Editor/Publisher: Al Handa
Reviewed In This Issue (in order of appearance): * Ellen McIlwaine * Percy Mayfield * Roy Rogers * Wailin Walker Band * Andrea Karam * Cathi Norton * Penny Lang * Camille * Christine Santelli Band * Valerie Reynolds * Rue De Blues * Robert Thomas * Professor Washboard * .32-20 * Dave Plaehn and Jeff Hino * Top Jimmy * Darrell Nulisch * Pat Boyack and the Prowlers * Kenny Blue Ray * C. J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band * Son Lewis * Bev and the Blues Crew * Karen Tyler * Julie Hoest * CeLange * Big Taylor and Lee Roy, The Rainmakers * John Fahey * Barbecue Bob * Bukka White STAFF Editor/Publisher: Al Handa Web Version Publisher: Gary Joneson Associate Editors: Alan Rollins Leslie Ann Knight Contributing Writers: Rodger Collins The Boogie Underground Think Tank Peggy Leyva Conley Judi Ann Ohr
Hello Readers! Sorry for the delay, but to make it up to you all, this will be a extra large issue weighing in at 111K. To those of you who are new to the business of computers, that's a small book!
Those who have been reading the Snake know that last month we put out the huge "Women In Blues" listing, which as we all know, will get even bigger soon. Also, this issue will feature some of the women artists who were profiled in that List. At least one festival promoter asked me about the women on the list, so it should become quite a networking resource in the years ahead. Already the volume of email has made it necessary to begin an earlier revised version than I had planned.
Also, the bigtime Computer Weekly, Computer Currents, out of Silicon Valley in California has chosen the Snake as one of it's featured picks of the week, so I hope to welcome many new readers to the fold.
You'll notice a LOT of women artists reviewed in this issue. That was one result I wanted from the Listing; to increase the number of women reviewed in the Snake. Also, you'll notice the large amount of acoustic blues artists here, that is also a deliberate move. To me, the "tradition" of the blues must include the classic era (and I don't mean the 50's when I say that), and the acoustic artists help keep that link alive.
The main feature review focuses on Ellen McIlwaine, a great singer and guitarist who has a strong cult following, and after this issue, I hope, even more new fans. Also, the classic section highlights two of my favorites, Barbeque Bob and the awesome, and immortal Bukka White.
Next issue will be another great one. It will focus on the new live Butterfield recording released by Mark Naftalin's Winner Records, and feature a review and article on that band. Also, more classic record reviews than ever (Muddy, Lowell Fulsom, Albert King, Blind Blake, to name a few), and a special section on Mike Bloomfield, Electric Flag, and later period Butterfield recordings.
Add to that, plenty of new releases from the big ones and the
independents, poetry, satire, and whatever comes to mind or
is suggested by the readers. I eventually hope to begin running
regional reports, so those of you out there who are in blues
societies, consider publicizing your activities in the Snake.
Ellen McIlwaine Bio and Discography
By Rodger Collins
Editor's Note: This is a copyrighted piece, and reprinted with his permission.
Ellen McIlwaine was born on an unknown date in Tennesse, and was adopted and raised by missionary parents in Japan. She grew up in an American enclave but in a bilingual environment, having both US and Japanese playmates. Whether this early linguistic fluency fostered a natural musical ear or vice versa is a subject for the sociologists to debate. As an adult she used Japanese for scatsinging, especially in her earlier work. In 1987, she put a Japanese chorus on a recorded track ("Don't Look Down" on Looking For Trouble).
While growing up, she was attracted to the US R&B artists making waves at the time: Rufus and Carla Thomas, Ike & Tina Turner, Fats Domino and Professor Longhair. These filtered into her ears alongside the more staid spirituals of her parents' choosing as she learned to play piano.
When she grew up, she moved to Atlanta for the blues music scene there, took up guitar and hamonica and started playing circuits, ending up in New York's Cafe a Go Go, where she shared the bill with another young guitar sensation named Jimi Hendrix. After some time there Hendrix went to Britain to form the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Ellen returned to Atlanta to form the group Fear Itself with Chris Zaloom (lead gtr), Paul Album (bass), and Bill McCord (drums). Fear Itself reflected the "underground" and "psychedelic" blues of the time, kind of a Janis Joplin/Jefferson Airplane meld. They made one album for Dot records, featuring more rock-oriented versions of tunes she'd later be identified with: Crawling Kingsnake, Underground River, Born Under a Bad Sign and Billy Gene (later Billy Jean), as well as an 8:44 version (the mandatory Sixties "long version") of "In My Time of Dyin'".
The short-lived Fear Itself disbanded and Ellen went solo.
1972 Honky Tonk Angel (Polydor) 1973 We The People (Polydor) 1975 Real (Kot'ai) 1977 Everybody Needs It (Blind Pig) 1978 Ellen McIlwaine (United Artists) 1987 Looking For Trouble (Stoney Plain) ================================================================
"Honky Tonk Angel" (Polydor 1972):
One side recorded live at "The Bitter End" in NYC, featuring songs by Isaac Hayes ("Toe Hold"), Jack Bruce ("Weird of Hermiston"), Hendrix ("Up From The Skies") and Bobbie Gentry ("Ode To Billy Joe"), all done in the funk-chop style that is her trademark.
The other side includes a sample of Ellen's interest in African music - a song from Ghana listed as "Pinebo" but really called "Inya Egbo MPecha Mp'o" It's a multitracked duet done as a "round," a song from Ghana. Also an early version of Steve Winwood's "Can't Find My Way Home", which would appear later in a reggae version, the country-flavoured title song, and an interesting, distinctive McIlwaine rendition of "Wade In The Water".
This period was also the start of artistic struggles for young Ellen, as corporate record producers decided they knew better than their artist...at one point, the producer turned off Ellen's bass amp (through which she always played to get that powerful, ballsy sound), because, he said, "it wasn't ladylike" (!!)
"We The People" (Polydor 1973):
This particular release still ranks as one of McIlwaine's best works, and one of the most dynamic recordings ever. It even spawned a minor hit single, "I Don't Want To Play", a bluesy country number penned by Ellen herself. She wrote six other songs on the album, showcasing her slide guitar (on the instumentals "Sliding" and "We The People", excellent piano playing "Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven But Nobody Wants To Die"), and her trademark Japanese scat singing ("Jimmy Jean"). The slow, haunting "All To You" would reappear fourteen years later on the Looking For Trouble album., and the Persuasions appear on the a capella spiritual "Farther Along".
Despite all the talent shown, the highlight has to be the title song, recorded live. "We The People" is Ellen's nod to the sitar-mania of the time; she plays slide guitar in an Indian scale at *lightning* speed and scats along in harmony. And when I say "lightning" speed, I mean the sort of sound that makes you wonder how a human being could make such a thing happen. Watching her perform this song on stage, I remember watching her hands, which were a blur, then looking up to her face, which was effortlessly relaxed, even bored. At one show, Tom Paxton followed Ellen after "We The People", took his acoustic guitar off and inspected it closely, looking for some verification that it was really the same instrument.
No more appropriate title was ever given a record than "The Real Ellen McIlwaine", recorded for a tiny Canadian label in Montreal (Kot'ai, 1975). Here, Ellen finally broke free of the constraints of the A&R "experts" to do what she wanted in the studio. The results were, and are, astounding.
For starters, the bass amp is back and from the fist chord of the first song (Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground"), we are shaken to the solar plexus with the power of the slide guitar, matched only by that equally powerful voice. In fact, even with the guitar power, it is Ellen's voice that really shines here. "Lazy Day" is a kind of quirky throwaway, but features more vocal dexterity, as does "The Secret In This Lady's Heart" and and others worthy of singling out:
A spiritual medley "Up In Heaven Shouting/I Am So Glad" is amazing. Absolutely the most impressive demonstration of musical/linguistic ability I've ever heard. Ellen sings the medley a capella, then turns the song around and sings it *backwards*, i.e. the way it sounds when the tape runs in reverse - and then *that* part is itself run backwards, so that the song comes back *forwards*- and *ACCURATELY!*. Anyone who has ever taken a tape machine and tried to make "Number Nine" reverse to "Turn Me On Dead Man" can confirm how challenging this is.
On the other side, the opening "Thirty Piece Band" (just Ellen and guitar) has the kind of wild, wailing power that pulls your soul out and hands it back to you. "Tennessee Ridgerunner" is a country yodel with slide guitar that breaks into double-time yodeling. One night, armed with a tape machine, I recorded this song and attempted to find a flaw- *any* flaw- somewhere in Ellen McIlwaine's singing. "She's gotta be human" I told myself, looking for a kind of reassurance. I carefully recorded the song at high speed, then played it back at half-speed so I could inspect every note carefully (I'm blessed with "perfect pitch")
I did this for the rest of that night, and failed to find any flaw at all. It's almost scary.
Next is one of the album's best tracks, an adaptation of John Lee Hooker's version of "Crawling Kingsnake." It's tropical sounding, with congas and backing vocals provided by some of the local Montreal music scene. Tracy Nelson's "Down So Low" is done in slow Ellen style, featuring another amazing vocal control showcase. This woman has a genuine gift and just loves to play with it. It's also evident in the next tune, "Let's Go Down To The Ocean", where her vibrato falls in perfect twelfth-notes as she trades off between voice and harmonica. When this song wails away, it's time to have your life changed forever...
The energy that must have present in the studio when McIlwaine recorded Booker T.Jones' "Born Under a Bad Sign" could probably light up Las Vegas for two weeks. Despite Ellen's Jack Bruce connection, this is nothing like the Cream version. This is nothing like *any* version of *anything*- especially when she hits THE NOTE. There is probably a way to write THE NOTE that Ellen hits on the word "real" in western musical notation. It's just that no one would believe it was not an error or a joke.
This is a NOTE to wake the dead. The rest of the song, absolutely funkified, filled with exhilarating scatting and perfect timing. Three minutes and twenty-one seconds later the listener is left for dead is a simpering heap on the floor. In almost two decades I've never been able to play this song without being brought literally to tears with my knees melting. Whenever I play this song on the air I have to pre-plan something to follow it, because I know it'll be all I can do just to hit the button; speech would be out of the question.
"Born Under A Bad Sign" is Ellen McIlwaine's crowning achievement if there had to be a single one. It's followed on the album by something or other, unfortunately. There's nothing that could follow that song.
Oh yeah, the album also features a drawing by Ellen of one of her most important influences: Jimi Hendrix.
Ellen McIlwaine "Ellen McIlwaine" /United Artists, 1978
Unfortunately, the burst of real energy captured on "The Real Ellen McIlwaine" was not to see an immediate followup. The structure of the industry often places artistic work in the hands of marketing-minded producers who don't understand how to work with their available talent. The United Artists album was a classic example: both Ellen's voice and guitar are present, but restrained and obscured behind an ordinary bass/drums/keyboard/organ/sax backdrop, and even strings (!). The repertoire was taken from hitmaker authors like Elton John and Jesse Winchester's "Isn't That So?", is the highlight of the album, though barely memorable.
Recurring bad experiences of not having studio control were building inside Ellen, generating bitterness that lasted years and threatened to cause her serious damage. Life on the concert circuits invited habits of chain-smoking and steady drinking, yet she continued to serve her devoted "cult" following, bringing the wailing voice and unforgettable slide guitar to the stage again and again. Four years later she had found an investor and released a new solo project on her own terms, with guests Jack Bruce and Howard Levy, for a small blues-dedicated label that had a distribution deal with one of the largest independent labels in the US.
