Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Gators Featuring Willie Tee Wasted

The Gators Featuring Willie Tee
Funky Delicacies

This is one of several reissues of classic New Orleans music put together by Aaron Fuchs and Tuff City Records and associated labels. It is available on vinyl (although with only 10 of 15 tracks). Led by Willie Tee (noted for the hit Teasin’ You) and including drummer Larry Penia, Irvin Charles on bass and June Ray on guitar, there are comparisons to be made with the better known Meters, particularly given that both groups put out riff based funk grooves, although The Gators were perhaps more vocally oriented when these sides were made around 1970. 

A portion of this is comprised of funk grooves, often built around a bass figure from Irvin Charles, like on the opening Booger Man or Gator Bait. Tee’s vocals are featured both on dance numbers like Funky Funky Twist or other songs that seem somewhat influenced by the Commodores and similar acts (one song on the compact disc version is I’m Gonna Make You Love Me). A dance number Get Up, with a girl chorus taking the vocal lead features, has some nice saxophone, possibly by Willie Tee’s brother, Earl Turbington. 

Among the additional tracks on the compact disc is a fine soul-blues, One Thrill Fool,with noteworthy guitar from Ray. A significant omission in this interesting collection is the lack of liner notes. Still, fans of New Orleans music and seventies funk may likely wish to check this out. Coming out on the sister Night Train International label is New Orleans Twist Party, a compilation from Rip Records that will have rare cuts by Eddie Bo, Professor Longhair, Bobby Mitchell and others.

I likely purchased this and this review originally appeared in September 1995  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204). Here is The Gaturs performing Wasted.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Devil's Music 1979 BBC Television

The British Broadcasting Company in 1979 presented a fascinating look at the origins and history blues, The Devil's Music. With a narration presented by Alexis Koerner, the program presented a number of filmed performances by then still living blues performers like Houstoin Stackhouse, Sonny Blake, Sam Chatmon, Fenton Robinson, Big Joe Williams, Henry Townsend and others. Giles Oakley wrote a book providing a history of the Blues under the title The Devil's Music. The soundtrack of recordings made for the series was originally available on vinyl on the Red Lightnin' label and later on a CD box on Indigo Records that I reviewed and 2004 and included on this blog in 2013,

In my review of the soundtrack I concluded "This is a fascinating collection of field recordings with some really exceptional performances interspersed with other entertaining ones. Add to this some live recordings of Memphis Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson in Europe in 1963 and one had a rather attractive box set, which I believe is bargain priced. Now if someone would only make the BBC-TV series available on dvd." While not available on DVD, the series is on youtube which I have linked here. While my CD box set review suggested there were  5 episodes there were only 4.

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Original Roland Stone Remember Me

The Original Roland Stone
Remember Me
Orleans Records

When I was at the Louisiana Music Factory, I had selected a bunch of discs for purchase, and I asked co-owner Jerry Brock about anybody he would recommend. He suggested I pick up on Roland Stone, whose real name Roland LeBlanc and recorded for Ace Records in the late fifties and early sixties. Remember Me has been available for a couple years at least, but it is likely as new to you as it was to me. With Mac ‘Doctor John’ Rebennack (on piano and guitar) as part of a tight studio band that included Earl Stanley on bass, guitar and organ and some other musicians whose names may only mean something to those around New Orleans. What one gets is what the producer calls a “straight ahead R&B record.” And it’s a good one. 

Roland Stone sounds as natural and soulful opening with the Smiley Lewis rocker Go On Fool, on which guitarist Stanley takes a tasty solo, followed by a New Orleans rearrangement of the Clovers’ classic Lovie Dovie, with some great piano from the good Doctor. Mix in a couple of classy pop flavored ballads, Try the Impossible, and The Masquerade is Over, with the soul of You Can Make It If You Try. Stir in Fats Domino’s rocking Please Don’t Leave Me, with more great crescent city boogie woogie, a couple of more Smiley Lewis classics and the memorable title track from Dr. John. Quite a gumbo! 

Stone’s unforced delivery and the feeling he invests into these performances is matched by the delicious backing for an album of R&B that is readily remembered.

As indicated, I purchased this. This review originally appeared in the September 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204). Here in 1989 he is performing a ballad Just a Moment of Your Time.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Saunder's King - Swingin'

With respect to my recent post on St. James Infirmary which I linked on Facebook, one gentleman posted several additional versions of this 'jazz standard.' One of these was by a West Coast artist Saunders King from the forties. Born in Louisiana in 1909, Saunders King was a pioneering electric guitarist and vocalist who straddled the worlds pf blues and jazz in forties and fifties. His S.K. Blues was a hit, and an even bigger hit when covered by Big Joe Turner (and it also was performed by Jimmy Witherspoon and others). King also had a wonderful version of the Mary Lou Williams' penned What's Your Story Morning Glory, that was first recorded by Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy with Pha Terrell handling the vocal.

