Thursday, December 31, 2009

Boogie Woogie Kings Is Appealing Blues Piano CD

Among new Delmark releases is “Boogie Woogie Kings”, a compilation of piano blues and boogie woogie performances that is apparently the first in a series following Delmark’s acquisition of the Euphonic Records label master recordings several years ago. Included are representative performances by the trio of Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson including a rendition of “Boogie Woogie Prayer” by the trio together. Ammons leads off with a stomping “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” although this listener misses the ragtime and vaudeville aspects of Pinetop Smith’s original. Johnson’s “G-Flat Blues,” displays why he was so influential on the likes of Jay McShann and Archibald, while Lewis on “Doll House Boogie,” switches from piano to a celeste midway (probably accounting for the song’s title). While these are solid performances, they serve more as an introduction to these three boogie woogie piano giants. The remainder of the performances are split between Cripple Clarence Lofton, Henry Brown and Speckled Red. Lofton made some commercial recordings and the six recordings issued here have been issued several times over the past four decades (I believe first by Yazoo) and are spectacular with his “raggedly-ass” driving boogie evident on the spectacular “Streamline Train,” a reworking of the classic “Cow Cow Blues,” and his rapid-fire “I Don’t Know,” which was the basis for Willie Mabon’s hit blues for the Chess Brothers. Lofton made some fine blues for Brunswick and Decca, and Delmark will be issuing a CD of his Session recordings for CD. This listener can’t wait. Henry Brown was a prominent member of the St. Louis school of pianists and recorded extensively, including as an accompanist for singers Alice Moore, Mary Johnson and Edith Johnson, is heard on three numbers including the previously unissued “Deep Morgan,” an evocative blues with Brown’s interjections describing what was the home of St. Louis’ blues scene. Finally, I would use the term barrelhouse more than boogie woogie to describe the stomp down playing of Speckled Red, who reprises his classic “The Dirty Dozens,” as well as “Right String, Wrong Yo Yo,” made famous by his much younger brother, Piano Red.” Bellowing out his blues like Roosevelt Sykes, Speckled Red’s driving piano knows no boundaries. With five previously unissued selections, piano blues lovers will enjoy this collection that brings together some solid performances, but with so many great piano blues collections out there, one cannot call this essential.

Delmark Records sent me the review copy of this CD
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Boogie Woogie Kings

Snooks Eaglin's 1st Black Top LP reissued

One of my favorite artists was the late Snooks Eaglin who passed away in February of this year. Hep Cat, a Collector’s Choice subsidiary obtained the Black Top catalog and started reissues from the catalog with a Digi-pac reissue of Eaglin’s first Black Top album amongst others. Here is my review which was run in the June 2009 issue of Jazz & Blues Report (#317).

Hep Cat, a subsidiary of Collectors Choice, has reissued Snooks Eaglin’s 1987 album, “Baby You Can Get Your Gun.” This was the first of five discs he recorded for Black Top that are the cornerstone of his recorded legacy. Labeled the Human Jukebox because of his vast repertoire, the Black Top recordings captured his wide repertoire along with his singular guitar style with his unpredictable twisting lines and an almost pianistic attack on the strings. This disc had him backed by a stellar band that included Ron Levy on keyboards, Ronnie Earl on guitar, bassist Erving Charles and drummer Smokey Johnson from Fats Domino’s band, and saxophonist David Lastie. Things get going with a solid rendition of Guitar Slim’s “You Give Me Nothing But the Blues,” followed by a reflective take on Percy Mayfield’s “Baby Please,” with Lastie adding the tasty sax. More of a direct second flavor follows on “Oh Sweetness,” while a jazz meets Ventures flavor marks the instrumental, “Profinia,” with Snooks dazzling with what sound like off the cuff riffs. Tommy Ridgely’s blues ballad “Lavinia,” receives a nice vocal followed by the vintage Earl King rocker that gives this disc its title. The hard funk number “Drop the Bomb,” is followed by a reworking of his Imperial recording”That Certain Door.” Another strong blues performance is “Nobody Knows,” with its pleading vocal with more solid guitar followed by a rocking rendition of Eugene Church’s “Pretty Girl Everywhere,” with more fine tenor from Lastie. At the time, this was Snooks best album, and it holds up today as a very fine effort. It would be followed by even better albums later (my particular favorite is “Out of Nowhere”), and we should be thankful that it has been made available once again.

I was sent a review copy from the publicist for Collectors Choice.

Quintus McCormick's Soulful Blues Debut

One of my favorite blues discoveries of 2009 was the debut Delmark disc by Quintus McCormick. I wrote the following review which appeared in the October 15 to December 1 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 321).

It has been an interesting musical journey for Chicago blues man Quintus McCormick. Born in Detroit, he grew up enamored with progressive rock with early inspirations coming from Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Santana, Humble Pie and Steve Howe of Yes. After moving to Chicago, and getting a musical degree he was playing pop music until he started with J.W. Williams and the Chicago Hustlers where he got his musical inspiration and then later worked sideman gigs with Lefty Dizz and James Cotton, as well as getting personal insights from various events in his life such as going down south to help his parents bury his granddad. As he has musically grown he has definitely developed into a contemporary urban blues voice with a strong soul-blues tinge. He brings a vocal style that captures elements of Charles Wilson, Little Milton, and others with an intense guitar style that Delmark has just captured in “Hey Jodie!,” the debut album by the Quintus McCormick Blues Band.

It opens with the title track, which is subtitled “Take Good Care of My Baby,” as he adds to the body of songs involving the back door lover, telling him to take care of Quintus’ baby since he can’t leave her alone. Its a soulful performance with nice horns and synthesized strings from keyboard wiz Roosevelt Purifoy. Its followed by the small group “Get You Some Business,” instead of taking care of Quintus’ business, with an insistent backing suggestive of some of the late Andrew Brown. McCormick is generally quite a solid guitarist but his heavily distorted tone adds little to the beginning of what is an otherwise intense performance, “What Goes Around Comes Around,” with some nice harp from Ted Reynolds. Not any complaints can be had for the driving shuffle “You Should Learn From This,” with its punchy horns. “Fifty/Fifty,” with the horns and harmonica has a funky groove as he sings about how he and his partner who have to share equally for their special love they have. “I’m Alright Now,” is a lazy Jimmy Reed-styled shuffle that McCormick takes a more low-key vocal with Reynolds adding some tasty harmonica. It is followed by a rocker, “Get That Money,” which does not completely jell together because of its frantic tempo and accompaniment. Much better are the soul ballad “Hot Lovin’ Woman,” and the pleading “Plano Texas Blues,” while “I’m a Good Man Baby,” is another fine performance that gets to display his fine guitar playing. Standing out among the many fine performances is the soulful singing on “There Ain’t No Right Way To Do Wrong,” and a nice terse solo. Obviously selections like this suggest that McCormick should be a significant presence on the southern blues and soul music, his music be as equally appealing to fans of such recent contemporary blues legends as Little Milton, Otis Rush, Andrew Brown, and Jimmy Johnson. While there may be one or two disappointing tracks among the 15 here, but overall this is a marvelous debut album by a blues voice I to hear more from.

To satisfy a possible interpretation of FTC regulations, I received a review copy from Delmark Records.

Captivating Afro-Jazz Disc

From the December 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (who provided me with the review copy) comes my review of a terrific recording by Israeli-born clarinetist Oran Etkin and the marvelous Group Kelenia. African grooves and jazz mix here in a truly fine recording.

