I spent an enjoyable evening out with my wife and son (Virginia and John) at a venue over in La Grange, Texas (yes, that La Grange)called The Bugle Boy. I had heard about it previously, and when I saw that Hamilton Loomis was booked to play there, I asked him about it when I saw him at the IBC held at The Big Easy last month. He told me that it was really a unique type of atmosphere that they call a "listening room" and that patrons are not allowed to talk during a performance. Indeed, we found after arriving that the only real rule the club has is "no talking" and that their motto is "Loose lips, sink ships". Lane Gosnay runs the tight ship, along with a host of volunteers who love live music. Click on the link above to get more of a low down on the venue and an idea of the artists they book. Seems that most of the acts are of the acoustic variety--so listening is paramount. Anyway, Hamilton told me that he brings in his full band and that they jump the joint. The place seemed perfect for an outing with the family and a spot where my son could watch a guitar player work without a few drunks in the way. There were way more lattes being served than beer.
I'd seen Hamilton exhibit snippets of his talent a time or two at one of Sonny Boy Terry's harmonica blowoffs or a jam here and there, but never really watched him work with his own band. I've followed his career since he released his first album (Hamilton) as a teenager, on which he played all the instruments. Since then, he's recorded a couple of well received (and reviewed) albums for Blind Pig Records. Even his latest for the label, Ain't Just Temporary, has him laying down tracks on which he plays most of the instruments--so the man has some kind of real musical talent. This gig at The Bugle Boy, though, has him touting the release of Live In England, and this night he showcased quite a few songs from the CD.
--Photo by Christie Goodwin www.photoart.biz
After talking my wife and son into traveling the short distance over to La Grange with me, they both assumed that we'd be seeing a bluesman at work. Matter of fact, Lane Gosnay, in her introduction, told the audience that she hoped that they liked the blues because Hamilton was going to lay it on them. BUT--when John asked me, before we headed out the door, what kind of music did Hamilton Loomis play, I couldn't tell him, in all honesty, that he played the blues. I had to say..."hmm, sorta, kinda, funk blues, soul, R&B, pop, with a little rock." He looked at me rather quizzically, but after the show he pretty much had to agree with my assessment.
Now, those who know me well--or have read through my posts here--know that I prefer my blues straight up with no chaser, but Hamilton Loomis is such an Energizer bunny with enormous talent, and he always keeps one foot planted firmly enough in the blues that he's hard for me not to enjoy. Of course, I'd love for him to just blast out his blues harp licks all night and sling out bluesy notes from his Ernie Ball-Music Man guitar and be the torch bearer for a new generation of blues fans, but that's just not his shtick. When he turned the crowd onto Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's Bow Wow, it reminded me how perturbed I was with Watson moving off over to the funk side of things. I wanted him to stay put in the zone that his classic Three Hours Past Midnight fell into, but he shoved off into a different direction and played it just as well and enjoyed immense success. He just didn't grab me any longer, though. Hamilton's cover at The Bugle Boy had me looking for my Watson cassette and gaining a greater appreciation for the songs on that album. Hamilton just flat tore the tune up and turned it upside down and inside out with his guitar licks.
Hamilton funky stylings grabbed me at The Bugle Boy, though, with his infectious smile, smooth vocals, incendiary guitar playing, well chosen harp riffs, and tight bandmates; Stratton Doyle (sax, keyboards), Kent Beatty (bass), and Josh Duckworth (drums). He turned both Doyle and Beatty loose a time or two, and allowed Beatty to feature his skills on a jazzy original instrumental that he thumped out on his bass. Darned good bassman.
I was hoping that Hamilton would lay his guitar playing on heavy, so John could witness some professionally applied plank spanking, and he didn't disappoint on that account. Few of his tunes ever fall into a twelve bar groove, but most of his guitar licks are gleaned from the genre, unless he's just flat out rocking away--even then he chooses some tasty choices for his note. He had the crowd where he wanted them from the opening chords of Best Worst Day of his life, from his last album, through his Bo Diddley tribute, which he played on Diddley's trademark, red rectangled guitar tuned to open E and on which he lit into the rockinest version of Road Runner that I've ever heard. You might say they turned the listening room upon its ear and had the place jumpin' to their jive. They went rather wild on the tune, which seemed to be a habit of theirs.
