Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just In Case...

UPDATE: Never Mind! The Little Walter YouTube videos have already been yanked by the poster. I had a feeling that they would not be up very long. Someone will probably do it again. Guess we'll all have to buy the DVD at some point. Was planning that anyway.

Just in case you don't surf the harmonica forums and haven't been made aware of the Little Walter videos that have been posted up on YouTube, I'm going to supply a bit of information that'll lead to places chock full of LW stuff (again just in case you need to know a bit more about LW than you do).

Check out Mean Old World at and an untitled instrumental at The importance of course is that there is VERY little film footage in existence of the greatest blues harp player, so every snippet is valuable. These are from 1967, which is late in Walter's career and he's playing acoustic and not the amplified blues harp that he set the standard for, but anyone who knows harmonica, knows just how good this stuff is.

I guess I could have embedded the videos here, but since these come from a recently released American Folk and Blues Festival Vol. 3, 1967, I don't want to get involved with issues related to copyright issues. So, click on the link while they are available. Also, click on this. If you haven't done so, get a copy of the book that these guys wrote and spend a bit more time with Little Walter. It is one of the BEST books about the blues world swirling around Chicago in the '50s and '60s and the only book dedicated to the life of one greatest stars of Chi-town Blues. Their site will link you up with the AFBF music DVDs from which these clips come. If you don't have volumes 1&2 of this series then they are must haves for all blues fans wanting to see the blues giants from America blow through Europe and blow them away with their talent. Big Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Willie Dixon, Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Junior Wells, Otis Spann, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, oh and on and on...just get 'em.

This latest release is still in European DVD format, so it may or may not work in your DVD player unless it supports that region. There is also a clip of Little Walter singing and playing My Babe that the youtube poster hasn't put up yet, also with Hound Dog Taylor supplying lead guitar. The website of the DVDs has some of the great liner notes that you can read for yourself.

I posted a picture of the Little Walter bio book just for the added graphic and I don't think the authors mind if I tout the book as one the the best that I've read about the music. Their website also has information is regards to a complete Little Walter box set that'll be available next month. Hmmmm, I don't know what I'm lacking there, but I might have to bite. Anyway--'nuff for now.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Billy Gibson or Blues History--Part 6

A few years back my family and I (including my Mom) decided to take a road trip to see my brother Rusty (he's known as Tom in Tennessee) and his wife Beth in Memphis. So, we planned out a trip during mine and the son John's Spring Break from school. I was really excited to visit Memphis and check out Beale Street.

Before leaving town, I thought that I would try and check out where Mississippi Blind Morris or Billy Gibson might be playing. They were the only two harp players that I was familiar with who might be around the town somewhere. I couldn't find an itinerary, but I did find an e-mail address for Billy and wrote him, introducing my self and the fact that I was visiting his fair city and wanted to catch his band somewhere. I knew Billy's playing from a group called the Junkyardmen and was impressed with him. He considerately e-mailed me back and told me of his Sunday night gigs at the Rum Boogie Club (which I'd heard about from my brother) and he said be sure and bring some harps--that we'd have fun. I replied that I'd try to catch up with him, but that I wasn't sure about packing harps to his gig. He wrote back and encouraged me to do so.

We blew into town and Rusty & Beth proceeded to show us a fine time. We travelled over to Beale on a Saturday evening and strolled a street packed with tourists and designed for tourists. At feeding time, the decision was to eat at their favorite steak place (name eludes my right now). It seemed to be everyone else's favorite
also, because the line spilled onto the sidewalk and down a ways. I asked about Rum
Boogie's food and they said it was great stuff too and I mentioned that Billy had told me he and his guitarist, David Bowen, had an acoustic duo spot on Saturdays and that maybe we should just eat there and listen to some good tunes and maybe meet Billy Gibson. Agreed by all and all were simply amazed at the talent of Dave & Billy. And all agreed (including myself) that it might not be wise to step up on stage with such a player.

