Thursday, August 23, 2007

Congrats to 15 years of The Rhythm Room

Phoenix’s The Rhythm Room as developed a reputation as a blues room in part due to the efforts of Bob Corritore. Blue Witch Records has issued a lively celebration of its 15 years, House Rockin’ and Blues Shoutin’!, with 14 strong live performances for the Rhythm Room’s stage. This is scheduled to be released in September, 2007. Its a nice range of performances that give an indication of the breadth and eclecticism of real deal blues that play there including performances by the Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Manish Boys, Long John Hunter, Floyd Dixon, Big Pete Pearson, Henry Gray, Sonny Rhodes, Paul Oscher, Chief Shabuttie Gilliame w Johnny Dyer and Henry Gray, Robert Lockwood, Jr, Louisiana Red and Billy Boy Arnold. There are any number of highlights here and no poor tracks. The three Thunderbirds tracks are each with different personnel supporting Kim Wilson including Troy Gonyea’s guitar backing him on Jimmy Rogers’ Goin’ Away Baby, and the Little Walter styled harp romp, Horsin’ Around, while Kid Ramos, Kirk Fletcher and horns provide support for the New Orleans groove of Rich Woman. Finis Tasby gravelly vocals graces The Manish Boys fine Lonesome Bedroom, while Long John Hunter is heard solo on Long John’s Country Blues. Piano blues will enjoy Floyd Dixon’s jumping Please Don’t Go while Henry Gray’s Henry’s Houserocker is a solid shuffle with Kid Ramos’ guitar helping propel the boogie woogie feature. Sonny Rhodes playing lap steel guitar interprets one of the lesser known Elmore James numbers, My Bleeding Heart, while Paul Oscher is marvelous on guitar, harp and vocals on That’s It. The delightful performances come to a close with Billy Boy Arnold’s take on an old Sonny Boy Williamson recording (which actually dates back to pianist Charlie Spand) which is retitled and credited to Arnold, Two Drinks of Wine. It is the same song junior Wells did as Early in the Morning. One can’t think of a better salute to this blues room than the compilation of fine recordings here and Blue Witch is to be thanked for this collection. May the Rhythm Room celebrate another 15 years.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kermit Ruffins Lively Night at Vaughan's

From the days when he was probably the most visible member of Rebirth Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins has been playing his trumpet and singing with the idea that jazz can entertain as well as be art. Having reestablished, after Katrina, his long-standing gig at Vaughan’s in New Orleans, his newest recording was recorded in performance there, Live at Vaughan’s (Basin Street). What can one say except this an exuberant collection of performances that should bring a smile to most as he and his quartet handle standards like World on a String and Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?, along with second line gems like Palm Court Strut and Kermit’s Tremé Second Line, and his jazzifying R&B classics like Sly Stone’s If You Want Me to Stay. Ruffins’ band of Richard Knox on keyboards (he has an excellent organ solo on World on a String); Derrick Freeman on drums and vocals and Kevin Morris on electric bass is augmented on several tracks by Roderick Paulin on saxophone and Corey Henry on trombone (both heard on Kermit’s Drop Me Off in New Orleans), Neshia Ruffins (Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans), and others. The most obvious influence on Ruffins is Louis Armstrong which is reflected throughout his playing and vocals. While there is a traditional jazz base to the performances, they are enlivened by a dose of second-line R&B flavoring making for lively, swinging and danceable performances like the Palm Court Strut or Ruffins’ Hide the Reefer (‘because he comes the creeper’), that frankly will bring a smile to the listener, but after listening it will hit you that Kermit Ruffins can really play, like his very fiery solo on the Sly Stone classic.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Max Roach 1924-2007