Born in Israel where he first heard Louis Armstrong as a youngster, Oran Etkin’s influences are many but it was playing Malian music in New York led him to travel to Mali where he stayed with a family of percussionist Jon Camara where he met and had the opportunity to play with some of the great groits in Mali and when he returned resumed an association with Balla Kouyate (on balaphon) leading to formation of Group Kelenia that also includes Makane Kouyate on calabash and Joe Sanders on bass. Kelenia comes from the Bambara word for love between peoples who are different from each other. On Etkin’s new recording “Kelenia” (Motéma Music), he introduces us to a marvelous meeting of ancient and modern, Jazz and African music, calls to prayer of different traditions for an enchanting experience. Primarily playing clarinet and bass clarinet with occasional tenor, Etkin’s deep woody tone resonates against Balla Kouyate’s dancing balaphon while Makane Kouyate’s calabash adds a gritty texture along with the haunting vocals of Abdoulaye Diabate. Both “Yekete” and the title track illustrate this, with overdubbing allowing Etkin to play off clarinet versus the bass clarinet. “Not a Waltz” is one of several tracks that feature Lionel Loueke’s guitar and John Benitez on bass with Mohamed ‘Joh’ Sidi Camara adding the talking drum. What is fascinating is the constant conversations that take place between the various musicians. Etkin’s tenor adds a honking tinge to “Nama,” as he plays over a vamping accompaniment from Balla Kuoyate. “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” has the ensemble adding a unique touch to the Ellington jazz standard as Etkin’s clarinets set the tone before Balla Kuoyate continues the musical dance with his solo. The music on “Kelenia” will enchant and invigorate the listener with the freshness and vigor of the music here. For more on Oran Etkin, visit, or, where you can purchase this. It is available from amazon and iTunes.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Belinda Underwood Is An Enchanting Jazz Bassist and Vocalist

Among the recordings I had the pleasure to review this year for Jazz & Blues Report was the following by bassist and vocalist Belinda Underwood, that was sent to me by this publication. It appeared in the February 2009 issue (#313)

As the publicity for vocalist Belinda Underwood suggests, she is unique. After all, upright bass playing female vocalists are not that common, especially one also holding a degree in Astrophysics and holding a pilot’s license. Based in Portland, Oregon, she has a delightful new release, “Greenspace ,” with some unusual covers and her originals, that sometimes are whimsical, fit the playfulness of some of the performances. Her alto voice has a bit of sassiness, yet also is quite playful, and enchants with her delivery and phrasing. She plays bass on several tracks, but for much of the disc, Phil Baker of Pink Martini handles the bass with Martin Zarzar, also of Pink Martini on drums. Benny Green is the pianist and on three tracks, Belinda’s sister, Melissa is heard on saxophones. Nancy King adds her vocals to two selections and Egyptian Alfred Gamil adds violin to one track. Green is such a marvelous accompanist; no surprise from his tenure with Betty Carter and the rhythm is first-rate throughout.

The program opens with Underwood and Nancy King scatting to John Coltrane’s “Bass Blues,” followed by her lovely reading of Stevie Wonder’s “Secret Life of Plants,” which is one of several songs indicating a concern for things natural, even if she expresses it sometimes unusually. “No Moon At All,” is a playful waltz about falling in love with Green having a choice solo. An instrumental, “Seeing Red,” on which she plays bass has a Latin rhythm with Green emphatically stating the theme before her sister comes in on tenor. Her lovely way with a ballad is exhibited on “Blue Gardenia,” which is followed by her rendition of the bossa, “Estate,” singing about Estate and how he bathes her in the glow of his caresses and turns her no’s to tender yeses. “Polar Blue,” has a playfully expressed, but sober lyric about global warming, how the icebergs are melting and wondering why no one cares about the plight of polar bears. It is followed by a whimsical song of chickens in the chicken coop, recalling their fearful youth and the “Midnight Creeper,” the raccoon who snook into their Hen House. Underwood's playful, vocal is matched by the delightful trio accompaniment. Then there is her demonstrative lyric about singing in odd time signatures, “Odd Meter Blues.” A bit of middle eastern flavor is added by Gamil’s violin on “The Oasis.” On this, Belinda plays the oud as well as bass while the rhythm conjures images of a camel caravan heading to a desert oasis.

There are plenty of pleasures on “Greenspace,” from the songs, the wonderful playing and, most importantly, Belinda Underwood’s delightful manner in delivering a song that results in these completely enchanting performances. “Greenspace” is available from her website,,,, iTunes and other discerning retailers.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tad Robinson's Blue-Eyed Soul-Blues

The following review of a strong recording by Tad Robinson originally appeared in Jazz & Blues Report in 2004. I received the review copy from Severn Records, the label.

Tad Robinson is an exceptional blue-eyed blues and soul singer who recorded some years back on Delmark and I was privileged to write the notes for one of his discs. David Earl's Severn label has just issued his latest CD, Did You Ever Wonder? Robinson has really grown as a singer and along with the veteran Billy Price, label-mate Darrell Nulisch and also Curtis Salgado has emerged as a first-rate exponent of blue-eyed soul. There is more than a tinge of Memphis in the feel of these songs with Willie Henderson contributing the first rate horn arrangements for these tracks. Benji Porecki and Kevin McKendree handle the keyboards while Alex Schultz adds some hot guitar as on the remake of Jimmy McCracklin's The Bitter & the Sweet, on which Robinson tosses in some harp. The legendary Otis Clay even provides backing vocals on the Cornelius Brothers' hit, Too Late to Turn Back Now. Other covers include Robert Ward's marvelous Your Love is Amazing, and the Little Willie John's Suffering With the Blues. On both of these Robinson puts forth his own distinctive interpretation of the song. The highlights on a consistently excellent album may be two of the originals by Robinson and lyricist John Bean, Woman Trouble, and Pockets Full of Nothing. Perhaps its the exceptional lyrics that standout, but this whole disc should appeal to fans of modern urban blues and soul.

This CD was nominated for a Handy Award (now known as a Blues Music Award)

I Blueskvarter made Blues History Available

The following was a review of the 3rd double CD in a series that an offshoot of the Swedish blues magazine, Jefferson, released in the earlier part of this decade. The review below was written in 2004 and may have appeared in Jazz & Blues Report. I purchased this recording.

The Scandinavian Blues Association has issued on its Jefferson Records, I Blueskvarter * 1964, Volume Three. This is the third double disc volume in the series which makes available recordings that the Swedish Broadcasting Company made in Chicago, Memphis and New Orleans in 1964 that was broadcast in autumn 1964. The first two volumes were devoted to recordings from Chicago and included recordings by such legendary figures as Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Johnny Young, Walter Horton, Willie Mabon, Johnny Young, Washboard Sam and Paul Butterfield (on what were Butterfield's first recordings). This volume includes New Orleans recordings by Snooks Eaglin and Babe Stovall and Memphis recordings by Johnny Moment, Will Shade, Furry Lewis, Earl Bell and Moose Williams with the second disc containing extra recordings from Mabon, Sunnyland Slim, Walter Horton, and Johnny Young among others before concluding with three 1961 recordings by Big Joe Williams and then from Champion Jack Dupree recorded in performance and conversation in Sweden. This is a varied set of music opening with Snooks Eaglin performing ten numbers in a vein similar to his early recordings as a 'street singer' although the opening Yours Truly, a Pee Wee Crayton song he had recorded for Imperial as a R&B artist. Few could pull off PInetop's Boogie Woogie on guitar like Snooks can and other songs he provides his unique skills to include My Babe, Let Me Go Home Whisky, and Hello Dolly. Babe Stovall, who also was resident in New Orleans presents some more down home blues on his four songs that includes renditions of Candy Man and Gonna Move to Kansas City. The first Memphis selections are by harmonica Johnny Moment, whose rendition of Keep Our Business to Yourself, is heavily indebted to Rice 'Sonny Boy Williamson II' Miller. He also backs legendary jug band musician Will Shade on a slow I Got the Blues So Bad, Furry lewis has sounded better than on Baby, I Know You Don't Love Me, which does have moments of nice slide guitar. Traditional Mississippi blues are represented by one Earl Bell who does a competent cover Robert Johnson's Terraplane Blues. The selections from Chicago supplement recordings by these artists that are on the first two volumes in this series. Willie Mabon delivers a strong Somebody's Got to Pay, while piano blues are also represented by Sunnyland Slim on Leroy Carr's Prison Bound and Little Brother Montgomery who reprises his immortal Vicksburg Blues. Walter Horton, accompanied by Robert Nighthawk on guitar is heard on three numbers including a nicely delivered Tin Pan Alley. Two early recordings by Paul Butterfield with Smokey Smothers on guitar include One Room Country Shack, while Johnny Young is backed by Slim Willis on harp and Otis Spann on piano for You Got Bad Blood, I Think You Need a Shot. The Joe Williams performances are typically fine and are followed by a Swedish broadcast of Dupree and Olie Helander in which Dupree recalls growing up, his big influence and other matters along with a rendition of his Drive 'em Down Special, as well as Leroy Carr's Barrelhouse Woman. In addition to being a great pianist, Dupree was a marvelous conversationalist. As with the first two volumes, there are copious notes that discuss the artists and how the recordings were made. This is an invaluable addition to the body of downhome blues of this time. This is an important musical document and contains some very strong performances by artists who have mostly passed away. The Swedish Blues Alliance is to be thanked for the over six hours of vintage blues music that they have made available in this series. You probably can only obtain these by mail order, and I would suggest contacting either Bluebeat Music at or Triangle Music at for information on obtaining these. Its too bad that Olie Helander only did a radio documentary of the blues forty years ago, because the musical legacy of this radio series stands tall compared to the recent over-hyped Martin Scorcese PBS series on the blues.

