Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday Cheers To Ya

Just thought I'd share what Santa brought. Didn't really have a burning desire for much, but I put in my request for a few things that I figured that I'd put to good use. These have been stuffed under the tree for a few weeks. I always place my own orders with Santa online and then my wife wraps them up with ribbons and bows, and I wait until Christmas morning like a good little boy to open them.

1. Richard Sleigh's Turbocharge Your Harmonica, Volume 1: Straighten Up and Tune Right! Basic Tuning and Tweaking for the Intelligently Lazy Musician. The last part of that title enticed me into getting this instructional manual. I've worked on my harps a bit, but my lack of patience plays a big part in why I've got a few harps in various stages of being tweaked lying around the house. Sleigh is one of those master harp techs from the Joe Filisko guild of customizing harmonicas, so its nice to see him share some of his knowledge and philosophies. This is not a booklet to turn anyone into a master customizing, but simply a set of guidelines to tune and adjust your harmonica--faster. As he says, the book is for people who want to learn from his mistakes without making them, and he says up front that he intends to entice the reader into buying his tools to get the job done more efficiently. I knew this before buying the book, because I had read reports about his tool kit (especially his draw scraper). I've only browsed through the book and there is plenty that I already know, but from what I've gleaned already, he's laid things out very simply and straight forward and offers a ton of tips that he uses. There are no deep secrets here and he even points to other resources that offer harp tweak instruction. He goes into very little detail on gapping techniques and such--he just explains how to do it. I do think that it'll get me to digging back through my bone yard of harps for a little practice. I've some tools, but maybe I'll spend a little of my Christmas cash gifts on his.

2. David Barrett's Blues Harmonica Play-Along Trax. Since I tracked down Sleigh's book on Barrett's site, I decided to through in a set of jam tracks. I've gotten to where I mostly play along with blues CDs by various artists, I do have a few discs designed for harp players to jam along to, and I do that sometimes. I figured that I might as well add a fresh set of tunes. If you have Barrett's stuff, then you know what to expect--a variety of blues styles, played by his School of The Blues Band, with detailed explanations and examples of how to play the pieces. Jam on!

3. Hohner Marine Band Crossover in G. The Marine Band harmonica has always been my favorite axe and when they offered the Marine Band Deluxe, then I was in hog heaven. They were more money than I wanted to spend for a harmonica, but they were also such an improvement to the standard model. They did things that I had done with my harps before, such as sealing the comb and replacing the plate nails with screws and such--so basically I was paying them for doing it for me. What I have found is that they have outlasted my standard Marine Bands significantly enough to make purchasing them worthwhile. Then, enter the Crossover. The replaced the pearwood combs with bamboo and completely sealed them from moisture (the Deluxe were partially sealed) and tweaked them a bit more than before. The only keys that I could find available were in F or G. I don't play either of those keys a lot, but I've had my G around for a long time and it needed some of that tweaking that Sleigh describes in his book--may be my first candidate. The F needs work also, but the Crossovers costs a bit more than the Deluxe models, so I went with the G. Played it long enough to go--Wow! Tight, smooth, responsive, and loud! Great harp! I don't have the knack for doing the technical reviews that some folks have, I just know that it works for me.

4. Chicago Blues: A Living History. The post below gives description of this release. Do I have it? No. I was getting quite spoiled with the prompt delivery of the three items above (within a few days), that I through in this disc onto my Christmas list a bit later. Even though Amazon stated that it would be in by December 21st, it hasn't made it as I type this. I guess the great Blizzards of '09 slowed its path. Oh, well, I still have something coming for Christmas.
(Pardon the flash glare on the photo--battery ran down, and I got too lazy for a do over)

Ya'll have a great 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chicago Blues: A Living History

My friend Joe, from Joe's Blues Blog, left me a comment in regards to me getting my hands on a "must have" blues release featuring some of the finest bluesmen that are still out there doing it and I told him that I planned on doing just that. Since then, August Forte of NoVo Arts, Inc sent me links to live performances from the tour touting the album and a press release that'll tell you more than I know about their grammy nod AND since some of you just might need a little mo' blues for Christmas or know someone who does, then this ought to convince you as to what to choose.




Chicago, IL – December 9, 2009. Raisin’ Music is proud to announce that Chicago Blues: A Living History has been nominated as “Best Traditional Blues Album (Vocal or Instrumental)” for eligible recordings released October 1, 2008 through August 31, 2009.

In an unprecedented collaboration, the legendary Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell--inheritors of the Chicago Blues tradition—joined forces early in the year to celebrate and pay tribute to the evolution of Chicago Blues. In April of 2009, this super-group released Chicago Blues: A Living History (on the indie label Raisin’ Music) to overwhelmingly positive reviews. During the following summer, the group toured Europe, playing to packed crowds at fifteen major music festivals in seven countries.

Produced by Raisin’ Music’s Larry Skoller, co-produced by Aulnay All Blues (Aulnay-sous-Bois, France) and recorded by Blaise Barton at Chicago’s JoyRide Studios, Chicago Blues: A Living History features Arnold, Primer, Branch and Bell leading a crack band on songs made famous by the forefathers of Chicago Blues, including Big Bill Broonzy, Elmore James, Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy.

The 2-disc, 21-track double CD pays tribute to the genre's creators, its rich history and current practitioners and is accompanied by a 36-page booklet with extensive liner notes, photos by Marc PoKempner and a handsome 8-panel Digipak designed by Larry Kazal.

The 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, produced by John Cossette Productions and AEG Ehrlich Ventures, LLC, will air on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/PT. For more information on Chicago Blues: A Living History, please check out the following links:

"...21 tracks of gorgeous blues; will undoubtedly challenge for blues recording honors this year. [Chicago Blues: A Living History] is a tremendous project that ought to be a finalist in a few awards categories. [It] is just a joy to listen to (and to look at), and it is without a doubt a recording that you will return to -- even if you have all the originals... Sonically superb and carefully conceived". -Living Blues Magazine

I can't see any blues lover not jumping on this one--these guys are just way TOO GOOD to ignore.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

From The Book of Juv

Virgil Brawley
Bottle Tree
Circle J Records

Put on your rubber boots because Virgil Brawley's gonna drag us deep into the Mississippi Delta mud with his first solo release, Bottle Tree, and prepare for a soulful and spiritual trip with each step. Most of Brawley's musical output has been with his band, The Juvenators, and those who have followed the ol' blog here know of my history with them and just might have read my review of Mojo Burning. This release is for the most part an acoustic outing featuring the fine blues writing, singing, and guitar playing of Brawley, with additional instrumentation sprinkled among the eleven songs here (eight originals).

As he has on his three Juvenator discs, Brawley writes lyrics which have deep roots in personal experience and observation, and they always have a solid story line. Mojo Burning recounted a fire that took out all of his musical equipment and prized possessions and the Juvenators served it up on a blues dirged platter. On Bottle Tree, Brawley's reflections on life include painting his white house blue, searching for solid ground, looking for Little Susie, and thanking his cat for allowing him to share her home with him.

Along the way, he gets real spiritual a time or two, such as with his take on the biblical story of St. Peter in Fish Tales, that includes some nice acoustic finger picking from Steve Chester in support (he chimes in on couple of other tunes as well). Brawley's vocals have always had a world weary quality that fits the blues so well, and when that ol' spirit is moving him, then the mud gets deep. Walking Through Eden and Lightnin' Hopkins' Needed Time keeps that old time religion rolling with the former employing some sweet slide from Chis Gill's National Triolian Resophonic guitar and some slick sliding way deep in the well from Brawley's Dobro on the latter. The first is a ghostly, dreamy search for redemption and the second a shout out to Jesus to let him know that his time is needed--now.

Brawley proves that he can slip and slide on the strings pretty darn good on quite a few cuts on Bottle Tree, including on the title cut which is about spirits of a couple of different types. Seems that a bottle tree's creative purpose is to ward off evil spirits, so he adds a few of his own bottles after draining off the spirits and hopes that those dead soldiers don't become the death of him. Tyler Bridge and Ted Gainey's bass and drums add to the atmosphere here and on other tunes as well. Brawley's slide keeps Tampa Red's (who was no slouch on slide) traditional Delta Woman Blues, well, traditional and puts a light pin on Sweet Josephine, which never explicitly states that it's about a cat, but it sure sounds like a few that I have known. Hell, Virgil might have a monkey for all I know. Regardless, though, it is a tale well told.

