Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Soulful and Loving Tribute for the Chicago Blues

A delightful surprise is a new double CD, “Chicago Blues: A Living History,” (Raisin Music). It is an attempt to portray a sketch of the evolution of Chicago Blues over the past seven decades as performed by two generations of the idiom’s greatest tradionalists. Featured on this recording are Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Lurrie Bell and Billy Branch, backed by a stellar band of guitarist Billy Flynn; keyboard whiz, Johnny Iguana, bassist Felton Crews and drummer Kenny Smith with Matthew Skoller adding his harp on a few tracks. Also present are special guests Carlos Johnson and Mike Avery who add addition spice to this rich blues stew.

Included are renditions of classic blues recordings by the likes of both Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Memphis Slim, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Earl Hooker and Magic Sam. The music here is traditionally oriented and remains true to the originals without being slavish copies. Let me point out that the ‘legendary’ John Mayall Blues Breakers album with Clapton is comprised of mostly covers, and the music here is simply better. I don’t care whether or not Clapton is a guitar god, the truth is that The Living History Band is a much stronger band than Mayall’s band and the musicians here invigorate the tradition from which their careers are rooted.

Billy Boy Arnold opens with songs from John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson, Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy with Billy Flynn conjuring up Tampa Red’s distinctive slide sound before pianist Iguana does a solo rendition of Big Maceo’s “Chicago Breakdown.” Things get a bit more modern as John Primer does Muddy’s “Feel Like Going home,” followed by Lurrie Bell’s exuberant vocal on Elmore James’ “I Believe,” with Flynn adding slide and Billy taking his usual sharp solo. Primer puts an emphatic stamp Wolf’s “Moanin’ at Midnight,” with Skoller adding harp. While B.B. King’s music is not Chicago Blues, his influence is all pervasive and the rendition of “Three O’Clock Blues,” introduces us to vocalist Mike Avery, a cousin of Magic Sam, a riveting singer that Lurrie Bell’s guitar complement so well. Billy Boy handles “Memphis Slim USA,” a bit subdued compared with Slim’s recording that had Matt Murphy’s slashing guitar on it, but the energy picks up when Billy Branch lights into Little Walter’s “Hate to See You Go.”

The second disc opens with primer in a Muddy Waters bag again on “Sugar Sweet,” with Branch adding fine harp and then Jimmy Reed’s “Can’t Stand to See You Go,” as the band aces the lazy boogie Jimmy Reed groove and Skoller adds some Reed-sounding harp. Its followed by Billy Boy reworking his own “I Wish You Would,” before Primer takes the lead on Rice Miller’s “Your Imagination,” with Skoller displaying his virtuosity as he emulates the second Sonny Boy’s style. Lurrie Bell handles the Otis Rush classic “My Love Will Never Die,” followed by Billy Branch’s interpretation of Junior Wells’ “Hoodoo Man Blues,” which is derived from the Delmark recording, not Wells’ original. Billy Flynn takes the spotlight on Earl Hooker’s “Hooking It,” displaying not only his chops but his musical good taste followed by Avery handling his cousin’s “Out of Bad Luck.” Branch returns for a strong treatment of James Cotton’s “One More Mile,” before the one ringer track as Carlos Johnson handles the vocal and guitar on John Lee Hooker’s “The Healer.” No question Hooker had in impact on Chicago, but its odd that they represent Hooker with this as opposed to the great recordings like “Boom Boom,” on which Chicago musicians had played. Johnson does an able Carlos Santana impression. Johnson is lead guitarist behind Bell on Buddy Guy’s “Damn Right I Got the Blues,” which is included to represent the continuing development of Chicago blues, although I would have preferred a reworking of one of Guy’s earlier recordings.

As I stated this is a sketch of the Chicago Blues as it evolved. One can think of a variety of artists who were skipped like Floyd Jones, J.B. Hutto, Jimmy Rogers, Big Walter, Carey Bell, Sunnyland Slim, John Brim, Otis Spann and many others. But this album does it job of lovingly bring to life some terrific songs. And as stated, Mike Avery is a helluva singer who somebody should do a full recording by. This is accompanied by a booklet with plenty of information on the original performers and the artists on the disc. For more information, visit or

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Roy Milton's Miltone label delighted both musically and visually

The British Acrobat label has been issuing a number of very intriguing public domain reissues of classic rhythm & blues, often focusing on a specific label. While these releases may duplicate reissues of various recordings, such reissues often have a lot of unfamiliar material. Also, the releases gather together a variety of material that ranges from blues to gospel quartet, vocal group, pop, swing jazz and more. I point to reissues from vintage labels as Trilon, Big Town, Olivet or Irma as examples.