Bluebeat Music shows the three volumes of this series as still available.

Solid Smokin' Joe Kubek and B'nois King

I have had a fondness for Smokin' Joe Kubek and B'nois King since first becoming aware of them with their association with Rounder Records and its Blullseye Blues subsidiary in the 1990s. The pair has always had strong bands and their contrasting guitar styles as well as B’Nois King’s soulful blues singing make them a strong act to listen to and see live. The following review dates from 2004 and appeared in Jazz & Blues Report, and the review copy was most likely provided by the Blind Pig Label.

The pair of Joe Kubek and B'nois King continue to lay down some strong blues tracks with their latest Blind Pig release, Show Me the Money. Kubek's muscular and incendiary guitar playing is complemented by King's soulful vocals (suggestive of a cooler Otis Rush) and his own jazzier guitar comping and soloing. While one gets a sense of a rock feel to this music at time, perhaps a result of Kubek's tone at times, yet they never stray from the blues perhaps because of the solid and never overstated rhythm section. The album is full of solid new slow blues and shuffles including the cautionary She Can Smell Another Woman, where B'nois warns one that one day he is gonna slip up and she will sense when he has another woman and "you'll lose her and your girlfriend and wind up all alone." My Heart's in Texas is a rocker with as King songs about some places he's been and while he's seen Big Ben in London, his heart's in Texas as Kubek takes off on a short concise solo. Burnin' to the Ground has a funky little groove with a lyric about about a love that was too hot and high and came crashing down with some hot slide from Kubek who is quite capable of playing sheets of sound with his guitar but knows when to lay out. In fact this is reflected by the fact that the longest tracks here extend to slightly more than 4 1/2 minutes. There is plenty of passion invested into these performances, but they play with intelligence and keep their performances focused and concise resulting in this first-rate cd.

Tad Robinson's Blue-Eyed Soul-Blues

The following review of a strong recording by Tad Robinson originally appeared in Jazz & Blues Report in 2004. I received the review copy from Severn Records, the label.

Tad Robinson is an exceptional blue-eyed blues and soul singer who recorded some years back on Delmark and I was privileged to write the notes for one of his discs. David Earl's Severn label has just issued his latest cd, Did You Ever Wonder? Robinson has really grown as a singer and along with the veteran Billy Price, label-mate Darrell Nullisch and also Curtis Salgado has emerged as a first-rate exponent of blue-eyed soul. There is more than a tinge of Memphis in the feel of these songs with Willie Henderson contributing the first rate horn arrangements for these tracks. Benji Porecki and Kevin McKendree handle the keyboards while Alex Schultz adds some hot guitar as on the remake of Jimmy McCracklin's The Bitter & the Sweet on which Robinson tosses in some harp. The legendary Otis Clay even provides backing vocals on the Cornelius Brothers' hit, Too Late to Turn Back Now. Other covers include Robert Ward's marvelous Your Love is Amazing, and the Little Willie John Suffering With the Blues. On both of these Robinson puts forth his own distinctive interpretation of the song. The highlights on a consistently excellent album may be two of the originals by Robinson and lyricist John Bean, Woman Trouble and Pockets Full of Nothing. Perhaps its the exceptional lyrics that standout, but this whole disc should appeal to fans of modern urban blues and soul.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Houston Person Featured on Harold Arlen tribute

I have become a huge fan of Houston Person over the past few years, and he certainly merits acclaim as one of the great tenor saxophonists. A master of blues and ballads, he is showcased on a marvelous tribute to Harold Arlen by guitarist Peter Hand's Big Band. This review written for Jazz & Blues Report but it has not run yet.

Guitarist Peter Hand has years of performing and writing experience and in more recent years put together several larger ensembles including his big band that has a notable roster of players including saxophonists, Kenny Berger, Don Braden, Ralph LaLama, Mike Migliore; Trumpeters and flugelhornists, Cecil Bridgewater, Valery Ponamarev, Jim Rotondi; and pianist Richard Wyands, to name some of the more recognizable names. For a concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Birth of Harold Arlen, held at Irvington Town hall Theater on April 22, 2005, he also added Houston Person as featured guest where they ran through some of Arlen’s most beloved compositions such as “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Ill Wind,” Let’s Fall in Love,” Stormy Weather,” and “Over the rainbow.” The Peter Hand Big Band’s concert was recorded and Savant has released it “The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen.”

Any album featuring Houston Person is going to benefit form his warm, rich tone and the melodic quality of his improvisations and this comes to the fore early with his opening statement in then opening “Come Rain or Come Shine,” with interesting orchestral interjections to spice things up with some nice solos also from Hand and pianist Wyands. On the ballad “Ill Wind,” Person’s romantic playing evokes Ben Webster although his tone is feathery compared to the heavy vibrato Webster employed. Bridgewater has a lovely muted trumpet solo here. Hand in his annotation notes that the rendition of the ballad “This Time’s The Dream’s On Me,” is an uptempo one inspired by the Charlie Parker recording with Valery Ponamarev sparkling on his solo, while Person’s ballad playing once again is at front for “The Man That Got Away,” written for the 1955 film version of “A Star is Born,” and Person’s familiarity with this comes from the many years he played this with the late great Etta Jones. Special kudos here for the marvelous arrangement with Hand and Wyands making some nice contributions in the background. The bossa nova arrangement enlivens “Let’s Fall in Love,” with Don Braden’s snake charming soprano sax solo, and Jim Rotondi adding some blistering trumpet. “Stormy Weather” is among Arlen’s most famous songs and Person is magnificent here on an arrangement built upon that used by Person for his small group performances. One performance is a ringer, being a medley of Person’s “Blue Jug” and Hand’s “Harold Blues,” which is a lengthy blues jam with a number of different soloists (one of the trumpeters quotes “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”), with Person taking his last. The performance closes with an unaccompanied Houston Person performance of “Over the Rainbow.” Having an opportunity to listen to a number of recent Houston Person recordings in the past several years, he has become a favorite who can constantly be counted on for swinging tenor sax deep in the blues and a master of the ballad which is showcased as the special guest of Peter Hand’s marvelous big band for a thoroughly captivating recording.

For FTC purposes I was provided the review copy from Jazz & Blues Report which recived it from the record label.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Joe Louis Walker Returns With Boss Blues

A new Joe Louis Walker recording is always welcome and Stony Plane has just issued “Between A Rock And The Blues.” I believe this is his second album for Stony Plain and like the prior one is produced by Duke Robillard and the 19th album that is not a compilation of prior recordings. Walker has produced the most impressive of any artist in the blues over the past quarter of a century, and has not produced a disc that was not at least good. This present release may be his best release in a decade with its consistently strong playing, solid backing support, impassioned singing and varied, interesting material. Ten of the tracks were in Rhode Island with a band that included Robilliard, Bruce Katz, Doug James and Carl Querforth on nine and the closing “Send You Back” an acoustic duet with Sugar Ray Norcia’s harmonica. The ensemble playing here is leaner, tighter and sharper sounding than on Walker’s last few albums and his own playing seems to be more focused. Good range of material from the rocking opening “I’m Tired,” where he recites a litany of things he is tired up. It is followed by a hot, bluesy reworking of Travis Phillips’ rockabilly stomp, “Eyes Like a Cat.” “Black Widow Spider” is a nice original with solid keyboards from Katz and sax from James while Walker is strong on guitar and vocals on Murali Coryell’s “Way Too Expensive,” a solid jump blues styled number with a solid Robilliard solo added. Two of the songs were recorded at Kevin Eubanks (you know the one who is associated with Jay Leno) with a band that includes Eubanks, the great Henry Oden on bass and Ellis Eugene Blackwell on keyboards. “If There’s a Heaven,” is typical of the two with an intense driving backing supporting a fervent vocal and some driving slide guitar by one of the blues slide guitar masters of today, evoking Elmore, Muddy, Tampa Red and Earl Hooker, yet immediately recognizable as his own sound. “I’ve Been Down,” the other tune with this band is a driving Rolling Stones inspired blues rocker. “Prisoner of Misery,” with Robillard’s band is back to the West Side Chicago blues while Steve Hall’s “Hallways,” is built on a soulful lyric embellished by Walker’s guitar with Katz taking a solid piano solo while his organ helps set the atmosphere here. The Boss Talker is back with one of the best recent blues albums by anyone.

