Monday, August 31, 2009

Rest in Peace Marie Knight

One of the grand dames of gospel music has passed away. She was born June 1, 1925 and passed away Sunday August 30, 2009. M.C. Records, which issued her marvelous tribute to Rev. Gary Davis, Let Us Get Together: A Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis, issued the following upon her death.

"With heavy hearts, M.C. Records announces the death of gospel legend Marie Knight. She died in New York City on August 30, 2009 due to complications from pneumonia. Marie first came to prominence in 1946 when she met and started working with Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Together they would be one of the most popular gospel artists of the 1940's, and make music history through a string of gospel hits including Didn't It Rain, Up Above My Head, and the gorgeous Beams of Heaven. Marie Knight and Sister Rosetta Tharpe would tour frequently together through the 1950's. In the 1960's, Marie had several R& B hits, but in 1970's rededicated herself to gospel music and became a minister at the Gates of Prayer Church in New York City.

Marie Knight's recent comeback began in 2002 when producer and M.C. Records owner Mark Carpentieri invited Marie to record on Shout, Sister, Shout!: A Tribute To Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Mark recalls the phone call. "Gayle Wald, who was writing the liner notes for the project, asked me if I had contacted Marie Knight about participating in the project. I didn't know she was still alive! I called Marie, and she sounded so vibrant that I arranged studio time, and we’ve been working together ever since."

After the release of Shout, Sister, Shout!: A Tribute To Sister Rosetta Tharpe, tour work came in regularly for Marie Knight. In 2007, Mark Carpentieri put together Marie Knight's first full-length album in over 25 years, Let Us Get Together. The project was a tribute to Rev. Gary Davis, and was co-produced with Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan) (Ollabelle) (Levon Helm). The record was a critical success, with great reviews from The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer and many more."

I reviewed Let Us Get Together for Jazz & Blues Report, (July-August 2007) as well as here in August 2007. The review is linked here. She was major talent who will be missed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Utah Smith almost makes me a believer

A recent post on Memphis Gold noted the deep influence his upbringing in the Church of God in Christ had on his music. When chatting about it and the name of Utah Smith came up he launched into an a cappella Smith's iconic number "I Got Two Wings," and recalled seeing Smith perform wearing his wings. To reiterate a point I made, while Robert Wilkins showed Chester Chandler specific things on playing the guitar, Utah Smith's music is part of the musical DNA of his music as displayed on his recent albums.

When I was in New Orleans this past spring I came across (at the Louisiana Music Factory) Lynn Abbott's book on Utah Smith, "I Got Two Wings which comes with an accompanying CD that includes several versions of "Two Wings," including some previously unreleased versions and recordings by associates (Arizona Dranes, Sister Rosetta Tharpe) and his daughter, on this intriguing biographical study that I recommend enthusiastic. Additionally the CD has some wild fervent music. There is a review on amazon that is also helpful. You can get it from either or amazon.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Before Woodstock

There was Ann Arbor Blues Festival. Musically, it was an event the likes of which we will never see again. Here is a story from an Ann Arbor paper recalling this event, the likes of which we will never see today. This is the one festival I wish I had been at. Make sure you read the comments because that is where the line-up is given. And one can think of other great acts that were not at this festival that could have been there as well. The two Ann Arbor Blues Festivals was the high point of blues festivals. A decade later and some of these pioneers were no longer with us. A few that played in Ann Arbor are still alive, but alas we will never see such great blues again.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Originally uploaded by NoVARon
I recently had the pleasure, with another Washington area blues lover, Joe Kessler, to interview Memphis Gold for future publication. Before Joe got to the Ted's Montana Grill near the Ballston Metro stop in Arlington VA, Memphis was mentioning his background in the Church of God in Christ, including the fact his grandfather helped found the church and a good part of the interview involved growing up in the church, which hosted a month long convocation every November where such pioneers gospel artists like Arizona Dranes, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Utah Smith would be participating and stirring everybody with their music. I mentioned Utah Smith and Memphis both prior and during the taping of the interview launched into an exuberant "Two Wings," the song most associated with Utah Smith. Much is made of Memphis's association with another legend, Robert Wilkins, but simply hearing him sing a bit of "Two Wings," makes me realize how much of his music is rooted in the Church meetings he attended as a youth and how Utah Smith's music can be heard in Memphis Gold's exuberant blues today.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A fond memory of Jim Dickinson

Musician and so much more Jim Dickinson passed away recently. He played with numerous artists in a wide spectrum of American vernacular music and his sons are part of the North Mississippi All Stars. Dick waterman, the noted former manager of blues legends and a marvelous photographer has a blog entry of his late friend that I believe is well worth passing on.

