Sunday, October 31, 2010

Charmaine Clamor Is Something Good Indeed

Vocalist Charmaine Clamor describes herself “I’m a Filipino-American. It’s true, I’m a jazz singer. I do this musical blending called jazzipino, and it comes straight from my heart. But it’s also true that I’m a citizen of Earth, and I’m a world-blues-funk-soul-pop vocalist who won’t be, can’t be, categorized. I’m me, and this is my music.” She certainly has come along way from entertaining passengers -- whether they liked it or not! -- in the back of buses traveling to Manila. In the interim, she has garnered more than a few rave reviews.

Her new CD, “Something Good” (Freeham Records) mixes jazz, R&B, filipino and other elements. She displays at a smokey, sensous style and others more of a romantic charm, but throughout enchants with her timing, phrasing and tone. Its a delightful mix of songs and settings to frame her voice. The opening “Every Single Moment” has a languid delivery of her reflections of past moments, kisses, plans and now she is so much wiser, set against a intricate accompaniments of strings and percussion followed by her understated, delightful updating of Jon Hendrick’s lyrics for Horace Silver “Doodlin’”, with swinging piano from Eli Brueggemann. The title track is the Rodgers-Hammerstein standard taken at a slow drag tempo that allows Clamor to lend it a bluesy flavor with effective use of stop-times in the performance. Synth’ed horns and real ones are part of the backing in the buoyant celebration of Stevie Wonder’s music, “Feelin’ Stevie,” with Clamor’s joyfully singing a lyric incorporates a number of Wonder’s song-titles in its lyric as she sings he is the “Master Blaster of the harmonica, Charlie Parker on a prayerful mission …” After that ebullient performance the mood shifts a filipino adaptation of the traditional negro spiritual on, “Motherless Ili Ili,” with Dominic Thiroux’s arco bass adding to the performance’s mood.

The spirited Brazilian styled, “Flow” celebrates life and nature, from a simple drink of water, and a simple drink of life. A children’s chorus added on the vocal chorus here. “Maalaala Mo Kaya,” is sung in her native tongue to the bouncy latin rhythm she asks “Do you remember, your promise to me, that you love, will never end,” marvelously backed by the marvelous piano trio that is the core of the accompaniments here.” Clamor turns in a sultry, sensuous blues vocal on “Sweet Spot,” with Brueggemann adding grease on the organ. Tempo changes on the cha cha cha, “The Farther You Go,” with punchy and responsive horns added while “Believe in Love,” is an uplifting ballad as her voice soars as she delivers this wonderful lyric.

I cannot overstate how consistently fine the backing she receives as well. The add embellishments around her vocals, but never dominate a performance, rather providing a supple setting for her singing. The mix of material and musical backdrops combined with Clamor’s sensuous and evocative vocals makes “Something Good” a terrific recording. Her website is and the CD can be purchased there.

My review copy was supplied by the publicity firm for this CD release.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Barrelhouse Words Illuminates The Language of the Blues

Word has been circulated that blues scholar Stephen Calt recently passed away. Calt, a controversial figure in the blues world, first came to notice from liner notes he drafted for Yazoo Records starting in the sixties, and then articles in blues and other publications. He co-authored a biography of Charlie Patton and authored one of Skip James, which were important contributions, but also marked by jabs at other blues scholars and artists themselves. His works could be frustrating in the appreciation he would provide of the artist while going into character defects at length. Larry Hoffman, (himself a blues scholar as well as a contemporary classical composer who incorporates blues into his compositions), played an extended time with James, and said he found little of the Skip James he knew as a person in Calt’s biography. These reservations noted, these works still are significant contributions to the blues literature. Last year, Barrelhouse Words, was published, and as suggested below,  is a significant reference work for blues scholars.

Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary
Stephen Calt
University of Illinois Press
2009, 320 pages

Several years ago, Debra DeSalvo's "The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu," attempted to present a lexicon on blues terminology, that a flawed effort. It was described as an anecdotal dictionary of the blues, but it was far from authoritative or comprehensive. It focused on some 150 words and phrases emphasizing the African roots of the blues, but usually to the exclusion of other possible meanings. She focused on terms related to sex and hoodoo, but her book had very very little on traveling which is also a significant theme of the blues. She included interviews of significant blues artists, but such material rarely contributed to elucidating the meaning of the terms and phrases.

Stephen Calt has contributed a more scholarly effort with "Barrelhouse Words." In contrast to the 150 odd phrases of the earlier volume, Calt has over 1200 entries, although some words or phrases are represented by multiple entries. Calt as a blues writer and scholar often has been acerbic in his writing and occasionally some of his commentary here has tinges of that, but its more to be emphatic about points. He has a selected bibliography of dictionary sources which include various volumes dealing with colloquial terms, regional and ethnic language ranging from John Russell Bartlett’s “A Dictionary of Americanisms” that was published in 1877 and the first American Dictionary devoted to colloquial terms; Dan Burley’s Original Handbook of Harlem Jive, published in 1944 was an elaboration of an earlier pamphlet by Cab Calloway; Clarence Major’s “Dictionary of African-American Slang” and “Juba to Jive,” various volumes of the Harvard University Press’ “Dictionary of American Regional English;” “The Oxford English Dictionary,” and Mitford Mathews’ “A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles,” published in 1951 and of who Calt describes as the leading American language scholar of his era. DeSalvo’s book is dismissed in his bibliography as “An ill-informed work containing chronically faulty definitions and etymologies.

The entries are taken from Race Recordings (that is recordings produced for sale to Blacks) from between 1923 and 1949. In addition to his scholarly sources, he also employed information culled from interviews of blues artists between 1964 and 1971 including Ted Bogan, Sam Chatmon, Gary Davis, Son House, Skip James, Pete Franklin and Bessie Jones. Unlike DeSalvo’s book, there are no sidebars on these perfromers, but rather the interviews are cited as supporting the meaning of the phrase Calt provides.

Each entry is followed by a couplet from a recording after which the meaning is provided with sources as appropriate and occasional other couplets to further illustrate the meaning. It would be appropriate to present a few examples of Calt’s entries.

hoodoo (a.)
        I’m getting so I can’t rest
        You almost ruined me, with that lowdown hoodoo mess.
        —Freddie Nicholson, You’re Gonna Miss Me Blues 1930
        Conjuring; in this instance, by means of black (destructive) magic.

hoodoo (n.)
        Aw she went to the hoodoo, she went there all alone
        ‘Cause everytime I leave her I have to hurry home
        —Charlie Lincoln, “Mojoe Blues,” 1927
        Conjurer, sometimes referred to as a hoodoo doctor. Both terms date back to 1875. (DAH).

DAH is an abbreviation for Mathews, Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles.

cookie (n.)
        Papa wants a cookie, papa wants a cookie
        Papa wants a cookie right now now now now
        Papa wants a cookie, papa need a cookie
        Papa’s gonna get it somehow.
        —Leroy Carr, “Papa Wants a Cookie” 1930

        A black slang term for female genitals (DAS).

DAS is an abbreviation for Wentworth and Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang.

These are relatively short and simple samples, although some have more discussion such as dust one’s broom which is illustrated from a couplet from Kokomo Arnold’s 1934 recording “Sagefield Woman Blues.”

