Saturday, November 22, 2014

Buckle Up With Steve Krase

I called Steve Krase's Some Day a rip snorter when I reviewed it back in early August. His new one, Buckle Up, pretty much follows the same kick butt formula. Throw down a couple of songs in a J.Geils groove such as his original I Like Them All and a re-invention of the Willie Dixon warhorse, I Just Want To Make Love To You, sprinkle in another couple from the pen of his brother, David, a cover of a Jerry Lightfoot slow burner, and a dos dose by the legendary Houston blues pianist, Big Walter 'The Thunderbird' Price.

By the way, Krase has been a very busy boy as of late. He just returned from the Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland backing Trudy Lynn (a Houston blues treasure) in support of her well received Royal Oaks Blues Cafe, which he released on his label, Connor Ray Music ( He also accompanied her to the Blues Blast Awards in Chicago in October. Playing harp among the blues elite at these events certainly had to have raised his profile beyond the banks of Buffalo Bayou, not to mention giving the rest of the world a taste of what Lynn brings to the blues table. Her CD is up next in my review queue.

Anyway, Buckle Up kicks off with some Jerry Lee Lewis brand of piano ripping from Randy Wall on brother David's rockabilly style rave up, Jolene. He bangs the hell out of the 88s, while bassist Terry Dry and drummer Michael Morris kick the song down the road at breakneck speed. Krase rips on harp and roars on vocals and either guitarist, James Henry, or D. Krase wails on in on slide guitar.

Daddy's Got A Cadillac (Mama Rides A Mule), written by Dry and his wife Jamie, lopes along much like the old chestnut, She Caught The Katy. The song starts out with daddy driving the Cadillac with mama on the mule, but reverses course before the song is over. Leaves daddy on the mule and mama in the Caddy, and leaves me wondering how much of the song is biographical. Lot's of slide guitar heavy grooves laid down by Henry, with Krase working his harp licks in tandem more than a few times.

Trudy Lynn's husky, full throated vocals own I Just Want To Make Love To You. She makes you feel it and believe it. She owns the tune much in the same way that Koko Taylor did when she covered the blues and belts it out much in the same way. The band wallops it in the aforementioned J.Geils' style groove, with Krase getting his Magic Dick mojo rolling--really rolling. The band hits the song full stride and rocks full out.

Krase covers Misery and Big Bad Woman from Big Walter Price. Big Walter could do the jumping, rockin', piano shaking blues better than anyone. I mention in my previous review that his Pack Fair and Square caught the attention of the J.Geils' band, which they turned into one of their hits. The former is a stop time jumper, rocking with Bobby Markoff banging the keys in rhythmic support, while Krase's harp leads the proceedings from the get go to the end, flying from the middle registrar with swoops up to the high end, punctuated with single note wails stabbing the air. The latter is simply a fine example of jump blues at its best, with Krase emulating horn lines with his harp. Guitarist Henry plays with a bit more restrain, for him, on his solo, but it is mighty tasty. Both songs lament the trouble that women presented in Big Walter's life. Krase adds a little spoken historical, humorous comment in those regards.

Trudy Lynn wrote the title tune, Buckle Up. Krase's harp kicks it off and puts it in a groove like an uptempo Shake A Hand. The harp notes set the rhythm and he glisses up, down and around the tune with backing vocals from Lynn and bassist/producer, Rock Romano. Krase gets quite wild ass with his harp licks before the song closes.

Krase covers one of my favorite Lightfoot songs, Night Train (From Oakland) opening with Henry shredding on guitar and then it settles down into a slow down, low down groove as Krase eases in on the chromatic harp giving the song its somber mood. Henry is turned loose to do as Lightfoot did, soar those blues notes into the stratosphere.

David Krase adds raucous, resonator slide guitar to his Blueshound (which I'm quite sure has nothing to do with James Nagle). It's a jaunty little number, but is embed with dark overtones in terms of the refrain: Dead man laying by the side of the road/I kick him in his head just to watch him roll. The harp licks employed are deeper and darker and helps set the tone, they're nice and fat, too.

As I mentioned earlier, Krase's I Like Them All has J.Geil's written all over it, vocally, rhythmically, and Magic Dickishly. Henry whips the slide on the strings with abandon. The band rips it up on this one.

The set closes out with, Now, a jazzy instrumental written by the brother from the same mother. Kinda a Musselwhite Christo Redemptor sort of thing and predominantly features Krase's ability to knock it out. Drummer Michael Morris is instrumental keeping the instrumental in the groove. Jazzy stuff can wonder off course without a good drummer keeping the flow down the right stream.

So. Yeah. Steve Krase has another rip snorter on the market. As he says in the liner notes, made loud to play loud. So, get yo hands on it and do so. Check out the Connor Ray Music website linked above and for darned sure, check out the one of a kind, Trudy Lynn.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Paul Oscher's Deep Blues

The Deep Blues. Now that's my kind of blues. I listen to all the different shades of blues, but the deep blues turns my crank more so that anything else. Robert Palmer in his book titled, natch, Deep Blues, wrote what I'd consider the best analysis of exactly what it is. I'll boil down his 300 pages to say that he puts deep bluesmen in the category of those who plied their trade around the Mississippi Delta and those who took it to Chicago and other urban centers. They basically took the raw, gritty, lowdown, gutbucket blues and amplified it. Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and John Lee Hooker are a handful of many who took the music of Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Fred McDowell, Son House, etc to the city. In the book, B.B. King throws in his two cents in the book, explaining that he definitely doesn't consider himself as a deep bluesman (although, he can dang sure get down with it), because he plays a more uptown style with a horn section augmenting his stage. He nods his head to those I mentioned and the man he learn from, his cousin Bukka White, as staying truer to the roots of the music. The harmonica was the only horn section in a band laying down the deep blues. And, that brings me to Paul Oscher.