He keeps that light touch sliding on his lament of lost tradition on Eudora's Jitney. The tune has a country flavor to it, and Brawley channels John Prine's vocal timbre on this metaphor about growing a bit long in the tooth and watching the world change for the worse. The song is about the Jitney-Jungle grocery store chain that had its birth in Jackson, Mississippi and spread out across the South, until Winn-Dixie bought out most of them. Eudora Welty made frequent trips to Jitney #14 on Fortification street in the Belhaven distict of Jackson, and her writings made it as famous as she. It's a McDade's Market now, and as Brawley writes, it may still have #14 above the entrance, but it just.."ain't Eudora's Jitney anymore".

There is a touch of Brawley's electric guitar on White House Blue, about making his disatifaction obvious, to everyone who drives past, by getting out the ol' paint brush. Jimmy Jarrat shines when given the greenlight to throw down some nice piano licks, and he does the same on the only other electric blues affair, Solid Ground on which Brawley wonders if he'll ever find again. His minor key single string work is understated, but effective--the way it's supposed to be.

Bottle Tree has captured the essence of the Delta in the writing, singing, and picking of Virgil Brawley, so get those rubber boots out--or maybe some hip waders, because he's gonna take you deep out in it before its over. Look for his stuff here:
cdbaby and at The Juvenators cdbaby site.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Better Late Than....

Well, well, well. Little Walter has been nominated for a Grammy. Ain't that something? The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967) got the nod for Best Historical Album. This is not stuck away in the blues category, but competing across the entire music spectrum. Now if he can beat out Woodstock--40 Years On: Back To Yasgur's Farm, then the greatest blues harmonica player EVER will gain a bit more well deserve mainstream acceptance. Woody Guthrie or Sophie Tucker could slip up on him, but to me NOTHING beats the importance of the Little Walter stuff that I blogged about when it was released.

I've never been a big Grammy fan, but it sure is nice to see the members making some sense in their selections over the last couple of years. Great to see that the Cadillac Records soundtrack with Kim Wilson, Barrelhouse Chuck, Billy Flynn, and Eddie Taylor Jr. received a nomination also, and since one of Beyonce's 10 nominations is on that soundtrack (she played Etta James and torches At Last), then maybe it has a chance to be heard by the multitude's and it's not in the blues category either. Whatever happens, it is nice to see blues music getting a little more recognition. For a complete list just go here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hamming It Up At The Bugle Boy

I spent an enjoyable evening out with my wife and son (Virginia and John) at a venue over in La Grange, Texas (yes, that La Grange)called The Bugle Boy. I had heard about it previously, and when I saw that Hamilton Loomis was booked to play there, I asked him about it when I saw him at the IBC held at The Big Easy last month. He told me that it was really a unique type of atmosphere that they call a "listening room" and that patrons are not allowed to talk during a performance. Indeed, we found after arriving that the only real rule the club has is "no talking" and that their motto is "Loose lips, sink ships". Lane Gosnay runs the tight ship, along with a host of volunteers who love live music. Click on the link above to get more of a low down on the venue and an idea of the artists they book. Seems that most of the acts are of the acoustic variety--so listening is paramount. Anyway, Hamilton told me that he brings in his full band and that they jump the joint. The place seemed perfect for an outing with the family and a spot where my son could watch a guitar player work without a few drunks in the way. There were way more lattes being served than beer.

I'd seen Hamilton exhibit snippets of his talent a time or two at one of Sonny Boy Terry's harmonica blowoffs or a jam here and there, but never really watched him work with his own band. I've followed his career since he released his first album (Hamilton) as a teenager, on which he played all the instruments. Since then, he's recorded a couple of well received (and reviewed) albums for Blind Pig Records. Even his latest for the label, Ain't Just Temporary, has him laying down tracks on which he plays most of the instruments--so the man has some kind of real musical talent. This gig at The Bugle Boy, though, has him touting the release of Live In England, and this night he showcased quite a few songs from the CD.

--Photo by Christie Goodwin

After talking my wife and son into traveling the short distance over to La Grange with me, they both assumed that we'd be seeing a bluesman at work. Matter of fact, Lane Gosnay, in her introduction, told the audience that she hoped that they liked the blues because Hamilton was going to lay it on them. BUT--when John asked me, before we headed out the door, what kind of music did Hamilton Loomis play, I couldn't tell him, in all honesty, that he played the blues. I had to say..."hmm, sorta, kinda, funk blues, soul, R&B, pop, with a little rock." He looked at me rather quizzically, but after the show he pretty much had to agree with my assessment.

Now, those who know me well--or have read through my posts here--know that I prefer my blues straight up with no chaser, but Hamilton Loomis is such an Energizer bunny with enormous talent, and he always keeps one foot planted firmly enough in the blues that he's hard for me not to enjoy. Of course, I'd love for him to just blast out his blues harp licks all night and sling out bluesy notes from his Ernie Ball-Music Man guitar and be the torch bearer for a new generation of blues fans, but that's just not his shtick. When he turned the crowd onto Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's Bow Wow, it reminded me how perturbed I was with Watson moving off over to the funk side of things. I wanted him to stay put in the zone that his classic Three Hours Past Midnight fell into, but he shoved off into a different direction and played it just as well and enjoyed immense success. He just didn't grab me any longer, though. Hamilton's cover at The Bugle Boy had me looking for my Watson cassette and gaining a greater appreciation for the songs on that album. Hamilton just flat tore the tune up and turned it upside down and inside out with his guitar licks.

Hamilton funky stylings grabbed me at The Bugle Boy, though, with his infectious smile, smooth vocals, incendiary guitar playing, well chosen harp riffs, and tight bandmates; Stratton Doyle (sax, keyboards), Kent Beatty (bass), and Josh Duckworth (drums). He turned both Doyle and Beatty loose a time or two, and allowed Beatty to feature his skills on a jazzy original instrumental that he thumped out on his bass. Darned good bassman.

I was hoping that Hamilton would lay his guitar playing on heavy, so John could witness some professionally applied plank spanking, and he didn't disappoint on that account. Few of his tunes ever fall into a twelve bar groove, but most of his guitar licks are gleaned from the genre, unless he's just flat out rocking away--even then he chooses some tasty choices for his note. He had the crowd where he wanted them from the opening chords of Best Worst Day of his life, from his last album, through his Bo Diddley tribute, which he played on Diddley's trademark, red rectangled guitar tuned to open E and on which he lit into the rockinest version of Road Runner that I've ever heard. You might say they turned the listening room upon its ear and had the place jumpin' to their jive. They went rather wild on the tune, which seemed to be a habit of theirs.

What appears to be improvisational flurries off into snippets from classic rock tunes (Deep Purple, Jimi, Cream, etc...), or TV and movie themes, are just well planned, coordinated showmanship (listening to the live release bears this out). His band members hit every cue perfectly as they slide in and out of these snippets. Of course, the hit of the night was when they segued into ZZTop's La, how, how, how. He livened up the aforementioned, Bow Wow, with such forays off to some other land also. Of course, I loved it when he put his lips to his customized harmonica holder (a vacuum cleaner attachment from his mom's house)with an embedded Shaker microphone and yanked on some nice blues chops. He broke it out enough to keep the harp player in me satisfied.

Bottom line--my wife and son both had a great time. All I had to do was look his way, while Hamilton's fingers were flying across the fret board, to know that John was appreciating the talent on display. Great night, great venue, and a great band. Be sure and check out Hamilton's website for a better insight into just what he's all about. 'Nuff for now.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mo' International Blues Challenge Stuff

I just had to post this picture that Sonny Boy Terry had taken of his band to place on the International Blues Challenge website because I think it captures the essence of the band. Pictured below are: Sonny Boy Terry (front and center), and from left to right, Lenny Fatigati (bass), John "JZ" Zuleger (guitar), and JD Detulio (drums).

Go on over to the Blues Foundation website at and click on the IBC logo and it'll take you to a page that has all the information about the event, including the current entrants with bios and pictures.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tear It Up, Eddie!

No one does it like Eddie C. Campbell. He's just a unique voice in the world of blues--whether it's from his reverb ladened licks shooting from his trademark red Jazzmaster guitar or his mellow vocals bending notes around his witty, life observing lyrical ideas. Now, if you go back through my posts, you know that I've told a tale or two about getting the chance to share a stage with Eddie and what a thrill it was to play with a "Real" Chicago band, and you know that I've reviewed his stuff before, so you know that I'm partial to Eddie C. Campbell. There just ain't mistaking his style for anyone else's, even though he's steeped in the tradition of the Chicago Westside guitar sounds of his childhood friend, Magic Sam, or Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy (even though Buddy has walked on a wilder side for quite some time).

