Saturday, January 7, 2017

Lost Cause

Back in April, I really believed that my blog had become a lost cause. In the middle of writing a post about Trudy Lynn's latest album, everything wonked out all of a sudden. Nothing worked right. I couldn't italicize or boldface anything. Paragraph spacing screwed up. I couldn't post pictures. I could not edit mistakes. And I spent almost an entire day trying to figure out the problems and didn't. I assumed a hack job jumped on my. I just threw up my hands and walked away and haven't come back here until today. Lo and behold, everything seems to be back to normal (as I type). So, to get back in the blog swing, I'm just going to throw out some randomness.

IN ACTION--I didn't get out to see much in the way of live music this past year, but those acts that I did catch were well worth the effort:
Paul Oscher at the Bugle Boy--No way I could possibly miss seeing this legend. The first white boy to play in Muddy Waters' band admirably filling the harp shoes of Little Walter, James Cotton and Junior Wells. Had a wonderful chat with him pre-show on the patio and he regaled me with a few quick stories, some of which he repeated on stage. He did his one-man blues stuff, drawing on tunes from his mentors and many more of his own originals. Played guitar and piano with his harmonica in a homemade rack/with mike and produced the fattest deepest tone I've ever heard. Highlight of my year. I've mentioned the Bugle Boy before, which sits over in LaGrange, Tx. Premier listening room.

Billy Gibbons and The BFG's--My brother-in-law's sister scored tickets for her husband's birthday to see the ZZTOP main man and it rocked. It was the ZZman touring behind his solo album tinged with latin flavor. The stage was occupied with two drummers, percussionist, and B3 organ laying done the bass line. He did mention that he never had so many people behind him on stage. Of course, it doesn't matter what the groove is, Billy Gibbons nasty guitar licks kept it all where it belongs.

Johnny Nicholas at the Bugle Boy--Another one of those Ricky must not miss shows, and another legendary figure. Johnny had Scrappy Jud Newcomb (Austin cat, whose played with everyone) in tow on guitar and they preceded to kick serious butt. Johnny spent a number of years touring and recording with one of my harp heroes, Big Walter Horton. He told me to stay tuned, that Blind Pig has a bunch of his and Big Walter's stuff in the vault that he's negotiating to get back on the market.

Hash Brown at the Navasota Blues Fest--I've picked up a number of albums with Hash Brown playing harp and guitar throughout the years and looked forward to hearing him live. He did not disappoint and blew the reeds out of the harmonica. He brought an 'A' list of DFW musicians with him, including the great Mike Morgan on guitar.

Trudy Lynn at the Navasota Blues Fest--I had not seen Trudy live for about 20 years. She upset the house then and she upset the house in Navasota. Her and her band smoke 'em on down.

Myself--I ventured out a few times myself to blow a few tunes with Rob Moorman and Company at a local coffeehouse. He keeps me on my toes with tunes anywhere from John Denver, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, The Monkees, The Beatles, Bob Marley, Neil Diamond, you name it. I put my Lone Wolf Harp Train 10 through it's paces with an old Shure Bullet mike packed with a white label controlled reluctance element.

Local legend, Sam Murksi began a jam just over the hill from me during the summer and I blew quite a few nights with him. He bailed out on the patio gig as the temperature began to creep into the upper '90s. A couple of guys fronting a group called Brickyard Kane took over and I played a few rounds with them. They leaned towards stuff by Hootie and the Blowfish, Bob Seeger, 90s rock, and originals. They were fun, but pulled me out of my blues roots to much. I chained my Kalamazoo I and my Harp Train 10 together with the Lone Wolf Terminator and stuck the Lone Wolf Reverb pedal on the input of one or the other. Took both amps to keep up with these guys.