What appears to be improvisational flurries off into snippets from classic rock tunes (Deep Purple, Jimi, Cream, etc...), or TV and movie themes, are just well planned, coordinated showmanship (listening to the live release bears this out). His band members hit every cue perfectly as they slide in and out of these snippets. Of course, the hit of the night was when they segued into ZZTop's La Grange...how, how, how, how. He livened up the aforementioned, Bow Wow, with such forays off to some other land also. Of course, I loved it when he put his lips to his customized harmonica holder (a vacuum cleaner attachment from his mom's house)with an embedded Shaker microphone and yanked on some nice blues chops. He broke it out enough to keep the harp player in me satisfied.
Bottom line--my wife and son both had a great time. All I had to do was look his way, while Hamilton's fingers were flying across the fret board, to know that John was appreciating the talent on display. Great night, great venue, and a great band. Be sure and check out Hamilton's website for a better insight into just what he's all about. 'Nuff for now.
I just had to post this picture that Sonny Boy Terry had taken of his band to place on the International Blues Challenge website because I think it captures the essence of the band. Pictured below are: Sonny Boy Terry (front and center), and from left to right, Lenny Fatigati (bass), John "JZ" Zuleger (guitar), and JD Detulio (drums).
Go on over to the Blues Foundation website at www.blues.org and click on the IBC logo and it'll take you to a page that has all the information about the event, including the current entrants with bios and pictures.
No one does it like Eddie C. Campbell. He's just a unique voice in the world of blues--whether it's from his reverb ladened licks shooting from his trademark red Jazzmaster guitar or his mellow vocals bending notes around his witty, life observing lyrical ideas. Now, if you go back through my posts, you know that I've told a tale or two about getting the chance to share a stage with Eddie and what a thrill it was to play with a "Real" Chicago band, and you know that I've reviewed his stuff before, so you know that I'm partial to Eddie C. Campbell. There just ain't mistaking his style for anyone else's, even though he's steeped in the tradition of the Chicago Westside guitar sounds of his childhood friend, Magic Sam, or Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy (even though Buddy has walked on a wilder side for quite some time).
His Delmark Records' release, Tear This World Up, has the same atmospheric tonal vibe that Hopes and Dreams (Rooster Records), and That's When I Know (Blind Pig Records). And again, that vibe just has a uniqueness to it that doesn't exist anywhere else in the blues. Even though Eddie sings that he's played with everyone from A to Z, he makes the point that everyone also played with him on the fourteenth cut called Bluesman. He reels off a litany of blues legends such as Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, Luther Allison, and even James Brown. There's no bragging on the tune, just the fact that they played with each other. He doesn't say it, but he is the legend now. He also sounds like none of those that he played with or who played with him.
The CD opens up with a typical Campbell lyrical double entendre twist called Makin' Popcorn--which he states has to be done real slow. The tune boogies like Canned Heat's On The Road Again thanks in part to Mojo Mark Cihlar's blues harp lines, but mostly to the drive of drummer, Marty Binder, and the insistent thump of Dario Golliday's bass guitar. These two guys do some aggressive, rhythmic pumping throughout the proceedings. Eddie lets us know it's Eddie from the first jangly chords he strums leading into his staccato, reverbed single notes with a low note unexpectedly shooting from his fingers over our heads on occasion.
His humorous side comes into play on the self effacing, Big World. He works in an audible snore to let us know that he's fallen asleep once the women he's wooed is ready and before he has a chance..."to tear this world up". Pretty typical Eddie C. tale relating to the real world, but devoid of the same old blues that permeates too many tunes today.
Eddie C. pays tribute to his old friend, Magic Sam, with Easy Baby (which Delmark recorded by the way). Of course, Campbell's guitar notes bouncing and echoing in the air capture's Sam's tone perfectly, but he takes the low road with mellower vocals than the higher pitched vibrato plea that Sam made his trademark. Binder and Golliday bang the hell out of the bottom as Eddie does his buddy proud. Hard to believe that Sam Maghett's been gone for over forty years.