I took my wife on a date night to the exquisite listening room in La Grange called The Bugle Boy ( in La Grange, Texas. On arriving, I spotted Oscher sitting on the deck with his manager, Nancy Coplin and his road tech, Forrest Arnold. They had just returned from a successful European tour. I mentioned to Nancy that, in my opinion, Paul played the deepest blues of anyone around today. He shrugged it off, saying, "Well, that's all I know how to play".

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with them prior to show. I knew that he'd moved to Austin recently, or actually Manchaca, and he told me he didn't know that he was moving into a place just a few blocks from James Cotton, which provided a reunion of sorts. He told me a tale about how Cotton ended up living with Sonny Boy Williamson II back in the day. I did know that Paul frequently played at a joint called Railroad Barbecue, just a hop, skip, and a jump from his house, having seen someone mention it on a harp forum I read. It closed down before I could make it over to try and catch him.

"Yeah, the way that gig happened was I walk in and asked them if they had live music," Paul told me. He said that they were agreeable and he soon had a standing gig conveniently located just down the street. Once word got out, fans and other Austin musicians flocked to Manchaca and he had the place rocking. Sadly, he told me, other owners took over and the place ended up demolished. He does hold court on Thursday's at C-Boy's Heart and Soul, 2008 S. Congress Ave in Austin. He's rounding up Mike Keller (The Fabulous T-Birds guitarist) and his brother, Cory on drums to back him up when they are available. Gonna have to head that direction real soon.

Now, on to the show. He's been doing the one man thing for quite some time now. I've got a few of his recordings reflecting as much. He walked out and strapped on his harp rack outfitted with a microphone, set up with a wireless rig. He lit into "Ida Mae" on an old, fat bodied Harmony guitar with some of those down in the alley licks he absorbed from Muddy, Nighthawk, and others. I'm pretty sure that it's one of his original tunes, but don't quote me on that...well, hell, you can go ahead and quote me. Original or not, it comes from deep in the well. From there, he put a spin on Little Walter's "Juke" and shortly after, "Mean Old World", but with licks from a different LW slow blues. He gets one helluva a fat, deep tone out of his rig. Speaking of which, I mentioned that to him after the show and he pointed to his chest and said, "Most of that comes deep down in here." He proved that when he played through the vocal mic a bit later in the show.

He's got that old school, lowdown, gutbucket grit on guitar, especially when he works the slide into the tune. He nailed Muddy's tone down more than once as he ripped through his set list, mixing his originals like "Blues and Trouble" and "Thunder" with blues standards such as Guitar Slim's "Things I Used To Do", Jimmy Rogers' "That's Alright", and Freddy King's "Hideaway". After "Hideaway", he told a story about Freddy King opening for them at a club and singeing the side of Muddy's pompadour with flash powder, with Muddy saying "We gonna cut that out". He regaled the audience with humorous tales from the road he travelled with Muddy, which kept the crowd in stitches. I mean, really, here's a dude who was the first white musician to join the best damn blues band...ever, and as the harmonica player following the best damn harmonica players...ever. He had big shoes to fill. Little Walter, James Cotton, Junior Wells, etc were studs, and here was 17 year old Paul Oscher living in Muddy's basement with Otis Spann. So, yeah, he had tales to to tell.

Before the intermission, Paul pulled out some of his tricks of the trade by spinning the harmonica around in his mouth, which swap the physical position of the high end and the low end and he chugged along without missing a beat...until he dropped it, which upset him, since the performance was being streamed live to a world wide audience. The streaming factor forced him into cleaning up the language that he might normally use in some of his blues stories. He did introduce the band before the break. He took his Harmony and place it on the floor like an upright bass and proceeded to play it as a bass player would. "Let's here it for the bass." He never did introduce the harmonica player, though.

After the break, he proved how well he could multi-task. He sat down at his Yamaha keyboard with his neck rack in place and his guitar on his lap. He proceeded to play all three as he sang out a blues number. He damned well absorbed what hanging with Otis Spann, and later, Pinetop Perkins, provided him, which he demonstrated after putting the Harmony down. Pretty sure he played a rendition of Leroy Carr's "Blues Before Sunrise" as the followup. Trusting my memory here, because I took no notes.

He more or less closed things out with "The Things I Used To Do" and a couple of numbers I'm after trouble recalling. The audience insisted on an encore, so he came back with a great "That's Alright" and then lit into spitting out some nice harp licks. Those who weren't familiar with what the deep blues is all about, got an up close and personal tutorial on this night. The crowd was a lot sparser than I expected, but I can guarantee that if he ever plays The Bugle Boy again, that won't be the case.

Here's the deal. There just ain't too many blues musicians out there that do the real deal, raw, lowdown, gritty, gutbucket stuff any longer. He's got a harp tone that rivals any of the heavy weights that blew before him or after. If you find yourself in Austin, check him out at C-Boys on Thursdays. You might find me there some night. Check out his Contact his manager, Nancy Coplin at and see if she can get him into a venue near you. Bottom line is, don't miss a chance to hear Paul Oscher's Deep Blues.