RECORDED MUSIC--I bought the least number of albums this year than ever. Not sure why, but here are some I really enjoy:
The Rolling Stones Blue and Lonesome--I rather like this album. The title is taken from a Little Walter song and they cover a number of his tunes, along with other blues chestnuts. A lot of harp players diss Mick Jagger's harp playing, but it's effective. He knows his way around the music with his harp, he's just not highly proficient at reproducing the tonal palette that blues harp fans expect. The band cooks on high octane, though.

Johnny Sansone The Lord is Waiting and the Devil is Too--This is my favorite grab. It's been out for a few years, but I didn't get around to picking it up until this one. I've been a fan of his since seeing a double bill with him and Fingers Taylor at the old Billy Blues in Houston. Didn't know who he was, but he blew me away. He's got it all. Fat harp, fat song writing, and fat vocals. This ain't your run-of-the-mill blues re-hash, he's got some really interesting stuff booming out here.

John Primer That Will Never Do--I've been listening to John Primer for years and have a lot of what he lays down. He's a master at recreating the Chi-town blues sound and covering the masters, which this CD does. He ain't gonna re-invent the wheel, but he will show you how it's supposed to be done. Got this one as much for Bill Lupkin's harp playing as I did for what Primer lays down and am not disappointed.

Trudy Lynn Everything Comes With A Price--This came by way of Steve Krase's Connor Ray Productions. This is the one that crashed my blog as I tried to review it. This is Old School Houston Blues at it's best, just like her Royal Oaks Blues Cafe.

Billy Gibbons and The BFG's Perfectamundo--Pretty interest twist on what Billy Gibbons is known for putting out with ZZTop. His signature guitar tones are unmistakable as he applies them to grooves with a latin boost. Love the blues standards that he gets all grungy with...Got Love If You Want It, Baby Please Don't Go and Roy Head's Treat Her Right.

Johnny Nicholas Fresh Air--Except for a Sleep John Estes and a Willie Dixon, this is a program of Nicholas originals and they are substantially well written and performed. Some of it has an old time feel with ragged and right acoustic slide, fiddle and accordion, and some of it as smooth as butter with a B3 organ trio feel going on, but it all melds together as something that smells like Texas, where JN has been holding court for years at a cafe on the hill.

ON WRITING--I'm working on getting my fourth novel, The Oaxacan Kid, out there sometime before the end of this year. Was hoping this some time ago, but 'tis the way things go. I've written a few short stories. Hope to have one accepted this year also.

--'Nuff for now.



Trudy Lynn

I wrote this review way back in April 2016 and then my blog got hacked and worked out on me. I still don't know what went awry, but I just sort of abandoned trying to straighten things out. Re-visited today and things seem to be working again. The review is unfinished, but Imma gonna publish it as is and just say--GET THIS ONE. Since then, I caught up with Trudy at the Navasota Blues Fest last August. She did kick butt, giving the Fest folks a taste of how it should be done. Anyway--

Way back in the day I ventured over to the Continental Club in Houston, Texas for an annual birthday bash honoring Big Walter Price, a legendary piano pounding bluesman (J Geils covered his Packed Fair and Square). Mucho many musicians throughout the city participated in the party. While standing there, bopping to the rockin' tones of Jerry Lightfoot (too early deceased now), I noticed glamorous lady decked out in her finest, alongside of me. She was bejeweled with fancy trinkets and sported long, long finger nails. She was bopping along with me. In short order, she was summoned to the stage and introduced as Trudy Lynn. I had certainly heard of her, but until that night had never seen her perform on stage. Perform didn't actually capture what she did. She dominated the stage and completely upset the house with a set of raucous, raunchy tunes that had the audience entranced in the spell of the Devil's music. As she flirted with the birthday boy (it was his 80 something celebration, I swear he took on the demeanor of a teenager. That moment in time will alway stick with me.


Trudy has been doing the do for quite some time now, but lots of folks have just recently 'discovered' her due to the release of Royal Oaks Blues Cafe in 2013 and the 2015 Everything Comes With A Price. The critical raves about the former led to appearances at the top blues festivals, where I'm sure she managed to upset the house at every turn. 