Ellen McIlwaine, on stage between songs in 1979: "I bought a guitar book once...it said something about putting your *fingers* down on the strings. I threw it away."
Everybody Needs It (Blind Pig 1982)
Having mapped out a bland pop record for McIlwaine, United Artists realised by the time the album was out and the tour finished that they had made a wrong call in dictating the repertoire, but by then it was too late; the album that so failed to reflect its artist achieved the paltry impact it deserved. Disgusted, Ellen went her own way after that and eventually made the independent "Everybody Needs It" in 1982 with a shoestring budget on eight tracks, bringing in a fellow natural musician whose songs she regularly recorded; bassist Jack Bruce. It was released on Blind Pig, a small blues label, distributed by Flying Fish.
"Everybody Needs It" makes a point immediately in the first bar of the opening tune, "I Want Watcha Got", one of five self-penned songs, with her trademark raunchy octave-slide and wailing vocal. That side also features a wonderfully soulful rendering of Percy Mayfield's "The Danger Zone", haunting dialogues between McIlwaine's vocal and Bruce's bass, as well as classic McIlwaine gutsy power-blues on "Come Sit Down And Tell Me" and the sweet relief of the soft and thoughtful "Say A Single Word".
Though out of character, the latter song serves as a barometer of Ellen's healing at this point. Through the 1980s, she confronted the frustrations of past studio shortcomings at the hands of visionless producers, quit the smoking and drinking habits of her recent past and took a more optimistic outlook. "I was very angry for years... anger almost destroyed me", she told me in a 1986 interview.
From this point, both her recording and stage shows would reflect a more relaxed, confident Ellen McIlwaine, still equally capable of belting out the ballsy blues that earned her a loyal following. As an example, the album also features the fountain of funk "Nothing Left To Be Desired" that became a live favourite in the mid-80s, culminating in an incendiary 12 minute version recorded on an unreleased tape that arguably matches "The Real Ellen McIlwaine" for passion. The concert was recorded on a Toronto stage with a rhythm section, both of which would become a full part of Ellen's musical career for the next few years....
Having moved to Toronto from Connecticut (Ellen had always found her audiences more receptive in the North than the South) Ellen was living in a polyglot neighborhood and immersed in the large West Indies community there. She started playing with some of the musicians from that scene, notably percussionist Qammie Williams, bassist Kit Johnson and drummer Bohdan Hluszko. The trio did some semi-regular gigs in Toronto and took to the road occasionally when the budget permitted, and she also continued her solo appearances.
Looking For Trouble (Stony Plain 1987)
Besides stirring a new and welcome ingredient into Ellen McIlwaine's sound (she cites Miriam Makeba as an early influence), the trio appeared on Ellen's next effort, "Looking For Trouble" (1987, Stony Plain, Canada). Upbeat and full of energy, this album introduced Reggae into McIlwaine's recorded catalogue for the first time, on the new version of "Can't Find My Way Home" (by then a stage standard in Toronto) and the new favourite "Beg For The Reason". Also included are a remake of the lonely "All To You" from 15 years earlier, now sounding less lonely, and her version of Bill Withers' "Lean On Me", a popular encore number for her in this period that reflected newfound spiritual healing. Ellen uses three languages on this record, tossing a raucous chorus in the Japanese of her childhood into "Don't Look Down" and some French chanting in "Beg For The Reason," which drones away with a digeridoo at its end, anticipating the trend to the opening "World Music" genre. "Looking For Trouble" is, all things considered, a very solid and well-produced record.
In 1997, "Looking For Trouble" turns ten years old, the longest span so far between Ellen McIlwaine recordings. Since recording it she moved to a quieter life in Alberta, while her still-loyal following revels in the magic that she gave us and holds a candle of hope that a new recording will surface.
1997 by Rodger Collins©
I'm a lifelong radio junkie who's always been attracted to the unusual, the neglected, the nonstandard in my tastes. I've worked in public and community radio for 15 years, from Philadelphia to New England to New Orleans, where I now host the African Caribbean Journey on WWOZ-FM and have substituted for 18 other shows. From radio I have also branched out to feature and drama production, voiceovers and sound engineering. I also like to write, especially on music.
- Rodger Collins VoodooElec@aol.com
"Covering the living tradition, even if it is all CD's now..."
PERCY MAYFIELD: "Percy Mayfield Live" (Winner 445)
Percy Mayfield was called the "The Poet Laureate of the Blues." He was a singer and composer who wrote and sang songs of incredible beauty and depth. His voice, which could not only cover a wide range of notes, but also a veritable rainbow of emotions, could go from sweet crooning to a husky shout in the space of a musical phrase and make you feel like your very soul had been touched. Mayfield was a master songwriter who was Ray Charles's favorite in the 60's, who wrote such classics as Hit The Road, Jack," and "At The Club." He also scored hits of his own in the 50's, such as "Please Send Me Someone To Love," "Strange Things Happening," and "Cry Baby." Like another Genius, Miles Davis, his ability to make a ballad tug at your heart was unrivaled.
He recorded several albums in his lifetime, but this is his only authorized live recording. The music was recorded during a series of live performances with Mark Naftalin's Blue Monday Party and were broadcast between February 1982 and September 1983 on KTIM-FM (Marin County).
The supporting musicians were led by Mark Naftalin, who ran
the Blue Monday Parties and included Bobby Murray, Pee Wee Crayton,
Ron Thompson, Francis Clay, Gary Silva, and a veritable who's who
of San Francisco Bay Area blues musicians. Interestingly enough,
there is a consistency of sound and mood, making it seem like the
music was recorded in one night.
The CD is full of relaxed, deep blues, like you'd hear in an after hours club, with the music now stripped of the hectic energy of the earlier sets, and now honed down to it's essential emotions. Mayfield, on several of the songs, plays and caresses with the words and phrases, enjoying and savoring the enthusiastic audience response.
Percy explores the depths one can fall to in such songs as "My Jug and I," and the medley, "My Bottle Is My Companion/Highway Is Like A Woman." A pat way to sing about the booze would be to portray all the obvious cliches, but Mayfield explores it's deadly appeal as well as the desolation, which doesn't judge, which would be the way a great writer would do it. He tells all about it, and you judge whether it's truly fine to be there or best to take another route.
His plea, "Please Send Me Someone To Love," is on the surface merely a great ballad, but when he sings it, it becomes a very real longing, and of course, a perfect description of love.
As I had said earlier, this has an after hours feel, and "P.M. Blues" and "My Mind Is Trying To Leave Me Too" are perfect examples. As one listens to his singing, you begin to realize what years of life and experience can add to a simple blues. Ray Charles sang of the bottom of the pit in "Busted," yet it's humor allowed the listener to not quite allow the lyrics to connect. In "My Mind..." all hope is gone, and it hits home, yet the survival implied in the vocal gives one a sense of real hope, of life's own ability to heal. As if to experience fully holds the key to redemption.
This CD captures the live performance of one of the greatest
composers and singers of the blues. Being the only authorized
live set, it is also essential for any fan. Those who have
never heard Percy Mayfield will find this to be an excellent
place to begin discovering the wealth of music he created.
You haven't heard the blues until you've heard him sing "My Mind
Is Trying To Leave Me, Too."
P.O. Box 151095
San Rafael, CA 94915-1095
ROY ROGERS: "Rhythm and Groove" (1996 Pointblank Records)
Roy Rogers has, over the years, constantly grown as a artist and producer. His early records had a groove that ranged from New Orleans, Elmore James, and Robert Johnson. As time passed, he brought these influences closer to the point where you recognize the trademarks of those styles, but the approach has become more and more personal. I hear Roy Rogers now when I listen to his music, not the sum of his parts.
Roy's production skills have grown, having made a quantum leap into the front ranks with his Grammy-winning (and nominated several times more) production of John Lee Hooker's records in the 90's. The production values in this latest release are good enough to play in stores to sell stereos. That sounds odd, but it's as original a way as I can come up with to describe such top notch production.
If there is a familiar aspect to Roy's music, it's his use of rhythm. Songs like "Vida's Place," "Built For Comfort," and "Wrong Number" all move in that catchy New Orleans/Bo Diddley groove that he's mastered so well. Each has a different guitar texture, and quite often the similiarities are subtle and ingrained.
"Feel My Care" is one new addition, being a rocker with a Stones "Let It Bleed" feel, and it's one of the best numbers on the CD. Also, "Blues For Brazil" experiments with South American rhythms to good effect.
"Love Me Or Leave Me" and "Ever Since I Lost You" are, respectively, a rocking shuffle with drums pounding against the beat, and some very downhome sounding Elmore James slide.
One interesting number, interesting for it's retro aspects, is "My Heart's Desire," which is an old Memphis-style blues, complete with a jazzy, but heavily-amped guitar that recall the early Howling Wolf Band. Another is his cover of Mose Allison's "Your Mind Is On Vacation," which does justice to the original.
The wide variety of styles on this CD is also made possible by guest appearances by Charlie Musselwhite, Maria Muldaur, and David Grisman.
This CD will appeal particularly to the modern blues listener, who will enjoy the lively, crisp sounding production and inventive dynamic changes in the music. I've heard every single record this guy's ever done, and this one is his best. Roy's gone from being a guy who played a hot slide to a complete artist, who can do it all. Recommended.
Virgin Records Direct
Roy Rogers email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web Page: http://www.vivanet.com/~blues/roy/rogers.html
WAILIN WALKER BAND: "Buzzsaw Boogie" (Peerless Music Inc.)
This CD is from a band out of Vancouver, Canada, led by a high energy singer and guitarist named "Wailin" Al Walker. His music is simple in intent, which is to play "world class boogie," and it shows in this collection of hot boogie woogie, blues, and rockers.
A rocking shuffle, "Tryin' To Find My Baby," starts it all off, and after a boogie woogie opening by piano, an even harder shuffle, "I Feel Fine" comes next. The pace doesn't slow down till the fifth number, "While You're Down There," which is a taut, tense slow blues.
"Down The Highway" is next, and that shuffle is followed by a funky rocker called, "Pretty Girls Everywhere." "Gasoline Annie" explores how fast you can play a shuffle and still call it a shuffle, and then the listener gets a break with the slow blues, "Dawn Till Dusk."
A cooking Billy Boy Arnold style blues comes up, followed by one of the loudest Hooker boogies I've ever heard. Makes Savoy Brown sound like the Carpenters. A slow one is next, and the CD closes with a reprise of "Boogie With You."
The title of the CD says it all, this is definitely a PARTY band. The music is full of driving, almost breakneck energy, with lots of sleazy 50's sax, boogie woogie piano, and loud guitars. This is one set where the slow ones are put in to let you catch your breath.
There are many reasons to listen to the blues; this explores one of those, which is to have fun and dance all night. Not a contemplative record...you listen to this one when you know what you want.
Peerless Music, Inc.
WEB Page: http://www.axionet.com/peerless/
Wailin Walker Web Page
ANDREA KARAM AND THE FUN GUYS: "We Got Something Good" (DDD Canal)
Karam is a singer who has a Aretha Franklin type attack in her phrasing, but stylistically is like a Chaka Khan with a distinct 60's soul bent (Atlantic soul that is). The Aretha comparison is because Andrea tends to sound like Chaka, but doesn't use the jazz vocal vamps charactaristic of that great soul-jazz singer.
