Friday, May 29, 2009

Different Strokes

Porter Davis
Live At Eddie's Attic
Atlanta, Georgia

Prologue: I don't quite know what happened here. I wrote this back on May 29 and was sure that it was posted back then. Buuuttt-I was scroll through my list of posts on my edit list and there this was, but as a DRAFT. Meaning, that I had not posted it.

Oh, yeah, I love discovering talented bands who I've never heard of before, especially if they employ an harmonica slinger. Actually, I checked these guys out for two reasons. The first one came from a comment left on the Harp Attack post from Simon Wallace who mentioned that he had met Stephen Schneider at the Austin Blues Society fundraiser this past Sunday and his impressions of the Lone Wolf Harp Attack pedal. The second came from Stephen who passed along his impression that the band had a trio thang going on that came close to the Collard Green's and Gravy groove. That's all the information I needed to head on over to and check them out for myself.

Didn't take long to get slapped with the fact that I've been sucking hind tit as far as knowing Porter Davis' music. The entire music community of Austin apparently knows the group well enough to declare them the Best Roots Rock band and hand their drummer, Mike Meadows the Best Drum award and then give Simon the Best Instrumental Miscellaneous for his harmonica playing. Seems that they also placed in the Best Blues Band, Best Band, Best Male Vocal, and Best Electric Guitar categories. Reminds me of when I witnessed the Band of Heathens opening for Kim Wilson, I kept asking myself, "who are these guys".

I'm not going to re-gurgitate any more of their website info here. The guys do remind me quite of bit of that Band of Heathens. They defy being categorized and that does seem to be a trend with a lot of young bands and it seems that's what appeals to a lot of young music fans also. These guys do it as quite a unique trio.

I think Stephen's Collard Greens and Gravy comparison comes a lot from the Smack You Back groove, where they turn Simon Wallace loose with his harp skills and similar to Ian Collard, he pulls in some nicely sustained fat notes with solid intonation and vibrato. His inventive lick vocabulary contains nary a cliche. Like Collard, he gets the blues harp to do his bidding outside of the standard format. Kind of sets the tone that this ain't no blues band--but then Dan Barrett's slide guitar gets Muddy Water's Can't Be Satisfied going and his vocals take on a blues timbre and Wallace jabs his blues harp licks out. But then--

They'll get you thinking Townes Van Zandt with their version of White Freightliner and then Barrett channels Cat Stephens and James Taylor and Dave Mattews and they slip back down in the alley with Robert Johnson's Come On In My Kitchen. The entire time Mike Meadows pops and bops a very individualistic percussive beat nowhere close to being played on your standard drumkit; even throwing down a bit of a solo on Come Closer and Wallace makes his harp fit into what ever direction the band takes. The interconnection between his harp, Barrett's guitars/vocals, and Meadow's strange percussive display makes this band work for me. By the way, there ain't no one named Porter Davis. Anyway--'nuff for now.
PS.--pardon the small pix of the album, but it wouldn't grow any larger for me.

Back With Bobby Mack

Just couldn't resist embedding this performance from Antones annual Austin Blues Society fundraiser posted by Stephen Schneider on his htownfess youtube site. They're just not many blues singers who can nail down that Magic Sam vocal vibrato like Bobby Mack does here on Sam's "What I Have I Done Wrong".

I think that I've said this before, but if you don't have any Magic Sam, then get you some and then some Bobby Mack along the way. Anyway--

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Briefcase Full Of Blues

I finally got around to emptying out my briefcase full of teacher stuff. It only took a year. I had it fairly well packed with things that I cleared out of my desk drawers before I left for retirement. Basically, I did just as I said. I emptied it out and haven't really sorted through the contents. So, the stuff will most likely sit in the box I emptied it into until a later date when I get the inclination to do something else with the stuff. In the mean time, I transformed the case into a harp case and thought I would post the proceedings.

I had ordered a foam kit (from an eBay vendor) that seemed to be appropriate for the project. The kit can be utilized for a camera or gun case. Pretty sure that it's designed for a Halliburton brand hard case. I'd reveal where I got the foam kit, but I didn't pay attention to the shipping and felt the $16.22 to ship something as light weight foam was way too steep, so find a better source than I did.

I chose the kit because the foam dimensions were really close to the briefcase's and it did come complete with a stainless steel serrated blade knife for cutting the slots. The kit had three layers of foam of various thickness, with one being egg crate style.

I did have to trimmed just a bit from the sides and the thickest pad was just too thick. I utilized the egg crate pad for the bottom and cut slots in the thinner layer. I chose to cut slots to fit Hohner Marine Bands in their plastic cases because I really don't know how well this foam with hold up prior to flaking, which I'd rather not have in my harp holes. My old Hohner case began doing just that. It won't hold as many harps as it could, but all that I need at any given time. I couldn't find the chromatic's case, so its slot fits the actually harp.