Billy came over to our table during his break and introduced himself since I had a Texas A&M cap on my head, he figured that I was the Texan that had e-mailed him. He emphasized again to bring my harps out for the Sunday show to play a tune with his electric outfit. I look at him a little timidly and said something like, "Oh, now, I don't really know about doing that." He said, "Sure, it'll be fun." Yeah, right.

At my brother's house I did see that Blind Mississippi Morris was playing in what Beth said was an upscale club. We left the Rum Boogie to go and check him out. The club was upscale, with white table cloths and, after we were seated, a drink menu that was pretty extravagantly priced. Before we ordered anything, I asked about Blind Mississippi Morris and was told that, no, he wasn't playing that night--to the relief of us all.

My brother and I went back over to the Rum Boogie on Sunday night and the Billy Gibson Band was in mid-1st set and they were smokin', especially Billy's harp playing. The dinner crowd had most the tables near the stage, so we took a seat at the bar. After the first set, Billy and Dave found me and we talked harps and stuff. Dave and Billy were both from Mississippi and Dave talked about growing up around the blues, but that Billy knew more about the music overall than he did (I think that's a white boy thang).

Billy asked me if I'd brought out the A and the D harp that he said to pack and I said, "Yeah, but I have seriously reconsidered getting up there."

"Hey, you'll do fine and it'll be fun, I'll get you up during the next set," he countered. Yeah, fun. It'll be fun. Okay, this is for fun.

The Billy Gibson Band plays the funkiest type of blues that you're likely to ever hear and those of you who have heard them, know exactly what I'm talking about. It is owed in large part to the funky rhythm section of drummer Cedric Keel and bassist James Jackson. Brother Rusty had located us a table down close to the stage and we settled in for a real treat. The first set was just a preamble of what the band was going to kick out that night. Of course, I sat there with a bit of butterflies floating around and watching Billy kick it up a notch with each song didn't help matters.

Well, the set ended and actually to my relief, without me being called out to put up or shut up. I was willing to shut up at that point. Billy and Dave came over and joined us at our table with apologies for not calling me up. Billy said that he was giving Dave the high sign to call in the sub, which Dave said that he missed and they rolled straight into the set ender. Cedric joined us and was delighted to find out that I was a teacher. He said that he was taking course work towards a similar goal. I voiced my reluctance once more to joining them on stage and Cedric said, "Hey, we enjoy people sitting in with us. I'll be fun."

A few folks at adjoining tables had overheard the conversation and wanted to know, "What are you thinking? You're really considering following this guy?"

I said, "Yeah, they raise some kind of fools down in Texas, don't they. We just don't know any better."

Billy had told me to bring my A harp up with me. I had an A harp in one boot and a D harp in the other. I really didn't want to walk in with a case of harps in my hand. I slipped the A into my shirt pocket and watched Billy get the crowd pumped with his exquisite tone and at times, rapid fire delivery. I think I made a sign of the cross, praying that he wouldn't get me up after he spent the last three minutes of a song absolutely torching the crowd with solo to die for--I think my hair was being blown back by his sheer force and then I heard Dave say, "We have us a bluesman from Texas in the house and he's a school teacher, so you know he has the blues. Come on up here Rick." Oh, right, after that display?

Billy ask me whether I wanted to go through the vocal mic or his amp and I chose the amp and he left the stage, saying something about the mic being touchy. Dave said, "Let's do I've Got My Mojo Working in A." Okay, oops, wait a minute, I've got an A in my hand for the key of E. So, I had to dig down in my boot and fish for my D harp.

"Now, this is a real Texan that carries his harps in his boots," said Dave and off we went.

