Monday, April 27, 2009

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters
Classic Concerts

Reelin' In The Years

I mentioned this DVD a few months back when I told my son that Muddy Waters would be an interesting subject for his History Fair project, especially since the theme was historical figures who left a legacy behind. I used that as an excuse to purchase Muddy Waters Classic Concerts. The concerts were pulled from the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960, The Copenhagen Jazz Festival in '68 and the Molde Jazz Festival in '77. I never could persuade him to sit through the entire performances. I had told him that what would be of absolute value for his project were the inclusion of two interviews. He wanted to cut to the interviews, but I told him that he really needed to soak in the essence of the man. His response was, "Dad, I've been listening to your Muddy Waters since the day I was born." He had a point.

This collection is brought to us by the same folks that issued the complete Little Walter that I raved about earlier--Hip O Select in conjunction with Reelin' In The Years. It is just so remarkable to be able to watch the blues master kickin' butt in concerts separated by almost a decade between them. Each of his assembled bands displayed such a high level of blues musicianship. Notice that blues isn't in the title of any of these festivals. It took awhile for the music to earn its own place in the spotlight.

I didn't obtain a copy of Muddy's historic Newport Jazz Festival recordings until they were released on CD a few years ago. Live recordings of blues bands in the '60s were very rare. The Newport recordings were released in stereo sound and captured one of Muddy's best bands laying down an energetic set of Chicago blues and showed an East Coast crowd how the Mojo worked. A clip of this frequent encore tune has been out there for some time and his dancing and clowning with James Cotton is just flat cool. All the footage that has been available was in recorded in mono. The folks here took the stereo CD tunes and synced them up to the video and it works marvelously. A couple of tunes, that were not on the original stereo audio release, sound just as potent in mono and nothing is aurally lost there. The producers also edited out host intros, and other such distractions, to bring us an entire 26 minutes of the Newport show. Guitarist Pat Hare, pianist Otis Spann, bassman Andrew Stephenson, drummer Francis Clay and Cotton smoke 'em on down.

Otis Spann is the only musician still with Muddy when he hits the Copenhagen stage with guitarists Luther "Snake" Johnson and Pee Wee Madison, harpman Paul Oscher, bassist Sonny Wimberley and drummer S.P. Leary and they are as a potent of a team as his previous bands. Eight years later, the set list includes a few of the same hits that he wowed the Newport crowd with, but if the festivals are anything like they are today, the artists have to get in, do their top hits and get out. Along with Hoochie Coochie Man and Got My Mojo Working, Muddy throws out a nice rendition of T-Bone Walker's Cold, Cold Feeling. Pee Wee and the "Snake" have always impressed my with their blues picking and just how they weave things around each other. Nice to see Oscher in action also, especially in the opening. What is missing is the fact that this band carried no piano player.

Muddy's band plays for a rather subdued Norwegian audience at the Molde Jazz Festival. The band roster is completely different than it was nine years earlier, but Muddy never put together a band that couldn't get after it. A Luther Johnson is playing guitar, but his middle moniker is "Guitar" and not "Snake". His solos are just as tasty as his predecessor, though. The other guitarist is Bob Margolin, who was the subject of one of my very first posts on this blog. Bob had a hand in the process of getting this project off the ground and has some very informative liner notes of his remembrances. Valuable stuff. Jerry Portnoy is in the harp chair now and having a chance to watch him and listen to him work is a treat for me. Listening to him blow Evan's Shuffle was worth the price of the DVD. Calvin Jones on bass, Pinetop Perkins on piano and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums. This band, minus Margolin, became the first incarnation of The Legendary Blues Band when they left Muddy. I reviewed some of their stuff earlier in a previous post. Blow Wind Blow crackles with energy as Pinetop lays down a solo that proves just how well he filled Spann's huge shoes.

If you know Muddy like I know Muddy, then the Norwegian and British interview snippets will provide no additional insight, but it still nice to watch him answer for the upteenth time, "What is the blues?" Even if you have a bunch of Muddy Waters, a little more is never too much and this is absolutely priceless. Now, I'm trying to decide if I want to purchase the recently released CD The Authorized Bootleg, Live From The Fillmore. With George "Harmonica" Smith blowing the Mississippi Sax, I just may have to bite. If I do, then you'll hear it here or read it here or something like that. Anyway--'nuff or now.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Devil's Instrument

The blog's been somewhat neglected since my last post a week ago, so I thought that I may as well come clean and admit something that I've been reluctant to do publicly. I finished writing a novel. I have been picking at it since somewhere around September. When people have asked, "Well, what do you do all day now that you're retired?" I normally say, "I don't know, but it takes all day and I still don't finish" and leave it at that and it has been the truth. As I told a friend,"If you tell people that you are writing a book, they look at you as if you told them that you were trying out for the Houston Astros." Same look.

