Monday, June 30, 2008


I'm posting the backside of my perfboard here because a few folks wanted to see what I did, even though I've admitted that I kinda hack away at these things. The use of velcro is apparent at the corners of the board as my method of securing it to the bottom of the box. I sort of built up a couple of layers to raise it up a little higher. I ran a bare copper wire along one edge as my grounding strip and where I needed to cross components, I left the insulating cover on the 22 gauge hookup wire. Might not be pretty, but it sure do work.

I still need a house that is emptier in order to really check out all my mics and amps with the Jayphat. I should be home alone at some point this week and I'll see what I can crank out. In the mean time let me share this website:

Stephen Schneider (aka HTownFess) has a number of uploads on the list where he is demonstrating just what tonal characteristics the Jayphat spits out. His tone is to kill for, with or without the impedance matcher. He shows just what incremental elements can be coaxed out of mics with the box in a number of different scenarios--lots of value there. Check out all the HTownFess uploads. Some of them feature his playing in a live club setting with Dave Nevling's band and illustrate just what a talent he is. The one's listed as DNBK feature Dave's playing. He is absolutely one of the best blues harp masters around--who deserves national recogition. Anyway--Check 'em out!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

JAYPHAT Impedance Matcher--Last Part 2

Okay, now I can actually whoop (an Aggie term) with success. The Last Part post was kinda premature. I just thought that I had what I wanted. You see, when I had finished the last bit of re-wiring, it was late and night and I had everything toned down to low volume. Just the fact, though, that I was getting the box to emit a signal into the amp convinced me that I had solved all problems. The next day revealed that I had indeed counted those chickens too soon, because I was indeed getting a signal, but it remained a very looowww signal. So, I've been spending the days between the Last Part and today (intermittently) trying to troubleshoot the problem and came really close to giving up and yelling CALFROPE! I was ready to get up this morning and post my failed attempt here, but I gave it one more shot.

Stephen Schneider offered his advice several days ago and if I had really paid careful attention, then I would have caught the problem right off the bat--My INPUT signal was not wired through the .68uF capacitor correctly. I thought it was and kind of ignored what was happening there and went about doing this and that and the other. This morning I began to question where I had the signal going and looked into things to see that I screwed that up. A bit of re-wiring gave me a mic/amp impedance match that blew my socks off! It was performing exactly as I had remembered Stephen S's magic box did.
The photo here has been added to fulfill a request for me too provide a view of the inside of the box. Ignore my hacking/soldering job. The perfboard and the battery clips are velcroed down. I don't know if that is Kosher or not and if it presents a problem, then I'll do some epoxying or something.

I've only run it through my Kalamazoo amp with my JT30 MC151 crystal and it was impressive there. I'll report back as I try out different mic/amp combinations. WHOOP! Anyway--

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

JAYPHAT Impedance Matcher--LAST PART


Patience is not a virtue that I possess. Just the opposite as a matter of fact. Someday I just need to face the fact that I just don't have the patience needed to deal with these SIMPLE projects (in the hands of competence). I spent a good part of my day pulling my hair out and trying to troubleshoot just what I did to screw up such a simple task. There were a number of things that I did and re-did to get this thing doing the do, so I don't know exactly what I undid that did it. I know the JFET was wired wrong and corrected that first off and I think one of the leads on the 5uF cap was also tie up in the wrong spot and I'm pretty sure that I corrected a ground problem somewhere during the day and at some point the darn thing began working. It does exactly what it is design to do--beefs up my crystal mics. Hurray! I didn't have time for an extensive trial run, but what I hear was worth the effort.

Mucho thanks to my com padre Stephen Schneider for feeding me advice and sort of reminding me that I could figure it out. I was ready to toss it all in a drawer last night and not think about it for awhile. Anyway--

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

JAYPHAT Impedance Matcher--Pt. 5

...OF MICE and MEN (or DRATS!)--

Part five sucks! Son, John ask if we could travel over to College Station and take in a movie with his sister, Erica, so I finished slapping the Jayphat together and just had time to plug it into my amp for a test run. Zilch, nothing, nada--no signal what-so-ever was being emitted. So, I left for the movies and have temporarily re-named my box the Jaysplat. I am glad that we took in Get Smart for the matinee. It was quite hilarious. Hollywood is really trying to get us babyboomers to recall our youth, from our comic book heroes to cheesy TV sitcoms. I THINK I'll have time to troubleshoot my missteps in my wiring (film at 11). Anyway--

