Sunday, February 24, 2008

2008-0223 Memphis Gold at Home

Last night I visited Chester Chandler, aka Memphis Gold, at his Arlington, Virginia apartment along with his wife Barbara and some of his family. While there was a wheelchair in the unit, there was a walker and shoes with plastic braces. He remains a person with boundless optimism and glad to be alive although he has a long time to go in his recovery. He has no feeling in his feet, and his muscles in the back of the legs have atrophied, hopefully the rehabilitation will get them back again.

Barbara mentioned the staggering hospital bills, and the lack of insurance. The accident came when he was assisting a friend so no workmen's compensation is available and Barbara is fighting DC's termination of her health insurance which would have covered most of the expenses. The Grammy's Music Cares program has provided assistance and the DC Blues Society's benefit on February 9 raised over $2000, but so much more remains. Another benefit will be held by the Baltimore Blues Society on March 16 and I will post more details separately. He intends to be there and play.

Memphis Gold is still playing music. Before leaving the rehabilitation hospital in Baltimore he gave a performance for the staff. other parents and families. He has been recording music prior to the accident including acoustic sessions with Robert Lighthouse and Charlie Sayles, and full band sessions. One song he played for me was the lively "Gator is Gonna Bite You" which Rich 'The Gator' Bolling has been playing on WPFW. Its a fun, funky number that is full of the infectious joy he brings to his performances.

We also watched performances from a DVD compiled from video taken at the benefit show, laughing and enjoying so many memorable moments. Once again he was very enthusiastic about Mike Westcott who had a great rocking rendition of Wolf's "44 Blues." Other benefits are planned, and I look forward to seeing him performing very soon.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Memphis Gold Benefit Big Success

I missed seeing Memphis Gold on Tuesday as I ran in Charlie Sayles on my way home on the Metro (Washington's subway). We stopped at his place, but he seemed out. I spoke to him Thursday and he is doing well, still a long way to go as far as recuperation, but playing and writing music. In fact he played for the staff at the Rehab facility in Baltimore he was at prior to being sent back to his home in Arlington VA.

The DC Blues Society's Benefit for Memphis Gold last weekend was a great success, with the Surf Club being as full as I ever saw it and (I understand) over $2000 raised for Memphis Gold. Was a great night of music and Memphis had the music video'd. There was some terrific music by the likes of Bobby Parker, the Hardway Connection, Charlie Sayles with the Memphis Gold Band, Mike Westcott, Clarence 'The Bluesman Turner with Stacy Brooks and much more. Memphis told me he was really impressed by Mike Westcott and Blues on Board (pictured) who he had not seen before. Anyway I will try to see him this weekend and will post about another benefit to be held in Baltimore this week.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sacred Steel's First Exposure

Its just been over ten years since Arhoolie Records issued its first anthology of the sacred steel music tradition. In the intervening decade some performers in the tradition such as Aubrey Ghent, the Lee Brothers and the Campbell Brothers have become well known outside this music's religious origins and Robert Randolph has become a star on the pop circuit. Here is my 1997 review from the Jazz & Blues Report of the CD that initiated the interest in this music. Kudos to Chris Strachwitz for generating interest in this genre like he did in cajun and zydeco, norteno and so much more roots music.

Arhoolie Records has issued a most intriguing collection titled Sacred Steel. Comprised of various field recordings, some from concerts and some from religious services, its subtitle of Traditional Sacred African-American Steel Guitar Music in Florida should give a sense of its contents. Producer Robert Stone provides a lengthy discussion of the music and the performers here. As his accompanying booklet notes, steel guitar (both lap steel and pedal steel) is an integral part of the worship in the House of God, and the five performers featured here are among its greatest proponents. Certainly there are moments where the music will be very much like blues, but with a different message. Steel guitar lends itself to vocalized playing that has always been a part of African-American music and this is illustrated in Sonny Treadway’s instrumentals of classic hymns as well as by Willie Eason, a pioneer of this music who recorded in the forties and fifties, and reprises his Franklin D. Roosevelt, A Poor Man’s Friend that he originally recorded after FDR’s death. The music from the religious services, where the steel playing gets entangled in the frenzied celebrations, is mesmerizing, as the music hits a fever pitch that would make a hot John Lee Hooker boogie sound like a bedtime lullaby in comparison. This collection serves didactic and entertainment functions equally well with many inspired performances.

