Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wish List of Blues

Oh, since I've been pre-occupied with things related to my novel being accepted for publication, I haven't had time bite down on the blues lately. Today, I thought that I'd stroll through www and see what might be out there that I may have to have--eventually or tomorrow or whatever. I do believe that the following will contain some butt kicking, fat toned, blues harp blowing:

Big Walter Horton
Blues Harmonica Giant
JSP Records

I've got most everything that this blues giant has recorded, but this box set of 3 cd will put a lot of the music into one place. Can't go wrong with Big Walter.
Junior Wells & The Aces
Live In Boston 1966
Delmark Records

Notice that I'm starting with the blue harp legends. Junior Wells live with the Myers brothers can't be passed up, so I think this just may be another 'must have'. This is during the same time period that his desert island classic, Hoodoo Man Blues was released.

Charlie Musselwhite
The Well
Alligators Records

Charlie was one of the blues harp players that I saw live and in person. He blew me away and continues to do so. I've heard The Well on the radio and it is his well known tale about finding sobriety after hearing the story of 18 month Jessica McClure falling and being trapped in a well pipe in Midland, Texas. Her courage gave him courage and he tells it in song here, which includes a whole program of songs from Charlie's pen.

Mitch Kasmar & The Pontiax
Delta Groove

Way back when, I picked up a copy of Mitch Kasmar's Crazy Mixed Up World and became an immediate fan of the man. The recording covered a slew of Little Walter's songs, but I knew that he had more in him than just cloning the master. My research indicated that he had a previous, well received, recording with his band, The Pontiax. I tried my darnest to get my hands on a copy, but it was totally out of print, so I never did. Now, comes along his current label, the spiffy Delta Groove, who has the wisdom to re-master and re-release this first effort. I'm expecting it to be darned good.

John Nemeth
Name The Day
Blind Pig

John Nemeth frustrates me because I want him to stick his blues harp in his mouth on every tune on every record. He won't do it. Hard to blame him, when the man just might have the best damn vocals for the blues, soul or rhythm & blues. So, he mixes that stuff up and he's so good at it that I love his releases, even though I don't consider myself much of a soul/r&b fan. He just flat bowls you over with his singing. BUT, when he does put harp to mouth...then look the hell out, because the man can blow.

Maybe, when I slow down long enough to buy what may be gems of the blues, I report back with my opinion. In the meantime, don't take my word for it...beat me to it. 'Nuff for now.

Monday, August 23, 2010

River Bottom Blues "LIVES"

Well, it's official. I can actually say that I've begun my second career as a practicing novelist. You know, the same way that I refer to myself as a practicing Catholic. Of course (and those who have hung around with me here long enough know), I've been practicing at the craft for some time. Only now, though, it's for real. My novel, RIVER BOTTOM BLUES, has been offered a contract for publication by a small, but dedicated bunch of folks at Virtual Tales (check out the sidebar or click here). As soon as the editor, assigned by the publisher, contacts me, I'll be practicing my buns off with several rounds of edits and all sorts of tasks preparing the book for the market.

My wife reminded me that I told her soon after we met that I planned to write a book someday. Well, over thirty years later...but, like the cliche (have to learn to avoid those now) goes, "better late than never". So, if the good lord's willing and the creeks don't rise (dang, another cliche), I'll be a published author soon. I'll be back with my progress as it flows through the pipe. 'Nuff for now.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

World's Record Harmonica Blowoff

How 'bout this...10,000 harmonica players blowing blues riffs at a baseball game and setting a Guinness Book World's Record (held in Japan at the moment)while doing it. Hey, and you can be part of it and watch YOUR Houston Astros beat up on the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 10th, 7:05 pm. Hey, and they'll give you a harmonica at the gate to wail away on. Might sound like a bunch of angry hornets turned loose in downtown Houston, ya think? I don't have a heck of a lot of details (other than show up and blow), but I do know that Sonny Boy Terry and a couple of other Houston blues cats with be leading the masses on how to play a down and dirty set of riffs. I also know that the Pocket Full of Soul guys are ramrodding the logistics, so go over to www.pocketfullofsoulmovie.com for more details as they come out. While you're there, be sure to get a copy of the greatest harmonica documentary...ever.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Another Man Done Gone

