Friday, March 27, 2009

Lone Wolf Harp Attack In Action

I'm pretty sure that I've mentioned Lone Wolf pedals that are designed with the needs of the harp player in mind at lwharpamps and I just mentioned Stephen Schneider in the previous post (and several times throughout the blog). Stephen has been putting Lone Wolf Randy's pedals through real world stage tests and they have all met with his stamp of approval. The Lone Wolf Harp Attack pedal is designed to be able to plug directly into the p.a. (similar to the Harp Commmander) and get a decent amped up sound going on. Those who have bought this pedal have been impressed with its capabilities. Here is a vid of Stephen in Harp Attack action playing with Bobby Mack at Antone's during the SXSW. There was very little set up time and the sound man hadn't EQ'd his input initially when they took flight, but with his confidence in the pedal (and his playing), he was able to travel light and plug in and go. Sounds as good as an amplifier to me up there.

Stephen turned me on to Bobby Mack recently and let me tell you something. The man can SING the blues as well as any white man that I've heard. Darned fine guitarist, too. Shame is, I can remember see Bobby Mack's name featured at various club gigs back in the day and never checked him out before and then he sort of retire for awhile, but is back gettin' it. I will have to catch up with what he's doing out there. Anyway--Check out them pedals.

Just In Case... #2

Little Walter
The Complete
Chess Masters

Hip-O Select
Geffen Records

I just finish listening to the 5th disc of Little Walter's The Complete Chess Masters, so consider this as a "just in case" for those that didn't know it was on the market and to just go get it--period

Harp buddy, Stephen Schneider, e-mailed me last week asking if I had my copy yet. Not if I was going to order a copy, but if I had mine in hand as he did. He knows me well enough to know that I wasn't going to pass up such a release. I didn't have mine in hand (it was in the mail)and I had actually questioned whether I needed the 9 or so previously unreleased songs for the price of a box set of songs that I already had in my collection. I even e-mailed Stephen back for re-assurance that I spent wise money--an Unequivocal Yes was returned. He was under the opinion that this Little Walter collection had undergone the best re-mastering and had superior sound over any of Little Walter's previous releases. He was also impressed with the unreleased cuts as being a substantial addition to what we had of Walter.

I wholeheartedly agree. Hip-O Select has proven once more that they are one of the premier re-issue labels around and as I sat and listen to these recordings, it was almost as if I was hearing Little Walter's music for the first time (of course it was the 1,000th time), but it's not just his harp, but also the snap of the drums, the swirl of the guitar notes, and the pluck on the bass strings of his sidemen. Fred Below, the Myers brothers, Robert Jr Lockwood, Luther Tucker, etc...never sounded so sharp or so good. Of course, I wanted it all to sound better since I spent more money for more of the same. I wanted it all to sound better than my Essential Little Walter and the Blues With A Feeling follow-up and by golly it does. No lie--AND I just thought that I had everything that the man blew except these nine unissued cuts, but there were a couple that I somehow missed. Some of those nine are alternate takes and it's nice to have those and the issued alternate takes back to back with the issued singles--to see just what alternate ideas Walter had floating around on the same tunes or his bandmate's different attack. By listening to these discs, I was also reminded just what a monster Walter was playing the harp acoustically--absolutely untouchable. Liner notes come from the same folks that brought us the Blues With A Feeling-The Little Walter Story biography and they sum things up nicely. No one knows the master better than Tony Glover, Scott Dirks, and Ward Gaines and if you haven't bought their book, then you're missing out on a great story.

That's all I've got to say. Anyone who plays blues harp has a bunch of Little Walter and may be like I was in the beginning--hesitant to spend the money, but this IS worth every penny. This is definitely a must-have for anyone remotely interested in blues harp or for that matter just to hear one of the biggest stars ever to play the game. I don't think the Essential Little Walter nor the Blues With A Feeling CDs are still in print and this one may not be after the initial 5,000 limited releases are gone. Of course, I'd print up 5,000 more--don't bet on that, though. Just get it! Anyway--'nuff or now, gotta spin LW some more.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Right On Red!