The headline in the New York Times website the afternoon of August 16 said it all. As Peter Keepnews' wrote," Max Roach, a founder of modern jazz who rewrote the rules of drumming in the 1940’s and spent the rest of his career breaking musical barriers and defying listeners’ expectations, died early today in Manhattan. He was 83."
Anyone playing drums stands in his musical shadow. An innovator who never stood musically still. As I write this Columbia University's WKCR is doing a Max Roach marathon in his memory thorugh next Wednesday August 22 where you can experience a musical legacy that few in American musical history can equal. You can listen on the internet by visiting WKCR's website is The link for Peter Keepnews obituary is Max Roach.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fathead Newman's Straightahead "Cityscape"

David ‘Fathead’ Newman has certainly come a long way from his initial appearance on wax, a session by Texas Blues Man, Zuzu Bollin (and Newman played on Bullin’s rediscovery album decades later). Best known for his fat sound while a member of Ray Charles legendary band in the late fifties and early sixties, Newman has had a distinguished career since leaving Charles and continues to perform and record showing little diminution in his music. A relatively recent HighNote release, Cityscape, has him on tenor, alto and flute,leading a septet which includes his rhythm section of David Leonhardt on piano, John Menegon on bass and Yoron Isreal on drums. They are joined by Howard Johnson on baritone, Benny Powell on trombone and Winston Byrd on trumpet and flugelhorn. The notes observe that the septet format recalls the classic Ray Charles band of the fifties that Newman was part of, although a comparison that perhaps raises false expectations as this band is more of a straight Hard Bop aggregation that does not have the tight sound of Charles’ legendary band. There is a nice mix of material including originals as well as standards such as the opening rendition of the theme from the James Bond movie, Goldfinger, Billy Strayhorn’s lovely A Flower is a Lonesome Thing and It Was a Very Good Year, that most associate with Frank Sinatra. Goldfinger is an attractive but hardly startling feature for Newman who sounds stronger on flute with a bit of Mid-Eastern flavor for the lively Pharoah’s Gold, with Howard Johnson providing an arrangement of the 5/4 Claude Johnson theme, while Newman’s tenor caresses the Strayhorn classic with the muted horn riffs of the others adding atmosphere. Bassist Menegon contributed the walking blues, Bu Bop Bass, with Johnson opening with some strong choruses before Fathead takes over on tenor with some insinuating playing. Howard Johnson’s original, Here Comes Sonny Man, has Newman on alto on a number that sounds like it could have been written as a theme for a seventies TV show. Newman returns to tenor on a romantic It Was a Very Good Year, which suggests that in his golden years, Newman still remains an authoritative player. Another flute feature is Newman’s original, Flankin’, dedicated to his wife’s late mom where he is backed just by his rhythm trio. While the septet here perhaps lacks the tightness and authority that Ray Charles Band had, this is a strong set of straight-ahead straight-ahead jazz that should please many.

The Mannish Boys Strong Retro-Blues

Delta Groove has issued a new release from The Mannish Boys, Big Plans. A smorgasbord of blues players and styles, the main featured players are vocalists Finis Tasby and Johnny Dyer with support from the likes of guitarists Frank Goldwasser (Paris Slim), and Kirk Fletcher, pianist Leon Blue, bassist Tom Leavey and drummer Richard Innes with guest appearances from Jody Williams, Rick Holmstrom, Mitch Kashmar, Rob Rio and Larry Taylor. There is a mix of covers and originals that are well played and performed. Certainly its a delight to hear the West Coast blues singing of Tasby whose world-weary sound adds to the appeal of his reworking Long John Hunter’s Border Town Blues, while I Get Worried, is a moody late night T-Bone Walker blues with Kid Ramos laying in crisp T-Bone guitar runs, and Roy Hawkins’ Why Do Things Happen to Me? is a charged rendition of the great West Coast singer who had the original The Thrill is Gone. Chicago singer Bobby Jones handles an original shuffle by bassist Leavey, Mary Jane, with producer Randy Chortkoff adding some Jimmy Reed-ish, high register harp, along with a moody reworking of Howlin’ Wolf’s Memphis recording, California Blues, into a slow-drag blues with Fletcher taking lead on guitar and Kashmar adding some choice harp. Johnny Dyer covers Muddy Waters’ recording, Just to Be With You, and its well played if adding little to the original, while Leon Blue does Homesick James’ Got to Move, with Goldwasser adding solid slide in the Homesick James vein as Leon Blue tinkles the ivories and delivers a strong vocal, again modeled on James’ original, and Jody Williams recreates his Groan My Blues Away, with an amiable if unspectacular vocal, but his vocal on Chortkoff’s Young & Tender, is more compelling against the atmospheric backing he receives. In contrast, Chortkoff’s rendition of his Mine All Mine has too busy an accompaniment and a weak vocal (certainly in comparison to the other performers here). Even if much of this hardly original, it is delight to hear this done so well at a time with bluesy rock is seen by some as an innovation. While hardly essential, few blues lovers will have any complaints to acquiring this disc.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Marie Knight's loving tribute to Rev. Gary Davis