If my link does not work, go visit and click on Dick's Blog.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Smokey Wilson's Blues For Big Town Still Rocks

Ace Records (UK) put out a reissue of some early Smokey Wilson recordings which in my blog I listed as among the best blues of 2006 and this review was carried in the January-February 2007 Jazz & Blues Report and accessible on the web site if you do a search of the reviews. Anyway, Smokey had some health issues, (I remember a stroke) and believe he never has fully resumed playing music, which is a shame because his gritty delta rooted blues is certainly missed today. Anyway, here is my review

Until the early 1990s when he was signed by Bullseye Blues, Smokey Wilson was one of the best blues secrets out on the West Coast. The albums recorded for the Bihari Brothers for Big Town that have been culled for the Ace (UK) CD, Round Like an Apple, The Big Town Recordings 1977-1978 along with recordings made with Rod Piazza and William Clarke indicated what a talent this gentleman who operated the Pioneer Club in Watts was. A Mississippi native, he moved to Los Angeles and established himself on the West Coast. The Big Town Recordings display his powerful straight no-holds barred style that would have been at home at a Little Rock juke as it would a West Side Chicago guitar as Wilson sang with a gritty, gravelly voice that suggested Wolf, as well as played strong guitar whether driving modern single style or slide. Few can match his ability to handle Howlin Wolf’s material like How Many More Years, or remake Night Time is The Right Time into a scorching rocker. The way he tears into a vocal like Johnny Copeland’s I Wish I Was Single, or Low Rider (Deuce & A Quarter) similarly shines. His reworking of Lowell Fulson’s Tramp is marvelous as is the title track with its relentless boogie groove, and the driving Blues For Big Town. These recordings have been unavailable for so long and their reissue is very welcome. One might hope that this sells enough so that Wilson’s other Big Town sides are also made available.

Pancho Sanchez's mixed soul-latin jazz effort

I wrote the following for Jazz & Blues Report at the beginning of 2008, but I am uncertain whether it appeared in print.

Raise Your Hand (Concord Picante), the latest recording by Latin jazz master, Pancho Sanchez, is kind of a schizophrenic recording as it has several special guests joining him for some funk as well as hot latin jazz. Four of the selections have in a classic soul-funk groove while the remaining numbers have strong latin grooves. The album is bookended by a couple of Eddie Floyd classics, Raise Your Hand and Knock on Wood, with Sanchez handling the lead vocals but his band joined by Floyd, Steve Cropper and Booker T. Jones. The result are solid renditions that are not that removed from the Stax classics, but outside of some added percussion, not as intriguing as might have been suggested. The same is true with the remake of Junior Walker’s Shotgun as well as Maceo’s House, on which Maceo Parker adds his saxophone but which one wishes they was more stylistic fusion. The remainder of the album is strong latin jazz with Sanchez also handling the vocal on El Aqua De Belen with his terrific band that includes organist David Torres, trumpeter Ron Blake and George Ortiz on timbales, but these sides sound like a completely different recording than the other four tracks. The playing throughout is excellent, and if the four soul numbers had been a bit more imaginatively performed this would certainly have excited this listener more.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rashied Ali, RIP

The drummer, best known for his time playing with John Coltrane passed away this past Wednesday, August 12, of a heart attack at the age of 76 according to the NY Times obituary which ran on Friday the 14th.

Here is the review I did of the Rashied Ali Quintet, Judgment Day Volume 2 on Survical records for the September 2008 (issue 308) Jazz & Blues Report.

"Its been four decades since Rashied Ali was a part of John Coltrane's band after having spent time working with the likes of Archie Shepp, Don Cherry and Albert Ayler. He was added for Trane's experiments with a two-drummer format and was with Trane for his final performances and recording.

Four decades later, this Philadelphia native still goes strong, leading a quintet of trumpeter Jumaane Smith; tenor saxophonist Lawrence Clark; pianist Greg Murphy; and bassist Joris Teepe who are heard on this latest release on Ali's Survival records label. While Ali is known for his work as a free drummer, much of this is quite inside, akin to the hot freebop sounds of classic sixties and seventies pioneered by Blue Note and carried forward by the bands of Louis Hayes and Woody Shaw as well as Roy Haynes Hip Ensemble. This is evident on pianist Murphy's opening Skane's Refrain. Saxophonist Clark displays a Coltrane influence on the nice rendition of Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life and James Ulmer's Thing For Joe, with the playing of the whole band being freer and high energy.

