Friday, September 30, 2011

Chet Baker's Musical Candy

Companion to the DVD of Zoot Sims "In a Sentimental Mood," MVD Visual has released in the US the Gazell Records DVD of Chet Baker, "Candy." Like the Sims video it is an intimate trio recording that finds the trumpeter in the library of Sonet Records in Lidingo, Sweden. Sims is backed ,by pianist Michel Graillier and bassist Jean Louis Raissinfosse with one duet with bassist Red Mitchell. Mitchell, was resident in Stockholm at the time, also conducts a brief interview with him.

Performances are introduced by the song-titles and the CD opens with Baker taking the vocal on Candy, before his trumpet solo. While by the time this was recorded, Baker's James Dean-like looks had a weathered look, certainly the visual appeal of him is still apparent as is the genial melodicism of his approach. Bassist Raissenfosse sets the tone on his 5-string electric upright bass providing a bass line to anchor the performance of Love For Sale, with more lyrical playing from Baker and some nice piano by Graillier. It's followed by a lively version of Bud Powell's Tempus Fugue-It, and the bluesy late-night feel of Sad Walk.

The trio portion concludes with a nice Red's Blues with some nice playing by all, Miles Davis's Nardis, with a slight exotic flavor and the standard Bye Bye Blackbird, which of course many know from Miles' classic recording. Baker's playing is suggestive of Miles and like Miles he focused on painting a mood rather than exhibit fleet technical facility, and his vocals similarly inhabited a narrow range but had such an expressive quality to them. One can't overlook pianist Graillier who turns in a nice blues solo on Red's Blues, or Raissinfosse's firm playing throughout.

Mitchell and Baker are seen at a piano when Mitchell mentions that he was able to work out on piano some chords in playing My Romance, and Baker stating it was among the first songs he recorded before the two of them play a duet of it with Mitchell playing piano. It is a fine way to end this engaging DVD.

I received a review copy from MVD Video.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Juke Boy Bonner's One-Man Band Blues

Back three decades ago, Samuel Charters produced a series of blues lps for the Swedish Sonet label, The Legacy of the Blues, along with some other blues recordings. Charters is known as both a blues author (The Country Blues, The Poetry of the Blues, Bluesmen) as well as a producer of blues recordings, including the classic Chicago, The Blues Today! and albums by Junior Wells and Buddy Guy to name a few of the artists he recorded. Universal Music, through its Verve imprint has just issued seven of the seven Sonet lps for reissue in a series, The Sonet Blues Story. Six of these are from The Legacy of the Blues series. This is the fifth in a series of posts of my reviews from this series that originally appeared in the June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 283).

It should be noted that on these Sonet reissues, the playing time is somewhat short. Still there is some good to exceptional music to be heard on these. This CD may be out-of-print but is available from various sellers and is available as mp3 files. I received my review copy from the publication.

Weldon “Juke Boy” Bonner was a Houston based one-and band who was a notable blues poet as well as a performer but who never was able to get out of his hard life. His recordings for Arhoolie demonstrate his approach a one-man band with his effective harp and guitar playing as well as his songs which often dealt with topical themes.

Recorded by Arhoolie’s Chris Strachwitz, the performances on Bonner’s Blues Story volume are fine ones opening with I’m a Bluesman, singing about his hard life (“My father passed when I was two.”) with an easy groove followed by Problems All Around (I can’t get ahead from being held down) taken at a slow tempo. Besides his strong lyrics, Bonner provides strong boogie-laced guitar playing and tough rack harp playing that made him a fascinating purveyor of the one-man blues band idiom. Like his other releases, this is a gem that one should be delighted is widely available now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Duke Robillard's "Low Down and Torn Up"

Duke Robillard's new Stony Plain CD, Low Down and Torn Up, presents the veteran singer and guitarist on a program of 14 interpretations of older jump blues and Chicago blues. It was recorded live with his regular band of Bruce Bears on piano, Brad Hallen on bass, Mark Teixeira on drums (and one vocal) with Sax Gordon playing tenor and baritone sax. Mark McCabe replaces Bears on 7 songs. Songs derive from recordings by Guitar Slim, Tampa Red, Sugar Boy Crawford, Pee Wee Crayton, Elmore James, Eddie Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy McCracklin, and Bobby 'Blues' Merrill. Most of these songs will be unfamiliar. Elmore James' Twelve Year Old Boy and Tampa Red's Let Me Play With Your Poodle, are perhaps the best known songs heard here.

The strengths of this record are the strong ensemble playing along with Sax Gordon's playing. On Eddie Taylor's Trainfare Home, Gordon sounds like a mix of J.T. Brown's nanny goat tone and Eddie Shaw's raspy overblowing attack. Robillard's vocals sound a bit muffled on this session especially on the opening interpretation of Guitar Slim's Quicksand. Tampa Red's Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, sounds better, with Matt McCabe on piano evoking Little Johnnie Jones as drummer Teixeira suggests Judge Riley who played on many late 40's Bluebird Record sessions. Let Me Play With Your Poodle also sports some fine piano with a capable vocal although, in my opinion, it is not as strong as the renditions of this by Lightnin' Hopkins, Marcia Ball and Chick Willis.

Teixeira handles the vocal on a frantic rendition of Sugar Boy Crawford's Overboard, with Gordon taking a nice tenor sax solo. Blues After Hour is a nice low-key remake of the Pee Wee Crayton instrumental classic that showcases how tasteful Duke can be, while the rendition of Crayton's recording, Do Unto Others, is a rocker with a Crescent City groove and blistering guitar. Robillard's cover of John Lee Hooker's Want Ad Blues is a boogie that conjures up Hooker's 50's Vee-Jay sides. Its interesting to hear a cover of Tool Bag Boogie, one of Elmore James instrumentals where he did not play slide. Gordon rips off some hot sax while Duke plays solidly in a T-Bone Walker-ish vein.

Covers of Jimmy McCracklin, Elmore and Sugar Boy Crawford strike me as more successful instrumentally as Duke's vocals here generally strike this listener as a bit mannered, although I would suspect some of you would disagree. There is much I like about this, but I can only recommend Low Down and Torn Up with reservations. 

My review copy was provided by a publicist for this release.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Big Joe Williams Country Blues Mastery

Back three decades ago, Samuel Charters produced a series of blues lps for the Swedish Sonet label, The Legacy of the Blues, along with some other blues recordings. Charters is known as both a blues author (The Country Blues, The Poetry of the Blues, Bluesmen) as well as a producer of blues recordings, including the classic Chicago, The Blues Today! and albums by Junior Wells and Buddy Guy to name a few of the artists he recorded. Universal Music, through its Verve imprint has just issued seven of the seven Sonet lps for reissue in a series, The Sonet Blues Story. Six of these are from The Legacy of the Blues series. This is the fourth in a series of posts of my reviews from this series that originally appeared in the June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 283).

