Sunday, March 23, 2008

McCracklin's Blues Blast True 50 years later

The line-up for this July's Pocono Blues Festival includes San Francisco warbler Sugar Pie DeSanto who will have as a special guest, Jimmy McCracklin. McCracklin who will celebrate his 87th Birthday a couple weeks after this festival is in his seventh decade as a performer. After World War II he stayed on the West coast where he mixed jump blues with the morose stylings of one of his big influence, Walter Davis. With guitarists ripping off single note solos and a tenor sax wailing on his jump numbers, his band's name the Blues Blasters was right on, yet he also could put down those doomy Bay are blues like contemporaries Jimmy Wilson, and Roy Hawkins (who had the original recording of The Thrill is Gone that McCracklin and Hawkins collaborated on.

What triggers this blog entry is my recent purchase of Blues Blastin': The Modern Recordings Volume 2 on English Ace Records. McCracklin has already a fair body of recordings when he was signed to the Bihari Brothers label and it was during this period that Thing Thomas joined the Blues Blasters contributing his slashing guitar. Its an interesting mix of material from Gonna Tell Your Mama, a cover of J.B. Lenoir's Mama Talk to Your Daughter; the doomy The Panic's On; the philosophical My Mother Said, with its lyric "When I had money, I would always have friends who cried, she said when you're down you got no friend, lord mother did not tell no lies," on which McCracklin plays some downhome harp; the rocking Blues Blasters Boogie, with its booting sax opening before Thomas takes a solo, opening simply enough before he takes off; That Ain't Right, a take on Jimmy Reed's You Don't Have to Go, with more harp from McCracklin; Darlin' Share Your Love (Oh Baby), a pleading vocal with Thomas guitar slashing through the braying horns; an alternate take of Deceivin' Blues, with some really solid piano and scintillating guitar which reworks the classic post-war blues, Sunny Road; and the rocking boogie woogie, I'll Get a Break Someday. This compilation also makes available Thomas' marvelous single of Lost Mind b/w Don't Have to Worry, with the earlier number being a slow blues with Thomas slashing guitar very much in a T-Bone Walker vein. Saxophonist Johnny Parker handles the insistent Tired of Everybody.

If McCracklin's career had ended with these recordings, he would have been well remembered, but subsequently he recorded prolifically for such labels as Mercury (Georgia Slop); Chess (The Walk), Art-Tone (Just Got to Know); Imperial and associated labels (Think, My Answer); then Hi, Stax, Ichiban, Bullseye Blues and Evejim, which omits some labels. He was able to adapt to changing musical fashions and still sound contemporary, yet the core of his blues remains timeless.

McCracklin certainly merits a multi-label retrospective and certainly I look forward to seeing this legend live, and hope his performance lives up to a quarter of my unrealistic expectations. May he keep blasting the blues for many more years.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Eden Brent's Potent Musical Blend

Winner of The Blues Foundation’s solo/duo category at the 2006 International Blues Foundation, singer-pianist Eden Brent brings plenty of depth to her music. Yellow Dog Records will be issuing the new album by the Greenville, Mississippi native, Mississippi Number One. As a singer she sings with the authority of the late Esther Phillips, if a bit less nasal, while displaying the sassiness of a Denise LaSalle and a bit of Bobby Gentry’s country soul. She certainly can pound out some strong barrelhouse rooted piano as well as more in jazz vein. Much of this is comprised of originals penned by her and late mother, Carole. The opening Mississippi Flatland Blues, is a rollicking number with her rollicking barrelhouse playing backed just by bass and drums. She takes things a bit more in a Stax-tinged vein on her original about a two-timing man, He'll Do The Same Thing To You, with organ and horns added to the mix before she changes gears the solo rendering of Darkness on the Delta, and her mother’s marvelous ballad, Love Me ‘Til Dawn, with a leaner delivery and some nice alto saxophone by Kevin Lewis. On the jaunty Fried Chicken, her sassy vocal is simply and effectively supported by Rick Chancery guitar and harmonica. The title track is her spirited salute to the two-lane road that takes one to her childhood road, that cuts through the Delta, with Mimosa trees, with some rollicking piano in the vein of Jerry Lee Lewis. She shows her interpretative abilities on solo performances of ‘The Man I Love, Careless Love, Why Don’t You Do Right, and Trouble in Mind, thoughtfully delivering these well known songs and embellishing these very nicely. Oddly the latter number is credited in the booklet to Amos Milburn and not its composer Richard Jones. Another uptown R&B number is Meet You Anywhere, with tinges of Crescent City funk, while her late mother’s Close That Door, as she tells one that she is tired of his wrong doing way so he should close the door and walk away, as she is through with heartaches. This marvelous recording concludes with Until I Die,’ a lyric that can be interpreted both in a secular and spiritual vein with a bit of church added by Rich Steff’s organ and the vocal choir. Eden Brent is marvelous as a songwriter, singer and pianist and listening to this, one can understand why she has impressed so many. Mississippi Number One is a stunning recording of blues, jazz and soul that will have many waiting for her next recording.