Clark's own original, Judgment Day, is another energetic Blue Note style freebop burner with strong tenor, hot trumpet from Smith who takes things into the stratosphere, Tyner-ish piano from Murphy and a bass tour de force from Teepe before Ali takes the spotlight. Ali is terrific throughout, pushing the groove but staying in the pocket. Flight #643, [co-]written by Teepe, has a funky blues flavor, while Smith's trumpet sets the tone with his solo for a strong rendition of Monk's Round Midnight. Judgment Day Volume 2 is an impressive achievement and one suspects Volume 1 might be just as compelling."

His last interview can be accessed at the All About Jazz website.

The photo is by Bogdan Dimitriu and accompanies the Wikipedia biography of Ali.

Paul Oscher's Strong Blues Roots

Paul Oscher (seen at this past 2009 Pocono Blues Festival) returned to the Pocono Blues Festival as part of the Friday Night Festival opener. The following is a review of his Electro-Fi CD,Alone With the Blues, that appeared in the July-August 2004 Jazz & Blues Report ( The review (written a couple years of his Pocono Blues Fest appearance) captures a bit of the avriety that Oscher brings to a live performance as he recalls some stories from his time in Muddy's Band as well as recollections of some folks he admires. His story about playing 3 card Monty with Junior Wells is priceless. He is someone that you really should endeavor to try to catch live. And his CDs are outstanding. This CD should still be readily available.

This writer remembers catching Paul Oscher’s impressive performance at the Pocono Blues Festival in 2002. Oscher, was the harmonica player in the Muddy Waters Band between 1967 and 1971 and the first white to be a regular member of the blues legends band. He lived in Muddy’s house and shared the basement with the great Otis Spann, from whom he learned blues piano just like Muddy was his model for his slide guitar playing. Not nearly as known as other Muddy Waters’ alumni, it is a reflection of the fact that fame is often elusive. With the release of his new Electro-Fi album, Alone With the Blues, one can hope that Oscher’s time has finally arrived. This is a varied album with a number of solo performances mixed in with some small group sides. The mood ranges from his chromatic explorations on Richard Carpenter’s Walkin’ (yes the tune known from Miles Davis’ recording), a telling reworking of Jimmy Rogers’ That’s Alright, the zydeco groove of My Sweet Suzanne with his chromatic harp replacing the accordion, his recasting of the Standing at the Crossroads theme into how John Lee Hooker might have reworked the song back in 1950, Blues and Trouble, a slow Muddy Waters-styled blues with some strong slide playing, Chuck Willis’ You’re Still My Baby (on which he plays guitar and rather full-bodied rack harp), and the title track, an instrumental tour de force based on the instrumental After Hours, on which Oscher plays assorted harmonicas and the melodica. David Maxwell and ex-Muddy sidemen, Calvin Jones and Willie Smith, back his rendition of Robert Nighthawk’s Anna Lee, while he plays the accordion on Mississippi John Hurt’s Louis Collins. The versatility does not obscure the fact that Paul Oscher’s playing is of the highest level and his vocals ring true on this superb disc that is obviously highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stunning New Ana Popovic CD

The following review appeared in the most recent (August 2009) Jazz & Blues Report. The issue can be downloaded as a pdf file at

Ana Popovic certainly is a striking presence with her stunning looks and her considerable musical chops. The Serbia native has built a world-wide audience with her genre-spanning, blues-rooted music. Some of her earlier recordings struck me as a bit too blues-rock for my “taste,” but I found her new Eclecto Groove recording, “Blind For Love,” stunning, perhaps because of the presence of members of the Phantom Blues Band (especially Mike Finnigan’s keyboards and Tony Braunagel on drums), but also because the performances are short and focused with her solos direct and concise. The shortness of the performances also directs focus towards her vocals and she has become a terrific singer.

Ms Popovic penned 11 of the 12 songs here which cover a range of emotions and mix in pop, soul, gospel, and blues elements. Love is the central axis of the songs here, whether the hopefulness that the object of “Nothing Personal,” is in love with her as she is in love with he, while “Wrong Woman,” has her telling this man that if he thinks he’s too good for one woman and good enough for two, she is the wrong woman. The acoustic “Steal Away,” has her yearn for this man to steal her away,” while the title track is a lovely ballad with some nice piano from Finnigan and a lovely vocal. “Putting Out An AFB” opens with some twangy guitar before launching into a rocking groove as she beckons to seize the offenders with a loveless heart, while the funk groove of “Get Back Home To You,” with its story about can’t wait to get back home to her love, and hot guitar riffs and a sizzling solo. As tough as she can sound, the love she feels for her child is tenderly expressed on “Part of Me (Lullaby For Luuk).” The closing “Blues For M,” is anything but blue in feeling as she celebrates her love, “You are my joy and pleasure/ you are my dream of home/ you are my taste of treasure/ you are my strength my stone,” with her solo sings this chorus through her guitar. Its a marvelous conclusion to this stunning new release.

