Friday, November 13, 2020
The end credits were backed by this funky boogie blues rhythm with a muted trumpet playing over it. For the first time during the entire movie, I was riveted to the screen......who was playing this wonderful music?? It sounded like Miles Davis on the trumpet.....I'm a huge Miles Davis fan, but I couldn't imagine him playing on the soundtrack of this movie. I decided to search to find out just who was behind this great music.
Lo and behold, it was indeed Miles Davis, the Prince of Darkness, playing on this track. Not only that, he was being backed by John Lee Hooker on this particular track and the great drummer Earl Palmer, along with slide guitarist extraordinaire Roy Rogers and another legend, Taj Mahal. Through further research, I discovered that Miles played on most of the soundtrack and was backed on other tunes by slide guitarist Roy Rogers and Taj Mahal. The soundtrack was also available on the Antilles label (a subsidiary of Island Records), though it was out of print. I tracked down a copy of the soundtrack (which actually cost more than the DVD, which was apparently also out of print....can't argue with that).
I've been a fan of Miles Davis since my early twenties (I posted here about his first quintet many years ago). Like many jazz musicians of his day, the blues permeated every note of his music, especially in his early career. In his later years, and this music was some of the last that he recorded, he made a return to more blues influence in his music after his torrid fusion period from the late 60's to the mid 70's.
Despite being aware of the blues influence in his music, it never occurred to me that Davis would play with any other blues artists, let alone John Lee Hooker, but based on the quote above, Davis respected Hooker's music immensely, and the tracks on which these two collaborate really cook. No one, I mean NO ONE, worked a groove like the great JLH and Davis' trumpet over this nasty, greasy, Delta groove is just wondrous. Of course, with a rhythm section like Palmer and bassist Tim Drummond, two of the finest to play their respective instruments, there's no way to go astray.
Rogers and Taj Mahal's contributions are equally fine, but just in case you missed it, this was Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker......two of the giants in their respective musical fields......coming together and making it count, even if it is on the soundtrack of a most forgettable movie. The soundtrack to The Hot Spot is certainly not forgettable in the least and if you like blues or jazz, track down this CD. You can skip the movie though.
Friday, October 30, 2020
Although Bobby Parker wasn't on the album, one of his songs was....."Watch Your Step" opened the disc in a big way and quickly became my favorite song on the album. I did find out that it was a cover of a early 60's hit by Bobby Parker. Of course, back then it wasn't like old songs appeared on the radio, other than on Sunday nights, when I could pick up WLAC out of Nashville. They played songs from the late 50's/early 60's frequently and that's where I first heard the original version of "Watch Your Step," which blew me away all over again.
It was next to impossible for me to find recordings of older artists like Parker where I lived. I listened to what I could find, thanks to a few mail-order places that I was able to track down via the ads in Living Blues magazine, but I was never able to track down any music from Bobby Parker. I think it was mainly due to the fact that Parker just recorded singles and for multiple labels, so it was hard to collect them all together into a "Best Of" due to licensing issues and such.
Fortunately, my favorite record label at the time, Black Top Records, released Bent Out Of Shape, Parker's first official album, in 1993. I heard about it via Mississippi's Public Radio Saturday night show, Highway 61. They played a track off the album (the title track, I think) as part of their set and two days later, I was driving to the record store, where I quickly grabbed a copy.
Upon hearing Bent Out Of Shape, my biggest question was why Bobby Parker didn't become a big star then and why wasn't he regarded as one of big stars of his era?? I found out over the years that he was a huge influence on a host of acts, particularly Santana, John Lennon, Spencer Davis, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Bobby Radcliff, who described Parker as "Guitar Slim meets James Brown," which sums him up about as well as I've ever heard.
He won a talent contest in the late 50's, which led to a gig with Otis Williams & the Charms, later backing Bo Diddley (even appearing on Ed Sullivan), and Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams before he settled down in Washington D.C., where he became a solo act, recording "Watch Your Step" in 1961 for V-Tone Records. Some of his other singles included "Blues Get Off My Shoulder" (Parker claimed that he wrote the B-side, "You Got What It Takes," but it was stolen by Berry Gordy) and "It's Hard By It's Fair," both of which he reprised on Bent Out Of Shape many years later.
Parker remained active over the years, but spent most of his time performing in the D.C. area. Upon the release of his two Black Top efforts, Santana took Parker on the road with him for several shows, one of which was captured for DVD in the late 90's.