Calt notes the phrase means to leave hurriedly, and although Burley cites this as a Harlem jive phrase, Calt notes its earlier occurrence in Arnold’s song and Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom,” indicates a southern origin and was a blending of two conventional slang synonyms. “To Broom,” meant to run away while “to get up and dust” meant to depart hastily. I have not repeated the lengthier entry here, but rather give a sense of how he does contribute new understanding to terms that crop up in the blues.

Another phrase, “sleep in a hollow log, to drink muddy water and,” was familiar from the 1930s recording by Eddie Miller, “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” but Calt observes its use in Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Wartime Blues,” and Charlie Lincoln’s 1928 “Depot Blues,” whose verse anticipates Miller’s lyrics. The phrase means to live outdoor in the manner of a vagrant rather than be mistreated. There is a sense of authoritativeness to Calt’s work here that lends the reader with a certain confidence and the entries do provide a valuable reference to understanding these dated lyrics.

This is an important contribution to the blues literature and is invaluable addition to any library of blues books and a foundation upon which future blues dictionaries will build upon.

The review copy for this was provided by the publisher or its publicist.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Great CD Celebrating Louisiana Blues and Zydeco Benefits Neuroscience Research and Treatment.

Louisiana is home to so much good music that has played a significant role in helping folks recover from some of the disasters, natural and man made, the state has suffered in recent years. One of the many great musicians from the state, Buddy Flett, had a near fatal bout with encephalitis that left him in a medically induced coma. When he awoke, he had lost the ability to walk, talk, and play the guitar but with the help of his family, both kin and the musical community, he was able to play guitar at his own benefit. His own struggle to get back to health inspired the formation of the Northern Louisiana Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Foundation to fund neuroscience research in Louisiana. And this cause led to a variety of performers contributing their talents to “Louisiana Swamp Stomp” (Honeybee Entertainment), whose proceeds will benefit the Foundation. 

Among the all star talent on “Louisiana Swamp Stomp” are such world-famous headliners as Buckwheat Zydeco, Percy Sledge and the Aces Band and guitar legend Sonny Landreth and the equally amazing, if less publicly known icons Henry Gray (who spent considerable time infusing Howlin Wolf’s band with his signature piano) and Lil Buck Sinegal (an integral part of Clifton Chenier’s and then Buckwheat Zydeco’s outstanding groups). Others on this include Carol Fran, herself a stroke victim a few years ago, Little Freddie King, Dwayne Dopsie, Buddy Flett himself, Larry Garner, and Charlene Howard with supporting musicians include Billy Flynn, Sean Carney, Jonn Richardson, and David Egan.

Little Freddie King with Lil' Buck Sinegal in back
Chicago harp player and singer, Omar Coleman, the only featured performer not from Louisiana, backed by Billy Flynn on guitar and Kenny Smith on drums, turns in a strong rendition of Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back,” catching that swamp blues flavor of the original, while he takes some melodic liberties on Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Mojo Hand.” Pianist Henry Gray delivers two strong piano blues performances, the slow topical “Times Are Getting Hard” about too much taxes and ain’t got a job, while “How Can You Do It,” is a rocking shuffle. Lil Buck Sinegal provides a rocking take on “Don’t You Lie to Me. 

Carol Fran at 2008 New Orleans JazzFest
Carol Fran sings the blues in French on “Tou' Les Jours C'est Pas La Meme (Everyday Is Not The Same),” with some nice piano from David Egan, while her “I Needs To Be Be’d With,” has nice guitar from Mary Christian.Little Freddie King takes us down in the gutter with a superb, doomy swamp blues “Can’t Do Nothin’ Babe,” while Percy Sledge does a fine rendition of “First You Cry,” a terrific southern soul ballad Buddy Flett and David Egan wrote. “Swamp Stomp,” is a instrumental that features Sonny Landreth’s slide guitar, Lil Buck Sinegal’s guitar and Gerald St. Julien’s accordion although the playing gets a bit messy at times. “Traveling Man,” is a superb zydeco performance, in the vein of Clifton Chenier, from Dwayne Dopsie. 
Larry Garner’s strong blues “It’s Killing Me,” has a melodic flavor akin to “As the Years Go Passing By,” with terrific organ from Buckwheat Zydeco and a typically fine Garner lyric and vocal. His “Ms. Boss,” with some rollicking piano as Larry sings about bringing breakfast to his baby in bed, and she know show to love Larry, so that’s why Larry calls his Ms. Boss. One performer I was totally unfamiliar before this recording is Charlene Howard who really belts out a slow soul-blues “Send Me Someone To Love.” Flett himself sings and plays guitar on Livin’ Ain’t Easy,” with nice slide guitar as Flett sings fervently with the same never say die attitude that enabled to recover from his serious health issues.
Louisiana Swamp Stomp” contains a number of first-rate performances and is never less than entertaining. Special kudos to the producers, Paul McCarthy, MD, and Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith for making this happen and for having this benefit such a worthy cause as the Northern Louisiana Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Foundation whose website is and from which you can purchase this CD.
I received a review copy from a publicity firm for this release.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Walter Payton 1942-2010

20050428-2005_JazzFest_jpegs_-129, originally uploaded by NoVARon.
Word came that Walter Payton, veteran bass player on the New Orleans sceen who played on classic rhythm and blues recordings by Aaron Neville and Lee Dorsey as well as with Preservation Hall, passed away on October 28, 2010 after a lengthy illness.

Let me quote Keith Spera's obituary from the Times-Picayune

"Mr. Payton, the father of Grammy-winning trumpeter Nicholas Payton, was an exceptionally versatile musician in possession of an exceptionally engaging persona. A student of music theory and music history, he could easily switch from electric bass to upright acoustic bass, from rhythm & blues to traditional jazz to modern jazz. His recording credits include Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is" and Lee Dorsey's "Working in a Coal Mine." He was also an accomplished classical musician who, for many years, kept a grand piano in his parlor."

I refer you to Mr. Spera's full obituary:

I had the pleasure to see him perform several times at JazzFest. I took the above picture at the 2005 JazzFest, and I saw him this past April as well. His Snap Bean and Gumbo File combos brought great joy to listeners. Albums of him as a leader are available on a variety of labels. I particularly like the one on the 504 label from an in-store show at the Louisiana Music Factory that has Evan Christopher on clarinet. Many of the New Orleans musicians whether playing traditional style jazz or modern jazz, like his son, have been touched by this gentleman. I am sure they will have quite a second-line to celebrate his life.

Cocktail Boogie Captures Delightful Pianist

The Music Maker Foundation ( is a marvelous organization that is devoted to helping preserve some of America’s southern music traditions and the persons who perform them. It notes as its mission to help the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music gain recognition and meet their day to day needs. We present these musical traditions to the world so American culture will flourish and be preserved for future generations.

MMF accomplishes this through three programs: Musician Sustenance- grants to meet basic life needs and emergency relief; Musician Development - grants and services for recipient artist professional development and career advancement; and Cultural Access - supports the preservation and proliferation of American musical traditions. It puts together tours of its artists, it records and documents the lives of these performers, as well at meets immediate needs of its performers.

