I've got a new friend in Jouni Hyytiainen from Finland. He contacted me wanting to read and write reviews for their blues magazine, Blues News http://bluesnews.fi/index_eng.thm He scanned this jpg for me. Pretty cool.
Back in the day, before I had amassed a substantial blues collection, I had a penchant to buy compilations of the blues. Mostly, from reputable reissue labels like Yazoo and Document for the pre-war stuff and Rhino and later the artists from the Columbia label issued by Sony just to get a taste from blues artists that weren't yet in my collection. Prior to that, though, I'd fall for the cheap cassettes on display at convenient stores. Most of them were a hodge podge thrown together with questionable quality. Every now and then I hit on a gem of recordings from the vaults of Jewel or Excello. Blues racks in chain record stores (lots of those have disappeared, along with shelves of blues recordings) always had examples in the various artists slots that screamed "Essential" or "Definitive" collections. Some of these also were excellent, but most fell into the convenient store category with no liner notes or misspelling of the artists names, or attributing a cut to a blues man that was actually sung by someone else.
I quit buying these long ago, since I had recordings by those artists represented on the compilations and I had many well produced "Best Of" or the "Complete" recordings by them from reputable sources. Well meaning friends and family, looking for some sort of gift for me, have from time to time given me compilation CDs over the course of time. Some are great and some fit the other category, but in most cases they contain songs that I've heard many times over.
Around my birthday last year, I received several such gifts. One was an "Essential" disc of blues "In the Beginning" that was alright, but chocked full of the old warhorses that really didn't peak my interest. Then there was this one that was a pleasant surprise. The cover looked pretty cheesy and the title "Voodoo Blues The Devil Within" seemed just as suspect. The music proved other wise.
The disc caught my daughter's eye as she was looking for Halloween costumes for her kids. Don't recall where, but since it had a spooky theme, it was on display for the occasion. The music on the disc all has something to do with the devil or voodoo or hoodoo. The liner notes explain the compiler's reasoning for the selection and the dates and composers are listed, so that is a plus. It is a two disc collection of forty songs, so I certainly will not touch on all of them. With the handful of old chestnuts, it contain blues that I hadn't heard before. I will start, though, by mentioning the songs with blues harp represented.
There are of course, the ones that have been in my house for a long time. Howlin' Wolf's "Evil (Is Going On)" and "I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)", Sonny Boy Williamson I's "I Been Dealing With The Devil" and "Hoodoo Hoodoo" (made more famous by Junior Wells), Sonny Boy Williamson II's "Your Funeral and My Trial", and Jimmy Reed's "I Know It's A Sin" are those that I've listened to many times. The value is in those that I'm not familiar with hearing. Or, at least, I don't recall them. I've heard John Lee Hooker's "Burnin' Hell", but not this version containing an insistent, well played harmonica riff. I'm only assuming that it is Eddie Kirkland. I'm just not sure that he was on board for this 1949 session. If not, then I don't know who blew the blues on this one. I didn't waste a ton time researching any of these cuts, and it doesn't really matter because the music speaks for itself.
Same with Otis Spann's 1954 "I'd Rather Be The Devil". Not only is he backed by a good harp man, but with some mighty fine single picked guitar notes wailing throughout the song. Yeah, I know Muddy Waters' band backed him on plenty of songs, but I don't believe this is the case hear. I did find information listing B.B. King and Jody Williams as guitarist on "Must Have Been The Devil", which surprised me. A 1954 version of that song is included here, but the strange thing is that it only has Spann's piano. I'll go out on a limb and say that my internet source confuses the two songs and maybe Walter Horton wails on the harp. Just a guess, though.
I can't recall hearing Robert Cooksey before, but he plays some rapid, clean harp notes on "Black Cat Bone" along with the singing and guitar playing by Bobby Leecan, who this song is attributed to on this 1927 recording. Never really knew the source of this often recorded blues tune.
I've never invested in much in the way of piano blues music, but it's my loss that I haven't bought any of Champion Jack Dupree's stuff. Great musician's (especially the sax player) back him on "Evil Woman", "Bad Blood" and "Nasty Blues". Never paid much attention to Screamin' Jay Hawkins, either, writing him off as not my cup of tea, and yeah, he's sorta hokey, but the musicians he employs are top notch. His "I Put A Spell On You" kicks off the disc and I've heard it plenty of times over the years, but it works great on this compilation. Actually, it is the only song that I've ever listened to by the strange fellow, but "Little Demon" proves that he was more than a one trick pony.
