Friday, August 15, 2014

Navasota Drive By

This'll sorta be a drive by post about this year's Navasota Blues Fest because it was sorta a drive by for me this year. Well, not Friday night, because did I managed to see all three of the featured bands. My 21 year old son accompanied me at my insistence that as a guitarist himself, he'd would enjoy Brad Absher and Tony Vega. Tried my best to convince him to go back for Doug MacLeod's set on Saturday, but he had his own fish to fry. His loss. I only had time to take in Doug's performance and catch about half of Bad Brad and the Fat Cats. Really wish that I could have hung around for Texas Johnny Boy, Annika Chambers and Ezra Charles. Had to go, though, so that gave me the blues. I've heard from reliable sources that they all smoked the venue.

Gonna start with the man that George "Harmonica" Smith called Dubb. When Doug MacLeod played in his bands, he never corrected him and he's written many an article about his adventures with the legendary harp player in what used to be Blues Revue Magazine and is now simply Blue Music Magazine. He also spunned tails about his time with Pee Wee Crayton over the years for the same mag.


I've been a fan of Doug MacLeod for a long time and was thrilled that the blues fest booked him. Historically the fest never really gains a crowd until well after 4pm, so his 2:30 start time was sparsely populated. We were encouraged to drag chairs down close to the stage, which made for a more intimate setting. The crowd increased considerably by the end of his set. The Ol' blues veteran had them eating out of his hand with his first song. The man has an old soul full of insight and wisdom. Anyone unfamiliar with his music had to be totally surprised that the sound coming from the stage was by a white performer. In fact, I'd say if they'd been blind folded, they would assumed that the man was black and from another era. Even his stage patter oozes such authenticity, no doubt from the years he played with the real deals for predominantly black audiences for years.

He performed nothing but his original music. He told tales preceding each and about each tune with equal doses of deep philosophy from what he learned  from his mentors (mentioning that they'd never use a word like philosophy), hilarious situations, heartbreaking situations, but with plenty of optimism thrown into the mix. Especially, optimism. One song in particular hit exactly on that theme about looking through life with "Brand New Eyes" from his Blue Music Award winning album, There's A Time, which also garnered him their Acoustic Blues Artist of the year. I have no intention of covering his set list here, just need to drive home the point that every song told a story that meant something deeply to him on his journeys through the blues, chocked full of every facet of human emotion. Those emotion left the stage and permeated the audience. Well, at least, it did for me. I felt what he must have felt as he wrote it and now sung it.

Certainly can't leave out how masterful he plays the guitar, picking like Doc Watson one minute and then slipping a slide on to get way down in the alley. His licks rang out sharply picked notes smothered in the blues like pancakes with molasses. To get a taste visit his well designed website at www.doug-macleod.com He's got great video examples of his playing, documentation of all his recordings, lyrics of his tunes, guitar lesson offer, a highly impressive biography, etc...Check out his music store for his stuff, which is a testament to just how long he's been at the blues gig. My favorite CD has always been Live As It Gets with Juke Logan. Maybe because Juke's a cracker jack harp man. BUT There's A Time has just replaced it as my all-time favorite acoustic blues album. I did get to chat with Doug before and after his performance and testify as to what a nice gentlemen he is. As a harp player, I just had to ask him about George Smith. I share this one tidbit, since many harp players are also gear heads. Like many of the legends of the instrument, Smith was far from it. Doug said he never, ever played through an amplifier and most he did to get ready for a performance was call out for a mike check.

Didn't mean to get so wrapped up in just the one blues fest performer (no, that's a lie), because I was plenty impressed Friday night with Brad Absher and Tony Vega. I've always loved Absher and his Swamp Royale band's past couple of fest performance. I've never seen Vega before, but I do have his Taste Like Love album and thought it substantially good. He's really why I invited my son along, because I knew that he'd sling some impressive strings, taking nothing from Absher's playing for sure, but a trio likes Tony's just demands that the guitar do the heavy lifting, while an ensemble such as the Swamp Royale with keyboard and a horn section slips the guitar into the mix when its time comes. Of course, with Absher, when the time comes he leans into it, states his business, then nods off to his sidemen.