Henry Butler To Play For Marva Wright

Henry Butler 2005 NOJF 6
Originally uploaded by NoVARon
Henry Butler, shown at the 2005 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, will be performing at Washington DC's Blues Alley, the evening of Thursday, August 20. Henry will have shows at 8 and 10 PM. This show will be in part a benefit for the Queen of New Orleans Blues, Marva Wright who has been having health issues, the most recent being a severe stroke suffered on June 6. Part of the proceeds for Henry Butler will go towards Marva.

The following is a press release emailed from Kandy Collins


East Coast Performances Include an August 20 Solo Performance at Washington DC's Blues Alley and a Fundraising Effort for Fellow New Orleans Blues Artist Marva Wright

Washington, D.C. -- August 12, 2009 -- After living away from New York for two decades, powerhouse performer Henry Butler once again makes Brooklyn his home and schedules appearances at prestigious East Coast venues. At Blues Alley on August 20, Butler will showcase his unique blend of New Orleans Funk, Blues and R&B that is enthralling audiences world-wide and earning him a reputation as one of the world’s most versatile and entertaining performers. He will also recognize fellow Crescent City artist and Blues Alley favorite, Marva Wright, who is recovering in New Orleans from a severe stroke suffered there on June 6. Just two days before an All-Star benefit for Marva at the iconic Tipitina’s, Butler will donate a portion of his proceeds toward her recovery efforts.

Traversing the jazz and blues worlds with great finesse, Butler has graced the stages of the Library of Congress, The Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and The Apollo Theatre. He has recorded with the likes of Odetta, jazz bassist Charlie Haden and 2007 MacArthur Foundation Fellow Corey Harris. He has released ten records under the MCA, Windham Hill, Blacktop and Basin Street Labels. George Winston, who produced Butler’s most recent work,“Pianola Live,”says of him, “Henry is the pianist I have been studying the most since I first heard him in 1985…he has taken R&B piano to its pinnacle, and he is the only pianist I know who plays the deep Blues and R&B and mainstream jazz. You need to see him live to fully experience his music.”

An eight-time W.C. Handy “Best Blues Instrumentalist – Piano” award nominee, Butler knows no limitations. Although blinded by glaucoma since birth, Butler is a world class photographer who will be featured in an HBO documentary on blind photographers to be broadcast this fall. “You don’t have to be bound by anyone else’s limitations on you,” says Butler, “Where there’s a will there are ways to overcome anything.” This message is the centerpiece to the many programs Butler, who holds a Masters Degree in Vocal Music from Michigan State University, has designed for blind and visually impaired students.

Butler’s return to New York is partially motivated by the number of established facilities in the region dedicated to working with the blind and visually impaired and his desire to restart, on the East Coast, a jazz camp he began in 1994 at the Missouri State School for the Blind and last held at the University of New Orleans two weeks prior to Katrina. Butler’s Creative Music Jazz Camp for Blind and Visually Impaired Teenage Musicians gives participants ways of writing and reading music independent of any sighted assistance. “And achieving independence,” says Butler, “is the key to building confidence and self-esteem. “

There will be two shows at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets are $25. Reservations are suggested.

Blues Alley
1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 337-4141

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Eddie Daye RIP

Eddie Daye IMG_0514
Originally uploaded by NoVARon
Steve Kiviat has blogged on the City Paper's Music Blog that Eddie Daye passed away this past Thursday at the age of 78.Here is the link to Steve's obituary.

Vocalist Eddie Daye was a fixture on the DC music scene for about five decades. While leader of a 1950s vocal group, the Good Time Band, that included his wife, Denise, Daye and his group the Four Bars served as house band for Gee's 400 Club in Brentwood, MD, and Chuck & Billie's in Washington, D.C. Originally formed in the mid-fifties, they were influenced by groups like The Ravens and The Orioles and recorded for Jubilee and Shrine. Later he started Dayco to record the group. In more recent years he and Denise established themselves as DC rhythm & blues royalty.

This picture is from June, 2006 when Eddie Daye (and Denise) entertained the crowd at Lamont's as part of a bill headlined by Theodis Ealey. Highlight of his performance was him singing his blues, "(I Ain't No Dirty Old Man I'm a) Sexy Senior Citizen."

Weston & Liston's Blues Eruption

The following review originally appeared in the January-February 1994 Jazz & Blues Report. As originally written it contains one major gaffe that I have corrected here. This is a part of the Johnny 'Clyde' Copeland recorded legacy I would suspect most are unaware of. This is well worth trying to acquire at used CD stores or ebay auctions.