I'm sure I've got recordings that Washboard Sam has played on, too, but I've never heard "She Belongs To The Devil". This 1941 tune is dang fine blues playing. Other's that are just as fine, and just as unfamiliar to me are by the gals Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey.
The sophisticated blues by T-Bone Walker is represented by "Evil Hearted Woman" and "Street Walking Woman". He'll always be one of my favorites, so it's nice that these songs are worked into the mix. In the same vein, Louis Jordan, jumps and jives on "Someone Done Hoodooed The Hoodoo Man", which invites comparison to Sonny Boy Williamson I's version on the same theme. Both were recorded in 1940.
Of course, you can't have music about the devil without including, Robert Johnson, who made a career out of running from hellhounds, so his "Me and The Devil" and "Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil) are included here. Same can be said for Skip James' "Devil Got My Woman".
Another one of my all time favorites is Elmore James and he's represented here with "Sinful Woman". For those unfamiliar with anything other that his superb slide guitar this one shows that he could dang well pick out some mighty fine single notes.
Okay, I'm done. Just had to mention that this is a fine compilation, especially to cue up during the Halloween season. I did seek out information on Not Now Music. They are a UK company (no surprise there, those Euros put out some fine reissues) and produce tons of compilations and reissue albums, not only by blues artists, but rockabilly, jazz, rock n roll, etc...There website contains lots of stuff that can probably not be found easily elsewhere. Just don't know how cheap it would be to order and ship from there. 'Nuff for now.
Along with Otis Rush, Bobby Bland, B.B. King, and Elmore James, Magic Sam ranks as one of my all time favorite blues singers. Very few have ever come close to matching the emotional intensity that burst from the man. The same can be said about his innovative guitar playing.
Story goes that Samuel Gene Maghett's last name sounded so close to the word "magic" that his bass player tabbed him with the moniker, Magic Sam. I'm sure that ol' Mack took into account the magic that he coaxed from the six strings of his guitar. His late '50s singles for the Cobra label, along with those by his stable mates Otis Rush and Buddy Guy and also Freddy King, ended up being coined Chicago's West Side blues style. Not sure where the term originated, but someone apparently felt the need to distinguish the style, prominently featuring the electric guitar in more of a solo role, as being different than what Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf were laying down. Buddy Guy will tell you that there was no such thing as a blues style indigenous to that side of Chicago, that they played their blues all over the city. I'm assuming that the name was in play before Delmark signed Sam and released the perennial desert island album, West Side Soul. If not, then the label certainly perpetrated the use of the term.
By the time Magic Sam recorded for Delmark in 1967 he had been playing the blues clubs in Chicago from the first time he set foot in the city at the age of nineteen in 1950. His tremolo laden guitar and his esteemed vocals, dripping with vibrato, were caught on record by Cobra between 1957-59. His tunes "All Your Love" and "Easy Baby" captured exactly what set his style apart from those around him, with heavy chords augmenting the sharp, single picked notes from his axe. In other words, playing rhythm guitar while slinging notes. And, much like Otis Rush from that same period, his vocals proved to be as much of an instrument in the blues as his guitar, as every word dripped with emotion and cried out deep feeling.
Anyway, he died way too young of a heart attack at 32. West Side Soul and the follow up, Black Magic, were all he left us with in terms of studio albums. His Cobra and Chief recordings are available. After his death, live recordings surfaced with examples of his genius, and were indeed magic. My personal favorite has always been Live at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival from 1969. After showing up with his bass player and borrowing a guitar, he lit the audience up with his guitar work and superb vocals. After the appearance, his reputation spread way beyond the club scene. His live album from the Alex Club is great too, but doesn't come close to the raw abandon that he unleashed on the Ann Arbor. It did provide a excellent snapshot of Sam working in his home environment. The only drawback to both is that the quality of the recordings leave a bit to be desired, but neither diminishes the quality of the musicianship on display. I have both these albums on vinyl, but I think that Delmark has package them both for CD. They also released a recording of Sam playing at home some years back.