Man, it seems every week brings about bad news for the blues. The bluesmen responsible for igniting my love for the music seem to be leaving us way too frequently this past year. Sometimes I just get the idea that they are as timeless as the music and that they'll always be counting off a shuffle or two out there somewhere. Maybe it's because they keep playing it until the day that they pass on to that better stage. I picked up this sad news from Bob Corritore's newletter where he passed on a Bob Margolin e-mail.

RIP Calvin "Fuzz" Jones, June 9th,1926 - August 9th, 2010. Best known as the longtime bass player of the Muddy Waters Blues Band, Calvin "Fuzz" Jones, a Greenwood, Mississippi native, passed away last night of complications from lung cancer. He was 84. "Fuzz" was the definitive blues bass player, a stirring vocalist, and a wonderful human being. Here is the email that Bob Margolin, his longtime friend, and fellow Muddy alum, wrote this morning:

Calvin “Fuzz” Jones passed away early this morning at Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto in Southaven, Mississippi. His family is making funeral arrangements for Saturday in Mississippi. No more information on that yet, update soon.

Calvin “Fuzz” Jones is best known for the 10 years he played bass in Muddy Waters’ band, about 1970-’80. Previously, he had worked with Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Elmore James. He was appreciated for his strong electric bass playing, rocking stage presence, deep Blues singing, and the friendly laugh and smile he had for all.

Calvin had been living in Senatobia, MS for the last few years after decades in the Chicago area. Some of you receiving this e-mail were very kind to help him financially to stay in his apartment when he faced eviction in January. He appreciated that so deeply, understanding fully that the Blues music we all love had brought him your timely help. He had beat lung cancer, and in the late 1990’s he had a large tumor successfully removed from the back of his neck. Apparently the cancer came back in one lung and he developed pneumonia in the other and couldn’t breathe and was rushed to the hospital. He suffered a heart attack there, and though he was stabilized, his heart was weakened and gave out on him for the last time this morning.

I visited him last Friday afternoon, and he was deeply sedated. I’m glad to have seen him one more time, but he didn’t know I was there. I think he was beyond medical recovery, and that his illness overtook his strength. He was 84 years old, and was enjoying his life as much as possible until very recently. He had a sincere good word for everyone, and his reaction to any kind of health, musical, or financial challenge was his hearty trademark laugh. I asked him how he could laugh so easily when life hurt him, and he said “When you laugh the world laughs with you, when you cry, you cry alone.” He brought us deep Chicago and Mississippi Blues on the bandstand and on recordings, and his Blues and love for his friends, family, and all of us are his legacy.

Sadly, Bob Margolin

Monday, August 9, 2010

H-Town Jukes

H-Town Jukes
Long Time Comin'
80 Proof Records

I been giving the H-Town Juke's Long Time Comin' a spin around the block recently trying to get my arms around it enough to blog about it here. The Jukes were mentioned in my last post, about enjoying their set as the opening blues band for the harp extravaganza. They put down some kind of solid, toneful blues that Saturday and they do so, also, on this debut recording.

The disc opens up with what I think is the strength of the band, their instrumental talent. Even though the tune plays off a generic blues shuffle, Steve Gilbert (guitar) and Larry Bernal (harmonica) provide ample proof right off the bat that they know how the blues goes down. Bernal establishes a less is more approach while coaxing the fat from his reeds and he basically stays within that structure throughout the eleven song program. He has no intention of playing 'lick monkey' with his diatonic. Same can be said for Gilbert, as his first solo demonstrates--he gets in, says what's needed and gets out and keeps it tasty.

Bernal wears his chief blues harp influence on his sleeve, and some of his lick choices, tonality and song selection point directly towards his mentor, Houston blues harp maestro, Sonny Boy Terry. Only those of us that know Terry's work well would be able to pick up on where Bernal leans into his instructor's tonal territory as he demonstrates that he's learn his lessons well. He even covers some of the same ground of his former instructor by doing up Juke Boy Bonner's Time To Say Goodbye, Johnny 'Clyde' Copeland's Texas Party and Silas Hogan's deep and dirty Rats and Roaches. The Jukes establish the greasy vibe needed for these tunes with Bernal and Gilbert swapping some fine solos. The only song reall that suffers by comparison would be Rats and Roaches, because anyone who picks up this disc likely will have heard Sonny Boy Terry's definitive version of this gutbucket blues. Bernal and Gilbert do get some of their bestest, bluesiest, bent up tones and licks going on through it though. They do the same with Bonner's Time To Say Goodbye. Bernal has a pleasant singing voice, devoid of affectation, which works well with this slow stuff, but could he needs to employ a little more dynamics with the uptempo stuff like the aformentioned Texas Party.

These guys seem to really be in their element on the original tunes sprinkled among the covers. I like the rockabilly vibe that upright bass dude Kirk Schaefer and drummer Carl Owens get driving on the Gilbert penned Ain't Nobody Holdin'. The uptempo stuff certainly works best with Gilbert's vocal stylings, and his guitar slinging just sounds fun. Bernal bounces some good rhythm notes and fills around what Gilbert puts down. He creates some nice solo runs, but it seems that the amp distortion may be biting the end of some the notes off on this tune. But hey, I like distorted harp stuff.

Another Gilbert tune, My My My, kicks off and shows off Bernal's acoustic tone and licks,which are nice. Gilbert rips it up Hollywood Fats style and that H-Town rhythm section really gets the groove on. They do the same on Good Time Charlie--Gilbert's playing is lights out, channeling a bit of Chuck Berry. Bernal gets a little more rapid fire lickedy as they get he cylinders firing.

I love the lyrics that Gilbert strung together for Big Big Mouth. One of those tales that you'd associate with someone like Rick Estrin. "You got a big, big mouth/and all your brains is down south" says a mouthful, ya think? Bernal stretches into something closer to his own original ideas with his playing on this 'un. Now, that's what'll move the H-Town Jukes to the next level--put some distance between them and those who pointed the way by doing their own thing and making the covers their own.

Long Time Comin' represents a mighty respectable first release from the H-Town Jukes, but it doesn't quite equal the live show that I witnessed a couple of weekends ago. These guys have a tough blues band that cooks on stage and sometimes it hard to replicate all parts of that in the studio, but that's the way it is most of the time. Sometimes vice versa, but I always prefer the up close and personal live stuff. That said, this cd certainly does Houston blues proud.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Blue Harp Nirvana

Houston harp ace, Sonny Boy Terry, ramrodded one heck of a blues harp day at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar this past Saturday (7/31/10. Outstanding harmonica performances by the HTown Jukes, Dave Nevling, Rob Roy Parnell and Sonny Boy Terry saturated the packed club with all the fat toned blues harp notes that one could possibly ask to hear. Two hours plus of Adam Gussow's clinic on blues harp technique and methods provided the cherry on top of all the sweet stuff. Fantastic afternoon that spilled into the wee hours of the morning, that I'll tell in the pictures that follow (I'm slapping this up as quick as I can, I'll edit later. Forgive me if I blow a name or two or three):

The HTown Jukes (pictured above) opened the festivities with a tight set of tasty blues. They mixed in tunes from the usual suspects along with a few originals. The local band is fronted by Larry Bernal (harp/vocals) and Steve Gilbert (guitar/vocals). Kirk Schafer (standup bass)and Carl Owens (drums) nailed down the bottom end of the rhythm and thumped solid. Larry got some kind of great tones cranking from his Meteor Mini amplifier. www.htownjukes.com

Those who signed up for Adam Gussow's blues harp clinic got their money's worth. The man from Mississippi demonstrated his one man band hill country stomp tune employing his custom made kick drum, explained how important it is to keep a rhythm going while blowing, how to work bends correctly, etc..etc...He invited a brave group of newbies (pictured above)to join him on stage with the challenge that they'd blow a better note when the stepped down. It did work for most of 'em.www.modernbluesharmonica.com