Pianist-Composer, Randy Weston, and arranger, Melba Liston, have teamed for an exploration of the blues in its various forms, Volcano Blues (Gitanes), as they lead a little big band which includes Wallace Roney on trumpet, Hamiet Bluett on baritone sax, Teddy Edwards on tenor sax, Ted Dunbar on guitar and Charlie Persip on drums. Comprised mostly of Weston’s compositions, the voicings of Liston’s arrangements add more than punch to these intriguing explorations in the blues. Texas bluesman Johnny Copeland performs on unaccompanied acoustic guitar, Blue Mood, a Jessie Mae Robinson composition that T-Bone Walker first recorded. Eschewing his guitar, Copeland also reprises Jimmy Rushing’ vocal on a Count Basie recording, Harvard Blues, which like the Caribbean flavored Volcano, is taken from the Count Basie orchestra book. It should be noted that one expecting to hear wailing Kansas City jazz with plenty of blowing solos will be disappointed as Weston and Liston explore a variety of aspects of the blues. Links with Africa are explored on Chalabati Blues, which is anchored by Jamil Naser’s steady bass line and framed by Liston’s imaginative horn voicings. Wallace Roney’s hard bop trumpet shines on Sad Beauty Blues, a Weston composition featuring another carefully worked out Weston solo. More African flavor underlies The Nafs, a feature for Hamiet Bluett’s gut bucket baritone sax. In addition to Copeland’s vocal, Harvard Blues sports a splendid tenor solo from Teddy Edwards who also solos on Blues for Strayhorn, which Weston originally wrote for (and performed at) the funeral of Duke Ellington’s right hand man. Both Weston’s piano and Liston’s scoring capture the Ellington flavor. J.K Blues is a tight bop blues reminiscent of some of the hot blues instrumentals recorded forty years ago, although this performance is distinguished by the concise solos. The supporting cast features some great players who shine here. Weston is the primary soloist on piano and while economical playing, like that of Basie and Monk, shows that it is what one plays and says that matters, not how many notes are played. While the liner notes get pretentious at spots, there is little else to fault about this consistently thoughtful, earthy and rewarding recording.

Mercy Dee's classic down home blues classic

This review is from the September 1993 Jazz & Blues Report and while this CD has been discontinued, it is still available from some sellers at Amazon Stores.

The many Specialty blues reissues of note include Mercy Dee Walton’s One Room Country Shack. The title track, one of Mercy Dee’s two top ten R&B recordings, may be familiar from versions by Buddy Guy or Mose Allison, but Dee’s dry vocal really captures the starkness of his blues poetry. While compiler Billy Vera notes Mercy Dee’s sophisticated lyrics bear some comparison to Percy Mayfield, his themes and some of his lyrics reflect the rural sharecropping life he grew up in. His three Specialty recordings are included here along with 18 other sides, some of which served as demos perhaps. Sides like Love is a Mystery show a bit of versatility as he is in the club blues mode of a Charles Brown, while Winter Blues almost sounds like a remake of One Room Country Shack, although with totally different lyrics. A similar accompaniment is heard on Dark Muddy Bottom with its powerful depiction of a sharecropper’s life getting up at 4:30 to hit up his beat up team. A boogie backing is found on other songs like Pauline while Get to Gettin’, a duet with Lady Fox, is a New Orleans flavored rocker. The unissued sides are a welcome addition to his sparse recorded legacy, and while there may be a certain sameness to some of the songs here musically, the wit and imagery of his songs, his understated vocal delivery and Texas blues piano make Mercy Dee’s recordings a treasure to his fans.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Big Daddy Stallings at the 219 Restaurant

Its been way too long since I had the pleasure of seeing Charles 'Big Daddy' Stallings and his band live, so when I got the word that he would be appearing in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia at the 219 Restaurant's Bayou Room, I made plans to attend and after fighting the brutal traffic on King Street I made it there just as they started playing.

Stallings has a fine band led by saxophonist Joe Thomas and includes Steve Levine, a harmonica player who has really developed over the years. I apologize for not having the names of the other players. Opening up with the Hugh Maskela classic 'Grazing in the Grass," the band opened with several soul instrumentals with the horn line of sax, trumpet and harmonica being very effective. Then a couple instrumentals featured Levine who channeled his inner Walter Horton, "Easy" and the Duke Ellington standard, "Don't Get Around No More."