His Delmark Records' release, Tear This World Up, has the same atmospheric tonal vibe that Hopes and Dreams (Rooster Records), and That's When I Know (Blind Pig Records). And again, that vibe just has a uniqueness to it that doesn't exist anywhere else in the blues. Even though Eddie sings that he's played with everyone from A to Z, he makes the point that everyone also played with him on the fourteenth cut called Bluesman. He reels off a litany of blues legends such as Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, Luther Allison, and even James Brown. There's no bragging on the tune, just the fact that they played with each other. He doesn't say it, but he is the legend now. He also sounds like none of those that he played with or who played with him.

The CD opens up with a typical Campbell lyrical double entendre twist called Makin' Popcorn--which he states has to be done real slow. The tune boogies like Canned Heat's On The Road Again thanks in part to Mojo Mark Cihlar's blues harp lines, but mostly to the drive of drummer, Marty Binder, and the insistent thump of Dario Golliday's bass guitar. These two guys do some aggressive, rhythmic pumping throughout the proceedings. Eddie lets us know it's Eddie from the first jangly chords he strums leading into his staccato, reverbed single notes with a low note unexpectedly shooting from his fingers over our heads on occasion.

His humorous side comes into play on the self effacing, Big World. He works in an audible snore to let us know that he's fallen asleep once the women he's wooed is ready and before he has a chance..."to tear this world up". Pretty typical Eddie C. tale relating to the real world, but devoid of the same old blues that permeates too many tunes today.

Eddie C. pays tribute to his old friend, Magic Sam, with Easy Baby (which Delmark recorded by the way). Of course, Campbell's guitar notes bouncing and echoing in the air capture's Sam's tone perfectly, but he takes the low road with mellower vocals than the higher pitched vibrato plea that Sam made his trademark. Binder and Golliday bang the hell out of the bottom as Eddie does his buddy proud. Hard to believe that Sam Maghett's been gone for over forty years.

Although Eddie works his falsetto vocals lines into several songs, he really shoots it up there on Tie Your Time Up, a song lamenting those that just flat waste our time. Use of this vocal pattern goes all the way back to Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, and numerous others, but it has become a trademark of Eddie C. Campbell's and not many do it better for lyrical emphasis.

Voodoo really gets atmospheric. The echo laden tone italicizes Eddie's message regarding the fact that..."my flowers won't grow, the mule won't pull the plow...all I'm getting is sour milk from the cow". Among other weirdness that just has to be full of voodoo. Cihlar's swoops his harp in and out to add to the airy, slap backed tonal groove.

Being the harp player that I am, I was hoping that Cihlar would be turned loose more often, but he's stays put in the pocket for the most part. Vibrations In The Air, which comes closest to a down and dirty Chicago shuffle, features his playing more than the other three tunes with his credits. The tune opens with him in the driver's seat and allows him to work in a bit of a solo as Eddie sings about changes taking place around us. Cihlar gets another solo shot on Buddy Johnson's I'm Just Your Fool. He steers clear of replicating what Little Walter put into his seminal version of the song and does his own thing. He does a good job of weaving around and augmenting the horn section.

A couple of instrumentals showcase the Eddie C. Campbell book of knowledge as he twists, turns, and gets what he wants to from the Jazzmaster. It's So Easy has a finger snapping rhythm in the style that is so much of what he does and All Nite just has some slice and dice, slashing notes shooting all over the place. The rhythm section nails it down tight and a good bouncing, boogie piano from Marty Sammon really ups the ante.

I've never heard Gerwin's Summertime kick off with a Flamenco picking style, but he eases it into a blues stew that is all Eddie C. Campbell and it sort of illustrates how he can take the very familiar and make if fit his unique self. Okay, that's it. Check his stuff out for something different in the blues.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rockin' At Gilleys

Thought I'd post a video of the band that placed first (in their category, which was non-country) at the Texas Battle of the Bands last weekend (November 7), held at Gilleys Roadhouse. The band is sort of a jam band type aggregation, so they ain't blues--but some of those kind of licks do seep into to what they are doing. The main reason for posting up the band, Liquidious, is that my brother-in-law (JD) was serving up some of the guitar licks for that event. He's the one stage left, slingin' the tone with the Les Paul. Lead singer/guitarist is Dave Hanlin, Chad MacManus is on bass, John Chapin beats the drums, and Jeff McCabe plays the keyboard.

Gilley's Roadhouse is the old Henry's Hideout, between Plantersville and Magnolia, Texas and it was once billed as the Horniest Place in Texas, due to the multitude of antlers decking every inch of wall space in the joint. Mickey Gilley's son, Keith, bought the place awhile back and has it jumping in the spirit of his dad's famous dance hall.

There are a few more videos from the gig at the same site and the band has a myspace page.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where The Buffalo Roamed

Sitting here listening to Sirius Radio crank out Norton Buffalo's music in memory of one of the truly great harmonica players reminded me that I needed to post my own tribute to the man. He passed away a couple of months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Back when I began this blog, I mentioned him as a big part of my history with the instrument, so I repeat a piece of that here.

When I first picked up the harmonica with intentions of seriously learning how to play it, I couldn't play anything but chords and couldn't for the life of me coax single hole notes out of the thing. The two embouchure methods, mentioned in the little Hohner pamphlet, to achieve this goal were to pucker the mouth or block the unwanted holes with the tongue. I couldn't do it without slurring the adjacent holes. THEN--one day I accidentally curled my tongue around a note and, WHAM, the single note sounded out. So, I just began working my way around the harp with my curled tongue and it worked. As I ran across other harmonica players, I began to think that I was pretty much a weird duck, because they would just look at me strangely and asked, "You do what?" Now, this was way before I had access to any type of internet harmonica discussion sites, such as the Harp-l.

One of the few mail order harmonica businesses back then was Kevin's Harps. Seeing that Norton Buffalo had two instructional videos available, I ordered both. I had seen Norton play with the Steve Miller band back in the day and I knew that he had played the scorching harmonica on Bonnie Raitt's Runaway . His solos on that one song rank up there with Magic Dick's Whammer Jammer or James Cotton's The Creeper in the minds of harmonica aficionados as a creative gem. He swapped out four differently keyed harmonicas to achieve what he wanted. Those that saw him play it live will testify that it was a sight to behold.

To cut to the chase--in the opening segment of video one the Buffalo said that he got his single notes by curling his tongue. What! I felt vindicated. Here was a pro saying that he just learned to do it that way and kept with it. I had a new friend. Now, since then, someone on the Harp-l discussion site (might have come from elsewhere, I dunno) named the style as a U-Block, which sounds better. Also, since then, I've accumulated quite a bit of Norton's stuff and he's his own man in terms of technique and style. He's way more than just a blues player. Go to his while it's still available and click on the photo button to see the myriad of musicians that this man has played on stage with.

When my wife walked in a few minutes ago, she recognized his warm vocals sounding throughout the house, because of all the tons of music I have, she liked Norton Buffalo better than anything I have--especially his work with slide monster, Roy Rogers. She couldn't believe that he had passed. I can't either. He was my same 58. Ride On Buffalo!
P.S.--Here's a nice vid of Norton Buffalo with Steve Miller. It also features some nice stuff from James Cotton:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Leader of the (Wolf) Pack

My daughter, Megan and husband Brad, made a jaunt to the Windy City last weekend. Before they left, I told them that Eddie Shaw was playing at Kingtons Mines, and that he would be absolutely worth catching in action and they did. They met up with their friends and enjoyed a performance by this legendary bluesman. He even sent a thank you back to me for sending her to him.

Here's an entry from All Music Guide explaining the importance of Eddie Shaw better than I ever could:

Biography by Bill Dahl
When it comes to blues, Chicago's strictly a guitar and harmonica town. Saxophonists who make a living leading a blues band in the Windy City are scarce as hen's teeth. But Eddie Shaw has done precisely that ever since his longtime boss, Howlin' Wolf, died in 1976.

The powerfully constructed tenor saxist has rubbed elbows with an amazing array of luminaries over his 50-plus years in the business. By the time he was age 14, Shaw was jamming with Ike Turner's combo around Greenville, MS. At a gig in Itta Bena where Shaw sat in, Muddy Waters extended the young saxman an invitation he couldn't refuse: a steady job with Waters's unparalleled band in Chicago. After a few years, Shaw switched his onstage allegiance to Waters's chief rival, the ferocious Howlin' Wolf, staying with him until the very end and eventually graduating to a featured role as Wolf's bandleader.