Mr Q as Tim Duffy looks on

The driving force behind the MMF is Tim Duffy a folklorist, that I first was in contact with around 1991 when he was issuing recordings by one Guitar Gabriel. What was amazing was this individual was a gentleman that had recorded a superb album of down home blues for the Gemini label in the 1970s that was under the spell of Blind Boy Fuller and Lightnin’ Hopkins. His efforts at recording and promoting some of the treasures of the southern blues and other traditions led to the creation of the Music Maker Foundation and over the years MMF has issued over 100 albums of music that document many artists who are have made few recordings. The albums are of uneven quality but there are many gems and recordings by Beverly Watkins, and Jerry McCain played significant part in the revival of their performing careers. Then there was Etta baker, who chose to stay home rather than travel to Newport in 1957, but whose guitar playing is on the level of Elizabeth Cotton. Many of these performers played neighborhood bars or simple house parties.

One of the recent releases is by a pianist, Mr. Q. A slip in the very simple cardboard cover for the CD, “Cocktail Boogie,” says liner notes are downloadable and one should be able to get a pdf file. The biographical information from Tim Duffy of the MMF notes that Mr. Q was born in 1913, and that this self taught pianist fashioned his own sound by mixing the piano styles of Art Tatum, Earl Hines and Oscar Peterson, interspersed with songs by the Ink Spots. After graduating North Carolina A&T in the ‘30s; after finishing school he started his career by traveling and performing with Blanche Calloway’s orchestra as a singer. At some point Mr. Q migrated to Harlem and got a job playing the harmonica with the Savoy Sultans, the house band at the Savoy Ballroom. He sang at tables at local nightclubs. He went to all-night jam sessions where he witnessed the legends of the day perform- legends such as Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. In 1963, he returned to Winston-Salem and became a fixture performing at piano bars.

The music on “Cocktail Boogie” was recorded by Tim Duffy in 1991, 1992 and 1993, after he had been introduced to Mr. Q by Guitar Gabriel. Mr. Q was always dressed in a perfect suit and thought highly of himself as a musician; his entire life, he had made a living with his music. Mr. Q was a regular member of the early Music Maker Revue with Willa Mae Buckner, Macavine Hayes, Preston Fulp, Jahue Rorie and Guitar Gabriel. He also played the Blues to Bop festival with John Dee Holeman. He died of natural causes in 2000 so did not live to see his music released.

Cocktail Boogie” may not be an essential piano blues-jazz recording, but still is a delightful collection of piano bar performances. Particularly on vocal tracks, the piano sounds a bit muffled. Mr. Q sings a range of uptown blues (“Everyday I Have the Blues,” “What’d I Say,” and “Juice Headed Woman”), pop standards (“(Left My Heart In) San Francisco,” “You’’ Never Know,” and “Thank-You Pretty Baby”), and several instrumentals (“title track, “Mr. Q’s Blues, “Mood Indigo,” and Begin the Beguine”). Despite the muffled audio quality, Mr. Q displays an agile style whether handling a boogie or a more complex melody and while not a great singer, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had a significant regular local following at the time Tim Duffy made this recordings of him.

Cocktail Blues” is an enjoyable collection of urbane piano performances with blues roots. This can be ordered at the MMF’s website on the store page and as I write this is among the Foundation’s most recent releases. it is also available on itunes through the website. The website has much more information on the MMF and its activities.

I received this CD from Music Maker Foundation as a member of MMF’s
Givin' It Back Record Club, one of the various membership categories for supporters of the Music Maker Foundation.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Playing For Change Celebrates "One Love"

Several months ago I reviewed a recording by Grandpa Elliott, a New Orleans Street Singer who was associated with Playing For Change. At that time I noted that Playing for Change, according to its website (, began as the brainchild of Grammy-winning music producer and engineer Mark Johnson. Utilizing innovative mobile audio/video techniques, Playing For Change records musicians outdoors in cities and townships worldwide. They have a single-minded passion to record little-known musicians. The name Playing For Change evokes the coins thrown to street musicians as well as the transformation their music inspires. The also believe music can be a force to foster understanding and peace between persons of diverse backgrounds and cultures. They have an arrangement with Concord Records to allow dissemination of their recordings, one of which was the fine Grandpa Elliott CD. Now they have issued a combined CD/DVD package, “Playing For Change Live” (Playing For Change Records/Timeless Media). The concert DVD has two more performances than are on the CD as well as two bonus performances.

Included are performances from several concerts in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Spain with a core group of musicians that travel and perform together although there does seem to be some varying personnel from tour to tour (I am basing this on the personnel on this CD/DVD set compared to slightly different personnel for a fall 2010 US tour that is given on the website). Grandpa Elliott is present on this to contribute his harmonica and vocals and other members of the Playing For Change Band here on pretty much all the performances include vocalist Clarence Bekker from Amsterdam, Netherlands; guitarist Jason Tamba from Matadi, Congo; vocalist Mermans Kenkosenki from Matadi, Congo; vocalist Ruth ‘Titi Tsira from Guguletu, South Africa; guitarist Louis Mhlanga from Harare, Zimbabwe and djembe by Mohammed Alidu from Tamale, Ghana.

There is a mix of classic blues, rhythm and blues, reggae songs mixed with African based performances. Grandpa Elliott opens up with a robust and exuberant “Fannie Mae,” with Keb’ Mo’ guesting on guitar with the band and his later rendition of “Sugar Sweet,” is only on the DVD. “Don’t Worry” is an uplifting song with wonderful vocals from Bekker and Tsira as the band gets a strong reggae groove with Grandpa Elliott taking a solo break as well as guitarist Mhlanga who consistently plays some of the sweetest sounding guitar, with a precise attack that is rhythmically compelling.

Mermans Kenkosenki contributed “Back to the Roots,” with a bit more African-reggae flavor again with such marvelous singing that bring so much warmth with the message of understanding an hope. The great Toots Hilbert is guest vocalist on a terrific rendition of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember,’ with supporting vocals from the aggregation. There are so many highlights including Titi Tsira’s marvelous original “Fela Ngaye,” as well as Ziggy Marley guesting on “Love is My Religion.”

Bob Marley’s “One Love” serves as the basis for the group to conclude the filmed portion of the DVD while the exhilarating treatment of “Stand By Me,” on the DVd serves as backdrop for the credits. Interspersed between the performances on the film are back stage scenes and the performers talking about there background and what music has meant to them and how they came to join Playing For Change. Of the two bonus scenes, one is of Grandpa Elliott singing “Amazing Grace” without accompaniment while hugging a cancer patient who was a special guest at the performance due to the Make A Wish Foundation.

The singing is so good, the band is terrific and the non-performance film scenes show how in touring they have become as much as family as a performing troupe. The whole experience presented here has so much soul and joy about it. In case I have not been clear, this is highly recommended. It should be available from better vendors as well as from the Playing For Change website.

For FTC regulations, the review copy of the CD was provided either by Concord Records or a firm handling publicity for this release.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Huey Lewis CD is Memphis Soul Tribute

For the first release in several years, Huey Lewis and the News, have produced a tribute to the classic Memphis soul sound an Stax Records on the aptly titled “Soulsville” (Wow Records). Reunited with producer Jim Gaines, they recorded this CD at Ardent Studios and a collection of songs mostly associated with Stax, although some from the recently departed Solomon Burke and Wilson Pickett who were on Atlantic Records, which had a distribution deal with Stax for a number of years.