Everything Comes With A Price picks up where Royal Oaks Blues Cafe left off with a package of songs from the way back when...when women blues singers ruled the roost and strutted the blues ike nobody's business, and self penned songs that fit the though as nails female blues protagonist. Many of the legendary blues singers, such as Alberta Adams, Lucille Bogan, and Ella Johnson told it like it is, or was, from that female perspective in regards to their male relationships. They were not shy about busting loose with a bit of raunch and bawdiness and sexual double entendres. Trudy dang sure knows where that bone is buried. 

Trudy latches onto Alberta Adams' I'm Gonna Latch On with that earthy, husky voice and leaves no doubt as to what she's going to latch onto. Her own Fat Daddy with it's stop time hoochie kootchiness references the big man's bone more than a time or two. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

25th Annual Blues for Food

It's that time of year again. The 25th Anniversary Blues for Food drive will get cranking on November 9 and once again will offer the best danged musical talent that could possibly be assembled at any one time in any one place. Seriously. No, really seriously. And they are giving it up to help fill the coffers of the Houston Food Bank prior to the holiday season. So, bring sack of beans, can of spinach, or good ol' cash donation and be treated to a group of musicians that'll pour it all out on stage at Shakespeare's Pub.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Syllamo Trio



My ol' buddy, Virgil Brawley, up and planted himself awhile back in Mountain View, Arkansas, a city calling itself the "Folk Music Capitol of the World" and which has the requisite Ozark Folk Festival to celebrate such. The city prides itself on preserving the music and culture of a era passed by. The land of hammered and mountain dulcimers, flat picked guitars, mandolins, and lap Dobros kicking out folk and Bluegrass music. I say this because Brawley's a born and bred Mississippian who fell into the blues stew at an early age. Even though he fell into the Ozark culture readily and joined in on the pickin' and grinnin' sessions of the locals and learn a bit of mandolin and slide on the Dobro, he had no intention of abandoning his passion for the blues.

After rounding up like minded musicians, he re-established a blues trio he calls the Syllamo Trio, named after a local creek. I've reviewed Brawley's CDs here on the blog by his previous band, the Juvenators, the most recent being Bottle Tree from 2009, which followed Golden Hearts, Live From The Mercury Room, and Mojo Burning. The Juvenator stuff, mostly original, had an eclectic vibe to it, but all rooted in the blues. On the trio's recent release, Marcella, he drags the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues to the Ozarks. You know, the blues where the groove is the move. Heavy on rhythm and percussion with a steady guitar riff leading the way. This is the music aligned with Mississippi Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnsides, and Junior Kimbrough. I'm reckoning that playing with and hangin' out with T-Model Ford seeped into Brawley's soul at the crossroads down their somewhere.

The trio channels the Hill Country style and molds it to fit the 11 original songs written by the band. This ain't yo' mama's blues trio with a diddly widdly diddly guitarist professing to be the second coming of Stevie Ray. Nor is it 12 bars and a cloud of shuffle dust. Nope. The music here romps and stomps the blues through vintage amplifiers meant to be cranked into Pat Hare distortion territory. They shake the shimmy on most of the tracks with Brawley leading the way on guitar and vocals, but it takes a talented drummer and bass guitarist nailing down the bottom to keep the right groove going. Bassist Albee Tellone, who's formative years were spent in New Jersey playing with a young dude named Bruce Springsteen, keeps the rhythm train solidly on track. He wrote a book chronicling  his experience with "The Boss", which can be found on Amazon. Daren Dortin throws down a impressive array of drum beats that keeps the groove oriented tracks from monotony. He swings whacks and slaps not normally heard within the confines of this style of blues, or really any style of blues. He pulls some of that Nawlins' second line stuff (IMHO) out on "Sho' Nuff", which has an uncredited organ swirl working through the song, which I might just describe  as Hill Country Soul. Not sure, but I think he even threw some disco licks down before the CD ended. I don't normally pay a great deal of attention to what the drummers doing on blues recordings, unless they annoy me, but I found myself drawn into what he was doing behind the drum kit on these track. He throws down some second guitar along the way, most notably the three string cigar box nastiness on "Syllamo Waters", which gives the tune some driving dirt. Daren's a veteran of the Memphis blues scene, having produced and co-hosted the famous Beale Street Blues Caravan.