The liner notes say it's like old Motown, but the feel is more like those 70's jazz flavored soul bands; like Chaka Khan's, Ohio Players or the Isleys. Call it Motown, but more like the Crusaders when they were this funky band out of Texas recording for that label (before they became the Jazz Crusaders).
The CD opens with "We Got Something Good," a medium tempo soul number with an old Muscle Shoals groove. This leads into a hard Ohio Players-type funk called, "I'm A Woman. An uptempo cover of Chaka's "Somebody's Watching You" comes next, which has a nice funky jazz feel.
Bobby Blue Bland's "Farther On Up The Road" is next, filtered through 70's Isleys, and a nice, tough version of Aretha's "Rock Steady" follows. A cover of Aretha's "Try Matty's" comes next, heading straight into "Heard It Through The Grapevine."
The set closes with a driving hard funk, "You've Been In Love Too Long," a ballad called "Hush Now Baby," and the JB style "My Mother In-Law."
Although I tend to make comparisons so that readers can get a familiar reference to "hear" the CD I'm describing, it should be pointed out that this band runs through these number in a seamless fashion. The styles are eclectic, and not overly derivative.
The playing is tight, and has a nice snap to the sound, and the music is eminently dancable. This is a band that can make a club rock. Andrea is a hard hitting belter, but who has the range to make the listener at home enjoy what is a well rounded and passionate sense of the music, and not just a pyrotechnic display of volume. A real singer, in other words.
Good greasy funk, with a little hard bop thrown in, and it
sounds good at any volume.
2228 Hillary Ave. (Business address)
CATHI NORTON: "Various Stages Of Undress" (Flat Rock Records)
Cathi is an eclectic singer with a blues background that goes back to her Chicago days, mixing blues, folk, reggae, and R&B elements into a style that moves from genre to genre, or to numbers that are seamless fusions. In other words, sometimes she plays straight blues, sometimes not. Using the Bonnie Raitt standard, she fits in that wide ranging set of styles that is characteristic of modern women who play in or on the fringes of the blues scene.
Cathi is different in that she has a sultry vocal style, which would make her more similiar to a 60's folk-blues singer, or a jazz blues type. However, she's perfectly capable of changing gears and doing a straight Chicago shuffle, like on one of the cuts that also features a guest performance by Gary Primich, a hot harp player who's also been reviewed in a past Delta Snake.
The music opens with a Willy and the Hand Jive'ish "Jump At The Chance," which has a nice laid back flavor. Sort of like a "460 Ocean Boulevard" (the Eric Clapton record) flavored cut. This moves into an ethereal folk number, with a slight Gordon Lightfoot feel, which is actually quite nice unless you really hate folk.
A decent reggae follows called "Who's Who?" which leads to a jazz-folk rocker called "Tell Your Mama" and is one of the CD's high points. A rockin' blues shuffle is next, "Get Back Baby," and features harp by Gary Primich. Also, Stuart Norton, Greg Lindholm, Rick Bole, and Gordon Bonham serve as the band.
The title cut follows, and is best described as a baroque ballad, in that sort of folk-pop style that those who loved "Tea For The Tillerman" would love. I hate to admit it, in the context of a blues zine, but I do like old Cat Stevens (but in proper PC fashion, hate "Wild World" ;-)). So, I did like the number, those who prefer Charly Patton might think otherwise.
"Half of Everything" comes next, and is a nice, sinuous blues rocker, leading into "Time Is Flying" which has a children's song feel. Nice chiming guitars. Next up is the "Blonde on Blond'ish "10,000 Goodbyes," which has that feathery drum sound make famous by Kenneth Butterly, the legendary Nashville drummer.
The CD ends with a folk ballad, and then a hard blues funk rocker called "You Put A Spell On Me." The last number also has Cathi's most raucous vocal, and a fine sax solo.
It's not a straight blues record, but probably as much
blues as a Bonnie Raitt release. As they say, that can
mean nothing, or it can mean everything. In this case, I'd
say this is a good archetype modern Women's music record, from
an artist who clearly loves blues, and uses it as a reference
5707 S. Handy Rd.,
Bloomington, IN 47401
PENNY LANG: "Ain't Life Sweet" (1993 Silverwolf Records)
This was part of a three record cycle that saw this Canadian folker artist re-emerge from a sort of artistic hiatus that began sometime in the 70's. Penny had actually begun her career as an acclaimed singer in the Canadian folk scene in the 60's and 70's.
Her credits include numerous television and radio appearances, a documentary on her, sound track credits and various awards and articles from magazines such as Sing Out and Impact.
Her bio states that she had a "near brush with fame," during the folk-rock craze and lost it for refusing to record an electric version of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." After which, began an inactive period for various reasons.
What Penny gave up in her uncomprising devotion to acoustic folk wasn't such a sure deal anyway, and probably reflects a better sense of judgement than one might assume. Decades later, the move seems quite sensible, actually. Does the music world still remember Phil Och's rock and roll record? Or Pete Seegar with electric band?
In any case, in 1988, she began to perform again, and more importantly, to compose songs. This CD was the third record of the comeback, and is an excellent showcase of her strengths as an artist; a great, bluesy voice that can effortlessly project the mood of a song, whether it be down or upbeat, and with the emotional feel of an experienced survivor. For a modern comparison, she reminds me of Suzanne Vega, but with decades more experience behind the voice.
One great example is the title song, which has, on the surface, a lilting simplicity of melody and arrangement, but as she keeps coming back to the line, "Ain't Life Sweet," it seems to pick up additional resonance from inside her. One can't say it's a song of painful affirmation; it's optimistic at it's core, and the optimism of one who has seen the worst and survived, and knows that life itself holds the key to healing, and growth.
Sylistically, she moves confidently between blues, folk, swing and various fusions. The stark simplicity of the production stresses an intimate live feel, with only enough extra instruments to add to a particular mood. "Stomp, Bop, Bop" is a swing number, but a lot of the rhythm is carried by her voice and guitar, and one get's the feeling that even if she had sung this a-capella, it would still swing.
Other songs that will catch the ear is "Firewater" and the emotional "I Can't Stand Up Alone." Overall, song by song, it's a beautiful series of pictures and emotions, and anyone who listens to this would never believe that this was part of a debut set of recordings.
There's an old maxim that a writer needs to experience life before creating his or her art, and what you would be hearing here is someone who did that, but simply expressed it via music. She has been called "The First Lady of Canadian Folk," and it would be hard to refute that after hearing this fine work.
PH: (514) 276-5605
FAX: (514) 276-4642
CAMILLE'S BLUES BOX: "Anything That Means Everything"
(1995 Real Soul Records)
LA Singer Camille fronts a tough, English-influenced blues and rock band that sounds like a mix between funk bands like Average White Band and Cold Blood, hard blues in an Albert King type groove, and blues-rock outfits like the old Humble Pie.
Before smirking over that description, keep in mind that the above could easily describe some of Duke Robilliard's modern solo work (in fact, in my last review of his last solo release, I did say a couple of the numbers sounded like Humble Pie ;-))
Camillle is a young singer, and so far has made quite an impact on the local Los Angeles music scene. This CD, which is her debut, has been included on the playlists of such prominent DJ's as Rodney Bingenhiemer and others who are trendsetters.
The set starts off with the hard funk, "My Man," which drops down into a ballad, then kicking into a hard blues rocker with a funk beat called "Blues Box." One of the best numbers comes next, "Perfect Match," a soul-funk cooker that reminds me of Cold Blood. She then picks up the beat again with the uptempo "Since I Fell," which wouldn't have sounded out of place on Humble Pie's "Rock-It" record.
"Momma Said" comes next, and sounds like an old Asheton, Gardner and Dyke soul-blues, leading into a great Albert Kingish rocker, "Honey, I Got The Blues." The rocking pace is sustained with "Work To Do," and the set ends with a ballad, "New Pair of Shoes."
I've read some descriptions of Camille's voice that compare it to Steve Marriot, which rings true. She, and her band for that matter, are certainly a bunch of hard chargers that rock the blues well. Maybe call it a bluesy Bad Company, with a little more funk and sweat.
This CD has "party record" written all over it, and it would make a noticable dent in the peaceful atmosphere of a coffee house. You can't read Sartre to this stuff.
On the whole, I do like it, and the energy is infectious.
It doesn't sound much like the Delta, but it'd be a boring
world if everything did.
Real Soul Records
8033 Sunset Blvd, suite 614
Los Angeles, CA 90046
contact: Katy Kurtz
CHRISTINE SANTELLI BAND: "Live In Paris At The Chesterfield Cafe"
Christine is a New Jersey-based singer and guitarist who's becoming a hot item on the East Coast and in Europe. One of her strengths is a powerful voice that has a natural growl to it, with a sultry tone that many listeners will find pleasing.
Also, the band is a great one that sounds downhome, yet tight. It's a unit that would make any singer sound ten times better.
Christine and her band don't have a complex approach to the music. It's basically hard Chicago style blues with some funk and R&B thrown in, with a country song or two for fun...in other words, like your archetype modern Chicago blues band.
This is a live set recorded in France, and the small club atmosphere comes through on the recording and the music has an immediate and intimate feel. Which is a good choice, of course, it might have been more prestigious to do this in a larger venue, but there would have been a serious difference in the sound quality. Here, the music sounds clean and clear, yet has that live ambiance (that is to say, looseness) and this makes for an excellent debut.
This isn't their first recording (which will be reviewed in the next issue), but in essence it's a true debut and from my point of view, as long as this is the most current and widely promoted product, then this is what you judge the act on.
The set opens with Janis Joplin's "Turtle Blues." It's a medium shuffle, but done so loosely it comes off as a smokey Chicago late night blues. It catches your attention. It's good enough that you might find yourself looking at the liner to see if some Chicago band is doing it.
This leads to "Love Me Like A Man," and "Since I Moved To Georgia," both fine songs. "I'd Rather Go Blind," the Etta James classic, is next, and Christine does a convincing job on it, although it's more sung well than a true match for the original. I like it better than the Rod Stewart or Christine Perfect versions though.
The hot funk "Shakey Ground," comes next, then we go into a raunchy "Caledonia," which showcases Christine's cute growl and some hard hitting playing by the band. "Big Boss Man" is next, followed by "How Blue Can You Get," and the CD ends with a energetic "Evil".
Christine and the band have come up with a great live set that not only gives a listener a good sampling of their blues, but also updates numbers from the first studio recording and puts those in a hotter setting. The outfit has talent, looks, and definitely a good feel for the blues...and they're still pretty young. As it is, an established band might find that having this band as an opening act might goose the level up a bit further than they expected. As it is, the only thing that would keep this band from true success would be the lack of a good songwriter. Given some hit material, and a little more experience, and you just might have another Bonnie Raitt here.
P.O. Box 3386
Hoboken, NJ 07030
VALERIE REYNOLDS: "Good Woman Blues" (Independent)
Valerie is a Nashville-based blues artist whose music is intertwined with her politics, which is a significant part of her life. She is an activist on two fronts; domestic and violent crime, and gay rights. Both, one should note, are themes that were often addressed in the 20's blues.
That isn't to say she writes explicitly gay songs, for example, but given that many of the women blues singers of the classic era were bi-sexual or gay, her activism isn't some extraneous element foisted onto the music. It wasn't very visible in the more male-oriented 50's blues, but in Bessie Smith's era, it was sung about and lived.
There is one explicitly political song, "We Ain't Gonna Take It No More," which is about the issue of domestic violence, both straight and gay. Which is an impressive aspect of her politics, which is that it appears to be focused on the issue itself, thus making it more universal in appeal.