Although Eddie works his falsetto vocals lines into several songs, he really shoots it up there on Tie Your Time Up, a song lamenting those that just flat waste our time. Use of this vocal pattern goes all the way back to Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, and numerous others, but it has become a trademark of Eddie C. Campbell's and not many do it better for lyrical emphasis.
Voodoo really gets atmospheric. The echo laden tone italicizes Eddie's message regarding the fact that..."my flowers won't grow, the mule won't pull the plow...all I'm getting is sour milk from the cow". Among other weirdness that just has to be full of voodoo. Cihlar's swoops his harp in and out to add to the airy, slap backed tonal groove.
Being the harp player that I am, I was hoping that Cihlar would be turned loose more often, but he's stays put in the pocket for the most part. Vibrations In The Air, which comes closest to a down and dirty Chicago shuffle, features his playing more than the other three tunes with his credits. The tune opens with him in the driver's seat and allows him to work in a bit of a solo as Eddie sings about changes taking place around us. Cihlar gets another solo shot on Buddy Johnson's I'm Just Your Fool. He steers clear of replicating what Little Walter put into his seminal version of the song and does his own thing. He does a good job of weaving around and augmenting the horn section.
A couple of instrumentals showcase the Eddie C. Campbell book of knowledge as he twists, turns, and gets what he wants to from the Jazzmaster. It's So Easy has a finger snapping rhythm in the style that is so much of what he does and All Nite just has some slice and dice, slashing notes shooting all over the place. The rhythm section nails it down tight and a good bouncing, boogie piano from Marty Sammon really ups the ante.
I've never heard Gerwin's Summertime kick off with a Flamenco picking style, but he eases it into a blues stew that is all Eddie C. Campbell and it sort of illustrates how he can take the very familiar and make if fit his unique self. Okay, that's it. Check his stuff out for something different in the blues.
Thought I'd post a video of the band that placed first (in their category, which was non-country) at the Texas Battle of the Bands last weekend (November 7), held at Gilleys Roadhouse. The band is sort of a jam band type aggregation, so they ain't blues--but some of those kind of licks do seep into to what they are doing. The main reason for posting up the band, Liquidious, is that my brother-in-law (JD) was serving up some of the guitar licks for that event. He's the one stage left, slingin' the tone with the Les Paul. Lead singer/guitarist is Dave Hanlin, Chad MacManus is on bass, John Chapin beats the drums, and Jeff McCabe plays the keyboard.
Gilley's Roadhouse is the old Henry's Hideout, between Plantersville and Magnolia, Texas and it was once billed as the Horniest Place in Texas, due to the multitude of antlers decking every inch of wall space in the joint. Mickey Gilley's son, Keith, bought the place awhile back and has it jumping in the spirit of his dad's famous dance hall.
There are a few more videos from the gig at the same site and the band has a myspace page.
Sitting here listening to Sirius Radio crank out Norton Buffalo's music in memory of one of the truly great harmonica players reminded me that I needed to post my own tribute to the man. He passed away a couple of months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Back when I began this blog, I mentioned him as a big part of my history with the instrument, so I repeat a piece of that here.
When I first picked up the harmonica with intentions of seriously learning how to play it, I couldn't play anything but chords and couldn't for the life of me coax single hole notes out of the thing. The two embouchure methods, mentioned in the little Hohner pamphlet, to achieve this goal were to pucker the mouth or block the unwanted holes with the tongue. I couldn't do it without slurring the adjacent holes. THEN--one day I accidentally curled my tongue around a note and, WHAM, the single note sounded out. So, I just began working my way around the harp with my curled tongue and it worked. As I ran across other harmonica players, I began to think that I was pretty much a weird duck, because they would just look at me strangely and asked, "You do what?" Now, this was way before I had access to any type of internet harmonica discussion sites, such as the Harp-l.