Monday, June 23, 2008

JAYPHAT Impedance Matcher--Pt. 4

Gettin' There--

Plan was for Part 4 to be the finished box with test run results posted. Life gets in the way sometimes. Yesterday, I figured that I would run to Radio Shack after church and pick up the 10 ohm resistor that I needed, get back home and finish up the Jayphat. My wife mentioned that she would like for me to travel over to Round Top and pick up an antique table that she wanted to buy for a good deal. It needed work, but she said she would really look forward to re-finishing it. Okay, run to Round Top, swing by Radio Shack and finish project. BUT, the Radio Shack here doesn't do business on Sunday.

So, I had to make that run today and sandwich it in with a trip to my Son's orthodontist (so he could be miserable for awhile with additional metal added to his mouth), the recycle center, the grocery store and the hardware shop. Then, my assistance was needed with sanding the new/old table top, teaching a round of driver's ed to my son, visiting with my mom who dropped by to see the new/old table and playing a few rounds of promised ping-pong with my son who was in misery. I manage to solder up the components to the perfboard and at this point have quit there. I may jump on connecting up the jacks, switch, pot and batteries tonight, but I'll probably wait until tomorrow. Just a little weary right now. So, this 2-3 hours project is becoming a 3-4 day activity. This is retirement? Should finish it off tomorrow. Anyway--

Saturday, June 21, 2008

JAYPHAT Impedance Matcher--Pt. 3

SCREWUP#s 1&2--

Decided to call this thing by its name, the Jayphat. A fellow by the name of Greg Schlacter designed the one that I've heard Stephen Schneider use that was impressive. Over on the harp forums, Bruce Saunders discusses his build and includes some very informative information in his posts there. He also mentions an alternative buffer box which he has built that has similar functions.

So, the photos above illustrate my first and second missteps in this project. Thinking that I had just the right size bit for drilling out the switch reminds me of the old carpenter's credo--measure twice/cut once. So, the hole for the switch is larger than need be and should be about the same size as the hole to the right that I drilled for the pot. At least I checked the hole before I drilled the pot hole with the same bit. Oh, well--pretty much par for me.

I layed out my components on the perfboard (I'll cut it where the masking tape is stuck) and gaff #2 sprang out at me, and I hope anyone reading my parts list below (which I'll note) catches the mistake. For some reason I ordered a 10K resistor when a 10 ohm value was needed as a connection to the switch (must be some voodoo about that switch). So, I'm on hold for the moment until I can track down a resistor that'll work. Anyway--

Friday, June 20, 2008

DIY Impedance Matcher--Pt.2


Mouser always amazes me with their customer service. These parts were ordered Monday and arrived by US mail today--so I guess its too late to back out now. I remembered that I forgot add another part that is not on the Mouser list and that is a perfboard that I had gotten from Radio Shack at some point. The switch that is pictured above may have come from there also.

By the way, this is my first built of anything electronics. I've fooled around with modifying the amps that I've mentioned on this blog, but I pretty much consider myself a hack at this stuff. My soldering skills are questionable, but as long as things work and keep working then I'm happy--it is just a good thing that the evidence of my work gets enclosed somehow. Which brings me to the point of this post.

The photo above is basically my layout plans for the components that will be attached to the box after I drill a few holes. They are just kinda posed up there right now. I haven't cut the perfboard (seen partially exposed on the right) to fit the enclosure yet and I probably won't do much more than talking about it in this post until tomorrow (that's the plan). I do have isolation washers for the Switchcraft jacks. So, my plan is to stick the switch and pot along one side opposite the batteries. I'm thinking about velcroing the battery holders to the bottom of the box and seeing how that'll work. Might figure a way to velcro the perfboard in also. I don't know, because I'm gonna wing it here. ANYBODY who wants to jump in and stop me from doing something stupid, feel free. Anyway--here me go!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

DIY Impedance Matcher--Pt. 1

Gonna jump in and attempt to build an effects box that will provide a better match up between the impedance level of my harmonica microphones with the input of any amplifier with the goal of bringing out the best tonal quality of each mic's element--in particular with crystal cartridges such as the Astatic MC151, but with possible improvements with controlled reluctance, controlled magnetic and ceramic versions also.

