Monday, July 27, 2009

The Harpmaster

I had my television tuned to the satellite blues channel while I worked on a few novel revisions and suddenly superb blues harp tones caught my ear and I had to stop and listen before it dawned on me who the heck had those kind of chops. There just ain't many that can lay it out there like those notes that were being produced. Jerry Portnoy came to mind and sho' nuff that's who it was.

It then dawned on me that I really haven't given Portnoy his due here at Back In The Day. I mentioned his Legendary Blues Band recordings in an earlier post and lauded him a bit--but just having my head whipped around at the first fat notes sucked on that tune today reminded me that, yes indeed, he is one of my favorites--me and Eric Clapton, anyway. Darn it, though, I wish he would get more prolific and put that stuff to work on some new stuff. It's been awhile since Down In The Mood Room-which I thought needed more nasty Chicago licks thrown onto it.

Of course, by now, EVERY harmonica player has a copy of his Harpmaster instructional CDs and has improved their chops considerably if they let him sink in to their soul and practiced what he preached. He put it all out there for us. If not go over to his website and order a copy. I haven't visited the website in quite sometime, but I noticed that he has a signature custom Marine Band that he's hawking. Now, that peaked my interest. I'll have to investigate that offer a little more.

So, here I was listening to Jerry Portnoy and it caused me to check around and see if he had anything new recorded that I didn't know about. The first thing I stumbled across was this video and he just knocked my sock off, playing with an Italian band called Guitar Ray and the Blue Gamblers. So to make amends for not praising Portnoy enough around here, well, check this out:

Wow! What a tone monster, huh? Anyway--

Saturday, July 18, 2009

John Nemeth

I had big plans to travel over to Houston's best blues club, The Big Easy, and catch John Nemeth's gig last night, but circumstances got in the way. Bummed me out! My ol' buddy Steve Schneider filled me in on the fact that, "John Nemeth rocked!", with his scary good vocals, great harp playing, and top shelf band. Darned it! And I have to say that waayy too often.

Oh, and for the Rick Davis blog rant fans--Nemeth blew harp through a vintage '59 Fender Pro and not his Harp Gear amp. Some of you know what I'm talking about.

John Nemeth grabbed my attention a few years ago when I was trying to track down a Bill Rhoades CD (great harpman, by the way) and I ran across some Nemeth stuff. Both of these guys were blowing the blues in the Pacific Northwest. I came across an e-mail for Nemeth, so I inquired as to how to get his stuff. At that time he had Jack of Harps out there and Come And Get It. He mentioned that Jack of Harps was chocked full of more of his harp playing. I grabbed it and immediately fell under his spell.

That release opens with Junior Parker's Mother-in-law Blues. What struck me was the fact that Nemeth absolutely nailed down Parker's vocals. Whoa! I thought. This guy can sing. He does a couple of more covers, but eight of the cuts are originals. Nice debut disc. But the Come And Get It CD blew me away.

Come And Get It showcased just what Nemeth could do singing classic grooves associated with soul and R&B. His individuality emerged on this disc and the idiosyncratic guitarist Junior Watson did his thang--which is one of my favorite twang thangs. He shelves the harp a lot more than I like, but he music is outstanding.

The Blind Pig follow-up, Magic Touch pushed the formula further on up the the road. Hearing him torch Sit and Cry The Blues was enough for me. That one tune will convince anyone that John Nemeth is the best blues singer alive today--period.

His current entry into proving my last statement is Love Me Tonight. The man rejuvenates that ol' R&B vibe so darned well and makes it all so fresh again. I'll say it again--the man can just flat sing--anything. He can channel Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Sam Cooke, and, and, and,...I do believe that he could put out country and western, rock and roll, jazz, gospel, and it wouldn't matter. He would just nail it. Oh, and he doesn't forsake the harp--it just is not the focus of his releases.

Go over to his website or myspace page and order his stuff. In the mean time check this out:

Friday, July 3, 2009

Gettin' Muddy Again

Muddy Waters
Authorized Bootleg
Live At The
Fillmore Auditorium


Back when I posted my thoughts about the Muddy Waters' Classic Concerts DVD, I wrote in the last paragraph that I had my mind wrestling with whether or not to get Muddy's Fillmore show stuff. Well, you know, I forgot until recently, that I went ahead and jumped on iTunes and did just that a couple of nights later (back in May by the way). Between writing my novel, editing my novel, jotting down blog stuff, and then planning and taking the long road trip--it plum slipped my mind. I hadn't even listened to it until it popped up while barreling through West Texas and shuffling through my tunes.

My hesitance revolved around the fact that I have lots and lots of Muddy--but I always give in and get some more. George 'Harmonica' Smith sucked me into this one and because every time I played a online snippet from the set list of this release, I kept hearing his blues harp up front and prominent--so heck, what else could I do?

These shows come from November 1966 at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco and Smith had replaced James Cotton sometime in late spring of that year and wasn't just picked up for the West Coast gig. Matter of fact, he recorded with Muddy's band while backing both John Lee Hooker and Otis Spann on his Bluesway release in New York during the summer, so he was a touring member of the Waters' ensemble and had his stuff down by the time the Fillmore dates rolled around. Strange thing to me is that Otis Spann isn't playing with Muddy at the venue. Maybe he loved New Yorkers so much that he just couldn't leave, because he did record with Muddy this band later in November and back in the Big Apple for Victoria Spivey.