Fast forward a few decades later, Delmark has release a set that was recorded in 1968 at a folkie type club in Milwaukee. My friends, this recording languished way too long in the hands of Jim Charne, who caught the magic of Magic that night, and not to have been shared with the rest of us. Damn worth waiting for, though. From the opening notes of Freddy King's instrumental, "San-Ho-Zay", to the ending, trendy 'Hully Gully Twist', this recording captures what Magic Sam was all about in his element, ripping it up in a club. The difference between here and the Alex Club is that his audience is mostly a white one. Aurally, it is the best live representation of what his audiences enjoyed. It's all here. Tune into any cut and be amazed by the talent of the man. The vibrato in his voice on Lowell Fulson's "It's All Your Fault" is other-worldly and few can match the heartbreak that those vocals elicit. It's also a great example of his interpretation of the blues penned by others. He owns the songs here written by the aforementioned Freddy King and Fulson, along with Junior Wells' 'Come On In This House", Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man", Muddy Waters' "Still A Fool", Otis Rush's "All You Love (I Miss Loving)", Jimmy Rogers' "That's All Right", and Jimmy McCracklin's "Everynight Everyday". That's quite a feat, given that these songs were so associated with their composers. They were far from being old warhorse blues tunes back in 1968, though.
Of course, having released West Side Soul the year before, he thrilled the club goers with his own material. "You Belong To Me" can't be beat for an example of his rhythm guitar workout while he sings his lungs out. The set includes one of my favorite slow blues by the man. If anyone really wants to know what the blues is all about just point them to "Bad Luck Blues". Stone cold blues dripping with high pitched, tortured vocals and exquisite guitar riffs. Both of Magic Sam's studio releases offered up servings of Soul and Rhythm and Blues. His jaunty, jumping "That's All I Need" is a prime example of his talents in regards to those sub-genres. He kicks off the instrumental "Hully Gully Twist" with some Elmore James' inspired riffing before rocking the house like Chuck Berry.
Live at the Avant Garde instantly joins West Side Soul on my desert island list. Yes, it is not a professionally recorded live recording, but the sound quality is head and shoulders above what came before it. Every blues fan needs to have this one in their library. For those unfamiliar with this blues master, this is as good a place as any to experience the genius of the bluesman. Heck, I bought three discs as Christmas presents just to share the Magic. 'Nuff for now.
My Howling Mountain Blues manuscript has been signed, sealed and delivered to my publisher. Hopefully, it'll meet with approval and will see the light of day some time in 2014. My wife broke with tradition, took a peek at it, and put her editing eye to it before I sent it off this time. Helped a ton! She thinks it's the best of the three featuring my crime fighting bluesmen. I think I mentioned that I sent my blues harp men, Mitty and Pete, down to Belize to back up hotshot guitarist, Wyatt 'Earp' Ringold at a blues festival. Of course, blues and trouble always follow Mitty and Pete, so they got to deal with more that reeds going flat on their harmonicas.
Just got my copy of Blues Music Magazine in the mail today. Their inaugural issue. Don't know if anyone here subscribes to blues magazines, but if you subscribed to Blues Revue, then you know that this has simply taken its place. I originally subscribed back when it was a newsprint mag. That was quite some time ago. At some point the Vizztone entertainment group and MojoWax had some kind of partnership deal, and part of that was the Blues Revue magazine. Not sure of the reasons for parting of company, but the magazine is now produce by MojoWax Media under the new name. Hope it survives the change.
I may have gone overboard with my blues subscription habits over the years. At one time I had accounts with Living Blues, Blues Revue, Blues Access, and American Harmonica Newsmagazine. The latter of the two are dead and gone, which I lament terribly because I wrote articles for both of those. Blues Access published my article on Sam Myers, which I was particularly proud of, having several long telephone conversations with him when he lived in Dallas. I can tell people that I wrote it, but there is not physical proof any longer; other than my copy of the magazine. I interviewed everyone from Gary Primich to Fingers Taylor to Sonny Boy Terry for the harp mag.
Now, back to the current copy of Blues Music Magazine. I haven't had a chance to read through it, but it's nice to see an article about Anson Funderburgh. I sat with both he and Sam at a club for a nice chat and sat up the initial interview contacts. Anson is about as down to earth as a person can get. Also, they profile Ruthie Foster in this issue. She's got to be one of the most fabulous singer/songwriters on the scene today. It takes me back to when she was just getting her career path going and the appearances that she made at the Navasota Blues Festival (the festival dedicated to Mance Lipscomb's memory). She never failed to whomp the crowd into submission with her stupendous vocals. She WAS the highlight for several years before the rest of the world caught on to her.