One reissue of special note is of the Miltone label that the great Roy Milton was a co-owner of. The attractive labels often sported illustrations from cartoonist William "Alex" Alexander that made them a treasure trove for collectors. The label was centered on Roy Milton and His Solid Senders, one of the premier jump blues bands, but included a number of other terrific recordings. Like other Acrobat label reissues, this disc contains a detailed label history and artist notes from Opal Louis Nations as well as some terrific sounds. The liner booklet also contains plenty of label illustrations.

The set opens with four solo sides by The Blues Troubadour, Jesse Thomas, who had recorded for Victor in 1929. Thomas, from Shreveport Louisiana, superficially comes off as a country blues artist as a solo performer, but his dazzling single note guitar and bop-tinged vocals (the delightful D. Double Due Love You being one example), sound modern six decades later. Then there is Jimmy Grissom, the Mississippi born singer who fronted the Blenders and Miltone vocal groups as well as share solo spots with Camille Howard, Milton's featured pianist. One interesting single was Miltone 4001 which coupled You Look So Good To Me b/w The Signifying Monkey, two early Willie Dixon classics with the Big Three Trio. Some of the sides with The Blenders featured comedienne and singer Effie Smith who sang Answer to R.M.Blues, an answer song to one of Milton's biggest hits.

Of course there are a number of Milton's big hits like Milton's Boogie, Red Light, Sunny Side of the Street, and Rainy Day Confession Blues, although some of the transfers here are noisier than those reissued on Specialty. Other delights are five stunning vocals from Little Miss Cornshucks and a number of sides from New Orleans legends like Roy Brown, Paul Gayten and Annie Laurie. So included here is Chubby Newsome's Hip Shakin' Mama; Roy Brown's Long About Midnight; Paul Gayten's Hey Little Girl; and Paul Gayton with Annie Laurie doing the classic Since I Fell For You. Through in some down home blues by Wright Holmes, and blues shouting from The Great Gates, and one has a real fine sampling of late forties R&B with many terrific recordings.

This is available from various Internet retailers like or amazon.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bob Corritore - Congratulations on 25 Years of Great Blues Radio

I became first aware of Bob Corritore in the '70s when he issued some blues albums by lesser known, but hardly lesser, Chicago artists Little Willie Anderson and Big Leon Brooks. Subsequently he relocated to Phoenix Arizona where he has become a multiple blues-threat, running a blues venue, The Rhythm Room; hosting for twenty-five years a blues show, Those Lowdown Blues, on KJZZ 91.5 on Sunday Nights (from 7:00PM to Midnight Phoenix Time); being a blues harmonica player of some note; and being a producer of many fine blues records.

Recently, Southwest Musical Arts Foundation Records has issued Broadcasting the Blues, a 25th Anniversary Celebration of Bob's excellent Those Lowdown Blues program.
It includes some relaxed informal performances by such blues artists as Billy Boy Arnold, Billy Flynn, CeDell Davis, Dave Riley, Henry Gray, Johnny Dyer, Lazy Lester, Louisiana Red, Lowell Fulson, and Tomcat Courtney, that were done during Bob's show. While one would not call this essential, there are some very memorable moments such Lowell Fulson reprising "Sinner's Prayer," Billy Boy Arnold's solo version of "Shake Your Boogie,"Tomcat Courtney's "The World is Mad," Louisiana Red's gospel number (with nice slide) "Home in the Rock," Henry Gray's "Cold Chills," and Lazy Lester's "Out on the Road."

This is available from KJZZ ( which gets proceeds from the sales as well as Bluebeat Music ( Having listened over the net to Bob's program, my only regret is that it is not on earlier as he plays nothing but the blues.May Bob have another 25 years of playing the real lowdown blues. Bob's own website is, and is a valuable resource in its own right. As the late Willie Dixon is heard, "Bob, keep on playing the blues." I will keep on listening,

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Mark Hummel's Rocking Blues Parties

Mark Hummel has been playing the blues for decades and with his Blues Survivors, has shared the stages as well as backed numerous blues legends. In more recent years, he has been known for his tours of Blues Harmonica Blowouts, with recent tours being documented on disc on compilations on the Mountain top label. Now we have the good fortune to have new new compilations that go back to the vaults that help celebrate the blues. Electro-Fi, Hummel's current label has just issued Mark Hummel's Blues Harmonica Blowouts, subtitled "'Still Here and Gone' 1993-2007," while Mountain Top has released Mark Hummel's Chicago Blues Party subtitled "Recorded Live! 1980-1992."