Regardless, this just proves that one can't have too much Muddy Waters. Along with Smith, guitarists Sammy Lawhorn, Luther 'Georgia Boy' Johnson, bassman Mac Arnold, and drummer Francis Clay fill out another one of Muddy's great bands. Spann simply would have put a stellar collection of songs over the top. These fifteen songs represent three consecutive nights that Bill Graham shared the best blues band in the country with the hippies of San Francisco. I'd say that they didn't disappoint anyone with Muddy and the band firing through his best known numbers mainly from the fifties with You Can't Lose What You Never Had and Thirteen Highway being the exceptions. Four numbers do a repeat and sound pretty much the same--doesn't bother me though. The set list offers no surprises. Muddy's bands had been running through these numbers for quite some time, but they do represent some of his greatest hits and I think, maybe other than the Newport Festival recordings, the best live Muddy on the market.

Muddy wails on his slide like a man possessed, especially on a version of his lesser known Thirteen Highway on which the band jams down upon for over eleven minutes. He whips out a twelve bar solo, takes a breath, then lights into another before giving Smith his turn to suck and blow his notes, then Lawhorn, then Georgia Boy. These guys smoked the tune. Seriously.

They all get some kind of fat, nasty guitar tones cranking that I think has something to do with the rock and rollers that preceded their shows and followed their act. When in Rome. Don't get me wrong, they ain't rocking the blues or trying to, they're are just cranking on it. I just think Muddy and Sammy are slinging some tones that I haven't heard before.

I love George 'Harmonica' Smith's blues harp--he just rips through solos with such ease and his fills between vocal lines are always superb and they have recorded his contributions to these nights in high fidelity. For me, his playing is easily recognized. He plays in such a smooth style, but exhibits as much energy as his predecessor, Cotton, on such tunes as Baby Please Don't Go, Trouble No More, and Got My Mojo Working.

All the musicians are well recorded here, which many times failed to happen with live recordings back in 1966. I think that this is the best that Muddy's vocals have been reproduced on a set of live recordings--his dynamics really show through. Francis Clay's drumming has always been impressive, but they've captured his every sharp snap, powerful bass stomp, and quick roll with a clarity I'm not used to hearing. He's driving the devil out of the blues on his kit on these nights and the sound comes through loud and clear.

So, I like this release. Seems that someone has bought into the Wolfgang Vaults of Bill Graham, where this came from, and has been busy putting them out on the market. Kudos to Geffen once again for getting it to us. Solid band, solid sound, solid blues, and solid Muddy Waters. Anyway--

Pick On It Two

John picked up his seafoam green Cruzer guitar on Wednesday afternoon (the day before his birthday) and we went out and ate pasta with daughter Erica and son-in-law Danny. John bought the Fight Night 4 video game, so he and Danny duked it out after the meal.

Early the next morning, John sprang from the bed that he rarely has crawled from before 9am this summer and plugged the Cruzer into my Sears 5XL (that I posted about in the past). I cranked the little booger's 3 watts, or whatever, for him and he played the snippets that he had been woodshedding on with his acoustic. His favorite piece is the intro to Jimi's Purple Haze, that the Washburn classical cat gut strings just never quite did justice to, and he soon had the Cruzer whomping the distortion from the speaker. Sounded quite good.

He moved into All Along The Watchtower, Led Zep's Stairway To Heaven, a little generic blues shuffle intro,and then Tears In Heaven (which does sound great on the acoustic, of course). He quickly wanted to try out another amp and we plugged into my 5 wattish Kalamazoo, which got amazingly loud (his neighbor friend heard it while walking his goats down the road). Great natural distorted tones come from that dude. It's one of my favorite harp amps and really made the Cruzer sing and zing.

Not being satisfied, yet, he wanted to play through my Silvertone 1483/4X10 cab (the Python also posted earlier). The 23 watt Silvertone pumped up the Cruzer's volume and he went to whomping and stomping. This amp has plenty of harp mods soldered into it and is my all time favorite blues harp amplifier, but it really brought swell tones out to the Cruzer. Just as I seldom get away with cranking this one up around the house, unless it is vacant of other human inhabitants, he'll run into the same volume restrictions. My signal for him to stop immediately, because the phone might be ringin, will be flipping the light switch to the upstairs amp loft off and on. I might have to install red bulbs up there for more emphasis.

The volume of the 23 watter amazed him and I had to remind him of his brother-in-law Brad's Fender Blues Deluxe trial run here at the house and to remember the volume that the 40 watter put out. Hard to imagine needing that much volume--until one steps on stage at real world jams and it swallows up anything below those 40 watts.

So far I'm impressed with this Korean made clonish Strat and I think that John will have a ball picking on it. We've got three lessons lined up with the owner of Brazos Arts Music School and Supplies where we bought the guitar in Bryan, Texas. That'll pump up the enthusiasm even a bit more, so until we meet again--'Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky. Anyway--