My buddy, Stephen Schneider is once again helping out the harmonica community by sharing just exactly what this little gizmo will do when it is plugged in between the mic and the amp. Go over to and click on the bulletin boards to get to the harp discussions and follow Professor Schneider's posts, especially the one on the Supro sound clips to hear the box in action. I was aware of just what this box would do from hanging out with him at Harmonica Organization of Texas (HOOT) meetings. He would bringing the box along and plug it into amps brought in by members and that he had never played before and manage to dial in a fatter sound with his mic that just didn't exist without the matcher. I was always amazed at just what a difference it could make. Many harp players have modified their amp's input resistance to achieve the same goal, but this allows for a plug and play with a tweak of a knob.

Now Stephen has provided us all with the schematic of what is called the Jayphat impedance matcher and it can be found by follow his posts over at the Weber harp board. I have started the process by ordering all the parts needed from which are:

Hammond box

#512-MPF102-- 12 cents

2-Switchcraft Phone Jacks

2-Battery Snaps
#121-0422/0--82 cents

2-Battery Holders
#12BH071-GR--56 cents

10K Audio Potentiometer

Resistors were 1/2 watts & 10 cents each:
2-470 ohm resistors-#660-CF1/2C471J
10 ohm resistor-#660-CF1/2C103J
2-330 ohm resistors-#660-CF1/2C331J
2-1.2K resistors-#660-CF1/2L122J
2-2.2M resistors-#660-CF1/2C225J

Mallory DC film cap
.68uF 100v
#539-150684J100FC--77 cents

Xicon Radial Electrolytic
100uF 25v
#140-XRL25V100-RC--9 cents

2-Xicon Radial Electrolytics
4.7uF 25v
#140-XRL25V4.7-RC--12 cents

So, if you want to tackle this little box and want to go through Mouser, then these order numbers should work. Several folks have responded over at the Weber harp board about this project with at least one harpman building it already and offering mod suggestions. I foresee that those posts will be very informative. I haven't received my parts yet, but Mouser is pretty darn fast, so I'll either have to put up or shut up. I post my progress as I go--maybe. I hate to expose my hacking skills and let them hang out for all to see.

P.S.--The good Professor Schneider reminded me that I didn't list isolation washers for the jacks that are needed to combat grounding loop hums and such. I didn't order the washers because I have some on hand from somewhere. I meant to mention that and knew that I needed to get back here and post it. He had sent me parts numbers for the washers a few days ago so here they are: 502-S1028 & 502-s1029--one of each for each jack. I also didn't order a switch, which I should have mention. Tons of choices there. Anyway--

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sonny Boy Terry's First One

Sonny Boy Terry

Breakfast Dance

Doc Blues Records

Here we go. This is one of those reviews that I wrote "back in the day" for a website called Delta Snake Daily Blues. A fellow by the name of Al Handa ran the Snake with dedication and a conviction to keep the blues alive with a site chock full of music reviews and news that could be used relating to the blues. Then, the website just vanished. Weird how these efforts to keep the genre alive always seem to die first. I began writing reviews for him by submitting my opinions on blues CDs that were in my possession and those that I really thought that others needed to know about and for the most part releases that I enjoyed listening to and felt were good enough to recommend. Soon, though, I was receiving several CDs a month from Al for me to put my spin on and to be quite frank, some were abysmal examples of the genre. These were tough to write about, because I'd always adhered to the policy that if you can't say something good about someone (or their efforts), then say nothing at all. I also realized, though, that the job of a critic is to critique--the good and the bad. This became somewhat of a chore for me because what I really wanted to write about was blues that revolved around the blues harp and I began to fill a drawer with CDs from Al on every type of blues imaginable--acoustic, country, delta, Chicago, West Coast, pre-war, post-war, blues/rock, rock/blues, you name it. Anyway--this is the first review that I wrote for the site back then because I felt Sonny Boy Terry had put out a winner for his first release and EVERYONE needed to hear about it. So, this is it as it appeared back in 1999.

When harpman Terry Jerome move to Houston in the early '80's and sought out and began playing with storied musicians like Jimmy "Louisiana" Dotson, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Johnny "Clyde" Copeland and Jerry Lightfoot, it didn't take long for him to get tagged with his "Sonny Boy" moniker. They recognized the talent in his soul and on his instrument.

His talent led to a four year stint with Hughes and the chance to tour Europe with both him and Dotson. His recorded harmonica graces albums by Hughes, Copeland and James Bolden. This CD represents his first foray into the world of bandleading.

