Thursday, July 31, 2008

Big Walter Horton

Bocce Boogie
Live 1978
Featuring Big Walter

Topcat Records

Oh, it's wonderful day in the neighborhood...when I run across something new that has Big Walter's harmonica featured so prominently as this live disc from 1978. Those of you that are students of the instrument need no introduction to Big Walter because you've got all his stuff. If you don't, then your blues music library is sorely lacking from the absence of the talents of the absolute tone master of the blues harp. This CD was recorded during the era that Walter was working with Johnnny Nicholas who has to be one of the most under appreciated blues guitarist out there. It's also during the same era that Walter played with quite a few pick up bands captured very well on the Little Boy Blue release with Sugar Ray Norcia's Blue Tones band with Ronnie "Youngblood" Earl doing quite the same thing that Jimmy Vaughan was doing down in Texas--picking some kind of authentic blues. Sugar Ray's band with Ted Harvey (drums), Mudcat Ward (bass)and Little Anthony (piano)joining Earl in kicking up a joyful noise at a party celebrating the marriage of Joan and George Nicholas at The Bocce Club in Rhode Island. Walter and Johnny take over this party, bigtime. Other than the opening standard, Every Day I Have The Blues, sung by Sugar Ray and a scorching closing instrumental by Earl, it is all about the interplay between Walter and Nicholas.

Big Walter nails his signature tunes, Walter's Boogie, La Cuaracha and Hard Hearted Woman with that fat, deep tone that is captured here very well. He throws in old time standards that he claims he hasn't played in decades such as Trouble In Mind and Don't Get Around Much Anymore. His singing has never been his strong suit, but his vocals were nice and strong for this party. As he says, "I'm in a good spirit and when I'm in a good spirit. Look out!" He sets about proving that statement and to me one of the values of the CD is his between song patter with the audience, establishing a party time connection.

It's the songs that I haven't heard from the Big Walter that are a revelation for me. He hijacks Willie Dixon's My Babe to make us forget Little Walter's version and make it his own as only he can and he takes Baby Please Don't Go out for a harp ride as well. I can't remember his Little Bitty Girl, and it may be on a recording I have, but it is a great tune and he cooks on it. When he's not the featured vocalist, then he is slamming out the tone backing up the proceedings. Nicholas provides substantial vocal chops on a couple of tunes and proves throughout that he knows how to swing the guitar behind a harp master.

I'll just stop here. If you want some 'mo Big Walter and none of us have enough, then go to and order directly from their website. I was extremely impressed with their prompt service. I almost ordered the Hollywood Fats with the Paladins CD because I KNOW what the Fatman can do with a guitar, but the budget needs a rest. Anyway--

P.S.--CAUTION: This recording was done on a reel to reel recorder with one microphone in a noisy club. I like it better than the Little Boy Blue live stuff. Think Magic Sam's Alex Club recordings--not hi-fi, but he left behind very little before he died, so it is valuable. I think Big Walter's harp comes through really well and that is the point. We don't have enough of his stuff and some of what is out there is way worse than this. THIS is not the place to begin a Big Walter collection. Snag Big Walter Horton With Carey Bell (Alligator), Chicago/The Blues Today! Vol. 3 (Vanguard), Fine Cuts (Blind Pig) and some of his first on Mouth Harp Maestro (Ace) or the Memphis Recordings (Kent) for starters. 'Tis all my opinion.

Monday, July 28, 2008


The Juvenators
Mojo Burning

Virgil Brawley is an integral piece of my blues education story that I haven't gotten around to posting up yet, but plan to do so soon. Long story short is that Virgil formed a band called the Juvenators, along with Craig "Bonehead" Watts, back in the early '90s in Brenham. They allowed me to sit-in with the band way before I was ready for prime time, but they kindly encouraged me and I was the recipient of valuable lessons regarding working with a band and stage dynamics. Virgil made a move back to his Mississippi roots in the late '90s and re-established the Juvenators on authentic blues turf. The new Juvenators got busy establishing themselves in Mississippi and marking their path along the Gulf Coast from Houston to New Orleans to Biloxi. They recorded a live CD at Houston's Mercury Room and the studio recording, Golden Heart on an independent label. Both showcased Brawley's writing and singing talent and the masterful slide guitar work of Bob "Byrd" Lovell. I reviewed both those CD on the Delta Snake website back in the day, which is long defunct, and when I locate the originals, I'll post them here. In the meantime, those and this release can be found at I found out last summer, through e-mail correspondence with Virgil, that the Juvenators had this new release. I grabbed it, listened to it and wrote a review, lost the review, found the review, tried to post it on CDBaby, lost it again, well...Now that I have this blog, I'll just do it again, because this is the best that these guys have done.

Last summer, after pulling up CDBaby audio clips of the Juvenators' Mojo Burning, what caught my ear first was sound of a very expertly played blues harp. I e-mailed Virgil and told him how good I thought his harp player was and he said, "Yeah, you should think that. It's Greg 'Fingers' Taylor." I wasn't surprised because I knew that he and Fingers went way back, but it added a little more incentive to get the CD in my hands.

The Juvenators' Mojo Burning, provides more evidence of just what a triple threat Virgil Brawley is in the writing, vocals and instrumental department. Of the ten cuts on this disc, Brawley writes or has a hand in writing seven of the tunes. The only covers are re-arranged versions of Bob Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody and This Is A Man's World which was a major hit for James Brown. Brawley proves that he's got some original ideas that are as worthy as the blues classics that are run into the ground by a plethora of bands out there professing to be bluesmen.