Eddie Shaw also shared a West side bandstand or two along the way with Freddy King, Otis Rush, and Magic Sam. The saxist did a 1966 session with Sam that produced his first single, the down-in-the-alley instrumental "Blues for the West Side" (available on Delmark's Sweet Home Chicago anthology). Shaw also blew his heart out on Sam's 1968 Delmark encore LP, Black Magic.

Shaw's own recording career finally took off during the late '70s, with a standout appearance on Alligator's Living Chicago Blues anthologies in 1978, his own LPs for Simmons and Rooster Blues, and fine recent discs for Rooster Blues (In the Land of the Crossroads) and Austrian Wolf (Home Alone). Eddie Shaw, who once operated the hallowed 1815 Club on West Roosevelt Road (one of Wolf's favorite haunts), has sired a couple of high-profile sons: diminutive Eddie Jr., known as Vaan, plays lead guitar with Eddie's Wolf Gang and has cut a pair of his own albums for Wolf, while husky Stan Shaw is a prolific character actor in Hollywood.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sonny Boy Terry Live @ IBC Houston Finals

Go to and click on Sonny Boy Terry @ IBC Dan Electros for their fine performance of his original, "Miss Ann's Playpen", recorded during the IBC finals at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar. Darned fine blues being played! I tried my darnest to embed the link and something wouldn't let me. Dunno what the heck is up with that, but just type in the youtube address and enjoy it.
UPDATE: NEVER MIND ALL THAT. HERE IT IS: (if it doesn't work, then do the preceding)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Blues For Food '09

If you ain't been to one of these, then you owe it to yourself to go and listen to some of the best musicians in Houston. This is the BEST food drive in town! I'll let the press release do the talking.


Here is the line up for our Umpteenth Annual Blues For Food Festival '09 at Shakespeare's Pub located at 14129 Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77079. The official date is Sunday, November 15th, 2009. Music begins at 12 Noon and runs for 14 hours.

This holiday season’s honored guest artist is Excello recording artist, swamp blues legend Jimmy Louisiana Dotson. “Jimmy was always a big part of Blues For Food in it’s early days. He is unique blues performer and a Houston treasure. This a wonderful opportunity to pay our respects,“ say Blues For Food music director Sonny Boy Terry.

Any non-perishable food items and cash donations are accepted. There will also be raffles and a silent auction. All proceeds benefit the Houston Food Bank. A free Texas style BBQ plate comes to all those who donate. With 15 acts and numerous special guests, NEARLY FIFTY musicians and a total of one hundred volunteers are donating their time and energy to this great Houston tradition.


20 years running now with over 24 Blues For Food events under our belt (Blues for Food founder Big Roger Collins was doing them twice a year at first), Blues For Food, a precursor to the development of the Houston Blues Society, has set the bar for charities on the local Houston music scene raising close to 100 Thousand Dollars and 150 thousand pounds of food in it's long history.

Please visit or for continuous updates as more details develop. Feel free to pass the word and promote it within your social groups, businesses, organizations and/or church activities. For more information, call Sonny Boy Terry at

713.869.7746 or 713.822.0437.

Hosted by 2009 IBC Houston Regional Finals Champ Sonny Boy Terry. Masters of ceremonies and guest announcers 90.1 KPFT’s James “The Blueshound” Nagel, Nuri Nuri, Mr and Mrs Vee. As usual, we a have top drawer steller and diverse line-up of blues and roots artists

Steve the Chief - 12 Noon - 12:45PM

Brad Abshur Band - 1PM - 1:30PM

Don Kesee and the Bluesmasters - 1:45PM - 2:15PM

Erin James and her Bad Habits - 2:30PM - 3PM

James Reese Band - 3:15PM - 3:45PM

Mojofromopolis - 4PM - 4:30PM

Dave Nevling and the Blues Kats - 4:45PM - 5:15PM

John McVey and the Stumble - 5:30PM - 6PM

Texas Johnny Brown and the Quality Blues Band - 6:15PM - 6:45PM

Sonny Boy Terry - 7PM - 8:15PM

(W/Rich Delgrosso/Jimmy Louisiana Dotson sitting in on their set)

The Texas Destroyers featuring Doug Black - 8:30PM - 9PM

Snits Dog and Pony Show - 9:15PM - 9:45PM

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sonny Boy Terry Wins Regional IBC

Well, it's official. Sonny Boy Terry's blues band will represent Houston and its blues society by winning the finals of the regional International Blues Challenge held this past Sunday, October 25, 2009 at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar. I wasn't in attendance, but I expected that his band would do-the-do, get 'er done, pull out all the stops, and generally play the "Real" blues the way it's supposed to be played-- to the extent that the judges would have no choice but to send them boys on to Memphis. Now, I'm sure that The Clay Melton Band, Bourbon Street, and the Blues Mafia put up the good fight, and that they all went at it tooth and nail. I know that Sonny Boy and his band put everything they had into this competition, and that they wanted to win and have a chance to display their chops along with the best unsigned blues bands from around the world. I've never met anyone more dedication to the genre than Sonny Boy Terry and if his band doesn't whip the competition in January, then it will not be from a lack of effort. NOW GO GET 'EM GUYS.

P.S.--Here's a link sent to me by a representative for the Blues Mafia for anyone wanting to know what they put down.
P.S.S--Here's a video of the same--

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Travelled over to Houston's Big Easy Club Social and Pleasure Club last Sunday to support my buddy, Sonny Boy Terry (SBT) in his quest to represent Houston in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge (IBC)at the end of January. Each year, blues societies around the world select an unsigned blues artist to represent them at this premier event. Actually they choose a band and also a solo/duo act to send to the challenge. Each society schedules a series of competitions to narrow the field down to the best of the blues bunch. The past two weekends were set aside for two different groups of bands to sling it at the judges and blues enthusiasts. Two bands from seven in each group were selected to proceed. I'd toss out some of the parameters that the judges must adhere to here, but I'd probably muck it up, so go over to the IBC site or to the Houston Blues Society's and read 'em yourself. By the time I put in my appearance at The Big Easy, a band calling themselves the Blues Mafia and another named Bourbon Street had won their prelims the weekend before and were tap to head to Dan Electro's Guitar Bar for the finals (set for 2:30 pm, October 25).

So, the SBT band needed to beat out five other bands to be chosen as one of the two additional finalists. I'll just say (in my biased opinion) that it was no contest. They were simply the best blues band of the bunch--case closed. His band could easily call themselves a blues mafia. They came out dressed to the nines in dark suits with names like Sonny Boy and JZ and JD and Lenny from Pittsburgh. They followed five of the bands (selected by drawing lots), so I they knew what they faced by the time they hit the stage. TC and the Cannonballs followed them, and Sonny Boy's group knew that group of veterans. Not to diss any of the bands, because I enjoyed them all, and they all had something to offer. Brown and Swerve's vocalist sang strong covers of soul type blues, The Snake Charmers' tight red dressed female vocalist did the hoochie mama thang, The Clay Melton Band slung out Stevie Ray Vaughan/Hendrix style of fiery notes, TC and the Cannonballs torched the stage with a loud roadhouse rumble, and Jack Edery and Ultra Suede and the Texas Bluzecats added variety to the blues mix. BUT--Sonny Boy Terry's band just exists on a higher musical plateau that none of the other bands have reached yet, and I think they proved that very well. JZ chose the tastiest guitar notes of the evening to lay on the crowd, and no one plays drums better than JD, and Lenny stayed steady, drove the rhythm, and remained unflappable even as his bass amp crapped out on him. Sonny Boy chose three originals and a cover (which I guarantee no one else on the planet has covered) by the late Ashton Savoy. Let's just say that he boys nailed it, and the judges must have thought so also.

I figured that the well seasoned band, TC and the Cannonballs would join Sonny Boy as the other finalist, but the young pups took the other spot. I don't know how young members of the trio, The Clay Melton Band, are, but they do kick up a fuss with guitar fed through a Marshall stack by the Clay man. I know they pumped the crowd into a frenzy.

