Wednesday, October 8, 2008


I got into the ipod thang relatively late in the game. When I finally got around to getting my hands on a nano version, very shortly afterwards they dropped the price by half because they upgraded the gizmos and doubled the capacity and added video capabilities and such. I have a tendency to drag my feet when it comes to jumping into new technology. It took me forever to buy a cd player, but my hand was forced on that account because records and tapes faded away.

I do enjoy visiting the iTunes site and seeing what's available as far a blues goes and adding a tune here and there to my library. For the most part, I've kept it aimed at blues harp tunes because I've found the ipod great for wood shedding the harp skills and for taking my mind off mindless exercise (two activities I'd like to stick to and increase throughout retirement). I'm not about to give up buying CDs. There is just something about holding the product from the artist in my hands and reading the liner notes and such that has a satisfaction quotient that searching for the same and downloading it on a computer can't meet for me(this is where I miss the ol' LP version the most). I want to know which musicians are adding what to each cut and who's playing the cowbell. I really don't trust this ipod stuff. I'm thinking POOF! and it all disappears. I've downloaded very few full albums, unless it is something that I don't have and can't find. I have transferred a few of my CDs over to the ipod in order to steal a lick or two, but for the most part I look around for some songs that really have strong, toneful harp from the heart and that I don't have a copy of in another format.

Okay, I'm just going to occasionally throw out and comment on some of the artists or tunes that I have in captivity on my little friend and share it with those that care to read it.

1. Jimmy Rogers--I grabbed some songs off of his Gold Tailed Bird album that is woefully underrated. Leon Russell's Shelter Records was doing us all a favor signing up and recording bluesmen in early '70s such as Rogers and Freddie King back in the day. In fact, this was Rogers return to recording after getting out of the scene for quite some time. Sure, these albums suffer in comparison to the their classic recordings of the '50s and '60s and sure some rock icons had their fingers on the product, but I think, that in retrospect, Shelter put out some good stuff. The Aces (Little Walter's old bandmates Fred Below, Dave and Louis Myers) and Freddie King are on board for this release, so how can you go wrong? The real reason that I downloaded tunes from this album was due to the harp blowing of Bill Lupkin (whose CD I mentioned in an earlier post). I wanted to hear what he was doing back in the day with one of the masters which helped define his reputation. He was just a young pup in '72, but had his chops down. If you don't any Jimmy Rogers, get his Chess stuff first or Ludella (with Kim Wilson) on the Antones label.

2. Little Walter--I listen to something by Little Walter every day, because he's just the greatest blues harp player that ever walked the planet. I downloaded the entire Confessin' The Blues. I mentioned in one of my blues history posts that this was the first LP that I ever had of Little Walter's stuff and that the liner notes were in Italian. I was just going to download Rocker and Rock Bottom, because I had listened to this record many, many, many times, but I wanted those couple of instrumentals on the pod for a little practice. I did that, but then went back and bought the whole enchilada. Great balls of fire, here!

3. Tad Robinson--This guy was made for my ipod--as far as cherry picking the songs that I like the best (namely those with his harp in his mouth). See, Robinson is one of those fantastic harp guys, with tone to die for, that puts out albums that highlight their vocal chops more than their harp and that's great if that's what they feel like doing. Darrell Nulisch, John Nemeth and Curtis Salgado fit into this same category. These cats can ALL sing their butts off--and pull some serious stuff from the harmonica. A lot of what they like to get across vocally is more in the soul/blues bag and well, that just ain't my cup of tea. I don't care who keeps saying that it is all blues to them; it ain't, but if that's what smokes their shorts, okie dokie. What I like, though, is when they get down and dirty with the blues--harmonically and vocally. So, the ipod does its duty for me here--as I pull up Robinson's work with Dave Specter and the Bluebirds Live In Europe. Whoa! The boy do get down with the harp business on chestnuts like Eddie Taylor's Bad Boy and Little Walter's It's Too Late Brother. Dave Specter can really swing the axe on this fine set of live stuff. From there, I just took a swing through Tad's catalog of work available on iTunes and snatched off his harp blowing numbers--all of it very good.

3. James Harman--James is one of my main men. There ain't too many dudes that can write a blues song as well as Harman does and then sing it and then add one hell of a tonally righteous harmonica to it. He doesn't blow harp on every song on his albums either, but when he doesn't, it's because he's letting someone like Hollywood Fats or Kid Ramos kick butt on guitar to carry the song--and it's all blues, so all is forgiven. I've got most of everything that the man has recorded and some of his finest is some of his first, such as, Extra Napkins, Mo' Napkins and Strickly Live in '85 (one of his finest of the fine). I let some of his Blacktop recordings get by me and then the label went out of business, so I snagged a few of those that I'd missed back in the day and they're classics. I mean, how can you pass up a song that's narrated by a man who's left for dead by his lover on the hard floor and all he can feel is the freezing air conditioner and all he can see is the knob saying HI COOL--which also is the song's chorus. Cool.

4. Watermelon Slim--Now I have one of Slim's CDs and like it a lot. Some doubt just how legitimate his Hillbilly Bluesman persona can possibly be, given that he has a degree in literature and can quote Shakesphere off the cuff. He sounds darned authentic, so if his schtick ain't real, then he's a good actor. He's got a rough, gruff vocal style that promotes the Okie from Muskogee blues thang well. He does put his academic background to work in his songwriting skills. He's a bit of a countryfied Rick Estrin as he twists the humor threads of life experiences from driving trucks, dealing with check bouncing, juke joint women, and laboring the hard way. He works with a rock solid band of journeymen musicians and applies his skills both with the slide guitar and the Hohner diatonic. He is fairly formidable at both. I'll probably grab another of his CDs, but in the meantime, I went through his stuff on iTunes and pulled his harp playing tunes over to my ipod. Pretty hopped up ride.

5. Moreland and Arbuckle--These guys are a close second to Collard Greens and Gravy (mentioned back a bit) or maybe an American version of Collard Greens and Gravy as far as stripping down the music to its bare essentials. Anyway, what these young Kansas cats are doing is a Mississippi hill country/Delta stomping kinda blues thing with harmonica, guitar and sometimes drums. It is raw and it is real The first examples I downloaded was from Moreland, Arbuckle and Floyd (Floyd being the drummer) called Floyd's Market which was a mix of original stuff and covers of such artists as RL Burnsides, Mississippi Fred McDowell and even Little Walter. Aaron Moreland can get a nasty, distorted vibe going on with his slipping, slide guitar and its really nice to hear a young (or younger) dude like Dustin Arbuckle quote some of the masters of the blues harp. He has his chops down pretty good and even pulls off a nice rendition of Juke, which is far from being just a slavish copy of Little Walter's masterpiece. These guys are rawkus in their attitude towards the music and play it with wild abandon. They be stompin' on it! I also pulled some stuff from their latest, called 1861, which has some great cuts on it. Their sonic aura does wear on me after awhile, so an ipod shuffle mix is the right place for them for me.

Anyway--'Nuff for now. I'll share my snippets from time to time.


Anonymous said...

Have no fear when it comes to iTunes or buying CDs for your iPod. Just be sure to burn a back up of the CDs you purchase on iTunes. There are some great, and rare, blues gems on iTunes. I recently bought the Sam Myers CD "Coming from the Old School" which is really hard to find on CD. Now if iTunes could only include the Linear notes like most of the popular music includes.

Ricky Bush said...

Yep, I miss the liner info, track info, etc...A good example is the Texas Northside Kings that I mention today. Hard to tell just who is doing what with what and within which tune. I think us blues folks want that info more so that those that purchase other types of music. Maybe, I dunno. Anyway--