Lewis and his band is an affable band and do an earnest job on handling a pretty wide range of material including a nice rendition of The Staples’ “Respect Yourself” which has a singer sounding much like Mavis Staples joining Huey on the vocal. Certainly the groove is there as he redoes “Got to Get You Off My MInd,” or the Wilson Pickett burner “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You.” The playing is idiomatic and the overall effect is a very good blue-eyed soul cover band with a good singer who obviously loves the material. However, well-intentioned this tribute is, comparisons to original recordings is inevitable and these suffer in comparison.

The review CD was sent by a publicity firm for the release.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Innerviews Provides Creative Insights

Innerviews: Music Without Borders
by Anil Prasad
Foreword by Victor Wooten
2010: Abstract Logix Books

On the cover of the fascinating new book, “Innerviews: Music Without Borders,” it says Extraordinary Conversations with Extraordinary Musicians. Anil Prasad has been editing Innerviews, which he calls the web’s longest-running music magazine, since 1994 and is also a contributor to Guitar Player and Bass Player publications. Innerviews offers interviews with musicians in a wide variety of genres and styles of music, including rock, jazz, fusion, hip-hop, world music, pop, and folk. The interviews are intended to get away from typical celebrity oriented interviews and to “enable artists to speak about topics that matter to them.”

Prasad in his introduction to the interviews collected here states “Innerviews’ focus on artists with expansive creative mindsets are clearly speaking to an underserved demographic in the world of music journalism: the thinking listeners for whom music isn’t just aural wallpaper or a lifestyle component, but rather a living, breathing, essential part of everyday existence. …”

Rather than focus on meaningless trivia, soulless sales data, or simply promoting their latest recording or tour, Prasad’s aim is to get the “musicians to delve deep into their souls to discuss topics that really matter to them.” And he has done this since 1994 with a number of interviews that are on the web site, The book “Innerviews” brings together 24 interviews of Jon Anderson, Björk, Bill Bruford, Martin Carthy, Stanley Clarke, Chuck D, Ani DiFranco, Béla Fleck, Michael Hedges, Jonas Hellborg, Zakir Hussain, Leo Kottke, Bill Laswell, John McLaughlin, Noa, David Sylvian, Tangerine Dream, David Torn, Ralph Towner, McCoy Tyner, Eberhard Weber, Chris Whitley, Victor Wooten, and Joe Zawinul. I do not believe these interviews are on the website, although there may be earlier interviews by some of these individuals up there.

Each interview is preceded by Prasad’s concise summary of their musical biographies. Then he starts asking about some of the issues the artist has in the creative process. His first question of Jon Anderson (best known for his work in Yes) is “Provide some insight into your creative process.” From Anderson’s answer, Prasad inquires into how Anderson channels his philosophical and spiritual perspectives into the music he writes. A further inquiry is into the group dynamics of Yes that made them so remarkable between 1971 and 1974. Similarly after discussing Bjork’s career, including an all-vocal album, he asks her “How did knowing you were going to attempt an all-vocal album affect how you wrote material for it.” Or, to Bill Bruford “Describe your approach to collaborating with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez during the making of ‘If Summer Had Its Ghosts.’” Later he asks Bruford “What are some of your key bandleading philosophies?”

I cited the above queries to give a sense of the concerns that can be found in all of these interviews, which include the creative process, how one collaborates with other musicians, how the nature of a project affects how material is composed. This is not to mean that other matters are ignored, such as McCoy Tyner reflecting on the deification of John Coltrane or elevation of artists by the public beyond the realm of humanity. The musicians themselves are eloquent spokesmen for themselves, as Tyner in responding to the question of deification states “And athletes. Yeah, we have a tendency to do that. Sometimes we’re very destructive too. We take a person and build him up and then we sometimes bring him down. To say, ‘Well, okay, yeah. If you want me to be a god, fine. I accept that’ can be a little risky.”

Then there is Stanley Clarke who in his interview discusses turning down Miles Davis. Noting that after Chick Corea’s “Light as a Feather” he got calls from tons of bands including what was left of the Doors. “Anyway, Miles used to come see Return to Forever at the Village Vanguard. In those days, it was still done the way they did in the ‘50s. They would just come to the gig and say ‘Man, I want you to play in my band.’ I’ll never forget it. Miles came to the Vanguard in this weird, red leather suit. It almost looked pre-Michael Jackson. Miles looked like a spaceman, coming there and he said in his Miles voice ‘You don’t want to play with Chick. Fuck Chick. You don’t need to play with him. Come play with me.’ But I was very loyal and the movement we were trying to create.

“I looked at Miles and I looked at Chick and the bigger picture. I felt I could do more with Chick than Miles, although it would have been nice for the resume to play with Miles and experience that. So instead, I’d hang out with Miles and go see him a lot because we used to live near one another.”

There are any number of insights about music and life. I like this one from Bill Bruford’s interview, “Fans often have too much grinding of axes as they get older. They get grumpy about what an artist has done or has not done in terms of living up to their expectations. Once you establish yourself—particularly in North America— as being something or somebody, it can be difficult to move on. For instance, it would be very hard for a rock star like Mick Jagger to turn into John Coltrane, even if he wanted to. He will always be Mick Jagger, and I’ve had a lot of that. But I think there is a large number of people who don’t know much about us that come in off the street to get an evening of what I think is top flight music. They’re not interested in the fact the drummer once had lunch with Phil Collins.”

Like many of you, I was not familiar with many of the musicians included here. I learned quite a bit about a number of performers and certainly am going to check out some of the referenced recordings in a few chapters from these ‘new to me’ musicians, and the insights on these musicians was as valuable. That is an indication of the value this book has. “Innerviews: Music Without Borders” is a collection of conversations with significant and important musicians that will stimulate the reader. It merits the interest of serious lovers of contemporary music whose love crosses genres.

For purposes of FTC regulations, a publicist sent me a review copy of this book.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jerry Bergonzi's "Simply Put" Is Terrific

Saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi is not a household name in the jazz world but listening to his new Savant release, “Simply Put,” leads one to suspect that the fact he is based in Boston, where he teaches at the New England Conservatory, is the primary reason he is under the radar among the general jazz audience when folks talk about great saxophonists of today.

His peers, such as Bradford Marsalis, marvel at his playing. The liner booklet mentions Marsalis’ admiration of his the mastery and personal distillation of the tonal personalities of Shorter and Coltrane. He plays often around Boston and also tours Europe several times a year. He did spend a stint with “Two Generations of Brubeck,” which included Dave and his sons and later with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. His band on this recording (his 4th for Savant) consists of pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Dave Santoro and the Paris-based Italian drummer, Andrea Michelutti.

The selections include seven Bergonzi compositions and three very personal interpretations of standards. With the band evoking the classic Coltrane Quartet, Bergonzi displays his deep, fat tone on the opening “MB,” a tribute to his late friend, Michael Brecker, with the band swirling behind his strong playing. “Dancing in the Dark,” is a swinging interpretation of a song from an old Fred Astaire movie and illustrates his attention to the song and the underlying lyrics. “Casadiche,” is how his Italian-American parents used to pronounce the TV cowboy, Hopalong Cassidy, which moves back and forth (the notes talk about the Mingusian ambiance) from a plaintive ballad to an angular double-time refrain.