I've gone about the process with an hour here and an hour there, but normally only three or four days a week, so it has taken a bit of time. The story took on a life of its own at some point and I picked up a bit more steam as I smelled the conclusion approaching. It is a hand written manuscript, so I tackled the task of typing the beast during this past week--which is quite the chore for me, because I hate typing almost as much as I hate painting on a house. Also, revising as I type slows the process down considerably. I hate proofreading and revising, also. What I'm saying is that I've spent a LOT of time sitting at this keyboard this past week and when the blog has called me, I haven't been able to rally the energy to tap one more consonant once I hit save for the day. I've estimated that I have 67,000 words written and that I've typed 9,700 of them. This is going to take just a little bit of my time.

To answer the curious: yes, the post title is my chosen working title for the book. I may change it. There are a slew of books out there with Devil printed on the cover. And, yes, the blues harp figures into the plot (Surprise!), along with various characters associated with the music. It most likely fits into mystery/crime genre. I actually enjoyed writing the story and it more or less flowed out, but I had been thinking about it for a long time and always told myself that I would write it down when I retired. I figured that I had no excuses not to get her done. Getting it published is another entirely different chore that I'll tackle once I quit torturing my keyboard. If it that never happens, then writing it had plenty of rewards.

Even though I should be typing on the manuscript instead of on this post, letting the cat out of the bag provided me with a bit of a distraction and a break from revising. Now I've got to go back and proofread this post and see if it needs revision, put on my Astros cap, and get back to the manuscript. I'll be back. Anyway--

Friday, April 17, 2009

Just In Case...#3

I'm going to throw out some lesser known (some becoming well known now) blues harp players that may have flown under your radar, but are all worth hearing. These are brief snippets, so I'm not going to keep searching for another new term to describe their nasty fat toned playing. Anyone reading along with me for any length of time probably knows what I like by now. So here's some that you may have missed and maybe can't find (some of them, I had quite a time tracking them down). In some cases, I have multiple releases by some of these guys, but I'll just stick up one from a label that may still be around. Here goes:

1. Mitch Kashmar/Wake Up and Worry--Delta Groove Productions: I know. He's getting to be pretty well known now, but when I first heard about him the only release was a Little Walter tribute called Crazy Mixed Up World and it wasn't easy to find.

2. Paul Orta/Don't Mess With Mezcal--Red Lightnin': The copy I have was released on this English label. The Tex Mex Bluesman spends a great part of his year overseas and has put out a catalog that has been frustratingly difficult to get in hand. I've written off to German musicians to see if I could get a copy of what he recorded with them (ex: Cool Step, which is great). Paul was doing it in Austin way before anyone else. When he makes it back to his hometown of Port Arthur, the Great Recordings label does entice him into a studio.

3. Lynwood Slim/Lost In America--Atomic Theory: Lynwood apparently has been a very influential harp man on Mid-Western Americans. I know that RJ Mischo points to him as someone who got him on the right tonal track. This release has a couple of my favorite guitar slingers--Junior Watson and Kid Ramos.

4. Greg "Fingers" Taylor/Hi Fi Baby--Warehouse Creek Recording: I know, I know, everyone knows that he's Jimmy Buffett's harp playing buddy and a founding member of the Coral Reefer Band and that he puts down some great blues lick chops...just in case, though, remember? His blues harp has graced a number of other artists' albums over the years. Harpoon Man is a good release to get, but I love the amp tones on this one. Kim Wilson helped produce it and plays on a couple of cuts. I don't know how in the heck they botched Fingers' vocals, but I've heard him sing great live and they failed to capture that. Otherwise--fat toned greasy...never mind.

5. Walter T Higgs/Just A Few Miles To Go--Doc Blues Records: A stable mate of Sonny Boy Terry's, Walter T Higgs is a hoot. Matter of fact, it was at one of Sonny Boy's harp blowouts that I heard his talent for the first time and he was impressive. He hails from the same area of the Texas Gulf Coast that Paul Orta came from. I think maybe the air from the plethora of chemical plants has something to do with spawning some great bluesmen or maybe they just figured that they should follow Clifford Antone out of there. Twelve really nice tracks of originals done up by an original.

6. Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish/In Action--Self Release (I Think): Johnny's one of those guys that is content with staying put and off the road. Pretty sure that he mostly just hangs in the Martha's Vineyards area and treats the locals and the tourist to some mighty fine harp playing and he may lay brick for them the next morning. His is not a new name on the horizon by a long shot and he had a couple of releases out there on a more major label, but I think he's content to do things his way. This release debuts guitarist Paul Size as a Bluefish. His playing on Lester Butler's Red Devil's King King live album highly impressed me.

7. Wallace Coleman/Wallace Coleman--Fishhead Records: I first heard Wallace Coleman in a video featuring Robert Jr Lockwood's band and knew nothing about him, so...I had to find out. Lockwood has gone on record as saying that he'd prefer not playing with a harp player (he who helped make Little Walter's releases swing), so Coleman had to be someone special. Coleman spent most of his career on his day job raising a family. I'm pretty sure that Fishhead Records is his own label. He has that authentic old school touch in his playing.

8. Rob Stone and the C Notes/No Worries--Marquis Records--Stone hangs out mostly in the Chicago area and he keeps that style alive and kicking. Tourist can at least go and hear someone in the city playing blues harp the way it's suppose to be played. A couple of cats that I posted about recently and who are making a name for themselves, Patrick Rynn and Chris James, were members of the C Notes back then. Stone has stepped up to the more major Earwig Records label since this was released.

9. Lee McBee/Soul Deep--Pacific Blues Recording: I might have mentioned McBee somewhere, if I haven't then it's a huge oversight on my part. He's a killer diller harp man and he can flat sing his ass off. He's not woefully under recorded, because he led Mike Morgan's Crawl band through quite a number of releases. This, though, is only one of two recordings that I know of under his own name. The other is 44 and may be more readily available now, but I think I had to get it overseas at a premium price. I think I actually e-mailed Lee for a copy and he didn't even have one to sell.

10. Andy Santana & The West Coast Playboys/Swingin'Rockin'Jumpin'&Jivin': The title says it all, because Andy and the boys do all that on this one. The West Coast Playboys on this go 'round include Junior Watson, Coco Montoya and Rusty Zinn bending strings for us. How can you go wrong with that.

11. Reverend Raven/Featuring Madison Slim Live At Blues On Grand--Nevermore Records: Madison Slim is another one of those cats that can play his butt off doing the real deal, but prefers to stay off the road. Hey, if I could hang out with a band called Reverend Raven and the Chainsmoking Altar Boys, I wouldn't leave town either. Impressive harp chops.

12. Bill Rhoades & The Party Kings/Voodoo Lovin'--White Owl Records: Everyone living in the Pacific Northwest who listens to blues music, knows Bill Rhoades. He's a mover and shaker in the blues scene there (which by the way, is enviously active) and has been plying his trade for quite sometime, so he knows his way around the block.

13. The Matthew Skoller Band/These Kind of Blues--Tongue 'N Groove Records: Skoller doesn't adhere strictly to a blues format here, but he stays close enough to interest me. He employs some inventive licks along the way and writes songs hooked with messages for the masses.

14. Pat Ramsey/Johnny Winters' White, Hot & Blue--Yeah, this ain't his album, it's Johnny's, but I think it is a great example of Ramsey's playing. He was a young pup when Winters tapped him to play on this return to the blues and he had no preconceived notion as to what to put into the songs, because he hadn't listen to the blues harp masters. Winters had to show him how a Jimmy Reed song was suppose to be played and was a bit taken aback when Ramsey hadn't really heard of him. So, don't expect Big Walter licks on Walking By Myself--it is all Pat Ramsey making it up. Stephen Schneider sent me a copy of this way-out-of -print release a few years back. I hear that it can be had again, so go get it.

15. Jerry McCain/That's What They Want--Excello: If you don't know Jerry McCain's Steady by now, then, where the hell have you been? No, seriously, Steady is up there with Little Walter's Juke as a must hear, learn, play blues harp instrumental. Maybe the only song that you've heard of McCain's or the T-Bird's doing Tuff Enough. Ding Dong Daddy was one of Gary Primich's favorite covers from McCain's catalog and you need to here it from the source on this compilation of the best of Jerry McCain's Excello numbers. If you've heard Ding Dong Daddy, then you also know that it ain't blues, but is a rocking little number which is more the norm on this collection. It's rough and tough (don't look for Tuff Enough because it ain't here) music that's in the raw and may not suit everyone, but it is all fun.

16. Al Miller Chicago Blues Band/...In Between Time--Self Release: I hadn't heard of Al Miller prior to this release and I haven't heard of him since, but anyone that can get John Primer, Billy Flynn and Dave Specter in a studio with them, is alright in my book.