P.S--I planned to include a picture, but didn't bring a camera with me. My bad. I took one on my flip phone which is way obsolete and Forrest took one, but neither did Paul or I any justice, so I've just included some of his album covers.. Forrest was nice enough to show me around his stage set-up during intermission and pointed out his pedal board for his Harmony and explained that he played it though a vintage Fender Deluxe. His harp rack had a long, dedicated microphone attached to it with the wireless unit that I mentioned. Paul told me that the only pedal for the harp was the Ibanez delay that I spied and he fed that into a vintage Premier amp, with a black Fender deluxe that he kicked in with an A/B pedal to provide more boost and boom when needed. He had an old as hell extension cab to provide more oomph, also. But, as he said, his tone came from deep inside. Agreed, and as a harp player, I know exactly what he's talking about. You can either produce it, regardless of the rig, or you can't. He can and did. By the way, The Bugle Boy is a fantastic venue. People come to hear and revere the music. Click the website earlier in the post and check out their line-up. Anyway--'Nuff for Now.

Blues For Food Press Release

Blues Community Joins Hands for Huge Food Drive for the Holidays.
By Ida Mae McLemore

   It’s that time of year again for the 25th annual Blues For Food
Celebration,  Sunday, November 9th at The Shakespeare Pub, 
Located at 14129 Memorial Drive at Kirkwood just off I-10 West.
Join us for over 12 hours of intense live blues with 17 top Texas blues
  It’s almost hard to believe this BLUES FOR FOOD has been going for a quarter of a century now. Started by KPFT 90.1 dee-jay and benevolent Houston blues shouter Big Roger Collin in 1990, it was even a precursor and in some ways setting the stage for our partner the Houston Blues Society. Big Roger died in October of 2000 and Houston blues harp man (Houston Blues Society founder and keeper of the flame) Sonny Boy Terry took over the production right away.  “I felt we needed to keep the tradition going,  “ said Sonny Boy. “It has always been important to me to honor Big Roger’s name and protect the integrity of Blues For Food. I know the new owners at The Shakespeare Pub feels the exact same way.”
  This is a wonderfully diverse array of musical talent featuring the amazing blues legend Jimmy Louisiana Dotson, the powerful Miss Trudy Lynn, talented upstart blues vocalist supreme Annika Chambers, critically acclaimed slide guitar giant John Egan,  along with John McVey and the Stumble, The Sonny Boy Terry Band and from Austin (we’re not too biased here in Houston)  killer blues harp player  Greg izor  backed by the Erin James Band  and any more. .
  Admission is any non - perishable food items or cash. With your donation you get a free plate of down home Texas BBQ. Music starts at 1pm with John Eagan and is topped off with Spare Time Murray and the Honetmakers World Famous Blues Jam going until the wee hours till 2am.
  No one should go hungry during this holiday season so get ready to shake your blues thang once again by giving back.  Join KPFT 90.1, The Houston Blues Society, Keith Alan Guitars and The Shakespeare Pub for the centerpiece of Houston Blues events. It’s the largest collection of Houston blues artists on stage of the year  - all donating their time and talent to feed the hungry during the holidays.
  There will raffles, 50/50 givaways and a silent auction. This year we will even be auctioning off a hand crafted commemorative Blues For Food 25th Anniversary Cigar Box Guitar – a true collectors item and a one of a kind creation.  It’s not a guitar or memorabillia.  It’s folk art as well as being a real professional player.
  Once again, that’s Sunday November 9th for the 25th Annual Blues For Food celebration.  All proceeds benefit the Houston Food Bank.  Please visit,, or for more information.  For publicity information, please call Sonny Boy Terry at 713.822.0437

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


The annual Blues For Food drive is just around the corner and there ain't no way that you'll see more blues talent in one room at one event and for a better cause than this one. Set for November 9 1pm-2am at The Shakespeare Pub, 14129 Memorial Drive, Houston, Texas.

Friday, September 12, 2014

For Pops

Have to admit that I haven't listened to much of what Muddy Waters' son, Larry "Mud" Morganfield has recorded. I do know that his previous outing on Severn Records, Son of the Seventh Son, garnered nice reviews within the blues community, but I never got around to picking up a copy. I'll also have to admit that I picked this one up because it had Kim Wilson's photo on the cover alongside of Mud's and Wilson's name has equal billing. In the liner notes of For Pops/A Tribute To Muddy Waters, Severn Records' David Earl says that he finally gave into the idea of producing a set of Muddy's music for his son to cover. He ran it by Mud and Wilson and they were off to the races. They chose to lay off a greatest hits program and decided to mix in the lesser known with the better known.

Now, I'm not sure that I would have sprung for another Muddy Waters tribute album, but I felt this one would be of a different color, plus I'm always a sucker for Mr. Wilson's sideman adventures, especially when it comes to Chi-town blues. I'll get this out to the way first: Mud sounds damn close to his old man. He's got the master's vocal nuances and inflections down and if I'd walked into a room while it was playing, he dang sure would have fooled me. Eerily close. Of course, Kim Wilson played Muddy's music with Muddy during the hey days of the legendary Antones blues club. So, to say that he knows his book of Chicago style blues is an vast understatement and I don't think I need to go through a play by play of all the techniques that he employs to get this point across. Little Walter established the harmonica as the lead instrument in Muddy's band and Wilson certainly leads the way throughout the fourteen songs here. Reminds me of the work he did on Jimmy Rogers' Ludella (which, by the way, was on Antone's label) and more lately Barrelhouse Chuck's Got My Eye On You (my favorite latter day recording of Chi-town covers). Some of these songs originally employed the harmonica chops of Junior Wells, Big Walter, and James Cotton as well as Little Walter. A few of the songs have been debated as to who blew the harp or who didn't, because they all could cook in that Little Walter vibe, as does Wilson. No one slips and melts into this genre as well as Kim Wilson.

