Monday, September 28, 2009

Chicago Blues Harmonica Project showcases Rare Blues Gems

This review appeared in Jazz & Blues Report (July 2009, Issue 318). I have made a few minor wording changes.

Severn Records has followed up its prior release of lesser known Chicago Blues Harmonica Players, Chicago Blues Harmonica Project: Diamonds in the Rough with "More Rare Gems.” Its another collection of lively performances by a variety of lesser known harp players who continue to ply their trade in the clubs and bars of the Windy City. Once again the backing band is The Chicago Blues Masters: guitarists Rick Kreher and Illinois Slim; pianist Mark Brumbach; bassist E.G.McDaniel and drummer Twist Turner who provide solid idiomatic traditionally oriented backing throughout.

Seven performers are heard on this collection, some who come off stronger than others but all are entertaining. Reginald Cooper opens with a strong vocal on his rendition of a Z.Z. Hill recording, “Shade Tree Mechanic,” with a simple harp solo that rides the disc out. His other performance reworks Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Give Me Back That Wig,” with the band giving the song a Muddy Waters styled flavor with more harp.He is a particularly expressive vocalist and his harp adds solid flavoring to these performances. Charlie Love really tears into his harp at the beginning of the extroverted and rollicking shuffle rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Ooh Baby, Hold Me.” His vocal perhaps is a bit melodramatic on the cover of Elmore James’ “Twelve Year Old Boy,” although the track sports more fine harp. What is interesting is that Love is known as a guitarist so he likely could put together an interesting album.

Harmonica Hinds has recorded with Koko Taylor several years and has several self-produced albums. His harp playing is his strength as displayed on his original, “Kill That Mouse,” but his gruff vocals suffers from a somewhat stiff delivery despite his obvious enthusiasm, The instrumental shuffle, “Sunday Morning Blues,” displays his musical strengths. The recordings by the late Little Arthur Duncan, perhaps the best known of those heard here, were his last and he turns in capable performances of “Can’t Stand It No More,” derived from Little Walter’s “Hate to See You Go,” and Muddy Waters’ “Gone to Main Street.”

Jeff Taylor handles the vocal on “Gangster of Love,” derived from a funkier uptempo spin that Johnny Guitar Watson gave the number from the seventies on. Russ Green’s superb harp accompaniment helps make this performance one of the top ones here. Taylor takes up the harp for his rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do,” with his effective playing evoking Reed’s simple harp style and kudos for whichever guitarist is adding the nice fills. Big D is in his 20s, but his rendition of Slim Harpo’s “I’ve Got to Be With You Tonight,” shows a maturity in his relaxed vocal and smooth playing. It rounds a generally second sampling of lesser known Chicago harp players who have plenty to offer fans of Chicago and harmonica blues.

Dave Riley & Bob Corritore's bluesy partnership

The following review has been submitted for publication and in the interim, I run it here.

Blues at base can be a very simple music. Simple guitar riffs and crying harmonica accompaniment for heartfelt vocals can get to the listener’s heart. This forms the heart of the music by the duo of Dave Riley and Bob Corritore. A Mississippi native, Riley actually grew up in Chicago, played in a family gospel group and showed stuff on guitar by Pops Staples and after serving in Vietnam and playing in soul circles, met Jimmy Reed who helped shaped his musical outlook. But it was meeting Frank Frost after moving back down south, and then started playing with Frost and Sam Carr as well as having associations with John Weston, Pinetop Perkins and Arthur Williams. This post-war delta style forms the basis of his music joined by his partner, Bob Corritore, a solid harmonica player who has been a blues hero as a record producer, blues radio announcer, concert promoter (at Phoenix’s The Rhythm Room) and a extremely adept harp player.