The it was time for Big Daddy to get out of his chair and take the vocal mike opening with a pair of Louis Jordan numbers "Choo Choo Ch' Boogie," and "Caldonia," before tackling his own originals. Stallings has a down home vocal approach, yet is as much as home with a Jimmy Reed groove as when his band gets into a funk groove. His down home style helps invest such songs as his "4 X 4 Woman," with quite a bit of their charm as well as his lively "I've Got the Blues," set to a "Hootchie Kootchie Man" groove. Enlivening songs with his solos as well as some of Thomas, Levine and the excellent trumpet player, when they closed the set to Archie Bell's "Tighten Up," with the band getting introduced, it was quite an enjoyable set and well worth the drive.

John Primer

John Primer still remains true to his blues, deeply rooted in the classic Chicago blues of Muddy Waters and Elmore James. This review of his first US release on Earwig appeared back in Jazz & Blues Report in 1993, when John was still a member of Magic Slim & the Teardrops.

Fans of straight ahead Chicago blues should check out John Primer’s Stuff You Got to Watch on Earwig. The Mississippi born Primer was in the house band at Theresa’s Lounge where he was befriended by the late Sammy Lawhorn. Later he was in Muddy Waters’ last band and has been with Magic Slim and the Teardrops for the past few years. While he has an album for the Austrian Wolf label, this US debut certainly makes one wonder what took him so long to get hooked up with a US label. Among those on this date are fellow Teardrop, Nick Holt, on bass, Harmonica Hinds on harp and Carl Snyder on keyboards. It is an excellent studio band which strongly supports Primer’s delta rooted vocals and guitar . While much of this is Primer’s originals, his covers are imaginative with a strong nod to Muddy on the title track. His renditions of Freddy King’s See See Baby and Magic Sam’s That’s All I Need are wonderfully paced performances while he personalizes Otis Rush’s Double Trouble, giving it a fresh cast that almost is as good as Rush’s original (which had Ike Turner’s guitar in addition to Rush’s). Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham’s Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On, is answered by Primer’s original Bring Your Clothes Back Home. Less expected is his transformation of Texas country bluesman Little Son Jackson’s Cairo Blues into a Chicago band blues.The instrumental Lawhorn Special is a fitting nod to the late guitar giant and his mentor. To these ears, the only misguided effort is Rhinestone Cowboy (the Glen Campbell pop-country hit), but perhaps it will get him on Nashville Now. This is first-rate album of Chicago blues that comes from (to borrow a Bob Margolin phrase) “The Old School.”

Dr. Ross is the cure for the Boogie Disease

This review of Dr. Ross' Boogie Disease on Arhoolie, appeared back in the November 1992 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 176) back before the explosion of the World Wide Web. He would pass less than a year after this was written. He had moved to the Detroit area in 1954 and I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival where he was as vigorous as anybody. The Swedish blues artist, Robert Lighthouse, based in the Washington DC area, is among those who was musically influenced by this marvelous player. The album is still in print too.

Now a resident of the Detroit area, Isaiah “Dr.” Ross developed from a fine delta blues artist in the tradition of Big Joe Williams and Robert Petway into a one-man band. One of the artists who recorded for Sam Phillips, his early Memphis recordings have been reissued on Boogie Disease. Listening to the exuberance of the alternates to Boogie Disease and Chicago Breakdown, one can detect not only the strong delta rhythmic style of a Big Joe Williams (as well as northern transplant John lee Hooker), but also more than a bit of the influence of John Lee Williamson, reflected in a variety of songs including Going Back South and Polly Put a Kettle On. Of considerable note are his strong interpretations of such delta themes as Going to the River (Derived perhaps from Blind Lemon Jefferson, but played in the delta style), Shake ‘Em Down and Mississippi Blues. The latter is a Catfish Blues variant better known as Cat’s Squirrel and the source of the recording by the rock group, Cream. In addition to his youthful influences of John Lee Williamson and Tommy McClennan, one can also appreciate the impact of Muddy Waters, and John lee Hooker, particularly on the hypnotic rhythms of Industrial Avenue Boogie, a reworking of Hooker’s Boogie Chillum.This is an updated version of a vinyl reissue, and Steve La Vere has updated his and Bob Eagle’s original liner notes. Some of you have heard some of Dr. Ross’ Sun recordings and will have an idea of the exuberant boogie and barrelhouse blues to be found here. Others are in for a treat with respect to these superbly rendered performances.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Twisters - Nice Blues Suprise from Western Canada

The following review was published in the August 2009 (issue 319) Jazz & Blues Report (the whole issue can be downloaded as a pdf file at This band was completely unknown to me and as indicated, this was more than a pleasant surprise.