So, Sonny Boy will meet up with the young gun again and they'll match blues riffs with the Blues Mafia and Bourbon Street for a little Sunday afternoon showdown. Anyway--I'm pulling for SBT.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Birthday To Me (and Ricky Estrin)

I turned 58 on Friday without much fanfare. My wife was still in Corpus Christi attending CPS foster parent seminars, my son crawled out of bed with his mind on school and my birthday slipped his mind. My daughter called with discussion topics unrelated to the day I was born, and I had to jog her memory. I had already put the pedometer, that she sent me for the event, to task a week ago--so she actually offered her congratulations early. So, the house felt a bit emptier than it normally does on a Friday morning. I did go over to my mom's in the afternoon to eat the chocolate birthday cake that she had ordered from HEB and to accept her cash donation to my birthday fund.

I also sampled the Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood Live from Madison Square Garden DVD birthday present and really enjoyed watching these two guys perform with same passion that they had when they played together as 20 year olds--this time unenhanced by chemical assistance. Eddie C. Campbell's new Delmark release, Tear This World Up, played a part in my one man birthday celebration. Maybe I'll get back to these two worthy musical productions later, but right now I'll get on to the main event.

First, I'll explain using Ricky for Estrin's first name. I've always gone by Ricky for Richard and plenty of times that gets shortened to Rick. I just happened to hear crackerjack bassist, Ronnie James Webber, call Estrin by the name of Ricky at one point after he was invited to sit in with the Nightcats (more on that in a bit). It seemed to drop a few years from Rick's 60, hearing him called Ricky. I was once told that I should go my Richard, because Ricky seemed to be more juvenile. I'll take juvenile. Of course, when I watch Ricky Estrin, I think more in terms of juvenile delinquency, if he lived anywhere close to some the tales he sings about. So, the name Ricky fits the Bad Boy of the Blues persona just fine.

I'll back up a bit here and explain that I had ordered an online e-ticket from Dan Electro's Guitar Bar for the Rick Estrin and the Nightcats' show. My expectations were that the club would be extremely packed and getting an advanced ticket would be wise. My only reservation about the reservation was the possibility of stormy weather. Stormy weather + Houston traffic = nightmare. So, I sort of sat around listening to my new birthday music and the downpour on my rooftop, debating whether or not to weather the weather. By six o'clock the rain had slacked enough for me to make the dash to Houston.

I left early in order to make it by the time the doors opened at 8 and to find parking in the lot, which I knew would be limited. As I stood under the front porch awaiting entry with only five other folks, one of life's missed opportunities arose as a character stepped out from the club's door for a smoke. The thought crossed my mind that the shaggy looking, bearded fellow might just be the band's guitarist, Kid Andersen, but I just as quickly dismissed the thought. Once we got into the club and he picked up a Les Paul and started slinging out notes for the sound check, then I figured that I could have at least said hello to him outside. I did get the opportunity to meet local harp player, Larry Bernal, who was among the five waiting with me outside, along with his 7th grade son. Steve Schneider had mentioned Larry to me several times in the past and I always wondered about this guy who at one time had one of the only Sonny Junior III amplifiers ever made. So, I entered the club with Larry and his son and we took a front row table that also ended up being occupied by Steve, Carlos Ramirez, and Andy Edwards--all Houston harp guys. I really enjoyed their company. My good friend Sonny Boy Terry also showed up with his lovely wife, Jenny. Those two make such a beautiful couple; they are so proud of each other. So, I was in great company for a show featuring one of the world's greatest blues harp players.

If you are still reading this, I'll get to the birthday heading now. Somewhere (I can't remember where, maybe I dreamed it) I read that Rick Estrin's birthday was either on October eighth or on the ninth like mine. So, when Larry enticed him to our table saying that Scott Berberian said hello,(Scott's the wizard behind the Meteor harp amps and Larry has two of his Mini-Meats and is ordering the 15" speaker version), I wished Rick a happy birthday and he appreciated it and didn't deny it and I told him that I was celebrating my 58th with him and he appreciated it and said, "Man, I turned 60". Oh, and then he kicked ass all night long.

I used to carry a note pad with me back in the day when I seriously tried to get someone to publish my blues articles, but I'd rather just sit back and enjoy the show--what I'm saying is that I don't recall set list songs and such things as that. I'll tell you this, though. I meant to pack a camera, but didn't do that either. The Nightcats opened with a number that absolutely smoked the place and it would have been an encore tour de force for lesser bands. The smiles at our table indicated that, "It just don't get any better than this"--but it did and did and did. Rick turned Kid Andersen loose on that first number and he never did get him back in his cage--not that he had any intentions of doing that.

I say cage, because Kid Andersen is absolutely a wild man on guitar. I need to mention that once he donned his stage clothes and slicked back his long blond hair, this bearded Norwegian proved to be an excellent sidekick for Estrin's ultimate showmanship. Superman jumped from the phone booth. He wowed us! Yep, he really did and the room was filled with a bunch of Houston musicians eating up his tonal grooves--that varied immensely. He'd rock the billy awhile like Johnny Burnette, shoot out reverbed ladened staccato jabs, ride a slow down low down wave that washed out over the club, sling a few leg kicks to the air, pick with his teeth, and basically just do the do. Take Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Hubert Sumlin, Guitar Slim, and Junior Watson, roll them up and feed 'em a mushroom or two, and it might get close to describing what comes out of the Kid's amplifier. Once he gets rolling, it ain't no telling what notes will be firing out from the stage. I think back a few posts ago about Rick Estrin's Alligator Records release, Twisted, in which I described his instrumental Earthquake, as sounding quite like Freddy King on meth. He did that one (which Estrin said was a hit in Russia) and burned it down to the filter. Strange thing about it all, is that he showed immaculate restraint when called for and proved that he's a master at backing a harmonica player. Those types are rare. With all his guitar antics, though, there is still no way that Rick Estrin got upstaged at any point during the night. Estrin just reclaims his turf once the slinging is done and sometimes with one well placed harp note, blown with the finest tone known to man (or blues man) at least.

Most of the night's set came from the aforementioned CD or the one right before it called On The Harp Side, with a few chestnuts from his Little Charlie albums. I could run down each and every one of those, but I'm not. Let's just say that if you have those two CDs, then you have a good idea of what the Nightcats laid on us last Friday night. He did throw down an outstanding version Little Walter's Off The Wall, just in case us harp players thought that we were somebody. He nailed it down wonderfully, blowing through a digital reverb pedal and analog delay fed into his Harp King amp with 6x10" speakers. Got some kind of wall of sound going--which he also kicked in when he whipped out his chromatic harp. He prefaced a few of his witty, humorous songs with a humorous tale as how the idea entered his cranium. Those snippets were priceless. He had us all eating out of his hand.

Of course, if you've seen a Little Charlie and the Nightcats show, then you know what a cool cat daddy Rick Estrin is, which no one in show business comes close to matching, and few can match his blues harp skills. The difference now is that Rick leads the Nightcats and he puts his harp in his mouth a whole lot more often and proves that point song after song. You've also seen him put the whole harp in his mouth (like a cigar) during a Sonny Boy Williamson II number and he pulled that trick out for us, too. He amazes me with just how solid his acoustic intonation is when he's emulating this master.

These are Rick's Nightcats. J Hansen impressed every harp player in the club with his knack for driving what Rick wanted driven on drums. My buddy, Sonny Boy Terry said that he wished that every drummer in town could witness how a drummer should back a harp player by listening to Hansen. He proved quite the witty lyricist and singer himself when he took the mic to sing the double entendre, I'm Taking Out My In-laws. Lorenzo Farrell slapped the standup bass and locked stepped with Hansen all night. Seems that they spent some time together in the past and both have a little jazz in their resume. Rick gave them a bit of time to showcase themselves a time or two during the night. Great rhythm section duo dudes. Farrell even slid over to the keyboards to add a bit of spice to the stage sound. The last set he slid over there and stayed awhile for an unexpected treat. Ronnie James Webber was in the house and Rick brought him to the stage to plunk the Fender electric bass. Ronnie James played with the Nightcats for about a decade and with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and with Mark Hummel and recently with the Mannish Boys and, and, and...Let's just say that he knows how the blues is suppose to go and he knows how to go about doing it really well. I enjoyed watching him pick the bottom out of things. It was a real treat watching him work. He seemed to really get off on a low down harp instrumental that he claimed that someone named Greg requested. Estrin sucked the song for all that it was worth.