The duo has a new CD on Blue Witch, “Lucky to Be Living,” which displays the duo’s strong blues rooted in the simple Jimmy Reed boogie grooves and solid juke joint sounds that Frost pioneered with the Nighthawks (later known as the Jelly Roll Kings). Dave Riley Jr joins on bass on half the selections, while guitarist Chris James adds his idiomatic playing for three selections on which former Howlin’ Wolf pianist, Henry Gray. Several songs are by the late Frank Frost, including the opening “Jelly Roll King,” which Riley makes into a tribute about Frost, Carr and Weston. “Lets Get Together,” is a solid shuffle by Riley with Gray pounding outs some nice boogie piano as part of the driving accompaniment, while Gray also enlivens another Frost blues, the rocking “Ride With Your Daddy Tonight,” which also has a lively rocking solo from guitarist James. Frank Frost also wrote the title track, a stone Muddy Waters styled slow blues with Riley contributing some nice guitar fills and Corritore wailing on hap in support of Riley’s singing. Riley’s straightforward, somewhat hoarse singing is direct and if lacking in subtlety, it compensate with his honest delivery, while Corritore shifts from a full Little Walter styled harp tone to a more crying Rice Miller attack as appropriate. There is nothing new here but Riley and Corritore have produced a set of honest Delta to Chicago blues that should delight many.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Zac Harmon Keeps Rocking His Roots

This is a slightly changed review that appeared in Jazz & Blues Report (Sept 2009- Issue 320).

Since winning the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge, Zac Harman certainly has established himself on the blues circuit, becoming a favorite festival attraction with his hot guitar, varied repertoire and gospel-soul rooted vocals. Northern Blues has just issued From the Root, his third album and the first to be released under the Canadian imprint. The opening Don’t Give Me Another Reason, has some biting blues-rock guitar against a soulful vocal as he sings about his obsessive love for a woman who is a devil’s lil angel. It is followed by Hattie Mae, where Zac sings about his love for her against a melody that suggests an uptempo variant of You Don’t Love Me. Jimmy Z contributes some scorching harp here. Since You Been Gone, has a bit of a rock flavor with a nifty guitar riff with a lyric of not being burned twice by a woman who walked out on him but wants to come back. which is followed by a deep soul-blues groove on Back Bitin’ Back Stabbers, has a deep soul-blues groove for a song about being on the road and discovering that his wife and his best friend cheating on him. That’s What a Woman Needs, successfully uses a reggae groove before the soulful blues ballad The Price of Lovin’ You, a duet with Sueann Carwell. Honey Bee, has a hot groove up followed by a sensual ballad, Smile on Your Face, where Zac tells his woman he wants to place on their and that she should let him touch that special place. Insistent stinging guitar reinforces the driving groove on Enough, as Zac is fed up with his cheating woman and tells her to stop crying and to stop her ripping up Zac’s heart because “enough is enough.” The variety heard among the 14 tracks is illustrated by The Older Woman,” with its southern soul-blues juke groove and Scratch, with its echoes of Z.Z. Hill. Man is Not Alone, closes this on an acoustic note with Greg Wright supplying some nice slide guitar, Jimmy Z adding harp and Monyungo Jackson playing a steady rhythm on cajon. As indicated from my comments above, From the Root, is a varied program of blues and soul with rock edges that follows up his two earlier excellent self-produced releases. This may be easier to find than those (but try cdbaby.com for them), and should further enhance his growing reputation as a blues performer today.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A personal list of Ten Great Blues Pianists

I will not claim this is an exhaustive list but any collection of blues piano (and blues) should have something by all these acts.

Cow Cow Davenport - One could have selected his contemporaries like that tragic Pinetop Smith or the pioneering brothers of Sippie Wallace, George Washington Thomas and Hersal Thomas, but Charles Davenport came out of vaudeville (like Smith) and fortunately recorded extensively including his signature piece, “Cow Cow Blues” as well as such other gems as “Texas Shout” and “Atlanta Rag.” Document issued his complete recordings which included some strong accompaniments.

Eurreal ‘Little Brother’ Montgomery’s career spanned several decades and included his definitive reading of the “Forty Four Blues Theme, “Vicksburg Blues” along with “No Special Rider Blues, that in 1930 started a lengthy recording career that included him playing in territory bands and continuing his distinctive style that included elements of ragtime and stride. Other early classics he recorded include the virtuoso “Farish Street Jive.”