Speaking of Barrelhouse Chuck, he's along for the ride on piano, as are veterans Billy Flynn (guitar), Rusty Zinn (guitar), Steve Gomes (bass), and Robb Stupka (drums). It didn't take much explaining what was needed in the studio to this crew, and I'd say that's the major reason it only took four days in the studio to crank these tunes out. These guys blend into that classic Chi-town ensemble groove with ease. Barrelhouse Chuck bangs, sprinkles and tinkles the piano notes in and out of the proceedings in the style laid down by Otis Spann and later by Pinetop Perkins. His work highlights every song remarkably well.  I'd say that casual fans of Muddy (although, I don't know how anyone could be a casual fan), "Blow Wind Blow", "She Move Me", and "Still A Fool" would be most recognizable because they come from what I'd considered the pre-1955 classic period, followed by "Nineteen Years Old", "I Want You To Love Me", and "I Live The Life I Love". "My Dog Can't Bark" came along in 1965, which was bit beyond Muddy's commercial peak and a lot of folks may remember "Gone On Main Street" from the Woodstock album with Paul Butterfield on harp and not the version with Junior Wells. "I Don't Know Why" and "She's Got It" are a couple that I never listened to enough to remember that they were in Muddy's catalogue. Of course, there will be plenty of neophytes that'll associate "Trouble No More" with the Allman Brothers without realizing that Muddy recorded it '55. Most every song on the program has been covered by others since Muddy's band hit the big time up through today, but the guys did a great job of limiting the number of over-covered chestnuts. I'll lean towards "She Moves Me" as being a favorite cut, simply because it's one of my favorite Muddy songs. Little Walter's tone and technique moved me then and Wilson's moves me on this release. There's no credit as to which guitarist nails Muddy's one of a kind slide tone, but they wound it up pretty darn good.

Yep. This is one sweet tribute that works. Larry "Mud" Morgenfield honors Pops in mighty fine style. 'Nuff for now.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Navasota Drive By

This'll sorta be a drive by post about this year's Navasota Blues Fest because it was sorta a drive by for me this year. Well, not Friday night, because did I managed to see all three of the featured bands. My 21 year old son accompanied me at my insistence that as a guitarist himself, he'd would enjoy Brad Absher and Tony Vega. Tried my best to convince him to go back for Doug MacLeod's set on Saturday, but he had his own fish to fry. His loss. I only had time to take in Doug's performance and catch about half of Bad Brad and the Fat Cats. Really wish that I could have hung around for Texas Johnny Boy, Annika Chambers and Ezra Charles. Had to go, though, so that gave me the blues. I've heard from reliable sources that they all smoked the venue.

Gonna start with the man that George "Harmonica" Smith called Dubb. When Doug MacLeod played in his bands, he never corrected him and he's written many an article about his adventures with the legendary harp player in what used to be Blues Revue Magazine and is now simply Blue Music Magazine. He also spunned tails about his time with Pee Wee Crayton over the years for the same mag.

I've been a fan of Doug MacLeod for a long time and was thrilled that the blues fest booked him. Historically the fest never really gains a crowd until well after 4pm, so his 2:30 start time was sparsely populated. We were encouraged to drag chairs down close to the stage, which made for a more intimate setting. The crowd increased considerably by the end of his set. The Ol' blues veteran had them eating out of his hand with his first song. The man has an old soul full of insight and wisdom. Anyone unfamiliar with his music had to be totally surprised that the sound coming from the stage was by a white performer. In fact, I'd say if they'd been blind folded, they would assumed that the man was black and from another era. Even his stage patter oozes such authenticity, no doubt from the years he played with the real deals for predominantly black audiences for years.

He performed nothing but his original music. He told tales preceding each and about each tune with equal doses of deep philosophy from what he learned  from his mentors (mentioning that they'd never use a word like philosophy), hilarious situations, heartbreaking situations, but with plenty of optimism thrown into the mix. Especially, optimism. One song in particular hit exactly on that theme about looking through life with "Brand New Eyes" from his Blue Music Award winning album, There's A Time, which also garnered him their Acoustic Blues Artist of the year. I have no intention of covering his set list here, just need to drive home the point that every song told a story that meant something deeply to him on his journeys through the blues, chocked full of every facet of human emotion. Those emotion left the stage and permeated the audience. Well, at least, it did for me. I felt what he must have felt as he wrote it and now sung it.

Certainly can't leave out how masterful he plays the guitar, picking like Doc Watson one minute and then slipping a slide on to get way down in the alley. His licks rang out sharply picked notes smothered in the blues like pancakes with molasses. To get a taste visit his well designed website at He's got great video examples of his playing, documentation of all his recordings, lyrics of his tunes, guitar lesson offer, a highly impressive biography, etc...Check out his music store for his stuff, which is a testament to just how long he's been at the blues gig. My favorite CD has always been Live As It Gets with Juke Logan. Maybe because Juke's a cracker jack harp man. BUT There's A Time has just replaced it as my all-time favorite acoustic blues album. I did get to chat with Doug before and after his performance and testify as to what a nice gentlemen he is. As a harp player, I just had to ask him about George Smith. I share this one tidbit, since many harp players are also gear heads. Like many of the legends of the instrument, Smith was far from it. Doug said he never, ever played through an amplifier and most he did to get ready for a performance was call out for a mike check.