Of course, that brings me back to the Nightcats' guitarist. He's just plays the best guitar that I've heard in a long, long time and he co-produced the Alligator release with Estrin, so he knows his way around the sound board. His last employer was Charlie Musselwhite (he's plays on the Delta Hardware release, so that seals the deal for his credentials as the real deal. Charlie don't hire no slouches on the six string. I've heard his work previously from what he laid down on John Nemeth's and RJ Mischo's last recordings, but nothing prepared me for the what he kicked out live and in person. He's a phenom! I'm heading to CD Baby to pick up his own Greaseland.

Rick Estrin has himself one hell of a band and I feel privileged to have witnessed them perform their magic. It's the Estrinman, though, that makes the whole engine work and he has definitely mastered the master of ceremonies better than a carnival barker, and did I mention that he plays some of the best blues harp in the land?

Bottom line--this was the best birthday gift that I've ever given myself. Great night! Great band! Great company! Get over to Rick's site and get yourself a Nightcat fix. Anyway--'nuff for now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hot Rod

Rod Piazza
& The Mighty Flyers

Soul Monster
Delta Groove Music

There are only a handful of harpmen working the circuit today that have risen to the professional level of Rod Piazza. He's in the company of Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin, and perhaps Mark Hummel as far as paying his dues,demanding respect for the instrument, and commanding decent pay for his talents. Piazza began playing and recording the blues way back in the '60s and he's still on top of his game and his twenty fourth album, Soul Monster, stands as a testament to that fact.

The challenge for a blues harp veteran such as Piazza is to avoid recycling what he's blown before in order to keep things fresh. He's always acknowledged this challenge and met it head on by employing different techniques. He's used low keyed harps on some albums, added a little funk to spice up blues covers, varied the amount of amplified nastiness, or he's messed with the meter or tempo of a classic. Regardless, though, Piazza's style shows through and is instantly recognizable. You know what you're getting with him, even though you don't really know what you're gonna get--other than top notch musicianship. What you know that you're gonna get is an album chock full of variety and Soul Monster is no exception to his formula.

Big, fat, chromatic octave chords open the proceedings on the title cut and there just ain't no mistaking that it's Rod Piazza producing those deep tones on this funky instrumental. It represents one of the four originals on the thirteen cut disc. One of the other originals is also an instrumental called Expression Session, but he worries the hell out of a diatonic harp on this one, with a musical head similar to what I've heard Charlie Musselwhite play on Hard Times from his According To album. The vibe is light, but Piazza's throwing all manner of note bending and low end runs all over the tune. Piazza's albums always include such instrument numbers to highlight his harp chops, Honey Piazza's estimable piano skills, his guitarist's string bending prowess, or even his drummer's stick wizardry. Soul Monster's third instrumental comes from Rod's main mentor, George "Harmonica" Smith, and it's called Sunbird and has that ol' amped up nasty sound and some stupendous lick ideas from one of the best. I can't recall a Piazza album void of paying homage to this West Coast master blaster.

One of my favorite cuts from Piazza's Alphabet Blues album was the slow burner, Blues in '92. He reprises it here, but re-christens it Tell Me About It Sam and introduces the tune with an anecdote about the late, great Sam Myers. Seems that the Mighty Flyers were sharing a bill with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets (Sam's band) and Sam requested that song from Piazza. He told Sam that he didn't think that he could remember the words. Sam told him, "Hell, I'll sing it." During the set, Sam was introduced to the crowd and when he got to the mic, he said, "You know, it's a shame when a man doesn't know the words to his own song." The song, about hard economic times, fits today's financial climate perfectly. Just goes to show that times were tough back in '92 too.

This disc certainly isn't challenging Piazza's lyrical ideas, since two of the originals are instrumentals and one is the aforementioned re-do and the fourth, called Cheap Wine, sounds down right silly to me. I think they were sitting around drinking the stuff when he came up with the words. It does make a darned good excuse to give everyone a chance to shine with their instruments,though, especially Dave Kida. He drums the song into submission and makes us forget the insipid lyrics. Actually, my favorite Piazza licks on the album make up for the song's short comings.

Honey's not granted the solo showcase that's standard on numerous Might Flyer's releases, but her talents sweep through the proceedings. The weaving of her notes throughout Jimmy Reed's Can't Stand To See You Go raise the song way above the standard shuffle and keeps it there. When Rod has her take it home, she lights into her keys intensely and does her own mentor, Otis Spann, proud. She also carries the bass line for the ensemble, because they have no bass player employed on this disc.

Speaking of Jimmy Reed. Piazza doesn't shy away from covering well worn chestnuts from the masters and he always does such justice to their memory. Little Walter is never far from the surface of what he's laying on us and Piazza has covered way more than many of Walter's tunes, but he throws in just enough Piazza style to keep it honest. So, I really don't mind hearing Key To The Highway again, particularly played with such feeling as Piazza gives it. You know, I'm quite sure that this Big Bill Broonzy song was worn out by everyone and their dog back when Little Walter chose to cover it, but he darned well made it his own. Piazza certainly doesn't make it his own as much as he's just paying a well played tribute. You Better Watch Yourself is pretty much a straight up LW cover, also, but hell, I like it. He does take Slim Harpo's Queen Bee out for a ride that has a significantly different vibe than the original Louisiana swamp groove.

Jimmy Liggins' That's What's Knocking Me Out has the West Coast style blues covered, along with Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So), which is sort of a duet with guitarist Henry Carvajal, who's also given a solo vocal turn on the '50s style do wop flavored Talk To Me, on which his voice fits appropriately--a bit like a middle aged Frankie Avalon. The song is replete with horns from Jonny Viau and Allen Ortiz. By the way, Carvajal's guitar slinging has grown on me since his first Mighty Flyer's outing. He just seems like a more comfortable fit for the group now than he was then. He also seems to shift styles a lot smoother than before and that is the bands forte.

They cover Hey, Mrs. Jones (a Jimmy Witherspoon hit), but they plant it firmly with a Cha Cha rhythm and Piazza employs a deep in the well echo to the vocal track. So, its a bit removed from the West Coast type of stuff that's associated with Witherspoon. That's the kind of stuff you gotta watch (or listen to) to understand how Piazza makes the old, new again, and keeps it fresh.

So, if you know Piazza, you know what to expect--plenty of variety, some old, some new, some West Coast, some Chicago, but all played well by one of he best blues bands in the country and of course, with harp blown by one of the best in the business. By the way, Delta Groove Music certainly seems like a great fit for Rod Piazza. The owner, Randy Chortoff lets Rod be Rod in the studio and we are rewarded with some great blues. Anyway--'nuff for now.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nurbergring World Superbike Races

What a Labor Day Weekend--so I just have to blog about it. My crazy brother-in-law, George, called me Wednesday night of last week and said, "Hey, Rick, I've got tickets to fly to Amsterdam and then we'll drive over to the World Superbike races in Germany. Do you want to go?"

"When are you flying over there, George?," I asked.

"Tomorrow at 3:40 p.m.," he answers.

Long story short--I agreed and off we flew Continental Business First Class for a mighty fine price for a round trip. Which was the deal that he couldn't pass up, especially since some of the best motorcycle riders in the world would be racing within driving distance.

We arrived in Amsterdam at 8:30 on Friday morning, rented a car, and headed out to the Zuiderzee dams. Amazing feat of human environment interacton out there--and the 50 mph+ winds whipped at us pretty darn good once we embarked from the rental Volvo. We took our pictures and enjoyed a rest at a unique snack bar on the dam and headed back to Amsterdam.

After checking into our downtown hotel, we walked down to the Rijks and the Van Gogh museums and snapped some pictures around the downtown area. Way too much jet lag convinced us to forgo waiting in line for a museum ticket and then end up wandering around the halls like zombies on drugs. We headed back to the hotel at around 3 p.m. and soundly sacked out until 8:30, then caught a cab in a torrential monsoon for the Dam Square shopping district--where you can literally buy anything you want. Yep, anything. So, we sloshed around with umbrellas to window shop in the world famous Red Light Distict--which has to be the most unique city blocks on the planet. We eventually plopped ourselves down under the canopy of a restaurant and watched the world go by. Never seen that many people trekking around in a city in the rain.

What really struck me about Amsterdam was just how immaculately clean the city is. That goes for the Netherlands in general. The countryside is all picture postcard and the roadsides aren't used for garbage receptacles. The Dutch are just neat.