Roosevelt Sykes gets my nod as the greatest of all blues pianists. Lee Green taught Sykes a lot and he began a lengthy recording career that continued until his passing while holding down a regular gig in New Orleans. With his boisterous vocal style one can imagine how he jumped the crowds at the barrelhouses, juke joints and other clubs. He is associated with “Honey Dripper Blues,” “Mistake in Life,” Driving Wheel,” “Sunny Road,” and his “Sweet Old Chicago,” derived as much from “Original Kokomo Blues” as “Sweet Home Chicago,” inspired Junior Parker and Magic Sam to revive “Sweet Home Chicago.” Of course he did his own definitive rendition of “Forty Four Blues.” He was equally superb solo and in small jump blues combos. One of my favorite Delmark albums is his “Feel Like Blowing My Horn,” with his friend Robert Lockwood Junior and others.

Charlie Spand. I select him in lieu of Leroy Carr because Spand is less well known but such a marvelous pianist. Francis Smith in his definitive series on Piano Blues on Magpie devoted an entire volume to Spand whose “Soon This Morning,” is every bit a blues standard (Junior Wells and Sonny Boy do it as “Early in the Morning”). Other classics include some stomping piano with Blind Blake on guitar for “Hastings St,” while “Mississippi Blues displays his fluent style.

Pete Johnson. I limit myself to only one of the Boogie Woogie Trio. I won’t argue that Johnson is better than Meade Lux Lewis or Albert Ammons. Perhaps it is his association with Joe Turner (who did record with the other two). Johnson can be heard on many of Turner’s tracks including his early “Roll ‘Em Pete,” and the Atlantic “Boss of the Blues” album.

Jimmy Yancey - In a review of the superb Mosiac Select box set, “Boogie Woogie and Blues Piano,” that appeared in the March 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 301) I wrote the following about him,” A former baseball player in the Negro Leagues, he was a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park as well as a pianist of great emotional depth and rhythmic vitality. His music eschewed flash for a lyrical, almost poetic quality with what Morganstern notes idiosyncratic harmonies although every of his numbers ends in the key of E. His boogies are not played at quite a breakneck as Ammons, Johnson or Lewis were capable of but his treble lines are perhaps more interesting and while his bass work is varied and propulsive if not as powerful as the others as can be heard on ‘Yancey’s Stomp.’ Slow blues like ‘Five O'Clock Blues’ were his forte as his subtle touch and treble embellishments lend a melancholy flavor to his performances. His poetic piano perhaps is stronger than his unmannered vocals, but his earnest delivery compensates for any vocal limitations, and one will not find any better examples of blues piano than his work here.” I see no reason to change anything I wrote there. I do note that his slow blues “Yancey Shuffle,” was adopted by countless other pianists including Lloyd Glenn who retitled it “Old Time Shuffle.”

Amos Milburn. If one wants a bridge from the great boogie woogie pianists like Pete Johnson to the rock and roll giants like Archibald, Fats Domino one could do no better than this Texas born blues and boogie master who dominated the charts during the late forties and early fifties. The original “Chicken Shack Boogie,” a take on “Down a Rood a Piece,” “Walking Blues,” and such drinking blues as “Bad Bad Whiskey,” “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer,” and “Let Me Go Home Whiskey.” He inspired Floyd Dixon and there are his contemporaries like Ivory Joe Hunter, Charles Brown, and Little Willie Littlefield (still with us) that made many wonderful recordings, but Milburn’s piano had more impact at the time.

Whistling Alex Moore. Texas spawned too many great pianists from Texas Bill Day, Joe Pullum, Rob Cooper, Andy Boy and others so picking Moore because of his stately playing as well as his folk poetry. He did benefit from the blues revival in the sixties which allowed him to show he was still a marvelous blues pianist, lyrciist and singer.

Camille Howard. There are other great piano playing blues women such as Georgia While, Julia Lee, Devonia Williams, but Howard’s piano with Roy Milton was as seminal as Mary Lou Williams with Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy a decade earlier. She was also a really solid singer and there was a fine reissue featuring her as a leader that was issued as part of the Specialty reissues that is worth seeking out.