Come Fly With Me,” is a lively romp through a song most associated with Frank Sinatra. “Crossing the Naeff” focuses on the interplay between Bergonzi and pianist Barth, while there is a tangoesque feeling imparted to his reharmonized rendition of “Out of Nowhere,” a favorite of jazz players since the bop era, while his unique minor blues “Transphybian,” sports a nice Tyner-esque solo from Barth. The concluding “Malaga,” named after the Andulusian Port City finds him navigating the soprano sax (displaying more of Shorter than Coltrane here) on an unusual 11/4 time signature.

After listening to “Simply Put,” one realizes that Jerry Bergonzi is a superior, passionate and thoughtful musician and composer. Leading a terrific band, he deserves a wider audience commensurate with the high level of his music.

This was originally reviewed for the December 2009 issue of Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 322) and I have made some minor changes. Savant Records sent the review copy to Jazz & Blues Report who sent it to me.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Looking Back at Some Classic Specialty Rhythm and Blues Reissues

Specialty Records was one of the great labels of the late forties through the fifties documenting the classic jump blues and gospel of the time and the emergence of rock’n’roll. These reviews appeared as a composite review back in the April 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 190).I have updated the review to include the CD title in the body of the review and other info as apprpriate. The Wyonna Carr is currently available on amazon as a download or CD, the Camille Howard is available used or as a download while the Lloyd Price reissue may be difficult to find.

Three more reissues from the Specialty catalog make some classic 50’s rhythm and blues available. While none of these might be termed indispensable, the releases by the women, Camille Howard and Wyonna Carr, are particularly valuable in making available recordings by some of the women who have been unrepresented in such reissues.

Lloyd Price should be familiar from his highly successful recording career, starting with Lawdy Miss Clawdy that was recorded at his first Specialty session with Dave Bartholomew’s band which included Fats Domino, Ernest McLean, Herb Hardesty and Earl Palmer. This collection, Vol. 2 Heavy Dreams, is the second collection of Price’s Specialty recordings and includes a couple of songs from the March 1952 session that produced Lawdy Miss Clawdy (including an alternate take of Chee Koo Baby), and surveys his recording career for Specialty which ended in April 1956. Most of these sessions were recorded in New Orleans with many of the same musicians, except other pianists replaced Domino while Lee Allen’s booting sax is added to some of the later recordings. Much of this is stomping R&B, full of that Crescent City Bounce with Earl Palmer riding the cymbals while rocking out a second line rhythm, and some is Roy Brown influenced blues although by the time of his last session, some of the songs clearly are oriented to the rock and roll market, for which he would have many hits on for his own labels and ABC-Paramount. Most of the Specialty hits are on the earlier collection.Generally this is solid stuff, although there are a few lesser titles here.

Best remembered as Roy Milton’s pianist, and sometimes vocalist, Camille Howard was a formidable member of Milton’s Solid Senders, one of the more popular and influential rhythm and blues groups of the late forties. She sang on several of Milton’s hits, and made a number of recordings under her own name on Specialty, many with Milton and members of the Solid Senders. Many are included on Vol.1 Rock Me Daddy, the first album devoted to her music. She is still alive (actually when I wrote this, this was not true as she passed in March 1993 at the age of 79), although her current religious affiliation leads her to be reticent in talking about the rhythm and blues heyday. Camille Howard certainly was an excellent boogie woogie pianist, on a level with Sammy Price, Lloyd Glenn, and, dare I suggest, Jay MacShann. Her clean, deft touch helped her providing an easy rocking, solid foundation for her recordings, and those with Roy Milton. A relaxed singer, she handles the easy going blues and jump tunes along with ballads. Compared to Hadda Brooks, her vocals on ballads and torch songs strike me as less melodramatic, although I have only heard a smattering of Brooks’ recordings. The 25 recordings here are solid performances and makes this more than simply a fine supplement to the two Roy Milton collections on Specialty. (Specialty did issue a subsequent compilation of her recordings, X-Temporaneous Boogie, and of course she can be heard on those classic Roy Milton jump blues, also on Specialty. She was truly a wonderful pianist and singer).

Cleveland native, Wyonna Carr, originally recorded for Specialty as a gospel singer, enjoying some success with The Ball Game. In 1955 she convinced Specialty’s owner, Art Rupe, to record her on pop material. Jump Jack Jump! brings together 23 of her pop tunes along with one gospel song. The opening three songs, the title cut, the rocking ;Till the Well Runs Dry, and Boppity Bop (Boogity Boog), shows that Specialty at first envisioned her as their answer to Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker, while Hurt Me, sounds like an effort to capture the sound of the Platters, and It’s Rainin’ Outside, has a strong gospel flavor. Her rendition of Should I Ever Love Again is a nice version of a ballad some will associate with New Orleans’ singer Tommy Ridgely, and probably her biggest record. Carr was a strong songwriter as well as a fine singer, and certainly of her many songs these hold up as well as some of the better known hits of the times. Her Please Mr. Jailer where she entreats him to treat her man all right, is fairly memorable as is her clever lyrics on the perky Nursery Rhyme Rock. Most of these were produced by Art Rupe or Bumps Blackwell, although some later sides were produced by Sonny Bono. Some of Bono’s songs such as, I’m Mad at You, are forgettable. For a variety of reasons including lack of luck, her career never took off, and she did not have a rhythm and blues smash. After Specialty, she recorded an album for Reprise Records, and eventually moved back to Cleveland. Billy Vera mentions she suffered depressive periods, and ‘retreated into her shell and faded from sight.’ When she died in 1976, she generally had been forgotten, but this collection will certainly generate a reassessment of her music. (Specialty also reissued a fine album of her gospel sides that is well worth checking out.)

For FTC purposes, Fantasy Records sent me the review copies of these.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Karen Ristuben Singing

Vocalist Karen Ristuben hails from the Boston area and her album, “Too Much” (Daring Records), should have appeal to fans of traditionally rooted swing jazz with a few contemporary touches. A long-winding career from art student to paralegal and the attorney has had go full circle to her earlier days singing with her guitar. Producer Mason Daring has brought together some top-flight musicians including guitarist Duke Levine, bassist Marty Ballow, drummer Per Hansen among her accompaniments.

She sings in a languorous style that helps project a demure flavor to her performances, which opens with a Bob Dorough number “Devil May Care,” with Kevin Barry contributing some pedal steel and Billy Novick adding nicely stated clarinet that evokes the classic swing era. Her dreamy style really suits the Ellington-Strayhorn classic “Daydream,” on which Barry’s pedal steel adds to the mood while Levine takes a nice solo with Novick’s clarinet providing a nice background for his playing. Daring’s original blue-ballad “Funny,” sports a lovely baritone solo from Mark Earley behind her wistful delivery of the song.

An Antonio Jobim bossa nova, “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)” is a most sympathetic vehicle for her dreamy style with Earley in a Stan Getz vein on tenor. The peppy “Stay Out of My Dreams,” is enjoyable with Earley a bit more assertive sounding on tenor with an attractive rhythm section of Brad Harfield on piano, Rory McKenzie on electric bass and Dave Mattacks on drums. it is followed by “Still We Dream”, a vocal adaptation of Monk’s “Ugly Beauty,” with Gus Sebring added to this rhythm on French horn on Ristuben’s atmospheric vocal. The standard “I Remember You,” is taken as a bossa nova with more nice Novick on clarinet and enjoyable although the stylized vocals comes off a tad bit too lackadaisical here as it also does on “Cry Me a River.” Not to say these are not enjoyable, just not as compelling to these ears as other performances here.