Fans of Sister Rosetta Tharpe may be familiar with the name Marie Knight whose alto could be heard with Tharpe’s soprano and guitar on such records as Up Above My Head, I Hear Music, and Didn’t It Rain. Knight, who had her own gospel hit with Gospel Train, was located and participated in MC Records highly praised tribute to Tharpe, Shout, Sister, Shout, and is now featured on a stunning new MC records release, Let Us Get Together: A Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis. Produced by Larry Campbell, who played lead guitar and other instruments in Bob Dylan’s Band from 1997-2004 but has played with numerous acts such as Paul Simon and Willie Nelson. Campbell in the early 1970’s became obsessed with Rev. Gary Davis’ music and as he shows on this release, is a marvelous guitarist in the Piedmont finger style approach. His guitar is the foundation for Knight who still remains a vigorous vocalist that invests her renditions of Lord I Feel Like Goin' On, I Belong To The Band, Samson & Delilah, I Am The Light Of This World, 12 Gates, and Death Don't Have No Mercy, with such fervor. Perhaps her range is diminished a tad with age but her phrasing and delivery belies her age. Five selections are solo including Lord I Feel Like Goin’ On and Samson and Delilah, while several, including I Am the Light of the World, have a backing band that may get occasionally messy but do not detract from the exuberance and celebration. Catherine Russell contributes an effective backing vocal here while Kim Wilson adds harmonica in addition to the rhythm to Twelve Gates to The City, and Death Don’t Have No Mercy. The latter track is the recording’s longest and Knight is compelling on this spellbinding performance that is perhaps the highlight of a truly excellent disc. In addition, there is a short Quicktime video which gives Marie Knight a chance to tell us about herself and she is as vivacious as in her performances. Gary Davis’ memory is served well by this disc that is also a reminder that the magnificent Ms. Knight is alive and very well. One of the best discs in any genre this writer has heard this year.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Eugene "Hideaway" Bridges

Armadillo Music (England) has issued a new, eponymously titled disc by Texas native, Eugene ‘Hideaway Bridges. Unlike Bridges' earlier albums which had him backed by tight, swinging backing combos, this finds Bridges in a more informal setting of his own guitar with some guests on various tracks. These tracks were recorded at different locations across several different continents. The spare setting perhaps enhances how Bridges evokes Sam Cooke and such songs as Piece of the Mountain. Never Alone, with its gospel flavor makes that Cooke comparison more evident. The Soul Stirrers are evoked with the vocal backing provided on this number. Pedal steel player Lucky Oceans enhances the blues-ballad lament Life has No Meaning, the country-tinged Baby Your Love, and the Latin-flavored In Your Arms Tonight. Special Friend, a tale of infidelity, features nice guitar from Ian Moss with what I would be presumed an overdubbed vocal backing. Look at Me Now is a wonderful ballad with spare backing and a light percussionist effectively framing Bridges’ singing, whereas he plays acoustic guitar and adds foot stomp to Ain’t Got Time, as he sings about having a bad attitude but no time to mess with a lady if her heart ain’t true. With Clayton Doley on the Hammond, Bridges handles a T-Bone Walker-B.B. King vein on Love’s Got the Best of Me. Ray Wylie Hubbard adds slide guitar to I Can’t Wait, a nice song with a Jimmy Reed-flavored groove, while Doley again adds Hammond to the closing Man and His Guitar, once again suggests Walker and King with Bridges singing so soulfully about not having or needing much, just being a man with a guitar. Even with the spare accompaniments heard herein, Bridges establishes how soulful a singer he is with the convincing delivery of these twelve songs. While I would suggest one check out his band albums like the superb Jump the Joint or Man Without a Home, Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges is a change of pace to delight fans of this extraordinary blues talent.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Franklin & Baytop "Searching For Frank"

while Rick Franklin and Mike Baytop are two of the most accomplished acoustic blues artists in the Washington DC area. Franklin has been a staple of the area’s acoustic scene for over two decades including a lengthy partnership with Neil Harpe. Baytop was mentored by the late Archie Edwards and became President of the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation that still operates out of Archie’s Barbershop, holding the weekly jam sessions that Archie had hosted along with workshops and concerts. He has recorded with DC native Mike Roach on harmonica and recently with projects associated with the Foundation. He has also grown as a guitarist and also plays bones, guitar and mandolin. Franklin & Baytop have partnered for a new disc, Searching For Frank for Patuxent Records, which takes its name from legendary Memphis Bluesman Frank Stokes whose twenties and thirties recordings for Victor and other labels in the company of Dan Sane and others were amongst the finest recordings of the pre-World War 11 era with the intricate interplay between the two and Stokes strongly delivered vocals. The album contains fourteen performances, several directly taken from recordings of Stokes and his associates but transformed so its no simple cover. Their intent was to evoke those classic duo recordings, but not to simply replicate the originals. Furthermore, several tracks have Baytop on harp and/or bones, so while all tracks are duos, not all are guitar duos. They make the music their own as Nobody’s Business transforms the Memphis references of Stokes’ Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do to Washington DC, as well as updates Stokes’ You Shall as You Shall Be Free, a tune that likely came out of the minstrel tradition. Other material includes Blind Blake’s Champagne Charlie, Pink Anderson’s I Got Mine, an adaptation of Furry Lewis’ Judge Harsh Blues (Jail House Blues) and the Mississippi Sheiks’ Stop and Listen Blues. The two play wonderfully and its delightful to hear Memphis in the twenties evoked. While neither are great singers, they both deliver their vocals in unforced, husky, good-natured styles. One can hear in these performances how much they enjoy playing this material and they do not sound like they are too studied or reverent with respect to the material which increases the pleasure of this disc. Also, they avoid over-recorded early blues recordings so thankfully we are spared second rate Robert Johnson covers This release is available from the Patuxent Records website at or email Rick Franklin at for information on how to purchase this.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Happy Birthday Louis Armstrong

WKCR-FM, from Columbia University, is celebrating the music of Louis Armstrong until 6:00 AM on August 5. The link is You can access the internet broadcast on that page.

Without Louis Armstrong, the music of the the United States, even the whole world, would not be the same. Happy Birthday to the great Satchmo.Link

Friday, August 03, 2007

Essential Albert King

Albert King was one of the most important and influential blues artists from the sixties until his death, and had a number of great recordings including two highly influential albums. One was the Stax release,
Born Under a Bad Sign that Fantasy reissued in 2002. This record is still currently available. Here is a review that appeared in the October-November 2002 issue of Jazz & Blues Report.

