Thursday, May 18, 2017

Talking Music 2: Blues and Roots Music Mavericks

Talking Music 2: Blues and Roots Music Mavericks
Holger Petersen
Insomniac Press: London, Ontario
2016:428 pp

Canadian Holger Peterson may be best known as a record producer and head of the blues and roots label, Stony Plain Records. He also is a veteran radio broadcaster and founded the Edmonton Folk Festival among other activities. A few years ago, a collection of interviews he conducted with an assortment of musicians, Talking Music was issued by Insomniac Press. I purchased it, read it and enjoyed it madly. He now has a follow-up volume which I was pleased to receive a review copy from Stony Plain. This second volume has more interviews with am equally diverse set of individuals including recently deceased legends B.B. King, Allen Toussaint and Bobby Charles; such important blues and Louisiana music figures as Zachary Richard, Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite and Rory Block; to rock and rollers Sam the Sham, Ronnie Hawkins, and Wanda Jackson; guitar wizards, Amos Garrett & David Wilcox and James Burton & Alvin Lee; songwriters and singers Chip Taylor, Townes van Zandt; Tony Joe White and Dan Penn & Spooner Oldman; the great singer Solomon Burke and the blue-eyed soul singers, Bill Medley and David Clayton-Thomas; the unique Dan Hicks, the blues-rooted star Steve Miller, the recording genius Van Dyke Parks; the muse of jazz and blues, Mose Allison; guitar wizard Ronnie Earl and two ladies of the British Music Scene, Maddy Prior and Maggie Bell.

Peterson is a thoughtful interviewer and conversationalist and that comes through all of these chapters. With B.B. King, they explored a number of sounds that touched him, and some of his most memorable recordings, but he was insistent that Holger listen to The Mighty Sparrow's "Honesty." There was plenty of items for Allen Toussaint to speak of, including writing, arranging and producing records, as well as his collaborations with The Band and King Biscuit Boy, with some discussion of him performing post-Katrina and his association with Elvis Costello.

There is plenty of stuff I learned about artists I thought was familiar with such as Billy Boy Arnold discussing the origin for Ellis McDaniel adopting Bo Diddley along with recollections of the Chicago scene including Sonny Noy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy and Sunnyland Slim while Charlie Musselwhite's memories of growing up in Memphis included not simply meeting will Shade, but also Johnny and Dorsey Burnette who lived across the street from him then. His Chicago recollections are fascinating as he recalls how his first recordings came about, his impressions of various folk like Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and James Cotton, as well as catching music with Michael Bloomfield.

One reads about Rory Block's encounters with various early acoustic blues legends, Sam the Sham discussing touring and his hit records, Ronnie Hawkins fascinating career including being produced by the legendary Henry Glover, James Burton recalling the riff that made the Dale Hawkins' recording "Susie Q," working with Ricky Nelson and Elvis, and more recently with Emmylou Harris and was replaced by Alvin Lee. David Clayton Thomas' recollections include playing with John Lee Hooker as well as his role in the second incarnation of Blood, Sweat & Tears. Particularly interesting is his recollection of Blood Sweat & Tears touring with Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly and Nina Simone and how Simone did not like him singing "God Bless the Child" and how Miles defused the tension from this.

There are other nuggets of course to be found here such Ronnie Earl frankly discussing the challenges he faces from mental illness, Chip Taylor's recollections of the Brill Building and hearing recordings by The Troggs and Jimi Hendrix of "Wild Thing" or Merrilee Rush of "Angel in the Morning," Steve Miller recalling Les Paul spending time with his father as did T-Bone Walker, as a 14 year old being in a band backing Jimmy Reed, and years later playing on John Lee Hooker's "Endless Boogie" session which he characterized as "the record business at its ugliest on that session. It was a terrible thing. 'Endless Boogie' wasn't really a great record." Then there is Solomon Burke recalling the joy of recording with Willie Mitchell, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham discussing the Box Top's hit "Cry Like a Baby," and Bill Medley talking about his love for Roy Hamilton.

The book comes off as a series of conversations between friends. At the same time we get a sense of the personalities of the subjects and learn more than a few things about the music we love. I read this book like I would read a thriller. It was that good a read and hard to put down until I had finished it. My comments on this volume also apply to the first one. If you like reading about blues, folk and roots musicians, you will greatly enjoy Holger Petersen's excellent "Talking Music" volumes.

As mentioned in the review, I received a review copy of Talking Music 2 from Stony Plain Records. This should be readily available from better online sources.

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