Parker remained active until he passed away in October of 2013 from a heart attack at 76. If you missed out on Bobby Parker, you missed a real treat. Luckily, his music is still available via streaming or CD, and there's an upcoming release that collects his 50's and 60's recordings that is on my radar for sure.
Friday, October 23, 2020
So I had a doctor visit this past Friday for a routine checkup (all was well). While I was out and in the neighborhood......give or take about twenty-five miles.....I decided to stop by The Little Big Store, where I found those great deals during the summer. I had been planning to return for a couple of weekends, but things didn't work out, so I decided to make it work out while I had a chance.
I was really glad that I did, because they had some "new" old albums to choose from this time around. I had a couple that I was intending to purchase if they were still there when I returned, and I did, but there were some other great selections that I picked up while I was there. Let's check out a couple of them, why don't we......
In the 40's and 50's, he played electric blues in Chicago, recording for Chess and J.O.B. among others, but returned to his roots in the 60's and 70's, playing in solo acoustic format on many of his albums. I've picked up several Johnny Shines albums at The Little Big Store over the past few months and I left Traditional Delta Blues, hoping it would be there for my next visit. Thank goodness it was still there.
These 14 sides were recorded in the early 70's, but I'm not sure if they were ever released until the early 90's by Biograph Records, the liner notes don't really say. I don't understand why such great music sits on the shelf for so long, but I guess that's the music business. Anyway, Shines covers several of Robert Johnson's songs ("Milk Cow Blues," "Dynaflow Blues," and "Tell Me Mama," which Shines learned from Johnson, who never recorded it). He also covers Charley Patton's "Pony Blues," "Sitting On Top Of The World" (from the Mississippi Sheiks), and Memphis Minnie's "Bumble Bee," allegedly the first song Shines ever learned to play. It's a great set of Delta blues and one of Shines' many excellent recordings.
James re-recorded six of his classic 1931 sides for this session and introduced six new songs, several of which described his ongoing battle with cancer (which eventually claimed his life in 1968). Those sides are especially powerful and somber.......James' brand of blues were really blues at times....not exactly dance tunes or singalongs, which might have explained why his Paramount recordings of the 30's didn't sell that well.
Still, while his guitar playing had declined a bit over the 30 year span, his vocals were even more powerful and expressive than they had been. Listening to him is guaranteed to induce chill bumps, especially late at night. While I love the Vanguard recordings for their amazing clarity and James' performances, I would put these recordings on the same level as those. If you can't find this version, Biograph actually re-released it in the early 2000's as Hard Time Killing Floor Blues, with the songs in different playing order (that track is just killer on the Biograph or Vanguard albums...check it out below). Either version is worth a listen and a great introduction to Skip James' music.
These trips to The Little Big Store have really stirred my interest in acoustic blues and I will be talking about even more of my finds in the future, so stay tuned.
Friday, October 2, 2020
Friday, September 18, 2020
Several years ago, I heard a couple of tracks on an anthology collection from the UK label, JSP Records from Jimmy Rogers and Left Hand Frank Craig. It sounded like a fairly intimate session, maybe performed in a small English club. I think that was what captured my attention. There wasn’t a lot of musical accompaniment, bass and drums, and the focus was on Rogers and Craig.
Friday, September 11, 2020
I’ve wanted to write about Dan Penn since I started this blog. He is truly one of the unsung heroes of soul music, no question. Peter Guralnick gave a wonderful account of Penn and the rest of the cast of characters who came in and out of the soul music scene in Memphis and Muscle Shoals during the 60’s at FAME and American Studios in his book Sweet Soul Music (I’ll say it again…..if you only read one book about soul music, though I can’t imagine why you would limit yourself in that way, THIS is the book you should read) back in the mid 1980’s. I was already into R&B and rock, but I ventured deeply into southern soul music after reading it and from there it was a hop, skip, and a jump to the blues (with Guralnick showing the way with two other books, Feel Like Going Home and Lost Highway).