They don't do the blues/rock thang, but some tunes such as "Boogaroo" rock, romp and stomp the old fashion way; the Hill Country Blues way. When Virgil cranks his old Alamo amp up on more than a few tunes, such as 'Apple Tree" or "Waiting' On A LDC", the grit groove gets to happening. When he ain't cranking it, he's getting the nasty from an Ampeg Reverberocket on other tunes like "Trouble", which gives his slide guitar just the right touch of reverb. "Lookin' For You" sounds so rauchy that it makes me believe that Brawley poked a pencil through his speaker. The tune has a great example of what he does with a guitar solo, also, which is to say jump in, make the right statement and get back to the groove.

Brawley has established himself an a confident and competent songwriter over the course of his career. More than a few musicians have covered tunes from his pen over the years. His songs tell tales; short stories if you will. It's like sitting on the front porch with a grizzled ol' blues man talking about life in general and in many cases being mistreated, like on the title tune "Marcella" with its chicken pickin' guitar riff and a tale of woe: "Come home from work half starved to death/All I smell is your whiskey breath". "Sho' Nuff" is more about being love stuck, "Lookin' For You" is self-explanatory, "Mailman" looks for good news, not the blues, and "Trouble" reeks of bad luck.  Took me awhile to figure out that "Bucket" was about his dog, and the double entendre he twists around in "Cadillac". Also, he can sing the blues. He don't do no "white boy blues growl" as many are apt to do, but sings in a smooth, natural, down home voice with just enough range to keep things out of the realm of boredom.

The Syllamo Trio breaks away from the same ol' crap syndrome that have flooded the market for way too many years. Marcella gets back to the basics of where blues came from. Back to the roots, but also brings it forward due the way these three gents incorporate the old with the new. It's a keeper. Find it here. 'Nuff for now.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ruthie Foster Returns


I've written quite a bit about the Navasota Blues Festival since I began this blog. I told tales about writing musician bios for the programs back in the early days of the fest and just how special this event has always been. This one, the 20th Anniversary edition, should prove to be exceptionally special with the return of the stupendously talented Ruthie Foster.

Ruthie was there in the beginning years of the festival. It never mattered who preceded her on the stage, she ALWAYS came out and totally upset the house. Anyone who witnessed a Ruthie Foster set knew that they were in the presence of greatness. Her star turn had yet to shine, but few doubted that it would. I've heard very, very few match her vocal talents. She supported the festival, not only with her musical talents, but she also rolled up her sleeves by serving on the board of directors. She helped the festival get off the ground as the festival helped jump start her career. Since those early days, she has risen to international acclaim in not only the blues community, but also throughout the music industry. Her talents swept her around the world and took her far from the stage honoring Mance Lipscomb in Navasota, Texas, BUT she's back and August 15 should prove to be one heck of a homecoming. Trust me. Don't miss it.

It's a homecoming of sorts for another artist who was there in the beginning. After an absence of a number of years, Sonny Boy Terry will be returning with what he feels is one of his best bands. Which is saying a lot. During those early years of the festival he was being mentored by Houston blues legends, such as Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Uncle John Turner (Johnny Winter drummer) and Johnny Copeland. Since then, he's become Houston Blues and no one blows a blues harp better than he can. I'd say that he will definitely rock the house.