Louisiana Red
& Little Victor's
Juke Joint
Back to the Black

Bluestown Records

The term "the real deal" has been tossed around within the blues genre maybe a bit too much. I've used it probably more than I should have in my description of this musician or that musician, but sometimes the shoe just absolutely fits. Iverson Minter, who is best known as Louisiana Red, began earning the right to that term back in 1949 after recording his first tunes. Since then he has generated more than 50 albums of blues according to Red. Maybe legendary would even be fitting and since we are losing legendary real deal blues musicians at an alarming rate recently (Mel Brown, Lester 'Maddog' Davenport, Snooks Eaglin, Willie King, Eddie Bo are just a few within the past month that have left us), it is good to see that Louisiana Red is still out there giving us what he's got.

Anyone familiar with the Louisiana Red story knows it to be a story of the blues--real life blues. His mama died with he was only a week old, his daddy was hung by the KKK when he was around 7 years old, he was passed around by relatives and state homes and if you know his music then you know that his story finds its way into his songs--such as on the autobiographical I'm Louisiana Red from this new release, Back To The Black Bayou. Red's fans know that he's told this same tale on other releases and he also re-visits Ride On Red, Ride On where he relates his tales of civil rights abuses insisting that makes his home above the Mason Dixon Line. If you venture over to his website, he has a video of one of my favorite blues rockers from the seventies (back when blues rock was easier to come by than Louisiana Red), Irishman Rory Gallagher, doing an acoustic version in 1984. Those not familiar with Red's take on the blues will discover that he puts such a personal spin on each song that leaves the undoubtable impression that his songs aren't fiction.

As a matter of full disclosure, I have to confess that I saw that Kim Wilson and Bob Corritore were featured guests and figured that there would be a few harp licks thrown in around Red, so I just had to check it out on iTunes and I couldn't leave without the entire download--darn, I hate it when that happens. No, what I hate, once more, is lack of liner notes. I have a pretty good idea of which songs Kim Wilson is playing on, for example: there is no doubt that it is KW's classic moves around the harp on the instrumental, At the Zanzibar. It is one heck of a slashing, dashing piece of shuffling blues with Red's slide ripping it up, which is just one thing that he does--play the bottleneck slide really well, electric or acoustic. A great example is his Crime in Motion , which sounds like the re-incarnation of Elmore James, instrumentally and vocally as he shouts a plea for someone to please call the law for that woman laying out there in the raw--whoa! Dave Maxwell's ensemble piano riffs really puts it on the lowdown.

I just have to do way too much work trying to find out who's doing what when I let iTunes suck me into the snare. I did find out that the Bluestown Record label is Norwegian and that it was recorded over there and produced by Little Victor and that it will be released in the states by Ruf Records in April. Little Victor McOggi appears to be quite a player in the blues world and has gained a lot of credibility in the industry and Little Victor's Juke Joint shares title credits with Red here. I'll leave this myspace site for those interested in checking him out a bit more. It seems that it's his band that is backing Red up on this studio release and that he plays guitar and harmonica and the notes that I found about this release also lists Josten Forsberg with the harmonica credits also. So--aside from the intrumental with Kim Wilson (and I'll go out on a limb and say that it's his 3 hole draws that are swirling around that autobiographical tune aforementioned) and even though I've heard a bunch of Bob Corritore because he is really getting around lately, I'm not going to venture a guess as exactly who is doing what on the tunes that feature the blues harp (7 of the 12 cuts). Let me just say that all the harp playing is well done. Mostly in the pocket in support of Red with very little soloing, but it is all solid and fat toned stuff.