We hopped in our Volvo on Saturday for a four hour trip to the Nurbergring race track to watch the practice runs and the bikes compete for pole positions. I don't know much about motorcycle racing, but George spent many a weekend racing for real in his younger days and knows the sport inside out and also many world class riders. The one rider that he was most excited about was Ben Spies from Longview, Texas, who is tearing up the World Super Bike circuit at age 24. I thought that it was fabulous that we had a Texan in the fight. George explained that Spies had the disadvantage of never racing this course, when most of the European riders had many times. We were quite bummed out watching Spies total his bike out on one of the curves as it flipped and flopped off the track. Unhurt and undeterred, he rode the course well enough on his back-up Yamaha to gain a starting position on the second row.

At the end of the day, we programmed our GPS (which we named Ingrid) to get us to our hotel--somewhere in Germany. George had no clue where, so Ingrid took us on the most scenic route she could find, winding through very beautiful German mountains and quaint villages. We ended our trip in the city of Cochem, which we could see right off was a popular tourist resort on the Mosul River. It looked exactly like you picture a German town to look or want it to look--complete with a 1000 year old castle overlooking the inhabitants.

After Ingrid guided us to our hotel, it didn't take us long to discover that George had booked us into a romantic getaway spot. While checking in, George did ask about the room having two beds. The female desk clerk said that she was sure it did, but that she would take us to the room and make sure. I'm pretty certain that she wanted to discreetly hide the heart that was pasted to the door with George's name on it. There were two beds--singles--pushed together. Well, regardless, this was a great place, with a great view.

After breakfast on Sunday, we headed back to the races. Two Super Bike races are run at every venue on the circuit; so as George said, "You get more bang for your buck". In between the 1000cc Super Bikes are the 600cc races. Our spot on the track was at the first curve, which was hairpin and took more than a few racers out of the race. It was the curve immediately following that one that got the first race of to a very bad start. Several bikes flew off the curve, one caught fire, and one rider had his neck run over by a bike. A restart was necessary and Ben Spies found himself running fifth after the first set of curves.

It didn't take the Texan long to begin the process of picking the riders off in front of him. It was exciting watching his world class work. By the half way point he had worked himself up to second place and then we watched him overtake the Japanese rider,Nuriyuki Haga, for first at the curves within our view with two laps to go. He never relinquished the lead and beat the daylights out of the best riders in the world. It was GREAT! And there were a whole host of Germans behind us that loved the Texan and cheered him at every turn.

Spies started off the second race bogged down in ninth position and George figured that he was sunk. But, the boy from the Lone Star state methodically worked his way through the pack until he was riding the back tire of the first place rider, Britain's Jonathan Rea. He tried his best to take him on several turns, but his opponent fought him off. Spies took second. Not a bad day at all for the young man. It also propelled him to the lead in the World Super Bike circuit points. Whoop! Go to Spies' website and check the guy out--he's for real.

We left the race track at around 5 pm and let Ingrid do her thing back to Amsterdam and George did his thing also--which was to see how fast our Volvo would do on the Autobahn. 143.6 mph is what he calculated the kilometers per hour to mean. So, we flew back without wings--just on a wing and a prayer on my part. Of course, he didn't keep it topped out at that speed, but we be cruising most of the time.

We made once last round viewing the Amsterdam sights that evening and hung out on the sidewalk of a bar and George bribed the waiter to have them keep playing blues music over their programmed sound system. Mighty whirlwind trip and one that I'll always remember. Anyway--'nuff or now. I'm still jet lagged.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In The Beginning...

In the beginning, my wife's Aunt Norma's Motorola AM/FM tube radio sat on the floor waiting for me to decide what I should do with it. Aunt Norma figured that if anyone had use for an old radio with tubes in it, that it would be me. I did pull the back from it a few weeks ago just to check out what type of tubes operated the unit. She had told my wife that one tube didn't work.

I found the usual array of radio/television type tubes, which I am not familiar with because they are never applied in musical instrument amplifiers. I've buttoned the radio back up or I would name them off here. There was one nice Motorola 12AX7 which I've identified as a Mullard. I pulled it and tried it in one of my amps and it does have a sweet sound for a tube that's been at it for 50 years. By the way, the Motorola label completely disappeared after that short test run. Glad the paint stuck on there long enough to tell me that it was a 12AX7. I wouldn't of had the knowledge to identify it and tell it from its close cousins. I did recognize the rectifier as being common in smallish guitar amps--EZ80 or maybe it was EZ90, one of those.

The radio is a table top model, but with nothing indicating which model. At some point I may delve into the electronics and spark something up, but what I decided to do yesterday was check out the two speakers hanging on either side of the radio. Each speaker box could detach from the unit and be spread out about 10 feet from the radio. I figured from the get go that they possibly would make decent harp amp speakers with a little alternate wiring.

First, though, I wanted to try and identify what I had. Removing the back of one of the little cabinets revealed a 6" alnico speaker with "Golden Voice" stamped on it, with code numbers on the side. Through the marvels of the internet, I discovered that I had two 1962 Oxford alnico speakers and that convinced me to continue my little experiment. I checked the Ohms and got a reading of 6.9 ohms at the terminals and since I would be using an amp that prefers an 8 Ohm load, I decided to wire them up for half of that--figuring that lower would be better with a tube amp. After wiring the speakers together with a spare 15' speaker cab cable on which I kept one 1/4" plug attached to plug into the amp, I found that the Ohms read 5.4 at the end of the plug--so the load may just not be as low as I figured since the length of the wires came into play.

Bottom line is that I plugged these dudes into my Voice of Music 8 watt amp, wailed away, and got some really nice rawkus tones going. I had a bit of fun sticking the speakers around me in different positions and playing with the acoustics they provided. Of course, these will seldom have a use outside of my house, but within these walls, they be cranking. Anyway--

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lone Wolf Harp Break

Yipee Ki Yi Yay II! Randy Landry, over at the Lone Wolf Company, has been in his mad science lab again and has another winning pedal to help us harp players achieve the tonal nirvana that we all seek. This time, though, I've got my hands on his latest creation called the Harp Break--and the best part is that it was FREE! Followers of my posts here have read my glowing reports of his inventions and possibly listened to the linked demos. I've been very, very tempted to buy one or more of his gizmos, but my playing out days are so limited that I've just haven't done it. My loss.

He ran a contest for the new Harp Break and I won--I didn't have to play harp better than anyone, he simply drew my name from his hat. Luck of the draw, thank goodness. The Harp Break is a distortion type pedal designed to add grit, grind, and fat to an amp that's a bit too clean sounding or to plug directly into a p.a. for a tone that has more mojo or just to twist a little variety into your favorite harp amp. Click on the link in my opening sentence and check out his site and scroll down to the Harp Break in the sidebar and take a listen to the demos. Houston harp whiz Dave Nevling shows just how well the Harp Break performs through his p.a. at a live gig and Ron Sunshine puts the pedal through its paces plugged into a Fender Bassman Reissue. I'll let that web page fill you in on the pedal's details and I'll fill you in on what my impressions are here.

First off, it is very simple. I like simple. The Harp Break has three knobs--drive, volume, and bass boost. Plug and play baby. The true bypass feature makes for seemless A/B testing. The first thing I stuck it to was my Ol' Smoky amp (described in one of my very early posts). It is a Bell Sound 3725 p.a. amp, driven by two 6L6 tubes, that I rejuvenated quite some time ago, but never really got it to produce the tone that I wanted. Enter the Harp Break. Using my JT30 style 5 meg crystal mic to push my harp notes, the Ol' Smoky suddenly sprang to life with the pedal. The volume increase before feedback was significantly substantial--the presence jump out at me and the bass boost gave it more whomp. That really caught me by surprise. I played around with the drive knob and it added or substracted the amount of grit that I wanted it to put out. The only trick is to balance the drive with the volume to avoid too much clipping or feedback. I wound the volume wide open and eased the drive knob up to get some great tone and then I backed the volume down and wound the drive knob up to get something slightly different going on and achieve a bit of tonal variety. I got what I liked best with the bass boost up 3/4, the drive a bit past a 1/4 and the volume up at slightly less than 3/4. The Ol' Smoky was smokin'.

I pushed this all through a couple of less than optimal 10" speakers, just to see if I could get a decent tone from them for a change--and they came alive with the Harp Break. Once I plugged the rig into my 4x10 cab with Webers, I had a tonally different animal on my hands. It rocked!

My experimental session moved on to my old Voice of Music amp with two 6V6 tubes, which also had something lacking in the tone department. Again, the first thing I noticed was the volume boost. The sound just leaps from the speakers. The Harp Break transformed the amp from one that was so-so into a blues harp amp that I enjoy playing now.