Otis Spann. Its hard to leave out Memphis Slim, Little Johnny Jones, Sunnyland Slim, Black Bob, Henry Gray, and especially Big Maceo when one thinks of other great Chicago blues pianists, but Spann had something magical about his playing when heard at his best. It is unfortunate that production spoiled some of his recordings as a leader with a band (the Bluesway albums were marred by how the harmonica was recorded) but his solo and duo recordings for Candid and Storyville are classic as was his backing behind Buddy Guy on “A Man & the Blues.”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gaines Still Cranks Out The Blues

The following is a review that extracted from a longer review of several reissues of Nashville blues and R&B that Fred James had compiled. Earl is still with us and recently recorded for the soul-blues label, Ecko Records.

Earl Gaines first attracted notice with Louis Brooks & the Hi-Toppers as a vocalist and a drummer (he played on Arthur Gunther’s Baby Let’s Play House). Gaines vocal on Louis Brooks’ recording of Ted Jarrett’s It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day), and when Brooks was reluctant to tour, Gaines hit the road, working with the likes of Bill Doggett. While other Excello recordings did not chart, he continued recording for Ted Jarrett’s labels before hooking up with DJ Hoss Allen in the mid-sixties and recorded for a variety of labels including king, Hollywood and Sound Stage 7. Working as a log haul truck driver he only performed occasionally until the late 1980s and made a comeback album for the Atlanta Meltone label in 1989. Eventually he was part of the Excello legends and thrilled audiences at Blues Estaffe in Holland. He recorded for a variety of labels including Appaloosa, Blue Moon, Black Top and Cannonball and in 2005 was reunited with Jarrett for his Blue-Fye label. The new album,Crankshaft Blues, is a collection of out-takes and rarities that certainly will be of considerable interest. perhaps not as gifted a singer as Shelton, he is more than able with his heartfelt passion evident on a nice mix of material. The title track is a really solid slow blues while Roscoe Shelton joins him for Someday Things Are Gonna Change, a bluesy piece of soul, while Baby What’s Wrong With You, is a solid shuffle penned by Gaines on which Dennis Taylor rips off a strong tenor solo. James is first rate on guitar here as on the other discs, supporting the vocals and adding crisp, stinging solos while Gaines grainy vocal has particular appeal on the ballad, I Believe in Your Love whose melody evokes the classic Toussaint McCall recording, Nothing Takes the Place of You. There is a credible, if unexceptional treatment of Further on Up the Road, although the album closes on a strong note with his live rendition of the song that started it all, It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day). Earl Gaines may not quite be as strong a vocalist as his contemporary, Roscoe Shelton, but he provides a more downhome flavor as a singer. This is quite an entertaining release and provides a nice introduction for those not familiar with him.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blues Women With Attitude

Ace (UK)’s new anthology of rocking females blues and R&B from the forties and fifties, “Blue Belles With Attitude,” makes available 28 choice recordings (23 never previously on CD and a number previously unissued selections or alternate takes by such artists as Esther Phillips, Effie Smith and Helen Humes. While the album opens with Cordella De Milo’s “Ain’t Gonna Hush,” most of the songs are more standard blues. Some may not of De Milo’s song from Saffire’s interpretation, but her original with a great studio band under Maxwell Davis’ name kicks butt with some explosive, slashing guitar from Johnny 'Guitar' Watson that should put Joe Turner in his place. Watson also plays some great guitar on De Milo’s “Lonely Girl.”

Effie Smith sets the pace on a fast, previously unissued, “Be Bop Boogie,” with some really hot tenor sax to go with her strongly delivered vocal, while there is some really nice guitar on Edna Broughton’s rendition of a Percy Mayfield classic “Two Days of Torture.” “Hey Hey Baby” is a lively exuberant jump blues delivered by Helen Humes, while Edna Broughton’s “Hambone Blues” is a nice slow blues as she tells her man how he has been been mistreating. Mari Jones accompanied by Johnny Moore’s 3 Blazers (augmented by a solid saxophonist) is a nice Dinah Washington styled vocal with deft accompaniment. Some strong trumpet by Howard McGhee embellishes the shouting of Pearl Traylor on “Gee I’m Lonesome,” and “Play Boy Blues.” While the backing may not be as consistently strong (the tenor saxophonist has too much vibrato) on her “Daddy, Somebody’s Got to Go,” she sings quite forcefully. Besides the opening selection there are several other answer songs. Del Graham sings “Mr T 99,” a response to Jimmy Nelson’s “T-99 Blues,” while Helen Humes, with someone playing slide, tells John Lee Hooker, that “I Ain’t in the Mood” for love.