Penn was born in Vernon, AL and was a performer as a teen in local bands around Muscle Shoals. He soon became a regular at FAME as a performer, songwriter, and producer, writing and selling “Is A Bluebird Blue?” to Conway Twitty in 1960. The song became a hit for Twitty, and encouraged Penn to keep at it. In 1966, he ventured to Memphis to work with Chips Moman at American Studios, and teamed with organist Spooner Oldham. The pair produced a number of hits, including Bobby & James Purify’s “I’m Your Puppet”, a few for the Box Tops (“The Letter,” “Cry Like A Baby”), “A Woman Left Lonely” (recorded by Janis Joplin and, later, Charlie Rich), “Out of Left Field” (recorded by Percy Sledge and, on his last album, Gregg Allman), and “Sweet Inspiration” (recorded by the Sweet Inspirations and, later, by the Derek Trucks Band).
|Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham|
Besides the ones listed above, most folks have heard “You Left The Water Running” (recorded by Otis Redding, James & Bobby Purify, Barbara Lynn, the Amazing Rhythm Aces, and Wilson Pickett) and “It Tears Me Up” (recorded by Percy Sledge). Penn’s name comes up frequently when discussing great soul tunes of the 60’s, and many that should have been.
|Penn and Presley|
Penn has recorded sporadically over the years, releasing Nobody’s Fool in the early 70’s and the magnificent Do Right Man in 1994, where Penn returned to Muscle Shoals and recorded some of his classic tunes from the 60’s, along with some pretty impressive newer songs. Penn and Oldham teamed up for a series of shows in the UK in 1998 and Proper Records released a live CD and DVD, called Moments From This Theater that’s one of my favorite live recordings. Penn’s vocals are just amazing, blending grit, sweetness, vulnerability, and most of all…..soul. Penn has also released a few “demo” albums on his own Dandy label over the past fifteen years that he recorded at home. I’ve only been able to track down one of these so far, Blue Nite Lounge, which was very enjoyable.
Friday, September 4, 2020
Friday, August 28, 2020
Actually, the first time I heard him was in a record store. They were playing his album as background music and the track I heard was “Stang’s Swang,” the closing track on Couldn’t Stand The Weather. I was really into guitar at that time……I listened to a lot of Clapton and a lot of Hendrix, having just discovered him a couple of years earlier. I was also listening to a lot of jazz and R&B at the time and was a fan of George Benson, Earl Klugh, and Wes Montgomery. Vaughan’s performance on “Stang’s Swang” really caught my ear because it had that jazz feel to it, but was also a little grittier.
I didn’t buy his album then…..I had found something else that I wanted at the time (can’t remember what it was, but probably didn’t make much of an impact, obviously). A few weeks later, I was back in college and my roommate, who had a really eclectic record collection of rock, blues, and jazz, said “Have you heard this Stevie Ray Vaughan guy? He’s Jimmie Vaughan’s brother.” Now I had heard of Jimmie Vaughan because I’d heard of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and they had played on one of my favorite Carlos Santana albums, Havana Moon. I had tracked down one of their cassettes (T-Bird Rhythm) and really liked it, so I decided to take the plunge on SRV and picked up Couldn’t Stand The Weather.
As I said, I was really into Hendrix, so I loved the “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” cover, but the other songs just blew me away, too. The opener, “Scuttle Buttin’” caught me flat-footed and the title track really pulled me in. Believe it or not, I’d never heard “Things That I Used To Do,” before I heard SRV’s version (remember, this was pre-blues for me). I loved “Cold Shot” and the slow burner “Tin Pan Alley” was amazing and the manic “Honey Bee” was fun. Then I got to hear “Stang’s Swang” in its entirety.
Within a month, I had backtracked and picked up Vaughan’s debut, Texas Flood, and I liked it even more than Couldn’t Stand The Weather….it’s still my go-to SRV disc when I want to hear just one.
From that point, I eagerly anticipated each of SRV’s releases, but something else happened along the way. I’ve always been curious about music and it always fascinated me to hear an earlier version of a song that I liked. I’m not sure when that started, maybe when I heard a song on the radio that was a version of an older tune…….I liked 50’s and 60’s rock and soul because my uncle had given us a stack of old 45’s and albums from the early mid 60’s when I was a kid and I played them until they warped. It was always cool to hear another artist’s perspective on an older song.
It was hard for me to find old blues recordings back in the mid 80’s, because I wasn’t sure where to look and who to look for, but I noticed that a lot of Vaughan’s songs on his albums were cover tunes (thank you, liner notes), so I began to seek out some of the original tunes. Keep in mind that this was before the internet……YouTube……Spotify……Pandora, etc……so it was kind of like an Easter Egg hunt at times.