17. Good Rockin' Charles/Good Rockin' Charles--Mr. Blues: Apparently Charles Edwards was a reluctant studio musician and when he didn't show for a Jimmy Roger's session, then the story goes that Big Walter stepped in and recorded the classic licks for Walking By Myself. Charles puts don't a solid style on this collections of covers that would be considered overdone chestnuts, but they weren't back then.

Anyway--'nuff for now.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dave Nevling

I heard from Dave Nevling the other day and it reminded me that I hadn't mentioned him much in my blog. No excuse, but I had written a review of his excellent Heady Brew back in the day when the now defunct Delta Snake website was publishing my stuff and since I thought I had printed out all those just in case the website disappeared, I was going to reprint it here when I ran across it again. After hearing from him, I spent most of a morning cleaning out a filing cabinet that I'd been meaning to clean out before now and found that I couldn't find the review or several others. Oh, well. I'll make it up this way.

I first heard Dave Nevling at one of Sonny Boy Terry's excellent harmonica blowouts. Now I know that readers here have heard me mention Mr. Terry's name a time or two and if you haven't gone over to DocBlues records by now and picked up his CDs, then you're missing out. Sonny Boy hosted a series of fine, fine harmonica revues featuring some of the finest harp blowers around and this particular one was at a fine Houston club called Dan Electros. Besides Sonny Boy's usual kick-butt playing, it was Dave who caught my ear that night. What really impressed me was his articulation and how he just flat worried the hell out of a note until it produced the tone that he wanted. At the time, I think he had two releases out called Nightshade and That Look and of course, I grabbed both of those and have enjoyed them immensely ever since.

Dave came out to a couple of different HOOT (Harmonica Organization Of Texas) meetings in Tomball (I've got to get around to a story or two about that group at some point, also). During his first trip Dave gave us a lesson in amplified harmonica and demonstrated his techniques and what stood out the most for me was his immaculate use of employing a flutter tongue in his playing. The second time around he brought his current, at the time, guitarist, Adam Birchfield with him. Adam plays some of the finest blues guitar around Houston. He's been in both Sonny Boy's and Dave's band and Snit Fitzpatrick's Snit's Dog and Pony Show and is just a well rounded player--oughta here him tear rockabilly up. Along with Adam, he brought out his new Meteor amplifier and those two got the blues vibe a-going all night long. Highlight for me was when he invited anyone who wished to get up and blow through his rig with Adam. No one bit but me, but I couldn't pass up playing through one of the best harp amps on the market, nor a chance to play with Adam. Dave and Adam were both complimentary of my playing, so that kept me pumped for awhile.

I'm ashamed to say that I think that the last time I saw Dave play was a great set at the Navasota Blues Festival a couple of years ago or maybe three. Seems that since I retired that I get out to see folks playing way less than when I worked for a living. What's up with that?! I dunno.

At some point, Dave put out what I think is his finest album. There is really nothing lacking with Heady Brew. Hey, just go over to his website or to CDBaby and listen to the opening harp tone on the very first cut, You the One and if that doesn't convince that harp player in you that you need this CD, then I can't help you. It's the first of twelve original tunes that make up a very fine harp release. Chase the kids away from the stereo before the second cut, Dip My Wick, because they may catch on that it's for adults only.

On the 6:51 Sweet Thing, Dave turns Adam Birchfield loose so you can hear what he's been hinting at on the previous nine cuts. I'll have to admit that I really don't know where Leon's BBQ is located, but based on the streets than Dave names, I'd have to say Galveston and it has that Gulf Coast groove, as does Jovina and I think that is what informs the style of blues that Dave plays--Texas Gulf Coast stuff that you don't find anywhere else. Of course, he cut his teeth playing with Coastal legend Bert Wills before venturing out solo. I think Bert, Sonny Boy, Tommy "Big Daddy Gumbo" Dar Dar and Dave have all absorbed the sea salt that is in the atmosphere of the region. Anyway--Good stuff!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lone Wolf Harp Tone +

This is the link to Stephen demoing the Lone Wolf Harp Tone + pedal using a stock Superlux mic through an Epiphone Valve Junior Half-Stack amplifier. . Great example of just what another one of Randy Landry's Lone Wolf pedals can do to bring out the best tone from the stage, especially with a mic and amp that may be less than optimal. While you at the youtube site, you can check out the second vid that Stephen posted from the Antone's gig with the Harp Attack and Bobby Mack.

Also if you want a bit more explanation of the Harp Tone + demo check out Ted Weber's harp forum. Stephen gives us the inside scoop. Great playing going down in Houston town. Anyway--