For those who are fans of the Blues Harmonica Blowouts, the new double disc collects recordings by a variety of highly regarded players, some who are no longer with us. The focus on harp allows the presence of Magic Dick whose vocal talents nowhere approach his instrumental skills, as well as the brilliant Lee Oskar, who turns in a stunning instrumental rendition of Duke Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood. Hummel turns in his usual solid playing, rooted in the classic playing of Little Walter and Big Walter (a nice rendition of Hard Hearted Woman, along with the set's closing Summertime). There are nice representative performances from Lazy Lester, Sugar Coated Love; Carey Bell, I Got to Go; Billy Boy Arnold, Sugar Gal; Johnny Dyer, and Rick Estrin. Of special note are performances by several not with us: two by Paul deLay, Can't Stand Your Evil Ways; two by Sam Myers with Anson Funderburgh on guitar, especially I Done Quit Getting Sloppy Drunk; and three brilliant performances by William Clarke, including Stretch My Money and the instrumental Chrome Jumpin'. Rusty Zinn are on these selections while Junior Watson graces the James Harman and Paul deLay selections. The harp playing is high and most of the vocals are strong on a set with broad appeal.

Chicago Blues Party is even better with previously unissued performances spotlightling a number of now deceased blues legends: Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Mississippi Johnny Waters, and Luther Tucker. The disc opens with five 1992 performances by the great Jimmy rogers backed by Hummel and a band that included Rusty Zinn on guitar from Slim's in San Francisco. Over a decade and a half later it is a delight listening to Rogers redo You're the One and Ludella with Hummel's harp embellishing the vocals so well. Less familiar Rogers songs like Tricky Woman, standout along with a rendition of Jimmy Reed's Big Boss Man. The late Eddie's set lacks reworkings of some of his better known recordings like Bad Boy and Big Town Playboy. Instead he focuses on reworkings of Wolf's Smokestack Lightning, Muddy Waters' Trouble No More, and Charles Brown's Sunny Road. Despite the familiarity of the material, Taylor is in good form. On Taylor's set, Mississippi Johnny Waters is on rhythm guitar and takes the lead vocal as well as plays some strong slide guitar for Dust My Broom. Waters, real name Johnny Sandifer, was a strong traditionally oriented Mississippi bluesman who Hummel played with for several years from 1977 on and there are two performances by Waters with guitarist Sonny Lane from the 1980 San Francisco Blues Festival including solid renditions of Wolf's Shake For Me and J.B. Lenoir's How Much More Long. These performances display strong vocals backed by a tight rocking band playing classic Chicago blues. The fact Waters recorded so little makes these especially valuable. Another 1985 Waters performance, a rendition of Long Distance Call, has Luther Tucker on guitar. Tucker himself is featured on two 1994 performances with Hummel handling the vocal with Tucker's solo on "Blue & Lonesome," based on his solo on Little Walter's original recording, arguably being the highpoint of a terrific disc of Chicago blues. Hummel is to be thanked for making these superb performances by some departed blues masters accessible.

As I write this, the “Chicago Blues Party” set may be hard to find. Bluebeat Music, has both of these.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Muddy Waters' Fillmore Debut Finally Available

It was a surprise to find out that Geffen Records was going to issue some previously unreleased live performances by Muddy Waters, at a time he was arguably musically at his peak. Recorded around the time Muddy recorded Muddy, Brass, & the Blues, the newly issued Authorized Bootleg/ Live Fillmore Auditorium, presents Muddy's performances (but not those by his band members) from November 4 through 6, 1966. His band at the time consisted of Luther "Georgia Snake Boy" Johnson and Sammy Lawhorn on guitars, George 'Harmonica' Smith on harmonica, Mac Arnold on bass and Francis Clay on drums. Its unusual in that Otis Spann was not with the band. Perhaps he had left Muddy at the time they went to San Francisco, but I recall seeing Muddy in the summer of 1967 or 1968, opening for Moby Grape in New York's Central Park and Spann was with the band.

Be what it may, what is important is here is the music, and this contains probably the best live Muddy Waters recordings I have heard. Especially on the six performances from November 5 that open this session, find Muddy singing with such power and authority and the band is terrific. Listening to him do Forty Days and Forty Nights and She Moves Me, is riveting. Got My Mojo Working sounds fresh and not hackneyed. From November 6, there is a terrific rendition of You Can't Lose What You Never Had and an extended rendition of Thirteen Highway. When Muddy takes out his slide, it just adds to the power of these performances. And Muddy's band members get their spots to shine, with George 'Harmonica' Smith perhaps being the most prominent here.

One might wish that some of the opening and closing songs by the members of the Muddy Waters Band had been included, although I can see for the purpose of limiting this to one disc, that would not have been feasible. To repeat myself, this is the finest Muddy Waters live recording available and is essential to all blues lovers.

I am adding today (April 4) that these three shows are available to download in full (with the band cuts included) from Wolfgang's Vault.
link to the November 5 show - There is a charge to download.