The mic was a bit touchy, so I had to listen for feedback, but I worked it okay. Dave threw me plenty of solo space and I knew that I wasn't going to be Billy Gibson, so I just did Ricky Bush and came off alright. The crowd gave me a standing ovation--I figured to support the fool up there and it was 3/4 into the last set and alcohol is a great equalizer when it comes to judging talent. Billy came back up and high fived me and said great job.Rusty had never heard me before, so he was duly impressed, as were the folks around us. As I headed to the restroom, the gal who ran the soundboard told me what a fine job that I had done and that there were very few people who had the guts to get up on stage after Billy Gibson. Whether it was guts or foolishness, I got to play on Beale Street.

So, it was fun! They were right and it'll aways stick out as one of the highlights of my harmonica playing. The real treat was meeting and hearing Billy and his fine band. I can't believe that I haven't posted up about this trip. Rusty and Beth moved away from Memphis and back to Texas, but now they are back in Memphis, so another road trip is in order.

Billy has several CDs available. I think Live at the Rumboogie really captures the band well, but the studio release of The Billy Gibson Band is fine also.I think the newest is called Southern Livin' and is especially funky. If you want a great visual representation of what these guys put down, then check out The Prince of Beale Street Billy Gibson--Live At The North Atlantic Blues Festival (pictured above). They really stretch out and get the grooves happening on it. Don't pass up his work as a young pup with the Junkyardmen. I don't know if hard copy CDs are still out there, but I do believe that iTunes has it available. Check CDbaby for the CDs or Amazon. Anyway--'nuff for now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

More iTune Diddies

I downloaded these some time ago and been reaping what I sewed (or enjoying listening to them). I balked at posting them up, because of the aforementioned problem of having no liner notes to straighten me out on specifics. So, to be able to share what I know is limited unless I visit the artist's or record company websites and glean the information from there. The alternative is to buy the hard copy CD, but when I'm just cruising around the iTunes site looking for a little variety from a variety of artists, well, I just can't afford to do that. I can download a couple of tunes that really move me from 10 different blues albums for $20. The problem there is that sometimes I end up downloading half of an artist's CD anyway because I just can't drag myself away.

I knew absolutely nothing about Alex Rossi, other than that he was a harp player that I had not heard about before. The title cut from his Topcat Records' Let Me In convinced me that he was indeed a player. He comes out of the gate with the type of rip, snorting amplified harp tones that I love to hear. So he hooked me immediately. Nothing fancy, just in yo' face deep harp tone. Turns out that Rossi is from Brazil. It never ceases to amaze me just how studied foreigners are in the book of amplified Chicago blues type harp blowing and he has it down pat. Normally, what I find lacking with bluesmen from another country are the vocals. Sometimes they have just enough of their native tongue inflections to throw things off a bit. Rossi's singing is not bad at all, but when he turns the vocals over to someone else and just whomps on the blues harp the songs have just a bit more impact. Case in point is the female vocalist (I'll assume it's Kathy Prather from what I gleaned from the CD cover) on Good Lover and on which Rossi's extended intro gave me the impression that it would be a instrumental. She has a lot of Angela Strehli swagger in her delivery and whoever plays the guitars, lead and rhythm, lays out some mighty fine picking.

This was recorded while Rossi was hanging out in Dallas and Richard Chalk (Topcat's top cat) has lined up some of Dallas' finest to join him in the studio, including Chalk. So Hash Brown or Holland K. Smith are probably the guitar slingers, but then there is Phil Guy listed as being a party to the party also. I'll go out on a limb and say that it it probably Guy's vocals and guitar that infused the incredibly FUNKY Show Me Your Bombacha. Ever go and listen to Buddy Guy's schtick when he tells the band to "make it so funky that I can smell it"? Well, this fits that bill. It sounds amazingly close to what Willie King puts out when he's being a funkmonkey because it sounds a lot like him. Rossi gets down with the funk fun on it, too. I stayed around and sucked six songs from Alex. Tell Me How You Like It, Let Me In, The Sun Shining, Good Lover, I Just Want To Make Love To You and the title cut. I thought all of them stood out well. As for originals, Tell Me How You Like It had some nice (or nasty) stuff going for it, including some more outstanding guitar solo spots.

