Friday, September 23, 2022

Friday Blues Picks (9/23/22)

The Love Light Orchestra (John Nemeth at center)

Several years ago, I was listening to the Beale Street Caravan podcast for the first time.  The Caravan spotlights acts from the Memphis area, expanding to the adjacent states from time to time, capturing them in live performances.  The first podcast I ever caught was the Love Light Orchestra, a group of Memphis-area musicians who played blues and R&B like the blues legends of the Bluff City played them in the 50's and 60's....Bobby "Blue" Bland, B.B. King, and Junior Parker, to name a few.  Their live set just blew me away.  The band was phenomenal....most have been playing this brand of blues for a long time, some even serving in Bland's band in the late 80's and 90's.....and their vocalist, John Nemeth, was incredible.  

Most blues fans are probably familiar with John Nemeth.  I'd heard him on a couple of his previous releases and I really enjoyed his vocals, but he sang these songs, mostly covers of the songs of the era, like he had waited all of his life to sing them. Nemeth got his start in Boise, Idaho with the band Fat John & the 3 Slims before joining up with Junior Watson's band in 2002 while still leading his own band, the Jacks.  He later became as formidable a harmonica player as he is a vocalist, which led to him filling in for Sam Myers with Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets.  He self-released a couple of albums before relocating from Boise to San Francisco, where he released a couple of albums on Blind Pig Records and ended up recording Memphis Grease in Memphis with the Bo-Keys, Feelin' Freaky, which was produced by Luther Dickinson, and 2020's Stronger Than Strong on Nola Blue Records.  

In between his solo career, Nemeth teamed up with the Love Light Orchestra, who released an excellent self-titled live album recorded in Memphis on Blue Barrel Records in 2017.  This year, they followed up with a studio album, Leave The Light On, on Nola Blue Records.  This release features nine original tunes written by Nemeth, guitarist Joe Restivo, or trumpet player Marc Franklin, plus a splendid cover of Lowell Fulson's "Three O'Clock Blues."  The originals work well in the era the band seeks to pay homage to....Restivo's opener "Time Is Fading Fast" sets the bar pretty high, while Nemeth's "Come On Moon" really puts his talents on full display.  The Fulson cover has a Latin flair that works pretty well, and the title track is a sharp boogie shuffle, while "I Must Confess" should get feet moving and "After All" is an ideal Nemeth blues ballad.  The band is firing on all cylinders and so is Nemeth.  Leave The Light On is a perfect companion to the band's debut and if classic Memphis blues/R&B is one of your favorites, you just have to get your hands on this one!

In the spring of this year, Nemeth was diagnosed with ameloblastoma, a benign, aggressive tumor in his lower jaw which required immediate, specialized surgery, which included a bone graft to regenerate the bone in his jaw to be removed.  Basically, Nemeth had his jaw amputated in late May with this procedure and, at this point, it's uncertain if he will be able to sing or play harmonica like he used to.

Prior to the surgery, Nemeth recorded May Be The Last Time (Nola Blue Records) with guitarist Kid Andersen hosting the session at his Greaseland studios in California.  Andersen brought in legendary guitarist Elvin Bishop and his Big Fun Trio (guitarist/keyboardist Bob Welsh and drummer/percussionist Willy Jordan) and vocalist Alabama Mike to lend a hand and they recorded a set of old and new songs written by Nemeth.  The title track, a gospel standard, kicks off the disc with some lyrical modifications from Nemeth.  Bishop contributes three originals, including a new version of "Stealin' Watermelons," which he sings.  Nemeth does an excellent job on the old J.B. Lenoir tune "Feeling Good," and duets with Jordan on the Wilson Pickett (via the Falcons) classic "I Found A Love."  He blows some mean harp on the Junior Wells' blues "Come On In This House," and a raucous read of Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips," before closing with the optimistic "I'll Be Glad."

In order to completely get rid of the tumor, Nemeth had to have most of his teeth removed, but he had a successful stem cell transfer to regenerate his jawbone and will get replacement teeth implants in November.  Hopefully, this won't be John Nemeth's last album, even though it's a great one, so keep him in your thoughts and prayers as he recovers from this ordeal.

During one of my recent trips to the Little Big Store in Raymond, MS, I stumbled onto a used copy of Hezekiah and the House Rockers' eponymous album, initially released on High Water and reissued in expanded form in 1998 by Hightone Records.  This is probably one of the most interesting blues bands that you'll ever hear....Hezekiah Early plays drums and harmonica (taped to a mic stand), while guitarist James Baker played guitar (mostly like a bass).  The trio is rounded out by Leon "Pee Wee" Whitaker, who sings and plays trombone.  It's an interesting combination to say the least and there's a lot of great music here that sounds unlike anything else you might have heard.  Early has a sparse catalog, a Fat Possum album with Elmo Williams and an album on Broke & Hungry with Robert Lee "Lil Poochie" Watson, but all of them are must-listening.  He's featured basically solo on a couple of tracks and it's kind of amazing to hear harmonica and drums and know the same person is playing both instruments.  They sort of branch out into an R&B/post-disco hybrid on a few tracks and those are really cool, but they really stand out on the traditional blues, too.  It's a most interesting set that a lot of blues fans may have missed the first time (or second time) around, so if you can find a copy, check it out.


Friday, September 16, 2022

Traveling Through The Delta - Summer, 2022 Edition

More CD reviews next week......this week we'll take a little side trip through the blues.  Each summer, my brother and I try to make a day trip through a section of the Land Where The Blues Began, checking out Mississippi Blues Trail markers or grave sites or other blues-related attractions.  This year, we opted to travel to Leland and work our way back home through several different towns.  

On the way to Leland, we stopped at Holly Ridge at the New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery, where Charley Patton was buried in 1934.  There are actually three blues men buried in this cemetery on Long Switch Road....Patton, Little Willie Foster, and Asie Payton.  All three artists made memorable contributions to the blues.      

Charley Patton, of course, is considered the "founder" of the Delta blues (his blues marker was the very first one placed) and his recordings are readily available from several different sources.  He influenced as many future blues performers with his showmanship as he did with his voice.

Willie Foster played with many of the genre's local legends.....T-Model Ford, Frank Frost, and Asie Payton, among others.  His At Airport Grocery album is essential listening for Delta blues fans.
Asie Payton recorded later in life, spending most of his life driving a tractor.......getting off just long enough to record two memorable albums released posthumously on Fat Possum Records, Worried and Just Do Me Right.

A few miles away, we found a blues marker for Jimmy Reed, located near his birthplace on Dunleith Plantation.  Reed grew up here and developed his signature sound (he had more hits on the pop charts than any other bluesman) with Eddie Taylor (see last week's post).  His songs have been covered by countless blues artists.

We found several markers in Leland....we had intended to visit the Highway 61 Museum downtown, but it was closed, and has been for quite some time....not sure why.  The markers we located were for Johnny Winter (whose dad was a native of Leland, actually served as mayor), Tyrone Davis (whose aunt and uncle ran a store where Davis' marker is located), and James "Son" Thomas.  We also traveled down to Bogue Memorial Cemetery, south of Leland to see Thomas' grave.  Sadly, the headstone had been knocked over recently.  We missed a few markers in Leland, but we'll go back through and catch those later.

Johnny Winter made his mark in the blues and rock genres, with a lengthy stint for Columbia Records in the late 60's through the late 70's, plus recordings for Alligator in the 80's, Point Blank in the 90's, and continued to record until he passed away in 2014.  He also produced Muddy Waters' final albums in the late 70's/early 80's.
Tyrone Davis was a major figure in the soul genre, recording such hits as "Turn Back The Hands Of Time," "Turning Point," and "Can I Change My Mind," all number one hits.  He made his mark on the blues and soul charts from the late 60's until shortly before his death in 2005.
James "Son" Thomas' marker is in front of the old Montgomery Hotel in Leland, where Thomas worked as a porter.  In addition to being a musician, he was also a folk sculptor and his primitive art was very popular (his son, Pat, is also a musician and sculptor in the Leland area).  He recorded several fine albums during his lifetime, including my favorite, Beefsteak Blues.
We were disappointed to find Thomas' headstone in such dire straits.  During our travels, I've found several blues markers that have been vandalized, but this was the first headstone I'd seen like this.  I'm assuming that it was just kids being kids.....Thomas' marker was the largest in the cemetery and that was probably what attracted the attention.

From Leland, we ventured south on Highway 61 to Hollandale, where we found Sam Chatmon's blues marker in the middle of town.  Chatmon played and recorded with his brothers during the 1930's....the Mississippi Sheiks, who were based in Hinds County.  He spent most of his life in Hollandale and later launched a solo career in the 1960's.  Some of his recordings can be heard on the Arhoolie collection I Have To Paint My Face.  He is also buried in Hollandale, but we didn't realize that until after we had gotten home.  
South of Hollandale on 61 is Rolling Fork, which Muddy Waters claimed as his birthplace.  If you're reading this, you don't really need to be told about Muddy Waters, do you?  Waters was influenced by many Delta artists, notably Patton, Robert Johnson, and Son House, but that's really just scratching the surface.....maybe we'll explore his influences more deeply in future posts.
The town of Rolling Fork (which has some other history involving the Teddy Bear) has a nice little park dedicated to Waters, where the blues marker is located (background) and this neat little sculpture.
All in all, it was a very eventful trip and we got to see a lot of sites that we had not seen before.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to check out the Highway 61 Museum as planned and we had problems finding a good place to eat (we were either too early or too late coming through).  We're already excited about our next blues journey and we might even go earlier than planned.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Friday Blues Picks (9/9/22)


When I first started listening to the blues in the mid 80's, the music was beginning to gain momentum among listeners, thanks to the efforts of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Robert Cray, and a few much so that some of the major labels began signing and recording blues artists on their own of their subsidiary labels.  In the late 80's/early 90's, Virgin Records released several blues albums on their Point Blank label, including a 1990 release from Larry McCray, an Arkansas native who found his way to Michigan and managed to play the blues when he wasn't working at General Motors.  Ambition was a marvelous set that McCray recorded in a friend's basement in Detroit, a heady mix of blues, rock and soul highlighted by his robust guitar work and equally tough vocals.  He managed several more albums during the decade, including one for the late House of Blues label, all top quality, before the label woes of the late 90's hit.  He managed a couple of recordings on his own Magnolia Records label, but they suffered from distribution issues.  He also battled health issues and issues with management, but he never stopped performing.  Fortunately, he connected with Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, who probably wondered the same thing other blues fans were wondering......why in the world is Larry McCray not making records??!!!  

Thanks to their efforts, Larry McCray is back on the radar with his first album in seven years, Blues Without You, on Bonamassa's Keeping The Blues Alive (KTBA) label.  "Arkansas" is a blues rocker tribute to McCray's native state and it shows from the very beginning of the disc that McCray hasn't lost an inch off his fastball as a singer or guitarist.  "Good Die Young" is a more traditional blues with Reese Wynans on piano.  Warren Haynes contributes slide guitar to the inspirational "Down To The Bottom," Chicago guitarist Joanna Connor guests on "Drinkin' Liquor and Chasin' Women," and Bonamassa guests on the funky "Mr. Easy," exchanging fiery solos with McCray.  "Breaking News" and "No More Crying" show McCray's soulful side quite effectively, too, while "I Play The Blues" closes the disc with McCray solo and acoustic.  I have to say that Blues Without You is one of my favorites of the year so far.  McCray sounds like he's making up for lost time.....maybe he is.....and hopefully, there's more where this one came from.   

The Taylor family is one of the legendary blues families of Chicago.  Guitarist Eddie Taylor was born in Mississippi and taught Jimmy Reed to play guitar.  He later served as Reed's rhythm guitarist for many years, along with playing sessions for numerous other Chicago artists and releasing several essential solo sides himself in the late 40's/early 50's (see below).  He passed away in 1985, but some of his family followed in his musical footsteps, including his late wife Vera, who was a singer/songwriter, his late son Eddie, Jr., who was a singer/guitarist, his stepson Larry, who is a drummer and singer, and his daughter, Demetria Taylor, who is a fine vocalist who recently released her second album on Delmark Records, Doin' What I'm Supposed To Do.  It took about two and a half years to record this album.....the pandemic happened for starters and Ms. Taylor also lost her son in 2021 after losing her brother Eddie, Jr. in the spring of 2019, but she persevered and turned in a marvelous album that features guitarists Mike Wheeler, Carlos Showers, and Billy Flynn, with bassist Larry Williams, drummer Pookie Styx, and keyboardist Brian James, with a guest appearance from fellow vocalist Deitra Farr (who also wrote the liner notes).  

Ms. Taylor's approach to the blues is different from many female vocalists today.....she's not really a screamer or growler, opting for a more polished, smoother delivery and it's a really nice change of pace that I enjoyed listening to.  The twelve tracks travel between traditional blues, soul and R&B, which perfectly suits her.  Wheeler and Williams wrote six songs, including the funky shuffle "Baby Be Good," "Bad Girl Day," the feisty title track, and "I'm Gonna Tell It," which has a nice West Side soul feel (she also covers Magic Sam's "You Belong To Me").  Taylor also covers three family tunes, her dad's "83 Highway" is a terrific straight blues opener, while Eddie, Jr.'s "Welfare Blues" is a keeper, too, and her mother's "Blues Early This Morning" features Ms. Farr on co-lead vocals.  Taylor contributes two of her own tracks, the spicy shuffle "Nursing My Kitty Cat" and the jaunty R&B closer, "Young Gun Taylor."  It's nice to know that the Taylor blues tradition will continue unabated with Demetria Taylor and one can only hope that she won't go another twelve years between releases.  

BTW, Taylor just won the Koko Taylor Queen Of The Blues Award for 2022, given by the Jus' Blues Foundation.

Back to Eddie Taylor.... he is certainly one of the unsung heroes of the classic Chicago blues sound.  He held together many of the Vee-Jay recordings of Jimmy Reed with his rhythm guitar, of course, but he also played on many other classic sides of that era.  He also found time to record a few of his own legendary tracks for Vee-Jay, the most memorable ones being "Big Town Playboy," "Bad Boy," "Ride 'Em On Down," and "I'm Gonna Love You."  Sadly, his own records didn't sell as well, but they were definitely influential among his fellow musicians, as blues fans still hear covers of these songs some sixty-plus years after their release.  He eventually resurfaced as a front man in the late 60's/early 70's with several excellent recordings before passing away on Christmas Day in 1985.

Jasmine Records has collected some of Taylor's mid-50's recordings in Eddie Taylor In Session:  Diary Of A Chicago Bluesman 1953-1957.  During that time period, Taylor recorded behind a host of Chicago's finest.....Reed ("Ain't That Loving You Baby"), John Brim ("Ice Cream Man"), Sunnyland Slim ("Going Back To Memphis"), Floyd Jones ("Schooldays On My Mind"), John Lee Hooker ("Dimples"), and Little Willie Foster ("Falling Rain Blues").  This album has 29 songs, including the above-mentioned tracks, plus Taylor's own ten recordings for Vee-Jay, which until this set came out were only available on a 90's-era out-of-print CD from Charly Records that fetched a pretty penny.  When you hear Taylor's own sides, you can't help but wonder what might have been had he been able to catch a break.  He was a most versatile guitarist and was the secret weapon behind Reed's classic sound and recordings......probably the better musician as well, but Reed's sound was what grabbed the people, who want what they want.  Regardless, Taylor's recordings are essential listening for anyone who likes traditional Chicago blues and this is the best place to get them in one spot.


Friday, September 2, 2022

Friday Blues Picks (9/2/22)

This week, we are introducing a new topic at FBF called "Friday Blues Picks," where we recommend a couple of new albums for blues fans, along with an oldie but a goodie that covers blues from the past.  There's a lot of great new releases out there, so let's check out a couple!

I finally got so far behind on my reviews for Blues Bytes that I had to "reset," which meant starting fresh and leaving my stack of review CDs (over 100) behind.  I hated to not review any and all albums sent to me, but things have been so hectic in my and my family's life for at least six years that I was just unable to catch up, so I do apologize to all those folks who submitted albums for review over the past year (I was at least 15, probably 18 months behind), but it just wasn't meant to be.

As it is, I still have problems getting through all of the ones I'm being sent now, and some of the ones I get are also sent to other reviewers at Blues Bytes, so we try not to double up.  What that means is that I can squeeze some of those albums in at Friday Blues Fix from time to time (hopefully at least monthly) under "Friday Blues Picks."  

First up is a remarkable album from a young (21 years old) man named Dylan Triplett.  He's from St. Louis and comes from a musical family.....his father and uncle are both jazz musicians.  He began singing at age 9 and his vocals have a maturity and confidence of someone twenty years older.  He's equally suited for the blues and soul genres, as displayed on his debut album, Who Is He? (VizzTone Records).  The album was produced by Larry Fulcher of the Phantom Blues Band and includes a host of guest musicians , including fellow Phantoms Johnny Lee Schell, Joe Sublett, and the late Mike Finnigan, as well as guitarists Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, Sean McDonald, Tru Born, and Dr. Wayne Goins.  The song list is mostly covers, but Triplett wrote two very good songs......"Junkyard Dog" (listen below) and the slow burner "I'll Be There Waiting."  The covers are a diverse lot, ranging from Bill Withers' soulful title track, Lonnie Brooks' "Feels Good Doin' Bad," Jimmy McCracklin's "She Felt Too Good," and the Marvin Gaye hit "That's The Way Love Is."  The most interesting track is the album closer, Miles Davis' "All Blues," which features Triplett scat singing, showing that he could find a place in the jazz market as well.  A fine debut release from a young man with a bright future.

I was a late arrival to the North Mississippi Allstars.  Truthfully, I didn't really get into them until I saw them live at the MSU Riley Center in Meridian, MS back in 2014, just off the release of their World Boogie Is Coming album.  Where that set was mostly acoustic, most of their recordings are definitely classified as "Brave New Blues," mixing rock, funk, punk, hip-hop, and whatever other genres they're into at the time.  They've released several albums since then, and I can say that they are constantly moving forward with their sound, never really falling back on where they have come from.  Set Sail (New West Records) follows that tradition.  The Dickinson brothers are still in place, of course, but there are a few new faces, such as vocalists Lamar Williams, Jr. (son of the late Allman/Sea Level bassist). gospel singer Sharisse Norman, and soul legend William Bell.  The band's sound goes from swampy funk and blues (the title track and the shimmering "Bumpin'"), greasy Memphis-flavored soul ("Never Want To Be Kissed," a tour de force from Bell), and dusty, sweaty Delta blues ("Rabbit Foot").  I was not familiar with Williams or Norman, but their vocals are most impressive and Luther Dickinson's guitar work is right where it needs to be on every song every time.  Most impressive to these ears was the incredible William Bell, 82 years old, who sounds just as sharp and vibrant as he did in the 60's on his Stax recordings (I saw him at the Riley Center about five years ago and he was amazing).   His lone contribution to the album is "Never Want To Be Kissed," and, oh my, it's magnificent, but trust me, you'll be listening to all of Set Sail over and over's gotten plenty of repeat listens on my player over the summer......just a nice set of southern music that goes down very nicely.

One more before we go....I discovered Jasmine Records, a U.K. label a couple of years ago.  They collect music from many years back in a variety of genres, but their blues collections are super, whether they collect a single artist's music or an anthology set.  I will be talking about several of these collections over the next few months, but I wanted to start out with a particularly strong anthology called Lone Star Guitar Attack:  The Kings of Texas Guitar.  This set features 30......yes, THIRTY....sides of the toughest Texas guitar from the 1950's and 60's.  There are some familiar names present, such as Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown (three of his hottest tracks for Peacock, Long John Hunter (four tracks from Yucca Records), and Albert Collins (two tracks each from Kangaroo Records and Hall-Way Records, plus two previously unreleased tracks backing Peppermint Harris), but the real finds here are from less-familiar artists, like Clarence Garlow, Goree Carter (whose 1949 side "Rock Awhile" might just be the first rock n' roll record), Jesse Thomas, Ray Sharpe, and Clarence and Cal Green.  If you're in the market for some smoking Texas guitar, this is the place to start......just a fantastic collection.

Okay, that's all for now.  You now have assigned listening for the weekend.  We'll be back in a week or two with more Friday Blues Picks, so stay tuned.