Fantasy Records which acquired Stax Records sometime ago has reissued the classic Albert King album, Born Under a Bad Sign. This 1967 album was the first album by King for the Memphis label and matched King with a studio band centered around Booker T & the MGs. This was a highly influential recording which, along with Kings mid-seventies album I’ll Play the Blues For You, included a number of songs that became part of the core blues repertoire and shaped how so many artists played the music. Songs include the title track with its great line, “If it wasn’t for bad luck I would not have any luck at all,” the remake of the delta blues Crosscut Saw, with a hot rhythm section and blasting horns, the jaunty The Hunter, with stinging guitar and the bravado line about pretty women being King’s game, the classic blue ballad As the Years Go Passing By, and Personal Manager, where he tells his lady how he would love to manage her affairs. King delivers the vocals and plays some classic guitar mixing long sustained notes with short staccato runs. His sense of phrasing and use of silence is something setting him apart from his many imitators and those influenced by him. The liner notes focus a bit too much on King’s influence on Stevie Ray Vaughan, but the fact is that even as spectacular a guitarist as Otis Rush, who had already made some classic recordings a decade earlier, incorporated elements of King’s style into his own approach. This is an essential disc although much of it might have been previously issued on CD on Atlantic as King of Blues Guitar.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Jimmy 'T-99' Nelson's Rockin' and Shoutin' the Blues

In light of Jimmy 'T-99' Nelson's passing, it is appropriate to remember him in this review from 1999 that appeared in the January-February issue of Jazz & Blues Report.

Big throated shouter Jimmy T-99 Nelson is among the last surviving of the blues shouters that were prevalent during the swing era and up through the emergence of rock and roll. Philadelphia born Nelson found his musical calling in 1941 when he was in San Francisco and saw Harlan Leonard’s Rockets (the liner notes misspell this as Rockers) with whom Big Joe Turner was singing. Turner became his idol and musical idol, and Nelson followed in Turner’s footsteps, performing with him and even writing some songs for him. He also recorded over the years for several labels, the most notable being Modern Records with who he recorded T-99, a reworking of the classic Honeydripper Blues backed by the Peter Rabbit Trio, who repeated the title in the background. It reached #6 in the R&B charts and the next year Nelson scored with a slow blues, Meet Me With Your Black Dress On , which is a totally different song from the Cheatham’s Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On.

Bullseye Blues and Jazz just released a terrific new album by Nelson, Rockin’ and Shoutin’ the Blues. The album brings together some originals along with fine renditions of blues covers. A top-flight band includes Matt McCabe on piano, Clarence Holliman on guitar and the horns of Doug James, Rich Lataille and Carl Querfurth from Roomful of Blues. It is a swinging band with some crisp horn charts. Nelson opens with a medium-tempoed rocker, letting everybody know they are in the House of the Blues. There is a standout rendition of Leroy Carr’s How Long, How Long Blues along with an affecting rendition of the ballad Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying. He rocks the house with his own New Shack Lover while able to croon affably on When You’re Smiling before closing the album with a rocking rendition of one of the numbers from Doc Pomus that Turner made famous, Boogie Woogie Country Girl, as well as a nice version of Sweet Mr. Cleanhead, a song associated with Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson. While I am surprised some of his own early Modern recordings were not redone, everything here is wonderfully sung and played. With far lesser talents being heralded as the latest thing, its good to have a release by this veteran who still shows how it is done right.

Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane & Carnegie Hall

Just a heads-up about the latest video podcast by Bret Primark that can be found at Sonny Rollins website, Like Sonny can be downloaded to play on your video ipod or similar device. Sonny talks about his relationship with John Coltrane along with observations from fellow saxophonists Paul Jeffrey and Percy Heath. Mixing audio clips, video clips and photographic images, their mutual admiration of each other is recounted and their times together remembered. Unfortunately the two only recorded one number, Tenor Madness, together.

Coltrane's Carnegie Hall Concert with Thelonious Monk was well-received. That concert also marked Sonny Rollins first appearance at that legendary venue which he will celebrate September 18 with drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Christian McBride playing the same songs Sonny performed back then in 1957. There will also be a set by his regular band and the material will be issued on CD along with Sonny's performance from 1957. Pretty neat way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the great concert event.

Sonny's website has information on this show and how to order tickets, purchase merchandise as well as a link to the video podcast. Its well worth a visit.