Among others who can be heard on this are Mickey Champion (fortunately still with us as I write this) both with the Nic Nacs and under her own name and a fabulous scorching piano instrumental by Vivianne Green. There is also a nice rendition of “24 Hours A Day,” by a singer whose identity the compilers can only speculate about. There is an interesting range of performances that include some good as well as terrific vocals and generally strong idiomatic R&B accompaniments typical of the period. Ace Records continues to issue some of the finest reissues of blues and related music in the world and this release is another example to demonstrate that.

If anyone from The Blues Foundation is reading this blog entry, I suggest they be considered for Keeping the Blues Alive Award. They certainly would be a worthy selection. Bluebeat Music has this.

Some Scorching Ron Holloway saxophone from 1996

Here is a review from the October 1996 Jazz & Blues Report of one of the four Milestone albums by tenor saxophonist Ron Holloway. Ron, as I write this, currently tours with Susan Tedeschi, but when home with DC is liable to play with anybody, bring his robust playing to whatever setting he is then situated in. This, and his other Milestone albums can be purchased through various sellers at amazon, although amazon does not carry it, itself.

Ron Holloway’s tenor saxophone has been heard at numerous blues shows around the Washington, D.C. area over the years, including accompanying boogie woogie legend, Sammy Price, and Cathy Ponton King at past D.C. Blues Festivals. He is amongst the area’s most accomplished jazz musicians, although completely at home with the blues, and was a member of Dizzy Gillespie’s last band, He also has played with Root Boy Slim and Gil Scott-Heron (with whom he still tours). Milestone has just issued Scorcher, Holloway’s third album, and this disc lives up to its title. Just like Holloway who transcends musical genres, Scorcher includes a diversity of settings from an organ based combo with guest Joey DeFrancesco, a couple of vocals by Gil Scott-Heron, and even a rap track where Holloway’s tenor sax swirls around the raps of M.C. RIP and Shorty Bones. Trumpeter Chris Battistone and guitarist Paul Bollenback (from the organist’s trio) also play an important part on this album. Material ranges from burning renditions of bebop standards like Hot House as well as Lee Morgan’s Slidewinder, Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, a hot Sonny Rollins number, The Everywhere Calypso, and a couple of numbers with Gil Scott-Heron, one of which is a blues on which Nighthawk Mark Wenner plays. Holloway’s tenor sound is somewhat suggestive of Rollins (which is certainly not the worst source of inspiration) and his lengthy solos show his own musical personality, full of passion and thoughtfulness. He is supported by some terrific players as well, and the result is some compelling music. The last track is a rap with a positive message, on which Holloway’s fiery saxophone does not completely integrate with the backing or the performance. While to this listener, this experiment was not successful, it reflects Holloway’s ranging musical interests. In any event, it is a minor flaw in a set with almost 75 minutes of music, played with plenty of heart and head.


Subsequent to posting this, Ron alerted me to the fact that his Milestone albums can be downloaded from Concord Records website as MP3s.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Totally Captivating Piano Blues Recording

My purchase of Carl Sonny Leyland’s “A Chicago Session” (Ventrella) was an impulse based in part on the description of the disc on the new release web page of BlueBeat Music’s website. It was one of several releases featuring Joel Patterson, and I was familiar with the blues and boogie woogie piano of Leyland so sound unheard it was in a recent order, and its simple delights have captivated me since first giving it a listen.

Leyland, a British native who has since relocated to Southern California, has immersed himself in the piano blues tradition and (to these ears) incorporates elements from such diverse artists as Memphis Slim, Art Hodes, Albert Ammons, and Piano Red with some jazz seasoning (a dash of Teddy Wilson and Mary Lou Williams), delivering such a strong, yet relaxed sound and is a more than a competent vocalist who delivers in a natural genial manner without sounding bland. In addition to the swinging, jazzy playing of Patterson, he is backed by bassist Beau Sample and drummer Alex Hall, who provide crisp, yet understated, support that embellishes Leyland’s wonderful playing and Patterson’s crisp comping and single note excursions.