A good place to start, then, would be the opening song where Brawley is professing just that on All I Can Do--"I'm a bluesman/just doing all I can do" and is the first example of just what Bob "Byrd" Lovell can get going when he slips a slide on his finger. Lovell can played the daylights out of the guitar, but that slide stuff is really his forte. Well, I'm assuming that he's doing the sliding here, because the liner notes lists co-producer Chris Hudson's slide guiter under "other musicians". Since there is not a who played what on which, I'll go with Lovell on this one. The blues harp makes its appearance on this first one also and I do know that it is Greg "Fingers" Taylor, he of Jimmy Buffett band fame. His harp is fairly understated here, but the licks are well chosen and well placed for effect. I'm guessing that a small vintage tube amp was used because he's ripping it with a nice, distorted, compressed sound that is only found on those.

Fingers really gets wound up on the well written Handcuffed To The Blues and cuts loose with some downright nasty-toned harp with some great note choices that shows that he knows his way around the diatonic. A really nice guitar break adds to what Taylor gets going and Brawley's vocals match the woeful message of his words.

Taylor comes up with some sweet, melodic fills on the Lovell penned blues ballad, Too Late To Cry. He adds just the right touches to the tune and Lovell puts his heart on the line with his words on this lost love lament and he sings darn good, also. Fingers get down to his most downhome nastiest,though with the CD's final cut, on Brawley's Smokehouse Blues where he throws in harp quotes from Big Walter for some good old fashioned Chicago style blues harp, by way of Mississippi. Brawley gets a rightgeous blues growl going on his tale of having his smokehouse raided of all his sweetest, juiciest meat--classic stuff here, I'm telling you. I really do believe that it is his stabbing,string bending guitar style that is on display on this 12 bar gem.

Brawley reaches into some deep, dark recesses of the genre with a few of his tunes, such as the title tune. Even though it has a lively beat, sort of similar to Willie and the Handjive because it jumps and jives, the message revolves around tragedy as he writes..."Had me a sanctuary/Used to go there everyday/Now it's all in ashes/Lord, I've got no place to play". Guy Wade's drumming and George Vance's bass keep the tune driving none-the-less. Both have been Brawley's partners for quite some time, so they know how to push the Big Juv. The slide's got a JJ Cale feel to it here and I'm pretty sure that it is Brawley's Resonator playing that is adding to the rhythmic drive. This ain't too far removed from the Doors' Mojo Rising.

He's at his darkest with what seems to be a post 911 Judgement Day warning..."Go tell your enemies/And all your friends/They've gone and woke/The sleeping giant up again". A little Armageddon message with a pervasive dirge and the whole band adds to the vibe, maybe even including the rhythm guitar of Virgil's son, Travis.

He keeps the dark tone going with Black Hanna, which has some kind of voodoo stuff permeating the mood. You'll be wondering, also, just what made Black Hanna sing on this tune steeped in Mississippi folk lore. Pretty heavy one here.

The band pretty much Juvenates the Bob Dylan tune to make it there own. Johnny Young's B-3 organ keeps it going on a driving, insistent rhythmic track with another excellent slide guitar break crying for mercy and they do just about the same to the James Brown number--a Juvenator staple since the early days and one on which Brawley nails the vocals.

What has always impressed me about the band is that they walk up to the heavier blues/rock puddle at times, but they never step off into it. Brawley and company just seem to know where that line exists and that's the way I like it. This is well written, well played and well sung by a band from Mississippi. They have a website at: and a and their music can be purchased at Anyway--

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mystery of the Blues

Sweet Man Is Gone
Peggy Ehrhart
Five Star Publishing

I'm not much in the way of a literary critic, but I do like a good mystery and I do like reading about blues. So, when Peggy Ehrhart sent me a copy of her blues mystery, Sweet Man Is Gone, I looked forward to escaping into both of those worlds and Peggy proves that she has a knack and knowledge for the genres, both literary and musical. I know blues music well enough to spot someone who writes with reference books at their elbows versus having a knowledge bank based in experience and I have a pretty good bluff meter for those professing to know the music. I've read enough mysteries to at least know what I'm looking for in the area of a suspenseful tale. Peggy's got it down on both accounts.

According to the book's jacket blurb, Peggy Ehrhart is a former college English professor and she plays blues guitar. Her website,, sheds additional light on both of those sets of credentials that drives the success of this story that revolves around Maxx Maxwell, who is trying to get her band, Maxximum Blues, off the ground. A major complication to this goal arises when her lead guitar player turns up dead on the cement below his apartment window. When his death is ruled as a suicide, Maxx is having none of it and sets out to find out just who threw Jimmy Nashville from his window. Hence, the mystery tale is set and Ehrhart weaves a fine story based around the blues music world in New York City and a string of well drawn characters that inhabit that network. Ehrhart's attention to detail proves that she has been around the practice rooms frequented by the denizens of this sub-culture of not only blues folks, but of the myriad of musicians from every genre that is trying to leave their mark. She also gives plenty of knowledgeable evidence that she knows her way around a stage as she leads Maxx through her paces singing on the bandstand. She throws out just enough song titles of blues standards that Maxx sings to show the reader that the band's goal is to keep the music traditional. She gives enough examples of Maxx's listening habits to let us know that her affinity for the music is for real.

Maxx is certainly a believable character wrapped up in trying to establish a music career. Ehrhart has her balancing the trials of trying keep a band together and moving in the right direction, working as waitress to help achieve and support her goal and solving the mystery of what happened to her guitarist. Female readers will identify with her, not as a musician, but as a female. Choices in clothing, makeup, jewelry, and men are all a continuous thread confronting her. Maxx's Achilles' heel is good looking guitar players and the story opens with her on the rebound from losing one of those loves and the possibility that she could just fall for Jimmy Nashville--until he fell. Maxx's bandmates have just enough conflict going amongst themselves that adding the loss of the lead guitar player could just be the straw that Maxx is intent on not breaking--by finding a replacement that can carry that load. The internal conflicts will be readily recognized by anyone who's been in a band.