I note that Mississippi Number One is scheduled for release on April 18, 2008.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stop Smiling Turns Spotlight on Jazz

I was at a local Borders today and browsed through the magazines, coming across the new issue (#34) of a publication, Stop Smiling, which is subtitled The Magazine for High-Minded Lowlifes. Actually all I could figure out from the issue from reading it was that the issue was The Jazz Issue and that it was issued with three different covers using three different Francis Wolf images (of Ornette Coleman, Bobby Hutchinson and Eric Dolphy, my copy had the Coleman image).

Included are book excerpts (including Ben Ratliff's book on John Coltrane and John Corbett's forthcoming biography of free jazz saxophone legend Peter Brotzmann) short interviews and articles ranging from Louis Armstrong in Los Angeles; a story on the Village Vanguard; A tribute to Eric Dolphy with recollections by Sonny Rollins, Ted Curson, Bobby Hutchinson, Richard Davis and Gary Giddins; interviews with Ornette Coleman, Joe Chambers, Olu Dara, and Ron Carter; an article on Sun Ra and Moondog; and an interview with noted Jazz photographer William Claxton. A pretty varied article list with plenty of wonderful photographs throughout.

Try looking for this at Borders (and probably Barnes and Noble) in the magazine section. stop Smiling's website is

Monday, March 17, 2008

I Just Keep Lovin' Him - Dennis Gruenling's Excellent Tribute

Its been forty odd years since Little Walter passed away. Let after all the years, his musical legacy still burns bright. Shortly after his death, George 'Harmonica' Smith did a marvelous tribute CD with the Muddy Waters Band of the time that had Smith providing his own take on some of Walter's better known recordings. It was a fine effort that alas today is a collector's item. Now, East Coast harmonica wizard, Dennis Gruenling, has turned his attention to a marvelous tribute to Little Walter, I Just Keep Lovin' Him - A Tribute to Little Walter (Backbender Records).
I saw Gruenling with his excellent band, Jumptime, several years ago and was impressed by his progressive harmonica playing, incorporating a number of jazz influences, but like the late Paul DeLay, rooted so strongly in the blues tradition. On his latest CD, he has put together a stellar studio band that includes guitarists Dave Gross and Rusty Zinn; Mark Bram or Marty Dodson on drums; Gina Fox and the vocal group 'Choice' guesting on vocals; and Steve Guyger, Kim Wilson and Rick Estrin on harmonica and vocals.
Included are renditions of several of Walter's recordings, generally not overdone, as well as recordings Walter played on as a sideman, so we get Gina Fox singing a jumping Up the Line, and Choice reworking The Coronets' Corbella. Steve Guyger handles Muddy Waters' Lovin' Man and reworkings of Jimmy Rogers' My Little Machine and You're Sweet, singing ably and taking strong solos with Gruenling adding some real nice accompaniment to the vocals. Kim Wilson is marvelous on Walter's classic shuffle, I Got to Go, and the moody As Long As I Have You. Gruenling takes the second solo on I Got to Go. Rick Estrin takes charge on Too Young to Know and Temperature, and while his vocals come across less effectively as those of Guyger or Wilson, no complaints can be laid at his fine harp. Estrin, Wilson and Gruenling also each take a bow on one of Walter's lesser known instrumentals, Teenage Beat.
Gruenling himself cites George Smith as more of a direct influence on his harp style, but states "here I've tried to reach into my Walter bag a bit," as do Estrin, Guyger and Wilson. They all bring a fat tone and a swinging drive to their playing, and the backing is solid. They know Walter's music so well, but each brings their own spin to this disc. Little Walter's music lives and sounds contemporary as evidenced by this excellent disc with its focus on less expose material and superior musicianship and harp playing. Incidentally as I write this, it is being sold by with a CD single by Gruenling and Steve Guyger. Ot go to