As a vocalist, King was very much in the vein of Terrell and Billy Eckstine, with a warmth in his baritone. And his jazzy guitar playing was an added attraction to his music. Later he would become Carlos Santana's father-in-law and he even recorded with this musical legend. He passed in 2000 after suffering a stroke in 1999. Ace Records (UK) has a fine CD of his best recordings available. Here are some of his recordings and a couple of covers.

Here is the first part of S.K. Blues.

Here is his rendition of St. James Infirmary.

Here he is playing the aptly titled instrumental Swingin'. 

Here is the uptempo B Flat Blues.

Here is a top-ten R&B hit in 1949, Empty Bedroom Blues

And here is Big Fat Butterfly, a song Dexter Gordon would sometimes perform.

Here is the Dexter Gordon doing Big Fat Butterfly

And we close with Big Joe Turner with Pete Johnson with their hit version of S.K. Blues.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Finis Tasby People Don’t Care

Finis Tasby
People Don’t Care

Shanachie, which also is the parent label for Yazoo, is best known for acoustic and world beat music. With this debut album of West Coast bluesman Finis Tasby, the label presents its first modern urban blues release. Playing and singing for over three decades, Tasby’s Texas band, The Thunderbirds, spawned a young Z.Z. Hill. Over recent years he has played with Freddie King, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker and others, and recorded some singles. He finally has his first full album, and he has obviously made friends over the years as Elvin Bishop, Mick Taylor and Vernon Reid each guest on guitar and solo, while Lowell Fulson shares a vocal on Find Something Else to Do, and wrote Just a Kiss. 

Tasby is a gritty singer and guitarist and his music is suggestive of the late sixties and early seventies recordings by Fulson and McCracklin. He also co-wrote four of the ten songs, and producer Charles Collins had his hand in another four. Shanachie describes this as a set of rocking blues, but Tasby’s gritty vocals and guitar is undercut by the vocal choruses and horn arrangements on some of the cuts. Fulson’s Just a Kiss, is a terrific song in which the chorus is successfully integrated in the terrific performance. This and the duet with Fulson, Find Something Else to Do, best display Tasby’s strengths, and even if the horns overplay on Gotta Draw the Line or the shuffle Po’ Boy Blues, Tasby convincingly delivers the lyrics and adds biting guitar. Drinkin’ Bad Whiskey is a slow Tasby original about how alcohol and drugs can’t ease his pain which is fervently sung and sports a fiery solo. Gonna Miss Your Love is a medium tempo number with a latin tinge and a cooing backing chorus that comes across because it is more understated in delivery. 

There is plenty about Finis Tasby to like here, despite the heavy-handed production in some areas. Unfortunately, this album could have some marketing problems, as it seems to be aimed towards the southern black blues audience and Shanachie might have a tough time cracking that market. At the same time, the vocal choruses and horns on several tracks might diminish its appeal among white blues buyers, who are often oriented to guitar solo based albums. This would be a shame, as there is some terrific Finis Tasby to be heard here.

I likely received my review copy from Shanachie. This review originally appeared in the September 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204). Here is Finis Tasby performing "As the Years Go Passing By."

Friday, August 04, 2017

Willa Vincitore Better Days

Willa Vincitore
Better Days
Building records

Singer-songwriter Willa Vincitore certainly sounds poised to expand her fanbase beyond New York's Hudson Valley with this recording A founding member of harmonica player Chris O'Leary's Band who is heard on this debut by her. Others accompanying her on her twelve originals include guitarist Chris Vitello, saxophonist Jay Collins, brass player Reggie Pittman, bassist Brandon Morrison, drummer Lee Falco and keyboardist Scott Milici.

Willa sings with considerable power as well as nuance with her on point phrasing and intonation. She can handle the hot jump blues groove of the opening "Love Looks Good On Me" with a booting sax solo; or the funk of "Stop, Drop and Roll," with a neat keyboard solo. Then she struts soulfully on "Hooked On You," really soaring at the close with marvelous backing vocals, and the title track which is a nice soul ballad that displays her vocal range as well as her expressive range with some nice guitar fills 

If the above suggests a soulful orientation other songs are in a different vein. There is the insistent blues-rock, "Hey Little Sister," with some smoldering harmonica after a blazing guitar solo, and the folk-flavored "Caroline" with Pete Hop's acoustic guitar. Some buzz-tone slide guitar opens "Mama Needs Some Company," a driving rocker that might evoke Bonnie Bramlett for some, while "Say What," has a reggae-tinged groove with wah-wah keyboards under the brassy backing supporting her fervent vocal and a fine guitar solo. The Caribbean feel also is present on "Opposite of Lonely," which also has Pittman's lugubrious sounding, muted trumpet behind her moving vocal.

The closing "Demons" is an original down-home acoustic blues wonderfully sung with Vitello laying down an outstanding slide guitar accompaniment. While Willa has been compared to the likes of Susan Tedeschi, and Shemekia Copeland, I suggest Ruthie Foster is a more appropriate comparison and she stands up well in comparison. This wonderfully produced recording (credit to Falco and Morrison) allows her to exhibit how marvelous a singer she is, and one whose career certainly is headed to see "Better Days."