I then put the Silvertone 1483, which I heavily modded for harp, through the test. Of the four channels, I've got a couple that are set up more for crystal or ceramic mics and they need absolutely no help getting the vibe going. The 1483 gets my favorite tone when plugged into those with a crystal mic. I can't play my controlled reluntance or controlled magnetic microphones through those because the tone gets clipped too hard and chops the notes off. They sound decent through the other two channels,especially it I tack my J-Phat impedance matching box into the signal chain. So, channels one and two were excellent candidates for the Harp Break to work its magic. And, man, did it ever. Those channels rival my crystal mic inputs when the Harp Break kicks into action. The bass bomp from the cystal channels always seemed to be missing on channels one and two--not any longer. Now my CR/CM mics can get those cranking with the Harp Break cranking. Oh, and my crystal mics are just as awesome through those channels, because the pedal performs the same buffered impedance matching as my J-Phat.

Okay. That's my story. Not the end. Just the beginning. The Harp Break got me off my butt and has me practicing like I should have been doing all along. Long live Lone Wolf. I thought Randy would have run out of ideas for pedals by now, but he just keeps coming up with winners. Check 'em out. Anyway--

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More Cowbell Please!

Alabama Mike
Day to Day
Jukehouse Records

Ever heard of Mike Benjamin? No? How about Alabama Mike? Me neither, until I kept seeing advertising for his debut CD Day to Day. I mentioned him back in June in the post entitled, Ramble On. I also stated that since it looked like that guitarist Steve Freund and harpguy R.J. Mischo were on board that it just might be a worthy release. As it turns out, it is--but don't go out and get it based on my reasoning. Those two exhibit their talents on only two cuts each. Just get this to hear a new guy on the block sing the holy heck out of some traditional blues styles.

He may be called Alabama, but Mike woos them on the West Coast and is surrounded in the studio with plenty of those cats from out yonder. Seems like the days of making a go of it as just a blues shouter passed several decades ago--with the likes of Big Joe Turner, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy T-99 Nelson, and Jimmy Rushing. For a long time now, the blues has revolved around laying it down with guitar, piano, sax, and harmonica and if you could belt out lyrics along the way, well, so much the better. So many of the aforementioned singers fronted bands that swung more than just blues--lots of R&B and big band jazzy stuff. NOT Alabama Mike. This cat is a BLUES singer.

Day to Day is just chocked full of what the blues is all about. Most of it is of the gritty, down-in-the-alley, gutbucket type, which is illustrated quite well by the slam bang sliding whines of Jon Lawton's guitar. I'm not a guitar guy, but it sure sounds like he's got a Resonator cranked up on the title track, along with Mike's intense vocals. Did I say intense? Wait until you hear him channel the ghost of Son House on Death Letter Blues where he gets absolutely ferocious. Oh, and I just thought Lawton's slide was nasty on the opener, as he proves he knows his Book of House also and really bangs the box.

Charle Wheal (of Mark Hummel's Blues Survivors) slaps on the straps to get a bit more B.B. Kingish on Religion, which showcases what the Alabama guy can do with penning blues lyrics. I mean, really, how can someone talk to you about religion when they give you so much hell--that's what he's talkin' 'bout. Seven of the ten cuts are his originals and they are solidly written blues stories. The weakest may just be the one chord boogie, Lay My Money Down. That type of groove doesn't call for a lot of lyrical invention--just boogie on. The aforementioned Son House tune, Willie Dixon's Too Many Cooks, and two Elmore James' tunes (Strange Angels and Knocking At Your Door) are nicely sung covers, or should I say nastily sung covers. He has quite a bit of Buddy Guy melded with B.B. in his delivery.

With all the slide playing going down on this disc, neither of the two Elmore James'cuts have a whiff of the bottleneck. Charles Wheal breaks down the former and Freund stabs nice single picked licks on the latter--he even throws a bit of broomdusting on it. Speaking of Dust My Broom, that exactly the vibe that Lawton brings out on Sara Brown when he breaks that nasty ol' slide back out. It kind of bounces into Freddy King's Tore Down territory also and that's kind of how this CD goes. Most of the songs remind me of some other blues song from back in the day, but that's alright mama, mama that's alright. By the way, R.J. does blow the reeds away on Sara Brown.

I've never heard of Scot Brenton before, but his blues harp tones are pretty tasty on a couple of the cuts. I have to keep tabs on this guy, because he also plays rhythm guitar and waves the wah on Naggin'--which brings me to the point of the post title. Sorry it took so long to explain why I stole Christopher Walken's legendary line from my son's favorite Will Farrell Saturday Night Live skit. I'm just not used to seeing cowbell listed in the credits of any song; and there it is, Myles Silveira: Cowbell. So, there you have it. I don't know, but he must be related to the drummer, Scott Silveira, who ramrodded this project and brought a wonderful vocalist out of the shadows for us all to hear. Oh, yeah, John Nemeth sits in on harp on I've Been Rocked and is excellent per usual--BUT don't buy this for the harp playing, because with only five out of eleven cuts having harp it may disappoint you. Buy it and discover a new real blues singer. Anyway--'nuff for now.

100 Posts Old

Yipee Ky Yi Yay! I guess a celebration is in order since I just noticed that my last post represented #100 for Back In The Day and the Bushdog Blues. What a milestone! Naw. Some folks write a post a day and since my first post appeared in April 2008, well, I'd say that I'm way behind that curve.

Now that I'm a novelist (unpublished, but what the hey), my research indicates that most bards are sort of expected to promote the fact that they write and plan on publishing or have published and should promote what they have written in a blog. Part of today's Marketing 101 for publicizing the published. Many, if not, most published authors also have a website dedicated to getting the word out there and information as to just how to order their latest (or the one before that and the one before that, etc...).

Many of these blogs have oodles of information in regards to writing right (at least in their blog roll sidebars). We can follow them through the trials and tribulations of the tasks facing their writing efforts and read the myriad of comments egging them on to stick with it and get her done. In some cases, they'll post unpublished snippets of their unpublished work in progress.

You might say that this post here is an example of what I probably should be doing. Writing about my writing. Maybe I'll start up another blog, someday, for doing just that. In the meantime, I'll just blog about the blues as the muse strikes (and mention my unpublished novel on occasion, since it does contain a little blues). Anyway--'nuff for now.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Guitar Hero Update

The son-in-law Brad came in with my daughter Megan this weekend and he was bearing a gift for my guitar prodigy son, John. The initial plans were to travel to Dallas to visit them, but Brad had his eye out for a Reverend guitar and the Backstage Pass Music Center in Waco just happened to be on the way to our house and just happened to be one of the closest dealers to Dallas. Hard to believe that Dallas doesn't have a dealer.

So, Brad came in and lit John's eyes up with a Dunlop Crybaby 535Q Wah pedal. It is the copper model, which according to Brad's axe mate, Justin, just may be better than the models on the market today. It didn't take long before they were wah-wahing the dickens out of the air.

John plugged his new Cruzer into the Sear 5XL (which, by the way, he's getting great distorted tones from now) and Brad plugged his brand new Reverend into my Kalamazoo. I thought I could remember the Reverend model that Brad bought, but alas, I can't. Really nice looking and sounding guitar, though. Meant to get pictures of the two jammin' down--Brad even mentioned it once, and alas again. Not like me to disregard that type of photo op.

John's rendition of Voodoo Chile sounded really good with the wah waving the notes around. He and Brad bounced back and forth and then I brought out my Dan Echo to give Brad's Reverend a little alternative vibe. Brad has been a very positive influence on this new hobby of John's and had some nice licks to throw at him. Things got wild when he suggested to John to chain both pedals together. Can you say psychodeliac?

They spent some time afterwards looking for wah-wahed guitar examples on the Internet, so I just had to break out my Earl Hooker and lay some of his Wah Wah Blues on 'em. They were impressed. Not too many bluesmen took to that pedal like Hooker did.

John's playing is progressing rapidly. He impressed his guitar teacher (of only three lessons), who said that he has never been able to move so fast with a student and that he thought that John could actually teach guitar. Don't know about that, but he sure picks things up quickly. Now, to lock him in a room with some Hubert Sumlin and Otis Rush. Anyway--'nuff for now.

P.S.--I'll get Brad to send me a photo of the Reverend and post it.
P.S.S--Here's Brad's Reverend Charger 290 & his Fender Blues Deluxe: