Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Falling Through The Cracks

Doug Deming
and The Jewel Tones

Falling Through The Cracks
Mighty Tiger Records
MTD 601

The title cut of Doug Deming's newest release kind of sums up my relationship with his music--he's basically fallen through the cracks of my listening habits. I've known about him for years, due basically because of his affinity to record with harmonica players on board (surprise!), but I've never bought any of his stuff, even though Fingers Taylor, Kim Wilson, and Dennis Gruenling have all recorded and gigged with him. That in itself lends a bit of legitimacy to his music; in my book, anyway.

But, the closest that I've come to Doug Deming is to sample his samples on-line, and I guess that his vocals are what has kept me from springing for his CDs. Don't get me wrong here, the man can sing and has nice chops. Too nice--for the blues, though, I always felt. What convinced me to finally grab one of his discs in the fact that the words Special Guests Kim Wilson and Dennis Gruenling are printed on the cover (surprise! again), so I just couldn't resist this time. I mean, anyone who has had enough respect for the blues harp guys, to keep including them on his releases,just begs for my support. Glad I made that decision.

On the program of fifteen well composed originals, Gruenling blows his deep toned licks on three of the cuts, beginning with the rockabilly style opener, Tonight Is The Night. I know I use "deep tone" too much, but Gruenling does get the deepest, bassiest, tones this side of Big Walter when he lays it down. He provides some great comping and backing rhythm on this tune, and then Deming just lets him loose to rip into a solo with plenty of innovative ideas. Then he gives Gruenling much more space on East Side Hop , which is the typed of jump blues which Dennis Gruenling excels at blowing on big chromatic harmonica, with horn lines more in line with a tenor sax player than a harmonica dude. Sounds to me as if Deming wrote this instrumental with DG in mind.

Kim Wilson is employed on the more straight forward, down in the alley style of blues, such as on the ChiTown shuffle grooves of Only Time Will Tell. No one nails it down like Wilson does. The addition of Al Hill's Spann type piano runs helps flesh out that feel. Again, Deming lets the harp player run with it, and Wilson does his thing. Nothing inventive or new, just Kim Wilson doing it better than anyone in the business. He and Deming do just a duo with some deep slow blues called Don't Worry Me Pt.2, which is a heck of a showcase for Wilson's harp.

Not one of the advertised features, but no less talented, is Dave Morris. Morris earned his blues harp stripes in Big Dave and the Ultrasonics, a successful regional blue outfit led by guitarist, Dave Steele. He rips a boogie woogie on Don't Worry Me Pt. 1, which of course out tempos Pt.2 by a mile. Morris plays some likety split and go licks that helps propel the rave up. He also proves he knows his way around a chromatic on Put It Down, which Deming starts off with a swampy Creedance Clearwater type of riff.

Okay, okay, what about Doug Deming? The man can throw down on guitar with a variety of styles--he does the rockabilly on the opener, gets a really nice, reverbed Magic Sam vibe going on the title cut, which features the core trio of Jewel Tones of Deming, Bob Conner (bass),and Julian VanSlyke (drums). This cut probably sums up the band the best for me--because it's just them, without the featured guests or in the case of on It Was The Wine, a full blown band with piano, tenor/baritone sax, and trombone added. It's on these sophisticated, jive blues (in a Johnny Guitar Watson picking mode) , or on the smoky, jazzy, ballad mood of Every Night When I Get Home on which his vocals work best, but you know, I found his blues singing has grown on me--his darned musicianship just drew me into what he's doing. Anyone who has listened to the blues long enough, can pick out his stylistic influences, but he uses them as jumping off points for his own original ideas.

So, if you're in it just for the nine cuts with great harp riffs, go pick out cuts 1,2,4,7,8,9,11,12,&13 and download them, but you might as well spring for the entire package and buy Falling Through The Cracks. I'm going to have to back track and see what Fingers Taylor brought to his previous parties now. Just to see what fell through the cracks. 'Nuff for now.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bobby Mack Live Stream

Man, I don't know why I didn't post this sooner. Sometimes my old brain fizzes out, I guess. I've posted clips on the blog of Bobby Mack's playing before (along with my harp buddy Stephen Schneider), but this is a real treat. I tuned in the last time Bobby streamed his live show from The Big Easy in Houston. He and John McVey smoked 'em on down with some of the finest blues guitar that I'd heard in a long time. I felt that I was sitting at a ringside table at the club. He's at it again this Saturday with McVey and added guest, Texas Johnny Brown--who's a bit of a Houston blues treasure. Might even be a little harp thrown in before the end of the night by Steven. Go over to Bobby's website for this don't miss for sure blues show.

Here's a post from Stephen S fills in a lot more information:
"Another Bobby Mack live stream from the world-infamous Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club in Houston scheduled for 9:30 Central U.S. time, Sat. February 13 on http://www.bobbymack.com if you care to tune in to what will likely be A WHOLE LOT OF GREAT REAL TEXAS BLUES GUITAR (not the widdly-widdly blues-rock kind) and maybe a little bit of harmonica if the logistics allow the latter. The guitar lineup is Bobby & John McVey again, and this time they're adding the illustrious Texas Johnny Brown, former bandleader for Junior Parker and Bobby Bland, former Duke/Peacock session guitarist, composer of "Two Steps from the Blues" among other songs. Johnny's got the energy of a man half his age, doubt he'll do much of his own material but I'd really like to hear him work out on other people's stuff at length for a change because he & Sherman Robertson are the very last two active members of the original Houston school of blues guitar (e.g., Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Gtr. Watson, Albert Collins, Clarence Hollimon, Pete Mayes, Joe Hughes, etc.). McVey, as I said before, toured with Larry Davis, Hook Herrera, Paul Orta, folks like that before stepping out on his own; Bobby you know from the Antones videos of the LW pedals.

So if you like to cleanse your palate with first-rate guitar blues on occasion, check it out, and turn your guitarist friends onto it. Might be in the right time slot for after your Saturday gigs in Europe. I will get the Harp Attack into the PA if I can; it's going to depend on the recording channel situation, probably, and of course one defers to Texas Johnny in this situation. He's a blues treasure, the best senior bluesman you've never heard of, really at the height of his powers today, and this is likely to be more of an old-school and Austin blues context than you would ever see him in otherwise. So I may turn up for several songs, or I may not, but quite a guitar show regardless--"

So there you have it--tune in tomorrow night and see what's what. 'nuff for now.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Best Of The Blues???

Not everyone subscribes to Blues Revue magazine, so I thought that I would post up their results of polling music journalists on their top picks for blues albums of the past decade. Of course, everyone has their own take on "best of" lists, but this is theirs:

1. Buddy Guy--Sweet Tea
2. R.L. Burnside--Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down
3. Otis Taylor--White African
4. Solomon Burke--Don't Give Up On Me
5. Koko Taylor--Old School
6. B.B. King--One Kind Favor
7. North Mississippi Allstars--Electric Blue Watermelon
8. Irma Thomas--After The Rain
9. John Hammond--Wicked Grin
10. Bobby Rush--Raw
11. Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials--Rattleshake
12. Buddy Guy--Skin Deep
13. The Holmes Brothers--Simple Truths
14. Mavis Staples--We'll Never Turn Back
15. Corey Harris--Mississippi to Mali
16. Nick Moss & the Flip Tops--Play It 'Til Tomorrow
17. Tommy Castro--Painkiller
18. Corey Harris & Henry Butler--Vu-Du Menz
19. Watermelon Slim & The Workers--Watermelon Slim & The Workers
20. Hubert Sumlin--About Them Shoes
21. James Blood Ulmer--Bad Blood In The City
22. Mighty Mo Rodgers--Redneck Blues
23. The Mannish Boys--Lowdown Feelin'
24. Otis Taylor--Recaptuing The Banjo
25. Kenny Wayne Sheppard & Various Artists--10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads

I can't quibble with what I haven't heard and, of course, if you know me then you know the ones that I have contain more that a smidgen of blues harp playing. Those would be numbers 9,19, 20, and 23. I can't judge the rest of the best, because I've only heard selected tunes on satellite radio....but I do think that they could have chosen a few more albums with some greasy blues harp playing gettin' it on. That's just my prejudice, and this is my blog, so I think that they could have found something by one of these bands that rank with the best:

1. Charlie Musselwhite
2. Little Charlie and the Nightcats
3. Rod Piazza
4. Mark Hummel
5. R.J. Mischo
6. Billy Branch
7. Kim Wilson
8. James Harman
9. Steve Guyger
10. Dennis Gruenling
11. Collard Greens & Gravy
12. Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets
13. John Nemeth
14. Mitch Kashmar
15. Darrell Nulisch
16. Gary Primich
17. The Hollywood Blue Flames
18. Sugar Ray Norcia & the Bluetones
19. Paul Oscher
20. Cephas and Wiggins

And so on and so forth...in my narrow minded ways. 'nuff for now.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Don't Mess With The Hookers

John Lee Hooker
featuring Earl Hooker

If You Miss 'Im...
I Got 'Im

Beat Goes On Records

While sitting around minding my own business one day and listening to BB King's Bluesville satellite broadcast, a song came on with someone singing and sounding very close to BB King, and some nice wah wah slide guitar, sounding like Earl Hooker. Now, that didn't really catch my attention, but what did tweak my interest were the really nicely played blues harp licks in the song. Naturally, I had to find out just who the heck was blowing those fat tones. I'd heard the song before, but didn't remember such nice harp playing. Nice thing about the satellite radio station is that they tell you who's playing the song at the time. Sure enough, the credits said Is You Ever Seen A Blind Woman Cry by Earl Hooker. A little research using the wonders of the internet explained that Andrew "BB" Odom sang the song on an Earl Hooker album recorded for Bluesway back in 1968, and that Jeffrey Carp played the harp on that session. Having very little harp from Carp led me on a www search for this release. Jeff Carp's claim to fame is being tapped to play harp along with Paul Butterfield on Muddy Waters' Fathers and Sons lp, and I had a snippet here and a snippet there of his recorded output. I know, I know, I'm taking a way long time around getting to the point of this review--but much of the point is Jeff Carp as much as the Hooker boys. ANYWAY--I found some of those Bluesway recordings on recent a release of an Earl Hooker compilation from MCA called Simply The Best(which I'll grab at some point). I did find the song in question on Rhino's Blues Master Vol. 15--Slide Guitar Classics, by the way. I didn't find Earl's Bluesway album, but I did find this one under John Lee Hooker's name. Seems that Bluesway had both the Hooker cousins in the studio together for a several releases, AND Jeffrey Carp played in both of their bands. Hence and therefore, I picked up If You Miss 'Im...I've Got 'Im, which was recorded in 1969.