Ehrhart's mystery works very well and she drops the right number of hints and twists along the way to keep the interest level high and the reader in suspense, like good mysteries should. The book should appeal to not only blues fans, but anyone who enjoys a good mystery and has a hankering for a tenacious female detective, who can belt them out like Etta James. Sweet Man Is Gone is a great read and it'll add a little insight for those that don't know the blues and be mighty interesting to those that do. Anyway--

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hot Nights, Cool Tunes

Got the opportunity to play a out in a unique atmosphere Saturday night. The city of Brenham puts on a series of concerts that are staged on the downtown square during the Summer. They've been doing it for several years and I'd never made it to one until Saturday. The main reason has been that the bands being booked, for the most part, have been tribute cover bands paying tribute to bands that I might go see if someone buys my ticket. For and example, Already Gone and Abby Rode (Eagles/Beatles) played a couple of weeks ago. Big Otis has come close to getting me down there, but he simply recycles Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Al Green and a myriad of other '60 soul shouting covers. The first couple of years they booked Ezra Charles and the Works, who came the closest to someone I'd spend the evening with, but I was always away from town on his dates. Each concert is sponsored by different downtown businesses, so affordability is key and tribute bands are the hot trend nowadays. Seems that this year, the crowds have been exceeding expectations and I think that the stay-cation trend may be a factor.
I've been in and out of town on weekends and have had plans to make it downtown, not to see the headliners, but to catch and support the opening local acts made up of musicians that I know. Saturday, Sam Muski and his Catch and Release band were playing and opening for Jimmy Buffett clones. I've mentioned him as being the musician who played both my daughters' wedding receptions. As the afternoon wore on, my enthusiasm began to wane and I also knew thunderstorms were possible. I spied one on radar just around 30 miles south of town on a northern track and decided to shelve the plan to attend the Cool Tunes on what may be a Wet Night.
As fate would have it, though, my wife made a run down to our little country store (we live 10 miles out in the country and Zuelhke's Store is our lifeline). When she got back, she said that we HAD to go to the concert, because she ran into Sam who insisted that I come with my harps in hand and play on a couple of tunes. This news came about an hour and a half before showtime. As I told Sam later, I already had my fuzzy slippers on for the evening. I jumped into a shower, though, and was downtown in time for the soundman to plug me into the p.a. I thought about grabbing the Kalamazoo, but since I was just going to play on a couple of tunes and there was still that chance of rain, I decided against it and just to plug a mic into the sound system. I thought that I would take the JAYPHAT and try the JT30 crystal mic through the p.a. and I got it out before leaving the house to make sure which jack was input and output, because I hadn't mark them. When I got to the gig, it wasn't in my bag and I realize I left it sitting a home. So, I went with the Shure CR, which was wise because I had no idea how the crystal mic/JAYPHAT combo would have worked and the crowd was growing substantially large by the time Sam started playing, so I don't know why I was even considering a complete unknown entity. Playing through the p.a. can be iffy anyway. The soundmen were good, though. He plugged me into a direct box that connected to their system and gave be a touch of reverb that I requested.
As the downtown square began filling with people, I recognized a sizable number of the faces and quite a few of my ex-students were working food/drink booths, so when Sam introduced me on the second song, I had a nice little cheering section encouraging me. He had told me that the second song was a blues that he had written and was in the key of E, so I was relatively confident that I could give it a go. Of course, I was a bit nervous and tentative, it seems to always take me a song or two to settle into the right groove, but I didn't have that luxury. I had told my wife as we rode to town that I was a little nervous and she wondered why, because I had played before people before. This, I explained to her, was a horse of a different color. My good harp buddy, Doyle Spitzer was present in the audience also and you can't fool another harp player. That first tune went well, a little tentative as I said, but I kind of got it going with the solo spot. A few old friends who didn't know I played came by and shook my hand in amazement, so that was cool.
Sam told me to hang around to be called up for a second tune that he felt I could handle. Had no clue what it would be or when. Turned out to be Cookie & the Cupcakes' Matilda. It's really close to what Slim Harpo's doing with Raining In My Heart, so I used his licks to put the melody across, then took off on a tangent for the solos. It worked well, except one of my reeds got a little sticky and balked a time or two. Bothered me, but no one seems to notice. Got a nice round of applause after my solo, which I'm pretty sure was egged on by Doyle.
After the set, I was really amazed at the number of people that had turned out and how many people I knew and how many congratulated me on my playing. It was really a nice, huge community party. Everyone had their lawn chairs and were visiting and catching up with folks that they hadn't seen in some time and they were just flat out having some kind of summertime fun. Who needs gas for that? The plan was to post up several photos of the gig, but Virginia was more nervous than I was and was so focused on me performing well that she forgot to pick up the camera. Oh, well. I've got to post another piece of my history soon--that gives a bit more background pertaining to why Sam would think of me playing in the first place. Anyway--

Friday, July 18, 2008

Walkin' To New Orleans

Well, no, we didn't actually walk to New Orleans, but by golly we walked when we got there. Virginia and I ventured to New Orleans this past Monday for her birthday and stayed through Tuesday night, which was our 30th anniversary. She has been wanting to visit New Orleans since elementary school, when a classmate described a trip there that she had taken with her dad. Virginia thought that she missed the boat when Katrina blew into town, but the parts that she wanted to see are back on track and we both left feeling that New Orleans is a pretty darned spiffy city. We decided to travel to the city from Brenham by a back route to avoid IH-10, which we had heard was a construction nightmare. So, we saw a bit of Louisiana that can't be found along the interstate and traffic was very minimal.