It should be noted that on these Sonet reissues, the playing time is somewhat short. Even those with extra tracks (such as the one reviewed below) do not exceed 45 minutes. Still there is some good to exceptional music to be heard on these. This CD is shown as still available and is available as mp3 files. I received my review copy from the publication.

Big Joe Williams was another great Mississippi bluesman who is best known for Baby Please Don’t Go. A Delta musician who as much as anyone led the life of the traveling bluesman, Williams lived in St. Louis for a period where after Peetie Wheatstraw’s death started playing Wheatsraw’s trademark 9-string guitar. A repertoire that ranged from originals to songs from Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson and Tommy Johnson, Williams played a strong rhythmic style and also sang in a highly exclamatory fashion. This volume, which includes five previously unissued recordings, was a typically fine session by an artist who rarely made a poor recording. Songs include Patton’s Hang it on the Wall, Big Fat Mama and Black Gal You Sure Been Looking Warm. This is another artist who belongs in any blues collection.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Frank Driggs 1930-2011

On September 18, 2011, the New York Times published an obituary of country singer Wilma Lee Cooper. Accompanying that obituary was a picture of her with her late husband Stoney, with a credit to "Frank Driggs Collection." Ironically Driggs himself passed away a couple days later. As I type this on September 25, all I have seen about the late jazz historian, scholar and archivist has been a somewhat brief AP obituary noting his remarkable collection of jazz, blues and other American music photographs and memorabilia, nothing the book taken from his collection Black Beauty, White Heat: A Pictorial History of Classic Jazz, 1920-1950, and that he won a Grammy for producing the reissue of Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings.

The Wikipedia entry for Driggs and the obituaries note that he became enamored with jazz and swing listening to radio broadcasts in the late 1930s. He graduated Princeton in 1952 and then joined Marshall Stearns at the Rutgers University based Institute of Jazz Studies where he began his documentation of jazz. Later John Hammond recruited him to Columbia Records where he produced a number of important reissues of jazz and blues including the highly influential King of the Delta Blues Singers, the first album compilation of Robert Johnson's recordings and A Study in Frustration, the important box set devoted to the great Big Band leader, arranger, and composer, Fletcher Henderson. He would also produce reissues of Duke Ellington (which according to jazz historian Ashley Kahn was the inspiration for Steely Dan's recording of East St. Louis Toodle-Oo), Billy Holiday and many others and in the 1970s revived the Bluebird label for Victor to reissue their many classic blues, jazz and other music.

His archive of photos, lyric sheets, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia grew to approximately 100,000 items and credits to the Frank Driggs collection can be found in numerous books on jazz, blues and other American musical idioms. On his blog, jazz journalist Chuck Ramsey noted his use of several photos from Driggs' collection in his biography of Paul Desmond. The Driggs collection was the single largest source of such material used for the Ken Burns PBS series on Jazz.

Black Beauty, White Heat is a simply marvelous sampling from his collection. In addition to that volume, he also co-authored with Chuck Haddix, Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop--A History, is the currently definitive study of Kansas City jazz that was so important in the development of jazz and from which Count Basie, Hot Lips Page, Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams, Charlie Parker, and Jay McShann emerged. While Black Beauty, White Heat, is today an out-of-print classic, Kansas City Jazz is still in print. These books, along the recordings he produced and his collection of music memorabilia leave an impressive legacy.

For more on Frank Driggs and the archive, see Jazz Man from the September 2005 issue of Smithsonian Magazine and "… And All That Jazz Memorabilia" from the March 1, 2005 New York Times. And here is the New York Times obituary.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New Ray Charles Video Coming Out

Word has come out about the upcoming release of of video of Ray Charles live in performance from France in 1961 with his legendary band that included Hank Crawford, Fathead Newman and the original Raeletts. I have the fabulous Ray Charles in Brazil video with the Big Band from a couple years later. Anyway this preview should be of interest to many. 105 minutes of pure musical genius.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bukka White's Classic Rediscovery Blues

Back three decades ago, Samuel Charters produced a series of blues lps for the Swedish Sonet label, The Legacy of the Blues, along with some other blues recordings. Charters is known as both a blues author (The Country Blues, The Poetry of the Blues, Bluesmen) as well as a producer of blues recordings, including the classic Chicago, The Blues Today! and albums by Junior Wells and Buddy Guy to name a few of the artists he recorded. Universal Music, through its Verve imprint has just issued seven of the seven Sonet lps for reissue in a series, The Sonet Blues Story. Six of these are from The Legacy of the Blues series. This is the third in a series of posts of my reviews from this series that originally appeared in the June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 283).

Some of the albums in The Legacy of the Blues were from other producers. In fact, the volume by Bukka White reissues the Takoma LP that captured the 1963 Memphis session that Ed Denson and John Fahey taped after White had been located. White was one of the great Delta singers who first recorded in the 1930s. He had seen Charlie Patton and was influenced by this pioneering artist. White played a driving slide style that complimented his rough, shouted vocals. One of the blues most imaginative lyricists, he could weave a lyric story out of the sky as he would do for Arhoolie.

The recordings, many remakes of tunes he waxed for Columbia, are strong, focused performances whether the reworking of Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues, the train blues, New Orleans Streamline and The Atlanta Special, where his playing echoed the train traveling through the countryside, the gospel message of I Am the Heavenly Way or the country boogie Shake ‘Em on Down, these performances remain as vital as when he recorded them over forty years ago. If you have the Takoma album, you do not need this. Otherwise this is one of the best Delta blues recordings of the past half-century.

It should be noted that on these Sonet reissues, the playing time is somewhat short. Even those with extra tracks do not exceed 45 minutes. Still there is some good to exceptional music to be heard on these. This CD may be out-of-print but is available from various sellers and is available as mp3 files. I received my review copy from the publication.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sugar Ray & The Bluetones Hit All The Right Notes

Severn has just issued the latest from Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, Evening. The latest from the veteran New England band featuring the vocals and harmonica of Ray Norcia, the piano of Anthony Geraci,and the guitar of Monster Mike Welch tackles a typical range of Chicago and modern urban blues which are played in a traditionally rooted, but fresh approach. Michael 'Mudcat' Ward's bass and Neil Gouvin's drums fill out the solid rhythm section for the Blue Tones,

I have been a fan of Norcia since when I saw him in 1978 backing J.B. Hutto in New York City (when Ronnie Earl was still with him), and since enjoyed his stint with Roomful of Blues in addition to his strong body of recordings, this new release brings together a few choice interpretations of less covered blues with idiomatic blues originals that thankfully show little, if any, blues-rock tinges.

This set kicks off with Johnny Young's I Having a Ball, with Norcia blasting out some harp and then belting out an ebullient vocal that captures the spirit of Young's original; as Geraci pounds away at the keys and Welch suggests the brilliance of the late Sammy Lawhorn with his accompanying riffs and single note runs. Welch contributed the slow blues Hard To Get Along, as Norcia sings about needing to get better than he is in a performance that evokes the classic Chess sound before they cover Otis Rush's Checker recording You Know My Love, which was based on Rush's Cobra recording My Love Will Never Die. It takes a fair amount of bravado to cover Rush, and Norcia able handles the vocal while Welch rips off strong guitar that recalls Rush.

The mood changes with the lazy groove of Dear John. Sugar Ray’s harp here shows a touch of Walter Horton's influence as Sugar Ray laments his women leaving for his brother John. Sugar Ray celebrates his woman on I Like What You Got, followed by the “talking blues vocal of Too Many Rules and Regulations, as Geraci channeling Otis Spann and Welch adds scintillating fills behind Sugar Ray's talking vocal. Dancing Bear (Little Indian Boy), opens with Norcia playing a native American Flute, before delivering a lyric singing about a proud Indian boy. It is followed by a nice rendition of the standard Evening, made famous by Jimmy Rushing and T-Bone Walker. Geraci is outstanding on piano and organ, while Welch rips off a hot solo.

The harp at the very beginning of I Came Down With The Blues suggests Slim Harpo before Sugar Ray eases into a more Sonny Boy Williamson II vein. I'm Certain That I'm Hurting, is a lively shuffle with Sugar Ray is hurting about his girl's flirting. The closing, slow instrumental XO, allows Sugar ray to demonstrate his fluid attack and strong tone. There are a couple songs on which the lyrics are not be as strong as the superb playing by the Bluetones, but they consistently nail the performances here. I previously mentioned the contributions of the soloists the contributions of bassist Ward and drummer Gouvin, who (with Geraci) provide the solid, swinging foundation here, merit commendation. Evening is another first-rate effort from Sugar Ray & the Bluetones.

This is scheduled for release on October 18, so consider this review a heads-up. A publicist provided me with my review copy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Remembering Honeyboy, Wardell and Big Eyes

September has seen some blues and rhythm masters leave us with memories and plenty of reason to celebrate their legacy.
Honeyboy Edwards at Western Maryland Blues Festival in Hagerstown, MD.  Photo © Ron Weinstock
David' Honeyboy' Edwards passing was the last link to the pre-war generation of Delta bluesmen. Edwards literally grew up and played with all of the masters of the style including Charlie Patton, Tommy Johnson, Big Joe Williams, Tommy McLennan and most famously Robert Johnson. It was his association that led Pete Welding to Edwards after Welding had asked Big Joe of any bluesmen who knew the legendary Delta artist. Welding recorded Edwards as well as interviewed him which led to an extensive article back in the sixties.

Big Joe Williams took first Edwards out on the road as a youngster and arguably Williams highly rhythmic style is the most obvious influence on Edwards. Edwards became at times a very capable blues performer in the Delta style. Certainly the recordings Edwards made for Alan Lomax were fine examples of the Delta style. In the post-war era he had a few commercial recording sessions leading to one issued 78 and sessions for Chess and Sun that went unissued at the time, although issued later. Even most of Pete Welding's recordings of Honeyboy were unissued until the CD era, although Honeyboy was among the artists brought to play with Fleetwood Mac in the late sixties. 

Honeyboy may not have had the powerful guitar style or passionate, charismatic singing style that might have appealed to commercial record labels, but his warm personality and his personnel connections to the giants of the pre-war blues made him a popular performer for the past few decades was was capable of reaching across cultural and generational lines so well.
Wardell Quezergue and Jean Knight at the Ponderosa Stomp.  Photo © Ron Weinstock
Wardell Quezergue earned the moniker "The Creole Beethoven" as a reflection of his ability to arrange for large groups. This New Orleans native was famed as a composer, producer and arranger. He put together the charts for "Big Chief," the legendary Professor Longhair-Earl King Mardi Gras classic. As a producer he have us chart-topping soul classics like King Floyd's "Groove Me," and Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff." These two recordings were actually produced on the same day.

In more recent years his arranging touch was utilized for big band albums by Charles Brown and Gatemouth Brown; several acclaimed Dr. John albums (including the Grammy® Award Winning "Goin' Back to New Orleans"); and the wonderful "Deacon John's Jump Blues." Listening to the renditions on this CD and DVD, and comparing them with the original recordings, one appreciates how Quezergue translated small combo recordings into a big band language with considerable grace and elegance. He was spotlighted at a couple of Ponderosa Stomps in New Orleans as well as a special Stomp at Lincoln Center in new York City. When Dr. Ike asked Dr. John if he would consider doing some of his older songs on which he played guitar originally, he agreed when he learned Quezergue would be doing the arrangements and conducting. This gives a sense of the contributions of this marvelous person.
Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith at the 2010 Pocono Blues Festival, Lake Harmony PA. Photo © Ron Weinstock
Finally, we just received word that Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith passed away. Smith was honored with a Grammy® this past year alongside his friend and long-time band-mate, Pinetop Perkins, with whom he spent many years playing together with the legendary Muddy waters and later the Legendary Blues Band. Smith remained active until the stroke that recently felled him, and in more recent years was featured on harmonica and vocals and not simply handling the shuffle rhythms on drums. His presence with Muddy was in part responsible for the rock-solid swing of that band.

The quality of his music as a leader was also noteworthy. I said of his Hightone release Way Back, that it "showcases Smith’s harp as well as his amiable vocals on some choice covers as well as idiomatic originals." His son Kenny has become one of the best drummers in the blues today (and played on Way Back). What I will remember most about Willie was his infectious smile and the sparkle in his eyes. 

RIP Honeyboy, Wardell and Big Eyes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Good But Not Great Mighty Joe Young Reissue

Back three decades ago, Samuel Charters produced a series of blues lps for the Swedish Sonet label, The Legacy of the Blues, along with some other blues recordings. Charters is known as both a blues author (The Country Blues, The Poetry of the Blues, Bluesmen) as well as a producer of blues recordings, including the classic Chicago, The Blues Today! and albums by Junior Wells and Buddy Guy to name a few of the artists he recorded. Universal Music, through its Verve imprint issued several years ago seven of the Sonet lps for reissue in a series, The Sonet Blues Story. Six of these were from The Legacy of the Blues series. This is the first in several postings of reviews from that series that originally appeared in the June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 283).

The late Chicago singer-guitarist, Mighty Joe Young was a fine purveyor of soul-laced blues in a mellow mode like his good friend Fenton Robinson. This writer had the pleasure to see Young while a senior at Case Western Reserve University and in fact he came on my WRUW blues show while playing The Kove in Kent, Ohio. He was promoting his Delmark album, Blues With a Touch of Soul at the time and was accompanied on the trip by a Delmark employee, Bruce Iglauer, who was a year or so from issuing the first album on Alligator Records. The Delmark album is my favorite of the various discs Young recorded with band with horns providing a tight backing for his extended blues performances. Young explained to me several years later that he dropped the horns because as he got booked increasingly on the then college market, horns were not viewed as blues instruments. Sonet has released a session with his then working band that included horns with a few overly familiar songs like Rock Me as well as then not overly recorded numbers like Percy Mayfield’s Baby Please and an original, Early in the Morning, which is an original that seems inspired by the Louis Jordan classic but with different lyrics. There is a nice mix of soul into his blues stew, but despite the fine piano of Bob Riedy and bassist Sylvester Boines, the session doesn’t fully jell and while Young sings and plays well, it is overshadowed by the earlier Delmark release.

It should be noted that on the Sonet reissues (including the Mighty Joe Young), the playing time is somewhat short. Even those with extra tracks, do not exceed 45 minutes. Still there is some really good music to be heard on these and if not essential releases, these are welcome additions to available blues.

This CD may be out-of-print but is available from various sellers and is available as mp3 files. Blues With a Touch of Soul is still in print. I received my review copy from the publication.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zoot Sims Is "In A Sentimental Mood"

MVD Visual has released in the US the Gazell Records video of Zoot Sims, In a Sentimental Mood. This video was filmed in November, 1984, just months before the tenor saxophonist passed away. It was filmed at the library of Sonet Records in Lidingo, Sweden with Sims backed by Bassist Red Mitchell and guitarist Rune Gustafsson. The library setting and the drummer-less trio makes for an intimate performance. An interview by Mitchell of Sims (actually more of a conversation) is interspersed between the performances.

The performances focus on ballads starting with the Ellington classic that gives this DVD its title and ending with Autumn Leaves. The swinging Sims was a masterful ballad playing which, like his basic approach to the saxophone, reflected the influence of Lester young perhaps with a slightly vibrato that might have been picked up from Ben Webster. Mitchell provides a foundation as Gustafsson lends some chords with each taking solo breaks. Gone With the Wind opens with somewhat more of a breathier sound, perhaps reflecting more Webster here (and Webster did record this on a session with Art Tatum.

The interview portions includes recollections of his early days including a story of his time with Benny Goodman when he had a big apple on the stand and Benny had him solo and took the apple and kept gesturing for Sims to keep soloing as Goodman ate the apple and recalls it was the longest solo he ever had with Benny. After Sims had talked about his early days on 42nd Street, Mitchell himself recalls playing with a trio opening for Charlie Parker at the Onyx Club, and Bird after the set comes by and speaks in a very proper Wasp-ish accent and asks Mitchell to play the next set with him. Mitchell thinks this isn't serious until Bird announces it from the bandstand.

The light banter complements the performances with the filming centering mostly on the players faces and expressions, so we see Sims and his embouchure but little fingering, but their is plenty of character revealed in their faces as well as in the music. In a Sentimental Mood is a delightful video that fans of Sims' ballad mastery will certainly enjoy.

I received a review copy from MVD Video.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Champion Jack Dupree's Expatriate Blues

Back three decades ago, Samuel Charters produced a series of blues lps for the Swedish Sonet label, The Legacy of the Blues, along with some other blues recordings. Charters is known as both a blues author (The Country Blues, The Poetry of the Blues, Bluesmen) as well as a producer of blues recordings, including the classic Chicago, The Blues Today! and albums by Junior Wells and Buddy Guy to name a few of the artists he recorded. Universal Music, through its Verve imprint has just issued seven of the seven Sonet lps for reissue in a series, The Sonet Blues Story. Six of these are from The Legacy of the Blues series. This is the second in a series of posts of my reviews from this series that originally appeared in the June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 283).

Champion Jack Dupree had been resident in Europe for over a decade (and he would remain there for the rest of his life) when he entered the studio in 1971 to record with English musicians. The New Orleans born pianist and former boxer had first recorded some barrelhouse blues and boogie woogie in a style that pre-dated the modern New Orleans tradition that Professor Longhair launched. Dupree was a strong player with a fertile lyrical mind and the cd opens with an anti-war blues, Vietnam Blues, followed by a diverse group of material from the odd rhythms of Drunk Again to Anything You Want, with its light second-line groove. Dupree mixes spoken lines with his vocal lines with plenty of humor and good spirits as his backing band provides understated backing with occasional guitar solos from one Peter Curtley as Paul Rowan adds some harp. One can hear echoes of Leroy Carr, an influence on most bluesmen growing up when Dupree was growing, up on the wistful slow blues Will It Be, with nice harp adding to the feel, and its followed up by a rollicking groove on You’re the One. Dupree has a fairly extensive discography out and this is an enjoyable addition to it. A very different take of Vietnam Blues, is one of several unissued tracks made available for the first time.

It should be noted that on these Sonet reissues, the playing time is somewhat short, and even those with extra tracks do not exceed 45 minutes. Still there is some really good music to be heard on these and if not essential releases, these are welcome additions to available blues.

This CD may be out-of-print but should available from various sellers and is available as mp3 files. I received my review copy from the publication.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blues Before Sunrise's Enlightening Blues Interviews

Blues Before Sunrise: The Radio Interviews
Steve Cushing
2010: University of Illinois

Steve Cushing hosts a long-running, syndicated blues radio program. "Blues Before Sunrise" on WBEZ on Chicago and he has compiled a collection of interviews on that program that should be of interest to anyone interested in the blues. What sets this book of interviews apart is that he does not focus on persons that were household names or written about extensively. What is valuable also is the depth that many of the interviews here are in the fashion of some of the interviews that were in living Blues in that publication's glory days. There is a common format to each of interviews as Cushing discusses the circumstances of how the interviews took place.