While I was cruising, I just had to stick some of Carey & Lurrie Bell's Gettin Up Live from Delmark Records. One of the first posts that I placed on the blog was about meeting Carey Bell at Bob Margolin's gig at Blind Willies in Atlanta and what a nice guy that I found him to be. He was obviously really proud when he told that he had just released a CD with his son on Alligator Records which was an acoustic affair recorded in Finland. This live Delmark record from Buddy Guy's Legends blues club in Chicago took place not very long after Carey had left the hospital after suffering a stroke and I think breaking his hip. This is one of those releases that I'll go back and order a hard copy of and the accompanying DVD--just haven't got around to it, so the next best thing was to do the iTunes thang. Carey leaves a sweet final chapter in his legacy before leaving us.

Both Carey and Lurrie are in fine form, which in Lurrie's case has been well documented to not always be the case--but he's conquered his demons and is on top of his game once again and proves that no one can back a harp player in the old school style like he can. He works around his dad's blowing much in the same way that Robert Jr. Lockwood and Luther Tucker and some of those guys used to do in the Chess studios. When it's time to break out, then he let's it out--but minus any histrionics that marr so many blues releases today. He does what Lurrie has been known to do when on top of his game and that's to play with taste, restraint and deep soul. Of course, Carey's always deep soul shines through as it does on most everything that he's waxed. No earth shattering new stuff happening. Just two legendary blues musicians doing their thing with a total lack of pretension. Carey proves that he can still carry an instrumental with Bell's Back on in which he sticks his trademark licks, that always distinguishes who he is from all the other Chi-town blues harp slinger. He walked the same bar floors as the other harp giants, but developed his own lick vocabulary that was recognizable as only Carey Bell's. Lurrie sticks his little contributions into the proceedings quite nicely, also. I took a couple from the Legends' gig and a couple from recordings of Carey and Lurrie at home (which is on the same release) with plans to buy the real meal deal at some point. If you know the Bell guys, then you know what to expect. If you don't you might sample some earlier Carey Bell from Delmark, such as Heartaches and Pain and has some of Lurrie's guitar on it too.

I grabbed a couple of tunes from Cedric Burnside and Lightin' Malcolm's 2 Man Wrecking Crew, on the Delta Groove label, because they were the two cuts on which Jason Ricci was lending his estimable harp skills. If you aren't familiar with Jason Ricci, then he's just about the hottest thing since sliced bread in the harmonica world. He can absolutely shred the harmonica or he can do as he does here, provide fabulous backing riffs for his bud, Cedric. Burnside, of course, is R.L. Burnside's grandson and he played drums with him from the early age of 13 and Steve 'Lighntnin' Malcolm hung around the North Mississippi hillsides long enough to learn the vibe of the land and they hooked up and do pretty much a type of tribute to granddad filtered through more modern lenses. Of course, R.L. got dragged through some strange twists of blues modernity before he passed and some folks liked it and some didn't. The couple of tunes that I took to the iPod were pretty much in that Burnside/Junior Kimbrough one chord style with great guitar from Malcolm and vocals from both, but it's Ricci's harp, especially on the Smokestack Lightning sounding groove of Mad Man Blues, that really adds to the show. He's fully amped up and no one can pull the same harp tones from the reeds that Ricci can, but he isn't trying to steal the show and he doesn't--it just sticks out in my ear more than it may in someone's who isn't as into harp as myself. He gets some really nice acoustic work in on She Don't Love Me No More. I listened to clips from the entire release and have to say that these guys are most successful when they stick to what they were raised around in North Mississippi. When they stray too far down the rock road, then I lose a interest.

