Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Underrated Jimmy Johnson album

Jimmy Johnson, since turning from soul into the blues, developed into one of the blues most distinctive singers and guitarists. Born Jimmy Thompson, he adopted the name Johnson like his more famous brother Syl, while brother Mac was a well respected bass-player (best known for his work with Magic Sam. Initially showing up as a second guitarist behind Jimmy Dawkins and Otis Rush, his recordings as part of the fist batch of Alligator's Living Chicago Blues brought his music front and center to the attention of blues lovers. While he recorded for the MCM label as part of series of recordings made in Chicago clubs (although during day so the ambiance was more like a studio recording than a live date), his recordings for Delmark certainly shown what a distinctive singer and tunesmith (able to turn a clever phrase) he was. Add to this his distinctive (almost ethereal) high tenor and his rapier-like guitar work, Johnson brings his own voice to his originals as well as his interpretations of classic blues.

One recording by him is Livin' the Blues on the French Black & Blue label which is available for download from emusic and Amazon lists the CD. Not sure who the personnel is on this, but they are a pretty solid group. Much of the material are covers but Johnson makes such overdone songs as Jimmy Reed's You Don't Have To Go, his own as one hears a tinge of the classic Bill Doggett instrumental, Honky Tonk. Similarly he adds a West Side Chicago flavor to Elmore James' The Sky Is Crying, laying out a really strong solo that matches his heartfelt vocal. Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me, opens with some sparkling guitar before he launches into the vocal on an arrangement that stays true to the original. The rocking shuffle, Pretty Baby, is a retitled Ride With me Tonight. Not as original a rendition, but still this is solidly handled with some rollicking piano. Johnson adds a funky groove and a slightly quicker tempo to Born Under a Bad Sign. Since I downloaded this I do not know who played on this session, I cannot say who the vocalist is on the two closing selections, Quicksand and When There's A Will, There's A Way, but it may be John Watkins based on the listing of Johnson albums at

At its worst, Johnson provides us with solid covers, but at its best, he does make some overly recorded songs sound fresh and his vocals and guitar are typically first-rate. There are one-dimensional acts out there who are far better known than Jimmy Johnson, and to quote Fats Domino, "Ain't That a Shame."

Here (from youtube) is Jimmy backed by Dave Specter doing, You Don't Know What Love Is. Jimmy performs several songs with Dave on Dave's excellent Delmark album, Live in Chicago, available on CD and also on DVD.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wanted - Authoritative Book on Delta Blues - Ted Gioia's Book Ain't It

Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music
Ted Gioia
W.W. Norton

It's been some four decades since this writer developed his love and enthusiasm for the blues, particularly those blues artists rooted in the Mississippi Delta and surrounding area. As a freshman in college, I bought and read Samuel Charters The Bluesmen, as well as various books by Paul Oliver. I also purchased reissues of rare country blues on Yazoo, Origin Jazz and Blues Classics, as well as albums by Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson on Chess; B.B. King and John Lee Hooker on Bluesway; Elmore James on United and a variety of other acts. Charters' book brought alive the music and personalities of the artists he focused on, which included not simply the great artists from the Delta, but also such pioneering Texas blues artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander. Written at the time that Son House, Skip James and Bukka White had been rediscovered and were performing, and with the contemporaneous interviews that he drew upon, he made these artists and their recordings larger than life.

The Bluesmen was a major factor that led me into my four decades old obsession with blues artists and their music. I start reading DownBeat for the incisive articles and reviews by Pete Welding and John Litweiler, the pioneering British publications Blues Unlimited and Blues World, (to which I made modest contributions), and then Living Blues when it began publishing. New information on the blues legends came out along with numerous reissues of rare recordings. Robert Palmer published his pioneering Deep Blues, while Living Blues and Blues Unlimited (and after Blues Unlimited folded, Juke Blues and Blues & Rhythm) published lengthy interviews with the likes of Johnny Shines, Robert Lockwood, Eddie Taylor, Snooky Pryor and others. In light of the surprise success of the Robert Johnson reissue box around 1990, much was written on Johnson and his music and influences, with Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues being important in both debunking myths about Johnson's life, as well as highlighting Johnson's place in the history of the blues. And, in addition to several books about Johnson, we have been fortunate to have had biographies about some of the major figures in blues from the Delta including Skip James, Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Elmore James, Little Walter, Memphis Minnie, and Jimmy Reed. And if Mack McCormick never finished his planned Robert Johnson biography (or his equally important book on Texas Blues and Music), his work has been drawn on others including Peter Guralnick.

Ted Gioia's new book Delta Blues was a surprise when I heard of it. I was familiar with his History of Jazz and his book on West Coast Jazz, but a new book on the deep blues that came out of Mississippi was intriguing. This music, that moves so many of us, was rooted in a community living under the most oppressive conditions. In summarizing what we know about the music's early days and the lives of some of the pioneering artists, Gioia provides a useful service. Gioia integrates the writings of Stephen Calt and Gayle Dean Wardlow in putting together portraits of Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson and Skip James, and adds some brief sketches of Big Joe Williams and Tommy McClennan as well as highlight the importance of H.C. Speir, who was the talent scout that led to most of the great Delta artists recording. But his focus, even on the early Delta blues, is on the guitarist-vocalists, and outside of brief mentions of Louise Johnson (who recorded at one of Charlie Patton's sessions) and Skip James, there is essentially no discussion of the blues piano tradition of the Delta region or its proponents.

Gioia perhaps places too much relevance in the fact that some early blues recordings were reworked by such rock acts as Cream, Rolling Stones, Canned Heat and Led Zeppelin. In discussing James' I'm So Glad, Gioia goes beyond simply noting Cream would rework the song, and incredulously includes Cream's jam-rock live recording as one of the 100 Essential Blues Recordings. Discussing Johnson, he traces his life and discusses his recordings while integrating the recollections of Johnny Shines, Robert Lockwood, Honeyboy Edwards and others who knew the pioneering blues artist. In addition to the music and biography, he also attempts to counterbalance the writings of Elijah Wald and Barry Lee Pearson who had debunked the Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil myth with a suggestion that Johnson may have presented himself as having done so to the public.

Gioia takes us forward with discussion of the Delta recordings for the Library of Congress that Alan Lomax made, focusing on the sessions with Son House and Honeyboy Edwards as well as Muddy Waters. The discussion of Muddy Waters leads off a detailed discussion of his music and career, along with similarly detailed examinations of John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King. There is a brief overview of Mississippi blues in Chicago and a chapter on the blues revival, detailing the rediscovery and postwar careers of some early blues pioneers. However, seminal Mississippi blues artists like Elmore James and Jimmy Reed are dealt with not as thoroughly, and such equally important Delta artists as Albert King and Sonny Boy Williamson are not dealt with in any substantial fashion.

There are also curious statements made, including one that Jimmy Reed failed to achieve fame or critical recognition in the blues world. The statement simply is foreign to my understanding as a blues fan. Also, in the limited discussion of Elmore James he doesn't discuss James' travels with Robert Johnson or Steve Franz's assertion that Dust My Broom was as much James' song as Johnson's. Enamored by Honeyboy Edwards, Gioia repeats Edwards' claim, without challenge, that Chess held his material back because they would not compete with Muddy Waters. Honeyboy's rendition of Drop Down Mama was first issued on a Chess album of that name nearly four decades ago along with rare and previously unissued recordings by Robert Nighthawk, Johnny Shines, Blue Smitty, Floyd Jones and Big Boy Spires. Listening to that one song in the context of the others on that album, it is likely that Honeyboy's Chess recordings lay unissued because they weren't very good.

You will not find the names of such post-war representatives of the Delta blues as Floyd Jones, Arthur Big Boy' Spires, or Blue Smitty, or their recordings discussed in this book, despite them being equal to some of the recordings that Gioia considers essential. Nor will you find any detailed discussion of the commercial post-war delta recordings of Drifting Slim, Junior Brooks, Boyd Gilmore, Joe Hill Louis, Dr. Ross, J.B. Lenoir, John Littlejohn, Charlie Booker, Walter Horton or Willie Nix. While Sam Phillips and Sun records is acknowledged, the important role of Joe Bihari's field trips in the South, usually with Ike Turner, and the legacy of the recordings he made of Delta artists is ignored. One will not find Pinetop Perkins, whose piano played such a big role in the Delta blues scene of the forties and fifties, in the book's index.

And it is not that the missing artists are biographical phantoms. The late Mike Leadbitter conducted pioneering research on the post-war blues in the Delta Region that has been followed up by many, including most notably, Jim O'Neal. There have been articles published and essays in the booklets accompanying recent reissues of these Delta Blues recordings. Several of the English Ace Records reissues of the Modern Downhome Blues Sessions contain Jim O'Neal's scholarly discussion of the sessions and artists. The volumes devoted the Delta region have been available for a couple of years. In fairness, I have no idea whether Gioia approached O'Neal and others (such as Bill O'Donohue who is writing a biography of Rice 'Sonny Boy Williamson' Miller) about their research. It is possible that work is still ongoing on the post-war Delta blues volume and that some material was not open to be shared, awaiting its separate publication. But the fact is that some of the results of this research have been published. Nothing in the text, or the list of recommended reading provided by Gioia indicates he made use of available material. There is also no reference or the use of the autobiography by the late Delta blues harmonica player, Sam Myers.

His discussion of the blues revival provides an overview of the rediscovery of some of the prewar artists who found a new audience for their music as well as discusses some of the more recent artists uncovered such as R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough and the Fat Possum label, but there is no mention of the late Jesse Mae Hemphill, nor of Roosevelt Booba' Barnes, the remarkable singer-guitarist who ran his own Mississippi juke joint, or Joe Willie Wilkins, another associate of Robert Johnson and later guitarist on King Biscuit Time, who Steve Lavere recorded and produced an extremely rare, but excellent album by.

Gioia provides a list for further reading, which also has significant omissions relating to books germane to his text. He does not include several of Paul Oliver's writings (a couple of Oliver's books are included, but not The Story of the Blues, and Oliver's writings specifically directed at the questions of the blues origins are not listed). Another significant omission is Mike Rowe's Chicago Breakdown. Gioia also provides a dubious list of 100 essential blues recordings (Gioia selects songs, not albums, because albums might go in and out of print). The uselessness of this list is seen by the inclusion of a Cream recording but nothing by Eddie Taylor, Floyd Jones, Boyd Gilmore, Junior Brooks, Willie Huff, Little Johnnie Jones, Sunnyland Slim, Robert Lockwood or Jesse Mae Hemphill to name a few. If one is going to include Bessie Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson for context, where are representative recordings by Leroy Carr and Lonnie Johnson? I would also question some specific choices such as Tommy McClennan's Bottle Up and Go, whose controversial lyrics was atypical of McClennan's recordings. I would suggest checking out Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, and track down the various recordings Wald discusses.

One might be more forgiving of Gioia if there was substantial new material presented here, but there is little, if any, here. There is discussion that many will find insightful of the music, and Gioia's consideration of the musical legacy of John Lee Hooker is the most credible discussion of John Lee Hooker's recordings readily available; and there is also cogent discussion with respect to early 78-RPM recordings by Mississippi artists. In fact, he shares, with long-standing enthusiasts of the music, the recognition that some of the recordings that reach us so deeply today had little, if any, commercial success. At the same time, one still must place the performers accurately in the history of this music, not simply relying on the fact it influenced modern popular artists. Gioia simply does not cover the full spectrum of Delta Blues or the idiom's performers.

In addition to photographs of some of the principal figures here (many from Dick Waterman's collection), the book does benefit from Neil Harpe's artwork. Neil, based in Annapolis, Maryland, is an accomplished artist as well as a pretty darn good blues guitarist and vocalist, and even if I am not very enthusiastic about this book, I am about the artwork. That does not change the fact that this book is simply not the authoritative work on the Delta Blues that it is proclaimed to be on the back cover. That work requires substantially deeper digging into the entire Delta Blues history.

By the way, the book has received a number of rave reviews including into the NY Times and JazzTimes as quoted on Gioia's website, I disagree with their opinion.

Also this book is being carried by the major book retailers in addition to online retailers. For those having an Amazon Kindle, you can purchase this for the Kindle.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A bit of Albert Collins for your viewing pleasure

I have been a bit lazy in writing recently but I came across these gems recently of the Iceman.

First up from 1980 with his great Alligator band that included A.C. Reed

Then Albert with Roy Buchanan and Lonnie Mack

Finally, singing the old Jimmy Liggins "I Ain't Drunk" with Debbie Davies on rhythm guitar

I miss Albert. He had style and sure could play the blues.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Interesting, but not essential, New Sleepy John Estes Release

On Highway 80 is the seventh album by Sleepy John Estes for Delmark which he shares with his longtime associate Hammie Nixon. This is a collection of previously unissued recordings that Estes and Nixon recorded in July 1974, prior to touring Japan. It is an interesting, although hardly essential addition to their discography with Estes and Nixon handling a variety of mostly traditional material and songs they had performed before. Estes was not the most accomplished guitarist but his simple rhythmic style could be effective and his crying vocals tugged at the heart while Nixon’s harmonica playing influenced John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson. It is interesting to hear the treatment of the material here from the opening Love Grows in Your Heart, a version of Careless Love. Nixon’s vocal on Potato Diggin’ Man, which might have benefited from a stronger accompaniment, while the vigorous I’ll be Glad When You’re Dead, has spirited kazoo and second vocal from Nixon. Several selections are traditional religious numbers including Holy Spirit, a moving number with Nixon taking the lead with Estes seconding the vocal, When the Saints Go Marching In, on which Estes takes the vocal lead, and Do Lord Remember Me with Nixon’ harp and lead vocal setting the tone. There are also two takes of President Kennedy, about the assassination of the President that Estes first recorded shortly after that horrible event. Nixon’s kazoo gives a jug band flavor to Corrine, Corinna, on which Nixon again seconds Estes’ vocal. The album includes a couple of tracks featuring the pair talking and closes with a rendition of his famous song commemorating their hometown, Brownsville Blues. Some of the accompaniments are a bit more ragged than other of their albums and this might be a difficult release to listen straight through. Estes is a very important artist, as a songwriter and as a vocalist. An excellent collection of his early recordings for Victor and other labels is I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More 1929-1941) on Yazoo. For the recordings made after his rediscovery, recommended titles include his other Delmark albums such as The Legend of Sleepy John Estes, or Brownsville Blues. These should be available from most any good source for blues.

One other matter. I was chatting with Washington area blues artist Memphis Gold, and he mentioned that his father grew up around Estes and others. Interesting how blues roots run deep in families.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A bit of magic on video

Some magic by the incredible Rashaan Roland Kirk in 1969 (From the Supershow 1969?). Incidentally there is a terrific DVD of Kirk in the latest batch of the Jazz Icons® DVDs and for those who but the entire thrid set, there is even more Kirk on the bonus disc. Great stuff. Here is a link for Kirk with Buddy Guy and Jack Bruce from Supershow 1969. The video can't be embedded in a thread.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

M.S.G.'s Mighty Fine Acoustic Blues and More

I preference my comments on the new CD by M.S.G. - The Acoustic Blues Trio, “Done Spoke My Mind,” by noting that the members are personal acquaintances of mine, who I have had the pleasure of seeing perform several times. Jackie Merritt and Resa Gibbs hail from the Tidewater area of Virginia while Miles Spicer hails from around Washington, D.C. I have known the multi-talented Miles Spicer from various D.C. Blues Society events including the jams where he would play the trap drums if needed. After the late Piedmont blues legend Archie Edwards passed, Miles was one of those who helped launch and establish the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation and it was through the jams and other activities at the Barber Shop in Northeast Washington that the trio, M.S.G. took shape. It was a number of years ago when during a program conduced by the Barber Shop regulars at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that this writer heard a spell-binding rendition of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” by Gibbs with Spicer’s accompaniment. Later I had the pleasure to hear the trio at the Barber Shop and delighted in the trio’s initial recording.

The present CD displays there maturation as performers, and songwriters. There are numerous pleasures to be experienced here including the marvelous vocals by all three and the very solid musicianship evident throughout. Despite being rooted in the blues, especially the Piedmont tradition, this album might be better termed as urban acoustic music insofar as there are healthy elements of the church, folk and other musical genres evident here. The church background is evident on the opening traditional “God Don’t Like It,” followed by Jackie and Resa’s “Mean Church People,” a jab at some close-minded church folk. “Resolution,” an original ballad by Miles and David Bird, has a lovely, soulful vocal by Resa with some marvelous harmonica from Jackie. Joel Bailes' “The Katrina Flood,” is a song in tradition of similar songs about other tragic events and even if the lyrics have some holes, the rousing chorus of “wasn’t that a mighty storm,” does come across powerfully. Jackie’s “Racetrack Blues” , sports some lively guitar from Miles with Resa enlivening the performance on rubboard, while “Penniless Rag,” is playful with Spicer evoking Blind Blake while Jackie is on the bones and Resa adds to the fun on rubboard and bicycle horn.

“It’s Always Something,” is a nice slow blues from Spicer and David Bird with a mesmerizing slide guitar riff, crying harp from Jackie and Resa singing compellingly. “Ain’t No Grave” is a field holler type performance by Resa with simple percussion backing, while “Come Back Baby,” credited as traditional is the Henry Townsend blues originally recorded by Walter Davis, again with a wonderful vocal from Resa. “Fast Food Mama,” is another entertaining, raggy blues from Jackie, with Resa on rubboard, followed by the brisk, skittle band blues “I Need More Trouble Like That,” with Miles taking the vocal, with Resa on kazoo. The ballad “Sometimes,” has some of an old-timey feel with Resa on strumstick as well as singing Jackie’s thoughtful lyrics. Back to the church for the closing two numbers, Resa’s a capella rendition of “Go Down Hannah,” followed by Reverend Gary Davis’ “I Heard the Angels Singing.” There is a lot of heart and feeling throughout these performances that is always entertaining and usually quite moving. In addition to the wonderful music, the CD packaging by Jackie Merritt is stunning. This is available on or check their website, for information on how to order.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A bit of blues video to savor

I have been a bit lazy and not posted in a few weeks. To remedy that I have a couple blues videos from you tube for you to enjoy. First is T-Bone Walker. I believe this is from the American Folk Blues Festival tours which have been made available on some fabulous DVD's put together by Reelin' In the Ear Productions.

Follow that from Robert Lockwood, Jr. doing a rendition of his stepfather's "Sweet Home Chicago." Lockwood's J.O.B. recording of "Aw Aw Baby" was one of the earlier post-war Chicago Blues versions of this song. I am not sure if this predates Roosevelt Sykes' "Sweet Old Chicago," which likely inspired Junior Parker's "Sweet Home Chicago" for Duke and which Magic Sam cited when he performed it at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival. It was not until after magic Sam's rendition before we got a plethora of recordings, some good, but way overdone. This rendition is part of the Grammy Award Winning, The Blues Shoe Project.

Finally another rendition of "Sweet Home Chicago," by Robert Johnson's travelling friend, Johnny Shines. Listening to mediocre Robert Johnson tributes by the Eric Clapton and Rory Block, I need to cleanse my ears by playing Shines whose mix of Lonnie Johnson, Howling Wolf and Robert Johnson made him, to my mind, the best interpreter of Johnson's songs.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Garrett's Percy Mayfield Tribute is Nice Effort

Singer-guitarist Amos Garrett latest release is, Get Way Back: A Tribute to Percy Mayfield, an affectionate tribute to the Poet Laureate of the Blues (Stoney Plain). Mayfield has long been a favorite for Garrett and his biggest influence as a singer and Garrett has chosen a nice selection of songs including My Jug and I, Stranger in My Hometown, The Country, River’s Invitation, Ha Ha in the Daytime, and “Lost Mind, among the eleven performances. He has a nice backing band which is a small scaled version of some of the bands that Mayfield recorded with for Tangerine and RCA with. Garrett’s baritone and low-key style is akin to Mayfield’s as well although perhaps it makes comparison with Mayfield harder to avoid compared with the late Johnny Adams, whose magnificent album of Mayfield compositions, Walking on a Tightrope, is arguably the definitive Mayfield tribute album. As amiable and likable as Garrett's renditions here are (and the solid restrained playing is especially praiseworthy), Garrett is simply not Mayfield’s equal (much less Adams' equal) as a vocalist, and his phrasing falls a bit short. There is much to like about this recording, and it is a good effort, but it does not entirely hit its target. sat 7 out of 10 on a ratings scale.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Michael P. Smith JazzFest Photographer Supreme RIP

I remember years ago attending a Smithsonian Institute Folklife Festival in Washington which was devoted in part to the culture of Louisiana and New Orleans. It was chance to hear some blues like the late Boogie Bill Webb as well as it was my first exposure to the Mardi Gras Indian tradition other than the recordings of The Wild Magnolias and The Wild Tchoupitoulas, as members talked about and demonstrated the making of a costume as well as the various traditions involved. At the store where they sold items related to the Festival was a book of black and white photographs, Spirit World: Pattern in the Expressive Folk Culture of African-American New Orleans, It was essentially a catalogue of one of his exhibits documenting aspects of the cultural life and communities of New Orleans that was totally new to me, such as spiritual churches, and I slowly began to understand the interrelationship between the churches, the Indians, the music and other interrelated aspects that were the foundation for the New Orleans Rhythm and Blues Music that I loved (well I still d0). The book was republished by the Louisiana print house, Pelican, and is readily available.

I soon became aware of the importance that Smith had in documenting the music, culture and communities of New Orleans. His photos graced album covers and t-shirts (I proudly had t-shirts of his photos of James Booker and Clifton Chenier).
Subsequently I acquired his marvelous book, A Joyful Noise: A Celebration of New Orleans Music, which is out of print.

When I first attended the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, in the mid-190s, I went to his tent in the crafts section of the Festival grounds which his daughter Leslie (herself a very fine jazz singer) was manning, and eventually purchased his then recently published book on the Mardi Gras Indians as well as a poster made from the Dancing Cat Professor Longhair album cover that was signed by him. Since I framed it upon getting home, it hangs in my bedroom.

Subsequently I purchased his New Orleans Jazz Fest, A Pictorial History, which chronicled the first 20 or so years of the festival from images of Mahalia Jackson with the Eureka Brass Band; Jackson with Duke Ellington, George Wein and Cousin Joe, Rashaan Roland Kirk with Herbie Mann's Band, Como Fife and Drum Band, Sonny Stitt with Ellis Marsalis, Sweet Emma Barrett, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Stevie Wonder with the Meters, Dizzy Gillespie and Bongo Joe, Benny Spellman, Professor Longhair, Nina Simone, etc (and that's in the first 50 odd of 200 pages). This book is in black and white and was followed by an JazzFest Memories with color photography which was done in collaboration with Allison Miner who wrote about the Festival's history.

I am obviously a fan of his work and was saddened when I found out he passed away on Friday, September 26. The New Orleans Times-Picayune celebrated his marvelous life in an obituary, Cultural archivist Michael Smith dies. If that link does not work, try

An excerpt from John Pope's piece.

Michael P. Smith, a photographer who spent three decades capturing vivid, vibrant images at jazz funerals, Mardi Gras Indian ceremonies and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, died Friday at his New Orleans home of two diseases that destroyed his nervous system. He was 71.

A man of boundless energy who devoted himself to the culture he chronicled, Mr. Smith seemed to be everywhere at whatever event he was shooting. Fellow photographers joked that every good Jazzfest picture they took included the back of Mr. Smith's head.

Mr. Smith's subjects included Mahalia Jackson, Irma Thomas, James Booker, Harry Connick Jr., Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers, as well as anonymous mourners, strutters and Indians whom Mr. Smith always managed to capture caught up in the moment.

"I don't think there's another photographer who has more sensitively documented very significant aspects of the second half of 20th century New Orleans culture," said Steven Maklansky, a former curator of photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art."

The biography of him on his website, notes the many honors he earned. "In the last few years, Mike Smith has been honored with numerous awards. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities in 2002 and was named Music Photographer of the Year by Offbeat magazine. In 2004, he received a Mayor's Arts Award from the Arts Council of New Orleans and a Clarence John Laughlin Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Orleans/Gulf South chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). In 2005, he received the Delgado Society Award (New Orleans Museum of Art), the first photographer to be so honored."

In Spring, 2007, the collection of his negatives and copyright to his work was transferred to the New Orleans Collection. The collection was over 500,000 negatives, most of which have never been printed and the New Orleans Collection intends to make more of his work available in the future. Smith's photographs are also in the permanent collections of the Bibliotheque National in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and, locally, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Louisiana State Museum.

His work has not only entertained my eyes but enriched my understanding and love of the music of New Orleans. I know that I am not alone with this sentiment.

A brief sample of his images can be downloaded from the website of The Historic New Orleans Collection. One can download issues of the newsletter, THNOC Quarterly at It is the Spring 2008 issue.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Duke Elllington Jazz Festival Is Coming

Starting this Wednesday, October 1 and running until October 7 at various venues in Washington, DC, the favorite son in the Nation's Capital is celebrated with the annual Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. One can catch free jazz at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage or at daytime concerts near the Washington Monument, or catch the annual NEA Jazz Masters Concert at the Lincoln Theatre. That event will have the Duke Ellington Orchestra performing along with the DC Bass Choir with special guest Christian McBride at the Lincoln Theater, Saturday Night October 3, as well as the free Jazz on the National Mall at the Sylvan Theater near the Washington monument, Sunday October 4 with a line-up including Afro Blue, Taj Mahal, Christian Mcbride Quartet, Conrad Herwig Latin Side Project, Mccoy Tyner Quartet, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. DC's jazz clubs like Bohemian Gardens, Blues Alley and Twins will be presenting other jazz giants like Sonny Fortune and Monty Alexander. Here is the link to the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival.

Here are some clips of some of the performers to whet your taste. 1st up is Taj Mahal.

2nd is Christian McBride

Next up is McCoy Tyner

Sonny Fortune is at Twins Friday and Saturday

Finally, Dee Dee Bridgewater

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Memphis Gold Loves that Big Legged Woman

From youtube

I should mention that the new issue of Blues and Rhythm, No. 233, October 2008, has Terence McArdle's story on Memphis Gold and one of my photos of him is the predominant one on the cover. There are a few more of mine inside illustrating the story, taken from gigs in the 1990s at JV's in Annadale VA (not in Washington) and Fleetwood's in Alexandria VA. Its really nice to see the story and the exposure as he is such a good person as well as a performer. He still is recuperating from his fall earlier this year an gets better every time I see him. Bluebeat Music carries Blues & Rhythm, and while I suspect they do not have it yet in stock, you might check in a week or two after the date of this post. Btw the harmonica player on this performance is Charlie Sayles (Hollywood Charlie Sayles as Memphis calls him). Below is Part 2 of this performance.

Evan Christopher and Django à la Créole

From the London CD release party for Evan Christopher's
Django à la Créole (Lejazzetal & Classic Jazz), a tribute to the great Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, performing "I Know That You Know," which Django recorded, but Christopher prefaces the performance by referring to the great Jimmy Noone. This is a marvelous CD, with other songs performed including Django's marvelous "Nuages,"as well as the love closing medley of Tears and Djangology. The empathy of the band and the music comes through in this video which should hopefully lead a few of you to sample more of the music on this recording.

I only have had the good fortune to see Evan perform live a few years back at Donna's on the edge of the French Quarter in a group with Tom McDermott, and have the marvelous duet album that they recorded, Danza (STR Digital). I have been enthralled by his wonderfully warm, fluid playing. He has a marvelous live album,
Live At The Meridien (Jazz Club), where does a remarkable medley of Ornette Coleman's Ramblin and Lonely Woman, as well as Scott Joplin's, The Entertainer, and Duke Ellington's Prelude to a Kiss. Nat Hentoff wrote quite an enthusiastic piece in Jazz Times about Delta Bound, with pianist Dick Hyman, on Arbors.

Django à la Créole
be obtained from (among other sources) the Louisiana Music Factory and The Louisiana Music Factory carries the other referenced recordings and more that Evan can be heard on.

Helen Humes with Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band

Another video, this time Helen sings her big hit "Hey Baba Leba," around 1947. Notice Dizzy is playing a straight trumpet (that is without the upward bend he was known for later). Not too shabby a band he had.

I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to see Helen at NYC's Cookery. What a wonderful performer and person.

Helen Humes With Count Basie

Nice video of the late Helen Humes with a small group led by Count Basie. I think it is Wardell Grey on the tenor solo.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Joe Louis Walker Keeps a Witness For the Blues

One would be hard-pressed to name any other blues performer in the past two decades who has produced such a body of recorded work to stand-up to that of Joe Louis Walker. Rooted in the blues and soul traditions, and informed by his time in gospel groups, he has been able to rock with going heavy-metal over the top. No one covers such a range of blues at such a consistent high level as Walker who has a new disc, Witness to the Blues (Stony Plain). The disc was produced by Duke Robilliard who brought together a backing band anchored by the keyboards of Bruce Katz and includes Doug James on baritone and tenor sax as well as Scott Aruda on trumpet. Robilliard himself adds guitar to 5 of the 11 songs, which includes several new Walker originals as well as interpretations of songs that have not been overdone (no Sweet Home Chicago or Mustang Sally). An example of the latter is J.J. Malone’s It’s a Shame, that opens this set. It has a nice funky groove with stinging guitar which contrasts with Midnight Train, a rocking original with a tinge of rockabilly flavor in the backing and some guitar with echoes of Ike Turner. I am not familiar with the original of Lover’s Holiday, which is a fine soul duet with Shemekia Copeland. It is followed by Hustlin’, a slow blues whose melody echoes Little Walter’s Everything’s Gonna Be Allright, with a lyric about “hustling my life away,” and contains a fiery solo. Walker’s adaptation of the traditional Rollin’ and Tumblin’ brings life to well known blues, owing as much to Elmore James’ recording as the better known renditions, although Walker’s voice at a couple spots here sounds a little hoarse. “Highview” is a mid-tempo guitar instrumental with Katz also getting some solo time. along with Robillard trading fours with Walker, but musically seems to meander a bit. Walker plays some fine acoustic slide on I Got What You Need, a country blues by him and Robilliard, while Keep on Believin’, is a soulful ballad with a backing vocal chorus. 100% More Man, is a driving slow blues similar melodically to Elmore’s Twelve Year Old Boy, with plenty of driving slide, while Walker plays some high-note harmonica on Sugar Mama, with some nice accompaniment from the band (Katz’s piano is very solid here). This is quite an enjoyable recording as Walker sounds quite good here, although some of the performances meander a bit and some editing would have kept the performances more focused. Still, it is a very good recording, although not one of Walker’s best.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Three Wishes is a Marvelous Look at Jazz

Today, I was at Barnes & Noble, in downtown Washington DC, and browsing the jazz and blues books section when I come across a book, Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats. I pick it up skim through it and then purchased it. It is published by Abrams Image and the credits have it compiled and photographed by Pannonica de Koenigswarter with a forward by Gary Giddins and an Introduction by Nadine de Koenigswarter, granddaughter of Pannonica. Pannonica is better known as Nica, the Baronness who befriended so many jazz musicians for such a long period of time. She was the person in whose apartment Charlie Parker died. Later, when she purchased a house in New Jersey, many jazz musicians visited or stayed with her. In 1957, she helped Thelonious Monk regain his caabaret license and also campaigned for its elimination which occurred when John Lindsay was elected Mayor. Monk had encouraged her to buy a house and she did ,which was named the Cathouse, and Monk himself moved there with his family in 1973, staying there until he passed. Others moved in or stayed for a period.

What the book compiles is the answers of about 300 jazz musicians to what three wishes in life they had. The text consists of their answers. Included are countless photographs of jazz legends from Monk, Barry Harris, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, Bud Powell, Sonny Clark John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and countless others. Most of her photos were taken with a Polaroid camera, and several of the images are from worn photos, but the pictures, like their words, speak to us decades later. Some of informal, intimate images of them at the house, others sghow them perforing at the Cathouse. This is a book one can easily get lost with for days and hopefully should be available at your better book store or from the large internet retailers.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Blind Pig's latest releases are a mixed bag

Couple of new releases from Blind Pig to briefly note. One is the latest from Magic Slim & the Teardrops, Midnight Blues. It is an enjoyable release in his immediately recognizable sound with his grinding slow blues and highly danceable walking shuffles with his solid singing and stinging lead guitar. He is backed by his band of guitarist Jon McDonald; bassist Danny O’Connor and drummer David Simms, with guest appearances by James Cotton, Lil Ed Williams, Lonnie Brooks, Elvin Bishop, and a Gene Barge horn section. Its a typical mix of originals and lesser known blues from other singers. Let Me Love You, is a typical Slim shuffle with a driving beat and a solid vocal followed by a nice rendition of Muddy Waters’ You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had, with James Cotton chiming in on harp. Lil Ed joins for the frantic rendition of Hound Dog Taylor’s Give Me Back My Wig, that is a tad busy sounding. Little Milton’s Lonely Man, is slightly flat, but the take on Spider in My Stew, with Lonnie Brooks guesting, is much better as Slim and company grind out a most persuasive performance. The country flavor of Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, adds variety but its more of a novelty track here. Full Load Boogie, is a nondescript instrumental but followed by a terrific take of Muddy’s Crosseyed Cat with a groove that chugs along like an irresistible force. Elvin Bishop helps out on the slow-drag Carla, while Slim reworks Cryin’ Won’t Make You Stay, from a slow-drag number to a jaunty shuffle employing the Dust My Broom, groove. A few tracks may be relatively disappointing, as Slim seems incapable of producing a bad recording. This is not Slim’s most impressive effort, but its far from a poor effort.

The other new Blind Pig disc is a live release by Albert Cummings, Feel So Good, that I would describe as a blues-tinged hard rock date as opposed to a blues. A power guitarist, just supported by bass and trio. He bellows out his vocals while hammering out some sizzling guitar pyrotechnics. The opening Party Right Here, and the succeeding Why Me, have a flavor not dissimilar from what one might see/hear on CMT or some contemporary country stations, although a bit more rocked out and certainly not sung with any great distinction, and taken at breakneck tempos. Sleep, a somewhat dreamy rock ballad is taken at a slow tempo with a more relaxed vocal and nice thoughtful guitar. A medley of Hootchie Cootchie with Dixie Chicken owes more to the Allman Brothers, Z.Z. Hill and other southern boogie rockers than Muddy Waters or B.B. King which also is evident by Barrelhouse Blues, which evokes Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile, while Your Own Way, is musically suggestive of All Along the Watchtower, with a long-extended screaming guitar solo, Cummings does a creditable hard-rock rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Rock & Roll, which indicates where the core of Cummins’ musical heart is. He bellows out that the Blues Makes Me Feel So Good, but this disc must not be the blues, because it don’t make me feel that way.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Son House Tribute falls short

The latest Rory Block album, Blues Walkin’ Like a Man (Stony Plain), is a well-intentioned tribute to Eddie 'Son' House, one of the giants of the Delta Blues, following up a Robert Johnson tribute album. I have not heard the latter and wonder why I would insofar as I have found her renditions of classic country blues too close to the originals and often sounding studied, even academic. I have found her own songs much more appealing than her covers. But doing an entire album of Son House is a brave but ultimately unsatisfying effort, as her performances cannot avoid comparison to House’s originals, and even where House had lost his dexterity, the force of his playing and vocals make these emulations that generally fall flat. And this is not to ignore Block being a skilled musician. House’s singing voice was a straight extension of his speaking voice whereas Block’s vocals are not a similar extension of her voice. A comparison might be a New York vocalist singing with so much heart in cajun French but unable to shake a tinge of a newyawk accent. John Sebastian plays harmonica on several selections, and Block overdubs a vocal chorus on a couple selections, more satisfactory on the gospel number I Want to Go Home On the Morning Train, than on the remake of House’s Paramount recordings, Dry Spell Blues, where the added vocals make the track into an aural mess. I note that Dick Waterman, who was Son House’s manager after his rediscovery, has endorsed this tribute. Perhaps some will discover Son’s music from this, and that certainly is not a bad thing. Still, the back cover quotes Blues Revue that Rory Block “can hold her own with the legends who inspired her.” Listening to this tribute, I respectfully disagree.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Guitarist Chris James and bassist Patrick Ryan have been working together for quite some time, playing the clubs in Chicago, touring with Sam Lay for several years as well. This writer saw them as part of Jody Williams backing band at the 2007 Pocono Blues Festival (seen above with James to the left and Ryan obscured by Williams guitar) and had a chance to chat with Chris finding him as knowledgeable as he was a marvelous player. Earwig has just issued a release by the duo, Stop and Think About It, which is a terrific recording of old school Chicago-styled blues.
James fronts the recording with his powerful vocals and his terrific guitar (evoking the late Robert Lockwood and Williams). He and Ryan are joined by a variety of backing musicians including harmonica player Bob Corritore with whom they have toured Europe, pianist Dave Maxwell, drummers Sam Lay and Willie Hayes and saxophonist Jonny Viau. They mix in some wonderful originals that suggest John Brim, Little Walter along with covers of songs from Elmore James (four numbers, of which only Hawaiian Boogie, may be well known), Jay McShann, Bo Diddley, and Snooky Pryor.
Whether the title track, a strong shuffle taken a relaxed tempo; a remake of Jay McShann’s Confessin’ the Blues, with a terrific tenor solo from Carla Brownlee and strong piano from Julien Brunetaud; and Mister Coffee is a easy rocker with hints of Jimmy Rogers and John Brim as James sings about being man who grinds so fine,” with Corritore adding harp. Early in the Morning, is one of the Elmore James covers here with some nice slide along with horns using the “Fannie Mae” riff. Hawaiian Boogie, is often is played with a no-holds bar manic tempo the performance here benefits from James’ restraint which does not diminish the power of this rendition. You Got to Move, is one of the songs Elmore recorded for legendary Harlem record man Bobby Robinson, and with Brownlee’s baritone helping give bottom to the performance, James lays down a first-rate vocal, and takes a terrific solo. Its so refreshing to hear someone put his own stamp on Elmore’s music yet remain true to the music’s essence. James is a tad bit out front on the vocal on Snooky Pryor’s Someone to Love Me, but it still is a solid performance. Relaxing at the Clarendon,” is a fine instrumental that displays more of James’ strong slide style taken at a walking tempo. Mix in the fine rendition of “Bo Diddley’s Mona, and one has little to find fault with Stop and Think About Me. When I saw James and Ryan backing Jody Williams I could appreciate how good they were as musicians, but this stellar release shows even more, how good they are out in front. This was an unexpected blues delicacy and highly recommended.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Kilburn Alley Blues Fresh Yet With Strong Roots

Blues Music Award nominees, The Kilburn Alley Blues Band, want to Tear Chicago Down, the title of their new Blue Bella release. Produced by Nick Moss, the focus on this band is on the ensemble, and as James Walker's notes emphasize the songs here are not guitar-hero, guitar solo driven. The band is comprised of singer-guitarist Andrew Duncanson; guitarist Josh Stimmel; harp player Joe Asselin; bassist Chris Breen and drummer Ed O’Hara. Producer Moss and Gary Hundt enhance several tracks as well. The playing is terrific throughout and Duncanson is a strong vocalist. All the songs are originals with plenty of variety in tone and style. The title track is a funky burner with Abraham Johnson joining Duncanson on the vocal; Fire With Fire is a torrid shuffle with some terrific harp throughout by Asselin; while Crazier Things is a strong performance that evokes the classic Muddy Waters ensemble with Hundt’s mandolin effectively supporting and Stimmel’s slide work is styled in the fashion of Muddy’s classic sound. The longest track is the slow blues, It’s a Pity, evokes Junior Wells’ treatment of Early in the Morning as Duncanson playing brilliantly in the vein of the Buddy Guy back in the sixties and harpist Asselin adds fills behind the vocal as well as takes a tough solo. Lay It Down places new lyrics to the melody of Little Walter’s recording, Mellow Down Easy. Asselin wails on his solo and the rhythm section of Breen and O’Hara gets a tight groove rocking and never lets it go. Come Home Soon and The Weight of You are more in the soul vein with Duncanson singing capably in a Sam Cooke vein on the latter. Like producer Nick Moss’s own recordings, this album captures the sound of the classic Chicago blues of the fifties and sixties with the members own take. They play inspired and are far removed from those that slavishly copy the old masters as well as the one-dimensional guitar-rockers. Highly recommended.

Big Geoge Brock Keeps Jukin' On

Born in the delta where he sharecropped, later moving north he was a heavyweight boxer and the owner of St. Louis’ Club Caravan. In recent years he has developed a following based on his somewhat raw, downhome style. Cathead has just issued his most recent recording, Live at Seventy Five, that was captured in performance at the Ground Zero Blues Club. Backed by his regular band of Riley Coatie Sr and Bill Abel on guitar, Barry Bays on bass, and Riley Coatie jr. on drums, he belts out his folks and blasts some harp. Nothing too refined or subtle as the guitarists lay out their riffs, and Brock blasts some simple, effective harp. He has an affection for Howlin’ Wolf’s material as shown on Forty-Four Blues while M For Mississippi is a rocker with his simple harp riffs that sounds like only the drummer is accompanying him. Little Walter’s Everything Is Gonna Be Alright benefits from his passionate singing although Brock does not display a level of fluency on the harp to support the claims of some that he is heavyweight blues harpist, but on a slow blues Bring the Blues Back Home, his vocals prove to be very formidable.

Cathead has issued a DVD of Brock, Hard Times, that includes both performances by Brock as well as interview segments that is very entertaining and illuminating and I found the music in the DVD stronger than his CDs, which may benefit by the fact that the documentary character of the DVD breaks up the performances. It is one of the better DVDs I have seen recently.
Brock’s CDs and DVDs are available at amazon, and better retailers. The Cathead website is

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wax Poetics Rocks

Just a heads up that issue 30 of the genre-spanning hip hop journal, waxpoetics is out and it is titled The Rock Issue. The two covers are of the Bad Brains and Elvis and there are stories on both (Elvis in Memphis is the subject of that article. There is a rediscovery of the Johnny Jenkins album, Ton-Ton Macoute!, obits for Jimmy McGriff, Buddy Miles, Bo Diddley and Ike Turner, and other articles on Dave Bartholomew (by Andra Lisle who also contributed the Ike Turner obituary, the Black Rock Coalition, The Rascals, and Ernie Isley (the article is titled "Guitar Hero"recalling Hendrix among other things). Some good writers here including John Kruth who authored the fine Roland Kirk Biography, Bright Moments and Jon Kirby, who penned the Bad Brains story. I picked this up at the magazine section of Barnes & Noble, and the website is I mentioned this publication before and bring this to your attention once more.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blind Pig Signs Big James Montgomery, appearing in Baltimore area August 31

One of the real pleasant surprises of the 2006 Pocono Blues Festival was the performance by Big James and the Chicago Playboys. James Montgomery is a big man and he has a presence as a singer and when playing his trombone as well as is backed by his fine band which adds a heafty dose of soul and funk to his blues stew. At the festival I purchased Now You Know, which was his third CD (self-released and included nice recordings of some of the songs he performed including the title track, "Chicago Is Da' Home 4 Da' Blues", "Hustler's Paradise," and Albert King's "Angel of Mercy." What a nice soulful vocal delivery he has, and his trombone along with the guitarist and other bandmembers play some interesting and funky stuff. More recently he issued Thank God I Got the Blues, that is a similarly fine effort, celebrating the blues with plenty of heart of soul.

Yesterday (August 25), I got an email from Blind Pig announcing they signed Big James. "Blind Pig Records has announced the signing of Big James & the Chicago Playboys, a brass band that combines blues, soul, R&B and funk into a rollicking, horn-drenched stage party.

The bandleader and trombone player, Big James Montgomery, who also serves as singer, songwriter, and producer for the group, sports a voice as big as his girth. This year he received his second Blues Music Award nomination as “Horn Instrumentalist” and the title track from his last solo effort, Thank God I Got The Blues, will be featured in the upcoming movie Cleaner, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendes."

The press release also notes that Big James Montgomery is a three time winner of Living Blues magazine’s Critic’s Choice Award for “Most Outstanding Horn Player and that he will start working ona new album in November.

While I would not use the term brass band to describe his sound, I agree his horn-led band mixes blues, soul and funk for a rollicking, horn-drenched stage party that is unique in the blues today. For those in the Baltimore-Washington area he is appearing at the Baltimore Blues Society's Alonzo Memorial Picnic on Sunday August 31 at the Rosedale MD American Legion Hall. For information on that event visit the BBS website. His CDs, Thank God I Got The Blues and Thank God I Got The Blues are available at

Monday, August 25, 2008

Michael Burks' Rocking Blues

Arkansas native Michael Burks muscular new Alligator album, “Iron Man,” should readily appeal to fans of modern hard rocking blues. Burks forceful string-bending on his Flying V will appeal to those who like their blues with a heavy dose of hard-rock tinged guitar, but that oversimplifies his forceful playing. Playing the Flying V, some comparisons are inevitable with Albert King, and while King is obviously an influence, Burks is a more active player. His vocals with a welcome downhome flavor in his voice actually evoke King more. The take of Jimmy Johnson’s “Ashes in My Ashtray,” is a particularly welcome performance but little fault can be found with the solid idiomatic originals such as the driving “Love Disease” that opens this set or his soulful blues-ballad “Empty Promises.” His band of keyboardist Wayne Sharp, bassist Don Garrett and drummer Chuck ‘Popcorn’ Louden are a tight and hard-hitting. While this is not the most subtle blues, they avoid heavy-handedness and complement, not overwhelm, Burks singing. Listen to his delivery on “Icepick Through My Heart” that he co-wrote and then dig his nice guitar break, and the album closes with a rocking "Changed Man," set to the Dust My Broom melody which the band swings hard. While Burks' fiery guitar will obviously be a prominent reason for his appeal, his delivery of the songs sets him apart from most of his contemporaries, as evidenced by this fine recording.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Detroit's Blues Queen is A True Blues Treasure

Alberta Adams is truly Detroit’s Blues Queen. A dancer who became a singer when the vocalist did not show up, she has become the grande dame of the Motor City’s blues scene. She toured extensively with Louis Jordan, Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson, T-Bone Walker, James Moody and Duke Ellington and recorded extensively particularly in the jump type blues style that is her repertoire today. Her latest disc is Detroit Is My Home (Eastlawn Records), and brings her together with some marvelous musicians including that swinging drummer, R.J. Spangler who produced this. Certainly the album can’t get off to a hotter start than the opening boogie woogie, Keep On Keepin’ On, with Mark Braun (aka Mr. B.) coming off like Pete Johnson while the tempo slows down on for the evocative Tired of Being Alone,” with some strong gutbucket piano from Mr. B.,, solid horn playing and nice use of brushes by Spangler. More boogie styled piano is contributed by Al Hill for Hello Little Boy, which reverses the gender on a classic jump blues that Jimmy Rushing and others have sung. Her voice may have developed some rough edges but she still puts so much heart in her vocals with Paul Carey taking a terrific solo here. Mr. B is back on piano on I’m So Worried, which also sports some terrific trumpet from James O’Donnell on this moody performance. The title track has a strutting tempo with a touch of a rumba in the rhythm with Alberta reciting the places she has been and having been on the road forever but no matter how far she roams, “Detroit is My Home.” Saffire’s Ann Rabson handles the piano on a duet of Alberta and CeeCee Collins on Lucille Bogan’s sassy Struttin’ My Stuff. Rabson also is heard behind Adams on a medley of I'm On The Move / Every Day, on which CeeCee Collins and Thornetta Davis add backing vocals, and also on Rabson’s blues ballad Hopin’ It Will Be Alright. A bonus live track has Collins joining her for a lively rendition, from the club Sushi Blues, of Rosco Gordon’s Just a Little Bit. Anyone who has been fortunate to see Alberta Adams perform know that she is a national treasure and this latest labor of love on Eastlawn will be highly welcomed by anyone who has seen her and give a sense to others what they have been missing. This should be available on as well as from

Wolfman Washington's Blues Masterpiece

Wolfman Washington is one of my favorite artists and when he was signed to Point Blank there was hope his career would reach new heights. Unfortunately there was a management issue and the album, Blue Moon Risin, was never issued in the US. I am not sure if it still can be obtained anymore byt the Louisiana Music Factory had copies a few years ago. IMHO, it was the best blues album of the 1990s. I believe it was also the last time the J.B. Horns recorded together. Here is my review as it appeared in Jazz & Blues Report back in July/August 1995.

After years working with Johnny Adams and making some recordings for small New Orleans labels, Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington emerged as an important blues voice in his own right with several albums for Rounder, and then one for PointBlank that evidenced his emergence as one of the true major voices in contemporary blues. Now with Blue Moon Risin’ (4 Tunes Records), currently only available as an import, he has produced an absolutely stunning album that seamlessly integrates soul and funk elements into Washington’s blues gumbo. Washington’s band, the Roadmasters (not to be confused with Ronnie Earl’s band of the same name), has a rhythm section of Jack Cruz on bass, Wilbert Arnold on drums and Brian Mitchel on keyboards that is as good as they get. While the regular Roadmasters horns are only present on two tracks, ten of the twelve tracks have the J.B. Horns (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis). Wolfman’s mix of funk and blues is perfect for the J.B. Horns, whose crisp playing matches up with the hard funk groove of the Roadmasters on the strutting remake of Bill Withers’ Using Me and showcase Wolfman’s solo on Fever. Still the disc’s highest points are the originals by Wolfman and Jack Cruz, such as the opening Stop and Think (to which keyboard player Mitchel also contributed), the title track (with its opening line “There’s a blue moon risin’, in my heart & in my soul, passion and pain lying on everything I known”), and Can’t Stop Lovin’ You, a terrific driving updating on Otis Redding’s Can’t Cut You Loose. Cadillac Woman may be the closest thing to a straight blues shuffle, but it has an interesting turn in the melody. And while his guitar is showcased, mixing in bits of George Benson and Kenny Burrell to the gulf coast blues guitar stew, his fervid singing is just as central to these performances. He’ll employ a strangulated falsetto for emphasis, or stretch out a syllable as necessary before cutting loose with a concise guitar solo as the horns riff in support. I’ve listened to this repeatedly since buying it at the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans. Wolfman has made fine records before, but this is one of the best new albums in a very long time.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Homemade Jamz Blues Band at Surf Club Live

Saturday evening, August 9, The Perry clan made their way to Surf Club Live in Prince George's County, Maryland for a show presented by the D.C. Blues Society. The Perry siblings, Tara, Ryan and Kyle constitute the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, who created a sensation when they finished second at the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge in 2007. Since then they have played at a variety of festivals, been on CBS' Sunday Morning and had a debut recording,Pay Me No Mind on Northern Blues Music, which I have reviewed previously here.

Accompanied by their parents and others, the trio certainly displays a considerable amount of talent and exuberance. Musically, the set was a mixed deal. Mixing in covers of songs from B.B. King, Albert King, Little Milton and others along with originals penned by father Renaud (who played harmonica for several tracks), they are talented and Ryan is a particularly promising vocalist. Him and Kyle play home made guitars and bass respectively, fashioned from car mufflers.

Obviously there youth is a basis for their appeal and they certainly are entertaining, but if one did not know that they were 9, 15, and 13, one would not pay particular attention to them. Their youthfulness was perhaps felt by the relatively simple backings they had and problems they had in ending songs which sometimes reached an abrupt conclusion. It will be interesting to see what the future has for them as they and their musical skills grow and mature and whether they become distinctive and persuasive musical voices.

Lil' Dave Thompson's Blues

Playing with Booba Barnes as a teenager, and later recording for Fat Possum, while touring with R.l. Burnside, Jr. Kimbrough and others, Mississippi blues man Lil’ Dave Thompson may not be 40, but he has developed into a terrific modern bluesman. Thompson had an impressive debut album on Fat Possum followed by an excellent recording on the British JSP label. Despite his hill country roots, his stinging guitar and forceful vocals owes much to the legendary Albert King, joining such other significant blues artists as the late Son Seals and Larry Davis as well as the muscular blues of Michael Burks who display King's influence . Thompson’s new album, Got to Get Over You Electro-Fi), displays that he has developed his own blues style. He is a fiery guitarist, whose tone evokes King, although like others he has a busier style. Tied to this is soulful, expressive singing and a program of strong blues originals including the title track and rocking shuffles like Out in the Cold, and Hard Headed Woman. Need For Speed, the lone instrumental, is a showcase for his searing fretwork. Recorded in Toronto, Electro-Fi backed Thompson with a tight band with organist John Lee and saxophonist Pat Carey impressively adding their voices, but the spotlight remains most impressively on Thompson and with this recording and his striking, intense performances (this writer just saw him at the Pocono Blues Festival), his stature in the blues world should be growing.

Lil' Dave will be appearing at the free 20th DC Blues Festival put on by the D.C. Blues Society on Saturday August 30 at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre in NW Washington DC. He will also appear at the Festival After Party at Surf Club Live that evening. For more information visit the D.C. Blues Society's website.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Gilbert-Carter Will Jazz the Blues at DC Blues Festival

Here is a review of a very talented Washington DC based vocalist, Janine Gilbert-Carter that is of note. I also selected this as an outstanding recording of 2007. I found out that she and Sandra Y. Johnson will be appearing at the DC Blues Society's 20th DC Blues Festival as The Jazzy Blues Women, and be backed by a band that includes Vince Smith on keyboards and the legendary Dohn Nunley on saxophone. They are scheduled to appear at around 3:30PM

Originally from Pennsylvania, but a resident of the Washington D.C. area since 1988, vocalist Janine Gilbert-Carter has distinguished herself both as a gospel and jazz singer. Jazz Karma has just issued her new album, A Song For You, Live at the 15th Annual FMJS East Jazz Festival that should hopefully make her better known outside of the Nation’s Capital. The February 2006 appearance at the East Coast Jazz Festival captured here has her backed by a wonderful band featuring saxophonist Paul Carr, guitarist Steve Abshire, pianist Chris Grasps, bassist Gavin Fallow and drummer Clyde Adams. And while Carr gets a number of strong solos here, with his Texas-based tenor playing being especially nice, Ms. Gilbert-Carter is front and center possessing a delivery that swings along with the band over a wonderful range of material that includes songs associated with Dinah Washington (What a Difference a Day Makes); Big Maybelle (Candy); Shirley Horn (Here’s to Life); Percy Mayfield (Please Send Me Someone to Love); Etta James (At Last); and Denise LaSalle (Someone Else is Steppin’ In). And then there are the standards like All of Me, and When I Fall In Love. No matter how familiar a song is, Janine Gilbert-Carter brings a breath of fresh air in her interpretations, with her phrasing and the sophisticated bluesy inflections she adds. I was familiar with Leon Russell’s A Song For You, from Donny Hathaway’s recording. The rendition here does evoke Hathaway’s prior recording but she provides an equally stirring performance. She transforms Denise LaSalle’s soul-blues classic, Someone Else is Steppin’ In, into a swinging blues as she belts out the lyric on a stunning performance (Carr’s tenor solo also deserves note). It must have been quite a night to see Janine Carter-Gilbert at the East Coast jazz Festival when this was recorded. The proof is this terrific album that that is available at

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Prodigal Son comes home - Michael Roach House Concert in Falls Church

Sunday July 27 will be a treat for Washington DC blues lovers as Washington native Michael Roach along with harmonica wiz Johnny Mars are being presented by the Tinner Hill Foundation. Mike was one of the folks who founded the DC Blues Society and was its President for several years. Over a decade ago he moved with his wife to England where he has established himself as quite a blues performer as well as an educator. Mike was mentored by the late John Jackson and Jerry Ricks as well as John Cephas and has become quite a marvelous singer, guitarist and songwriter. I will miss the Falls Church show as I will still be at the Pocono Blues Festival where they perform Saturday, June 26. I will likely miss the Kinsey Report to see Mike as his recordings have been so good and I am really looking forward to seeing him after all these years. The picture is from Michael's website and the rest of the test is from the publicity provided by the Tinner Hill Foundation folks.

"You are invited to experience a spectacular evening of the soulful sounds of rhythm and blues with Michael Roach and Johnny Mars in concert to benefit the Tinner Hill John Jackson Blues Festival. Blues singer and guitarist Michael Roach and Blues singer and harmonica player Johnny Mars reside in the United Kingdom and will be making a rare U.S. tour to perform at the Pocono Blues Festival They will perform in Falls Church in a one night, one show invitation only concert at the historic Henderson House and gardens.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C. Michael Roaches’ life has taken him to reside in Cheltenham, England. He has become a beloved performer in Guitar, Blues, Folk, Jazz, World Music and Country Blues Festival across the globe. He has performed in Sweden, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, The Channel Islands, in the Middle East including Dubai, Bahrain, Abu Dhabe, and Qatar. His work has taken him to Bali and Jakarta in Indonesia. He will soon be performing in Spain and Capetown, South Africa. He has performed in the USA at the Chicago Blues Festival and Maryland's Bluebird Blues Festival.

He has taught in workshops in the United Kingdom for the European Blues Association (which he founded with Paul Oliver.), in Galway, Ireland, at the Bergen Music Festival in Bergen, Norway, Centrum Country Blues Week in Port Townsend and the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop in Washington state, and at the Augusta Heritage Festival for Bluesweek in Elkins, West Virginia. He traveled to the USA to interview many Blues elders for the BBC which culminated in his 3 part series called "Deep Blue" for the highly esteemed BBC Radio 4. He created the Federal City Blues Connection with the Washington, D.C government to serve many factions of the community in Washington.

He was the President for over 4 years of the D.C. Blues Society and Festival Director of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Annual DC Blues Festivals. Michael currently performs as a solo performer, as the leader of the Michael Roach Band and as a duo with harmonica master Johnny Mars.

Mr. Roach is an exceptional performer who has developed his own unique rhythm and blues style after many years of learning directly from such well known figures as John Jackson, John Cephas and Jerry Ricks. Come experience the indisputable genius of Michael Roach.

Songwriter, harmonica player and singer Johnny Mars was raised in a sharecropping family. He was given his first harmonica at age nine. His family lived in various places around the South, including North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

When Mars' mother died in 1958, the older family members settled in Florida, while Johnny and his younger brother went to live in New Paltz, N.Y. After he graduated from high school, he played club shows around New York and recorded with his band Burning Bush for Mercury Records.

In the mid-1960s, Mars moved to San Francisco, where he met Dan Kennedy and formed the Johnny Mars Band, playing clubs and festivals in northern California, as well as shows for rock promoter/impresario/producer Bill Graham.However, Mars could not seem to expand his audience much in San Francisco. After hearing about the greener pastures across the pond from his friend Rick Estrin of Little Charlie and the Nightcats, he toured England in 1972. There, he recorded a couple of albums, eventually moving to West London in 1978. Working with producer Ray Fenwick, who also worked with Spencer Davis, Ian Gillan, Mars met with success on the much praised album, Life On Mars.

In 1991, Mars became a featured soloist with the British New Wave pop group Bananarama. The group used him on their singles "Preacher Man," "Megalomaniac," and "Long Train Running," and he appeared in the group's video of "Preacher Man." Through the 1990s, Mars retained his strong European fan base, and he enjoys particularly strong followings in Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia. Critics there have called him "the Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica." Over the years, Mars has shared bills with Hendrix (before he was well-known) and Magic Sam.

In 1992, after a long absence from the Bay Area blues scene, owing to his new foothold in England and the rest of Europe, Mars was invited to play at the San Francisco Blues Festival. Mars' 1994 U.S. release for MM&K Recordings, Stateside with Johnny Mars, features brilliant, original, topical compositions and superb, unique harmonica playing, unfettered by the standard Chicago blues conventions. ~ Richard Skelly, All Music Guide

These gentlemen will offer breathtaking virtuosity and wide-ranging musical palette in the lovely garden and historic house constructed in 1913. The home was home for over fifty years to civil rights pioneers Dr. Edwin B. and Mary Ellen Henderson.

Don't miss the opportunity to meet Michael Roach and Johnny Mars, connect with fellow blues lovers and help the Tinner Hill John Jackson Blues Festival. If you are unable to attend we can still support the Blues Festival by making a donation.

Event co-hosts:
Trish Byerly, Ed & Nikki Henderson

The Henderson House & Garden
307 S. Maple Ave.
Falls Church, VA. 22046
(703) 534-4627

Date & Time:
Sunday, July 27th
6 PM

Tickets: $25.00 each
The concert includes hors d'oeuvres extraordinaire, luscious desserts, and cool beverages.
A Cash wine bar will be available.

Parking, in the designated parking lot adjacent to the Henderson House.

Please mail checks and/or money order for reservations and donations to:
Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation
P.O. Box 6117
Falls Church, VA. 22040

For more information about Michael visit:
For more information about Johnny Mars visit:
For more information about Tinner Hill visit:

Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. The festival is co-sponsored by Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation and the City of Falls Church.

We warmly welcome your friends. Feel free to forward this e-mail those who may be interested in a wonderful evening of refreshments, music and the opportunity to help the Tinner Hill Blues Festival! Please bear in mind this is an advance invitation event open ONLY to those with reservations/tickets.

Thank you!"