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting blues guitarist/singer, Brint Anderson who was playing a solo/acoustic gig in the bar Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. We had just eaten a great meal at a French Quarter dive restaurant called Coop's Place (get the jambalaya supreme w/rabbit, sausage, and shrimp)and Margaritaville was just across the street and I knew of Brint and I knew he was playing there. Tourism was light throughout our stay and we kind of had Brint to ourselves, so we egged him on and chatted him up during the course of an hour and a half or so. He played the blues with passion on a National Steel the entire set and Virginia was really taken with his talent. He played standards by Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf, Taj Mahal, Muddy Waters, etc...with great finger picking dexterity. When he slipped his slide on, though, he really went to town on some Elmore James' stuff and nailed not only the guitar tone, but also vocals that were spot on. He was impressive and we hit it off and since he had lived in Texas at some point, we had a little common ground as far as knowing musicians. We found nothing on the second night that could top Brint, so we returned for more of his playing. We picked up a CD of his live stuff with a full band and really enjoyed listening to it on the way to Texas. He has a new one with just he and his Dobro, which should prove to be a goodun'. Since his gigs are 7-10 pm, it left plenty of time for other thangs, such as a great Dixie Land jazz band at the French Quartet Market. We chatted with one of the musicians who described climbing into a treehouse after the levees broke.

On Tuesday, we took the walking Garden District tour with a very spry 73 year old woman named Katherine Young, who had the history down pat and had us as her only customers for the day. What a marvelous neighborhood that is! We saw Archie Manning's house (where Peyton and Eli grew up), John Goodman's place and one of Nicholas Cage's homes. Takes a little money to have one of those or an inheritance factor, because it seems that quite a few of those homes have been passed down since the 1800s. She said that there was a time, even in these summer months, that she would have a group of 25 travelling down one side of the street and her co-worker would have another 25 on the other side. She walked and talked non-stop for over two hours.

I think that the photo above is of the John Goodman house.

And I think we have the one of Nicholas Cage's homes up above.

And I'm pretty sure that's the Manning house here.

Here's my two favorite guides. Katherine Young guided us past the dead here and Virginia guides me through life.

Back In The Day, I would have joined the party till you puke crowd on Bourbon Street and it has its appeal and lived up to its decadent reputation, but it was just a tad obnoxious to stay the course there. The light crowd made it much more tolerable, but we really enjoyed other parts of the French Quarter more. Anyway, here's some random French Quarter shots below.

We really enjoyed our stay at the Maison Dupuy pictured in the photo second from the bottom. That's St. Louis Cathedral at the bottom. Wonderful trip--Anyway--

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks

"Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks
Many Miles of Blues
Rooster Blues Records

When Andria Lisle, the publicity agent for Rooster Blues Records, sent me a copy of Eddie C. Campbell's CD, she also included a copy of "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks' Many Miles of Blues. I had heard of Ricks, but I had never heard him. He impressed me very much with his writing, singing and playing the acoustic blues. What impressed me the most, though, was an e-mail response that he sent me in appreciation to my review. I'm including his letter here because it is near and dear to my heart and because I want to share it. Sad thing is that Jerry passed away this past December in Croatia of all places. He and his wife had moved there and a tumor was discovered on his brain and he was not able to conquer it. Those that knew him and his music also knew that he was vastly under appreciated for his talents. Here goes:

Dear Richard,

Rooster Records sent me a copy of your review of Many Miles of Blues. Sometimes musicians tend to forget there are as many reviewers that believe in them as there are musicians. Some reviewers are also in an emotional zone after hearing your works as you feel you would like them to be. Too often, both sides have problems conveying that to each other. From the bottom of my heart, I really appreciated your review. Why? In over four decades of playing the blues, this is the review where the reviewer climbed inside my heart and head on everything I've been trying to express as if he could read my mind and feel my soul. So for me and all my mentors, I really mean this, thanks. I know that the giants that I knew would also feel with that kind of hearing and understanding that came from your heart and your pen, will all go forward for many miles of blues.

Thanks again from me and I'll take it upon myself to covey from John, Skip, Son, Bukka, Lightnin', Mance, Brownie, Sonny, Fred, etc., thanks.
P.S-Tell your wife, thanks for her inspiration also.

"Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks

This is what I wrote back in the day:
Even my wife loves "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks. 'Nuff said. End of review. Just kidding, but some of you know exactly what I mean.

Ricks is the real deal, playing country blues the way it is supposed to be played. He is a bluesman, he plays and sings the blues and he is proud of it. No pushing the envelope here to pull some other crowd into the sport.

I read where one reviewer, in comparing Ricks with a couple of notable acoustic players on the scene, said that he is not as varied. That's good in my book. You can darn well vary yourself right out of the blues. Either it is or it ain't.

This is the way Jerry Ricks thinks. As he says in his liner notes about tradition needing to be preserved before being taken forward, "...if they go so far forward that they don't have any blues element in 'em, you can't call everything a blues." And also, "that's what I play and that's all I play". Right on, Mr. Ricks.

Ricks realizes that it is the words and not only the instrumentation within the standard 12 bar structures that helps add all the variation that is necessary. Country blues is not meant to be listened to passively. It is not background music and the words demand attention to understand what it is all about.

As a matter of fact, What It's All About is the title of one of the five original tunes from his pen. He takes it on a minor key trip with a little New Orleans funeral dirge thrown in. How's that for variety?

He says that the last several years that he spent living and travelling through the "blues zone" in the South gave him the inspiration, visions and experiences he needed for this project. The project is dedicated to the bluesmen that preceded him and gave him his own dedication to preserve the music.