As with the Elmore James' vibe mentioned above, much of his sound is informed by those seminal recordings by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf or John Lee Hooker (whom he played with). That's simply blues tradition, as he takes what sounds like Muddy Water's Trouble No More for a ride, except that Red's lyrics make it an entirely different animal called You Done Quit Me. Muddy himself took it from Sleepy John Estes' Someday Baby and twisted it to fit him and changed the words a bit. Louisiana Red came up during the same period of time in which everyone borrowed from everyone else's hit songs. Red's lyrics always weave unique narratives such as on Too Por To Die (maybe a Norwegian take on spelling poor or maybe Red's) which recalls his dream of dying and not being able to afford to be laid to rest. Dream tunes have cropped up on a number of his earlier works. He also seems to always include a train tune--here he has a couple. One about getting back home on an Alabama Train, which has some heavy harp by the way, and out of the East Coast cities. The other is Don't Miss That Train which has a rockabilly vibe and has the gospel flavor of This Train.
Red's opening guitar licks make me wish that I'd stuck with the instruments back when I was thirteen and Ride On Red Ride On has the same flavor as does I Come From Louisiana on which Red sounds like he's singing through a harp mic. He's mic'ed up vocally the same way for the ominous The Black Bayou that gets down with some of the intensity Muddy got going when those two trains were running.

So it really doesn't matter if his Roamin' Stranger sounds a bit like Hooker's rootin' groundhog or not, Red will have you believing he invented it all or at least that he lived it all. Louisiana Red is one of the few Real Deals we have left out there, so maybe we'd listen to his story. Anyway--'nuff for now.9395475134

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Harmonica Blowouts

Mark Hummel's
Blues Harmonica

Electro-Fi Records

I've always enjoyed listening to Mark Hummel's Blues Harmonica Blowout releases. His gatherings of some of the best harmonica players in the land at Yoshi's in Oakland and Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz have been legendary events and Hummel has done his best to share those live events with those of us that couldn't be there and Mountain Top Productions released his first three double discs of some really great live blues harmonica performances.

The fourth example of these shows has been put out by Electo-Fi Records, who has released Hummel's last three solo recordings. These cuts represent recordings that didn't make it onto the previous collections and stemmed from performances dating from 1993-2007. Actually, William Clarke's contributions are the only one's dating back to 1993 and Rusty Zinn is on board as the guitarist of note. Along with Clarke, several of the harp stars on this release are no longer with us, so that makes this release a document of some of their last live recordings. Paul DeLay, Carey Bell, and Sam Myers have all passed on to harp heaven and are all in fine form in their performances.

With all the blowout CDs, there have always been performances that grabbed me much more than others, even though ALL the talent is always world class. R.J. Mischo and Gary Smith were just getting into something deeper and more toneful on that first release, even though Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin and James Harman were all laying it down. On the second release, no one touched Gary Primich and R.J. and Smith were on that one also. I did like Annie Raines' amped up stuff. I thought that Hummel stole his own show on the third release blasting cuts like Roller Coaster with immaculate precision.

This fourth one kicks off with Hummel gettin' it just fine on his own roller coaster called Harpo-Ventillating where he briefly quotes all the harp gods along with his own fine licks and it kicks. I really liked James Harman's Extra Napkins, but I've always like that tune and I've always like Harman's tone. Anyone not familiar with Lee Oskar outside of War, will get a good idea of what the man is all about with his rendition of In A Sentimental Mood and how he treats a blues tune on Lee's Blues. Let's just say that his take is different. As is Paul DeLay's. Good to hear the big man doing his unique stuff live. His lick placement is so removed from what any other harp players stick into the blues--but it works so well. They take a while getting his sound up in the mix on Blues and Trouble, but once they do, then the DeLay is over or all over you or whatever. Love the man's vocals, also.

William Clarke is William Clarke and Rusty Zinn really helps him Stretch His Money, as they both stretch out on their instruments on a subject that is very topical today. His Chrome Jumpin' gets his big harp pumping. Sam Myers does his I Done Quit Getting Sloppy Drunk with his partner Anson lending a hand and hits the chestnut, Sweet Home Chicago very well--I can always do without the sing-a-longs though.

I would have like to hear more of Johnny Dyer. His take on You're Sweet is typical, down the river, Chicago blues, but he excels at making it seem simple to do. Carey Bell is in good shape on one fine cut--I Got To Go. He was well represented on volume three, so this may be the only performance that Hummel has left of him and the same goes for Billy Boy Arnold's Sugar Gal, which has him knocking out the John Lee Williamson song, not quite as good as his mentor, but a fine version.