A highlight for me from the 2014 shows was Doug MacLeod. He's returning to play some of the best damned acoustic blues one could possibly ask to hear. He's from the old school and has tales to tell about playing with George "Harmonica" Smith and Pee Wee Crayton back in his formative years. The CD he had in tow last year, Exactly Like This, won every blues award out there over the past year. Like Sonny Boy, he learned from the old masters.

Someone that I'm particularly looking forward to seeing is Jonn DelToro Richardson. I reviewed the CD, Time Slips On By, that teamed him with blues mandolin whiz, Rich DelGrosso awhile back. You can find it here if you look around. Jonn has been one of my favorite blues guitarist since way back in the day when I attended a jam he ran at the Cactus Moon in Humble. He floored me then and he astounds me now. He can do the do and I know that he'll knock it out of the park Friday night.

Christian Dozzler's another one. He's become quite a blue institution in the DFW area since moving from his native Austria. He's played with the who's who in that area for years. Saw him play keyboards opening for Little Charlie and the Nights years ago, but based on an old CD I have of his, I know he has one helluva tone on the blues harp. Should grease the wheels well for Ruthie Foster's set.

Michael Birnbaum has opened the festival with guitar lessons in Mance's style for many, many years now and always plays a set of the master's music. After meeting Mance at the legendary Ash Grove back in the mid-'60s, he's been one of Mance's leading proponents. He travels from California every year to show his respect and share his talents, many times with his talented daughter in tow. He has Mance's style down pat. Better than pat, actually.

I remember when the late blues musicologist, Tary Owens, brought Orange Jefferson down from Austin and introduced him to the festival crowd a long time back. Owens felt that he was one of the few that still had some authentic blues to display with both his vocals, harmonica and saxophone. He never disappoints the crowd. Not sure if he's missed being booked since then.

I missed the E Flat Porch Band and Justin Johnson's cigar box blues last year, but heard enough about them that I'm planning to make an early appearance to catch them. Folks tell me that Johnson's cigar box workshop was well worth it and it takes place pre-fest at the world renown Blues Alley on Friday.

Can't say much about the Betty Fox Band, because I simply don't know much about them. I'll have to catch up with them. I didn't plan on writing up this long of a post. Mainly planned to make sure my readers knew the festival was coming up and that Ruthie was onboard and just give out for the link Navasota Blues Fest and let everyone get the official stuff. Anyway--'Nuff for now.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Harp Train 10


I have one of these now. It's called a Harp Train 10 produced by the Lone Wolf company and is designed specifically for us harp player (duh, thus the name). I've written a word or two about the harmonica specific pedals they produce, particularly the ones I have...the Harp Break and Delay. I also have their Terminator pedal that opens up a harp mic by matching the mic output and amp inputs better electronically and also has an output jack to allow connecting two amps in tandem or feeding direct into a p.a. But, anyway, this is about the amp.

I bought this for three reasons: 1. It was made by Lone Wolf 2. It had the cheapest price tag of any amp designed for harp players (ordered mine the first day of sales and it arrived for less than $350) 3. I decided I wanted a new amp, as in NEW amp.

That's right. I've never owned a new amp. All my amplifiers were built prior to 1965 (a late '30s Bell Sounds, a '60s era Silverstone 1483, a '60s era Kalamazoo I, ditto for the Sears XL, and Voice of Music amp from an old record console). All were amps that I dug into and modified to be more harp friendly, so I wanted new for a change. It's not like I needed another small amp, because the Voice of Music and Kalamazoo covers that well, but did I say I wanted new for a change. I've come close to pulling the trigger on new before, but always backed off.