I used a metal ruler that had a width just about the same as the harp cases and trimmed the slots out with the serrated knife which worked well. I still need to pick up some rubber cement to glue thing down snug. So, basically I have a case that is much larger than the little Hohner case with the same harmonica capacity. It'll work, though. Anyway--

Monday, May 18, 2009

Shout Out To Memphis

Kudos to my main Memphis man, Billy Gibson! He won the blues industry equivalent to the Grammy for best instrumentalist-harmonica a little more than a week ago in Memphis. Well deserved for an extremely hard working musician trying to make a go of it in a difficult business. I've posted in regards to my relationship to Billy earlier and this award just validates my respect for the man. Can I get an AMEN! Go to the site for a complete list of winners.

Speaking of Memphis, my brother Rusty brought me a CD by some Memphis cats that go by the name Delta Highway. He and my Woodlands, Tx brother, Tim (and son Tanner) were in town for some of our Mom's gumbo. Rusty had heard them play at Mr. Handy's Blues Hall on Beale Street. I had heard of the band, but had not heard the band.

They gave him a promotional copy of their latest The Devil Had A Woman (without liner note info), so I had to stroll over to their website to find out about these guys. I had only listened to a couple of quick snippets long enough to tell that the harp player had some chops. When I read, though, that he (Brandon Santini) and the guitarist's (Justin Sulek)influences were John Popper and Stevie Ray Vaughan, I almost dismissed them. Don't get me wrong. Both Popper and Vaughan are tremendous talents. I have most everything SRV recorded because no one has ever played the blues with more soul than he did--too many try to duplicate that in the same way that some try to duplicate Little Walter. Popper just does not play music in my choice of genres.

Reading on, though, clued me into to the fact that both had found that the old school guys really had something going on and leaned on what they could learn there and blended it a bit with what they refer to as "High Octane Blues". Hmmm. Sounds like Blues/Rock, huh? And to an extent, you'd be right. What they really are successful at achieving, though, is a blend that is neither fish nor foul.

I've said before that Blues/Rock is not my cup of tea, but that is mainly because CDs in that category today stretch way too far away from the blues for me to consider it blues. The Delta Highway band incorporates a bit of the screaming guitar at times and some million note harp speed licks, but Santini and Sulek sprinkle them in like adding black pepper to a stew to make it tasty, but not to overwhelm the flavor.

The opening tune will fool you into believing that these guys are into a laid back groove with Santini's nicely played acoustic harmonica licks bouncing off some old school distortion from Sulek's guitar. Doesn't take much of 23 Hours to also prove that Santini's vocals are gritty enough for the blues.

The title tune ramps things up a smidgen (okay a lot) and we're given a harp and guitar ride, but things stay grounded in a blues context. Victor Wainwright's piano hammering are really a highlight of the tune. Oh, by the way, all the tunes are originals by Santini or he and Sulek.

They have quite a variety of grooves happening for anyone to label this Blues/Rock, actually. Funky Little Baby is a funky little tune with Santini's chromatic harp leading the way and a Westside Chicago guitar vibe from Sulek. For me, the deep harp tones make We Got A Thing Going On a favorite and Chris Stephenson's rhythmic organ shows up and swirls through the proceedings. Shake It Just A Little A Bit is a jumping harp work out and reminds me a lot of my good buddy Sonny Boy Terry's style. And that's kind of the way these guys work it and straddle the fence of the genres.

It is really apparent that both of these guys (Santini/Sulek) can shred on their instruments, but they choose to restrain themselves just enough to make this work for me. I hear more Billy Gibson than John Popper in Brandon Santini and like Billy, he knows how to keep it real. Anyway--I like these guys, someone has to keep it going.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Blues Across The Pond

I've got a few examples in my collection of just what some of those foreigners can do with a blues harp in the mouth. Some of these guys prove that they are dead serious at doing the blues right. As a world geography teacher, I always included a unit on blues music as an example of cultural diffusion as the music moved from where it was born into cultures far removed from that experience. Okay, getting too academic here, so here are some folks that deserve a listen and some much more than that. My blues collection is a bit more scattered around the house than it should be and I couldn't physically locate some of these artist's product, but I have 'em somewhere. I have several releases by some of these folks, so I'll just list the artist or band. Some of these were hard to come by, but they actually may be better known now, than then. In other words, I'll let you check and see if they are on iTunes or have a myspace or if they went off and joined a cult.