Absher's group mixed and matched grooves from Louisiana, country tinged tunes (such as one by K.T. Oslin), swinging rhythm and blues, and of course, stone solid blues. His vocals are supple enough to cover them well and strong enough put him a big notch above the myriad of bands out there messing around with the blues. Where his guitar serves the ensemble, the ensemble serves his vocals. The man can sing. With that kind of voice. That's meant for the blues. Or whatever the hell he feels like singing, and that's what makes a performance by Brad Absher special.

Somewhere down the line, blues/rock lost its luster for me. After Stevie Ray passed, a plethora of guitar rockers began to stick blues into their set list and call themselves blues players. Most of the time their music  lacked any semblance of the emotion that defines blues. Then there are those, like Stevie, that ease a bit of rock into the blues without diluting what the music is all about. Tony Vega's band fits the bill of good ol' blues that rocks, much like the early T-Birds and Lester Butler's Red Devil's.


What surprised me most about Vega's performance, aside from his exquisite and tasty guitar work, was his vocals, which I'd compare to a great actor's ability to shift from one accent to another and get lost in the part. For example, he kicked off his set with "Automatic", which became a signature tune for the aforementioned Butler, and I'll be damned if he didn't solidly nail down the same vocal timbre. When he broke out a slow blues, he eased into the mellow voice of the best soul singers and, then, sang out just short of a gravelly blues scream when kicking the intensity back up. He covered a Creedence Clear Water song and John Fogerty came through loud and clear. A heckuva gear shifting feat that impressed the heck out of me.

Vega's guitar playing is definitely not the lick-a-rama wanker fest that way too guitarist employ when they try to rock the blues. I can't explain where the exact boundary exist between the blues guitar that moves me and the type of playing that grates on me. I'm a blues harp guy, remember, but I know it when I hear it and Vega has it and never crosses my tolerance boundary. He doesn't have that "check this riff out" attitude about him. He and his guitar simply groove along with his songs without distracting from the tune. Oh, don't get me wrong, he can sling it, lean into it and blast away, but with taste. My taste.

I arrived a little late for both opening acts on Friday and Saturday and didn't have my act together. Wasn't sure that I'd be writing down my thoughts about it on the blog because it was going to be so hit and miss. Justin Johnson had a uniquely different spin on things, demonstrating the increasingly popular cigar box guitars. What I caught was a solo performances featuring all instrumentals as he moved from one stringed invention to another, such as home grown resonators, a lap steel on an ironing board and the cigar box. He play a little folk, roots music, jazzy stuff and blues. Check out his gear page at www.justinjohnsonlive.com

Opening on Saturday as a fill in for an ill Michael Birnbaum was the E-flat Porch band. What was interesting to me is that Rudy Littrell played a racked harmonica while thumping a stand up bass. I heard a couple of well played songs sung by guitarist Duane Brown before I got distracted. My bad for not listening to them more intently than I did, but I ended up chatting with Doug MacLeod with the E-flatters providing the back ground music and until Doug took the stage. Check out what they call "angst-free acoustic" music at http://e-flatters.com I'll definitely catch up with them down the road.

I only caught about thirty minutes of Bad Brad and the Fat Cats, got distracted with Doug again, but heard enough to be impressed with the talented blues trio from Austin by way of Colorado. I have heard their music before, being a fan of a young blue harp whiz from Colorado, who played on their second CD, Take A Walk With Me. What I heard was an energetic trio led by Brad Shivers, who has the blues voice and guitar chops to make waves down here in Texas. http://fatcatsofficial.com

I do wish that I could have stayed around for Texas Johnny Boy, Annika Chambers (I've heard nothing but great things about her) and Ezra Charles, but I had to take flight before they did. Check 'em out. http://texasjohnnyboy.com  http://www.annikachambers.com http://www.ezracharles.com

'Nuff for Now

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. So...to 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. http://www.experiencehendrixtour.com

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. http://www.heartbreakerbanquet.com/#heartbreakerbanquet

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. http://www.crightontheatre.org

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 http://bluesnews.fi/index_eng.thm 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.