He has captured the rich, musical essence of the Texas Gulf Coast on this debut release, Breakfast Dance. It moves from straight ahead blues, Latin grooves, Zydeco swing, bluesy rock and a touch of jazz. All with the sensibilities of a true bluesman.

The CD title comes from an after-hours gig along the Gulf Coast with Hughes and Copeland that began on Christmas eve and lasted until morning. The locals called it a "Breakfast Dance" and it kicks off fittingly enough with a rollicking version of Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner's I Live Where The Action Is. SBT's slashing harp leads the way and puts harp fans on noticed that this Houston boy can play and his vocal growl gives the tune what it calls for. It sets the stage for Adam Birchfield's rockabillyish string bending that adds the right groove to the song.

I'll Be Your Fool is one of five originals that showcases SBT's skills at shaping his own tunes. The driving, slashing guitar of co-author, Bill Allison, sets up the rock-tinged groove and SBT's solos show off the tone that he can coax out of the humble diatonic harmonica. Phil Marquez' B-3 organ keeps the tune flowing along smoothly.

Co-written with Jerry Lightfoot, the jumping instrumental, Pressure Cookin', really throws down SBT's techniques onto the disc. His mix of thickly drawn chords and single note runs prove his mastery of his instrument. Adam Birchfield's guitar versatility emerges on this one.

SBT again pays homage to another legendary Gulf Coast figure on Ashton Savoy's Jangle, Jangle (Down Mexico Way). Savoy is one of those Louisiana cats that recorded for Excello and Goldband back in the '50s and '60s. SBT gives the tune a Latin beat and shows that he can adjust his vocal timbre for the genre. The groove is driven by the rhythms of bassman Benny Brasket and drummer, Kevin "Snit" Fitzpatrick. If you like what Charlie Musselwhite has done with Cuban rhythms , you'll love what SBT is doing with his harp on this one.

He takes Little Walter's Business Man (from the pen of Willie Dixon) on the trip it deserves. Once again he prove his skills at adapting his vocals to fit the material. Marquez weave his piano in and out and provides a tasty solo break and Birchfield stretches out with a Kid Ramos flavored tone. SBT's harp licks are purely original and he lays off of copying Little Walter. Basically, he just kicks butt.

Recorded by Slim Harpo many decades ago, Moody Blues proves that Slim could have used a better saxman when compared with this version. SBT tapped Houston's Grady Gaines' exquisite talent on the instrument and he blows the leanest, meanest sax ever put to wax here. When he and SBT get into a synchronized groove, it is a classic not to be missed.

The minor-keyed original, Take Your Time showcases SBT's chops on the big chromatic harmonica. It is a jazzy little number featuring the vibraphone of Harry Shepard, who lays down some mighty tinkling that plays off of SBT's sweeping harp lines.

The CD heads straight for the heart of Louisiana on Hey Zydeco, replete with rubboard from Joe Lavergne and accordion swing from Pierre Stoot. SBT's harp chording chugs drive the tune into the swamp.

SBT digs back into Juke Boy's songbook with Railroad Tracks and he lays down some wonderful, nasty amplified tone on the Mystery Train rhythmed highlight. Birchfield goes back to his Scotty Moore influenced rockabilly guitar licking and bassman Terry Day and drummer, Fitzpatrick add the fuel that keeps the train a'rollin'.

SBT begins the minor blues classic, Laundromat Blues, on the chromatic and then switches to wailing away in third position on the diatonic harp. His sounds drip with vibrato and passion. True Houston legend, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, lives up to his middle name and reputation as he applies his considerable six string skills that sets this tune apart.

Another original instrumental again proves what Houston folks have know for years--Sonny Boy Terry is one of the finest harpmen in the business. It also drives home the point that this CD was long overdue. There are not too many darn harp instrumentals that have the soul contained in Holman and Dowling. Allison puts out some real blues riffing on the guitar here and Marquez applies his B-3 skills once more.

Just when you thought that SBT applied his nastiest tone on Railroad Track, he jumps into Billy Bizor's Screwdriver with even a nastier, driving, lowdown, distorted sound that drives the listener home. Allison's string-bending is once more on display here and the punch is supplied by Fitzpatrick with Rex Wherry on bass. A fitting way to end a disc dedicated to the sounds of the Texas Gulf Coast.

So, if you have never tasted what has been happening in this region for decades, give this gumbo stew a spin and get a little Gulf Coast nourishment at the Breakfast Dance.