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Last Century's Blues Dream

Has it been 40 years since Mike Vernon had traveled to Chicago and recorded Sunnyland Slim and Johnny Shines for the Blues Horizon label. With Willie Dixon on bass and organizing the sessions, and a band that also included Walter Horton on harmonica and Clifton James on drums, two albums were produced, Slim's Midnight Jump, and Shine's Last Night Dream. The two albums along with a few alternates from Slim's session are now available on the just issued CD, Sunnyland Slim & Johnny Shines, The Complete Blue Horizon Session.

Mike Vernon's notes in the booklet gives a pretty thorough account of the lives of both of these legends as well as what went on the June, 1968 day when these were recorded. Sunnyland Slim today is remembered by those lucky enough to have seen him perform. He could band that piano out exhibiting an occasional stutter step in his phrasing matched by his booming voice that delivered the songs with an authority that is missing among the living blues pianists with the possible exception of David 'Omar Sharif' Alexander. Equally impressive solo or fronting the band that would be Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All Stars here, Slim does not disappoint with a few staples of his repertoire, Get to My Baby, one of the songs heard in alternate takes, the fine Stella Mae with some exquisite harp from Shakey Horton, as well as Slim's topical Depression Blues.

Slim sets out the ten performances by Shines, although Otis Spann sits in for Pipeline Blues. The Shines performances include somewhat more intimate performances with piano or harp, and all feature Shines, certainly one of the most adept slide guitarists and one of the great blues singers of all time (with echoes of Howling Wolf, Lonnie Johnson and Robert Johnson). Certainly there are echoes of Johnson on several songs such as Baby Don't You Think I Know (a reworking of Sweet Home Chicago), Solid Gold and Last Night's Dream (both echoing Walking Blues), as well his rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson I's Black Panther (although I prefer the version of Otis Spann he recorded for Testament). Vernon talks about some issues of Shines and Dixon being in tune and Clifton James' timing occasionally drifting, but Shines' voice simply cuts through any shortcomings.

Slim died in 1995, a few years after Shines had. Listening to these recordings by the Delta natives today one simply must recognize that the what is called Mississippi blues today simply pales in comparison to what these two produced four decades ago. Highly recommended and available from various online sources.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Memphis Gold at Bangkok Blues

I went to Bangkok Blues on March 8 to see Melanie Mason and Stacy Brooks. In addition to her own music, Stacy has been busy putting together benefits for Chester Chandler, aka Memphis Gold, the Washington DC area blues singer and guitarist who had been a growing international reputation prior to falling out of a tree which he was clearing for a friend (His day job is in the tree clearing business). He suffered quite significant injuries, but is on the long road to recovery. Last weekend Stacy hosted a birthday party for Memphis Gold at which he did perform, Prior to Stacy's performance he arrived using a walker, accompanied by some friends. Later mid-way through Stacy's set, she did a performance of Hound Dog and strolled through the audience including stopping with Memphis who sang with her. Then she brought him up and he sang and borrowed guitarist Jeremy Boyle's guitar doing really strong renditions of "Big Legged Woman", "Big Boss Man" and "Back Door Man." He sounded as good as ever. Obviously it will be a long time until he is able to (if walk) take his guitar out into the audience, but he played and sang with some much heart and it brought him so much joy as can be seen in this picture with Stacy behind him. There is a benefit scheduled on Sunday March 16 at the Fishhead Cantina near Baltimore and Memphis should be in the house for that one. For more info on the benefit, visit, or, More photos of Stacy and Memphis Gold at Bangkok Blues are on my flickr site, Memphis Gold and Stacy Brooks.

