One thing the song does make clear is how closely related blues and country music actually are.  Both originated in the same regions and both are similar in their delivery and subject matter, though the instrumentation and rhythms are different.  That wasn't always the case, though, because in their beginnings, at least their earliest recordings, both employed guitars, fiddles, piano, and harmonica, though they began to go their separate ways after electric instruments became the fashion.  Johnson, like a lot of his contemporaries (and some of his predecessors) grew up listening to what he could hear on the radio and in Mississippi, and most of them played both kinds of and western.  There were a lot of country music stations blaring away at night at maximum wattage, so that's what most people, regardless of race, listened to at night.  

Anyway, hope you enjoyed Track Four of our Ultimate Blues Fix Mix CD, and we hope you come back next week for Track Five.