This book is divided into three parts. The first is entitled "Ancient Age" and includes interviews with Yank Rachell, Jesse Thomas, Alberta Hunter and The Grey Ghost. There is insight about their personalities as well as their career. Rachell provides insights on John Estes, Sonny Boy Williamson I, as well as his own style. Alberta Hunter's has her talk about some of her associates and some of the facts of her career while Jesse Thomas talks about T-Bone (and how T-Bone got some guitar stuff from him), Lloyd Glenn and his various recordings, both pre-war and post-war. Pianist Grey Ghost was part of a vibrant Texas piano blues tradition and reminiscences about life and some of his contemporaries. Neither Thomas not The Grey Ghost are presented extensively in interviews (my friend Eleanor Ellis did do one with Thomas) so having these available are invaluable.

Part Two is entitled "Postwar Glory" and has lengthy interviews with John and Grace Brim, Jody Williams. Rev. Johnny Williams and Little Hudson. Of these Jody Williams revived his musical career in the past several years, while the Brims provide insight into the scene in Gary, as well as a recording career that took them to Detroit with Big maceo and Chicago where they did sides with Little Walter. Jody Williams is among the most significant blues guitarists though was disgusted by the industry after he was ripped off of composer credits for "Love Is Strange." He chronicles his time with Howlin' Wolf and Bo Diddley here as well as his own choice recordings. With the late blues mandolinist/guitarist, Johnny Williams made among the earliest recordings in the post-war Chicago scene and provided recollections of numerous artists on the scene. Little Hudson is among a number of artists like Big Boy Spires and Moody Jones who made some memorable recordings but never became big names.

Part 3 is entitled "Esoterica" and has interviews with Tommy brown, Ralph Bass, Cadillac Baby and Richard Stamz. Tommy brown is still with us and regales Cushing and us with a flamboyant story of his career as a blues shouter, comedian and more. There are some tall tales as represented by a claim to have spoken with Otis Redding the night before he died. The problem with this is Brown claims Redding came to the DeLisa to see him, but Redding performed in Leo's Casino in Cleveland before taking his fatal flight. Brown is not the only interviewee who has embellished his career, and while one can appreciate his music, some of his claims here may be overstated. Ralph Bass discusses his lengthy career in recording and while I was familiar with his time with King Records, I was unaware of his prior stint at Black & White and his role with "Open The Door Richard," as well as recording T-Bone Walker, Jack McVea and Helen Humes. Cadillac Baby was another character detailing his club and recoding activities while Stamz was a very popular Chicago radio host I was totally unfamiliar with.

Living Blues Co-Founder Jim O'Neal provides a cogent foreword to the interviews here. Cushing concludes the book with a brief history of the radio show and how it has changed from the early days when he conducted it live he developed a relationship with many of his listeners and how syndication and time has changed aspects of this. It is the coda on a fascinating selection of interviews. One wonders what other interviews Steve might have included.  One might only hope sales of this would encourage a follow-up volume. "Before Sunrise: The Radio Interviews" is highly recommended.

I purchased my copy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Barrelhouse Chuck, Erwin Helfer and the Piano Blues

I remember when the D.C. Blues Society presented Barrelhouse Chuck with Mark Wenner and Ben Andrews for what was a very magical evening of acoustic blues. He was supposed to have recorded an album at the time but it never was released. Thankfully we have an absolutely wonderful disc Prescription For the Blues (The Sirens) by a man who was mentored by legends like Sunnyland Slim and Little Brother Montgomery and the lessons he learned from these giants are evident in his strong playing that evokes the great piano blues of the past and his own vocals.

Several tracks are introduced by a short homage to the original artist whether Montgomery on the title track (Erwin Helfer plays the piano on this while Chuck sings), Sunnyland Slim on Johnson Machine Gun and Going Back to Memphis (Slim’s variation on the Rollin’ and Tumblin’ theme taken by Chuck as an instrumental), or Leroy Carr on Barrelhouse Women, Mean Mistreater Mama, Straight Alky Blues, and My Own Lonesome Blues as well as his own renditions of blues standards like Sitting on Top of the World, Tin Pan Alley and Corrine Corrina.

His renditions of many of these numbers are truly a joy as he displays a touch and sense of time that many heralded pianists’ lack. He really captures the flavor of Montgomery and Carr with his playing along with his natural singing. With Sunnyland Slim’s material, he evokes the flavor of Slim’s originals, but doesn’t duplicate Sunnyland’s own distinctive sense of phrasing. On Ain’t Nobody’s Business Erwin Helfer joins him for a piano-organ duet on this blues standard. Handsomely packaged, Prescription For the Blues is an absolute delight that piano blues enthusiasts will want.

Barrelhouse Chuck is also present on 8 Hands on 88 Keys (The Sirens) along with pianists Erwin Helfer, Detroit Junior and Pinetop Perkins. Chuck opens with a fine rendition of Sunnyland Slim’s It’s You Baby, followed by a fine slow instrumental, Rooster’s Blues, is backed by Helfer on Pinetop’s Blues where Helfer plays some stunning runs inspired by Pinetop Smith’s original, and by Detroit Junior on Miss Ida B, an old Roosevelt Sykes number that Pinetop Perkins frequently performs.

Detroit Junior, a member of Howlin’ Wolf’s last band, is also represented on disc and it’s a delight to hear him on the rollicking I’m So Unhappy and the slow country-inflected Ella although his rendition of Staggerlee, based on Lloyd’sPrice’s hit is simply pleasant. Helfer backs him for Ain’t Nobody’s Business, which is followed by a fine original boogie woogie and Jimmy Yancey’s 4 O’clock Blues. Helfer accompanies Pinetop Perkins vocal on the Ivory Joe Hunter classic, I Almost Lost My Mind, which is followed by Perkins’ typical renditions of Grinder Man Blues, How Much More and How Long Blues. There is perhaps nothing new from Pinetop, but his performances provide a fine end to a collection of top-notch piano blues performances. It should be mentioned that Helfer has an excellent disc on The Sirens, I’m Not Hungry But I Like To Eat – Blues that was nominated for a Handy Award as Comeback Blues album of the year.