One of the few mail order harmonica businesses back then was Kevin's Harps. Seeing that Norton Buffalo had two instructional videos available, I ordered both. I had seen Norton play with the Steve Miller band back in the day and I knew that he had played the scorching harmonica on Bonnie Raitt's Runaway . His solos on that one song rank up there with Magic Dick's Whammer Jammer or James Cotton's The Creeper in the minds of harmonica aficionados as a creative gem. He swapped out four differently keyed harmonicas to achieve what he wanted. Those that saw him play it live will testify that it was a sight to behold.
To cut to the chase--in the opening segment of video one the Buffalo said that he got his single notes by curling his tongue. What! I felt vindicated. Here was a pro saying that he just learned to do it that way and kept with it. I had a new friend. Now, since then, someone on the Harp-l discussion site (might have come from elsewhere, I dunno) named the style as a U-Block, which sounds better. Also, since then, I've accumulated quite a bit of Norton's stuff and he's his own man in terms of technique and style. He's way more than just a blues player. Go to his www.norton-buffalo.com while it's still available and click on the photo button to see the myriad of musicians that this man has played on stage with.
When my wife walked in a few minutes ago, she recognized his warm vocals sounding throughout the house, because of all the tons of music I have, she liked Norton Buffalo better than anything I have--especially his work with slide monster, Roy Rogers. She couldn't believe that he had passed. I can't either. He was my same 58. Ride On Buffalo! P.S.--Here's a nice vid of Norton Buffalo with Steve Miller. It also features some nice stuff from James Cotton:
My daughter, Megan and husband Brad, made a jaunt to the Windy City last weekend. Before they left, I told them that Eddie Shaw was playing at Kingtons Mines, and that he would be absolutely worth catching in action and they did. They met up with their friends and enjoyed a performance by this legendary bluesman. He even sent a thank you back to me for sending her to him.
Here's an entry from All Music Guide explaining the importance of Eddie Shaw better than I ever could:
Biography by Bill Dahl When it comes to blues, Chicago's strictly a guitar and harmonica town. Saxophonists who make a living leading a blues band in the Windy City are scarce as hen's teeth. But Eddie Shaw has done precisely that ever since his longtime boss, Howlin' Wolf, died in 1976.
The powerfully constructed tenor saxist has rubbed elbows with an amazing array of luminaries over his 50-plus years in the business. By the time he was age 14, Shaw was jamming with Ike Turner's combo around Greenville, MS. At a gig in Itta Bena where Shaw sat in, Muddy Waters extended the young saxman an invitation he couldn't refuse: a steady job with Waters's unparalleled band in Chicago. After a few years, Shaw switched his onstage allegiance to Waters's chief rival, the ferocious Howlin' Wolf, staying with him until the very end and eventually graduating to a featured role as Wolf's bandleader.
Eddie Shaw also shared a West side bandstand or two along the way with Freddy King, Otis Rush, and Magic Sam. The saxist did a 1966 session with Sam that produced his first single, the down-in-the-alley instrumental "Blues for the West Side" (available on Delmark's Sweet Home Chicago anthology). Shaw also blew his heart out on Sam's 1968 Delmark encore LP, Black Magic.
Shaw's own recording career finally took off during the late '70s, with a standout appearance on Alligator's Living Chicago Blues anthologies in 1978, his own LPs for Simmons and Rooster Blues, and fine recent discs for Rooster Blues (In the Land of the Crossroads) and Austrian Wolf (Home Alone). Eddie Shaw, who once operated the hallowed 1815 Club on West Roosevelt Road (one of Wolf's favorite haunts), has sired a couple of high-profile sons: diminutive Eddie Jr., known as Vaan, plays lead guitar with Eddie's Wolf Gang and has cut a pair of his own albums for Wolf, while husky Stan Shaw is a prolific character actor in Hollywood.
As of May 30, 2008, I retired as a high school teacher with 29 years of sharing my knowledge of journalism, English, and world geography with Texas teenagers and eventually some of their kids (including three of my own).
This blog will provide a piece of the answer to the question I've been asked for the millionth time, "Well, what are you going to do now?"
#1 Son, John Bush, designed the title artwork several years ago and it is remarkably appropriate for this blog. Try this as a contact e-mail: rkbush51 at att dot net.