Anyway--there you have it. I could have re-written it and improved it, because I've listened to it many more times since I wrote this in 1999, but this is what part of this blog is about--simple resurrection. Check out the Doc Blues Records website and Sonny Boy's myspace page.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Guy Forsyth

One of the true musical treasures in our state has a newly modified website up and running and it is an absolute gem of creativity. You've got to check out for an entertaining and humorous trip. While you're there, check out his tunes and get 'em. He ain't exactly a bluesman, but when he is, well, he's hard to touch. Wrote briefly about him in a previous post regarding some of his skills along those lines. He has the most powerful voice that I have ever heard in a live setting, he has an immaculate, fat tone on the harmonica and he plays a mean guitar. He writes tunes that carry deep, deep messages at times and then throws out funny, little diddies to show that he doesn't always take himself too seriously. Eclectic, Americana, Ragtime-ish, Texana, Old Time-ish or whatever. Tough nut to pigeon-hole, so don't even try--just enjoy what he's doing, beginning with a visit to his site. Thanks to my bud, Stephen Schneider for informing me that it was up and just what hilarity Guy was putting forth.

Blues Education Pt. 4-- The Blues Harp

So, after the movie Crossroads convinced me that I should re-visit my interest in the harmonica, I went out and bought a Hohner Marine Band 10 hole diatonic version of the instrument--which is what the real men played on those vintage tunes. Of course, it was about all that was available back then and it was all that was available to me in small town Texas. They all came with a little booklet of campfire tunes which could be replicated note for note by all but the talentless, which unfortunately applied to me. One of the first steps in playing the thing was to get a single note sounding from one hole and for the life of me I could not do it. The illustrated two methods, of puckering around the hole or tongue blocking out all but one hole, just would not work. My sound was coming from two, three or four holes, producing a chord of notes instead to just the one--which pretty much was the way I played it as a kid. I really could not understand why I was having such a problem and frustration began to rear its ugly head, but I didn't want to give up. Pretty sure that my wife was hoping that I would, because what I was coaxing out of the thing was hardly musical.

Then, one night as I was fooling around, I curled my tongue slightly as I sucked on the holes and Voila! I pulled a single note out to the thing and it didn't sound too bad at all. I commenced to sucking and blowing and soon was able to play through the little pamphlet songs of Oh, Suzanna type tunes with decent command of the notes. What I needed now, was some kind of instruction to get me to where I wanted to get to--and that was playing the blues. I was hit with the same problem that I had when first began looking for blues music. There was little out there to show me the way. The internet, with all its resources, was yet to come. I found absolutely zilch in the local music shop in regards to playing the harmonica, but did find a rudimentary Mel Bay songbook for harmonica over in College Station. It contained a few more campfire songs, but it did have St. James Infirmary and Amazing Grace which were relatively bluesy. It also contained a short section explaining that I was playing in what is known as first position (or straight harp), which meant that I was playing my key of C harmonica in the key of C and in which all the songs in the book were written. Good for melodic tunes, but lacking in the ability to get down with the bluesy notes that took drawing on the harp holes much more often than blowing on them and also enabling notes to be bent to achieve the soulful tones of the blues. This method was known as second position (or cross harp) and it changed the key of the music being played on the harmonica. This was the position that I needed to figure out how to play with my curled tongue method that I was quite sure that no one else on the planet used. I tried to play along with some of my recordings and seldom was in the correct key. It was soon apparent that I would need a box of harmonicas to do what I wanted to do. I can tell that this is already getting a little wordy, but I'm just trying to set the tone--something I've been trying to master on the blues harp for over 20 years.

I didn't have a heck of a lot of albums that were harpcentric other than some of the few Muddy Waters albums with Little Walter on board and James Cotton on Vanguard. Most of Chess records vintage blues had gone out of print and when they sold out to GRT their catalog went to hell in a hand basket until MCA took control and righted that ship in the late '80s and began reissuing Muddy, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Elmore James and other Chicago blues masters. They put out a series of Chicago blues compilations on cassette that represented outstanding collections of great music. One of my favorites was their The Blues Volume 6, 50's Rarities that had Little Walter backing many of the artists and an alternate take of Juke (his ground breaking, earth shattering instrument that put him and the amplified blues harp on the map). It also contains a nice Jimmy Reed harp solo outing on John Brim's Gary Stomp. I started out with my mail order collection by acquiring Alligator Records' James Cotton releases which were super. I think I mentioned that I had gotten their Johnny Winter's Guitar Slinger. This was not only a great guitar album, but it also introduced me to a great harpman in Billy Branch who was blowing his brains out on a number of the albums cuts. So, I began to gather a few examples of those that made a living playing the harmonica. Problem was that I could replicate very little of what I was hearing.