To the extent required by FTC regulations, I received a review copy of this CD from the record compnay or promotional firm.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

King of the Queen City is Important Label History

King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records
Jon Hartley Fox
University of Illinois Press
(280 pages, 23 photographs)

This writer have long been a fan of many of rhythm’n’blues artists that recorded for the King family of labels. These include Roy Brown, Wyonnie Harris, Ivory Joe Hunter, Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Freddie King, Little Willie John, Esther Phillips, The Five Royales, Billy Ward & the Dominoes and James Brown, to name a small part of the musical legacy of Syd Nathan’s Cincinnati based group of labels that included Queen and Federal. King was a pioneering label in more ways than one as this very welcome history of the label and overview of the extensive recordings that were made for it makes clear.

“King of the Queen City” expands upon a public radio series of the same title that Fox did in 1986 and is a history of the label that Syd Nathan launched in 1943, which became a company that Fox observes was “one of the most, important successful and influential record companies in history. During the almost twenty-five years Nathan was at the helm, King recorded — and introduced to the American public — a stunning array of musical giants, from country stars Merle Travis and Grandpa Jones and bluegrass greats Don Reno and Red Smiley to blues guitarist Freddie King and R&B and soul stars Hank Ballard and James Brown.” Furthermore, while one of hundreds of independent labels to emerge during the forties, none of these matched “King for variety, innovation, depth of catalog and sheer moxie.” It changed not only how music was recorded but also the music itself and whereas almost all other independent labels concentrated on one type of music, King was active in virtually all genres of American vernacular music and did not simply dabble in these styles but had many top stars and some of the biggest records in these styles. It was music and records for “the little man,” as Nathan often put it.

King did more than simply pioneer in the music it recorded and issued. King Records under Syd Nathan pioneered in other ways. It was a record company that had an integrated staff, in what really was a southern city at the time. Nathan started the record company during the middle of World War II when there was a shellac shortage and during the first Petrillo recording ban, may not have been what one might have been instructed in business school. Despite these circumstances Syd Nathan developed King into pioneering record company. He recorded his artists in his studios, manufactured his records (which entailed learning how to master and manufacture records) and using a national promotion force under his control. Other companies may have had their own studio, or perhaps manufacturing plant, but they would not also have their own promotion staff, rather relying on regionally based independent promotion staff. And one cannot emphasize enough his pioneering in hiring individuals on merit, not on the basis of race or other matters.

King also pioneered in having his R&B acts record songs penned by his country stars and vice versa (such as Wyonnie Harris “Bloodshot Eyes”), therefore enabling the exploitation of the songs in the music catalog the label cultivated and owned in addition to the recordings. Overseeing many of the sessions (whether country and R&B) was Henry Glover, Nathan’s first Artist & Repertoire Director. Glover was probably only the second black man to hold an executive position with a United States record label and helped produce some of the label’s early hits like those by Bull Moose Jackson and Harris. Fox, in telling the story of King Records, notes the unheralded and pioneering role that Glover, and also Ralph Bass played in the development of American music of the past 65 years, and notes how few of these have received the recognition they deserve.

Nathan had a strong personality and could get into intense arguments with his staff. The book recounts the legendary story of Nathan’s reaction to James Brown & the Famous Flames’ “Please, Please, Please,” that Ralph Bass recorded, spewing “This is the worse piece of shit I’ve ever heard in my life. …” The earliest acts on King were country acts like Grandpa Jones, the Delmore Brothers and Merle Travis and King would build a distinguished country catalog that included Hawksaw Hawkins, Hank Penny and the great rocking honky tonk piano pioneer, Moon Mullican and then rockabilly sessions with such pioneers as Charlie Feathers. And there would be the countless blues and vocal groups as well as gospel sessions held under the eyes of Glover, Bass and others. Lets not forget such important popular instrumental performers as Earl Bostic and Bill Doggett. Is there anyone reading this who has never heard “Honky Tonk?” The recordings story along with that of Doggett, saxophonist Clifford Scott and guitarist Billy Butler is among those recounted here. This is just to give a small flavor of what the King Catalog represented. King Records passed along with Syd Nathan when he died. The label’s catalog was purchased as was the music publishing. and Fox discusses the various reissues of King recordings and other matters that have happened over the four decades since Syd Nathan passed away.

Fox weaves the label’s history around a discussion of the many performers and musical styles the label touched on and even one familiar with a number of the artists will discover much new. This is not to say there are not omissions in discussing artists, especially after they left King. For example, the discussion of Esther Phillips sort of dismisses her post-King years, ignoring the fact that the Beatles invited her to England because of her recording “And I Love Him,” and one year Aretha handed Esther Phillips a Grammy one year when Aretha won over Esther’s classic album “From a Whisper to a Scream. Its his superficial summary discussion of her and Johnny “Guitar’ Watson, that have me wondering what has he missed on performers who I am less familiar with. This does seem a minor point as his achievement is compiling so much information on the King Records story and artists and recordings of King and associated labels. The label’s story is perhaps not as integrated with the narrative of the performers, but that is a function of what he has attempted here. 

If not a perfect book, it is a remarkable achievement and Fox makes the case for the recognition to folks like Henry Glover, Ralph Bass and Syd Nathan himself by popular music historians. Their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should have been secured years ago, and hopefully this volume will lead to that belated recognition. To the extent these folks are not in The Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame, that oversight should be immediately addressed. Jon Hartley Fox is to be thanked for his impressive addition to the popular music literature. “King of the Queen City” is highly recommended for anyone seriously interested in American vernacular music.

To comply with FTC regulations that may or may not be applicable, I obtained a review copy of this book from either the publisher or someone doing publicity for the publisher.

What Lifetime Achievement by Honeyboy Edwards

The announcement that David 'Honeyboy' Edwards is receiving a Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award is startling. According to the NARAS website,

"This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Recording Academy's National Trustees to performers* who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artist significance to the field of recording."

Maybe someone can explain what creative contribution as a performer of blues Honeyboy made. He made some enjoyable recordings (Notably his Library of Congress Recordings) but can someone explain how he receives such an honor when such clearly more important associates as Charlie Patton, Tommy Johnson, Big Joe Williams, Tommy McLennan, Son House, Bukka White, Robert Lockwood, Johnny Shines, Skip James, and Fred McDowell have not been honored to name a few.

Is survival until one is in one's 90s a criteria for a relatively minor artist being heralded as a major creative artist, when that was simply not the case.

I look forward to getting some brickbats on this but Ma Rainey, Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy have not been so honored, but Honeyboy Edwards has.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mary Flower Beautifully Bridges Folk and Blues

Here is a review that I wrote earlier this calendar year by a wonderful singer and guitarist, Mary Flower, one of the most accomplished fingerstyle guitarists alive today. It was originally written for Jazz & Blues Report and appeared in the April 2009 issue which can be downloaded at, and go to download issues. Dr. John is on the issue's cover

Mary Flower is one of the unsung heroines of traditionally oriented blues and roots music. She is one of the finest fingerstyle guitarists alive and Yellow Dog records has followed up her acclaimed CD “Bywater Dance” with a new release, “Bridges,” sure to please her fans and introduce her to many others. She has recently relocated to Portland, Oregon after spending decades around Denver, and on this new disc collaborates with a variety of Portland artists including transplanted New Orleans saxophonist Reggie Houston,guitarist and banjoist, Tony Furtado, keyboard players Janice Scroggins and Matt Potts, her sons Jesse Withers on bass and bluegrass legend Tim O’Brien on mandolin and fiddle. The program for this CD includes obscure gems from the songbooks of 1920s and ’30s America to complement her own rootsy compositions, enabling Flower to explore and illuminate the complex relationships between Piedmont blues, ragtime, jazz, and old-time gospel music. With varying instrumentation, the tenor of the songs range from traditional Piedmont style blues to more contemporary folk-blues oriented roots.