While not perfect, there is plenty to enjoy about “Too MUch,” with its attractive playing and Ristuben’s intriguing and oft-moving vocals. It is available for purchase on downloads from itunes as well as on CD from

For FTC purposes the review copy was provided by a publicist for the recording.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mac Arnold's Meaty Blues

A short stint on bass with Muddy Waters several decades ago along with other gigs including John Lee Hooker, constituted Mac Arnold’s musical resume until a few years back when he debuted to critical acclaim. His second CD with the Plate Full’O Blues Band, “Backbones & Gristle” (Plantation #1) is the follow-up. Arnold  has an appealing baritone with a natural  delivery, and he gets solid support, although sometimes the backing rocks out a bit like the long blues-rock guitar jam that is part of the opening track “Love and Relations.” The next track, “U Dawg Gone Right,” has a nice vocal and a stinging solo by Arnold on his Gas Can guitar, constructed by his older brother.

The title track has strong down home flavor as Arnold recalls growing up and the advice his daddy gave him when Mac did wrong.  His dad told him Mac had a hard head and his backbone was nothing but gristle. The track has nice guitar from Austin Brashier.  Max Hightower, who is on piano on much of this album, plays harp on a high octane, supersonic, harp ripper, “Blow Until You Blow,” on which Mac plays bass and Steve Kester plays piano. Following this is a late night blues “I Refuse,” as Mac recalls the time he refused to listen to his good friend telling him about his women being with another man and how Mac ignored the warning signs until his women, crying, tells him she will always will love him, as she runs away.

On “Gas Can Story,”Mac recalls his brother making a gas can guitar and winning a contest at school. Another highlight is “Things I Don’t Need,” with a doomy bass riff and stinging guitar as Arnold sings about having a one room shotgun shack in the middle of a cotton field and not needing a grocery store. He has a three-acre garden and does not have to spend his life chasing the wind so Mac is satisfied with his family and friends. Blues meets Doobie Brothers for the uplifting message, “I Can Do Anything,” which has a church choir joining Mac as he sings about getting his education, how getting an education worked for Mac and can work for you.

Mac unplugs for “The Garden Song,” with nice harp from Hightower, “Where I’ve Been,” is a semi-autobiographical song about where Mac has been around the world singing the blues. Its the final studio track, and the album closes with two live tracks originating from the 1st Annual Mac Arnold Cornbread & Collard Greens Blues Festival. On “Mean to Me,” which Mac recorded on his first CD, Bob Margolin adds slide guitar and Willie Smith handles the drum chair. This is  a really nice slow blues with Brashier adding  nice guitar fills before Margolin takes a lengthy Muddy Waters-styled slide solo. The live version of “I Can Do Anything,” features a school choir and marching band helping Mac deliver his uplifting message that provides a solid conclusion to this generally strong recording . It may have a few bum moments, but is full of intriguing originals (mostly by Arnold), heartfelt singing and songs, and first-rate musicianship. Arnold’s website is and this disc is available from amazon, cdbaby, and other outlets./

This review originally appeared in the June 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 317) and I have made some minor edits and stylistic changes. It is the second of three albums Mac has produced.  My review copy was likely supplied by a publicist for this recording.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mannish Boys Shakin' That Delta Groove

Delta Groove is celebrating its 5th Anniversary and as part of the celebration is the fifth recording by The Mannish Boys, “Shake For Me,” also celebrating the 5th Anniversary of this aggregation. Returning for this are vocalists Finis Tasby, Bobby Jones and Johnny Dyer; guitarists Kirk Fletcher and Frank Goldwasser; Randy Chortkoff on harmonica; and pianist Fred Kaplan with special guests Nick Curran, Michael Zito, Kid Ramos, Rod Piazza, Mitch Kashmar, Arthur Adams and Lynwood Slim with a terrific rhythm section of Willie J. Campbell on bass and Jimi Bott on drums sparking things throughout. David Woodward plays saxophone on several selections. As expected, it is a celebration of classic blues with a few originals, styled in the vein of classic blues also included.

A ripping cover of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s “Too Tired” with an able vocal from Tasby and Curran playing in the vein of Watson’s original recording. The medley of Bo Diddley’s “Mona” and Johnny Otis’ “Willie & the Hand Jive,” features the famous Bo Diddley groove and Zito’s rocking guitar backing Bobby jones and Zito himself. Goldwasser handles guitar behind Tasby for a nice treatment of Lowell Fulson's “Reconsider Baby.” Few can put together the grainy southwestern approach of Fulson as a singer as does Tasby. Randy Chortkoff contributed “Educated Ways,” an original styled after some of Elmore James’ Fire recordings (“You Got To Move”) with some strong slide from Goldwasser and vocal by Jones. Jones then handles the vocal backed solely by pianist Rob Rio on a doomy St. Louis Jimmy slow blues “Half Ain’t Been Told.” Tarheel Slim’s “Number 9 Train,” is revived by Frank Goldwasser’s vocals and guitar with Bott’s drum. Goldwasser’s vocal and driving, slashing guitar (inspired by Wild Jimmy Spruill’s work on the original), takes listeners on a wild ride.

Rod Piazza’s harp backs Tasby’s nice rendition on “Last Night” with Goldwasser and Fletcher both present, before Jones’ reprises Ray Charles’ on “Hey Now,” with brassy horns and some tough guitar from Fletcher in a Pete ‘Guitar’ Lewis fashion, while Fletcher’s work on the Howling Wolf’s “You Can’t Be Beat,” evokes the slashing style of Willie Johnson’s from Wolf’s Memphis days. More solid playing from Fletcher is heard behind Tasby’s evocation of Lowell Fulson on “Black Nights.” Fletcher trades solos with Curran on “The Bullet,” a hot instrumental combining hot bop flavored jump blues of the likes of Tiny Grimes with the driving Memphis boogie of Willie Johnson and Pat Hare with some nice piano from Kaplan. Chortkoff wrote a nice slow blues for Bobby jones, “These Worries,” with Lynwood Slim on chromatic harp, himself on harmonica and Goldwasser on slide with more of Kaplan’s fine down in the alley piano. “Raunchy,” by Arthur Adams, is a jaunty feature for the veteran singer and guitarist. Johnny Dyer’s sole vocal is a nice rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Champagne & Reefer,” while Bobby Jones reprises Bobby Bland’s “You Got Bad Intentions” with Fletcher taking a frenetic solo. This disc concludes with the Dutch singer and harp player, “Big” Pete van der Pluijim reprising the late Lester Butler’s “Way Down South,” with Kid Ramos’ trebly-laden guitar in support.

The only sour note here is the failure to properly credit the cover photo which I believe is from one of the WPA photographers that documented American life during the depression and in the Library of Congress. The photo has been used a number of times going back at least to Yazoo Records anthology of Jackson Blues in the late sixties. Aside from that (like the previous releases by The Mannish Boys), this disc is a celebration of a wide spectrum of blues and rhythm music, wonderfully played and sang.