After a meal break, patrons (above, top) enjoyed a screening of Pocket Full of Soul, the best harmonica documentary EVER produced. Producers, Todd Slobin and director, Marc Lempert were on hand for discussion and had plenty of DVDs for the masses. http://pocketfullofsoulmovie.com

Then Dave Nevling and his Blues Kats (above) got things smoking hot again with his their set of blues done up in with Dave's original blues harp stylings on his original tunes. He blew his Gulf Coast brew through an Astatic mic with a Shure element and the big daddy Meteor amp. The Blues Kats, Tom Bryan (guitar), Joe Campise (drums) and Jeff Parmenter (bass) had the crowd pumped at the end of their 45minutes. www.davenevling.com

The Houston Blues Society's Boyd Bluestein is pictured above with other volunteer members manning the 'swag' table filled with plenty of t-shirts, cds, posters, etc...from the days events.

The Rob Roy Parnell (above) hit the stage and completely upset the house with his rollicking roadhouse rolling and tumbling blues. The crowd wouldn't let him slow down to catch his breath and he kept up with their demands by mixing his original stuff along with jumping thangs like George 'Harmonica' Smith's "Oop Doopin' Doopin'". He did slow down enough to work in a swampy ballad or two, which really highlighted his superb singing. Sonny Boy Terry's band were pulling house band duties and did an amazing job of pushing and pulling Rob Roy's material. Jonn Richardson put on a blues guitar clinic. Lenny Fatigati(bass)and J.D. Detulio are the best rhythm section this side of the Sabine. www.robroyparnell.com

Okay, now Adam Gussow had the task of following two full-steam-ahead blues band with his one man show. By golly gee, he sure as hell pulled it off and had the crowd in his hand in a matter of a song or two. Anyone who can go from raising a ruckus, stomping out an R.L. Burnside, one chord Mississippi Hill Country romp, to a smooth B.B. King and then top it off rockin' with Cream's Sunshine of My Love and their version of Crossroads...well, they're darned sure alright in my book. He cooked it on down with just his harp, Premier/Kay/Harp Gear amp and a custom made kick drum. He proved how well it can be done with the smaller amp combinations.

Then Mr. Houston Blues, Sonny Boy Terry, stepped on stage with the finest blues band in the state. Sonny Boy Terry oozes Texas Gulf Coast Blues out the pore of his skin. This is the blues where Louisiana swamp, Zydeco, Texas swagger and uptown R&B meet up at Holcomb and Dowling and blend into a wonderful blues gumbo unique to the region. He and his bandmates jacked up the ante and blew it on home and left the blues harp fanatics drenched in the vibe that reverberated Dan Electro's. Adam joined in on an fantasbulbulous version of the Stones' Miss You with a twin harp attack harmonizing the coda. Adam nailed Sugar Blues' licks with perfection. The band played outside themselves--especially when Jonn Richardson's ten fingers tortured his guitar strings. Fine finale--yep, it was.

But wait...it wasn't over yet. Steve 'The Professor' Schneider (above) cranked up 'Fess' Fest Jam as the chief jam-meister by picking up where Sonny Boy's band left off. He and Bob Spence lit into GTF and shook the rafter with the song. Steve's the best harmonica player without a band, who should have a band, in Houston. Wonderful tone. I'd never heard Bob Spence before, but now that I have, I'd say that he's pretty much in the same league. Them boys could blow. Steve allowed me to tag along with him as we ran through the late, great Gary Primich's Dry County. Another good harper named Shane (sorry forgot the last name)swapped licks with us. Sharing the stage with Jonn Richardson, JD Detullio, Steve Gilbert and Steve's girlfriend, Bella Adella, popping the bass strings was truly a treat. Nothing like blowing on a blues song with the pros. THEN...it was over. For me anyway. I still had an hour and a half drive, so I lit out for the country. But man, what a fine, fine day for the blues.