Another highly recommended piano blues album is Christian Dozzler’s All Alone and Blue. The Austrian born Dozzler was for years a member of The Mojo Blues Band, one of Europe’s leading blues aggregations. He played with Larry Garner for a period and now is based in Dallas where he plays with Robin Banks (he can be heard on her two excellent discs I reviewed a few months ago. This disc features some strong piano and vocals with the title track and Midnight Hour Blues being strong renditions of Leroy Carr numbers while his rollicking piano drives along John Brim’s Be Careful. A couple of tracks display his strong boogie woogie piano style and he even takes out the harmonica for a track. You can order this as well as the discs on The Sirens thru, and likely better stores and online cd retailers.

This review of several piano blues albums appeared originally in the September 2003 DC Blues Calendar, then the newsletter of the DC Blues Society. I likely received review copies of the albums on The Sirens and purchased the Christian Dozzler CD.  These are still available.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday Little Willie Littlefield

Little Willie Littlefield at the House of Blues, New Orleans
2009 Ponderosa Stomp. Photo © Ron Weinstock
The recent passing of songwriter Jerry Lieber brought Little Willie Littlefield to mind. Willie is still with us. He is seen here from the 2009 Ponderosa Stomp. The Texas-born West Coast jump blues pianist was influenced by the likes of Ivory Joe Hunter and Amos Milburn. His recording career started in 1949 and continued through the 50s, although he recorded for the Blues Connisseur label in the early 70s before he moved to Europe where he still lives.

Little Willie Littlefield recorded "K.C. Lovin'" for Federal in 1952 that was the original of "Kansas City." I remember a Blues Unlimited interview which he claimed to have written the song and sold it to Lieber and Stoller. He also claimed the same with "Ruby, Ruby," which he recorded for Rhythm in 1957. He had some other fine recordings that varied from moody to ebullient “Happy Payday”).

Anyway his Stomp performance pictured was first rate. He turns 80 today and we celebrate this legend of rhythm and blues.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Babe Stovall Was The Old Blues Ace

Born in Tylertown, Mississippi in 1907, Jewell ‘Babe’ Stovall learned music from his brothers and other musicians near Tylertown and included songs from the church as well as string band traditions, and around 1930, the legendary Tommy Johnson came around Tylertown where he got the basis of Big Road Blues. Eventually he moved to New Orleans where he sang on the streets and based on Marc Ryan’s urging, was booked in Boston and Cambridge in 1965 where he and Ryan stayed with David Evans in Evans’ Harvard dorm room.

Evans contributed the liner notes to a new Arcola release of Stovall, The Old Ace, and notes that his repertoire is that of a songster. Included are some familiar blues and gospel numbers including Candy Man, Baby Let Me Follow You Down (which he learned from Bob Dylan but to which he added some traditional verses and Evans suggests also was influenced by Professor Longhair’s 1957 Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand), The Ship is At the Landing, and Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

There are renditions of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little School Girl, Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues and Leroy Carr’s How Long How Long Blues. Included are some interviews where he talks about family and playing in new Orleans and a medley of Tommy Johnson’s Big Road Blues with Careless Love, in which Johnson’s influence can be heard and felt. Bob West produced these recordings in New Orleans in 1968 and Stovall strongly played his National guitar and sang with verve although he was a bit hoarse for a latter session issued here.

Stovall was not exactly overecorded. Larry Borenstein recorded him in 1961 which was issued on Flyright on vinyl and I do not believe it has become available on cd. Also he recorded for Prestige Bluesville if I remember correctly. These are frankly as good of recordings as I heard him play and the accompanying booklet with Evans notes and some great pictures, including one of him playing with the guitar over his head makes for a most enjoyable set of down home acoustic blues like you do not hear anymore.

This review originally appeared in the May-June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 282). I believe I purchased this CD which should still be readily available. One can check

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Almost the Best of Guitar Shorty

David Kearney, best known as Guitar Shorty, was among the three major rediscoveries that Black top made (Robert Ward and Bobby Parker are the other two. The Florida born singer-guitarist was heavily influenced by Guitar Slim who made some choice recordings for Cobra Records and the LA based Pull label. For a period he was married to Jimi Hendrix’s stepsister and would swap ideas with the future legend. Kearney had recorded a wonderful My Way or the Highway for the English JSP label before joining Black Top where he recorded three albums, Topsy Turvy, Get Wise To Yourself, and Roll Over, Baby. After leaving Black Top, there were live albums on Collectables followed by Evidence’s I Go Wild and more recently he signed to Alligator.

Shout Factory’s The Best of Guitar Shorty: The Long and Short of It, is taken from the JSP album, the three Black top CD and the Evidence. It is not as consistent as the Black Top albums because Shorty’s latter albums (Especially the Evidence and Alligator are a bit too tailored for rock audiences and lack some of the subtle touches and superior bands used by Black Top). Even if Go Wild! is forgettable, the stunning remake of Hard Life, You Better Get Wise to Yourself, Swamp Dogg’s I Want to Report a Crime and a duet with Carol Fran, I’m So Glad I Met You. The two selections from the JSP disc, No Educated Woman and Red Hot Mama, are almost equal to the Black Top discs but using such first-rate players like Lee Allen Zeno on bass, Herman Ernest III, Shannon Powell or Raymond Weber on drums, David Torkanowsky on keyboards, Kaz Kazanoff on sax..

Oddly the only number from Black Top that had South Central, his working band of the nineties was a credible rendition of Hey Joe, a tribute to Hendrix which is ok, but there are some other selections that are missing, especially his rendition of Al Kooper’s I Love You More Than You Know, derived from Donny Hathaway’s recording. Hathaway was a major influence on Shorty as a singer, but you would never know it from most written about him that focus on his guitar playing and Hendrix connection. Given the more rock-oriented production of his recent recordings, his vocals also suffer.

But if this gem had replaced the tracks from the Evidence album, then the title would be more accurate as opposed to really being Almost The Best of Guitar Shorty. Still this will have to do until Topsy Turvy and Get Wise To Yourself are reissued. The JSP may still be in print.

This review originally appeared in the September-October 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 286). I likely received a review copy from a publicist. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

John Long's Deep Rooted Blues

Somehow it took John Long decades or so before this old schooled country blues musician made it to a recorded album. Long, a St. Louis native has earned the praise of the late Muddy Waters and John Hammond. Mentored by the likes of Big Joe Williams and harmonica player Doc Terry (later Homesick James became a surrogate blues father), he developed his music and appeared on odd, rare compilations as well as making demos, one of which led to Delta Groove issuing a long overdue disc, Lost & Found.