One interesting song is "The Leading Role," which is about her aunt, Elizabeth Short, who was called the "Black Dahlia" in that infamous murder. The killer of her aunt was never found, and Valerie has been outspoken in her belief that it was a classic case of the victim being blamed. This has shaped her activism in the victim's rights issues.
None of this would mean anything to the consumer, of course, if she were a lousy blues singer. However, that isn't the case here. Her music is a tough blend of blues, rock, and country, and all are well recorded and performed on this CD.
Valerie's voice has a hard-edged tone, and she can handle country as well as the blues, shown to good effect on the title cut and "The One You Can Hold." Also, the poignant "My Soul Is Crying" and "Dreams of '62" shows that an emotional range that isn't merely confined to tough rockers and blues.
There are many blues artists, and as many different reasons for playing the blues. In this case, Valerie has tied the blues to intensely personal themes and concerns, and as such, is more than your usual artist who simply loves the music. She's gone beyond emulation, and into the realm of helping blues stay a true living tradition, and not an oldies act.
P.O. Box 120356
RUE DE BLUES: "Deep Blues" (1996 Cresent Records)
Rue is an Eugene, Oregon-based quartet who play a very modern sounding mix of blues, funk, and jazz. The band is essentially a standard blues trio with guitar, bass and drums that lay a surprisingly full foundation for vocalist Marilyn Keller.
In this CD, Don Latarski lays down multiple guitar tracks in the studio environment and has an attractive jazz-funk flavor to his blues playing. The rhythm section of Mark Schneider on bass and Jeff Frankel on drums is pretty hot, and can fluently handle the various genres.
A Robert Cray'ish "Don't Make Me Blue" kicks it all off, leading into the percussive "Congo Square," which is a great bluesy funk number that adds a little salsa to the mix. "El Don Blues" come next, and is a blues with a cool jazz feel.
"I'm A Woman," a shuffle, comes next, which is a sharp contrast to Marilyn's slinky vocals on the classic "Route 66." A sharp funk, "Comin' Home Baby," comes next, and the pace quickens with, "Man In Blue," a jazzy shuffle.
A simmering, loose but hard edged funk, "Broken Dreams" is next, followed by an interesting shuffle that doesn't have the usual bass walk, and has a Wes Montgomery feel to it. "Every Day I Have The Blues" is done next as a blues rhumba, followed by some solo electric picking by Don in "Nannabocca Blues." The CD ends with "Crossroads" done here as an uptempo jazz rocker, which is a far cry from Robert Johnson, but it works.
The average blues fan might not realize how active the
Oregon blues scene is, and how many good bands and artists
that region has. Rue De Blues is certainly one of the
best of the bunch.
P.O. Box 10232
Eugene, OR 97440
ROBERT THOMAS: "Natural Born Thing" (Boysun Music)
Thomas is an underrated guitarist who can effortlessly switch from sharp, cutting leads to flowing jazz runs that still feel like the blues. Not as jazzy as a Freddie Robinson, but the same type of guitarist.
Like many modern blues guitarists, he adds funk, jazz, and rock elements to his music, and in this case, does so in an expert and fluent approach. This type of record is the type a "guitarist's guitarist" would make. Call him a blues Steve Cropper in the aesthetic sense.
The music starts off strong with an Elmore-type rocker, with a dense, yet sharp toned feel. The mood switches to jazz with "You're Mine," but the undercurrent is a blues shuffle with an organ adding extra color. A beautiful slow blues, "Treat Me So Lowdown" comes next, and has a smooth flow that creates a great, expansive mood.
"No Mercy," a blues-funk comes next, followed by "Rainin' Inside," a jazzy ballad. A rocking shuffle picks the pace up again, leading into the percussion break that opens "Peanut Butter and Jelly," a lively rhumba blues that sounds great even to someone who doesn't normally like that style of blues (like me).
A hard hitting Albert King style funk-blues comes next, followed by "Hot For You," a jazzy shuffle with some of the hottest rhythm guitar I've heard in a while. A cool blues rocker in a Creedence groove leads into the closer, a slow one called "Jumpin' At Shadows."
I guess there's a few blues artists like Robert Thomas
out there, who have honed their skills to a high level, and
release their music on small labels. In this case, it would
be a justice if this guy ended up making it big someday.
1622 Villa Ave
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
PROFESSOR WASHBOARD'S DELUXE DUO'S (HBS 4001)
The Professor follows the time honored blues profession of street music, anchoring an impressively eclectic collection of blues and folk duets with dynamic and engaging washboard and percussion playing.
He plays a modified percussion machine that allows him to not only scrape the board, but to also play a basic drum set. The end product is sort of a funky Louisiana Zydeco/Cajun beat that is modified to fit the type of song being played.
The music has a street artist's aesthetic; lots of catchy music, lively rhythms, and most importantly, something for everyone and any taste. When your audience is whoever happens to be walking by, it pays to be able to pull a variety of songs out of your hat.
The set begins with a New Orleans funk called "Hey Pocky Way," featuring Hugh Pool on guitar and harp. This leads to "Decoration Day," a duet with Abi Wallenstein, who plays a very downhome-style electric slide that sounds like old Elmore James. The pace lightens with a jazzy blues funk called "I've Been Working" with Ewan Blackledge on guitar, vocals and bass.
An accordian player named Jo Jo Reed then contributes a zydeco boogie called "Zydeco Cha Cha," which also has a catchy percussion break by the Professor. Abi kicks in again with a distortion filled "Sunnyland Blow," an old Homesick James number that sounds like it was done in the 50's. Real great gutbucket blues.
Abi leads the next one, "She's Alright," a cool fusion of John Lee Hooker boogie and zydeco (if that makes sense to you, it seems like an exact definition to me though). The old Monkees classic, "Take A Giant Step" is next, done in the just as classic Taj Mahal arrangement by Hugh, leading to my favorite cut on the CD, a cover of John Prine's "That's The Way The World Goes Round" with Kenny Englishoe on guitar, harp and vocals.
You wouldn't think the classic "Born In Chicago" could be done in a street duet format, but Kenny puts out a sort of John Mayall'ish jazz-blues sound that gives the song a new twist, and is very listenable. Abi keeps the electricity high with a cover of "Make Love To You." The two do it uptempo, like Foghat did in the 70's, but in this case, it's more Billy Boy Arnold doing Foghat. It sounds better than it reads, believe me.
A cover of Dylan's "Bucket of Rain," performed by Ewan comes next, and works well as a fingerpicked folk-blues, and he follows that with a lively jug band'ish "Nobody's Dirty Business."
The next one, Hugh doing Mayall's "Room to Move," is the big surprise of the set. It's a number from the English bluesman's "Turning Point" period when he didn't use a drummer, and showed a strong jazz influence. This version uses percussion and drums, with guitar and harp, creates a version that stands up well with the orginal. Actually, I like this one better.
Abi shows up again with Hank Snow's "Moving On," although in this case, it sounds like Eddie Taylor doing country. Jo Jo appears again with a nice 1-2 step boogie, and then Abi ends the set with a cover of Mance Lipscomb's "Silver City." I add an extra star on this cut for good taste in acoustic bluesmen.
Obviously, the Professor adds drums and washboard throughout the CD, and he takes dynamic and exciting breaks that show that the washboard is capable of some very complex rhythms and colorings. His taste and sense of pacing is excellent, and he's assembled a team of role players that definitely are greater than the sum of their parts.
It's an eclectic revue, not unlike a Johnny Otis show, albeit
on a smaller scale. However, this produces a very human, very
intimate, and very friendly record that I listened to long
after the review notes were completed, and will continue listening
to long after this issue is online.
22635 Lakeview Rd.
Bruch Str. 17
60594 Frankfurt Germany
Telephone and Fax within Germany
From outside Germany
(49) 172 4098822
.32-20: "Divine Ignition" (Spank Records)
.32-20 is a blues-rock band out of New York City, and mixes straight acoustic renditions of Robert Johnson blues with hard blues rock that sounds a bit like the Black Crowes. In other words, archetype southern blues-rock, but with the wider dynamic range possible when the band can play good, convincing acoustic blues.
The CD starts off with an uptempo slide rocker called "Don't Believe," which leads to the funky, "What She Said." "Little Susie" is next, which has a Stone's "Let It Bleed" feel, followed by "Ain't Goin' Out," a country rocker.
".32-20 Blues," which is as close as Robert Johnson ever got to a Carolinas style ragtime comes up, and is done as an acoustic blues shuffle with brushes (on drums), followed by "Sing Sing," a country (as in western) blues. A nice bluesy ballad, "Water Song," comes next, and reminds me of good Marshall Tucker, as does the gospelish "Blind Willy C."
"Judgement Day," is another acoustic blues with a "Rollin' and Tumblin'" feel, followed by the title cut, a neat Commander Cody type country song. An uptempo county rocker, "Lonesome and Blue" and a great Stone's style rocker, "Long Cold Walk" end the set.
This is a fine band, and their record is interesting in that the blues tend to be done straight and the acoustic numbers add a sense of dynamics that make the rockers seem even blusier than it would seem on the surface. This stuff is pretty compelling.
The type of music I've described could be typed as your garden
variety blues rock with some acoustic blues, but it's well played
and has a lot more going on in the music than usual. It'll sound
great in your boombox, and would make a fitting part of an
afternoon drive on an open road.
205 1st Avenue, #2
New York, NY 10003
DAVE PLAEHN AND JEFF HINO: "On Your Bond" (1996 Nontrivial Records)
Dave and Jeff hail from Corvallis, Oregon, a state that boasts one of the most active blues scenes in the country. They are a lively acoustic blues act that range from hard delta, jugband and hokum, old country and even Buddy Holly.
Dave possesses a nice, flexible voice that reminds one of a bluesy Jesse Colin Young. While not a classic hard blues type, he's a versatile singer who can do a credible job on the wide range of uptempo music they perform. Jeff is the instrumental anchor of the sound, a seriously good picker who surrounds Dave's voice with impressive backings and solos.
The music starts off fast and hard with a cover of "Rollin' and Tumblin', a straight rendition with a good National Steel guitar sound and open hand harp work in the old style. Dave then impresses with some very hot picking on "Walkin' By Myself," a boogie woogie done on guitar instead of piano. A funky version of Gus Cannon's "Wild About My Lovin'" is next, followed by Leadbelly's "On A Monday."
Dave's harp work is highlighted on Blind Willie Johnson's "Your Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond," here done as a country blues shuffle. Next up is a good juke joint version Elmo's "Shake Your Moneymaker," leading to Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom."
A good original boogie, "Letter From My Baby" is next, followed by another Robert Johnson cover, "Come On In My Kitchen," done as a slow blues, and similiar to the old string band version of "Sittin' On Top Of The World." An Elmo (James) rocker, "Look Over Yonders Wall" is next, and the set closes with a song made famous by Buddy Holly, "Not Fade Away," although the arrangement used is closer to the early Stones version.
Those who love the acoustic blues will enjoy this CD, and those who enjoy folk will also find this music an attractive addition to their collections. It's a suprisingly mature work, with a lot of professional touches in the playing and singing, and this pair can only get better. An act that deserves a long career. (AH)
P.O. Box 3004-531
Corvallis, OR 97339
TOP JIMMY: "The Good Times Are Killing Me"
Jimmy is described as a fixture in the Los Angeles underground music scene, having been immortalized in Van Halen's "1984" album on the song, "Top Jimmy."
He's an interesting singer in the Howling Wolf mold, and his vocal timbre sounds like a cross between the Wolf and Screamin' Jay Hawkins singing through a megaphone. It sounds like it reads, that is to say, a bit on the wierd side, but it's got a wry sense of humor that makes the music a lot of fun.
A wild intro leads into a raunchy "Intro/I Believe," and goes into a hot Memphis style boogie that wouldn't have sounded out of place on an old Howling Wolf record. A stop-rhythm rocker, "The Good Times Are Killing Me," is next, followed by a stomping "One More Time."
A pounding slow blues, "Slow Blue Something," features a barely in control electric guitar and talking vocals. It's a lot of fun, and would make an ideal air guitar number at a frat party. "Hole In My Pocket," comes next, and is a medium tempo slide rocker.
The rocking pace is maintained by "Why You Break My Drink," followed by a very raw country song called "Cow Song," which as the title suggests, is a tongue-in-cheek rendition. A wierd, pounding Voodoo blues called "Voodoo Sausage," is next, followd by a very electric late 40's style Hooker boogie. It's the simplest number, yet sounds like one of the loudest. "She Ugly" is a blues rocker, and the set ends with a slow, but rocking "Slow Blues Instrumental."
Sometimes an artist will add eclectic elements to add a new or different dimension to the blues. One method that is often neglected is to go deeper and wilder, like, well, the old Memphis era Wolf. Top Jimmy will strike some as being a bit to the left of the blues mainstream, but sometimes in the quest to play in the percieved spirit of the blues, the wilder, more unrestrained energy of the music is smoothed out.
The original blues often alarmed people, which is why it's the forefather of rock and roll. Jimmy has kept that raucous side that was always present in an art form created by unschooled geniuses.
Top Jimmy plays the kind of early electric era blues that
existed before technique came into the picture. Raw, and often
undisciplined, it'll turn off or bewilder some mainstream blues
fans, but then, that might be a healthy thing.
DARRELL NULISCH: "Bluesoul" (Higher Plane Records)
Nulisch is an Arizona-based blues and soul singer whose style combines standard ingredients, but stresses outstanding execution of the basics keyed to an interesting, gritty voice capable of great range and lots of attack in the phrasing. There is noticable intensity in every performance that lifts even the most commonly constructed song into compelling and fresh music.
A passionate soul ballad, "Crime of Passion," opens the set, and while the structure is standard soul, the energy makes comparison to the 60's irrelevant. A Springsteen'ish "Love Song," follows, which leads to the big production number, "You Were Right."
"I've Been Searching," is a mean, hard funk that contrasts well with the Z.Z. Hill influenced "Again and Again." "Worried" kicks in with some Texas blues shuffle sounds, leading to a great Eddie Floyd style Stax-rocker called "I Don't Need Nothing." An Albert King style slow blues is next, which really catches the ear, leading into the jazzy "Heartful of Blues." The CD ends with "What Have I Done Wrong," a blues rocker that barrels along, and ends the set on a very hot note.
Nothing in this music really stands out in terms of arrangement or ideas, but the execution is amazing. The energy level is very high. Those who love 60's soul and blues will find that this set will definitely snap them out of the usual mental comparisons.
Darrell has definitely taken the blues and soul and made it seem alive again, as if it were invented today, and in my mind, this is one of the real sleepers of 1997. Highly recommended as a record by someone who sounds like he's glad to be here singing in a great tradition. Not for the jaded.
Higher Plane Records
P.O. Box 962
Mesa, AZ 85211-0962
FAX: (602) 835-0735
PH: (602) 835-0581
PAT BOYACK AND THE PROWLERS: "On The Prowl" (Bullseye Blues)
Pat Boyack and his Prowlers have come out with what could now be considered an archetype Bullseye blues record; sharp production values, lots of uptempo pieces, top notch playing, and producer Ron Levy doing some keyboards.
One difference would be that this could be called a guitar afficianado's set, that is to say, music built around a highly proficient and clean stylist who can effortlessly cover a variety of styles, with plenty of hot axe playing.
Pat's guitar style could be called fluid high volume guitar with a trebly, or high edge, and in each number, the solos are sharp and concise, not unlike a modern Steve Cropper.
This hot axe work would mean less, of course, if he couldn't sing. His vocal work, although not in the league of a Bobby Blue Bland (unfair comparison, I know), is more than good enough, and has a rough enthusiasm that reminds me of the old shouter-type blues and soul singers. The band, called the Prowlers, is a tight outfit, with a rhythmic energy similiar to Roomfull Of Blues, but more on the rocking side.
The music starts off with "Sugar," a percussive and electric blues rocker that goes into a hard shuffle called "Mr. Lucky." "I Know It's Over," slows the tempo down, and gives the listener a taste of his echoed, tremelo-drenched guitar. Very 50's.
A downhome "Mean Jealous Woman" comes next, and rocks like an old late 40's Memphis blues, although Pat's Howling Wolf stylings on vocals don't quite come off. "Sneakin' Out" picks up the tempo again, and the pace doesn't let up with "Preacher Man," a funky rocker with a Motownish guitar riff as a hook.
"Cleanin' Out My Closet" is a fine medium tempo blues in the Albert King mold, and the CD moves rapidly through a series of rockers and shuffles that keep the energy level at high pitch. The ending number, "Shuck 'N Jive" is the best of the bunch, a hard and funky uptempo blues rocker.
Although I've said this is a guitar enthusiast's record, it is also a very dynamic and rocking blues set that should appeal to anyone who likes Duke Robilliard or Omar and the Howlers. (AH)
distributed by Rounder Records
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MASS 02140
KENNY BLUE RAY: "Strat Daddy" (1995 Blue Ray Records)
This CD highlights a thicker-toned fender sound than Kenny's earlier releases. This Menlo Park-based guitarist has widened the scope of his styles to include material from Magic Sam, and a number that could have come off an old Gatemouth Brown album from his early Peacock Records era.
The music starts off with a rhumba blues called "Strat Daddy," which leads to a hard-edged cover of Magic Sam's "I Need Your Love So Bad." A musical tribute to the Basketball great Hakeem follows, which is in a fast Gatemouth Brown mode. A slow one comes next, followed by John Lee Hooker's "Dimples," although done more as a Stevie Ray Vaughn would have done it.
An interesting "Liv-A-Mo' is next, which is a blues rocker but with an almost surf guitar style opening. It contrasts nicely with "Lady By The Bay," an atmospheric instrumental. A rocking cover of Freddie King's "The Stumble," is next, followed by a good slow one, "West Helena Woman."
"East Texas Twister," an instrumental, has the flavor of a 60's era Gatemouth, followed by a funky "I Believe." The set closes with a laid-back, but rocking instrumental called "Saucy Mood."
Kenny's music is remarkable for the variety of tone and dynamics
achieved with only a basic blues quartet; Charlie Chavez on harp,
Burt Winn on bass, and Jim Overton on drums. It's essentially a
guitar and harp oriented set, but doesn't get samey on you. Ray
has put out another good one with hot playing, varied influences,
and an interesting choice of covers.
Blue Ray Records
C.J. CHENIER AND THE RED HOT LOUISIANA BAND: "The Big Squeeze"
Chenier's latest zydeco is, as usual, one of the best and most rhythmically active of the bunch. The band runs through a dizzying variety of blues, all with a zydeco flavor of course, covering the gamut of uptempo chugging rockers, waltzes, straight blues and funk.
"Au Contraire, Mon Frere," opens with a fast chugging beat that just pulls you into the music, and leads to "Don't You Just Know It," a New Orleans-style rocker with a call and response vocal. A slow ballad is next, followed by the horn-flavored "Mixed Up And Confused." Some funk is next, "Cheatin' On The Man," with a waltz called "Every Day I Have To Cry Some" right after.
A shuffle, "I Can't Judge Nobody," is next, with an uptempo rocker, "Teddy Bear," and a straight slow blues following. The pace picks up with the funky New Orlean's style, "Lion's Den," and "Part Time Woman."
After a ballad, the set closes with the cooking "No Shoes Zydeco," and "Mon Cher 'Tite Bebe." The last one featuring an interesting flute opening.
Zydeco has become more and more popular, with many new stars coming up, each with their own style. However, for the straight stuff, with R&B, funk, and blues influences seamlessly added, only Queen Ida can compete with Chenier. This is a guy you need to hear if one is even slightly serious about the Zydeco. (AH)
SON LEWIS: "Next Train Smokin'" (Silk City Recording Company)
Lewis is an acoustic-based bluesman out of New Jersey, who has a relaxed, laid back sound that ranges from solo acoustic slide like Robert Johnson, picked blues like Rev. Gary Davis, and in the electric mode, such artists as Muddy, Lightning, and Roosevelt Sykes. His voice is earnest, more in a folk-blues vein, but it matches up well with the music presented here.
A cover of Howling Wolf's "Evil," starts it all off, followed by Robert Johnson's "Phonograph Blues." An interesting version of Little Walter's "Mellow Down Easy" is next, which sounds sort of like an old Mose Allison number. "Candy Man" is next, followed by the rocking "So Many Roads."
A bit of the barrelhouse comes next, with Syke's "Driving Wheel," leading to a slow blues, "Remember Me." Next up is "Mighty Crazy," a Lightning Hopkins style boogie, Muddy's "Long Distance Call," and more Hopkins with "I've Had My Fun." The latter being an excellent solo acoustic slow blues.
Freddie King's "Tore Down" is done as a New Orleans-style rocker, followed by the expansive "Come On In My Kitchen." The folk and jazz flavored, "Outside Woman Blues" comes next, followed by an acoustic version of 'I Can't Keep From Crying." It's an old Willie Johnson number, but is done more like the 60's Al Kooper version. The set closes with a slow blues, "Hoodoo Blues."
Records like this tend to get lost in the rush, as the mix of acoustic numbers, electric blues and low-key feel can combine to create music that doesn't immediately jump out at you. Not an ideal CD to test stereo systems with.
However, it's music with a definite mood, and each performance
is a carefully contructed gem that will stick with you long after
the flashier stuff has come and gone over the speakers. It's an
honest record, with no gimmicks or high volume crowd pleasers, and
worth a listen.
Silk City Recording Company
P.O. Box 704
W. Paterson, NJ 07424
BC AND THE BLUES CREW: "Unfinished Business" (Bluescrew Records)
BC and the Blues Crew, led by singer Bev "BC" Conklin, are a blues band that play of mix of New Orleans, Soul, and blues. One interesting aspect of their style is that they are keyboard and harp oriented, as opposed to using the usual horn sections that would normally be used to color this type of music. This gives them a 60's jazz flavor, sort of like a Jimmy Smith meets early Santana.
The set opens with a straightforward rendition of "Let The Good Times Roll," which highlights Bev's big voice, which could be said to be in the Aretha-Etta James mold. Next is "Chain of Fools," which Aretha made famous in the 60's, and done here as a sultry medium tempo rocker.
"Hack" is next, and it's a funky one, with very hot harp work by Dave Small. This leads to a very fast shuffle, "Call My Job," that catches the ear with polyrhymic drum work by Kevin Brown. "Mellow Down Easy" isn't recognizable at first, as it starts off like a funky Jimmy Smith organ-jazz number with some Santana-like guitar, but it definitely is one of the best new arrangements I've heard of an old classic.
A very hot harp instrumental is next, followed by a ballad called "You Must Think I'm Blind." Another ballad in the Solomon Burke mold is next, "Tomorrow Morning," followed by "Big Daddy," a simmering, funky rocker.
A cover of Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On," is next, leading to a great Meters-like instrumental, "Leslie Hammond." A cool shuffle, "Unfinished Business" ends the set.
This is the first CD I've heard from this band out of
Pennsylvania, or any from that state actually. However, I like
their different sound, the excellent musicianship of the band,
and Bev's fine voice. I hope it won't be the last from this
different and unique band.
Fax: (610) 439-2103
KAREN TYLER: "Lovin' The Blues Too Long" (Rocket Cat Music)
Karen is a well regarded singer and guitarist from the Austin area of Texas. She plays an acoustic-based, but not exclusively acoustic mix of blues and R&B. Her trademarks are a remarkable set of hats, adept playing and singing, and the use of a Harmony archtop guitar (among many other classic types).
The Harmony does seem to give her guitar a different tone, much sharper and defined. It gives her music a bite often missing from other acoustic artists who use the softer toned flat-top guitars (unless one uses finger-picks, but that's an exception).
The Rocket Cat release opens with the sultry, but lyrically assertive, "Don't 'Sugar' Me," a song in the "Fever" mold. A nice bluesy folk-ballad with gospel overtones is next, "Lovin' The Blues Too Long," followed by a solo folk-blues number, "Rich In Love."
"Hello Moonlight," is next, and it's a catchy New Orlean's-style march, with a bit of funk thrown in. Next up is a fast zydeco called "Comfort Me On," followed by "Two Hearts," a slow blues with a great R&B feel. An acoustic swing blues comes next, "Songbird Blues," which leads to the jazzy shuffle, "Stars In Heaven."
Some more New Orleans funk is next, "I Got A Man," followed by a sultry delta blues, "House of Cards," which then leads into the cut-time country rocker, "Too Much Love." When I say "country" in this context, it's considerably more blues than it sounds.
"Leave Me Lonely," is an achingly pretty ballad, then the tempo picks up again with "Ain't No Thing," and "Stand Up, Sister," the energetic closers to this set.
It can be both amazing and confusing to the average blues listener to hear so many good blues artists out of Texas, Karen being as good as I've heard, out of the bunch. To give some sort of comparison (which musicians resist, I know), one could say she's like a Rory Block, but one who's stayed in a harder blues and R&B vein, and she is as good a guitarist as many of her male comtempories.
The CD is a very listenable blend of acoustic and electric
elements, and each song has some nice touches in the arrangements
and production, just enough to enhance the many moods and colors
that give this music so much life. A record that rewards close
listening. I doubt this woman will have a short career.
Rocket Cat Music
P.O. Box 150302
Austin, TX 78715
JULIE HOEST: "Where I'm Standing" (Resounding Records)
Julie is a Colorado-based folk singer and guitarist, who covers a wide emotional and stylistic range in her music. She has some obvious blues elements, mainly from the Mississippi John Hurt and Mance Lipscomb side of things.
She has a rich, very pleasing voice that has a very individual sense of phrasing, and is a clean, very fluid fingerpicker. She has favored a spare sound in this set of songs, giving it a more intimate feel.
The record opens with a nice folk ballad, leading into a languid folk-blues called, "I'll Call It The Blues." A medium tempo song, "On The Other Side," comes next, followed by two strong ballads. "Holes In The Bottom Of Her Shoes," opens with a walking acoustic bass, leading to a very interesting duet; just that bass and her voice singing a very bluesy vocal. Some carribean-style rhythms create a mood for "The Leaving Kind," which then gives way to the swing influenced "Gone Fishin'."
Next up is the ballad, "Shoot For The Moon," after which comes a cover of Mississippi John Hurt's arrangement of "Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight." It's the arrangement that dates back to his immortal 20's recordings, and sounds great here as Julie has the two elements Hurt had; great, gentle voice and good fingerpicking skills.
The CD closes on a reflective note, with "Someday," and "I'm Coming Home," both expansive ballads.
Hoest would probably be too much the folk eclectic for some,
just as Mance Lipscomb was for many in an earlier era. The one
thing one should realize though, is that the folk movement was a
major catalyst for the rediscovery of the classic blues, and many
of it's artists incorporated many of the genre's elements into
their music. Julie is one of those. Her Blues may not be
obvious, but you'd certainly notice it if it were missing. Worth
a look by anyone who enjoy folk and blues.
3001 So. Federal Blvd.
P.O. Box 205, Loretto Station
Denver, CO 80236
CELANGE: "New Day Coming" (Independent)
CeLange is a rock and roll, and alternative blues band, with flute, that sounds like a mix of very bluesy hard rock with a sort of street percussion feel. The sounds are very 90's, with a razor-sharp guitar sound, crisp rhythm section, and a strong jazzy flute for coloring. The singer, Sue Lange, is a powerful vocalist who generates the same power as a male blues shouter.
This particular CD was produced by legendary (or infamous, depending on whether you live in New York or not) Genya Ravan, who was the lead singer for the old Ten Wheel Drive band, one of the first horn-jazz rock bands. She later founded the first all woman band, at least in rock, and her production credits include Ronnie Spector and Long John Baldrey.
The set opens with the energetic "A New Day Comin' Soon," which leads to the rocking "It Doesn't Matter." A very raunchy and electric, yet strangely funky and bluesy "Spoonful" is next, leading to the interesting "Sweet Birdie." "Change My Ways" follows, and this leads to the percussive "A Little Too Much," and "Good To You."
"Cruisin' For A Bluesin'" and "Instrumental" end the CD on a strong blues note, albeit with a metallic sheen. Throughout, the music has inventive and different touches. At points, it sounds like someone grafted ZZ Top onto Mile's Davis's "Street Corner Talking" album, and at others, did a street mix of Herbie Mann and a very punky Savoy Brown.
This is an interesting CD, and although I've described many of the modern trappings in the sound, it is clearly a very blues-oriented set that does move the left field boundaries out further. To paraphrase a famous New York critic, Robert Christgau, while some bands have explored what you can take out of the blues, this dynamic New York band answers the question, how much can you add and still call it blues?
I doubt CeLange is a pure blues band, even if most who
hear it comment that it does sound very blues-oriented. It is
obvious that this group listens to the blues and loves the
music. For all the volume and electricity flying about in
the sound, it's still clearly from the Delta, where a lot of
pretty wild characters used to play the blues just as loud.
BIG TAYLOR & LEE ROY, THE RAINMAKERS: "The Blues: Man's Best Friend"
(1996 Independent Cassette)
Big Taylor & Lee Roy, aka Britt Monk and Steve Rohe respectively, are an acoustic blues duo that reinterpret classic pre-war blues with a humorous 90's sensibility. Another way to look at it is to say that it brings back the often bawdy outlook that tended to be muted in modern interpretations and essays on the subject.
In other words, 60's rock critics and artists found it easier to relate to Robert Johnson's inner demons than lyrics about putting the sauce in the jellyroll. I mean, really, which is more fun?
Now, obviously, that's an oversimplification as the era had a wide variety of blues forms. Most of the raunchy stuff tended to be done by the hokum and jug band artists...not that Charley Patton didn't do bawdy stuff (he's one of the earliest documented guitarists to play the instrument behind his head as a stunt).
The earliest blues that reached the English shores, that inspired pioneers as Alexis Korner (leading to the Mayalls and so on), were often hokum and jug blues. The genre helped inspire the "skiffle craze" that even members of the Beatles got their start in (the entire process will be the subject of a full feature article in a future issue).
I give this background as sometimes there is a tendency to perceive humorous or bawdy blues as trite, or less hard core. However, the blues would be seen less as a "sad" or "lowdown" music had all the various forms come down through time and the humor and life of the blues seen by all in all.
The Rainmakers have a hokum or jug band sensibility, but their music also incorporates such genres as black string band and delta blues. In particular, the rhythmns have an energetic Atlanta or string band blues feel.
The tape begins with a lively, "Hound Dog," which has both playing very active guitar parts in a delta jump, leading to the string band-style "Drunken Woman Blues." It's a great sing-a-long type number. Next up is, "King Snake," a delta slide boogie, followed by an adaptation of Big Bill Broonzy's "Mississippi River Blues," featuring a newer, different arrangement with 12 string guitar. Closing the side is the jugband style "Bang Bang! Thud Thud!" which explores the age old theme of being shot by one's woman.
Side two opens on a bawdy note, with "Creak'n Bedsprings," in which the title says it all. Tommy McClennon's "Whiskey Headed Man," is next, sporting a new arrangement, followed by "Slick Willy Blues," in which again, the title says it all. Given that the two are Vietnam Veterans, their song may be humorous, but it has a real bite to it.
"Mister, Mister" is a swinging blues, and the second side closes with the breakneck boogie woogie, "Le Machine," which also features some nice accordian.
This is a very entertaining set by a couple of excellent musicians who have chosen a narrower field of blues out of their love for the music, and it shows. It's a release that deserves support from those who love the acoustic blues.
THE SOUTH PASADENA BIRTHDAY PARTY
WITH DOUG SIMPSON
THIS ISSUE: A Look At John Fahey's "City of Refuge"
Editor's Note: Those who have read the Snake for a long time will recognize Doug from his prior work with me on our momumental John Fahey annotated discography, which so far has achieved the same obscurity as the subject.
However, Doug and I agree on one thing...if there were no official John Fahey reviewer for the Snake, it would be necessary to create one. In that respect, Doug will help keep the flame alive.
John Fahey is back, and back in form, with "City of Refuge" (out now on alternative-music label Tim/Kerr, distributed through Mercury Records). And there's no mystery why Fahey has released this album via a record company usually linked with alternative-music bands. "City of Refuge" shows that Fahey's idiosyncratic music is more "alternative" than most music slogged with that musical label.
Fahey's best, most interesting work as been his experimental work. He's mixed aspects and techniques of artists like Charley Patton and Skip James with sometimes obvious and sometimes obscure elements from 20th century classical and North Indian music, jazz harmony, rock and roll, old pop music, traditional Christian hymns, and Christmas tunes.
"City of Refuge" carries on that Fahey "tradition." In the liner notes (which are more pointed than some of the cryptic liner notes of previous decades), Fahey points out, "I do not, and have never thought of myself as a "folk" musician or a new age musician, guitarist, or sympathizer...In all my music I have never tried to do anything except express emotions...in a coherent, musical language."
In a real sense, this record should be listed in record stores in the "alternative rock" section, the folk section (if you must) and the blues section, although it certainly doesn't "fit" the musical profile (narrowly defined by many critics and retail music workers) of any specific musical genre.
The opening track ("Fanfare") quickly makes the point that this isn't a "typical" Fahey release...this is not another "Blind Joe Death" album. "Fanfare" begins with an audio verite slice that could just as easily fit onto a moody Tom Waits album, and then slides into a distorted guitar solo that at first listen might sound like it was lifted from a Grateful Dead concert tape (don't be fooled, like much of Fahey's work, there's more going on here than first meets the ear). "Fanfare" has the sound quality of something lo-fi, with what could be an air-conditioner or a film projector running in the background. But Fahey is very clear about the underlying motive for the piece; this is more a piece of the present and the future, than related to some of his previous work that has explored some of America's forgotten musical culture.
The next piece, "The Mill Pond," is one of the more "Fahey-traditional" pieces on "City of Refuge," meaning it's a slide-guitar composition that uses the blues as a stepping stone, and is very similar to Fahey's early 60s work. That's followed by "Chelsey Silver, Please Come Home," which fans of his older work (or those only familiar with his greatest hits collections) will also enjoy.
The hallmark is the two-part, 20-minute long 'music-novella' title track. This is concert music that won't be played in your local concert hall; a soundtrack of the mind (Fahey's and now the listeners') best experienced with your favorite combustible (liquid and/or otherwise) with the lights down low. If you're in a hurry to go somewhere, don't try playing this in your car stereo (although it makes the long, slow movement called rush hour much more transcendent). "City of Refuge" is a fully-realized composition that reworks a basic melody into a very responsive work. It employs some familiar-sounding, harmonous blues syncopations, and is similar to prevous epic works found on albums like "Requia" or "Fare Forward Voyagers."
The last real song is "Hope Slumbers Eternal." Fahey says it is an ode to Hope Sandoval, the monotone-hued singer for the slow-chorded, lethargic, neopsychedelic band Mazzy Star, which makes the connection between Fahey and alternative-rock musicians at least symbolic. It reprises some of the background lo-fi sound found in the opening song, and includes an excellent slide guitar performance.
On previous Fahey albums, there's sometimes at least one creative effort that doesn't thrill the ears, which bring us to the satirical but unlistenable track, "On The Death and Disembowelment of the New Age." This 20-minute tape-collage of found sounds includes what suspiciously sounds like cheap science-fiction film special effect audio, mixed with bits of classical music perhaps lifted from late-night TV movies, industrial noise, and ends (as the album begins) with a train whistle. Only for the most die-hard fans of industrial noise (Throbbing Gristle did this better 20 years ago). Throw this one on when your late-night guests don't show any sign of leaving, and they'll ask for the coats. Fahey has pointed out in many interviews his distaste for "mellow" New Age music (he says in the liner notes that "...I despise 'New Age' music, even though Will Ackerman or some other equally obnoxious person might accuse me of being the grandfather of New Age guitar..."), and this piece at least makes his feelings on that subject more than clear.
For the most part, I highly recommend this album, especially if you're already familiar with Fahey's work. If not, then I suggest picking up either his Takoma "Best Of" collection, the Vanguard "Essential John Fahey" or the more recent Rhino release "Return of the Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology."
South Pasadena, CA
Review copyright 1997 by Doug Simpson
FEATURE CLASSIC REVIEW:
"A Blues 12 String Guitar Giant"
Although one of the relatively rarer instruments in the blues, the 12 string is also one of the most listenable and produces a tone most listeners find attractive. This tone is achieved not simply by having 12 strings, or more specifically, six sets of two, but with some strings being of different thicknesses on the bass (thicker) positions. This give each string a richer, more open sound, and can make even the simplest music sound quite good. In fact, most players don't play fast, they tend to use arrangements that let each note or chord ring out, and at times, it can be almost hypnotic.
Which begs the question, why don't more people play the twelve string?
One reason is that it is a major league hassle to tune the thing, and unless you have a very good one with low strings, it's hard to press the strings down. This can make fast playing difficult, as one has to finger two strings for each note.
This isn't a minor point. Most of your early bluesmen were fingerpickers, and this type of guitar is very hard to pick cleanly, particularly the lower bass notes. Artists such as Blind Blake, who used very fast bass techniques (called in some cases, alternating bass) would find it almost impossible to maintain a fast, steady rhythm.
Slide players would also find it difficult. In the lower strings, some sets are of different thicknesses, which would make it hard to play full chords.
Also, it's hard to find a cheap 12 string. All those strings put a severe strain on the guitar neck, so it rarely works to make a cheapo version as the neck will warp and guitar will become more suitable for bow hunting.
Now, I'm obviously being somewhat facetious, but the reasons above aren't that far from the truth. One additional reason is that a 12 string has a very distinctive sound, and like, say, a banjo, can tend to dictate how one will play it. In other words, play it, and you'll sound like a 12 string guitar player.
This isn't to say that there aren't great players. Leo Kottke, for example, plays the twelve as fast as any six string picker. Leadbelly was famous for his twelve string sound, although he was more of a songster than a blues artist, and rarely used it for more than accompaniment to his great voice.
In many of the sources I've read, this guitar was considered a distinctive feature of the Georgia style, centered around the city of Atlanta. This wasn't a hard and fast rule, as many of those artists freely switched between 12 and 6 string models, particularly when playing slide numbers.
There were some idiosyncrasis that would be discernable to someone who listens closely. The rhythm often tended to be in self-contained ideas, moving from one to the next, giving the beat a jagged feel. This could often result in songs where one verse had eight bars (of four beats each), and the following with ten, and vice versa.
Often, fingerpicking technique was often a mix of picked notes and rapid, hard strumming, or simply the latter. This sometimes has been explained as a means of using the big tone to cover lack of skill. A more on target explanation might be that the broad nature of the music produced by a 12 stringer enhanced many an unschooled and idiosyncratic technician. It wasn't easy to play that rapid, smooth roll of a Blind Blake, but then, no one ever really has since on any kind of guitar.
Here's a review about one of the most prominent of the Atlanta 12 stringers, and as you read on, you'll find that he went much further than the catagory they were placed in by scholars decades after their careers.
BARBECUE BOB: "Chocolate To The Bone" (Yazoo 2005 Cassette)
Barbecue Bob was one of the most successful 20's Blues artists, recording 68 sides, of which, 65 still survive. This tape contains 20 of the best of his output, covering a span of only four years before his death in 1931.
He's not very well known to the average blues fan, although his arrangement of "Motherless Chile Blues" was probably the one Eric Clapton used on his own version on his recent Blues tribute release and unplugged performance on MTV. There's nothing in his style, dynamic as it was, that could be said to have influenced any modern artists (say, like Robert Johnson did).
However, he was a superior vocalist with one of the most listenable voices of that era, and an excellent 12 string guitar player. His guitar playing was at times simplistic, but had a rhythmic drive that is compelling.
Those who followed blues in the 60's got a glimpse of this now relatively obscure artist on the legendary "Story of the Blues" double record set, which featured him along with such legends as Charlie Patton. Most listeners may have found his picture of him dressed in a cook's outfit playing his guitar less than compelling in a time where the sharecropper look may have been more in line with the proper image of a bluesman. However, they were all showmen, even Robert Johnson, and the fact that Barbecue Bob sold more records than the legend was no accident. That same amiable look, laid back voice and ringing twelve string sound sounds no less attractive today than it must have been in countless jukes in the South.
Bob was a leading practitioner of the "Georgia Style" blues, and frankly, that's a distinction the average listener can just file away in his or her brain as background, or to perhaps mystify some neophyte happening to wander by while Clapton's "Motherless Chile" is playing.
There are some regional characteristics, which the average ear won't really recognize, other than the fact that many artists in the Atlanta region played 12 strings. Which probably isn't totally true anyway, but does help catagorize things I imagine for those trying to quantify an art form.
The set opens with a masterpiece, a driving strummed version of "Motherless Chile Blues." If you've heard the Clapton cover, then just picture it a little harder edged, and with a higher pitched Black voice. It's an arrangement that sounds very modern even by today's standards, and alone is worth the price of this tape.
A lively Delta Slide number follows, "Spider and the Fly," which puts a romantic spin on the old food chain business, and a driving Bukka White type slide boogie called "Yo Yo Blues." It's another classic, and his smooth rapid fire vocals match the chugging guitar perfectly.
The lament, "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues," comes next, followed by rapidly strummed "California Blues," which features some very slick chord riffs. The jugband style "She's Coming Back Some Cold 2Rainy Day," with a melody similiar to "Sun Going To Shine On My Back Door Someday," albeit with some excellent instrumental breaks by the band. Some of you may find this version more attractive.
"Barbecue Blues" follows, and is similiar to the Motherless Chile arrangement, but with more emphasis on melodic guitar work. This leads to a rather out of tune version of "Saints Go Marching In" that made me wince a bit. "Ease It To Me Blues," features a minor chord arrangement that has a suspended chord feel. The side ends with "Poor Boy A Long Way From Home," a nice medium tempo version of the classic, with some simple, but strong slide work by Bob.
A rollicking "Diddle-Da-Diddle" opens the second side, which is a "Diddy Wa Diddie" variant, and don't ask me what it means. I knew a few years ago, but have since forgotten. It's a cool version, and stands up well to similiar performance by contemporaries like Blind Blake.
"Going Up The Country" is next, followed by "Atlanta Moan," a medium tempo rag blues. This leads to "Good Time Rounder," another nice delta style slide number that reminds one of Charlie Patton, but with a more accessible vocal. Another slide workout, "It's Just Too Bad," is next, followed by the chugging, ""Twistin' Your Stuff." "Chocolate To The Bone," comes next, leading to "Black Skin Blues," which again is similiar to the Motherless Chile arrangement. The lyrics aren't a revelation to those who know that skunks can stink a place out, but it's pretty funny hearing it as a passionate blues song. "Jacksonville Blues," features a guest female on vocals, Nellie Florence, who delivers a lively, if not legendary effort. The side ends with "She Shook Her Gin," which is another Diddy variant, with a little slide thrown in.
It's difficult to put artists like Barbecue Bob into modern context. Except for the Clapton cover, one really can't trace any influence he had on any modern players or singers. In the end, one just simply says that he was one of the best in his time, possibly the best of the Georgia Bluesmen, and unlike many of his contemporaries, pretty accessible to all but the most closed minded ears.
You may respect Charlie Patton's music a lot more than you like
listening to it, but Bob's presents no such contradiction. His music
was easy to like back then, and it's easy to like now. Somewhere, one
must think, there is more than substantial worth in that.
CLASSIC BLUES REVIEWS
Bukka White is one of my own personal favorites in the acoustic blues. He played what was called a "primitive" form of guitar, which was used to provide a rhythmic bottom for his improvisational storytelling. His slide technique was fairly simple, yet had the kind of feel that could make a 20 minute song go by as fast as a two minute single.
Bukka's most famous performances were "Parchment Farm" and the definitive version of "Poor Boy Long Ways From Home."
Bukka didn't benefit as much from the 60's blues boom as others had. He had recorded eight sides in the 30's, and like Skip James, didn't make a big impact in the 20's and 30's.
However, the recordings survived and were heard by folk-blues
guitarist John Fahey, who tracked Bukka down via a letter simply
Bukka White - Blues Singer Aberdeen, Miss
Sure enough, the postmaster there knew of him and Bukka was found. This resulted in the resumption of his musical career which included an early recording for the old Takoma label, and more for Arhoolie.
As I had said, he didn't benefit as much from that 60's rock and blues boom as the focus was often on guitar playing. The technically adept ones, like Reverend Gary Davis often found more exposure, while those with mimimal technique like Bukka often were appreciated more by the hard core blues fans who knew where the emphasis was; not on flashy guitar licks but on his great and powerful voice.
Bukka was actually very complex in the truest sense as far as traditional blues were concerned. A great bluesman was also a compelling voice above all else. If he was a superior guitarist, so much the better, but your true bluesmen were, with only a few exceptions, great singers.
White had a powerful voice, sort of like a Louis Armstrong who was singing blues instead of jazz. It was a voice so big and rough it became warm in tone. It was totally listenable and could carry a story that absorbed your attention and made even a 60 minute song seem short.
Like a true old time bluesman, he was a great storyteller. When Bukka did a train blues (and no one ever did that kind better) the imagery would flow on and on. A song was literally a journal set to a delta boogie, with a sense of personal detail that would rival any novel by James Joyce.