His originals are all deeply personal, reflecting his life experience while living in the "zone". The death of his mother, the shooting of his brother, the experiences of his friends and walking the land his mentors once walked all figure into his songwriting and his interpretations.

He covers his main man, "Mississippi" John Hurt, with a couple of tunes with exquisite finger picking that does ample justice to the memory of the master. The choice of including Louis Collins was a subconscious move that had connections to his brother's shooting.

He gives Big Bill Broozy's Hey Hey a little Lightnin' Hopkins' riffing and even sounds kind of like "Old Sam" vocally. The foot will be a'tapping on this jaunty number and then his guitar evokes Nehemiah "Skip" James' surreal sound on Special Rider Blues without being slavish to the original.

Ricks says that his maturity, along with his recent experiences, gave him the spirit to incorporate elements in his music that has has never utilized before. His guitar is propulsive on his own No More Ramblin' and he gets a string snapping Delta percussion going on Ed "Barefoot Bill" Bell's One More Time. At the same time he weaves his intricate finger picking in, out and around his driving rhythm.

Ricks covers a couple of piano men with Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery's Vickburg Blues and give Walter Davis Jr.'s Red Cross Blues the mournful tone that it needs.

His own Many Miles of Blues really sums it all up. It is destined to be a lowdown 12 bar classic itself and reaches way down in the soul. The song speaks to travelling miles and miles and no matter which road you choose, there's going to be many miles of blues. Amen, brother Rick.

He does want emphasis on the words he sings and he sings them well. His voice is as much of a match for the blues as any of these masters he has chosen to honor here. The experience of listening to this recording is like reading a good novel with a good plot, theme and characterization. You're gonna have to get your own copy and listen carefully to understand the story. It is the story of the blues and as long as there is bluesmen like "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks, it is a story far from over. Did I mention that my wife loved this cd?

Anyway--there 'tis and Jerry left us way too early at age 67.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Eddie C. Campbell & A Tall Tale

Eddie C. Campbell
Hopes and Dreams
Rooster Blues Records

Here's another one of my reviews that I'm rescuing from obscurity. Eddie C. Campbell's forte is not playing harmonica (although he has exhibited that talent on record), but I uncovered him when I was tracking down the discography of Carey Bell, whose harp playing I've always admired and I mention in my post regarding Bob Margolin. Back then I found an LP reissued by Jim O'Neal's Rooster Blues Records that was first on the Mr. Blues label and was called King of the Jungle. The original album cover featured a wild looking Campbell replete with a full-blown Afro. Carey blew some good stuff on that album, but what grabbed me was the take that Eddie C. had on the music. The liner notes explained just what a unique individual he was and it translated into his music. It seems that he was one of the seminal second generation Chicago bluesmen that grew up around Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Elmore James and others, but ran with young pups like Magic Sam. He played guitar and bass in a number of the bands in the area, most notably Willie Dixon's. When things slowed musically, Eddie C. left for Europe, recorded several well-received albums and remained for a good ten years.

I may be wrong, but I do believe that he returned because he had a child due to be borned and he wanted to make sure that happened in America. The blues genre was enjoying a bit of a resurgence at the time also, so that may have helped prompt his return. Strange thing is that very shortly after his move Stateside, his band ended up booked into a Bryan, Texas venue (the same Third Floor Cantina that's mentioned in the Sam Myers' post). For some reason, these Chicago cats were swinging through the Lone Star state. Real Chicago blues guys were showing up in my neck of the woods--what a rarity. So, I called on a brother-in-law who loves such things and was soon rubbing elbows with Eddie C. and company, such as drummer Robert Wright, who had played with the late great Magic Sam and a who's who in Chicago. Eddie C. told me how he and Magic Sam lived in the same neighborhood and were close childhood friends and picked up guitar ideas together. He told how he literally sat on Muddy Waters' lap as a youngster and etc...the tales went. He had a good harmonica player along, a young white guy that I'm still trying to recall enough to track down. Don't ask me how I forgot his name, because he played guitar and sang well that night, also. It may be because Eddie C. called me up as a "special guest" in the house. He asked me if I had a harp on me and I told him that I had a "C" harp out in the truck and he told me to go fetch it. My knees have never knocked together as hard as they did on the return trip up those stairs to a stage inhabited by Real Chicago Bluesmen. Nervous? Oh, yeah! I had never been on a stage before, never played through an amplifier before and certainly never had a bandleader ask, "Now, what would you like to play?" I called out Little Walter's Blues With A Feeling and Eddie C. said, "Okay, you kick it off" and away we went. It was a little surreal. I had practiced that tune enough to hit it fair to middling, but the crowd went nuts, Eddie C. said that I nailed it and the harp player told me that he liked my tone. My brother-in-law was totally amazed and the Aggies in the room wanted to know what band that I played with around town. It was at this point in my life that I realized that there were a lot of people that have no clue as to how the blues harp is suppose to sound. I'm pretty sure that my brother-in-law paid Eddie C. money to let me play, but he's never admitted that. I digress, though.

So, I became a huge Eddie C. Campbell fan and sought out his recordings and hoped that he would put out something new now that he was back it the USA and he promptly recorded That's When I Know for Blind Pig Records to critical acclaim in 1994 and then this one for Rooster Blues Records in 1997. This is what I wrote back in the day:

The revitalized Rooster Blues Record label has swung back in action with some really fine recordings. Two of which are by blues veterans who have yet to get the attention that they are due. Eddie C. Campbell and Jerry "Philadelphia" Ricks, who both live in Europe for extended periods of time, have put out perhaps the best example of who they are and why we should pay attention to what they do.