There is a nice range of material from his straight-forward delivery of Roosevelt Sykes’ “BVD Blues,” and his exuberant rendition of Piano Red’s “Rockin’ With Red,” with his bouncy piano complemented by a deft Patterson solo. Speckled Red’s classic “Dirty Dozens’ is done as a wistful instrumental, while the sprite rendition of “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” is an unusual, if delightful performance, “Up the Lazy River,” is a feature for the playing of Patterson followed by a nice “Careless Love.” This is a totally captivating recording of piano blues, and I certainly will be investigating Leyland's past catalog for similar gems.

Here is a link to Carl's website, where one can purchase this and others ion his lengthy discography. Bluebeat Music has the CD while amazon and itunes have it available for download.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cake Walkin’ is Tasty Jump Blues Confectionery

Can there be little doubt we are blessed in terms of the availability of some terrific rhythm & blues from the music’s golden age of the forties through the sixties with the reissue of so much material. Add to this abundance of musical riches a new reissue from Ace Records in the UK from the Modern Records vault, “Cake Walkin’: The Modern Recordings 1947-1948,” by the Al ‘Cake’ Wichard Sextette. Wichard, born in Arkansas, but resident as a drummer, and participated in a number of the early post-war sessions out in the West Coast.

This is small group jump blues at the highest level which benefited from the presence of the great Jay McShann on piano for a number of tracks. It certainly did not hurt that the group was also fronted by vocalists Duke Henderson and Jimmy Witherspoon. Some of the selections by Spoon may have been issued on one of the Ace Witherspoon reissues (“Geneva Blues”), but others are alternates such as the risque “Daddy Pinocchio,” “Sweet Lovin’ Woman,” “Big Fine Gal,” and “Thelma lee Blues.” Some of the earlier sides were issued under Wichard’s name as McShann and Witherspoon were under contract to Mercury at the time. Included is Spoon’s excellent rendition of “I Want a Little Girl,” associated with Jimmy Rushing, and “Roll ‘Em Boy,” a thinly worded take on “Roll ‘Em Pete,” that Joe Turner waxed with Pete Johnson. Henderson himself accounts himself quite well on “His Majesty's Boogie,” and “Gravels in My Pillow.”

Several instrumentals are interspersed here like the two takes of “Junction Drive,” featuring McShann. The last two selections, “Boogie Woogie Basement,” and “Boogie Woogie Upstairs,” may have McShann on piano but feature guitarist Pee Wee Crayton. I’m not sure who the guitarist is on the McShann instrumental “Slow Lope,” but his playing is excellent as is McShann’s. There is also some excellent tenor saxophone (like behind Spoon on “Good Lover Blues,” which employs the “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Business” melody). Tony Rounce’s annotation details what we know about these recordings and Wichard and completes this superb jump blues reissue.

This is available from Bluebeat Music and other better internet stores.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra Chases The Blues

Trumpeter, slide-trumpeter, arranger and composer, Steven Bernstein, is most famous for his band Sex Mob, with the Millennial Territory Orchestra being another of his musical aggregations. Its a spirited big little band with nine members (Doug Wamble guests on guitar and banjo on two tracks), which mixes a variety of influences, hot swing, New Orleans brass with some modernistic tinges. Their new recording, “We Are MTO” (MOWO), displays the fascinating mix of old and new sounds.

