Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Taking the Blues Time Machine To March 1977

This is my blues column from the March 1977 Buffalo Jazz Report which had Benny Goodman on the cover. My column was relatively lengthy, and included a Blues On EP segment which I will post next week. There would be no column for February issue as the Blizzard of 1977 that paralyzed the city around the time the issue would have come out. I have noted the first 58 issues of Buffalo Jazz Report (now Jazz & Blues Report) have been digitized and can be downloaded from the University of Buffalo Library system. The website for these archived issues is: http://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/BuffJazz. Note that Southern Record sales from which I obtained some releases no longer exists. The albums I reviewed (with the exception of the Gabriel Brown and the Albert King) are available as CDs (although they may be on different labels) with the exception of the Gabriel Brown. The Otis Rush Japanese live album is available on Delmark as So Many Roads.

Lot of live blues in the Buffalo are in March. Muddy Waters will be joined by James Cotton and Johnny Winter at Shea's Buffalo on Saturday, March 12. Saturday, March 19 finds Bobby Bland and B.B. King at the Shea's Buffalo. Robert Jr. Lockwood, who was supposed to have been at UB Feb. 4 will be a featured act at the UB Folk Festival the weekend of April 15 and 16. Lockwood will most likely be playing Friday night April 15. More details next month.

Gabriel Brown is a country blues artist, who, during the forties and early fifties, was based in New York. An English reissue of his music Gabriel Brown and his Guitar (Policy Wheel PW 4592) reveals him to be a talented performer. Brown's singing reminds me of Kokomo Arnold, a one-time Buffalo resident (60 years ago) whose music influenced many blues artists including Robert Johnson. Brown's guitar work is interesting and the selection of material is varied. Highlights include "I'm Gonna Take It Easy with slashing bottleneck guitar, Cold Love and the mildly pornographic "It's Getting Soft. While external packaging is somewhat skimpy, a booklet with all known biographical information and lyric transcriptions is included. There is some surface noise but these are on the originals and the sound is overall pretty clear. There are 18 selections including two 1930s recordings by one Poor Bill on which Gabriel may have played 2nd guitar. A very worthwhile reissue which, like the Otis Rush live album, Southern Record Sales can supply.

Albert King's new Utopia album Albert Live (CYL2-2205) was recorded at Montreux. It is a double record with generous playing time (almost 90 minutes) as Albert tackles a wide variety of material from Watermelon Man to Stormy Monday, with the typical intensity and featuring his pinched note guitar playing. On one long number, Jam in A Flat he is joined by rocker Rory Gallagher (who is on other tracks). and bluesmen Louisiana Red and Lowell Fulson. The packaging is nice, though Robert Palmer's notes are media-hype.

Hard Again- Muddy Waters -(Blue Sky PZ 34449) is Muddy Waters first album since leaving Chess. Musically this is a pleasant set with support from Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Joe Willie 'Pinetop' Perkins. The presence of Winter and Cotton should help sell this though others could have replaced them without hurting the music. 'Pinetop' proves to be a worthy successor to the late Otis Spann and does play some brilliant blues piano. Tunes include reworkings of Muddy's Mannish Boy and I Can't Be Satisfied, Willie Dixon's I Wanna Be Loved and several new tunes that are in the same mould. Muddy seems to sing strongly but the recording mix I find grating. Johnny Winter should be thanked for helping Muddy get more recognition, and also some financial rewards, which is a nice way to show his appreciation for Muddy. Muddy has made many of the classic recordings in the Chicago band blues idiom and in comparison to them this album suffers. With such recent blues albums as those by Otis Rush and Son Seals out I can't give this anything but a qualified recommendation.

Otis Rush's very first record, I Can't Quit You Baby was a top ten record on the r'n'b charts in the mid-fifties. Otis, despite being one of the finest and most individualistic performers in the post- B.B. King guitar dominated blues, has never been able to achieve, much less maintain, a position of popularity and recognition as one of the blues' premiere performers. As both a singer and guitarist Rush bows to no one and has been compared favorably to the legendary country bluesman Robert Johnson. Rush on record has been hard to find until recently. Last year Delmark released Cold Day in Hell a fine album that was Otis' first American recording issued in 7 years. Bullfrog Records has just issued Right Place, Wrong Time (301) which Otis recorded for Capitol Records in 1971, but which Capitol chose not to release.

I refer you to the liner notes for speculation why this excellent set wasn't issued as this is probably the finest set of Otis Rush out and one if issued a few years back might have established Otis as a publicly recognized master of the blues. The album is tightly produced with horn arrangements recalling many of Albert King's fine Stax recordings of the time. Rush's guitar work also suggests King, though Otis is a more fluid guitarist and a stronger, more intense vocalist than King (which is high praise indeed.)

The material on this set is varied and the recording mix provides for Otis' guitar work to be properly framed. Material includes rave-ups like Tore Up and Natural Ball, cooking instrumentals Easy Go and I Wonder Why and the slow blues on which Otis lets his soul out. The title track and Take a Look Behind are bound to become blues classics and are masterpieces of the modern blues idiom as Otis' anguished singing is couple with blistering guitar. This album is a must for blues enthusiasts.

Also Trio Records of Japan has issued Blues Live (PA-3086) featuring Otis live in concert with just a rhythm section doing cooking renditions of I Can't Quit You Baby, All Your Love, and So Many Roads before an enthusiastic Japanese audience. This is available from Southern Record Sales, 42 North Lake Avenue, Pasadena, California 91101 though its price as an import may deter some buyers it is a most impressive workout. Delmark Records owns the American rights to this, though it may be some time before they issue it. They can supply the Bullfrog release which hopefully wiII be in local stores. Bullfrog Records is tied to Advent so stores carrying Advent should be able to get this. (If you write to Southern Record Sales, mention you read about them here). {{As noted this is available as So Many Roads}} on Delmark}}

Alligator is a small label that has excellent distribution locally and an impressive small catalog of modern blues. Son Seals' new set Midnight Son (AL 4708) is an excellent set of hard, intense blues sung with guts and played with Son's stinging Chicago guitar. Tight horn arrangements along with Son's cooking band has produced a varied set from the funky No, No Baby, the driving Don't Fool With My Baby to the slow Going Back Home, which should win Son new fans. This is even better than Son's first album, (Alligator AL 4703). Alligator also has excellent albums by Hound Dog Taylor, Big Walter Horton, Fenton Robinson and Koko Taylor out and they show concern for preparation and programming which sometimes small and major labels don't provide.

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