Every time I spotted a music shop that may just have a book on harmonica instruction, I would check it out. I came across a book about Sonny Terry by Kent Cooper that was chock full of tablature of the notes of many of his songs and it came with a little piece of floppy vinyl of the recorded tune--that was neat. I promptly made a copy to cassette and tried my best to emulate what Sonny was doing. It wasn't easy, but I improved a bit and could get some kind of blues stuff happening. Shortly after that I stumbled across Tony Glover's Blues Harp Songbook, which was a follow up of his instruction book that I couldn't find anywhere. The songbook didn't include any recorded music, but gave me a great list of music to track down by Little and Big Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson I&II, Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo, Howlin' Wolf and pre-war cats like Jay Bird Coleman and Will Shade. It was still a frustrating trip trying to find any of these in print anywhere.

So, my enthusiasm would ebb and flow and my woodshedding would do the same and my progress suffered in the interim. I had a number of harmonicas, in the different keys needed to emulate the blues blasters and was getting better, but what became an added frustration was the fact that I would blow out one reed on a harp and that rendered it relatively useless. So, it seemed that the more I practiced, the more frequently a harp reed would blowout. I experimented with different Hohner offerings, such as the Blues Harp and the Special 20. I still managed to blow out a reed after awhile and it took years (and years) of practice to get a playing technique down that didn't stress the harp reeds as much and today I don't blow them out very often at all.

My practice interest increased after finding a copy of Jon Gindick's The Natural Blues and Country Western Harmonica (for the musically hopeless) instruction book. It was really the first book that offered instruction that could be easily understood by one such as myself. It cemented my understanding of the differences between 1st, 2nd and 3rd position playing and it gave many examples of blues riffs that I could successfully copy and it made practicing exciting. He also included a set of cassette tapes of him conducting the lessons, illustrating what the riffs actually should sound like and he did it all with a great sense of humor. This book provided a much needed epiphany or one of those Aha! moments. I followed this purchase with his Rock n' Blues Harmonica and subscribe to his Crossharp News, which was one of the first harmonica publications that I had seen. It always contained a tune complete with riffs tabbed out and had tips, guidelines and news related to the harmonica. He also added to my hit list of blues harp recordings that I needed to track down.

One of first prize recordings that I stumbled upon during this period was an LP of Little Walter's Confessin' The Blues with Italian liner notes. Chess/MCA re-released this on CD just a few years ago. This was the first collection of LW's stuff that I had been able to find. I had songs where he was represented on a compilations release or as a sideman, but not a complete collection of his as a leader. To tell you the truth, much of what I had been hearing from the early Chess records gave me the impression that poor recording techniques had been used in producing the harp tones that he and others played. This recording magnified that opinion. Actually, it took Rod Piazza's Harpburn to set me straight to this fact--that was what amplified blues harmonica playing was ALL about, achieving a tone that was in fact distorted for a purpose and on purpose. Suddenly, the horizon broaden.

I ordered all that Gindick offered over the next few months and anything thing else that I could find on the topic of playing harmonica. I also discovered the American Harmonica News Magazine and subscribed to it and soon began to write articles for it. The publisher, Al Eichler, never offered any payment because he made very little money producing what was a labor of love for him. I wrote a slew of blues music reviews about such harp players as Gary Primich, Ted Roddy, Johnny Sansone, Fingers Taylor, Sonny Boy Terry and even a Hungarian harp player until the magazine faded away (as I've posted before-I plan on finding those and resurrecting them here). I began to listen to and converse with "real, live" blues harmonica players. A new world had opened with another Aha! Anyway--'nuff for now.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Rusty Zinn

Rusty Zinn & The Roadmasters


Featuring Kim Wilson

Bluebeat Music

They may be calling themselves the Roadmasters, but Larry Taylor, Richard Innes and Fred Kaplan have been around doing this stuff as long as I've been listening to this stuff--and that's a long time. At one point they WERE the Hollywood Fats Band and were laying the best trad-blues ensemble this side of the Fabulous Thunderbirds during the late '70s/early '80s, cranking on the same groove with a guitarist as steeped in the genre as Jimmy Vaughn and with chops to match. Since that time they have carried on from time to time as the Hollywood Blue Flames or have backed up everybody who's anybody as an ensemble, pairs, or as a single addition for those needing it laid on right. On this live release they are members of Rusty Zinn's band at Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz, California on August 2, 1996 and thanks to Charlie Lange of Bluebeat Music, who decided that this would make a great initial release for his label, we have one heck of a night of blues music captured on disc for the rest of us to enjoy.

Rusty Zinn caught my attention back in '93 as the young whipper-snapper that Kim Wilson snared to supply some of the guitar tones on one of his finest releases, Tigerman. Zinn kind of came out of nowhere, but soon proved to be masterful at channeling everything from the West Coast swing, to Texas twang, B.B.'s groove and all points in between. In Wilson's employ, he quickly added That's Life to his resume before setting his own course with the release of the critically acclaimed Sittin' and Waitin' which showcased his high and lonesome vocals along with his skills on the six string. He followed this up later in the decade with the release of Confessin' which provided even more of a glimpse of the variety of styles in his arsenal. All these guitar moments are on display on this live shot of that decade with solos and rhythms that stretch out on songs that are seldom less that five minutes. He's got the chops to keep it interesting throughout the recording, though. Case in point is the second cut, Rock With Me Tonight which clocks in at 9:43. He quotes everyone from Gatemouth to T-Bone to Johnny & Jr. Watson to Albert Collins and makes it all work as a cohesive piece of music. He absolutely smokes on I Can Tell and gets licks going that maybe really defines his style, but he's such a chameleon that it hard to tell where his influences leave off and he begins. The only tune featuring his plaintive vocals is his pleads to his girl on How Long, on which he proves that he can hang with the featured vocalist for these sets.

Which brings me to the: featuring Kim Wilson in the title. Yeah, right! This may be Rusty's band during this stretch, but these guys have all backed up Wilson on his previous outings in one way or another from Tigerman through his live album, Smokin' Joint. Zinn, Taylor and Innes are HIS band for the live cuts from the Rhythm Room and the Taylor/Innes rhythm section hold down the bottom on tunes from the Cafe Boogaloo on the Smokin' Joint release and some of the same songs show up here. So these guys are as much about what Kim Wilson was doing during the '90s as he was and this is as much of a Kim Wilson (or more) live disc as it is a Rusty Zinn one. Which is fine and dandy with me, because I bought the cd because Kim was on it (I know, I know-enough about Kim Wilson already) and I recognized many of the tunes as those associated with KW's output more so than with Zinn's.

And on that point, this disc definitely does not disappoint. In MY opinion, this is the best live Kim Wilson that you can get your hands upon. I've already mentioned the stretched out lengths of the songs, so just guess what the man can imagine to do with all that time on his harp. I mean, I felt the opening cut, Don't Bite The Hand That Feeds You, was a strange place to put his tour de force until he kicked off Rock With Me Tonight with what I was sure going to be an instrumental until he gave his harp a breather to sing a few lines. That's basically how it goes with this disc, a Zinn/Wilson throw down with the occasional tasty piano riffs that Fred Kaplan gets going--especially on the intro to I Ain't Gonna Do It and the tone setting touches on I'm Trying. I'm not going to go into to a blow by blow (or suck by suck) description of what Kim's doing at Moe's Alley, because if you're familiar with Kim Wilson then you know what he's doing--blowing the roof off the place with tunes from Tigerman, That's Life and My Blues. When he's not doing it, then Zinn is and if you're not familiar with Kim Wilson, then this is a good place to start. Thanks Charlie! Oh and get it exclusively at Anyway--

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Living Blues Highlights Chicago

Just a quick note to those that don't subscribe to Living Blues Magazine, one of the finest blues publications out there, that they have a double issue on the stands featuring most anything related to the blues from, in and around the Windy City. It is chock full of blues news that you can use. Also, check out the fine Chicago blues blog site listed in the links sidebar. Anyway--

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

R.J. Mischo

R.J. Mischo

King Of A Mighty Good Time

Challis Records

R.J.'s back in town. Matter of fact that is the title of one of his originals on this new disc, equipped with about a 50/50 mix his own and covers that he makes his own, much in the same way that he's been doing since blasting his way out of the Minnesota blues scene a couple of decades ago. Also, much in the same way as he has done on most of his previous releases, he taps into the harmonica styles of the Walters, the Sonny Boys, George Smith and even Mojo Buford (who he has waxed recordings with). He never slavishly imitates them, but hints at what they are known for and incorporates it within the context of the song--that may or may not be associated with that artist. He also covers the many different flavors of the blues here to add to the variety of the grooves. This is kind of a stock in trade for him also. The end result is another premium release by one of the best in the business--I don't know why one of the bigger labels haven't jump on him yet. I'm not familiar with Challis Records, but if they are backing R.J., I'm going to have to find out more about 'em.