I got what I wanted--Jeffrey Carp's harmonica playing is all over this release, and he proves that he was a heck of a talent at playing that nasty ol' Chicago style blues harp. He and Earl play off each other very well and provide solid backing to John Lee's idiosycratic rhythmic style. I've got quite a bit of John Lee Hooker and this quickly became my favorite, not just because of Carp, but John Lee kicks butt with a band that includes heavy piano pounding by Johnny 'Big Moose' Walker, Chester 'Gino' Skaggs' bass thumping, and Roosevelt Shaw's driving drum kit. Paul Asbell leaps in a time or two on guitar when Earl isn't coaxing wah wah's.

If you know John Lee Hooker, then nothing is going to surprise you here. I think the fact that John Lee and Earl are paired up is special. Of course, plenty of blues fans feel that John Lee Hooker's best work was when he recorded with just him, his guitar, and his stomping foot. I think that could be the case when a backing band's not allowing him to be John Lee Hooker and takes his unique timing away--he did his own thing and tuned his own way, much like Lightnin' Hopkins did. It took a musician with big ears to back up either of these guys, and Jeffrey Carp exemplifies that--he played with both of 'em. Some of celebrity musicians on John Lee's '90s recording could have taken a lesson from John Lee Hooker's band here. It doesn't matter if he's doing his deep, brooding blues like Lonesome Mood (which is close to his hit I'm In The Mood) or doing his world reknown boogie stuff, as on Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang (which of course knocks off Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom), the band surrounds him in support, and Jeffrey Carp is a big part of that, most especially on the low down, slow grooves. Carp's harp drips and oozes heavy blues juice on If You Let Me, I'll Take Care Of You, he and JLH trade some nice licks back and forth. Just when you think that maybe the band will swamp him, they step back, and let those signature licks of John Lee Hooker blast through. They know how to let John Lee Hooker be John Lee Hooker. This is just good late '60s blues played right under the guidance of the man who put the boogie in boogie. By the way, the headline for this post is quoted by John Lee Hooker within the title cut about a night on the town he and Earl take, and how they run into some ruffians and how he tells Earl..."if you miss 'im...I've got 'im".

There may be better examples of Jeffrey Carp's harmonica playing out there somewhere, I just haven't found it. Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite are the well known entities of white boys blowing the blues back in the day, but I'd say, based on what I hear, that Jeffrey Carp's star was destined to rise--if. If, I don't know. Seems to be a mystery as far as just what happened to Jeff Carp. I have heard numerous tales, and most of them are along the lines of what the album producer Ed Michel said in the liner notes of the re-issue CD, "...Jeff Carp either fell off a boat while going up the Amazon, or fell off a boat while smuggling something back into the United States on the way back from South America. Went overboard and was never seen again". Other's claim that he fell off a boat while partying somewhere off a Carribean island. Dunno--but I do know that we lost a darned good blues harp player, and I'm glad that I found this example of what he could do with a Marine Band in his mouth. 'nuff for now.

p.s.--here's the post that Mike Lynch refers to in his comments on this post. I've heard this story before also, and Dick Shurman probably knows as well as anyone.

From the Blindman Blues forum:
I knew Jeff. He used to come see me when his boss at the time Sam Lay (before Earl Hooker hired him and guitarist Paul Asbell away from Sam) used to ask him to learn songs just like the record, to hear the records he was supposed to learn. (I believe he recorded with Sam for Testament.) I also saw him with Hooker a few times. He and Paul flew home from Cal. as soon as they got paid for the "Don't Have To Worry" LP because of Hooker's usual financial mistreatment. Jeff was one of the smartest people I ever knew, but also on the wild side. When there was campus unrest in early '69, Jeff was a liaison between the parties.

Supposedly he and his lady celebrated the Wolf "London Sessions" by booking a holiday cruise off Panama. Amid the New Year's Eve revelry onboard, a messed-up passenger went berserk and started stabbing people. Jeff jumped overboard, even though he couldn't swim, and that was that.

Playboy published a special magazine called "The Hippies" (you can imagine how insightful it wasn't) in the early '70s, and it includes Janis Joplin (with whom Jeff had a brief thing) taking an impressed reporter to see Jeff.

Jeff was originally from NYC, supposedly raised on the same block where King Curtis got killed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Little Walter Wins A Grammy

It's official the Little Walter Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967 won a grammy. That is pretty cool for a blues harp player to snag one--especially 42 years after his death.