Expansive. That is my best description for Eddie C. Campbell's blues. His is a sound with lots of air under it that lifts it up and allows the music to transport the listener to a zone that only blues music can reach. This is the sound that permeates Hopes and Dreams.

It is the sound of his reverberating guitar, hatched on Chicago's Westside, and a voice that echoes with the same resonance. A voice that is as unique as his music. Eddie C. Campbell's music is a sonic contradiction in terms. It is contemporary, yet traditional. It is explosive, yet mellow. His lyrics are deeply philosophical, then lighthearted and humorous.

It's been way too long of a wait since the 1994 release of That's When I Know on Blind Pig to hear from the pen of Eddie C again. This CD picks up where the last one left off with eleven more originals, many in collaboration with his wife, that proves he has few equals that can provide the blues with the freshness of ideas that he can.

Campbell has surrounded himself with solid sidemen that aren't just window dressing. They each supply vital elements to the sound that he wants to get across. He has in tow his old compadre, Robert "Huckleberry Hound" Wright on drums (he was a favorite of Magic Sam's), who knows exactly what Eddie C's music needs. Louis Villeri, one of Bobby Bland's ex-bandmates, helps him hold down the bottom on bass. Ernest Lane, who played with Ike Turner and Robert Nighthawk, lays down the lowdown piano, while Lester "Duck" Warner, Tim Perryman and Kenny Glover handle the horn charts. Jeff Jones provides the organ flow and last, but certainly not least, he coaxed his old buddy from his Waukegan band, Billy Boy Arnold into joining in on the fun on a couple of tunes.

The slashing, biting, reverb-drenched runs that intro the opener, Did I Hurt You, lets us know that, yes indeed, Eddie C is back. His solos wring out the high notes as he slams back into the bass notes and then slings out surprises that seem to come from nowhere. He voices sincere apologies for hurting his loved one and the horns really drive this one right.

The title cut rides a Chuck Berry Memphis groove, but Eddie C's guitar and voice mellow it into a smooth rhythm. His vocal range is on display here as he moves from a falsetto to a baritone and sings about how you can look but you can't see/the hopes and dreams inside of me.

Geese In The Ninny Bow begins with an insistent drum beat from "Hound", then Eddie C jumps into a Stevie Wonderish Superstitious riff, before the horns move it into classic R&B territory with a little funk on the side. It is unique in that he combines the lyrics of a couple of his previous recordings and successfully meshes them into one song.

You Worry Me starts with the low down, slow down 12 bar flow that the blues is most notable for and is THE tune that really reflects what Eddie C. Campbell's guitar style is all about. Lane's piano work is fabulous here. Otis Spann lives in the man's fingers.

Funky rhythms and the Chicago Westside string bending Eddie C does so well show up on Cool, Cool Woman. If you don't know the Westside sound, tune in here for a taste.

Slow and Easy is a mid-tempo shuffle instrumental that allows the sidemen to shine a little. Lane intros with some nice ivory tickling and Warner throws down some downright nasty tromboning and trumpeting. Eddie C jumps in about half-way through, tearing it up, but never over playing.

Billy Boy Arnold joins in a talking blues conversation with Eddie C on Those Was The Days. They reminisce about Waukegan nightspots, girls they've known and even "Hound" when he was a young pup. It is a downhome, acoustic foray that shows off Eddie C's skill on the flattop and allows Billy Boy to let his harp do some talking. Sweet stuff for a song that is not sung.

On Spend, he kicks out the licks, opening his ode to spending money as he gets it. He wants a new car and wants a new coat that will match his new boat. The horns riff along and boost the tune while Eddie C really gets the tone monster cranking with a solo that is sharp, short and too the point.

I'm Your Santa mines the same territory that Santa's Messing With The Kid did from his King of the Jungle LP. The latter has made its way on to more that one Christmas blues compilation. He backs himself on harp and plays the bass as he sings, I'll carve your turkey/I'll roast your duck/If you're good to me, you'll get a Christmas truck. This may just be another Christmas chestnut.

Lost Soul is another classic example of the Campbell sound, lyrically and musically, beginning with just Eddie C's remarkable voice echoing through the speakers. Both he and Billy Boy throw out harp licks on this lament.

It is back to Westside slinging on the the instrumental, Cougar that is close in spirit to Freddie King's San Ho Say. Of course, Eddie C and most of those that hung out on that side of Chicago will tell you that Freddie borrowed the tune from others. Eddie just borrows it back and twists it inside out and plays it the way he did back at the old Cougar Lounge--before anyone borrowed it.

Eddie C. Campbell is a unique and original bluesman with a perspective on life like few others and that is captured exceedingly well on Hopes and Dreams. Here's hoping that we don't have to wait as long to hear from his talent again.

Okay, there it is from back in day. You got to get you some Eddie C. Campbell if you don't have any. I do believe that some of his European releases have been re-released and most of them are worth getting. Let's Pick It is a good one to grabbed if you can find it. Check out Eddie C's myspace page and see what's up there. I'll try to get the Jerry Ricks review up soon. Anyway--

Monday, July 7, 2008

Red, White and Blue Jam

Travelled to Dallas to visit daughter Megan and her husband Brad for the July 4th weekend and since my other daughter, Erica and her husband Danny were also there and son John was with us, it presented one of those rare moments when all our immediate family were in one spot. Really nice when that happens.

What was also nice is that Brad has taken enough interest in the guitar to begin taking lessons and is progressing quickly. In between hanging a ceiling fan and running errands, we spent a bit of time hanging around with guitars being plucked by Brad and Danny (who picked up playing tips from his ex-college roomies) and they tweaked son John's enthusiasm by getting him to work through some chords. Brad even treated us to a trip to Guitar Center's Stratothon sale and to a vintage furniture store that had quite a collection of vintage microphones.