Didn't mean to get so wrapped up in just the one blues fest performer (no, that's a lie), because I was plenty impressed Friday night with Brad Absher and Tony Vega. I've always loved Absher and his Swamp Royale band's past couple of fest performance. I've never seen Vega before, but I do have his Taste Like Love album and thought it substantially good. He's really why I invited my son along, because I knew that he'd sling some impressive strings, taking nothing from Absher's playing for sure, but a trio likes Tony's just demands that the guitar do the heavy lifting, while an ensemble such as the Swamp Royale with keyboard and a horn section slips the guitar into the mix when its time comes. Of course, with Absher, when the time comes he leans into it, states his business, then nods off to his sidemen.

Absher's group mixed and matched grooves from Louisiana, country tinged tunes (such as one by K.T. Oslin), swinging rhythm and blues, and of course, stone solid blues. His vocals are supple enough to cover them well and strong enough put him a big notch above the myriad of bands out there messing around with the blues. Where his guitar serves the ensemble, the ensemble serves his vocals. The man can sing. With that kind of voice. That's meant for the blues. Or whatever the hell he feels like singing, and that's what makes a performance by Brad Absher special.

Somewhere down the line, blues/rock lost its luster for me. After Stevie Ray passed, a plethora of guitar rockers began to stick blues into their set list and call themselves blues players. Most of the time their music  lacked any semblance of the emotion that defines blues. Then there are those, like Stevie, that ease a bit of rock into the blues without diluting what the music is all about. Tony Vega's band fits the bill of good ol' blues that rocks, much like the early T-Birds and Lester Butler's Red Devil's.

What surprised me most about Vega's performance, aside from his exquisite and tasty guitar work, was his vocals, which I'd compare to a great actor's ability to shift from one accent to another and get lost in the part. For example, he kicked off his set with "Automatic", which became a signature tune for the aforementioned Butler, and I'll be damned if he didn't solidly nail down the same vocal timbre. When he broke out a slow blues, he eased into the mellow voice of the best soul singers and, then, sang out just short of a gravelly blues scream when kicking the intensity back up. He covered a Creedence Clear Water song and John Fogerty came through loud and clear. A heckuva gear shifting feat that impressed the heck out of me.

Vega's guitar playing is definitely not the lick-a-rama wanker fest that way too guitarist employ when they try to rock the blues. I can't explain where the exact boundary exist between the blues guitar that moves me and the type of playing that grates on me. I'm a blues harp guy, remember, but I know it when I hear it and Vega has it and never crosses my tolerance boundary. He doesn't have that "check this riff out" attitude about him. He and his guitar simply groove along with his songs without distracting from the tune. Oh, don't get me wrong, he can sling it, lean into it and blast away, but with taste. My taste.

I arrived a little late for both opening acts on Friday and Saturday and didn't have my act together. Wasn't sure that I'd be writing down my thoughts about it on the blog because it was going to be so hit and miss. Justin Johnson had a uniquely different spin on things, demonstrating the increasingly popular cigar box guitars. What I caught was a solo performances featuring all instrumentals as he moved from one stringed invention to another, such as home grown resonators, a lap steel on an ironing board and the cigar box. He play a little folk, roots music, jazzy stuff and blues. Check out his gear page at

Opening on Saturday as a fill in for an ill Michael Birnbaum was the E-flat Porch band. What was interesting to me is that Rudy Littrell played a racked harmonica while thumping a stand up bass. I heard a couple of well played songs sung by guitarist Duane Brown before I got distracted. My bad for not listening to them more intently than I did, but I ended up chatting with Doug MacLeod with the E-flatters providing the back ground music and until Doug took the stage. Check out what they call "angst-free acoustic" music at I'll definitely catch up with them down the road.

I only caught about thirty minutes of Bad Brad and the Fat Cats, got distracted with Doug again, but heard enough to be impressed with the talented blues trio from Austin by way of Colorado. I have heard their music before, being a fan of a young blue harp whiz from Colorado, who played on their second CD, Take A Walk With Me. What I heard was an energetic trio led by Brad Shivers, who has the blues voice and guitar chops to make waves down here in Texas.

I do wish that I could have stayed around for Texas Johnny Boy, Annika Chambers (I've heard nothing but great things about her) and Ezra Charles, but I had to take flight before they did. Check 'em out.

'Nuff for Now

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Blues Lives On In Spain

The wife and I took a trip to Spain and met up with my son. He was wrapping up a semester abroad engineering program through Texas A and M in Ciudad Real. We decided to spend a few days in Seville before connecting with him in Madrid. I could certainly lay a "wanna see the slides from our vacation" post here on the blog because we certainly have tons from every possible "must see" attraction from both cities, but I'll just keep this focused on the blues that I ran across. We did have accommodations in both cities that allowed us to walk to everything that we had an interest in seeing. My wife had been to Spain several times and my son had been in country for six weeks, so I basically just tagged along. Glad he had perfected how to order beer, wine and food.

On Saturday, I think, we strolled toward the small cafe/pub where we had purchased tickets for a Flamenco show. Along the way, I heard the wailing tones of someone playing the hell out of Muddy Waters. Whoever it was, had the master's slide licks down solid. Then, I heard Little Walter harp licks hitting the air. 'Course, I told my wife, "Gotta find where this is coming from". Around the block sat a one man street band kicking that heavy Delta blues. He had a mic strapped to his harmonica rack, a foot gizmo with various percussive trinkets to provide a bit of rhythm, and a Bart Simpson and sis strapped to his other foot dancing to his music. Dude's name is Little Boy Quique and he definitely knows the genre.