The disc opens with the dirge-like, swampy rhythm of the title track with the violin of Charles Burnham’s violin setting the mood before the trio of reeds state the melody that hints at “Stormy Weather followed by the exuberance of “in the Corner,” a slightly surreal take of a Charleston styled number with Clark Gayton’s tailgating trombone soloing over the riffing reeds. An old Floyd Tillman & Jimmie Davis country song “It Makes No Difference” (recorded by Ernest Tubb, Ray Charles and others) is given a blues-tinged reworking with Matt Munisteri’s single note guitar runs with Gayton’s trombone providing the bass bottom while Burnham’s violin provides a running musical commentary with a New Orleans brass tinge added. It is followed by a similarly original reinvention of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” which opens with Burnham’s violin before the Doug Wieselman states the melody on his clarinet with Bernstein’s imaginative orchestration of the other horns and Burnham’s violin in the back ground (and the brass providing a further contrast in musical colors). MTO opens Don Redman’s “Paducah,” with some free-jazz sounding riffing before Wieselman takes center-stage against moaning horns followed by Bernstein’s open trumpet backed against more stately horn riffs, before bassist Ben Allison takes a bass solo where he walks the bass with some slapping of the bass mixed in. The two guitars of Munisteri and Doug Wamble, and the slightly frantic tempo, give Dickie’s Dream,” a distinctive and rollicking flavor, with perhaps the highpoint being Erik Lawrence’s baritone sax solo. The two guitarists share a vocal duet on Fats Waller’s “Viper Song,” with its lazy tempo as Bernstein’s imaginative arrangements again add spice behind the vocals and solos as different instrumentalists come in to provide the main accompaniment behind the vocals. The final number is Preston Jackson’s “It’s Tight Jim,” again having varying tempos and contrasting musical settings with the accompaniments, ending this kaleidoscope of sounds on an a mesmerizing note.

This is available from amazon and itunes.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Important if Flawed Bio of Johnny Guitar Watson


Johnny 'Guitar' Watson was a musical giant who is still unappreciated over a decade after his death. His influence as a guitarist, singer, composer and performer is not acknowledged. The fact that he is still not in the rock and roll Hall of Fame says something about the sorry state of rock music criticism. He was arguably the biggest single influence on Jimi Hendrix and his pioneering funk extension of blues included the precursor of Rap, a fact acknowledged by the Hip Hop acts that have sampled his music. Listening to his "Three Hours Past Midnight," led Frank Zappa to take up guitar and listen to Etta James sing ballads and then Watson sing "Cuttin' In."

Watson's music and life is the subject of a self-published volume "The Gangster of Love: Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Performer, Preacher, Pimp" by Vincent Bakker, a Dutch author whose prior books have been about economic affairs and admits his limited knowledge about music. Given Watson's importance, and that no one else had written about Watson, he undertook to write this book. As others have commented, his English is not perfect but he does communicate things well. He uses published sources on Johnny as well as interviews with those who grew up and/or played with him (Hank Redd, Tovia Bradley, Andre Lewis,Obie Jesse (Young Jesse), Emry Thomas, Eddie 'Gip' Noble, Rudy Copeland), were fans of his (Chuck Brown), or the women in his life (Susan Maier Watson).

Bakker explores what life was like touring with Watson, his music and the way he dealt with people, some good and some bad (Gip Noble and Emry Thomas bring some of Johnny's selfish, egotistical side to light) as well go from his early days in Texas, hitching up in California with Chuck Higgins and starting his recording career and his various recordings, taking through his Modern and Federal days, a stint on Keen Records, touting England with Larry Williams and the partnership they had for a couple years. Then he signs with fantasy before Dick James signs him to DJM Records where he enjoys arguably his greatest success. And there are stories of his women (the sub-title provides a backdrop for this) as well as the fact one constant in his home-life was his mother, who lived with him. Despite having extended relationships with three women, Johnny never married and had no will when he passed away (keeling over while performing, leading to a lengthy legal battle over his estate.

Bakker does not really understand the independent record business that Watson operated in and it leads to a few major gaffes. For example on page 69, he discusses the Crown reissue "2 In Blues," as if it was a new recording of Watson along with new recordings by bobby Bland. A little research would have helped him avoid this gaffe as Crown was a budget lp line that Modern/RPM set up to reissue vintage recordings. "2 In Blues," was a reissue of previously issued recordings by Watson and Bland from those labels.The Bland recordings were likely recorded by Joe Bihari with the assistance of Ike Turner or Sam Phillips and most definitely were not newly recorded by Watson.

With the differing views of Watson presented throughput, a sense of his personality does come across. This is profusely illustrated although the reproduction of many is fair at best. Could there be a better bio of him. of course. But none is on the horizon, and this will have to do until a better book comes along. 3 1/2 stars out of 5.

This review appeared in substantially the same form on amazon.com which is where this book can be purchased.