Another duo on the scene is Patrick Rynn and Chris James and they are sorta kinda doing a retro thang revolving around mostly originals on Earwig's Stop and Think About It--and that are also mostly derivative--but then a lot of stuff nowadays follows suit. Not being negative, because I love this stuff. If you've been listening to blues as long as I have then you'll be able tell exactly which Muddy Waters' tune sounds like Mr. Coffee or that Stop and Think About It slips from somewhere out of the Elmore James book of blues and so on. My attention was drawn to these guys from hearing Mr. Coffee and You're Gone being played on Sirius radio's blues rotation and, of course, it was that rock solid amplified blues harp that caught my ear. So, here I was thinking that another good harp player had slip beneath my radar, because I figured since the harp was such a significant piece of both these tunes that one of 'em blew (or mostly sucked) the thing. Naw, turned out it was just one of those threads that wind around and end up spooled around someone who keeps a finger in the puddin'. Took me an e-mail to Bob Corritore to confirm my suspicsions that it was his fine self blowing up a storm with Patrick and Chris. Now the thread that I speak of has a very, very young Chris James sitting in with and becoming a harp player and then a bass player with Tomcat Courtney (who's posted about earlier w/Bob on harp) out in California. Years later, after he met Patrick Rynn and formed the Blues Four band in Chicago, they ended up in Phoenix playing with Tomcat and becoming a part of the Rhythm Room (Bob's Club) house band. Anyway, that bio tidbit led me into believing that since there seemed to be a Bob thread going that he was mostly putting down the good stuff on this release.

Even though the cover depicts a duo, this is ensemble type Chicago blues. The original You're Gone is a prime example stop time Chi-town shuffling in that model that Muddy and the boys set up for us back in the day. Corritore's harp is absolutely front and center and he gets the spotlight solo rounds that Rynn and James unselfishly throw out to him. There is great driving guitar that has it moment, but the group groove is the focus. And, that's the way it goes with most of the CD. This tune and Mr. Coffee (I'm Good To The Last Drop) have found their ways on to Sirius radios blues rotation with a bit of frequency and they let Corritore's harp light shine on Mr. Coffee as well. I hope enough people buy the CD so they know enough to give Bob Corritore credit for the fine work here. They're not too many foolish folks like myself that'll research these iTunes to find out who's who. These guys really do get some old school guitar tonal distortion going on here. The Elmore James' cover of Got To Move has the nastiest distorted chords that I've heard since Pat Hare's and I loved his work and it is the only tune I downloaded without Bob's harp because I love that dirt. Same with the Elmore sounding title song (Stop and Think About It)on which they express that exasperation with the people who think they know it all. By the way, Bob has a great newsletter that is full of great blues news. Just yesterday, it had a link to some great pictures of Kim Wilson and Amanda's wedding while they were working a Blues Cruise gig.

Okay, this has taken me waayy longer that I wanted and I'm tire of writing and I'm sure that you're tired of reading. I'll just pop out some snippets of the rest that I've captured:
Mitch Kashmar--Live from LaBlatt I've have several of Mitch's studio albums and I think he is one of the best out there today and he tongue blocks every note (ask a harpman about that). I just picked up a few that I felt that he'd stretch out a bit on a live stage. I knew that the musicianship would be there and it was and he blew up a storm. I enjoyed his covers of You're The One and Sugar Sweet. He pulls out all the harp stops and tricks up his sleeve and lets 'em fly. Good stuff!

Carlos DelJunco--I pulled some tunes from Blues Mongrel and his latest, Steady Movin'. If you know and like Carlos, then you have both of these. This guy is virtuosic. He gets tones that I've never heard anyone else get--kinda like Jason Ricci and like Ricci, he'll stray from the blues and let his freak flag fly. When he plays the blues, though, he's on a different plane than the rest of us and he'll twist it to where he wants it. He takes Little Walter's classic Blues With A Feeling out for a spin that is only recognizable by the lyrics, because he sets it up on a totally different stage and when he puts the harp to mouth he gets otherworldly with it and it works. Oh, and the same can be said for Amazing Grace--you've never heard it played like DelJunco does it. He always provides his harp key choices for which songs, if you have the CD's liner notes. Sweet stuff!