Now, excuse me while I open the pages of my blues magazine and ponder what my next novel should be all about. 'Nuff for now.
Rip snorting! Yeah, I guess that's the best way to describe Steve Krase's new release, Some Day. Pretty good way to describe the way he attacks the harmonica also. He hits these songs with his blues harp in much the same way that a middle linebacker smacks into a running back, with a full on smash. Some Day, though, is not the standard blues program tackled by most musicians with a mouth full of harp. Most of these songs seriously rock.
Even Bobby Charles' "Why Are People Like That", which I identify mostly with the Muddy Waters' version, and which kicks off the album with a bang shangle lang, takes the tempo and jacks it up way more than a notch or two, and it commences the rip snorting with Krase's harp runs leading the way. His vocals take on a rough, gruff, roaring tone that fits the song well, and that seems to be a knack that Krase has the ability to do. Shift shape his vocals to match each tune's individuality. Actually, I would have pegged a different vocalist on some of the songs because a variety of personas emerge with each tune. And guitarist James Henry comes out smoking to set the stage for what he'll bring to the table. Houston treasure, Eric Demmer, throws down an immaculate sax break and stays around to add his punctuation throughout the disc.
Brother David Krase's guitar opens "Put The Cokane Down"(one of the five songs written by him) with some nicely picked blues notes dueting with a bent note harmonica groove and then Eugene "Spare Time" Murray's bass and Mark Dufrene's drum kit pick it up and drive the shuffling rhythm. Can't say enough about Spare Time's contribution to the overall vibe of the proceedings. He's one of the all time best blues playing bass players in Houston, but, oh, can he rock the house. Yes sir, he can. Henry breaks out the slide to get things wound up and Krase has the harp screaming for mercy along the way.
If I had to put this band in a bag, it would be in the same duffel as the J. Geils Band. They play the blues, but they rock, and I'm pretty sure that they've always been a major influence on Krase's development. He absolutely slips into Peter Wolf's vocal skin on that band's "Jealous Love". He has the vocal nuances down pat, even slipping up into those high registers that trademark so many J. Geils'
songs. There are very few blues/rock bands that interest me, but J. Geils rocked with an irrisitable groove. Same here. They get the groove going, riding the rails laid down by the aforementioned rhythm section along with Demmer's sax bellowing a stupendous honking solo.
Spare Time and Defrene gets the party rolling on another one of David K's numbers, "Goin' Down For The Last Time". It owes a debt to the Freddy King rocker "Going Down", but closer kin to the Jeff Beck version. Thumping bass and driving drums drive this rocking. rollicking tune about lost love. Henry pulls out all the stops and spits out lickity split fire from the fretboard. Krase takes it home by torturing the low end of his harp.
Krase gets the deep harp tones welling up from deep inside on another brother cut and title tune, Some Day. Robert Lewis "Pee Wee" Stephens' keyboard swirls throughout the song and is instrumental in providing the somber mood of the song. Pee Wee's another legend from Houston's blues scene, and it great to hear is contribution to this disc. David K's rhythm guitar and Krase's harp chords are the force that moves this song; about some day finding the mother that long ago abandoned ship.
"She Does It Right" is a cover of the British pub/punk/blues band Dr. Feelgood. That band slung it out in all it's pub rock glory back in the 80s. Krase transforms it into a slow, jazzy late night thang with Demmer's sax contributing to that feel with Henry pulling out some sweet, restrained notes. Krase's vocals join the transformation with deep, understated inflections.
Back in the day, there were two bands that I travelled to Houston to hear more frequently than anyone else; Jerry Lightfoot and the Essentials and Sonny Boy Terry's band (I actually first heard Sonny Boy Terry blow blues harp as a sideman in Lightfoot's band). Personnel in the Essentials changed from time to time, but it solidified behind the aforementioned Spare Time Murray, Pee Wee Stephens, and Krase. Lightfoot's contribution to the Houston blues seen was immense, up until he moved off to Austin searching for a different musical climate. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago. Krase and company pay tribute to the fiery guitarist with the Henry penned instrumental, "Texistential Blues". They've captured the essence of what Lightfoot was all about in less than three minutes, and have done a danged good job of doing it. Henry's guitar comes out smoking and rocks the skin off the blues, with Spare Time and pitch drummer Don Swanson knocking the hell out of the bottom end in much the same way that I witnessed Lightfoot doing likewise many a night.