The highlight of the evening, and the reason I was asked to pack my harmonicas along, was the arrival of Brad's teacher and Megan's boss, John Sanger and his wife Vicki. After a bit of dinner and a little chit-chat, John pulled out a Baden acoustic guitar which is produced by T.J. Baden, who while an executive with Taylor guitars got the itch to put his own spin on things. John explained that Baden got French luthiers together with a Vietnamese manufacturer to produce a might fine sounding product--in John's hands anyway. He was as good as Brad had told me he was and had quite an infinity for the blues.

John effortlessly went from picking a generic shuffle to spot-on Blind Blake Piedmont finger picking blues and rags to exquisite Robert Johnson. When he slipped a bottle-neck slide on his finger, he did amazing job on Johnson's Come On In My Kitchen and proved that he can sing also. I tried my best to work something in and around his picking with my harp, but I'd have really rathered just sat and listen to his intricate techniques. Brad added what he could during the proceedings and at one point he swapped his Martin with John's Baden. Of course, the Martin went through a transfiguration in John's hands. I could have listened to his playing all night, but they had to go too soon. He and Vicki had attended a ukulele society function prior to coming over (seems that if it has strings, then John's all in) and were tiring. It was a blast and I'm looking forward to our paths crossing again.

We didn't spend a great amount of time visiting, but with the time that we did have I learned that John also has an interest in playing the harmonica. He attended one of Jon Gindick's harmonica jam camps that featured artists such as Dennis Gruenling, Richard Sleigh, Brian Purdy and others. Matter of fact, he has one of Brian Purdy's made-for-harp amplifiers. So, John knew a bit about my instrument also and all I've got to say is that Megan's got a cool boss and Brad has a most excellent guitar instrutor. Anyway--

Thursday, July 3, 2008

JAYPHAT Experiments

Finally got around to running the Jayphat through my mics and amps. Didn't have time for an extensive trial period, but I have a better idea of just what benefits the box brings to my table. Pictured above are most of my mics (might get around to telling a bit of a tale about those) and those that I used for the Jayphat experimentation. Left to right the mics are:

Astatic JT30 with MC151 crystal element (with a 5meg pot)
Shure Model 41 with a controlled reluctance element
Homemade from motorcycle turn signal with Shure controlled magnetic element
Turner 256 chopped off a desktop stand with an Astatic 127 ceramic element (with a 5meg pot)
RCA mic chopped off a desktop stand with a Shure controlled magnetic element
And in the middle is a Shure 545sd Unidyne III with a dynamic element

The mic that I use the most is the JT30 because I just like the dynamics that can be produced with it and it really responds to shifts in tonal ranges with slight cupping changes. Since the Jayphat's forte is bringing out the beast in the crystals, I decided to begin with it. I also decided to start with the Kalamazoo I amp's channel two, because I had already tried out the Kal's first channel in my initial test run. Channel one hasn't met a mic that it doesn't like. It is the higher gain of the two channels and get nasty pretty quick on the volume knob--the Jayphat beefs that up a notch more. Channel two is relatively mellow in comparison, so I thought that it would make a good test bed and it was. I ran the volume knob 1/2 way up on the Kal and ran the Jayphat at about 3/4 open(think I've found unity gain there) and the channel blossomed with increased bottom end and some nicely rounded off low mids that were horn like. It was no longer the mild mannered input that it was without the box. The Jayphat had jacked it up dramatically. Of course the mildness of the channel has its place in certain situations, but the box makes it a 3 channel amp.

I plugged the Shure Model 41 (I'd call it a Green Bullet, but it is actually more of a blue bullet and is my second favorite) with the controlled reluctance element that supposedly the Jayphat would effect much less in terms of dynamics. First trial seemed to bear that out somewhat. I could detect a bit more bite and presence with the mic and overtones that I didn't hear without the effect. That says a lot because this mic has always been a buttkicker. What floored me, though, was the dramatic shift in tone when I loosened my cup on the mic. It really wah wah wahed with an opening and closing of my cupped hands which was quite different than I'd experienced with that mic. The CR element in that mic always did a little better in that department than some of the same, but it was nothing like this. Being able to change the tonal palette in this way gives the mic another dimension that was missing before.

About the same can be said for the Motorcycle Mic and the plastic bodied RCA with controlled reluctance elements. They both exhibited the ability to produce a better wah wah tonal difference. Neither mic is the monster like the Blue Bullet, but the Jayphat did add that something extra. In fact, I really felt that the plastic body of the RCA was holding back what it was capable of putting down, but the Jayphat brought it a little more up to par.

In the Turner 256 resides a mild mannered ceramic element. I've used it very little except in practice just to keep volumes lower. It does okay in the Kal's hotter channel and the 1483's grid leak channel. It has it's uses, particularly in high gainy input situations. The Jayphat really gave it a kick in butt. Nothing to equal those mics before it, but giving it a useful boost and added fat. It's tone was never bad, but it just always needed the right amp's input for the output.

The Jayphat seemed to have its least effect on the Shure 545. The mic is probably a mid '70s to early '80s model with the jumper pin to switch it from HiZ to LoZ. Of course, in our cases it needs to be in the HiZ mode. It is a great mic, capable of producing some great harp tones. I used it a great deal early on in my development, but once I got my hands around a bullet shaped mic and felt I could cup them more efficiently, then the 545 ended up in back of the bag. The Jayphat changed very little with the mic other than boosting it's gain a bit and maybe adding a little bottom and mids. Nothing changed from a cupped tone to an uncupped tone, which is the norm for these and the Jayphat had not a whit of effect there and from what I already knew, I didn't expect to hear anything dramatic when plugged in with this one.