We sat and listened to a few tunes (I did mention that we were on the way to a Flamenco show, didn't I?) and his grasp of the blues absolutely blew me away. I bought a CD from  him and he said that he'd sat in with Mud Morganfield (Muddy's oldest son) night before and that Mud was still in town. He mentioned a club that he frequently played and we tried to find it after the Flamenco gig to no avail. If we had not pre-purchased those tickets, I do believe that I would have hung with this guy the rest of the evening and followed him wherever the blues was being played had it been up to me. Wish I'd run into him on Thursday. I would certainly have checked out Seville's blues scene a lot more thoroughly. I'll run a review of the CD at some point.

Before leaving for Spain, I got in touch with a Facebook buddy from Madrid. Josep Pedro is a blues enthusiast, who writes about the scene over there. Check out his Blues Vibe FB page. He provided me with a substantial run down as far as what was happening during our visit. He told me that the La Coquette was THE blues club in Madrid and that John Primer would be in town. Since July 2 coincided with my son's 21st birthday and he's become quite accomplished at playing blues guitar and since John Primer would be there, then I cleared it with him and the wife that seeing a great Chi-town blues guy would be the right thing to do. We searched out the club while we walked around the area a couple of days before. The son had a great map app on his iPhone that led us around on our walks with pin point accuracy (most of the time). The club was indeed a short walk from the hotel.

On Wednesday night, we strolled over to the club early because my research revealed that it was a small  basement club (that turned out to be an understatement). I wanted to be sure that we could sit down through the performance. We got there at around 9:30 since their Facebook page said a 10:30 start (of course it was an hour later, but that seems to be normal for a blues club). Smallest room I've ever seen for any type of club. Two small amps sat along the wall, which surprised me, because I knew that Primer had Bob Stroger in tow and there was no bass rig to be seen, nor drum set.

I did mention that we got there early, didn't I?

By 11:30, the place was indeed packed. I heard a slight commotion next to me at the door and heard a voice boom, "Man, here I am having to travel to Madrid to see you play" and then John Primer stepped through the door. I turned to the big man who issued the words, and said, "Do I hear a fellow American?" He said, "Hell, yeah." Turns out that it was Wayne Baker Brooks (Lonnie's son) and his guitarist Nic Byrd (formally of The Kinsey Report). They were in country to play a couple of shows, one being a USO July 4th gig at the embassy. We chatted about the time that I saw his daddy, his brother Ronnie and himself at a show in Houston. Really enjoyed hanging out with them.

Primer wasted no time cranking out some Muddy Waters and stayed in that solid Chicago blues groove for the only set that we were able to stick around and watch. Stroger took a seat stage left and simply enjoyed the show. A enormously impressive blues harp man from Spain, Quique Gomez, knew his book of Little Walter extremely well. He swapped off playing acoustic and lightly amped up. We had to catch an early morning flight out of town, so took off a 1 am. Told Wayne Baker that, and he said, "Man, I'd just have to get on the plane drunk."

What surprised me about the club goers was the age group. Most were 20 and 30 year old fans who were vocal and enthusiastic. They knew the music well. Here in the states, most of the crowd is made up of old farts like me. Posters around the club, advertising past and future blues festivals, indicated a significant interest in the music though out Spain. The blues was definitely alive in Madrid on this night.

As it turned out, we got to the airport and faced a 2 1/2 hour delay. Then, as we boarded, got hit with a severe hail storm that rocked the plane. After they checked the plane and we were deemed safe, they grounded the flight crew for too many hours and the flight was cancelled. Ended up spending July 4th in our nation's capitol with a 7 hour layover. What I didn't know, was that Primer played with a full band at Clamore's Jazz club on the night of the fourth. Had I known, I definitely would have planned better. Oh, well, that's the blues.

'Nuff for now.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blues, Bluebonnets and BBQ

Meant to mentioned this a lot earlier, especially since I planned on going. A family function now pre-empts catching a fabulous line-up at this year's Blues, Bluebonnets and BBQ shindig honoring Mance Lipscomb's birthday in downtown Navasota, Texas tomorrow (4/12/14). Lot's of info here at their Facebook site. There's also lots of youtube vids representing the acts that are playing. Can't beat it with a stick.

Festivities will begin with Eric Demmer and the Sax Dawgs at high noon. To say that Demmer has blown his sax with a who's who in the blues would be an understatement. They will swing and sway you.

Houston's premier blues harp musician (and great friend), Sonny Boy Terry stomps and romps the blues at 2 and ain't nobody draws the notes from the instrument as well as he.

Texas blues guitar legend, Mike Morgan hits the stage at 4 with his band the Crawl slinging it as only a bluesman from Texas can.

Don't know a lot about CeeCee James, but from what I've heard on the web, she got a set of pipes on her suited to belting out the blues with attitude.

Zac Harmon's been making a name for himself since winning one of those International Blues Contests in Memphis a while back. He dang sure will get it cranking as the headliner.

Expect great food, such as the BBQ in the event title and plenty of crawfish boiling in the pot.

