Saturday, April 16, 2011

French Boogie Blues and Zydeco Releases

There is a myth that there was very little new blues of note recorded in the 1970s. The fact is labels like Alligator, Delmark and Blind Pig produced fine albums, and labels like Stax and Jewel produced strong modern urban blues. Also, there were a number of recordings released in Europe, usually by touring American musicians, on labels like Isabel and Black & Blue. Three reissues from Barclay’s Maison de Blues series caught my attention when issued three decades ago, and these new CD releases allow me to replace my worn vinyl LPs.

Memphis Slim & Buddy Guy, Southside Reunion, was recorded when Buddy Guy and Junior Wells were touring Europe in September 1970. This 35 year old session brought together the expatriate Slim with the Buddy Guy-Junior Wells Band for what was a terrific session mixing Slim’s rolling barrelhouse piano, urbane singing and the tough sound Guy and Wells put together with one of the great blues bands of all time. Guy and Wells had Phil Guy on rhythm guitar, Ernest Johnson on bass, A.C. reed and Jim Conley on sax and Roosevelt ‘Snake’ Shaw on drums. When Slim kicks off a duet with Buddy on the opening When Buddy Comes to Town, the music takes off on a cooking shuffle that I doubt Buddy could come close to matching today with his more hard rock approach, and how many modern rhythm sections could handle the shuffle groove or settle in so able behind Slim on Leroy Carr’s classic, How Long Blues? Guy also handles the vocal on You’re the One while Wells ably supports on harp throughout. An alternate take of You’re the One, and Jamming at the Castle are bonus tracks and come across as worthy companions for a really magnificent reissue.

Professor Longhair was at the beginning of his re-emergence as a performer when he recorded the 1974 release Rock’n’Roll Gumbo, which was reissued on George Winston’s Dancing Cat label in 1985 with horns added to the reworking of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The Maison de Blues reissue is musically the same as the Dancing Cat and had Fess pared with Gatemouth Brown on guitar (and fiddle for Jambalaya,) with a rhythm section of Julius Farmer on bass, drummer Sheba Kimbrough, who recently (October 2005) passed away, and Alfred ‘Uganda Roberts on congas. The music is marvelous as the empathy between Brown and Fess is obvious throughout whether on remaking Hey Now Baby and Tipitina or bringing a fresh take to Junco Partner, Ray Charles’ Mess Around, Stag-O-Lee, and Mean Ol’ World. After the mix of funk and blues grooves, the album closes with just Fess at the piano taking care of business on (They Call Me) Dr. Professor Longhair. This is perhaps my favorite Longhair album, and interestingly Rhino took seven songs from this when they did their two-CD Professor Longhair anthology.

The third reissue is Clifton Chenier’s Frenchin’ the Boogie, recorded at a time when Stanley ‘Buckwheat’ Duval was part of the band on keyboards. The Frenchin’ in the title refers to the fact that Chenier sings a number of blues and rhythm and blues classics in Creole French. There are several nods to Louis Jordan, Caledonia, Choo-Choo Ch’Boogie, and Laissez Les Bon Tons Roulet (a retitled Let the Good Times Roll) along with versions of Shake Rattle and Roll and Going Down Slow mixed with a waltz. Chenier was in peak form for this 1976 session, singing ebulliently and soulfully, putting as much soul in his piano accordion as Jimmy Smith on the organ and the Red Hot Louisiana Band rocking as hard as any band ever did. Like the other two releases, this is spectacular stuff.

The above was a relatively recent (March-April 2006) review from Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 280) of some reissues of blues recordings from Europe. They are still available (although perhaps easier to get as downloads than hard physical copies). I likely received review copies from Jazz & Blues Report.

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