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here she performs "Hey Little Sister."

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Blues Takes on St. James Infirmary

Discussing Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man in his book, The Jazz Standards, Ted Gioia includes recordings by it by Buddy Guy and Albert King and bemoans what he found the scarcity of blues artists performing the songs he viewed as jazz standards. One problem is that his list of standards omits juke box jazz hits like Herbie Mann's"Comin' Home Baby, and Jimmy Smith's Back at the Chicken Shack, that served as band and/or set openers for various bands such as Muddy Waters and the like. But even with famous blues songs that he included such as W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues and St. James Infirmary he seemed unaware of notable blues recordings of those songs, some of which I included with respect to St. Louis Blues, a couple of days ago.

Today I do the same with St. James Infirmary, the story and origins of which are discussed in a wonderful book by Robert W. Harwood, I Went Down to St. James Infirmary: Investigations in the shadowy world of early jazz-blues in the company of Blind Willie McTell, Louis Armstrong, Don ... where did this dang song come from anyway? It explores some of the myths of the songs origins as well as its complicated copyright history and the like. In his book, Gioia inexplicably omits the great Bobby Bland Duke recording that can be heard on the link of the top of the page (Soul singer Geater Davis did a tough recording that mirrored Bland's. Below are some more renditions from the Blues World.

Snooks Eaglin

Gary B.B. Coleman

Chris Thomas King recorded this on his 2006 post-Katrina recording Rise. 
Here he is seen performing this in 2015 at Toronto's Beaches Jazz Festival.

Chicago blues diva Angela Brown

The highly underrated Dave Alexander aka Omar Sharriff

Heritage Blues Orchestra

Lastly, Rhiannon Giddens with the Silk Road Ensemble

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Eddie C. Campbell That’s When I Know

Eddie C. Campbell
That’s When I Know
Blind Pig

This writer had the pleasure to see Eddie C. Campbell when he was part of Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars in the late seventies, after his critically acclaimed LP King of the Jungle. Campbell’s distinctive playing and singing was a highlight. He moved overseas in 1984 and produced some of the best blues albums ever recorded in Europe. He has returned to the US in time for his wife to deliver a son, and produced this fine new album available on Blind Pig.

Comprised completely of Campbell originals, what sets apart both this album and Eddie’s music is how nicely paced it is. There’s no frenzy in his playing or mannerisms in his vocals. Both his slightly twangy guitar and his laconic singing are marked by a clean articulation of songs and notes, and his backing is tight, but never intrusive or overbearing. His songs hit a variety of moods, though usually marked by considerable humor. The echoes of his old friend, Magic Sam, might be evident, but he certainly is his own man.

About the only complaint one might raise is that this is over in a little over 40 minutes, but, another way to look at it is that it is all good stuff - it is a recording which possesses little filler. A very enjoyable listen.

I likely received a copy of this from Blind Pig. This review originally appeared in the December/ January 1994/1995 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 197). It is currently available used or as a download. Here is Eddie C. Campbell performing.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Brad Stivers Took You Long Enough

Brad Stivers
Took You Long Enough

In his mid-twenties, Austin-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Brad Stivers will make folks take notice with this album which is a solid mix of roots rock, blues, soul and country. Certainly the opening "2000 Miles" is a solid rockabilly laced stomper with a raspy vocal crisp solo followed by the driving rendition of a Ray Charles number, "You're Just About To Lose Your Clown," with gutbucket tenor sax from Mark Wilson along with more fine guitar and a solid soulful, vocal. "Put It Down" is another rockabilly flavored performance with his tremolo-laced guitar prominent.

The funky R&B laced ""Took You Long Enough," is followed by a fine country duet with pianist Emily Gimble on a cover of a classic Ray Charles recording, "Here We Go Again," with his guitar in a supporting role. Malford Milligan handles the vocal on a good cover of the O.V. Wright classic, "Nickel and a Nail," with some searing guitar on a version evocative of the late Otis Clay with Roy Buchanan. 

An instrumental take on the Smiley Lewis recording, "One Night of Sin" showcases Stivers playing with his judicious and thoughtful development of the solo and his attention to tone. "Can't Wait" is a nicely paced shuffle followed by the brooding "Save Me," again where he employs a heavy tremolo tone. The album closes with a searing guitar instrumental rendition of the James Brown classic "Cold Sweat," perhaps inspired by Albert King's similar treatment of this funk classic.

Stivers is a very good vocalist, and a guitarist who builds his solos in an intelligent and imaginative fashion, never overplays and makes use of his tone to great effect. Stivers establishes himself on "Took You Long Enough" as a roots rock and blues voice to keep one's ears open to.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here Brad performs the Little Bob and the Lollipops hit (also redone by Los Lobos), "I Got Loaded."