After Stacy's set I saw Clarence Turner arriving as I was heading home. I am quite sure the blues party gopt even better later. Again it was so good to see Memphis Gold doing what he does so well, singing and playing the blues.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Milt Hinton's marvelous life

I just finished this morning reading Playing the Changes: Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs, by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger & Holly Maxson (Vanderbilt University) and while I still have a more formal review to write wanted to spread the word about this remarkable book. The late Milt Hinton was one of the most venerated jazz musicians. In addition to his bass playing, he also was an accomplished photographer. Some twenty years ago, Hinton and Berger authored The Bass Line which the present volume updates and serves as a pictorial autobiography as it includes family photos and others from the Hinton family collection in addition to over 100 new photos by Hinton that was added to this upgraded addition. And there are phots of everyobe from Coltrane, Ellington, In addition to recounting his days with Cab Calloway or the New York recording studios, he also has several pages discussing his photography, how Keg Johnson convinced him to get a Leica (his first camera was an Argus) and later purchasing a Canon (I believe one with a trigger). There is also a CD of interview segments with the late jazz master and the book’s dimensions are of a coffee table book. This is not a book to casually lug around, rather one to sit back, kick one’s shoes off and savor.

Friday, March 07, 2008


Once again the Washington Area Music Association manages to ignore some of those who made so much substantial contributions to blues and traditional R&B are passed over popularizers and imitators are the winners. Actually I am convinced that most who vote have not listened to most of the nominees. I do note that Bobby Parker, Memphis Gold, Jerome MacKall, The Hardway Connection, Lady Mary, and Lil Margie were not nominated in any category this year. When you look at the list of winners and realize that Bobby Parker and Jesse Yawn never won Wammies and look at some of the winners for Blues Vocalists over the years, well your eyes start to roll. I do make one correction (10/14/09). Bobby Parker did win a Wammie in 1994 for best duo/group.

What really gets to me is that the one area where recognition can be provided is the Hall of Fame, which the WAMA board can correct the oversights of the membership. Sonny Warner pased away this year and while it would have been too late to honor him when he could have appreciated it, it would have been wonderful to have seen him get the recognition he deserved from his hometown, especially since the WAMMIES were held a few blocks away from where he lived. It might have given me a reason to attend. Anyway this rant has a history to it so I think its time to make it public.

Last year I sent Mike Schreibman, WAMA's head the following email that vented my frustration over this.

I must confess I find the Wammies, especially as they relate to blues, hard to take seriously. The fact that two or the area's premiere blues artists like Bobby Parker and Jesse Yawn have never won an award says something about the voting membership and their lack of knowledge of blues. But the Hall of Fame is a WAMA Board selection than it represents an opportunity of the Board to recognize these talents that deserve proper recognition. You have had an opportunity to rectify this and show some appreciation to them. Sorry, Tommy Lepson is a fine blues-soul popularizer but he is no Bobby Parker. Another fellow that should have been inducted by WAMA long ago is Haywood 'Little Sonny' Warner, who lives within walking distance of the State Theatre and has been featured on cover stories in Real Blues Magazine and the British Blues & Rhythm. I ran into Sonny today when grocery shopping and found out he is undergoing chemotheraphy. The following is what I posted to two internet Blues Lists, which should indicate why he should have been honored a long time ago. Sonny is someone I had mentioned to you the last time I had seen you and I was surprised you had not been aware of him. {I have omited this material from this blog post}

Ron Weinstock

Mike's response was

Hi Ron
I've been concerned about your letter for sometime. It amazes me that you take no part in the process and do nothing to encourage others to take part. Yet, you judge our members and the Board so harshly. WAMA's membership is very strong in blues and there is probably
much overlap with the Blues Society membership.

I'll pass your email on to the Board. But, this is something that should have happened before the Wammies The way to move people to your point of view is to get involved. If you think someone should be in the WAMA Hall of Fame and we're misguided, let us know. When it comes time to verify the nominations join in the process.