One thing that helped me out was that Vaughan (and Robert Cray and the T-Birds…..and The Blues Brothers movie from a few years earlier going to cable and video) helped inspire a resurgence of interest in the blues, so blues began appearing as if out of nowhere…..on TV ads, on movie soundtracks for starters. That sort of opened the door for me, because around the same time, various labels started reissuing blues albums and compiling new collections. Then I discovered Alligator Records (and Vaughan’s collaboration with the great Lonnie Mack) and soon I was on my way to becoming a blues nut.
So, yeah…..Stevie Ray Vaughan played a big part in what music I listen to (and write about) and through his efforts (and others….Clapton, George Thorogood, Robert Cray, B.B. King), I was able to dig deeper and discover a lot of other great guitarists and bluesmen and their music…..Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, etc….. From listening to those guys, I found lots of other great artists…..Junior Wells, Son Seals, Albert King, T-Bone Walker, Luther Allison, etc…), then I dug even deeper (Robert Johnson, Skip James, Son House, Tommy Johnson, etc…..), and so on and so on.
Over the past few months, I’ve had more time than usual and I’ve been revisiting Stevie Ray Vaughan’s catalog. I had all of his music on cassette many years ago and recently picked up all of his CDs, all of which have added bonus cuts/live tracks, so I now have access to a lot of his music that I didn’t have before. One that I had missed the first time around for some reason was his collaboration with Albert King, In Session. I have probably listened to it more than the others because the two guitarist had so much in common musically and they had a genuine rapport and a most genuine mutual respect for each other. From what I’ve read, the latter didn’t always come easily from King, but Vaughan really won him over and it shows in their playing together.
I also read Alan Paul and Andy Aledort’s recent biography Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan (reviewed here a few months back) and reread the Joe Nick Patoski/Bill Crawford bio from the mid 90’s, Caught In the Crossfire, and Keri Leigh’s underrated Soul To Soul. Each of the books paint a slightly different picture of Vaughan’s life, his trials, his failures, his shortcomings, and his successes, but all of them agree that he was one of the finest guitarists to come around in a long time and in his short time on the planet, he made some mighty music and influenced a lot of guitarists in a variety of genres, but most definitely the blues. At the same time, he was never shy about his own influences on guitar and as a songwriter and singer.
When a musician dies early in their life, it’s only natural to wonder where they might have gone as an artist if they had lived. I’ve wondered that a lot with other musicians….Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, and Magic Sam, to name just a few. I like to think that, based on one of his last songs on In Step, the instrumental “Rivera Paradise,” he might have ventured into jazz a bit more. However, I think that regardless of where he would have directed his talents, he still would have had both feet firmly planted in the blues. That would have always been present in his music, wherever direction he chose to pursue.
It’s still hard to believe that he died thirty years ago. I can remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news. It’s sad that his life was cut short, but I’m grateful that he helped guide me to this music that I love, and I know he guided a lot of others in that direction, too.
Friday, August 21, 2020
|Don Bryant - 1970's|
|Ann Peebles & Don Bryant|
Friday, August 7, 2020
|Professor Longhair 1974 (Photo by Barry Kaiser)|
|Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown|
Friday, July 24, 2020
A couple of years later, in 2011, I was able to review his 2-disc set, The Diversity Project on Blue Skunk Records. That was a most interesting release in that it included a disc of traditional blues and a disc of Southern soul music and showed him to be equally gifted in both genres. The disc was one of the nominees in the album category of the 2011 I.B.C. and was well received by blues and Southern soul fans. In 2016, Stevie J. Blues released Back 2 Blues, which combined blues and soul (with a little bit of gospel) and managed to embrace both traditional and modern versions of both genres. It was one of my favorite releases of that year.
For a long time, I thought about doing Ten Questions with Stevie J. Blues....we've been emailing back and forth for a couple of years and also chatting on Facebook....but I never could get my act together long enough to put something together, but after hearing some of his recent releases, I knew I had to sit down with him and find out more about him and his music, so sit back and enjoy.......
Ten Questions with.......Stevie J. Blues!!
|Urban Ladder Society|
SJB: Steely Dan, Aja, Michael Jackson, Off The Wall, Fourplay, 4, Prince, The Black Album, Gary Moore, Live At Montreal.