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:

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.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Howling Mountain Blues Is Live

Howling Mountain Blues is live on Amazon in paperback. It will be released on Barnes and Noble soon and also in e-book versions at a variety of e-book retailers such as, iTunes and Kobo.

A complete synopsis, discount coupons, 4 FREE Chapters, and a clickable playlist of all the blues songs mentioned in the third book of my Crime Fighting Bluesmen series can be found at my publishers website, Barking Rain Press

So...follow my blues harp blowing protagonists, Mitty Andersen and Pete Bolden, down to Belize where they headline a blues festival with hotshot guitarist, Wyatt 'Earp' Ringold. Of course, as usual, blues and trouble follow the duo into this tropical paradise.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Howling Mountain Blues

Here's the cover reveal for the latest adventures of my crime fighting bluesmen, Mitty Andersen and Pete Bolden. This time blues and trouble find them in Belize. Barking Rain Press cover design artist, Stephanie Flint, did a great job interpreting the book.

Head over to my publisher's website for a synopsis of what's in store for them:

Barking Rain Press also offers a FREE four chapter preview here: http://www.barkingrainpress.org/howling-mountain-blues-free-preview/