Wish I could join y'all. Tell 'em Ricky B sent you over. 'Nuff for now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Whirlwind of Music

Just had to share this. Back in December I kept quizzing my son (in his junior year in college) about what to get him for Christmas. He's matured to the extent that he said that he really couldn't think of anything that he wanted. Soon after that I happened upon a post on a harmonica related forum about the Experience Hendrix 2014 tour. Not sure why the poster was posting it, but my son has developed amazing skills at picking the six string and on our visit to Chicago a few years back (documented somewhere here) he was disappointed when we crossed paths with the venue that was hosting said tour and they were, of course, sold out. BUT, for this Christmas I ordered tickets in Dallas for the tours third stop. That date coincided with his Spring Break in March (last week) and also my daughter's, who teaches at SMU. So, the stage was set to take him and my daughter and her music loving husband to see some whomping guitarists doing Hendrix.

As the date approached, my wife (who loves classical guitar,  having seen Andre Segovia at a young age with her father) insisted that we expose him to the genre. begin the week (Saturday, March 8), we went to Round Top, Texas to see Celil Refik Kaya. The young man absolutely ruled with a world class performance.

We travelled to Dallas to the daughter's house on Tuesday for the Hendrix tribute, which kicked serious butt. Jimi Hendrix's baby sister introduced Billy Cox, Jimi's original bass player, to kick off the show which included Eric Gale, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Buddy Guy, Doyle Bramhall II, Eric Johnson, Dweezil Zappa, Mato Nanji, with Chris Layton on drums. It WAS overwhelming.

In between all this, my son scored tickets to the Heartbreaker Banquet held on Willie Nelson's ranch. It is a private party for only 500 or so guests and features a plethora of bands (most unknown to me) benefiting the Sims Foundation. The setting is an Old West movie set, called Luck, Texas, built for Willie's movie "The Red Headed Stranger". Said daughter and husband also wrangled tickets. We returned from Dallas on Wednesday in order to turn around and head 30 miles north of Austin to partake in this musical experience. The day was full of brilliant sunshine and brilliant music. There were 20+ bands, I won't go into details, but we did get to enjoy three great bands in the intimate setting of Luck's small church. Some of those were Sons of Fathers, Shaky Graves, Willie Watson. Harmonicas were played by several in the folk style context. We watch several other partial sets by other very talented bands.

Everyone had high hopes that Willie would show up at the party. Rumors floated that since his son, Lukas Nelson, was headlining that surely he would be the "Surprise Special Guest". It was a foregone conclusion that it would happen when Lukas invited Mickey Raphael (harmonica content) to the stage to play harp on one of his numbers. AND...sho' 'nuff, the Texas legend hit the stage with his family band and, of course, kicked big butt with his son doing a great rendition of "Texas Flood" thrown into the mix of Willie's classics. Now, back in the day, I saw Willie play many times over around the San Marcos area, but my son witnessed his greatness for the first time.

I only thought that the flood of music was over for the week when my brother-in-law called to tell me he had tickets at the marvelous Conroe venue, The Crighton Theatre, to see the Los Lonely Boys on Saturday. My son decided it would be best to catch up with what he needed to catch up on and returned to his abode, but my wife accompanied me to witness the magic of those Tejano blue rockers, Henry, Jo Jo, and Ringo Garza rocking the hell out of the venerable venue. Gotta say that Henry earned "Guitarist of the Week" honors IMHO (which says a hell of a lot). He even picked up the harp and wailed a hell of a number.

Can't say that I've ever been immersed in this much music in one week in my life. I'm still processing how the hell it transpired, but it will always be a memory that will never fade...particularly since it was all shared with FAMILY. 'Nuff for now.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Finland Has The Blues

I've got a new friend in Jouni Hyytiainen from Finland. He contacted me wanting to read and write reviews for their blues magazine, Blues News He scanned this jpg for me. Pretty cool. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Compiling The Devil's Blues

Back in the day, before I had amassed a substantial blues collection, I had a penchant to buy compilations of the blues. Mostly, from reputable reissue labels like Yazoo and Document for the pre-war stuff and Rhino and later the artists from the Columbia label issued by Sony just to get a taste from blues artists that weren't yet in my collection. Prior to that, though, I'd fall for the cheap cassettes on display at convenient stores. Most of them were a hodge podge thrown together with questionable quality. Every now and then I hit on a gem of recordings from the vaults of Jewel or Excello. Blues racks in chain record stores (lots of those have disappeared, along with shelves of blues recordings) always had examples in the various artists slots that screamed "Essential" or "Definitive" collections. Some of these also were excellent, but most fell into the convenient store category with no liner notes or misspelling of the artists names, or attributing a cut to a blues man that was actually sung by someone else.

I quit buying these long ago, since I had recordings by those artists represented on the compilations and I had many well produced "Best Of" or the "Complete" recordings by them from reputable sources. Well meaning friends and family, looking for some sort of gift for me, have from time to time given me compilation CDs over the course of time. Some are great and some fit the other category, but in most cases they contain songs that I've heard many times over.

Around my birthday last year, I received several such gifts. One was an "Essential" disc of blues "In the Beginning" that was alright, but chocked full of the old warhorses that really didn't peak my interest. Then there was this one that was a pleasant surprise. The cover looked pretty cheesy and the title "Voodoo Blues The Devil Within" seemed just as suspect. The music proved other wise.

The disc caught my daughter's eye as she was looking for Halloween costumes for her kids. Don't recall where, but since it had a spooky theme, it was on display for the occasion. The music on the disc all has something to do with the devil or voodoo or hoodoo. The liner notes explain the compiler's reasoning for the selection and the dates and composers are listed, so that is a plus. It is a two disc collection of forty songs, so I certainly will not touch on all of them. With the handful of old chestnuts, it contain blues that I hadn't heard before. I will start, though, by mentioning the songs with blues harp represented.