R.J. has Chris "The Kid" Andersen back, filling the guitar chair and co-producing; a job he fulfilled on R.J.'s last outing, He Came To Play. Kid's one of those Scandinavian cats that somehow fell for this stuff like I did, but he's a master at playing it and he's way younger too. He's one of those hired gun California guys now and R.J. has him bending some mighty fine strings such as the solo that smokes on Sonny Boy Williamson II's I Can't Do Without You; getting spunky, staccato stabbing notes on Mojo Buford's Watchdog and picking a little C&W loping groove on a tune called Greyhound to which R.J. applies a "Got My Mojo Working" riffing theme. Of course, he lays down much more tasty stuff than this since his work is present on 11 of the 13 cuts. He even plays an sitar on a ethereal sounding R.J. original Too Little Love (Too Much Religion) with it's worldly messaging like, "Ashes to ashes/Dust to dust/We all have to find someone/That we can trust". I've heard Kid's work before on release's that I can't recall off-hand and I think that he has one of his own out there and I'm pretty sure that he is touring with Charlie Musselwhite, so we'll be hearing from him for awhile. He exemplifies the quality of the West Coast musicians that R.J. met up with in his move there from the Midwest. Not sure what drove Mischo to pull up stakes and move to his current residence in Arkansas.

'm partial to what R.J. does with that nasty ol', down in the alley, gut bucket, blow your face off, electrified Chicago blues. Sorry, but he just gets such a fat tone with his harmonica when he aims it in that direction and he just makes it so deep. Know what I mean. He plays the variety card, though, and that's alright because I learned a looonnnggg time ago that not everyone thinks like me, so he provides a little something for everyone. He shows off his substantial acoustic chops on the original opener called Cheap Wine which is basically about getting a buzz on, shortly after sunrise. His tone here, without amplification, explains why his tone with amplification is so fat and juicy. The tune has a ragged, but right feel to it and it introduced me to the other guitarist in the mix, Jon Lawton (apparently a cohort from Minneapolis). Most of what he brings to the show is in the form of acoustic guitar and he sets the tone for this first number with his rhythmic chords. His resonator resonates throughout the aforementioned, Too Little Love (Too Much Religion) and goes a long way with assisting with the moody vibe of the song.

R.J. jumps off into rough stuff with both feet on the second cut with the original instrumental, Joint!. He quotes Little Walter slightly, more with phrasing and a little reverb than actual licks, and he throws in a Big Walter squawk a time or two. It's a driving bassless tune that chugs along and highlights what R.J. does best. He keeps that same deep blues vibe going on a cover of Crawlin' Kingsnake and Mojo's Watchdog, which is the highlight of the Chi-town amped up blues that he burns tone upon. His riffs wear out the low note bends and he slaps the devil out of his octave runs. Mighty fine. Have to mention Bob Welch here, who adds a slick guitar solo on the Buford track, but is in his element tickling the ivories (which R.J. reminds us that he also did on one of his finest releases-West Wind Blowing). Welch livens up Otis Spann's Who's Out There, which also has the Kid swinging some of his best; the Sonny Boy Williamson II cut, which has R.J. sucking the low notes out of the harp and the original Good Bad Co.(Don't Worry), on which Mischo shows off his high end harp skills. Welch also drives another original Give It Up with a pre-war ensemble jangle and acoustic chromatic harp supplied by R.J. as a surprising asset to the tune.

Mischo's reminder that RJ's Back In Town is simply to reinforce that he's never left, that this is what he does and he pulls out all the harmonica stops that he can invent with the jumping, bumping, rollicking party number. The original title tune King Of A Mighty Good Time has Sonny Boy Williamson I written all over it, in terms not only in the acoustic harp mastery, but also in the lyrics and vocal delivery that R.J. lays on us. Go ahead and get it at the Blue Beat Music and you won't regret hangin out with the King of a Mighty Good Time. Anyway--