The opening “Rhythm of the Road,” has a folky air as she delivers a world weary vocal about her travels down the road as Furtado complementing her fingerstyle lead with his banjo and slide guitar fills. It is followed by ”There Ain’t No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears,” a delightful number new to these ears with a jaunty backing and nice piano solo from Janice Scroggins. A reflective treatment of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” follows with Scroggins spare piano supporting Flower’s melancholy vocal. “When I Get Home I’m Gonna Be Satisfied,” is a gospel number handled at an easy tempo and featuring some adept lap slide guitar from Ms. Flower. The original instrumental, “Columbia River Rag,” is one example of her marvelous fingerstyle work in the Piedmont tradition. A highpoint during her rendition of Emmett Miller’s “The Ghost of the St. Louis Blues” is the interplay of the laughing clarinet from Doug Bundy and Reggie Houston’s soprano sax. “A medley of “On Revival Day” with “There’s Gonna To be the Devil to Pay,” is a delightful performance with Scroggins buoyant piano complementing Flower’s spirited playing and vocal. “Portland Town” evokes some classic Piedmont blues, but this fresh original Flower co-wrote has a nice lilting rhythm with an interesting accordion accompaniment. Another stunning fingerstyle instrumental, “Daughter of Contortion,” is followed by a strong rendition of“Big Bill Blues,” a Big Bill Broonzy recording. Next is a fine small group rendition of Thomas Henry Lodge’s 1909 composition,“Temptation Rag,” that has lovely interplay by Flower with Robin Kessinger on flatpicked guitar before Spud Siegel kicks in on mandolin and takes the tempo up a notch. Tim O’Brien adds his fiddle to “Up a Lazy River,” which comes off as a nod to Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti before Flower adds a nice vocal. With O’Brien on mandolin and Courtney Von Drehle on accordion, she concludes this delightful recording with a lovely original “Blue Waltz.” “bridges” is yet another enchanting recording by a marvelous acoustic blues artist. This should be available at, itunes or better stores. You can also order this from Mary’s website,

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ghosts of Harlem Will Be Great Gift For Jazz Lover

The following review has been written for Jazz & Blues Report and hopefully will appear in the December issue. I certaainly think this book (with an included CD) would make for a terrific present for the jazz lover in your family or a gift for yourself. This lists for $75 but amazon has it for a bit over $50 as I post this.

The Ghosts of Harlem
Hank O’Neal
Vanderbilt University Press

At one time Harlem was the center of the Jazz World with such bands and performers as Duke Ellington, the Savoy Sultans, Chick Webb and others playing as part of shows at such legendary places as The Cotton Club, Connie’s Inn, the Savoy Ballroom, the Lafayette Theatre and the Apollo Theatre along with other places such as Monroe’s and Minton's. In “The Ghosts of Harlem,” Hank O’Neal provides a brief history of Harlem’s jazz scene from its heyday to its decline after World War 11, as well as provides interviews of 42 artists who were part of Harlem’s vibrant scene and get their memories as well as views on what led to the decline.

Its not a dry oral history either as author O’Neal is a gifted and noted photographer. While some may know him as the principal person behind the Chiaroscuro Records label, he was at one time on duty for the Central Intelligence Agency, before his more known musical activities which also included producing the Floating Jazz Festivals, the source of the various jazz, blues and other themed music cruises of today. Also he is well respected as a photographer and author having compiled “The Eddie Condon Scrapbook of Jazz,” “Gay Day: The Golden Age of the Christopher Day Parade,” and “Berenice Abbott”, about his friend, the noted photographer. His talents as a writer, interviewer, photographer and record producer are all given effect in this handsome coffee table volume that is richly illustrated with both his own portraits, mostly taken with a view camera, as well as archival photos from various sources. This updates the original version which was published in France in 1997).

The early chapters set the table as he explores some of the that made Harlem, contrasting his contemporary photos with historical photos as he discusses the venue, who played there and lets us see how its now a church, an apartment building or a few clubs still exist and feature live entertainment, including some jazz. The bulk of the book is devoted to the interviews of The Ghosts of Harlem. They are Ghosts only in a figurative sense, as O’Neal has common themes in the interviews including some basic biographical information, when and how they first came to Harlem, what memories they had of the places they played and what performers they remember as outstanding as well as thoughts or observations on the decline in jazz and any recent visits or experiences they had.

The persons interviewed range from such prominent jazz figures as Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Cab Calloway, Milt Hinton, Clark Terry, Benny Carter, Illinois Jacquet, and Joe Williams, along with such important persons, if not as widely known among the general public, as Andy Kirk, Eddie Durham, Sammy Price, Buddy Tate, Danny Barker and Sy Oliver. The recollections are fascinating as O’Neal is a gifted interviewer (some of his Chiaroscuro CDs included jazz speak tracks with the performers recollections included), and his contemporary portraits are mixed in with historical photo as well as label shots of 78s that the artist was featured or performed on.

Added to the interviews is a compact disc with eleven performances from the Chiarascuro catalog featuring 17 of the Ghosts of Harlem including Illinois Jacquet, Buddy Tate, Milt Hinton, Jonah Jones, Doc Cheatham, Eddie Barefield, Red Richards, Al Casey, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, Danny Barker, Frank Wess, Harry Edison, Major Holley, Benny Carter, Clark Terry, and Joe Williams, and a bit of Jazz Speak with Eddie Barefield, Cab Calloway, Eddie Barefield and Milt Hinton recollecting about the times together in Cab’s great band as they joke about whether Cab had his Studebaker or Lincoln in the Pullman Car they traveled in while touring.

This is a large and heavy book. 432 pages with 475 b&w photographs and the CD with over an hour of music and talk. Its is fascinating and by its very nature invites one to delve back into it again and again. “The Ghosts of Harlem have come to life in this superb book. Something to keep in mind when looking for a gift for a jazz lover in your circle of friends or family.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Blind Blues Daddy's terrific new release

I was gonna write the underlying review in any event, but when I got home tonight I learned that Bryan Lee was hospitalized, apparently suffering from complications from a staph infection. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers. Folks who know him say what a wonderful person he is. I am just a fan of his strong blues singing and playing. No BS, and as I write this, hope he makes a full recovery.

Whether you call Bryan Lee The Blind Giant of the Blues or Braille Blues Daddy, it does not matter. Lee, a New Orleans institution since 1982 had a long-time residency at the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street with his Jump Street Five. This writer saw Lee there in the eighties and was impressed by his Albert King influenced style and husky straight-forward singing to get the vinyl album they had for sale. When the Old Absinthe House stopped being a bar with entertainment, he moved on to other Crescent City venues as well as toured throughout the US and Europe. Since 1991 he has recorded for the Canadian Justin Time label which previously issued 11 albums (one being a compilation) by Lee has just issued “My Lady Don’t Love My Lady,” the third Lee recording that Duke Robillard has produced and it is a typically strong recording. Robillard put together the studio band of some of his long-time associates including bassist Marty Ballou, pianist Dave Maxwell, and saxophonists Gordon Beadle and Doug James with guest appearances by Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Sheppard.

A Bryan Lee album and performance has one constant, his straight-forward blues vocals and guitars. Even when covering familiar material such as Willie Mabon’s “I Don’t Know,” he adds his own accent to the vocal and arrangement (although Dave Maxwell certainly contributes a fresh solo here and Beadle rips off a blistering tenor solo on this). There is some terrific material including a terrific Doc Pomus-Mac Rebennack composition “Imitation of Love,” that opens this disc and a lesser known Earl King blues about a cheating woman “Three Can Play This Game,” with more fine piano from Maxwell and tenor from Beadle. For some reason Junior Wells is given authorship for “Early in the Morning,” which was first recorded by the great pianist Charlie Spand in the twenties and which Junior likely picked up from John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson. Lee is in fine form here as is Maxwell while Buddy Guy adds his guitar to spice this track. Kenny Wayne Sheppard helped write the shuffle “Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough,” and adds the hard rocking guitar solo pyrotechnics. Ballou’s walking bass opens the nice cover of Ray Charles’ “Heartbreaker,” with Maxwell’s piano evoking The Genius and solid solos from Beadle on tenor sax and James on baritone sax. Lee contributes three originals including “Too Many Wolves,” a slow blues with a terrific lyric about too many wolves hanging around his door with some blistering fretwork from Lee, and the title track, with a nice funk groove as Lee laments his lady makes him feel so good but does not dig his guitar. Big Bill Broonzy’s “When I’ve Been Drinking,” benefits from the late night, jazzy setting Robillard provides for Lee’s low-key vocal with Duke taking a fine solo here. It takes a brave man to cover a song connected with the late Johnny Adams, and Bryan does a more than a credible job on the country-tinged R&B gem, “Reconsider Me,” if not up to the Tan Canary's original.