Okay, what about plugged into my other amps? The Silvertone 1483 was the next candidate. Channel 2 of the amp had already been tricked out by me (by way of Stephen Schneider) to match it up with my crystal mics by giving it all the grid leak that it could handle and a 5meg input for a floor thumping, speaker whomping sound. It loves my crystal mics and brings out the best in the ceramic. It'll tolerate the CM elements, but the Blue Bullet's CR element always overloaded the input and drove it into cutoff. That's basically what the Jayphat tended to do with most of the mics plugged into Channel 2 and that's what I expected to see happen. The ceramic faired well there, but everything else was too touchy or the notes just got snapped off. I was looking forward, though, to seeing what Channel 1's response would be to the intruder.

Channel 1 just never did have the oompph with any of my mics. Of course, I was comparing it to the monster masher input and the Blue Bullet faired pretty good there. The JT30 sounded anemic in comparison though--UNTIL the Jayphat intruded. The Jayphat put Channel 1 close to par with it's cousin. The Blue Bullet really beamed and sang the song that I was hoping it would. Bottom increased, mids bloomed, distortion distorted. The channel lost its all of its whimpiness with the Jayphat in the chain of command. I had thought about jacking around with the input more in the past, but wanted to make sure that I had a channel suitable for mics other than crystal mics. Now, the box modified the tone for me. Good-o! The other mics exhibited just about the same tonal characteristics that they had in the lesser gain channel of
the Kalamazoo. Channel 1 always put forth a decent sound, but it was a thumper now.

Plugging into Ol' Smoky (the Bell 3725) and the Voice of Music amp proved to yield little in the way of earth shattering tonal differences. Not as much impedance matching needed there, though, because the Voice of Music has a 4.7meg input and the Ol' Smoky's is 10meg. Still, with a little gain boost, there is a noticeable difference exhibited in the tone of each of the mics tested. I don't think that enough is gained to warrant using the Jayphat with these two amps. Might take a little more experimenting here.
So, I do believe that the idea of using an effects buffer type box to match up mic impedance with their amplification just might be an excellent one and not just with crystal element types. I think there is a substantial benefit to being able to get a CM/CR mic to shift their tonal palettes greater with the wave of a hand than before. Should be valuable in situations where one must plug into a strange amp and someone, at some point, will try this thing out plugged into a PA and see what told improvements can be had there. I've been told, also, that the box takes the worry out of using longer mic cords or chaining them together without signal degradation. Bottom line is, though, another element of tone can be chased down with this little box.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sears 5XL Freebie Amp

While I'm awaiting the proper time to get after my Jayphat experiments (when fewer are around to disturb), I thought I'd post about the my last amp acquisition. My good friend, Craig Watts, somehow gets his hands on some remarkable vintage amplifiers (I'll explain my relationship with Craig when I get back to my education posts). We were talking one day about one of his two '65 Super Reverbs and he was asking if I would take a look see and determine why it sounds like a race car when it was flipped off standby. I told him that it was most likely out of my realm of expertise, but I'd look it over. I did and it was beyond my scope of experience, so he took it to a real tech--who fixed it. While we were at our discussions, though, he mentioned a little Sear 5XL amp that he said I could have if I wanted to mess with trying to fix its noise. He took the amp in a trade with his motocross motorcycle. The trader said that the amp worked fine. NOT! He found out real soon that amp emitted nothing musical at all--just a loud a%$ huuummm. Since he didn't want to mess with it, I reluctantly accepted the gift.

Research told me that the amp was one of those power transformerless amplifiers that can basically shock the pee-waddily-doo out of you because the chassis has the potential to become hot with live AC. Since us harp players instrument of choice involves placing a microphone in very close proximity to our lips with the cord plugged into an amplifier, then one that has a zap tendency could pose a problem. Seems that as long as internal components are up to snuff, then the problem is non-existent, but capacitor failure can be a hair raising experience.

I gave the little dude a new home and went about ordering the tube compliments, resistors and necessary capacitors with the intention of a complete re-work. The tubes were those found, back in the day, in radios that were designed to work without power transformers. The power tube was a 50c5, preamp 12au6 and the rectifier 35w4 and that was that. The amp has an output transformer and a filament transformer.

The Sears 5XL was also available in a solid state model, but the tube model is very similar to the Silvertone 1430 and the old Silvertone/Sears amps in a guitar case models. This one sports a 6" alnico speaker of unknown variety, but looks to be original. I found a website with very specific modification details of a 1430 at: It sheds a great deal of light on these types of amplifiers.

It seems that the main safety issue involves adding an isolation transformer to keep the chassis isolated from the power supply. My research led me to decide upon an outboard/standalone isolation transformer that I found on eBay for $20. It is pictured above and is a Hammond 171C and I can simply plug any amp I wish to into it. It may make more sense to install one in the amp itself, but since I ran across this one, I figured I could put it to use. It can be used to plug in amps that are in the process of being worked upon and provide for a safer situation there. Also, I have no intention of replacing the 2 prong plug on this amp because what I've found is that doing so with these amps is a sticky trick. The Hammond will intervene between the amp and my lips--I think.

Reworking the amp was cheap and didn't take long and it all worked. It makes a great little practice amp for the homestead. I'm pretty sure that it puts out a couple of watts of power at the most and has been tolerated around here when I crank it up. It saturates with distortion early on the volume knob and reaches its volume peak at about 1/2 wide open. After that it just distorts more and get a little murky. So, I can sit with my Ipod stuck in one ear, crank up the 5XL and get away with a little amplified practice (for awhile). Anyway--