They segue right into a whomping jam on "Down The Line" with Krase's lip shredding harp runs following the train rhythm booming from Spare Time and Defrene. The jam heads for the ozone with Henry doing his Duane Allmanish best to wound his slide up and down the scales and Krase quoting a bit of "Low Rider".
They get another J. Geils' ("Did You No Wrong") number smashing, crashing, jumping, pumping, and thumping. Krase's vocals once again nail it on the head, and when Defrene joins in on backing vocals the song swings into the stratosphere, accompanied by more sweeping slide guitar by Henry. No one has ever placed the mouth harp into a rock groove like Magic Dick, but Krase does him proud and comes danged close.
Won't find many blues harp fellows sticking their notes into a song by the Violent Femmes, but Krase spends one minute and thirty three seconds instrumentally covering "Blister In The Sun" anchored only by son Gavin's bass lines and drummer Carl Owens poundings until the song slides into a bonafide punkish rocker from David K's pen again, called "I'm A Rocker". It comes out screaming with Krase shooting rapid harp runs from one end of the harp to the other and he keep the pedal to proverbial metal. Can you say garage band rock? Krase can, and he twists his vocal knobs to dial in a harsh roar. Henry slams down rhythm guitar to augment the phrenic pace set by the band.
David K opens his song, "When The Levee Breaks", about hope, salvation, and redemption with rhythmic guitar chords that chime throughout the tune. Krase lays aside his harmonica and just sings the sweet lyrics from his brother's imagination. Henry's slide and backing vocals from Defrene and Tommie Lee Bradley move the song atmospherically, lifting it with a gospel feel, swinging low.
Some Day showcases the versatility of Steve Krase and the band with which he has surrounded himself and also the songwriting skills of his brother David Krase. It's steeped in blues, but moves and shifts in and out and around it, and keeps a groove going with a rip snorting blues harp leading the way. Check it out for yourself at www.cdbaby.com and peak take a peek at www.stevekrase.com 'Nuff for now.
Spent a wonderful evening signing and discussing The Devil's Blues at the premier mystery book store, Murder By The Book in Houston. The manager, John Kwiatkowski, made it a Texas writer's theme night by grouping me with George Wier and Reavis Wortham. George signed/discussed his collaboration with Milton T. Burton, Long Fall From Heaven and Reavis touted the latest in his Red River Mystery series, The Right Side of Wrong. I truly enjoyed the presentations by these two great writers, steeped as they are in Texas lore. More than that, it was great to escape from my little cubby hole and meet up with other writers. Always good to pick the brains of others toiling away in the silence of their writing chairs.
Meeting and greeting people who actually read and show up to listen to what I have to say and then purchase a book is absolutely stupendous. Of course, I played a little blues harp to kick things off for me (mentioned that so it would fit into the blog better). The strangest and most wonderful part of the evening began while I sat eating a meal at a restaurant down the street prior to the signing. A lady whom I didn't recognize at first sat down at the table next to me and said, "Ricky Bush?" That did it. She lived down the street from me and we grew up together. Hadn't seen her in over 35 years. She had seen the announcement for the signing in the Houston Chronicle and insisted that her 33 year old son go to the signing with her. He suggested the restaurant. We caught up beautifully during the course of the meal. Strange indeed, but it highlighted the entire evening for me. That, plus a dear friend traveled the same route to Houston as myself to accompany her Murder By The Book aficionado sister to the signing.
So, to me, it's always the little things such as these that keeps me keeping on.
P.S.--I've got a CD by Houston blues harp ace, Steve Krase on the way to my mailbox. I'll do my dangnest to get a review posted up after a listen or two and get back to getting back. 'Nuff for now.
As of May 30, 2008, I retired as a high school teacher with 29 years of sharing my knowledge of journalism, English, and world geography with Texas teenagers and eventually some of their kids (including three of my own).
This blog will provide a piece of the answer to the question I've been asked for the millionth time, "Well, what are you going to do now?"
#1 Son, John Bush, designed the title artwork several years ago and it is remarkably appropriate for this blog. Try this as a contact e-mail: rkbush51 at att dot net.