Friday, July 11, 2014

The Blues Lives On In Spain

The wife and I took a trip to Spain and met up with my son. He was wrapping up a semester abroad engineering program through Texas A and M in Ciudad Real. We decided to spend a few days in Seville before connecting with him in Madrid. I could certainly lay a "wanna see the slides from our vacation" post here on the blog because we certainly have tons from every possible "must see" attraction from both cities, but I'll just keep this focused on the blues that I ran across. We did have accommodations in both cities that allowed us to walk to everything that we had an interest in seeing. My wife had been to Spain several times and my son had been in country for six weeks, so I basically just tagged along. Glad he had perfected how to order beer, wine and food.

On Saturday, I think, we strolled toward the small cafe/pub where we had purchased tickets for a Flamenco show. Along the way, I heard the wailing tones of someone playing the hell out of Muddy Waters. Whoever it was, had the master's slide licks down solid. Then, I heard Little Walter harp licks hitting the air. 'Course, I told my wife, "Gotta find where this is coming from". Around the block sat a one man street band kicking that heavy Delta blues. He had a mic strapped to his harmonica rack, a foot gizmo with various percussive trinkets to provide a bit of rhythm, and a Bart Simpson and sis strapped to his other foot dancing to his music. Dude's name is Little Boy Quique and he definitely knows the genre.

We sat and listened to a few tunes (I did mention that we were on the way to a Flamenco show, didn't I?) and his grasp of the blues absolutely blew me away. I bought a CD from  him and he said that he'd sat in with Mud Morganfield (Muddy's oldest son) night before and that Mud was still in town. He mentioned a club that he frequently played and we tried to find it after the Flamenco gig to no avail. If we had not pre-purchased those tickets, I do believe that I would have hung with this guy the rest of the evening and followed him wherever the blues was being played had it been up to me. Wish I'd run into him on Thursday. I would certainly have checked out Seville's blues scene a lot more thoroughly. I'll run a review of the CD at some point.

Before leaving for Spain, I got in touch with a Facebook buddy from Madrid. Josep Pedro is a blues enthusiast, who writes about the scene over there. Check out his Blues Vibe FB page. He provided me with a substantial run down as far as what was happening during our visit. He told me that the La Coquette was THE blues club in Madrid and that John Primer would be in town. Since July 2 coincided with my son's 21st birthday and he's become quite accomplished at playing blues guitar and since John Primer would be there, then I cleared it with him and the wife that seeing a great Chi-town blues guy would be the right thing to do. We searched out the club while we walked around the area a couple of days before. The son had a great map app on his iPhone that led us around on our walks with pin point accuracy (most of the time). The club was indeed a short walk from the hotel.

On Wednesday night, we strolled over to the club early because my research revealed that it was a small  basement club (that turned out to be an understatement). I wanted to be sure that we could sit down through the performance. We got there at around 9:30 since their Facebook page said a 10:30 start (of course it was an hour later, but that seems to be normal for a blues club). Smallest room I've ever seen for any type of club. Two small amps sat along the wall, which surprised me, because I knew that Primer had Bob Stroger in tow and there was no bass rig to be seen, nor drum set.

I did mention that we got there early, didn't I?

By 11:30, the place was indeed packed. I heard a slight commotion next to me at the door and heard a voice boom, "Man, here I am having to travel to Madrid to see you play" and then John Primer stepped through the door. I turned to the big man who issued the words, and said, "Do I hear a fellow American?" He said, "Hell, yeah." Turns out that it was Wayne Baker Brooks (Lonnie's son) and his guitarist Nic Byrd (formally of The Kinsey Report). They were in country to play a couple of shows, one being a USO July 4th gig at the embassy. We chatted about the time that I saw his daddy, his brother Ronnie and himself at a show in Houston. Really enjoyed hanging out with them.

Primer wasted no time cranking out some Muddy Waters and stayed in that solid Chicago blues groove for the only set that we were able to stick around and watch. Stroger took a seat stage left and simply enjoyed the show. A enormously impressive blues harp man from Spain, Quique Gomez, knew his book of Little Walter extremely well. He swapped off playing acoustic and lightly amped up. We had to catch an early morning flight out of town, so took off a 1 am. Told Wayne Baker that, and he said, "Man, I'd just have to get on the plane drunk."

What surprised me about the club goers was the age group. Most were 20 and 30 year old fans who were vocal and enthusiastic. They knew the music well. Here in the states, most of the crowd is made up of old farts like me. Posters around the club, advertising past and future blues festivals, indicated a significant interest in the music though out Spain. The blues was definitely alive in Madrid on this night.

As it turned out, we got to the airport and faced a 2 1/2 hour delay. Then, as we boarded, got hit with a severe hail storm that rocked the plane. After they checked the plane and we were deemed safe, they grounded the flight crew for too many hours and the flight was cancelled. Ended up spending July 4th in our nation's capitol with a 7 hour layover. What I didn't know, was that Primer played with a full band at Clamore's Jazz club on the night of the fourth. Had I known, I definitely would have planned better. Oh, well, that's the blues.