Bobby Parker has been proposed for Hall of Fame several times and it didn't work out. That doesn't mean his name won't come up again and be selected.

My guess is that the problem for Jesse Yawn is that he plays mostly in Baltimore and is not generally thought of as a Washington artist.

As for Tommy Lepson, we didn't give him a Hall of Fame award for being a blues singer. He received his award for his many contributions to the local music scene, as well as his great musical talent. Tommy has been in many bands playing many styles of music. Whenever there is a need to raise money for a cause or another musician, Tommy is always first to sign up. He is a treasure in a town of many treasures.

Thanks for writing, but there must be a better approach than belittling WAMA and its members.


I responded to Mike in part as follows: Mike What triggered my email to you was the Hall of Fame Awards and I did not intend it as a slap to Tommy Lepson (who at least some media suggested was inducted as a blues performer, but I am aware of his talents) but frustration over the fact that some of DC's musical treasures have been ignored especially since it is a Board chosen award. BTW, what is the problem with Sonny Warner being in the Hall of Fame?

Mike never responded to this.

This past summer after Sonny Warner's death I had passed on some material to a WAMA member who submitted it to the WAMA board and obviously they choose to ignore it. I sorta like Mike's comment regarding Jesse Yawn perhaps being thought of as a Baltimore artist. This year the WAMA board selected Francis Scott Key. What was his contributions to the Mid-Atlantic area music scene.

I also point out that everything Mike says about Tommy Lepson applies to Bobby Parker. Mike said "Whenever there is a need to raise money for a cause or another musician, Tommy is always first to sign up." Well, Bobby Parker is the same way, at least every time I have suggested him to those putting on a benefit. When we did a benefit for the first DC Blues Festival, Bobby gladly gave his time and more recently for the Society's Memphis Gold benefit, he was one of the first to sign on. I also point out there are so many musicians who are never asked that would be more than willing and add some variety to the benefits. As far as musical talent, no one in this town towers over Bobby. He also has influenced so many. Go ask Bobby Radcliffe, Chuck Brown, Carlos Santana and Stevie Winwood, as you can no longer ask John Lennon. I cannot see any objective reason Bobby has not been honored. Perhaps some board members have a personal vendetta against Bobby. I would hope not.

As for Sonny Warner, Mike never answered my query as to why he was not in the Hall of Fame. But go ask Wilbur Fletcher, Bobby Parker, Jackie Lee, Lamont Savoy as a start for his contributions or the musicians who turned out for a benefit for him.

Last year I went private with my feelings, this year after many years of being quiet I am making my feelings public.

Let the slings and arrows come flying.

One postscript.
A few names that also merit Hall of Fame consideration, Little Royal, Curtis Pope, TNT Tribble, Frank Motley, Lloyd Price, Bill Boskent.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Baltimore Memphis Gold Benefit on March 16

From an email received from Annapolis based Chesapeake Music Guide

Memphis Gold Update!
If you didn't already know, Memphis Gold suffered a broken back after a 30ft fall while performing his day job of tree removal. An operation last week inserted titanium rods into his spine to stabilize the area that suffered damage from his 30' fall. He has a long and tough road of rehab ahead. He is in good sprits and appreciates all the good thoughts from fans & friends. He knows he is lucky to be alive. At this time he does not have feeling from the back of his calves down through his feet and it is too early to tell the extent of the damage and how much movement he will re-acquire. He can hold & play a guitar and has been writing some new songs. How about Out on a Limb?
The Baltimore Blues Society and Nadine Rae have coordinated a benefit on his behalf to be held at the Fish Head Cantina in New Canton on Sunday March 16 from 3pm - 11pm. Several top performers have donated their time to perform such as Memphis Gold Band, Charles "Big Daddy" Stallings, Tommy Lepson, Bobby Parker, Nadine Rae, Acme Blues and more!"

Saturday, March 01, 2008

New Albert Collins Coming Out

Live in Montreux and should be in stores March 3

I have several other Collins DVDs and have not been disappointed with any of them. There is a you tube clip to preview it. It is from 1992 and while not long before he passed, this clip seems like another excellent performance.

Here is the link

I expect to post a review of it soon, but it looks like a winner.