If Magic Dick could sing a little bit better, he would be a monster. His harp tone is instantly recognizable (to me, anyway). It has an aggressiveness that is like sharp slap shots. He spins a nice yarn about Sonny Boy Williamson II before he launches into Pontiac Blues and he heats up Little Walter's High Temperature. I've never thought of his vocals as being bad, but just a little lightweight for the blues.

These releases always have such of a variety of styles and tones and there will always be favored performances on each one of them. What I find most appealing someone else may not, but there is something for everyone that likes harmonica played well and this latest from Hummel is not any different. Anyway--'nuff for now.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Live Wolf

Howlin' Wolf
Rockin' The Blues:
Live From Germany


These guys do be Rockin' the Blues is right! From the opening slam bam of Shake For Me to the rollickin' licks of 44, this is primo Howlin' Wolf kicking it for German enthusiasts back in 1964. Backed by his perennial sidekick and blues guitar genius, Hubert Sumlin stabbing, slipping,and plinking some of his trademark licks and tricks, the Wolf puts it all out there with his vocal ferocity. He's got Willie Dixon slapping strings with an intensity that I've never heard from the bass man, especially notable on Wolf's All My Life--I think he thinks that he can catch up with the machine gunning that Sumlin gets going. Good to hear the Wolf jumping into the fray with his under appreciated harmonica skills, which are always so on-the-money well placed toneful licks. And, then, if you happened to overlook what Sunnyland Slim was contributing on the first couple of numbers, well he makes his presence known by hammering the opening notes on Going Down Slow and then weaves around, through and deep into the groove. By the time the set ends, Sunnyland proves that, maybe, Otis Spann came anywhere close to driving the blues on the 88s with this type of ensemble playing. Sweet stuff, indeed--or nasty, or whatever. Oh, then there's Clifton James, who by 1964 was the go to drummer around Chicago blues circles. He's a bit low, but not lost in the mix on some of the tunes, but his contributions are substantial--he and Dixon lock in on a driving version of Dust My Broom and he really rides it on home. The Wolf breaks out the well placed harp licks again and Sumlin is just playing outside himself on the tune. They be gettin' it.

The title tune is an instrumental of Wolf's that has everybody getting after it--especially Hubert. Wolf gets his guitar licks in now and then, though, and sometimes the dominance of his vocals makes some forget that he can pick out some pretty mean blues riffs and he and Hubert bounce 'em back and forth on this little diddy.

I'm pretty sure that it's Wolf's guitar licks that get the 44 groove started (oh, what a groove!) and then Sunnyland takes over and James' snare snaps and pops out the rhythm and Hubert does his sly little things, before Wolf gets going with his staccato tongue blocking harp tone to keep it all in the groove. Ooohh, yeah, this is the Wolf and did I tell you that he's doing it live. If you know the Wolf and Sumlin, then you know what wicked jive they spew out on Howlin' For My Darlin'--SIGNATURE song for them both. Riffs that every blues guitarist that ever picked a string has tried to get their fingers to emulate. Love Me is another Wolf classic and if you only know it by Stevie Ray's cover, then wait until you here the band take it at a slinky slow snails pace that oozes the blue mood. Okay, that's enough. If you're familiar with Howlin' Wolf and know how little he was recorded live, then get one of the best examples of the master in his prime, singing his heart out to a bunch of Germans.

This was one those moments captured of the touring blues musicians that I mentioned in the Little Walter post and it carries a bit of historical significance with it. This Bremen, Germany gig has been available in Europe and Acrobat Records released it there on CD in 2003. Acrobat released it here for the first time in late 2008, so kudos to those cats for that. Keep in mind that live recordings from 1964 are not going to approach the sonics of modern recordings, but the minor scuffs do nothing to detract from the power of this music--for me anyway.

The Wolf's style can be an acquired taste for some--kind of like one of his mentors Charley Patton, but once you get it, then it will not wash off. Actually, this wouldn't be a bad place to start for someone needing a little Wolf, but the Chess box or his early Memphis recordings might be a better fit. Back in the day, there was the Wolf and there was Muddy and they were the Kings of Chicago. Kinda like down the road, it was the Beatles and the Stones. Some liked one or the other and some like both. The Wolf had it going on here. Anyway--'nuff for now.