First thing I did was A/B the HT10 with the Kalamazoo I (my go to amp for great tone). First impression had me leaning towards the 'Zoo in terms of tone and volume. The longer I played the amp, and it could have been a matter of speaker and tubes breaking in, the Harp Train began to edge it out. Considerably. Had to reverse my opinion pretty quick. I did stick my harp mic at my boom box and drown the amp in Little and Big Walter, James Cotton, Muddy Waters, etc, etc for a few hours to loosen things up. The amp proved to have way more meat and bottom end than the 'Zoo, leaving the latter sounding a bit more tinny in comparison. Great tone! They both have ceramic 10" speakers in them, but the HT10 speaker came alive. The Harp Train 10 has two knobs. One called Loudness and one called Balls, which is a boost knob according to their website. It's that boost knob that takes the amp out of the one trick pony realm, which is basically what you get with the 'Zoo or a variety of small amps like the Champ. I'm thinking they incorporated a lot of what they stick in their pedals like the Harp Break where you twist a knob and get something different going on.

I played around with the Balls knob vs Loudness for quite awhile. One up, one down, the other up, the other down. Different strokes for different folks on that account. Different tonal palette with each move. Not sure about the website claim that it's probably being the loudest small amp on the market, but it do get loud. That being said, I did read a user mentioning that setting the Loudness knob just shy of 4 and the Balls on 3 that he was on the verge of feedback and complained that a harmonica specific amp should be able to exceed that. I played through an old Green Bullet with a hot CR element and an Astatic crystal and could ease up to 5 with the Balls on 4 before fighting feedback issues, but I understand the point he makes. It was substantially loud, but then again that was playing at my house. I have a Greg Heumann volume knob on the Green Bullet and reduced it and did get the amp blasting up around 6 without a noticeable drop in tone. Couldn't really tell if it got louder.

This past Friday I took the amp out to gig with a trio that I play with at an outdoor gig. They play a few blues tunes, but mostly '60s stuff. We're just two guitars and a harp, so there's no competing with a bass thumping and drums. The lead singer decided to go electric, he usually plays acoustic, so he was playing through a Peavey Delta Blues amp. The lead guitarist goes through a p.a. rig, owns the equipment, mics everyone up, and keeps the stage volume relatively low. I set the HT10 volume at around 4 and the balls on 3 to somewhat match the Peavey's volume. The HT10 rocked it. My bandmates loved it's tone.

I'll play with these guys at a small venue next month. Small is the optimal word. I've taken the 'Zoo and set it for the tone I want to project and they've rejected it as being too loud. After playing around with the  HT10, I do believe that it'll do low volume with good tone. We'll see and I'll report back.

So, hell yeah, I'm glad I got something new for a change. One thing I don't care for is having to pull the chassis to change tubes in the amp. I don't have a problem with the Sovtek tubes supplied in the amp, but I'm one of those curious guys who likes to see what a tube swap may do (over the years, I've grown fond of particular brands) and I'll have to unscrew and screw back into wooden cleats to do that. Not that big of a deal. I've got a NEW amp and it rocks it. 'Nuff for now. Check 'em out at:
http://lonewolfblues.com


Friday, April 10, 2015

Resurrection of Ironing Board Sam

The Music Maker Relief Foundation has released a wonderful short documentary telling the incredible story of Ironing Board Sam. He's one in a long line of musicians that the organization has lent their support in order get them back on their feet and back in the limelight after modern times have passed them by and left them without a pot to piss in. According to their website, the foundation has assisted over 300 artists and issued more than 150 albums, many by musicians that were living in the dire straits of poverty. I remember well when the founder, Tim Duffy, brought one of his first discoveries, Guitar Gabriel, to the publics attention and was amazed at the talent that the elderly bluesman still had up his sleeve.

Anyway, I had heard about Ironing Board Sam (born Sam Moore) somewhere back there in the day and his use of an ironing board for his keyboard stand. I'd never heard his music before now, though. Not going to go into any bio stuff on him, because it is written better on Music Makers' website
And spelled out in the documentary by filmmaker Tom Ciaburri in collaboration with the Southern Documentary Fund. So, without further ado, just click on the Vimeo vid here.

Must say that I've never seen a man shave with a knife, which Sam does in the opening scene of the documentary. Of course, there are way more marvelous revelations about the man they called Ironing Board Sam. Check him out. 'Nuff for now.