Bryan Lee’s lady may not love Bryan’s other lady, but Bryan continues to deliver some of the toughest blues to be heard. This may be one of Duke Robillard’s finest efforts as a producer with the studio band being terrific. Add a blend of material with even the best-known covers injected with Lee’s personal approach and one has another terrific album of blues by Bryan Lee. This is available at cdbaby, amazon, itunes, and other vendors.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Can I Get An Amen

Nashville singer and guitarist Johnnie Jones' passed away recently and it unfortunately was unheralded somewhat.

Those having The Beat!!! DVDs (or just the Freddie King DVD from that show), he was the other guitarist in the house band besides Gatemouth Brown
and was a member of The King Casuals (I probably screwed up the name of the band) who also included Billy Cox and a young Jimi Hendrix.

Thanks to Fred James and others we are fortunate to have several recent recordings by him (Live at Lucerne with Charles Walker is a special gem
and I remember seeing him at the Poconos with Charles Walker as well as at the Ponderosa Stomp.

Jonny Meister has a Blues File podcast on Johnny's career and this can also be accessed from the itunes store.

Bill Heid shines on jazzy blues piano set.

“You Know I Can’t Reuse: The Bill Heid Sessions,” (Eastlawn) is one of those discs that straddle the blues and jazz categories, so unfortunately sometimes get lost in the mix of new recordings. Drummer RJ Spangler is one of those musicians who has championed the swinging blues and rhythm pioneers of his native Detroit as well as providing solid, idiomatic support that helped revive the careers of such folks as Johnnie Bassett, Detroit’s Blues Queen Alberta Adams and the late Motor City legends as Joe Weaver, Stanley Mitchell and Kenny Martin. RJ tours with his Rhythm Rockers and plays in different combos such as RJ Spangler’s Blues Four which reunites him here with Bill Heid, one of the unsung blues and jazz keyboard players of the past thirty-five odd years. The Pittsburgh native has lived in Chicago for several years where he was on Alligator recordings by Koko Taylor, Fenton Robinson and Roy Buchanan. He later recorded for a variety of labels including several excellent organ recordings for Savant as a leader, in addition to recordings by Johnny Bassett and others for Cannonball. He lived in Detroit for about two decades developing a bunch of followers including RJ and played a major role in helping getting Johnny Bassett some international exposure. More recently, he has been part of the Baltimore and Washington jazz and blues scene. This new disc that RJ Spangler produced has Pat Prouty on string bass and Keith Kaminski on saxophone with Johnnie Bassett adding his guitar to several selections.

As the disc's subtitle suggests, Heid is the focus here. Heid plays piano and handles the vocals on a set of jazz-inflected blues or blues-inflected jazz. A good part of the 11 songs here derive from the repertoire of such jump blues legends as Floyd Dixon and Jimmy Witherspoon although it opens with a rollicking rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Ninety Nine,” with Heid’s Amos Milburn-Floyd Dixon inspired boogie piano complementing his unforced off-the-cuff vocals embellished by Bassett’s nice solo. Dixon’s “Red Cherries,” is a sophisticated uptown number with the, “Cherry a day will keep the doctor away,” has him singing about the fun in getting cherry juice on his tongue. Next is another Dixon classic, though more in the Charles Brown-Little Willie Littlefield vein, “Baby Lets Go Down to the Woods,” as Bassett’s guitar conjures up Oscar Moore. The tempo picks up for Leiber-Stoller’s “Too Much Jelly Roll, a popular part of Jimmy Witherspoon’s fifties repertoire. While he can’t shout the blues like Witherspoon, Heid’s delivery appeals in its own fashion on Spoon’s “Failing By Degrees,” with the down-in-the-alley piano ably supported by Prouty’s bass and Spangler’s brush work. Heid's “Boogie For Mr. B.” is a fine original boogie woogie. Heid’s piano also adds a fresh feel to the Joe Turner and Pete Johnson classic “Piney Brown Blues,” with Kaminski telling his bluesy story on tenor sax, while Jimmy Witherspoon’s “Times Getting Tougher Than Tough,” gets rollicking piano along with Kaminski’s tenor sax punctuation. The title track, originally by Detroit’s Five Dollars backed by Joe Weaver & the Blue Notes, has a tasty rumba groove while Johnny Bassett, who played on the original, adds his guitar here.

RJ, in the album notes, mentions outside of Bill’s original boogie, these are songs that Bill would play with RJ and the cats iover the years but had never recorded. I add that none of these numbers have been done to death. In any event, Heid adds his own inflections to his performances making for a set that should appeal to fans of jazz and blues, and artists like Jay MacShann, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Amos Milburn and Mose Allison who defy category borders. Kudos to Spangler for putting together such an strong session. It is available at and, to name two of the sources listed on

Friday, October 30, 2009

New Jimmy Smith DVD Captures Organ Legend at Park

Among the latest in the Jazz Icons® series of DVDs (Naxos/Reelin’ in the Years) is the great organist Jimmy Smith from a French television broadcast of a 1969 performance at the fabled Salle Pleyel “Live in ‘69.” While one might find incredulous Bob Porter’s claim (in his foreword to the accompanying booklet for this CD) that it should be blasphemy to suggest that Smith was not one of the four or five greatest jazz musicians of the past fifty years, there can be no denying the greatness that Smith brought to jazz and really took the organ in jazz to new heights and was one of the jazz greats of the last half century.

He is seen with his trio of guitarist Eddie McFadden, who was on some of Smith’s Blue Note dates, and drummer Charles Crosby, best known for stints with B.B. King and Roland Kirk. The Paris concert opens with a blistering “Sonnymoon For Two,” followed by a lovely “Days of Wine and Roses,” with lovely single note playing by McFadden, as Smith adding some choice voicings before his own solo. Then the trio kicks off on a twenty minute plus rendition of “The Sermon,” with McFadden’s fleet bluesy solo as Smith’s fills, comps and otherwise pushes the guitarist’s playing as the camera catches Smith’s smiles of approval, before Smith launches his solo, with perhaps the most inspired playing from this evening which is saying much. Church organ sounds open up “Alfie,” as the trio takes the tempo down before concluding the first set with an upbeat “Satin Doll,” with Smith sounding like a full big band. The second set opens with a hot swinging rendition of “Organ Grinder’s Swing,” followed by some deep blues jazz organ as he rocks “Got My Mojo Working,” with a very able vocal and see Crosby’s sticks superimposed on Smith’s hands on the B-3. Smith opens “See See Rider” with some moody chords before stating the melody and getting down in the alley with McFadden playing some gritty blues . Another blues follows with a boogaloo groove before “My Romance” changes the mood, followed by a slightly slower rendition of “Satin Doll,” that leads into the credits ending a truly superb video. Ashley Kahn provides a full appreciation of Smith as well as places this performance in its context and the Reelin’ in the Years Production folk have done a terrific job in transferring the original French TV broadcast to digital video and the sound is first-rate. Which is fitting because Smith and his trio is inspired throughout on an evening of great music (nearly 85 minutes).

Pursuant to recent FTC regulations, I disclose that this DVD was received from the firm handling publicity for the Jazz Icons® release.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Revives DC Area Tradition

A heads up for those in the Mid-Atlantic Region

For years Jazz was prominent in the Washington DC area during the middle of February. The East Coast Jazz Festival became an important event in the DC area musical calendar. With the passing of Ronnie Wells, The East Coast Jazz Festival’s founder, the festival which benefited jazz education, unfortunately ended. Now friends of the late jazz diva are reigniting the tradition with the First Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. The festival will take place the weekend of February 19-21, 2010, at the Hilton Executive Meeting Center in Rockville, MD (formerly the Doubletree Hotel), for three days of good vibes, great socializing, and opportunities to hear the music.

The Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival will be the flavor and style of that ECJF, and in honor of ECJF founder Ronnie Wells. It will share the strong commitment to jazz education and the exceptional artistry of DC metro region musicians and build upon the legacy of ECJF in presenting jazz to the region by perpetuating, nurturing and sustaining the jazz art form, engaging and teaching young musicians, and presenting top flight musicians.

There will be 8 programs over the course of the weekend and performers including the Jazz Academy Orchestra, The Paul Carr Quintet (with Terell Stafford, Mulgrew Miller, Michael Bowie, and Lewis Nash); a tribute to Ronnie Wells with Janine Carter, Bonnie Harris, Felicia Carter, and Delores King-Williams; The Andersen Twins; a saxophone summit with Bobby Watson, Bruce Williams, and Fred Foss; jazz video screenings by Bret Primack; and more. The Mid-Atlantic Jazz Feestival is presented by the Jazz Academy of Music. For more information check out the Festival web-site,

Saturday, October 10, 2009

RIP Abu Talib fka Freddy Robinson

Modesto Bee carried the obituary.

It reads in part:

He recorded with Little Walter and Ray Charles and died Thursday, October 8, at the age of 70 from cancer.

A bit more can be found from an AP obituary.

According to that he also played with Howlin' Wolf and Monk Higgins and "recorded and wrote several songs including "Black Fox," "At the Drive-In," "Bluesology" and the blues instrumental, "After Hours."" With Little Walter he played on "My Baby's Sweeter," "Crazy Mixed Up World," "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," and others with Luther Tucker being also on those sessions.

He also played with John Mayall in the Jazz Blues Fusion Band that included Blue Mitchell and Clifford Solomon. Funny how this great guitarist is never mentioned when folks talk about Mayall's guitarists, nor is this band which was one of Mayall's more interesting ones. He was also on Louis Myers "I'm a Southern Man" album and sessions with Jimmy McCracklin (Minit) and others.

Check out his illustrated discography from the web.

Finally a

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chicago Blues Harmonica Project showcases Rare Blues Gems

This review appeared in Jazz & Blues Report (July 2009, Issue 318). I have made a few minor wording changes.

Severn Records has followed up its prior release of lesser known Chicago Blues Harmonica Players, Chicago Blues Harmonica Project: Diamonds in the Rough with "More Rare Gems.” Its another collection of lively performances by a variety of lesser known harp players who continue to ply their trade in the clubs and bars of the Windy City. Once again the backing band is The Chicago Blues Masters: guitarists Rick Kreher and Illinois Slim; pianist Mark Brumbach; bassist E.G.McDaniel and drummer Twist Turner who provide solid idiomatic traditionally oriented backing throughout.

Seven performers are heard on this collection, some who come off stronger than others but all are entertaining. Reginald Cooper opens with a strong vocal on his rendition of a Z.Z. Hill recording, “Shade Tree Mechanic,” with a simple harp solo that rides the disc out. His other performance reworks Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Give Me Back That Wig,” with the band giving the song a Muddy Waters styled flavor with more harp.He is a particularly expressive vocalist and his harp adds solid flavoring to these performances. Charlie Love really tears into his harp at the beginning of the extroverted and rollicking shuffle rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Ooh Baby, Hold Me.” His vocal perhaps is a bit melodramatic on the cover of Elmore James’ “Twelve Year Old Boy,” although the track sports more fine harp. What is interesting is that Love is known as a guitarist so he likely could put together an interesting album.

Harmonica Hinds has recorded with Koko Taylor several years and has several self-produced albums. His harp playing is his strength as displayed on his original, “Kill That Mouse,” but his gruff vocals suffers from a somewhat stiff delivery despite his obvious enthusiasm, The instrumental shuffle, “Sunday Morning Blues,” displays his musical strengths. The recordings by the late Little Arthur Duncan, perhaps the best known of those heard here, were his last and he turns in capable performances of “Can’t Stand It No More,” derived from Little Walter’s “Hate to See You Go,” and Muddy Waters’ “Gone to Main Street.”

Jeff Taylor handles the vocal on “Gangster of Love,” derived from a funkier uptempo spin that Johnny Guitar Watson gave the number from the seventies on. Russ Green’s superb harp accompaniment helps make this performance one of the top ones here. Taylor takes up the harp for his rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do,” with his effective playing evoking Reed’s simple harp style and kudos for whichever guitarist is adding the nice fills. Big D is in his 20s, but his rendition of Slim Harpo’s “I’ve Got to Be With You Tonight,” shows a maturity in his relaxed vocal and smooth playing. It rounds a generally second sampling of lesser known Chicago harp players who have plenty to offer fans of Chicago and harmonica blues.

Dave Riley & Bob Corritore's bluesy partnership

The following review has been submitted for publication and in the interim, I run it here.

Blues at base can be a very simple music. Simple guitar riffs and crying harmonica accompaniment for heartfelt vocals can get to the listener’s heart. This forms the heart of the music by the duo of Dave Riley and Bob Corritore. A Mississippi native, Riley actually grew up in Chicago, played in a family gospel group and showed stuff on guitar by Pops Staples and after serving in Vietnam and playing in soul circles, met Jimmy Reed who helped shaped his musical outlook. But it was meeting Frank Frost after moving back down south, and then started playing with Frost and Sam Carr as well as having associations with John Weston, Pinetop Perkins and Arthur Williams. This post-war delta style forms the basis of his music joined by his partner, Bob Corritore, a solid harmonica player who has been a blues hero as a record producer, blues radio announcer, concert promoter (at Phoenix’s The Rhythm Room) and a extremely adept harp player.

The duo has a new CD on Blue Witch, “Lucky to Be Living,” which displays the duo’s strong blues rooted in the simple Jimmy Reed boogie grooves and solid juke joint sounds that Frost pioneered with the Nighthawks (later known as the Jelly Roll Kings). Dave Riley Jr joins on bass on half the selections, while guitarist Chris James adds his idiomatic playing for three selections on which former Howlin’ Wolf pianist, Henry Gray. Several songs are by the late Frank Frost, including the opening “Jelly Roll King,” which Riley makes into a tribute about Frost, Carr and Weston. “Lets Get Together,” is a solid shuffle by Riley with Gray pounding outs some nice boogie piano as part of the driving accompaniment, while Gray also enlivens another Frost blues, the rocking “Ride With Your Daddy Tonight,” which also has a lively rocking solo from guitarist James. Frank Frost also wrote the title track, a stone Muddy Waters styled slow blues with Riley contributing some nice guitar fills and Corritore wailing on hap in support of Riley’s singing. Riley’s straightforward, somewhat hoarse singing is direct and if lacking in subtlety, it compensate with his honest delivery, while Corritore shifts from a full Little Walter styled harp tone to a more crying Rice Miller attack as appropriate. There is nothing new here but Riley and Corritore have produced a set of honest Delta to Chicago blues that should delight many.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Zac Harmon Keeps Rocking His Roots

This is a slightly changed review that appeared in Jazz & Blues Report (Sept 2009- Issue 320).

Since winning the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge, Zac Harman certainly has established himself on the blues circuit, becoming a favorite festival attraction with his hot guitar, varied repertoire and gospel-soul rooted vocals. Northern Blues has just issued From the Root, his third album and the first to be released under the Canadian imprint. The opening Don’t Give Me Another Reason, has some biting blues-rock guitar against a soulful vocal as he sings about his obsessive love for a woman who is a devil’s lil angel. It is followed by Hattie Mae, where Zac sings about his love for her against a melody that suggests an uptempo variant of You Don’t Love Me. Jimmy Z contributes some scorching harp here. Since You Been Gone, has a bit of a rock flavor with a nifty guitar riff with a lyric of not being burned twice by a woman who walked out on him but wants to come back. which is followed by a deep soul-blues groove on Back Bitin’ Back Stabbers, has a deep soul-blues groove for a song about being on the road and discovering that his wife and his best friend cheating on him. That’s What a Woman Needs, successfully uses a reggae groove before the soulful blues ballad The Price of Lovin’ You, a duet with Sueann Carwell. Honey Bee, has a hot groove up followed by a sensual ballad, Smile on Your Face, where Zac tells his woman he wants to place on their and that she should let him touch that special place. Insistent stinging guitar reinforces the driving groove on Enough, as Zac is fed up with his cheating woman and tells her to stop crying and to stop her ripping up Zac’s heart because “enough is enough.” The variety heard among the 14 tracks is illustrated by The Older Woman,” with its southern soul-blues juke groove and Scratch, with its echoes of Z.Z. Hill. Man is Not Alone, closes this on an acoustic note with Greg Wright supplying some nice slide guitar, Jimmy Z adding harp and Monyungo Jackson playing a steady rhythm on cajon. As indicated from my comments above, From the Root, is a varied program of blues and soul with rock edges that follows up his two earlier excellent self-produced releases. This may be easier to find than those (but try for them), and should further enhance his growing reputation as a blues performer today.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A personal list of Ten Great Blues Pianists

I will not claim this is an exhaustive list but any collection of blues piano (and blues) should have something by all these acts.