Its a pleasure to put on something from a band that one had not previously been familiar with, and take notice.The new album by The Twisters, “Come Out Swingin’” (Northern Blues), produced that reaction. Based out of Vancouver, British Columbia and White Horse, Yukon, this quartet has developed a reputation as a first rate jump and swing blues band. On “Come Out Swingin’,” they add elements of rockabilly, reggae and gospel to this jump blues foundation. The Twisters consists of harmonica player Dave Hoerl, guitarist Brandon Isaak, bassist Keith Picot and drummer Lonnie Powell, with Matt Pease on drums for 3 of the 12 tracks, and Dave Haddock on fender bass for one with Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne added on keyboards and Jerry Cook on saxophones and horn arrangements.The members of the band wrote all of the songs here and Hoerl and Isaak share the vocals between them.

Things sure start off strong with the opening “I’ll Make It Up To You,” with a melodic line evoking the twenties classic “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” with some jazz-laced fretwork from Isaak (evocative of Bill Jennings, Tiny Grimes and Al Casey) and superlative chromatic playing by Hoerl with some unusual voicings behind Isaak’s vocal and guitar solo, and that doesn’t take into account Wayne’s piano. Hoerl takes the vocal on “Something’s Got to Give,” with a 60s R&B groove, some nice saxophones from Cook and the rhythm section just hits the groove with a nice topical lyric followed by “Long Overdue,” with an insistent beat as Isaak sings about waiting on his baby and pacing the floor because she is long overdue with Cook’s driving sax solo followed by Hoerl, again on chromatic displaying his strong tone and drive. Bassist Picot’s slap bass along with Isaak’s Tennessee Two styled guitar spark the rockabilly flavored “Doghouse” with Hoerl delivering the lyric and its followed by a modern blues shuffle, “Guess That I Was Wrong,” with Hoerl adding some remarkable harmonica accompaniment and solo here. I could continue with a comment on each track, but this superb recording deserves praise as does the band. Not simply having command of their instruments, Isaak and Hoerl add imaginative and distinctive touches throughout and the band is tight as two embracing lovers. The Twisters are simply a terrific band that deserves to be heard.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Storyville's Nicely Varied "The Blues Box"

“The Blues Box” is a 7CD compilation of a variety of mostly downhome blues that has appeared on the Scandinavian Storyville label over the decades. The recordings were made by touring blues artists and mostly date from the sixties and early seventies and include some of the most important artists alive at the time. The overwhelming majority of these recordings are solo or duo, or in a few cases there are small groups. the overall flavor is intimate recordings although using the word intimate with a rambunctious barrelhouse performer like the great pianist Speckled Red seems like an oxymoron.

One complaint in a written review I have seen is that they should have included the complete Storyville Recordings of the artists presented (they may have done so with respect to Lonnie Johnson). I do not disagree with that assessment, but can also appreciate the sense of bringing together a wide group of performers as they have done here. I should point out that some of the recordings by Lonnie Johnson, Otis Spann, Roosevelt Sykes, Sippie Wallace and Sleepy John Estes have been issued in the United States after being licensed from Storyville. I am not sure what may be currently readily available stateside although I believe Roosevelt Sykes and John Estes sides may be on CD reissues on Delmark.

Here is a brief summary of what you get here. CD One provides 13 sides by Lonnie Johnson, accompanied by Otis Spann on all but one with a remake of “Tomorrow Night,” and a mix of blues and ballads. there are also 8 excellent performances by Spann including a terrific “Trouble in Mind,” where Johnson backs him as well as a nice rendition of Johnson’s “Jelly Roll Baker. CD Two features 13 terrific piano blues by Speckled Red with his barrelhouse renditions of “The Dirty Dozen,” and “St. Louis Stomp,” along with Sunnyland Slim’s eight strong tracks including moving renditions of his Aristocrat single “Johnson Machine Gun,” and Leroy Carr’s “Prison Bound Blues.” Both pianists often provide brief spoken introductions that enliven the superb performances. CD Three brings together recordings by two of the greatest blues pianists Roosevelt Sykes (9 selections including a remake of “44 Blues”), and 5 tracks by Little Brother Montgomery and the two of them provide accompaniments to 8 of the nine excellent Sippie Wallace vocals. Sippie accompanies herself on “Up the Country Blues.”

CD Four shifts the focus to blues guitarists with 10 energetic and exuberant Delta blues by Big Joe Williams whose “El Paso Blues,” is clearly inspired from “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Kokomo Blues.” Sleepy John Estes and his long-time associate Hammie Nixon are heard on 7 songs with Estes crying vocals and Nixon’s sympathetic harmonica with “Diving Duck Blues,” being a highlight. the final 7 selections are by Robert Pete Williams in his mesmerizing style. CD Five has the earliest selections here, live 1956performances from Copenhagen’s legendary Club Montmartre by Big Bill Broonzy as well as 6 1964 recordings by John Henry Barbee, a solid if unspectacular bluesman influenced by Broonzy among others turning in a rendition of “Dust My Broom.”

More piano is featured on CD 6 which opens up with 11 selections by Memphis Slim including a nice “Fattening frogs For Snakes.” Champion Jack Dupree performs seven selections, some solo and some with a small group including Leroy Carr’s “Blues Before Sunrise.” Eddie Boyd and Jay McShann each have three selections. Boyd reprises “Five Long Years,” while McShann performs “Kansas City Blues,” which is credited here to Little Willie Littlefield and not Lieber & Stoller. Littlefield has long claimed to have written the song (originally issued as “K.C. Lovin’” on Federal) and sold it to the more famous duo. CD Seven shifts the focus to harmonica (well not entirely) and 9 recordings by the second Sonny Boy Williamson, some with Matt Murphy’s guitar and Memphis Slim’s piano of which the quasi-autobiographical “The Story of Sonny boy Williamson perhaps demonstrates his surreal blues poetic lyricism. The remaining 10 selections are by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and are strong performances by the pair.

There is also a bonus DVD which open with some excellent vintage and intimate performances by Champion Jack Dupree and Sonny Boy Williamson. Then there are performances by Robert Lockwood, Jr., James Booker, Henry Gray, Boogie Bill Webb & Harmonica Slim, and Cousin Joe that are excerpted from a series of videos recorded at the Maple Leaf in New Orleans that I believe were filmed around the time of the ill-fated New Orleans World Fair.

There is a generous amount of music in the box with the bonus DVD. The performances are never less than good and many are exceptional and provide a wide variety of musical performances and styles.

Nice Billy Lee Riley Obituary

My friend, Terence McArdle, had a feature obituary in today's Washington Post for the late rocker who passed away this past weekend.

The opening paragraph of the obituary:

"Billy Lee Riley, 75, the growling rockabilly singer and multi-instrumentalist who accompanied Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich and others in recording sessions in the 1950s, died Aug. 2 at a hospital in Jonesboro, Ark. He had colon cancer."

I will leave it to you to read the whole obituary on the Washington Post's website

Monday, August 03, 2009

Rock on in Peace, Billy Lee Riley

While word had been coming down that the former Sun Records artist was an bad health, he just passed away this weekend about a painful bout with bone cancer. One of the bluesiest of the Sun rockabilly acts, Riley is best known for his "Flying Saucers Rock And Roll." Riley continued to perform and record after the hey day of rockabilly ended with a couple of straight blues albums among his recent efforts. Noted writer Bill Dahl published an obituary on his blog on his website,

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Recalling Albert Washington

During the 1960s and '70s, Washington recorded many albums for Fraternity Records and performed at Cincinnati clubs andconcerts. His music was said to reflect influences of gospel, rhythm and blues, and funk." A bio of Washington on the web gives his age as 53 at death and notes Lonnie Mack played on some of his singles. He recorded a couple singles for Jewel that were terrific mixes of soul and blues. The following is my contemporaneous review of the first of the two Iris albums that tried to promote his musical comeback. His best work shows he is one of many who never quite reached the acclaim he should have.

Albert Washington is a singer-guitarist who made a number of singles from the late fifties to the seventies for such labels as Fraternity and Jewel, one of which, If You Need Me, was covered by the Rolling Stones. Born in Georgia, but a Cincinnati resident for most of his adult life, he hasn’t recorded for twenty years. Iris Records, an independent label that previously issued some notable jazz recordings has just remedied this with Step It Up and Go, a newly released album containing ten originals and a nice reworking of the Buddy and Ella Johnson classic, Since I Fell For You. Washington suffers from high blood pressure, and near blindness, both derived from diabetes. While his voice can’t soar as high as on his classic deep soul recordings, this fifty three year singer certainly comes across as soulful as ever on a program of mostly modern blues with several tracks, such as Hard Days and The Good Old Days, showing more than a hint of southern soul.. He receives solid backing here, with horns on a few tracks, and harmonica on a few others, although horns suit his music far better than the harp. Bruce Katz’s keyboards are particularly worthy of note, and Kevin Barry adds some nice guitar. The bass and drums simply provide a basic foundation, but without as much imagination as Katz and Barry. A couple of message tunes, Things Are Getting Bad and Leave Them Drugs Alone, add variety to his blues and soul laments like Hold On To a Good Woman, a fine slow blues with Katz and Barry both featured. A solid, promising return of a midwest blues legend.