This review originally appeared in the May 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 325). A review copy was provided by a publicity firm for the record label.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Otis Rush Riveting Live Blues

Otis Rush is one of the legends of modern Chicago blues. The following review of a then previously unissued live performance by Rush from 1976 that Delmark issued 30 years later. The review originally appeared (I have made some edits) in the February 2006 issue of Jazz & Blues Report (issue 279) and was part of a longer review of Delmark reissues. This performance is a year or two prior to when I first had the opportunity to see him live at the Village Gate and wills ay that I have never seen anybody put on a more powerful live performance than Otis at his best. Rush who suffered a stroke several years ago will likely never perform again which is the music world’s loss, so recordings such as this which showcase him at the height of his powers should be treasured. This should be relatively easy to find from blues retailers.

News of a previously unissued live recording of Otis Rush from the mid-seventies created much excitement among blues enthusiasts. Rush, a Mississippi native, moved to Chicago and became part of the West Side Chicago blues scene playing some blistering guitar and singing with great fervor. One of many blues artists in the post-B.B. King style, Rush’s first recording for the Cobra label, I Cant Quit You Baby, charted on the R&B charts, and was followed by early recordings including All Your Love (I Miss Loving), My Love Will Never Die, and Three Times a Fool. After the Cobra label folded, he briefly was on Chess and then Don Robey signed him but only issued one single, Homework.

Many of Rush’s recordings have become part of the modern blues repertoire and covered by such blues-rock acts as John Mayall, Led Zeppelin and J. Geils. Rush was one of the artists featured on the legendary Chicago, The Blues Today series and has had a number of albums issued over the past three decades. Delmark issued Cold Day in Hell in the mid-1970s and it had received a fair amount of airplay on rock station WXRT which led to WXRT recording and broadcasting Rush in performance from Chicago’s Wise Fools Pub in January 1976.

Now about three decades later, this performance is available for all blues lovers on a new Delmark CD, All Your Love I Miss Loving. Featuring his superb band of the time with Bob Levis on second guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, Jesse Green on drums and Alberto Gianquinto (ex-James Cotton, ex-Santana) on piano, Rush is in superb form opening with B.B. King’s Please Love Me and redoing his All Your Love and It Takes Time as well other songs from King, T-Bone Walker and Chuck Willis. To hear Rush, one of the most intense guitarists in the blues, laying out his soul singing You’re Breaking My Heart, or rearranging T-Bone Walkers Mean Old World to the melody of I Cant Quit You Baby, one is treated to a performance that will reaffirm for many of us why we love the blues, to paraphrase Steve Tomashefsky’s liner notes.

Few blues artists put as much soul into their performances and reach the level that Rush at his best achieved, and he was at his best that January 1976 night at the Wise Fools Pub.

My review copy was provided by Delmark Records.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Eddie Campbell Still Tearing Up The Blues World

Chicago bluesman Eddie C. Campbell has been spinning his brand of West Side Chicago blues for several decades. This review of Eddie’s 2009 Delmark album, Tear This World Up, originally appeared in the July 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 318). It was his first album since the 2000 Rooster Blues Cd Hopes & Dreams. Campbell has not recorded that frequently, but has produced some very distinctive recordings. The review copy of this was provided by Delmark Records.

Its been a few years since Eddie C. Campbell, one of the few remaining masters of the West Side Chicago blues style has had a new recording out. Not that he hasn’t merited it, but his understated guitar and laid-back and witty vocals lack the immediate appeal to those more rock-oriented listeners of the blues. His latest album “Tear This World Up,” on Delmark will be welcome to those of us that have been fans of him for decades as well as those that want the real deal blues.

Dick Shurman, who produced Campbell’s classic first album, “King of the Jungle” over three decades ago has assembled a solid studio band including Dairy Golliday on bass, Marty Binder on drums and Karl ‘Lil Daddy’ Outten on keyboards. Mojo Mark Cihlar plays harp on several tracks and several other tracks have a full horn section. One thing that stands out is how uncluttered this recording sounds compared with so many recordings in recent months.

It is refreshing to hear someone handle the blues in such an unfrenzied manner whether the light lyrics of his opening “Making Popcorn;” the rocking “Big World,” a story about meeting this fine lady who wants to show Eddie her big world; and his remake of “Easy Baby,” a tribute to his late friend Magic Sam. All are marked by Campbell’s restrained, yet soulful, vocals with his occasional effective employment of a falsetto, and his crisply played, snap and pop crackling guitar with just a bit of treble and echo.

His playing imparts a rockabilly tinge to Magic Sam’s “Love Me With a Feeling,” with some pretty impressive picking here. In contrast “Vibrations in the Air,” has a lazy Jimmy Reed styled shuffle that few today play with nice harp from Cihlar who also added his atmospheric playing to Campbell’s witty “Voodoo.” “Care,” has a bit of a funk groove and one several selections with a full horn section. Punching horns add to the flavor of the easy walking instrumental shuffle of “It’s So Easy” where Campbell’s snapping guitar playing is also complemented by the organ of Marty Sammon, Buddy Guy’s keyboard player.

Campbell turns Howlin’ Wolf’s “My Last Affair,” into a compelling blues ballad with his genially pleading singing, followed by the rocking rendition of “I’m Just Your Fool,” with horns and harp supporting his terrific rendition of the Buddy Johnson composition, although his performance is modeled after Little Walter’s recording. He evokes Link Wray and the Ventures before getting into another shuffle groove for his rendition of “Summertime,” adding jazzy fills, before closing the album with “Bluesman,”where backed just by his guitar, Eddie sings about being a real bluesman, and having played with everyone from A and Z. But as he sings, you can still hear them in his blues played so direct and honest which is why this recording is so appealing.

BTW, my review of Hope and Dreams can be found on

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Earl King's Hard River To Cross

Earl King was a significant member of the New Orleans music scene from the 1950s until his death in 2003. Born Earl Silas Johnson IV in 1934, he started playing guitar as a teen and was initially a follower of Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones, even filling in as Jones after Jones was injured in an automobile accident. He first recorded as Earl Johnson in 1953 for Savoy, Specialty issued “A Mother’s Love,” as Earl King, and in 1955 he was signed to Ace Records, where he recorded “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights,” among other recordings. “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights,” was a hit despite Huey “Piano’ Smith’s out of tune piano and was covered pretty closely by Johnny “Guitar’ Watson whose version siphoned off some sales for King. While on Ace, King emerged as a songwriter as well as performer, penning songs for teen heart throb, Jimmy Clanton as well as Roland Stone.

In 1960, Dave Bartholomew signed him to Imperial where he made a number of recordings backed by musicians including Bob and George French, James Booker, and Wardell Quezergue. Here he made some signature recordings such as “Come On,” and “Trick Bag,” The former tune has been interpreted by Jimi Hendrix, Dr. John and Stevie Ray Vaughan while the latter has been reworked by The Meters, Dr. John. His contract with Imperial expired in 1963 but he continued to write songs. His compositions from this era included Professor Longhair's "Big Chief", Willie Tee's "Teasin' You", and Lee Dorsey's "Do-Re-Mi". Recordings for Motown and Atlantic when unissued at the time, while Sam Charters produced “That Good Old New Orleans Rock 'n Roll” for Sonet in 1977 (subsequently it has been issued on CD). King started recording for Black Top in the 1980s and made three CDs for them, the last being “Hard River To Cross” in 1993. King continued to perform before passing in 2003 of diabetes related complications. This writer had the opportunity to see him several times in the DC area. (Much of this bio info is adapted from Wikipedia. The Wikipedia bio does have the suggestion that Earl may have co-written some songs with Dave Bartholomew including Smiley Lewis’ “I Hear You Knockin’” as Pearl King, but has there is no citation for this. I have never heard this claim prior to seeing this nor why would Earl need to do this.

The following review of Earl’s Black Top CD, “Hard River To Cross,” appeared in the July/August 1993 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 183). I likely received a review copy from Black Top at the time. It is available as a download if not available as a new CD.

Earl King certainly remains one of New Orleans' more distinctive artists, having evolved from a disciple of Guitar Slim to one of the Crescent City’s most important songwriters, and a distinctive performer. Hard River to Cross, his new Black Top release, is another welcome helping of his unique, often quirky, but always intriguing music. King’s recent songs show a maturity in themes and lyrics that provide for tasty, funk-laden blues and soul, and still retain a distinct “New Orleans” flavor. Most of the songs here are new, like the title track, Seduction Lady and Big Foot, although he does a few remakes of such older gems as Medieval Days, You Better Know, and You’re Love Means More to Me Than Gold, as well as Guitar Slim’s It Hurts To Love Someone. King has never been a flamboyant guitarist in the manner of Guitar Slim, rather his carefully crafted, thoughtful solos serve to enhance his lyrics and vocals rather than dominate them. 

 For those wanting a bit more info on Earl King, I suggest reading Larry Benicewicz's obituary.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

No Detours Stopping Chris Pasin

Born in Chicago, but raised outside New York City, trumpeter Chris Pasin had a notable career including stints with Buddy Rich’s Big band, and that of Toshiko Akiyoshi/ Lew Tabackin and working with Jack McDuff, Salsa and Brazilian bands. He had attended the New England Conservatory where he studied with Gunther Schuller, George Russell and Jaki Byard (later he studied composition with Richie Beirach) and in 1987 recorded the just issued ‘Detour Ahead” (H20 Records).

This 1987 recording has him with a fine ensemble including Steve Slagle on saxophones, Benny Green on piano, Rufus Reid on bass and Dannie Richmond on drums. The inclusion of Richmond is not a surprise given that Charles MIngus is a significant influence on Pasin’s writing along with Byard and Beirach. Pasin took a hiatus from music as he raised a family, and recently has resumed playing recently.

The opening “Lost and Found” would have made a nice title for the disc and is a pretty nice composition typical of the hard bop from the 70s and 80s with Slagle sweet and sour soprano here along with the leader’s pungent trumpet on a performance suggestive of some of the combos Woody Shaw led during this period. The notes for this recording note that “It Doesn’t Matter Now,” allude to “Monk’s Mood,” but I found the flavor of this composition reminiscent of some of Charles Mingus’ compositions (such as the slower portions of “Sue’s Changes”) with a double time tempo change occurring throughout as evident during Green’s lovely solo followed by Pasin’s solo with his appealing, round tone.

Jackburner” is opens with a hot duo between Pasin and Richmond before a hot solo from Slagle on soprano. The title track is not a Pasin original and is a ballad he first heard done by Cedar Walton and allows him to display his bright sound with just the rhythm section and Slagle sitting out. “Light at the End of the Tunnel” is a multi-sectional number that opens with a somber lugubrious Middle-Eastern tone before kicking into a hotter tempo led by Green’s piano with nice concise playing from the leader followed by Slagle on alto, with a forceful solo from Reid.

The aptly titled “Enigma,” has Pasin playing more aggressively than the notes description of Miles-ish muted trumpet would suggest followed by Slagle’s serpentine soprano playing with the rhythm section adding some unusual accents. The Rogers and Hart standard “My Romance” is a strong straight-ahead vehicle for the quintet. The light island groove on “Island” has nice muted playing from the leader along with Slagle on flute.

Pasin’s playing is wonderfully delivered throughout this recording whether bright and mellow on a ballad, or with a crisp pungent attack elsewhere and the rhythm section of Green, Reid and Richmond is superb throughout. If the extraordinary music here had been released when recorded we would be saluting the reissue of a classic session. This is available from, (amongst other sources) amazon, cdbaby and iTunes. Chris Pasin’s website is

This review appeared originally in Jazz & Blues Report (December 2009 (Issue 322)). I have made minor edits.  
My review copy was provided by a publicist.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ray Charles' Rare Gems Rare No More

I am writing this from Nashville ( I am there until Sunday when I return to DC), and visiting the Ryman Auditorium this afternoon. Among the exhibits there is one one June Carter and Johnny Cash. Included was some photos and video clips from the television show that Johnny Cash did for two years on ABC television that included performances from the Ryman. Ray Charles was among the guests that Cash had on his show and coincidentally, a duet between Cash and Charles is the centerpiece of a new Concord album that is scheduled for release on October 26, Rare Gems, Below is a review of this release.

Rare Gems: The Undiscovered Masters” is the title of a new ray Charles release on Concord that contains, as its title suggests, previous issued recordings which come from the seventies through the nineties. From the publicity, some of these tracks were relatively stripped down to which some sweetening was added. The centerpiece of this is a duet with Johnny Cash, “Why Me, Lord?”, a Kris Kristofferson song, that was supposed to be part of a duet project that never was completed. Musically, there should be little in terms of surprises as the music here is centered in the blues/soul, country and pop fused with jazz that Charles mined throughout his legendary career.

The opening “Loves Gonna Bite You,” and the rousing big band “It Hurts To Be In Love,” are clear reminders of his blues soul roots, while “Wheel of Fortune,” which Dinah Washington (and Kay Starr) recorded in a 1952, is a more jazzy performance with strings sweetening the big band setting. “I’m Gonna Keep On Singin’,” with electric piano and guitar sounds sounds like an 80s or 90s recording with some spoken breaks in the number. “There'll Be Some Changes Made,” is usually taken at a brisk tempo, while Charles transforms it into a slow blues here, with plenty of greasy organ and solid blues guitar (could that be that Tony Matthews at the original session), with Charles apparently imitating guitar with his electric piano before the actual guitarist enters with a solid solo. The groove of “Isn’t It Wonderful,” sounds not far from what Billy Preston, who had an important association with Charles might have recorded, and again more bluesy guitar can be heard here. “I Don’t Want No One But You,” is one of several tracks with synthesized horns, in the backing, with Charles singing how much he needs his lady, and come back and Ray will make it right in a typical fashion. Charles’ rendition of Hank Cochran’s “A Little Bitty Tear,” is a country-flavored rendition of a number that may sound familiar when one hears it, and the country flavor continues on “She’s Gone,” that suggests some of Jerry Lee Lewis’ country recordings of the seventies. The duet with Cash, “Why Me, Lord,” is only a taste of what might have been if the duet album by Cash & Charles had ever been completed. Cash takes the lead on singing this gospel number with Charles joining in on the choruses and taking an electric piano solo.

There is nothing that might suggest they were scraping the bottom of the vaults simply to release unissued material. The music here will not harm Charles’ reputation. In contrary, the music on this is quite good. One expects that Charles’ many fans will be delighted by these previously unissued recordings.

For purposes of FTC regulations, this was provided by a publicity form for Concord Records.