It is comprised of originals that sound like remakes of classic country blues recordings from the pre-World War 11 era. He sounds as if he has channeled Son House, Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson and others. As he sings “I’m packing up, leaving on the bus outside” on the opening Hokum Town one hears echoes of House, Johnson and Big Joe in his charged, rhythmically driving performance, while Pressure Cooker (‘Bout to Blow) is a crisply delivered tune with rack harp added on a song which evokes the Key to the Highway melody.

On Hell Cat, Al Blake plays piano as Long handles the guitar and vocal for a performance that evokes the classic guitar-piano duets of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell or Big Bill Broonzy and Georgia Tom Dorsey. Blues and Boogie Woogie is another wonderful performance with crisp slide playing as he tells folks to cut the rug and have a real good time with a nice falsetto yodel in the manner of Tommy Johnson. Another performance with a delta feel is Foot Stompin’ Daddy anchored with an emphatically played boogie bass line and downhome rack harp. Al Blake joins Long again on Stranglevine, another medley that alludes to Key to the Highway with more harp from Long and solid piano break from Blake, on a lyric about dealing with vines that are ruining his garden. It is followed by a rocking guitar-harp instrumental, Johnny’s Jump.

I could continue track-by-track, but what is important is that all of the performances are delivered with skill and authority and Long comes off as a real contemporary master of acoustic blues. After listening to the solo and piano-guitar renditions of Leavin’ St. Louis, which close this superb disc, one is left wanting far more.

This review originally appeared in the May 2006 DC Blues Calendar, newsletter of the DC Blues Society. I likely received a review copy from the record label or a publicist.

Monday, September 12, 2011

William Clarke and Junior Watson Are Double Dealin'

Double Dealin’ (Bluebeat Music), by William Clarke and Junior Watson) releases material recorded in 1983 at the same time as Clarke’s Rivera label debut Can’t You Hear Me Calling. This recording came after a cross-country US and Canadian tour Clake made with George ‘Harmonica’ Smith and is being issued with the cooperation of Jeanette Clarke-Lodovici. In addition to Clarke’s harmonica and vocals and Watson’s guitar, the band here is Fred Kaplan on piano, Willie Brinlee on bass and Jerry Monte on drums.

I have not heard Can’t You Hear Me Calling, but the reviews on the internet talk about him not sounding as confident as he would on later recordings. I presume that those folks would probably say the same about these contemporaneous recordings. Even if these relatively early sides (his Alligator debut would be 7 years later) may not be as striking as his latter sides, they stand up fairly well to a lot of what passes for blues today. There is plenty of solid harp along with Clarke’s very solid singing. Add Watson’s guitar which comes across as a cross between Willie Johnson’s somewhat wild Sun studio style players like Robert Lockwood and Luther Tucker who played countless sessions with the likes of Little Walter. Kaplan was, and is, a fine two-handed piano player and the rhythm section is solid.

There is a very nice choice of material including an early version of Musta Been Jelly, that he would win a Handy for in 1991, and a tasty cover of Mercy Dee’s One Room Country Shack. Kaplan is featured on the instrumental boogie Groovin’ With Mr. K, while Junior’s Jump features some nice harp along with Watson ripping off a tough guitar solo in which he interpolates melodies from big band jump numbers into his solo.

While no revelation here, fans of William Clarke, post-war harmonica blues, and the comntemporary West Coast blues style will find much to their liking. For more information on this, check out

I received a review copy from Bluebeat Music.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Son House Was Riveting Performing In Seattle

The word ‘great’ is overused, but few would disagree that it is properly applied to the Delta Blues of Eddie “Son” House. House was one of the most riveting blues performers that ever recorded and performed. Dick Waterman, who used to book and manage House after he was discovered in Rochester NY has stated “Son House was the core of greatness of blues artists. There were many who had great talent but Son House was the standard by which they would be measured.” Those words can be found in the booklet to a new release, Son House in Seattle 1968 (Arcola Records).

This is a double CD that is subtitled 2 cds - concert and interview. The first CD is Son in concert in March, 1968 when he appeared under the auspices of the Seattle Folklore Society while the second disc is taken from a radio interview that Bob West conducted with him interspersed with original recordings by Son along with associates like Louise Johnson, Charlie Patton, Willie Brown, Rube Lacy and Robert Johnson.

In the accompanying booklet Bob Groom observes, about the concert performance, that it was unusual in the amount of speaking and story telling the House engages in between the performances of Death Letter Blues, Government Fleet Blues, Empire State, I Want to Live So God Can Use Me, Preachin’ Blues, and Louise McGee. No blues performer was more compelling that Son and he was in top form this day. From his forceful guitar to his vocals that bore open his soul, there are some extraordinary performances including Death Letter and the a capella I Want to Live So God Can Use Me. The lengthy spoken interludes are invaluable in giving a fuller sense of him than the driving musical performances alone. This concert predates Son suffering frostbite in the Winter 1969 that affected his use of fingers in his fretting hand.

The second disc is valuable for his lengthy recollections of his blues contemporaries. Included is a wonderful booklet with Dick Waterman’s cogent recollections of Son and Bob Groom’s lengthy overview of Son’s life and music. While Father of Folk Blues on Columbia (now Sony) remains the essential 1960s Son House release, fans of the deepest Delta blues will obviously want this. Son’s musical fires were burning brightly in Seattle during this 1968 visit and we should be grateful that Arcola has issued this wonderful package. Arcola’s website is, and and other retailers should have this.

This was reviewed from a CD I purchased.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Little Willie John Legendary Rhythm and Blues Recalled

Nothing is perfect and that includes the excellent new biography of Little Willie John, Fever: Little Willie John - A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul by Susan Whitall with Kevin John (2011: Titan Books). For Kevin John, publication of this book is a dream come true in helping restore his father as one of the major cornerstones of rhythm and blues, soul and rock who shaped countless other singers including Stevie Wonder who provided the introduction here.

Whitall, as seen by the collaboration with Little Willie John's son, has had access to many folk close to the great singer and performer and is able to take us to his young days in a loving home, to his triumphs as a young teenager at amateur contests in a city whose talent pool was deep. Johnny Otis recalls being at a show in Detroit where the talent was Willie, Jackie Wilson and Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, all who would become major stars. And perhaps no star burned as brightly as Willie John.

While his voice might get a lil bit deeper as he went through puberty, John had one of the signature voices of 50s and 60s rhythm and blues. It had a light, airy feel, but able to convey a deep range of emotion. He could sing anything from ballads to blues. The recordings (and so many classics including All Around the World, Talk to Me, Leave My Kitten Alone, and Fever) certainly display his singular vocals, but it was matched with a marvelous stage presence.