1. Collard Greens and Gravy/Australia--They are the #1 Veterans of Foreign Blues Wars in my book. I've already professed my love for Ian Collard's harp tones, so just go get everything that they've done.

2. Blues Before Sunrise/Australia--Okay, this is a bit of Ian Collard again. He's playing with a darned fine blues band from Down Under, though.

3. Paul Lamb/UK--The best traditional Chi-town blues harp type of guy over there. He's got it all going on, proving that he is well studied in the American Masters. Anyone who can hold there own with Kim Wilson, is substantial in my book. Not just a fat toned amped dude,either, because he absolutely nails Sonny Terry's style. I couldn't find his CD around here, but I've pulled a lot of his stuff off iTunes. He's got an instructional/confessional DVD out that I've been meaning to get, but at the time it was in the European format. I thinks its available for here, now. Looks like a good one.

4.Christian Dozzler/Austria--I almost didn't include Christian because he's been living in the Dallas area long enough to be called a Texan by now. I'm pretty sure that I had written him personally go get a couple of CDs that he had out at the time. He plays a lot of boogie woogie piano and keyboards, but when he whips the harp out, he has some serious tone. I met him at the Granada Theatre in Dallas at a Little Charlie and the Nightcats show. He was playing keys with Wanda King, Freddy's daughter, who opened. Nice guy.

5. Blues Fools/Hungary--I interviewed Matyas Pribojszki back in the day when I frequently contributed articles to the American Harmonica Newmagazine. It was by e-mail and if I could find the article, I would quote from it. He was quite a player back then and I'm sure that he is still proving that he's one of the best in Eastern Europe. They sent me a couple of different releases of predominantly originals in a West Coast swinging style--which was hotter back then than now.

6.Nine Below Zero/UK--The blues met a punk attitude with this crew of Brits back in the early '80s when harp whiz Mark Feltham was blowing and singing with the group. What I have is a double disc, Live At The Marquee and Don't Point Your Finger. Now, I'm not a fan of blues bands filtering the guitar through a Marshall stack, but these guys just had an unbelievable amount of energy and it's fun listening to the harp applied to guitar centric tunes by Freddy King and Otis Rush along with the Little Walter and Muddy Waters cover. When's the last time you heard anyone cover "Wooly Bully", huh?

7. BB & the Blues Shacks/Germany--I think the CD I have is Midnight Diner, but it's where I haven't looked I guess. The brothers Arlt run this gig. Michael(harp)and Andreas(guitar) are well respected on the European blues circuit and they are the go-to guys for a lot of traveling bluesmen from the U.S. who need expert support. RJ Mischo and Tad Robinson have recorded with them. I'm still looking for the one with Robinson. They play a variety of blues styles and may even kick in some rockabilly.

8. Horton's Briefcase/Sweden--Enjoyable release by a bunch of different Swedes blowing Big Walter tunes.

9. Helge Tallqvist/Finland--This cat includes a great booklet detailing his trip to the U.S. to meet his hero, George "Harmonica" Smith. He includes personal photos of he and George and family and then blows through twelve covers of tunes made famous by the man. There's also an interview snippet. Lots of chromatic work. The title is Helge Tallqvist & Groovy Eyes Plays George "Harmonica" Smith.

10. Little George Sueref/UK--What really impresses my more than Little George's harp playing is his singing. He has a JB Lenoir vocal nuance that is quite unique and he can call up Junior Parker's pitch as well on a set of originals that sound like they came out of the Chess vault. No kidding. This one was Little George Sueref and the Blue Stars. Lazy Lester even makes a cameo.

11. Bharath Rajakumar/UK--How's that for a blues name? Bharath and his Rhythm Four hit Little Walter tunes just about note for note on Friday Night Fatty. That is also what critics take to task, also--too much note for note. He does stray a bit from Little Walter on the CD, but then it's Sonny Boy II note for note. I think there was a time that doing the carbon copy was cool, but I think the argument is that we've been there and gone. Guys like Rick Estrin, Kim Wilson, and Rod Piazza were doing that back in the late '60s/early '70s and pushed it into their own styles. I remember the first Mitch Kashmar release that I got was him doing Little Walter and I liked it, but it lacked excitement--why not just listen to Little Walter? Kashmar has moved way beyond that now and I think that since Bharath has that one out of his system that he'll smoke 'em on down next time.

12. Steve Baker/Germany--I can't remember where I put his stuff either, but EVERYBODY knows he can play, right? right?

13. West Weston/UK--Still looking for something that represents the harp playing that I've heard him do on YouTube--that's sounds exactly the way I like to hear the blues harp played.

Okay, that's it. I know there is tons of more talent over there, those are just some releases that I have lying around--somewhere in some cases. Anyway--