Cow Cow Davenport - One could have selected his contemporaries like that tragic Pinetop Smith or the pioneering brothers of Sippie Wallace, George Washington Thomas and Hersal Thomas, but Charles Davenport came out of vaudeville (like Smith) and fortunately recorded extensively including his signature piece, “Cow Cow Blues” as well as such other gems as “Texas Shout” and “Atlanta Rag.” Document issued his complete recordings which included some strong accompaniments.

Eurreal ‘Little Brother’ Montgomery’s career spanned several decades and included his definitive reading of the “Forty Four Blues Theme, “Vicksburg Blues” along with “No Special Rider Blues, that in 1930 started a lengthy recording career that included him playing in territory bands and continuing his distinctive style that included elements of ragtime and stride. Other early classics he recorded include the virtuoso “Farish Street Jive.”

Roosevelt Sykes gets my nod as the greatest of all blues pianists. Lee Green taught Sykes a lot and he began a lengthy recording career that continued until his passing while holding down a regular gig in New Orleans. With his boisterous vocal style one can imagine how he jumped the crowds at the barrelhouses, juke joints and other clubs. He is associated with “Honey Dripper Blues,” “Mistake in Life,” Driving Wheel,” “Sunny Road,” and his “Sweet Old Chicago,” derived as much from “Original Kokomo Blues” as “Sweet Home Chicago,” inspired Junior Parker and Magic Sam to revive “Sweet Home Chicago.” Of course he did his own definitive rendition of “Forty Four Blues.” He was equally superb solo and in small jump blues combos. One of my favorite Delmark albums is his “Feel Like Blowing My Horn,” with his friend Robert Lockwood Junior and others.

Charlie Spand. I select him in lieu of Leroy Carr because Spand is less well known but such a marvelous pianist. Francis Smith in his definitive series on Piano Blues on Magpie devoted an entire volume to Spand whose “Soon This Morning,” is every bit a blues standard (Junior Wells and Sonny Boy do it as “Early in the Morning”). Other classics include some stomping piano with Blind Blake on guitar for “Hastings St,” while “Mississippi Blues" displays his fluent style.

Pete Johnson. I limit myself to only one of the Boogie Woogie Trio. I won’t argue that Johnson is better than Meade Lux Lewis or Albert Ammons. Perhaps it is his association with Joe Turner (who did record with the other two). Johnson can be heard on many of Turner’s tracks including his early “Roll ‘Em Pete,” and the Atlantic “Boss of the Blues” album.

Jimmy Yancey - In a review of the superb Mosaic Select box set, “Boogie Woogie and Blues Piano,” that appeared in the March 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 301) I wrote the following about him, "A former baseball player in the Negro Leagues, he was a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park as well as a pianist of great emotional depth and rhythmic vitality. His music eschewed flash for a lyrical, almost poetic quality with what Morganstern notes idiosyncratic harmonies although every of his numbers ends in the key of E. His boogies are not played at quite a breakneck as Ammons, Johnson or Lewis were capable of but his treble lines are perhaps more interesting and while his bass work is varied and propulsive if not as powerful as the others as can be heard on ‘Yancey’s Stomp.’ Slow blues like ‘Five O'clock Blues’ were his forte as his subtle touch and treble embellishments lend a melancholy flavor to his performances. His poetic piano perhaps is stronger than his unmannered vocals, but his earnest delivery compensates for any vocal limitations, and one will not find any better examples of blues piano than his work here.” I see no reason to change anything I wrote there. I do note that his slow blues “Yancey Shuffle,” was adopted by countless other pianists including Lloyd Glenn who retitled it “Old Time Shuffle.”

Amos Milburn. If one wants a bridge from the great boogie woogie pianists like Pete Johnson to the rock and roll giants like Archibald, Fats Domino one could do no better than this Texas born blues and boogie master who dominated the charts during the late forties and early fifties. The original “Chicken Shack Boogie,” a take on “Down a Road a Piece,” “Walking Blues,” and such drinking blues as “Bad Bad Whiskey,” “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer,” and “Let Me Go Home Whiskey.” He inspired Floyd Dixon and there are his contemporaries like Ivory Joe Hunter, Charles Brown, and Little Willie Littlefield (still with us) that made many wonderful recordings, but Milburn’s piano had more impact at the time.

Whistling Alex Moore. Texas spawned too many great pianists from Texas Bill Day, Joe Pullum, Rob Cooper, Andy Boy and others so picking Moore because of his stately playing as well as his folk poetry. He did benefit from the blues revival in the sixties which allowed him to show he was still a marvelous blues pianist, lyricist and singer.

Camille Howard. There are other great piano playing blues women such as Georgia While, Julia Lee, Devonia Williams, but Howard’s piano with Roy Milton was as seminal as Mary Lou Williams with Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy a decade earlier. She was also a really solid singer and there was a fine reissue featuring her as a leader that was issued as part of the Specialty reissues that is worth seeking out.

Otis Spann. Its hard to leave out Memphis Slim, Little Johnny Jones, Sunnyland Slim, Black Bob, Henry Gray, and especially Big Maceo when one thinks of other great Chicago blues pianists, but Spann had something magical about his playing when heard at his best. It is unfortunate that production spoiled some of his recordings as a leader with a band (the Bluesway albums were marred by how the harmonica was recorded) but his solo and duo recordings for Candid and Storyville are classic as was his backing behind Buddy Guy on Guy's classic album,“A Man & the Blues.”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gaines Still Cranks Out The Blues

The following is a review that extracted from a longer review of several reissues of Nashville blues and R&B that Fred James had compiled. Earl is still with us and recently recorded for the soul-blues label, Ecko Records.

Earl Gaines first attracted notice with Louis Brooks & the Hi-Toppers as a vocalist and a drummer (he played on Arthur Gunther’s Baby Let’s Play House). Gaines vocal on Louis Brooks’ recording of Ted Jarrett’s It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day), and when Brooks was reluctant to tour, Gaines hit the road, working with the likes of Bill Doggett. While other Excello recordings did not chart, he continued recording for Ted Jarrett’s labels before hooking up with DJ Hoss Allen in the mid-sixties and recorded for a variety of labels including king, Hollywood and Sound Stage 7. Working as a log haul truck driver he only performed occasionally until the late 1980s and made a comeback album for the Atlanta Meltone label in 1989. Eventually he was part of the Excello legends and thrilled audiences at Blues Estaffe in Holland. He recorded for a variety of labels including Appaloosa, Blue Moon, Black Top and Cannonball and in 2005 was reunited with Jarrett for his Blue-Fye label. The new album,Crankshaft Blues, is a collection of out-takes and rarities that certainly will be of considerable interest. perhaps not as gifted a singer as Shelton, he is more than able with his heartfelt passion evident on a nice mix of material. The title track is a really solid slow blues while Roscoe Shelton joins him for Someday Things Are Gonna Change, a bluesy piece of soul, while Baby What’s Wrong With You, is a solid shuffle penned by Gaines on which Dennis Taylor rips off a strong tenor solo. James is first rate on guitar here as on the other discs, supporting the vocals and adding crisp, stinging solos while Gaines grainy vocal has particular appeal on the ballad, I Believe in Your Love whose melody evokes the classic Toussaint McCall recording, Nothing Takes the Place of You. There is a credible, if unexceptional treatment of Further on Up the Road, although the album closes on a strong note with his live rendition of the song that started it all, It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day). Earl Gaines may not quite be as strong a vocalist as his contemporary, Roscoe Shelton, but he provides a more downhome flavor as a singer. This is quite an entertaining release and provides a nice introduction for those not familiar with him.