We are taken to his tours and sessions (how he wasn't thrilled with Fever for example) and then the tragic latter years. He is still much loved by his fans and his family and this biography hopefully will generate new interest into this musical pioneer and legend. The book does lack an index which is a significant omission and a fuller list of bibliographical sources and resources would have been helpful. Fever: Little Willie John - A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul is a most welcome new addition to the popular music literature.

I purchased this book.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Flecktones Launch New Disc

Its been nearly two decades since Fleck and the original line-up of The Flecktones, with pianist/harmonica player Howard Levy back in the fold alongside Fleck, bassist Victor Wooten, and percussionist/ Drumitarist Roy "Futureman" Wooten, have been in a studio. Rocket Science (Entertainment One Music) Fleck has taken the banjo far from his bluegrass roots in such bands as The New Grass Revival with the Flecktones, who are equally innovative. Levy’s piano roams from hard bop to a Keith Jarrett romanticism while also playing his innovative harmonica with a technique has cast a spell on a wide range of musicians from blues to jazz. Wooten perhaps eschews bass effects here, but lays down some of the funkiest bass one os likely to have heard in some time, while Futureman unleashes here Drumitar, his MIDI-based device that allows him to trigger samples using his fingers and which replaces the original which was on its last legs after two decades.

There are two many joys to be experienced on the performances heard here. Prickly Pair mixes in bluesy guitar sounding playing from Fleck (on an electric Deering Crossfire set against Levy’s harp as Wooten adding a funk bass and Futureman sets out a shuffle beat, with a brief interlude of ragged stride piano (sampled from a recording?). Levy and Fleck collaborated on a suite, Joyful Spring and Life In Eleven, that makes use of the odd time signature of the Bulgarian dance rhythm called Gankino. Levy’s piano has a classicist touch and the performance almost suggests a waltz before Levy kicks off a blistering tempo with his harp on Life in Eleven. The seamless transitions in tempo, themes and mood can be mesmerizing within and between performances. Falling Forward has a lyricism between Levy’s piano, Fleck’s jazzy solo and Wooten’s bass counterpoint that might make a Ron Carter smile.

The fusion of jazz, blues, funk, world, folk, bluegrass and other elements helped establish Bela Fleck & the Flecktones two decades ago as a breath of musical fresh air. They continue to defy categorization and Rocket Science shows that listening to them is as exhilarating as ever.

My review copy was received from a publicist.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

RIP Wardell Quezergue

The late Wardell Quezergue conducting the band backing singer Jean Knight at
2007 Ponderosa Stomp  - the New Orleans House of Blues. Photo © Ron Weinstock.
Tuesday, fans of rhythm and blues and New Orleans music, received the sad word that Wardell Quezergue passed away.

Dr. John with Wardell at 2008 Ponderosa Stomp at New Orleans House of Blues.
Photo © Ron Weinstock
I had the pleasure of attending the Ponderosa Stomps in 2007 and 2008 when he was featured. A composer, producer, and arranger he produced many classic recordings including Smokey Johnson’s “It Ain’t My Fault,” the Dixie Robert Parker’s “Barefootin’, King Floyd’s “Groove Me,” and Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff.” His arrangements graced Grammy winning recordings by Charles Brown, Gatemouth Brown and Dr. John (“Going Back To New Orleans”) as well as “Deacon John’s Jump Blues” and Luther Kent’s 2009 Bobby Bland tribute.
Trio of New Orleans Musical Royalty: Dave Bartholomew, Allen Toussaint and Wardell Quezergue.
2007 Ponderosa Stomp at New Orleans House of Blues. Photo © Ron Weinstock
On my flickr page regarding the 2007 Ponderosa Stomp I wrote “Wardell Querzergue was spotlighted at this year's Ponderosa Stomp leading a Crescent City Big Band for a funky revue of southern soul and New Orleans Cups” “Iko Iko” and “Chapel of Love,”funk which included his first arrangements in several years, first kicking off with Smokey Johnson's classic "It Ain't My Fault, before being joined by the soulful Tony Owens (who recorded for Cotillion and other labels), Robert Parker (Mr. Q produced 'Barefootin'" and Jean Knight (Mr. Big Stuff) with a special treat being an extended performance by an equal legend, Dave Batholomew. Dave Bartholomew did an overview of some of the great music he produced over half a century.”

The marvelous music from that year and the following year’s Ponderosa Stomp still resonate in my memory. Dr. Ike Padnos even got Dr. John to revive some of his early recordings on which he played guitar because the Creole Beethoven would arrange and conduct the band for these. I myself was honored that a photograph of mine was used for the cover of the Jazz Foundation of America’s release of his album “After The Math: Part of the St. Agnes Sessions.”

Cover photo taken at 2007 Ponderosa Stomp.

Here are links to some obituaries and appreciations:;

For information on purchasing "After The Math" contact the Jazz Foundation of America, and help support their mission.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Super Black Blues Was True Super Session

As the review in Blues Unlimited noted about the original vinyl release of SuperBlack Blues, the recording of Otis Spann, Big Joe Turner and T-Bone Walker was a true super session that lived up to this label. Recorded in October 1969 and released on (Bob Thiele’s) BluesTime label in 1969-1970, it has finally appeared on compact disc on BMG France.

There are three long tracks on which Turner, Walker and Spann (on two tracks) each take some of the vocal spotlight with a little bit of kidding between Turner and Walker, and one ballad, Here I am Broken Hearted, which is sung by Turner. In between the vocals, Walker, Spann, tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts and George "Harmonica" Smith take solos, all of which are nicely delivered and lack the self-indulgent mediocrity found on many more highly publicized supersessions.

Despite the informal feel of these performances, this album is a gem with a wonderful rhythm section of guitarist Arthur Wright, bassist Ron Brown and drummer Paul Humphrey that push the groove while still swinging. Its hard to believe that Spann was dead half a year after this was recorded as his playing and vocals here sound so vital while everybody else is also at the top of the game. As Joe Turner sings on the aptly titled Blues Jam, it was a lovely party and everybody had a ball and that good time comes across with great vitality nearly three and a half decades later.

This review appeared in the September 2003 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. There was a second volume with Leon Thomas and Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson and Leon Thomas replacing Spann and Smith, which I have not listened to, but it would be a completely different feel than the mix of down home blues and uptown blues on the earlier album. Unfortunately this may be hard to find as a CD or vinyl album, but it is worth the search, and hopefully it will get reissued again. Jams this good are rare.