The annual Blues For Food drive is just around the corner and there ain't no way that you'll see more blues talent in one room at one event and for a better cause than this one. Set for November 9 1pm-2am at The Shakespeare Pub, 14129 Memorial Drive, Houston, Texas.
Have to admit that I haven't listened to much of what Muddy Waters' son, Larry "Mud" Morganfield has recorded. I do know that his previous outing on Severn Records, Son of the Seventh Son, garnered nice reviews within the blues community, but I never got around to picking up a copy. I'll also have to admit that I picked this one up because it had Kim Wilson's photo on the cover alongside of Mud's and Wilson's name has equal billing. In the liner notes of For Pops/A Tribute To Muddy Waters, Severn Records' David Earl says that he finally gave into the idea of producing a set of Muddy's music for his son to cover. He ran it by Mud and Wilson and they were off to the races. They chose to lay off a greatest hits program and decided to mix in the lesser known with the better known.
Now, I'm not sure that I would have sprung for another Muddy Waters tribute album, but I felt this one would be of a different color, plus I'm always a sucker for Mr. Wilson's sideman adventures, especially when it comes to Chi-town blues. I'll get this out to the way first: Mud sounds damn close to his old man. He's got the master's vocal nuances and inflections down and if I'd walked into a room while it was playing, he dang sure would have fooled me. Eerily close. Of course, Kim Wilson played Muddy's music with Muddy during the hey days of the legendary Antones blues club. So, to say that he knows his book of Chicago style blues is an vast understatement and I don't think I need to go through a play by play of all the techniques that he employs to get this point across. Little Walter established the harmonica as the lead instrument in Muddy's band and Wilson certainly leads the way throughout the fourteen songs here. Reminds me of the work he did on Jimmy Rogers' Ludella (which, by the way, was on Antone's label) and more lately Barrelhouse Chuck's Got My Eye OnYou (my favorite latter day recording of Chi-town covers). Some of these songs originally employed the harmonica chops of Junior Wells, Big Walter, and James Cotton as well as Little Walter. A few of the songs have been debated as to who blew the harp or who didn't, because they all could cook in that Little Walter vibe, as does Wilson. No one slips and melts into this genre as well as Kim Wilson.
Speaking of Barrelhouse Chuck, he's along for the ride on piano, as are veterans Billy Flynn (guitar), Rusty Zinn (guitar), Steve Gomes (bass), and Robb Stupka (drums). It didn't take much explaining what was needed in the studio to this crew, and I'd say that's the major reason it only took four days in the studio to crank these tunes out. These guys blend into that classic Chi-town ensemble groove with ease. Barrelhouse Chuck bangs, sprinkles and tinkles the piano notes in and out of the proceedings in the style laid down by Otis Spann and later by Pinetop Perkins. His work highlights every song remarkably well. I'd say that casual fans of Muddy (although, I don't know how anyone could be a casual fan), "Blow Wind Blow", "She Move Me", and "Still A Fool" would be most recognizable because they come from what I'd considered the pre-1955 classic period, followed by "Nineteen Years Old", "I Want You To Love Me", and "I Live The Life I Love". "My Dog Can't Bark" came along in 1965, which was bit beyond Muddy's commercial peak and a lot of folks may remember "Gone On Main Street" from the Woodstock album with Paul Butterfield on harp and not the version with Junior Wells. "I Don't Know Why" and "She's Got It" are a couple that I never listened to enough to remember that they were in Muddy's catalogue. Of course, there will be plenty of neophytes that'll associate "Trouble No More" with the Allman Brothers without realizing that Muddy recorded it '55. Most every song on the program has been covered by others since Muddy's band hit the big time up through today, but the guys did a great job of limiting the number of over-covered chestnuts. I'll lean towards "She Moves Me" as being a favorite cut, simply because it's one of my favorite Muddy songs. Little Walter's tone and technique moved me then and Wilson's moves me on this release. There's no credit as to which guitarist nails Muddy's one of a kind slide tone, but they wound it up pretty darn good.
Yep. This is one sweet tribute that works. Larry "Mud" Morgenfield honors Pops in mighty fine style. 'Nuff for now.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.