Dave Herrero--Austin to Chicago I picked out the two tunes to which Mark 'Kaz' Kazanoff (everybody's go to horn chart man)lends his harp chops. Leave Me Be kicks off with some of Herrero's spot on Muddy style slide with Kaz emulating Little Walter perfectly and sets up the Chicago part of the album's title. Herrero gets a bit fancier with his guitar riffs that Muddy did, but it's solid Chicago and his vocals are darned good also. The Austin equation comes in with an old fashion Texas style shuffle on Problem on which Kazanoff supplies riffs that are more swamp Louisiana in nature, such as Slim Harpo or Lazy Lester would be getting down with. Seems like a good release for Herrero and it's one that I'll revisit when I'm looking around and not as harp focused. Anyway--that's all folks.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mo' Fun With Mods

Here's another example of me finally getting around to doing something that Stephen S suggested that I might find useful at some point. He brought it up again recently, so I decided that I would revisit the sites where the modification was best explained. I've had both of these bookmarked for years. One of the sites has some of the best Kalamazoo amplifier information on the 'net provide by Miles O'Neal and the other was shared with harp players by Don DeStefano, who was THE go-to guy for amp mods for harp guys back when I burned my first resistor. Stephen referred me to him more that once.

The mod is simply constructing a type of "line-out jack" for my smaller Kalamazoo so I can make it bigger by going into a p.a. system or even a larger amp. Nothing new here with this slave/master amp scenario and some smaller amps come complete with a line-out feature. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here, because it is explained better by Don or Miles. Keep in mind that both make it plain that this is not a pre-amp line-out modification, but simply a matter of taking the signal off the Kalamazoo speaker, padding it with resistors and sending it into whatever larger sound source deemed necessary.

I'll be honest here and say up front that I really didn't understand what the heck they were talking about back in the day and really didn't understand schematics and it was a bit of Greek to me. It's dirt simple, though, and those of you that know of such things, well, you know that already. Both links describe a method of constructing a non-invasive outboard box that can then be hooked up to the speakers and both mention that it can be a more permanent mod by mounting the jack in the amp. I chose the cheapest method of sticking it all into a plastic film canister (mentioned on Miles' pages) with alligator clips on the wires protruding from the can. I chose Don's resistor values of 2.2k/100ohm, which he's says should be used with the Kalamazoo's 8ohm speaker output. Miles mentioned that he went with 4.7k/470ohm after finding some Gibson amps from the same era having those values. I think Gerald Weber is given credit for the former values. I may make another can with Miles' numbers and see it sounds.

My taste tests involved using the Ol' Smoky 3725 Bell and the Silvertone 1483 as the Mother or slave amps and I ran both into my DIY Python 4x10 Cab (with 2 Weber Vintage alnicos and 2 Weber Signature ceramics-discussed previously). The Bell seemed to have issues with a bit of hum and some static (the hum was ground loop, which was solved with a suggestion from Stephen to use a two prong AC adaptor on one amp--the static I'll deal with later), but it boomed the Kalamazoo through the Python quite substantially with really great tones. After unhooking the two from each other and blowing just through the Bell, it is plain that I need to open her up and see if dirty pots, crappy resistor soldering or what needs to be addressed.

Since most folks feed the overdriven tone of the small amp into a bigger wattage clean amp (which I don't own), I did choose to plug the Kalamazoo into the cleaner channel of the 1483. Voila! The Kalamazoo One on steroids. Big ol' dirty, fat sound getting down. So, it works as promised. Now, I doubt that I would ever take the Kalamazoo and the 1483 out at the same time because the 1483 can do that stuff on its own when plugged into my grid leak input with my crystal mic. I might consider the Ol' Smoky, which actually sounds much better in tandem with the 'Zoo. When the need arises to travel light, then I'll have a better option that just plugging my mic through a p.a. or playing through a vocal mic and the same and without having to mic the amp. I can think of a few times that I could have used this method. This is what Stephen's recent reminder was all about. Anyway--Got to go dive into the Ol' Smoky.