The Blues Boy's Welcome Home

During a discussion in on post-war blues list at, one of the editor's of the Penguin Guide to the Blues conceded that it should have included Artie 'Blues Boy' White. White was one of the 'soul-blues' acts omitted from this deeply flawed publication. Within the world of soul-blues, the Blues Boy was aptly termed with more of a straight blues feel. I remember seeing him at the Pocono Blues Festival, and that was a real pleasure. He was a terrific singer, person and pool player. The following review appeared in the Jazz & Blues Report in 1997.

Artie 'Blues Boy' White Artie White serves up another serving of first rate soul-blues on the his new Waldoxy release, Home Tonight. Material or production wise, this is a typical Malaco/Waldoxy set, with a tight band of guitarists, Big Mike Griffin and Andrew Thomas, bassist David Hood, keyboard whiz Clayton Ivey and drummer and co-producer Paul H. Lee. Add the Muscle Shoals Horns on the uptempo soulful opening number, when Artie tells his woman not to worry because Your Man Is Home Tonight. It’s followed by two straight-forward slow blues, Somebody’s Fool, and a terrific new Travis Haddix authored song, Man of the House, where Artie tells his woman he’s in a bad mood this morning and he just doesn’t give a damn, with Big Mike taking a nice stinging solo. The mood is reversed in Percy Strother’s soulful If You Don’t Love Me, sung from the point of view of the woman whose man is too often out of the house, warning that there is someone to take her man’s place. The blues dominates this album with Johnson and Mosley contributing Black Cat Scratchin’ as well as The More You Lie to Me, a tasty number set to a Jimmy Reed groove on which Bobby Rush adds nice harp (he also adds harp to the closing country-flavored soul ballad, One Step From the Blues). Waldoxy has hit the mark on this set. White is in terrific form and he’s given strong lyrics to work with on this release.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Taylor's Good Love Was Good Soul & Blues

Johnnie Taylor was one of the great soul and blues singers of the past five decades (emphasis for the eurocentric editors of the Penguin Guide who exclude a whole genre of contemporary blues because they consider it soul music, yet they somehow cannot similarly weed out blues-tinged rock recordings). The following is a slightly modified review that originally appeared in 1997 in Jazz & Blues Report.

Issued in 1997 Johnnie Taylor’s Malaco album, Good Love, was another latest installment of a remarkable musical career that started when he replaced Sam Cooke in the legendary gospel group Soul Stirrers. It continued with recordings for Cooke’s SAR label as well as his glory years with Stax where he recorded soul and blues classics like Who’s Making Love and Cheaper to Keep Her. Later he was with Columbia, where he recorded the smash Disco Lady. Today he continues performing and recording with Malaco, recording some of the best soul and blues in the Stax vein. Good Love made the Billboard Blues charts with its mix of southern soul, soulful ballads and blues typical of his Malaco recordings. George Jackson’s fine composition Last Two Dollars, is a strong blues about a lady who has lost everything at a casino and asks the soul philosopher for two dollars so she can pay the bus fare home and will have enough to play the juke box while she waits, so she can hear some down home blues. I suspect this number will resonate strongly in the gambling venues in Mississippi. The title track and Sending You a Kiss, are ballads were written and arranged by Charles Richard Cason, although they share what sounds like programmed accompaniment. The rest of the album was recorded at Muscle Shoals and Malaco’s Jackson, Mississippi studios with Clayton Ivey, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood and Roger Hawkins among the studio band. While the backing on the Cason tracks may not appeal to some ears, little fault can be found with Taylor’s singing on these, or elsewhere on this collection of new recordings. Another George Jackson number, the ballad Walk Away With Me, has a melodic line that loosely suggests, Dark End of the Street, while Sam Mosely and Robert Johnson penned the fine blues Too Late to Try to Do Right, which shows that one doesn’t have to start out at full tilt to put the lyric over. The pair also penned Slide On, a number that should go over well with urban audiences that groove and dance to the electric slide. Ain’t That Lovin’ You (For More Reasons Than One) is a duet with his daughter Tasha that establishes her as a talent to keep an ear out for. There may be a couple of weaker songs, and the wonderfully sung This Masquerade, stays too close to George Benson’s hit version. But, even with a few production lapses and a couple of weak lyrics, this album is evidence of just how vital a singer the soul philosopher still was.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mingus' Complete Town Hall Concert

1994 saw Blue Note release Charles Mingus, The Complete Town Hall Concert. As long a fan of the late bassist, composer and leader, it certainly was a delight to listen to and here is a review from the November 1994 Jazz & Blues Report.

Blue Note’s CD reissue of Charles Mingus’ Town Hall concert provides a more complete view than the previous releases of this material. The posthumous performance of Epitaph created some interest in hearing more of this concert, which contained some of the big band scores that formed the basis for the latter suite. The concert has a reputation of being a low point in Mingus’ career, in part because of the prior, less complete releases of this material. While rough edges are obvious, the recovery and release for the first time of much of this is revelatory. This is Mingus at his more exploratory with the turbulent, almost explosive, ensembles, shifting tempos and flavors, and searching solos perhaps best exemplified by Epitaph Part 1 with its echoes of Mingus’ Pithecanthropus Erectus at the beginning, with suggestions of Ellington later, with Eric Dolphy, Clark Terry and Britt Woodland among those featured.The relatively melodic Peggy’s Blue Skylight provides a contrasting mood. Some of the others present include Ernie Royal, Jimmy Cleveland, Charles McPherson, Buddy Collette, Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams, Jaki Byard and Milt Hinton. It should be caveated that this is not an album for those new to Mingus who would be better served by the Rhino double compact disc set, or Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus on Candid.

Jimmy Rogers at Best on CD "Blue Bird"

1994 saw Analogue Productions Original issue a marvelous album by the legendary Jimmy Rogers with an all star band. These are arguably his best recordings since the best of his Chess recordings, and are still available. This is my review from 1994.

Jimmy Rogers has a great new album, Blue Bird, on Analogue Productions Originals (APO 2001), an audiophile label that issues releases on high quality vinyl in addition to compact disc. Producer John Koenig has assembled a terrific backing band with Dave Myers on bass, Roger’s son Jimmy D. Lane on lead guitar, Ted Harvey on drums, Carey Bell on harmonica and Johnnie Johnson on piano. Rogers reworks several of his classic recordings (Walking By Myself Again, That Ain’t It, and Blues Falling), along with renditions of Howlin’ Wolf’s Howlin’ For My Darling, and Muddy Waters’ rendition of Smokestack Lightning. Rogers was always was a fan of the first Sonny Boy Williamson, and the title track, credited to Rogers, is a reworking of one of John Lee Williamson’s recordings, while the opening I’m Tired of Crying Over You is a retitled version of Little Walter’s Oh Baby. Rogers sounds in good voice and the relaxed, but tight, backing fits like a glove. Johnnie Johnson is a terrific accompanist and is much better in this role than as a leader or singer. Carey Bell’s harp playing here is up to his usual high level and Jimmy Lane’s guitar playing hits all the right bases, without any gimmicks, tricks or flash. He has certainly absorbed a lot of influences from the old school (to use former Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin’s phrase) in his playing including those from his dad and the late Eddie Taylor, along with more rock oriented players. Everything is sung and played at such a high level, and this is one of the best recent albums of traditional Chicago blues. The better stores should have this one - but Analogue Productions Originals is distributed by Acoustic Sounds, P.O. Box 2043, Salina, Kansas 67402-2043 or telephone them at (913) 825-8609. They also have gold disc and 180 gram vinyl audiophile reissues of several albums from the Contemporary Records jazz catalog.

Son's Fires Still Burned Hot

It has 15 years since Columbia, based on the success of its Robert Johnson set, issued a variety of excellent blues reissues. One of note was the double CD of Son House, Father of the Delta Blues — The Complete 1965 Sessions. Here is my review from late 1992 Jazz & Blues Report. I have seen a few reviews on amazon note his earlier recordings were better performances, but still when Son started singing, the voice just went through you like a hurricane. This is the blues at its most basic. The CD set is still available.

The most direct influence on Robert Johnson is sometimes said to be Eddie “Son” House. Columbia/Legacy has reissued House’s Father of the Delta Blues — The Complete 1965 Sessions, a double compact disc that reissues the original album on one disc with the second disc devoted to alternate takes and other songs. Son House was one of the most riveting vocalists the blues ever had, and in his prime, a master of the bottleneck. These recordings were made not long after the discovery of House in Rochester, New York. House had not played in a long period of time which is reflected in the rustiness of his performances and the slight stiffness in his playing and singing. This is evident in President Kennedy, a recasting of House’s Library of Congress recording of American Defense, that was inspired by the assassination of the President. The originally released recordings of Death Letter, Preachin’ Blues, Pearline and Empire State Express and the acappella spirituals John the Relevator and Grinning in Your Face are as compelling as ever. House, who also was a preacher, is the singer most folk delta blues wannabes use as their paradigm, but their intensity seems forced compared to the real thing. The first disc is a highpoint of country blues of the past three decades. The second disc, however, is primarily for collectors and completists.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cephas & Wiggins Tell the Truth

This is a slightly updated review that origianlly appeared in 2002 in the DC Blues Calendar. Like Cephas & Wiggins other Alligator CDs it should be relatively easy to buy.

Back in 2002, Alligator issued a new CD, Somebody Told the Truth, by the accomplished duo of John Cephas & Phil Wiggins. Cephas, in the past three decades emerged as one of the finest singer-guitarists out of the Piedmont blues tradition while Phil Wiggins' virtousic harmonica complements his partners' warm vocals. With the exception of Cephas’ vocal on Darkness on the Delta where he is accompanied by Tal Farlow’s quintet, the disc has the Piedmont blues duo performing a variety of material including an original lyrical take on the classic Stagolee theme, Stack and the Devil, personal interpretations of classic blues from Robert Johnson (Last Fair Deal Gone Down) and Skip James (Sick Bed Blues), and some perceptive observations on life and personalities (The Pimp in the Pink Suit). Burn Your Bridges is a rollicking feature for Phil’s wonderful harp that will be familiar with the pair’s longtime fans. Also revived is the wonderful ballad, Reno Factory, that they first cut as part of some of their earliest recordings that appeared on L&R. John Cephas, in the booklet accompanying this disc, attributes the song to the late Foddrell Brothers. This has long been among my favorite songs by the duo and others will also welcome it being readily available again. This is a terrific recording, that stands up five years later and will be enjoyed by their longtime fans and others who love acoustic blues.

Mighty Sam's Mighty Soul & Blues

This is a review I wrote in late 2001 that appeared in the DC Blues Calendar. Mighty Sam remains such a great voclaist it is well worth calling your attention to today.

Since his “rediscovery,” the former deep soul legend Mighty Sam McClain has slowly developed a following with a number of very fine releases, the latest of which, Sweet Dreams, has been recently released on Telarc. McClain certainly stands as one of the finest singers working in the soul-blues vein, with a delivery and voice that should appeal to fans of Bobby Bland. McClain also wrote many of these tunes, exceptions being the soulful transformation of the title track which is one of the tunes country legend Patsy Cline is best identified with and the Staple Singers’ hit Respect Yourself. With a solid band anchored by Bruce Katz on piano and Barry Seelen on the B-3 and a solid horn section, McClain belts out a variety of tunes with standouts including the country-flavored ballad Learn How to Love You Again, and Nothing But a Feeling, a nice slow blues with nice solo breaks for tenor saxophonist Chuck Langford and pianist Katz. While capable of belting out a lyric with the best of them, what makes McClain so special is that he delivers the songs so soulfully without shouting the lyrics except for emphasis. Perhaps some of the tunes are somewhat generic shuffles and slow blows and the horns play somewhat generic riffs, but McClain is one of those vocalists that one would not mind listening to sing about anything.

Archie Edwards Piedmont Blues Masterpiece

This is another review from late 2001 with minor editing of original to correct it. This CD is also available and as stated in the review, it was done from an advance cassette.

Its been several years since Archie Edwards, one of founders of the D.C. Blues Society and among D.C.’s most beloved blues performers, passed away. During his life there were two albums released under Edwards name. The two are joined by a compact disc of previously unissued recordings by Edwards, The Toronto Sessions on the Canadian NorthernBlues Music label. As indicated elsewhere in this issue Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation will be celebrating its release Friday, November 2. I want to thank Miles Spicer of the Foundation with providing me a tape of the new disc. I am handicapped by lacking a listing of the song titles or the absence of the liner notes. From one of the songs, Poor Me, I would guess this album was recorded during the Reagan Presidency as Archie sings about the hard times of those who voted for Reagan. One thing that is evident is that Archie was in good spirits and voice, and played quite vigorously. He turns in some very spirited renditions of classic blues themes like Sittin’ on Top of The World, and How Long Blues. On this latter number and a couple other selections, one might suggest that the influence of Lightnin’ Hopkins can be detected in some of phrasing Archie employs in his accompaniment. The influence of Mississippi John Hurt can be heard on a couple other selections, and on one number he even plays some slide guitar and employs the Dust My Broom riff. Of Archie’s own songs, there is a new version of Pittsburgh Blues that was first recorded on the album he made for the Living Country Blues USA series in the 1970s. Even when performing a well know number like How Long Blues or Easy Rider Blues, Archie adds his own lyrical take, and several numbers build on traditional blues themes. This is an exceptional album of traditional blues that reminds us just how good Archie and his music made us feel. It is notonly something that will have us remember this local legend, but is possibly the finest of his recordings.

Larry Davis' Handy Award Winner Stands Up 25 years later

The following review of Larry Davis' Funny Stuff appeared in late 2001 but I would not change it today. It is still in print (I just checked

Best known for the original recording of Texas Flood, which was popularized by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Larry Davis had a relatively short but distinguished career, which included at one time being signed to B.B. King’s Virgo label. Originally a bass player, he started playing guitar while touring with Albert King. In 1982 Rooster Blues issued his album, Funny Stuff, which won the 1982 Handy Award for Best New Album and contained the two tracks that won for Best Single. Davis sang with plenty of gospel-based soul while playing his Flying V Gibson in a hardedged style that clearly reflected Albert King’s influence. He produced one of the strongest recordings of the Eighties. From the title track, a terrific song about a lady who has hoodoo’ed him to the closing rendition of Albert King’s Got to Be Some Changes Made, Davis pours his heart into the vocals while turning out some high energy solos. Other highpoints include his funky renditions of That Will Never Do and George Jackson’s Find’ Em, Fool ‘Em & Forget ‘Em, and the searing, slow blues Teardrops and Worried Dream. Legendary saxophonist and producer Oliver Sain produced this as well as played sax and keyboards. Billy Gayles, of Kings of Rhythm fame, played drums on half of this while Johnny Johnson played piano on five of the ten tracks. The album holds up wonderfully and one would be hard-pressed to find any better modern blues recordings since this came out. There may be some as good, but not better.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Fresh Breath of Music

Brotherhood of Breath was a legendary free jazz big band featuring a number of South African artists who left their homeland because of apartheid and some receptive English musicians. I have long been a fan of their Live a Willsau recording on Ogun (which has since been reissued on CD by Ogun). An overly simple description of their music might be a mix of Mingus, Sun Ra with some of the melodic riffs of a Dollar Brand number. Listening to the terrific rhythm of pianist Chris McGregor, bassist Harry Miller and drummer Louis Moholo behind such terrific horn players as Harry Beckett, Mark Charig & Mongezi Feza (trumpets), Nick Evans & Malcolm Griffiths (trombones), and Mike Osborne, Evan Parker, Dudu Pukwana & Gary Windo (saxes), is exhilirating.

Cuneiform Records has been making available some previously unavailable live performances that are quite exciting. I write this as I am listening to Travelling Somewhere, from a 1973 performance in Bremen, Germany. Superficially the music sounds like chaos, but listening one can feel the order in the performances with buzzsaw soloing set against smoldering rhythm and African melodic motifs. Major players here include McGregor, saxophonist' Pakwana, Parker and Windo; and trumpeters Fezi and Beckett. This is one of several fine releases by Cuneiform of Brotherhood on Breath that hopefully let more folks appreciate the legacy of this legendary band.