Friday, September 04, 2009

A Blues Festival Without Real Blues

I just received the latest Blues Rag, the Baltimore Blues Society's newsletter, and there was a discussion of some recent blues and other festivals by (I presume its President) Bob Sekinger. There was some discussion of the fact that it was a sellout but that some rumblings that it lacked enough 'real blues,' and some usual suspects were missing. The line-up included Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa and a local band Old Man Brown, all of which had blues elements in their music. Then came the statement "HAB has been billed as a 'roots' festival the last few years and I believe that's the way to go to attract a larger audience. The proliferation of blues only fests the last 15 years has been great in the short term sense for both the acts and the afficondos, but I don't think it does much to expand the blues audience. I loves me a good blues festival, but would love to see more music festivals where blues is included." He then goes into a discussion of some festivals of the Woodstock era that included some blues and how such festivals (Texas International Pop Festival) turned folks on to some blues acts that was booked.

I should mention that I was one of the usual suspects that were missing. My issue is not lack of enough 'real blues,' but the lack of any blues. Rock guitar heroes like Bonamassa may be involved in blues education (but to what extent would he discuss the cultural aspects of blues and not simply evolution of blues music devoid of its cultural context), and Derek Trucks is a brilliant genre-spanning performer, but how does it help spread the blues when an event, even if it is a roots festival, called Hot August Blues does not present any blues performers. Bob mentions that at the Texas International Pop Festival some who went to see Grand Funk Railroad or ZZ Top, got blown away by B.B. King, James Cotton and Freddie King. The problem with Bob's argument when considering this year's Hot August Blues, was there was no Jimmy Johnson, Long John Hunter, Lazy Lester, Lady Bianca, Sista Monica, Eddie C. Campbell or any of numerous others that could have been listed to blow away those coming to see Bonamassa or Trucks.

Blues acts also rarely get booked at pop festivals. Certainly, Derek Trucks and Joe Bonamassa get booked by far more blues festivals than pop festivals book a Jimmy Johnson or Long John Hunter. Furthermore, blues festivals not only present blues music but is a source of generally good paying gigs for a number of performers who certainly can use the gig. I have no problem with certain 'rock' acts, whose music is heavily rooted in the blues playing blues festivals as it may enable some acts to indeed be exposed to a wider audience, but to the extent such festivals end up limiting the bookings available to blues performers, then it is a double edged sword.

One final point. One should not assume that many who go to a pop or other festival to hear a mega-star will be wowed by the blues performer. In fact, the reverse may happen. Brett Littlehales, a fine DC area harp player and singer, noted that Hammond Scott, by having Dr. John's set immediately precede Bon Jovi at this year's New Orleans JazzFest, managed to get Dr. John booed in his hometown. Those Bon Jovi fans illustrate the principal that one should never underestimate the musical intelligence of the average pop music lover.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Redd Foxx Channels' Basie's "Boogie Woogie"

Listening to my ipod this morning (It has been reissued on several collections including The R&B Years 1947), I was startled by a solid jump blues, Shame On You" that clearly was based on the Jones-Smith Unlimited recording "Boogie Woogie. Jones-Smith Unlimited was a small group taken from Count Basie's Band that John Hammond recorded for Columbia after Hammond found out that Dave Kapp signed the Count Basie Orchestra to Decca Records. Jones Smith was named after drummer Jo Jones, and trumpeter Carl 'Tatti' Smith, but also included Count Basie, bassist Walter Page and tenor saxophonist Lester Young along with vocalist Jimmy Rushing in what is now viewed as all-time classic record date with one of the sides waxed being "Boogie Woogie." When I checked my ipod for the song title I discovered it was by Redd Foxx. Foxx's recording has a tenor saxophonist playing in a manner inspired by Lester Young with trumpet riffing in support (echoing Tatti Smith's playing on the original). Of course Redd Foxx would be best known as a raunchy comedian who pioneered with his raunchy party albums and then as George Sanford on the classic television comedy series, Sanford & Son (Foxx's real name was John Elroy Sanford). While Foxx may not have been a Jimmy Rushing or Joe Turner, this solid recording showed him to be a more than credible blues shouter. An intriguing footnote for a person who would become iconic as a comedian.