'Nuff for now.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blues, Bluebonnets and BBQ

Meant to mentioned this a lot earlier, especially since I planned on going. A family function now pre-empts catching a fabulous line-up at this year's Blues, Bluebonnets and BBQ shindig honoring Mance Lipscomb's birthday in downtown Navasota, Texas tomorrow (4/12/14). Lot's of info here at their Facebook site. There's also lots of youtube vids representing the acts that are playing. Can't beat it with a stick.

Festivities will begin with Eric Demmer and the Sax Dawgs at high noon. To say that Demmer has blown his sax with a who's who in the blues would be an understatement. They will swing and sway you.

Houston's premier blues harp musician (and great friend), Sonny Boy Terry stomps and romps the blues at 2 and ain't nobody draws the notes from the instrument as well as he.

Texas blues guitar legend, Mike Morgan hits the stage at 4 with his band the Crawl slinging it as only a bluesman from Texas can.

Don't know a lot about CeeCee James, but from what I've heard on the web, she got a set of pipes on her suited to belting out the blues with attitude.

Zac Harmon's been making a name for himself since winning one of those International Blues Contests in Memphis a while back. He dang sure will get it cranking as the headliner.

Expect great food, such as the BBQ in the event title and plenty of crawfish boiling in the pot.

Wish I could join y'all. Tell 'em Ricky B sent you over. 'Nuff for now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Whirlwind of Music

Just had to share this. Back in December I kept quizzing my son (in his junior year in college) about what to get him for Christmas. He's matured to the extent that he said that he really couldn't think of anything that he wanted. Soon after that I happened upon a post on a harmonica related forum about the Experience Hendrix 2014 tour. Not sure why the poster was posting it, but my son has developed amazing skills at picking the six string and on our visit to Chicago a few years back (documented somewhere here) he was disappointed when we crossed paths with the venue that was hosting said tour and they were, of course, sold out. BUT, for this Christmas I ordered tickets in Dallas for the tours third stop. That date coincided with his Spring Break in March (last week) and also my daughter's, who teaches at SMU. So, the stage was set to take him and my daughter and her music loving husband to see some whomping guitarists doing Hendrix.

As the date approached, my wife (who loves classical guitar,  having seen Andre Segovia at a young age with her father) insisted that we expose him to the genre. begin the week (Saturday, March 8), we went to Round Top, Texas to see Celil Refik Kaya. The young man absolutely ruled with a world class performance.

We travelled to Dallas to the daughter's house on Tuesday for the Hendrix tribute, which kicked serious butt. Jimi Hendrix's baby sister introduced Billy Cox, Jimi's original bass player, to kick off the show which included Eric Gale, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Buddy Guy, Doyle Bramhall II, Eric Johnson, Dweezil Zappa, Mato Nanji, with Chris Layton on drums. It WAS overwhelming.

In between all this, my son scored tickets to the Heartbreaker Banquet held on Willie Nelson's ranch. It is a private party for only 500 or so guests and features a plethora of bands (most unknown to me) benefiting the Sims Foundation. The setting is an Old West movie set, called Luck, Texas, built for Willie's movie "The Red Headed Stranger". Said daughter and husband also wrangled tickets. We returned from Dallas on Wednesday in order to turn around and head 30 miles north of Austin to partake in this musical experience. The day was full of brilliant sunshine and brilliant music. There were 20+ bands, I won't go into details, but we did get to enjoy three great bands in the intimate setting of Luck's small church. Some of those were Sons of Fathers, Shaky Graves, Willie Watson. Harmonicas were played by several in the folk style context. We watch several other partial sets by other very talented bands.

Everyone had high hopes that Willie would show up at the party. Rumors floated that since his son, Lukas Nelson, was headlining that surely he would be the "Surprise Special Guest". It was a foregone conclusion that it would happen when Lukas invited Mickey Raphael (harmonica content) to the stage to play harp on one of his numbers. AND...sho' 'nuff, the Texas legend hit the stage with his family band and, of course, kicked big butt with his son doing a great rendition of "Texas Flood" thrown into the mix of Willie's classics. Now, back in the day, I saw Willie play many times over around the San Marcos area, but my son witnessed his greatness for the first time.

I only thought that the flood of music was over for the week when my brother-in-law called to tell me he had tickets at the marvelous Conroe venue, The Crighton Theatre, to see the Los Lonely Boys on Saturday. My son decided it would be best to catch up with what he needed to catch up on and returned to his abode, but my wife accompanied me to witness the magic of those Tejano blue rockers, Henry, Jo Jo, and Ringo Garza rocking the hell out of the venerable venue. Gotta say that Henry earned "Guitarist of the Week" honors IMHO (which says a hell of a lot). He even picked up the harp and wailed a hell of a number.

Can't say that I've ever been immersed in this much music in one week in my life. I'm still processing how the hell it transpired, but it will always be a memory that will never fade...particularly since it was all shared with FAMILY. 'Nuff for now.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Finland Has The Blues

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 He scanned this jpg for me. Pretty cool. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Compiling The Devil's Blues

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.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Magic of Sam

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.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This N That

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.