The first thing the listener will notice is that the tape lists only seven songs, yet claims over an hour of music. My first act was to scan the liner for a "includes these songs" qualifier. Nope...just seven LONG songs.
However, the first song about the old Bald Eagle train going to Los Angeles just pulls you in, with an infectious beat by washboardist Big Willie Wayne, with great boogie vamping and slide fills by Bukka, all wrapped around his big, engaging voice.
Such commonplace incidents like a reststop at Lighthouse, a small California town, are enlivened by such stories as the one about a monkey there selling peanuts, and how smart it was when it caught him trying to pay a nickel for a fifteen cent bag. Bukka wasn't trying to cheat the monkey, of course, he thought the bags were a nickel. As he relates, "the monkey had more sense than most people" and pointed to a sign stating the correct price.
In one sense, it's a very ordinary incident on a long train trip, but added to all the other narrative snapshots and you have a little piece of history more alive and vivid than a photograph. We'll never see much of that small town California again, but it did exist, and capturing those small incidents during a train ride was something a bluesman, or more specifically, a good storyteller did best.
"Single Man Blues" comes next, and features Bukka on what has to be admitted is "primitive" piano. While it's not exactly Otis Spann, it's good enough to accompany a voice that could stand on it's own without instrumental support. It has an "in your living room" piano feel, and the vocal improvisations are on a par with good John Lee Hooker (who was a quite similiar artist).
"Georgia Skin Game" is a slow, classic Delta style blues about the evils of gambling. It moves along slowly, yet fluidly with an internal rhythm matched exactly to Bukka's thoughts on the matter. Once again, instead of just telling it's bad for your soul, he describes in a chilling series of vignettes; a descent from the joyous early thrills to the depravity of eventually betting one's own wife to stake one last bet.
"Jesus Died On The Cross To Save The World," was written in response to producer Chris Strachwitz's request to come up with a number similiar to "Poor Boy." Those who've never heard his great original version of "Poor Boy," can hear a variant on it here.
"Sugar Hill" is a medium tempo piano blues, and is the lightest number musically, but given real substance by a great vocal performance.
Next is a tough slow blues called "My Baby," and it moves along with a mean edge and superb sense of mood, leading to the boogie "Alabama Blues," which describes in lively fashion a strong desire to never go back, and it closes off the set with the same energy that started it.
Like most of you, I listen to a variety of blues. These days, it can take so many forms and encompass so many new (and often innovative) influences.
While that is good, quite often I find myself feeling a bit dissatisfied with it all anyway. Blues can be made to sound better with modern recording techniques, and it can certainly be made to sell better with better marketing and a large celebrity bandwagon.
In the midst of all this great sounding music, it's good to keep some recordings around like Bukka's, to remind us that all the old bluesmen and blues women needed back then was their voices, maybe an instrument or two, and a lot of soul.
People like Bukka made music out of what God gave them, with
maybe a guitar and a slide, and that, more than any digital tape
machine or computer generated animation, is real magic.
THE BOOGIE UNDERGROUND BLUES THINK TANK
The Boogie Underground is a collection of blues thinkers (by their own definition) who purport to expound on, and clarify various blues mysteries and questions. They were a popular feature (again by their own definition) in the old paper Snake days and have reunited again to bring their special brand of entertainment to the cyber version of the Snake.
The Boogie Underground Speaks:
My goodness Al, what a magnificent introduction. Calling our consensus-based solutions to the blues question "entertainment." We fall to our knees and worship your beneficient gesture of giving. If we had prayer rugs, we'd drop and supine ourselves in your general direction, which given your bathing habits, can always be discerned by pointing our noses skywards.
We at the Boogie Underground are not taken in by Al's thinly veiled attempt to snooker the worker class in regards to his capitalist buccaneer free market policies, which circumvent known Federal laws against dumping by using a basterdized free internet philosophy to cover a sissy and pathetic attempt to capture market share via the free sample question.
One classic example of this overweening silver spooned poseur's true character is in his sarcastic, and we might add, laughably ineffective attempt to discredit the Boogie Underground merchandise line, which included the now classic Elmore James drip coffee maker and the Robert Johnson combination acoustic guitar and can opener.
The defiant roar of the worker classes's laughter drowned out his mewling and absurd attacks upon their personal comfort and freedom, and their struggle to control the means of production, and in true democratic fashion, voted with their hard earned dollars, earned by their sweat and hard labor. A revolutionary act that will be forever incomprehensible to a slimy dollar worshipping banana slug like Al Handa.
Now that we have given proper thanks, we at the Boogie Underground will continue our crusade to help define the blues spirit in terms that our worker brothers can understand, and take the Delta Snake out of the torrid and humid galley slave atmosphere that this Free Booting Plunderer who calls himself a blue publisher has created. Luckily, there aren't enough exploitable children in the world he can export writing jobs to in the oppressed Third World or else this rag would be manufactured in a sweat shop.
Editor's Note: Due to my illness, I was unable to finish typing up the Boogie Underground's inaugural online treatise. I apologize for the interrupted text but as they are a regular feature now, I'm sure they can continue where they left off.
BLUES POETRY BY PEGGY LEYVA CONLEY
* Blue Rain Many clouds hoover over the valley way The crying is all the same Rain keeps pouring down Raining blues they say It calls out your name there is a man and women in pain Keep crying all night long Sometimes it takes the blues to come out of you before your healing starts to take place. - copyright 1997 by Pegga Leyva-Conley * Your Own Heart The colored glass sprang into the real color hidden it was no longer new and fresh it was colored red and blue for the truth of you was not shown your colors showed in the end you where not pure in heart you lied to yourself you used another for the sake of your own heart the one you really loved you lost. - copyright 1997 by Pegga Leyva-Conley * Move On Over Let the Blues Master in He wants to Heal you He knows just what to do He is the medicine man Doctor Hook He has all the moves He has the groove He has a voice that will knock out any girl, lady, women out down on their feet they already know his name his fame Age don?t matter He has it all A Heart of Gold that don't lie He is a solid sender King Of the Boogie Here he comes Move on over he is going to take over the power is going to get you Move you take you up to higher ground He will spell bound you Knocking you to the ground His voice will go through out your body, and soul He has the spirit to possess his audience He can make them dance at his command He can take them down so low and then do a number to bring them back into his control Doing the Boogie putting you into a deep trance He demands all you got because he is hot He is John Lee Hooker - copyright 1997 by Pegga Leyva-Conley --------------------------------------------------------------------- * Watch Out Baby Watch out baby they are moving in on you Making me feel good Cause they know what is going on inside Oh yeah' Baby, this woman is going to walk the walk and talk the talk Watch out Baby cause I?m coming through the door There is not stopping the flood gates are opened wide All it took was the Blues enough to move this women on through The Boogie Beat has up lifted me inside out I know it well It is the Healer Let me through the gates High Heel shoes Red lip Stick On He knows how to make her feel this way... He has been waiting seven years too long Strut that stuff let your hair hang down Cause baby here she comes... - copyright 1997 by Pegga Leyva-Conley Peggy Leyva Conley, is a published Author in the American Poetry Anthology, Volume VI, numbers Five edition 1986, for established Poets edited in Santa Cruz, California. She is also included in the ``Best New Poets of 1987, and 1988'' edition for the American Poetry Association. She has been published in the Delta Snake, a Blues Publication out of California for her Poetry on the Blues, Teledyne Times Newsletter, San Benito Magazine, Summer Edition 1992 for her poetry edited, and published in Hollister, California. Her work is currently featured on the Netscape, World Wide Web under ``The Live Poetry Society''. Peggy is an accomplished Artist, specializing in Acrylics, Watercolor, and Charcoal. She has received the San Benito Artists Merit Award Scholarship in recognition of Achievement, Character, and High Scholarship in 1981, and has been presented numerous Art Awards from participation in such shows as the San Benito County Fair, Gavilan College Library Gallery, Hollister Elks Lodge, San Benito County Library, Gilroy City Hall, and has shown work at the Artists Society International Art Show held in San Francisco, California including local restraunts. She has also been in local Free-Lance write-ups for exhibiting her art work. ==================================================================== BLUES POETRY BY JUDI ANN OHR ==================================================================== * Hammond B3 If you take a great song, a great singer, and a great musician too I speak of Deacon Jones on his Hammand what?s new? Moving a Hammond so heavy around, it?s like a motorcycle You?d take it to the Levy A resonate sound A deep tone resound the Hammond B3, it?s been around. - copyright 1997 by Judi Ann Ohr * Accept the Conditions The conditions, and the human factors of the time John Lee Hooker born in Clarksdale, born to Sing the blues and write songs that Rhyme... Born in 1917, the historian of the Music Scene The Boogie King some say - Dock Hook, his Riffs are Mean.. The Acceptance of the conditions at each time in history John Lee Hooker with blues that?s satisfactory. Boogie and the Blues, with up-tempo and who knows how down and dirty accept the conditions with songs so mild and flirty. - copyright 1997 by Judi Ann Ohr * The Dream Living with no daily dehumanization Living with the capacity to forgive the dream is mine and his. Believe in the dream...yes, indeed Believe in the History, there?s words to read. The dream is for all including elders and kids, too. The dream is both old and new who wants to own the world, who can make it a better place, who wants to join the Jones?s in the rat race people living massively depressed over the human condition in 1997.. Money? Comes and goes..Yes, seven come eleven. The dream, the dream with lots to give The dream, with blues and boogie and a life to live... - copyright 1997 by Judi Ann Ohr * Musicians Musicians wait all day to play one set at night Musicians travel, live threw dramatic tension too... Musicians enjoy their sonic geology Musicians give music it?s never ending history. Musicians experience joy and satisfaction maximums Musicians stay in tune with the times, some ride in taxis and even a mini-bus at times. - copyright 1997 by Judi Ann Ohr * Style A style of music new and old A style that suits modern day fashion, the blues has told songs designed to wake you up and the singer as well stories told and songs to sing personal style, sound all so well. With music as the style and art, a real education style and interpretation with dissatisfaction, a real human frustration a style of music note for note a style of music anyone can quote. - copyright 1997 by Judi Ann Ohr * Musicians Musicians have a bad reputation to begin with... Musicians, musicians, all kinds of myth?s Irresponsible anarchist, the labels are not new Musicians, organized and working with many crews Musicians, connected to musicians and a life so great working with cords that wait. - copyright 1997 by Judi Ann Ohr * Backstage Backstage for me is always a trip, A trip that?s hip Backstage protocol, hey let me explain, Backstage what to do, is buzzing in my brain. Backstage is a place to stay away from continuously Backstage, ego?s, arguments upstage continuities. Backstage comments, introduction, this is she and he and he... Backstage, hey you all, now I?ll write the history. - copyright 1997 by Judi Ann Ohr Producer Judi Ann Ohr, Co-Author of The Whole Earth Cookbook, The Ecology Cookbook, and official biographer on the life of legendary John Lee Hooker, known as the Boogie King. ---------------------------------------------------------------- WHERE TO GET THE DELTA SNAKE ---------------------------------------------------------------- The Delta Snake Blues News is available to you at: * Gary Joneson's Blues Web on the World Wide Web: http://www.island.net/~blues/snake.html * Metro Livewire (Boulevards): http://www.boulevards.com/blvds/art/ * rec.music.bluenote.blues (internet newsgroup) * rec.music.bluenote (internet newsgroup) * Delphi Music Archives (delphi.com) * For email delivery to your account: email@example.com Note: AOL mail buffer holds a maximum of 26,000K so email version to AOL edited down to fit. 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