There are of course, the ones that have been in my house for a long time. Howlin' Wolf's "Evil (Is Going On)" and "I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)", Sonny Boy Williamson I's "I Been Dealing With The Devil" and "Hoodoo Hoodoo" (made more famous by Junior Wells), Sonny Boy Williamson II's "Your Funeral and My Trial", and Jimmy Reed's "I Know It's A Sin" are those that I've listened to many times. The value is in those that I'm not familiar with hearing. Or, at least, I don't recall them. I've heard John Lee Hooker's "Burnin' Hell", but not this version containing an insistent, well played harmonica riff. I'm only assuming that it is Eddie Kirkland. I'm just not sure that he was on board for this 1949 session. If not, then I don't know who blew the blues on this one. I didn't waste a ton time researching any of these cuts, and it doesn't really matter because the music speaks for itself.

Same with Otis Spann's 1954 "I'd Rather Be The Devil". Not only is he backed by a good harp man, but with some mighty fine single picked guitar notes wailing throughout the song. Yeah, I know Muddy Waters' band backed him on plenty of songs, but I don't believe this is the case hear. I did find information listing B.B. King and Jody Williams as guitarist on "Must Have Been The Devil", which surprised me. A 1954 version of that song is included here, but the strange thing is that it only has Spann's piano. I'll go out on a limb and say that my internet source confuses the two songs and maybe  Walter Horton wails on the harp. Just a guess, though.

I can't recall hearing Robert Cooksey before, but he plays some rapid, clean harp notes on "Black Cat Bone" along with the singing and guitar playing by Bobby Leecan, who this song is attributed to on this 1927 recording. Never really knew the source of this often recorded blues tune.

I've never invested in much in the way of piano blues music, but it's my loss that I haven't bought any of Champion Jack Dupree's stuff. Great musician's (especially the sax player) back him on "Evil Woman", "Bad Blood" and "Nasty Blues". Never paid much attention to Screamin' Jay Hawkins, either, writing him off as not my cup of tea, and yeah, he's sorta hokey, but the musicians he employs are top notch. His "I Put A Spell On You" kicks off the disc and I've heard it plenty of times over the years, but it works great on this compilation. Actually, it is the only song that I've ever listened to by the strange fellow, but "Little Demon" proves that he was more than a one trick pony.

I'm sure I've got recordings that Washboard Sam has played on, too, but I've never heard "She Belongs To The Devil". This 1941 tune is dang fine blues playing. Other's that are just as fine, and just as unfamiliar to me are by the gals Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey.

The sophisticated blues by T-Bone Walker is represented by "Evil Hearted Woman" and "Street Walking Woman". He'll always be one of my favorites, so it's nice that these songs are worked into the mix. In the same vein, Louis Jordan, jumps and jives on "Someone Done Hoodooed The Hoodoo Man", which invites comparison to Sonny Boy Williamson I's version on the same theme. Both were recorded in 1940.

Of course, you can't have music about the devil without including, Robert Johnson, who made a career out of running from hellhounds, so his "Me and The Devil" and "Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil) are included here. Same can be said for Skip James' "Devil Got My Woman".

Another one of my all time favorites is Elmore James and he's represented here with "Sinful Woman". For those unfamiliar with anything other that his superb slide guitar this one shows that he could dang well pick out some mighty fine single notes.

Okay, I'm done. Just had to mention that this is a fine compilation, especially to cue up during the Halloween season. I did seek out information on Not Now Music. They are a UK company (no surprise there, those Euros put out some fine reissues) and produce tons of compilations and reissue albums, not only by blues artists, but rockabilly, jazz, rock n roll, etc...There website contains lots of stuff that can probably not be found easily elsewhere. Just don't know how cheap it would be to order and ship from there. 'Nuff for now.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Magic of Sam

Along with Otis Rush, Bobby Bland, B.B. King, and Elmore James, Magic Sam ranks as one of my all time favorite blues singers. Very few have ever come close to matching the emotional intensity that burst from the man. The same can be said about his innovative guitar playing.

Story goes that Samuel Gene Maghett's last name sounded so close to the word "magic" that his bass player tabbed him with the moniker, Magic Sam. I'm sure that ol' Mack took into account the magic that he coaxed from the six strings of his guitar. His late '50s singles for the Cobra label, along with those by his stable mates Otis Rush and Buddy Guy and also Freddy King, ended up being coined Chicago's West Side blues style. Not sure where the term originated, but someone apparently felt the need to distinguish the style, prominently featuring the electric guitar in more of a solo role, as being different than what Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf were laying down. Buddy Guy will tell you that there was no such thing as a blues style indigenous to that side of Chicago, that they played their blues all over the city. I'm assuming that the name was in play before Delmark signed Sam and released the perennial desert island album, West Side Soul. If not, then the label certainly perpetrated the use of the term.

By the time Magic Sam recorded for Delmark in 1967 he had been playing the blues clubs in Chicago from the first time he set foot in the city at the age of nineteen in 1950. His tremolo laden guitar and his esteemed vocals, dripping with vibrato, were caught on record by Cobra between 1957-59. His tunes "All Your Love" and "Easy Baby" captured exactly what set his style apart from those around him, with heavy chords augmenting the sharp, single picked notes from his axe. In other words, playing rhythm guitar while slinging notes. And, much like Otis Rush from that same period, his vocals proved to be as much of an instrument in the blues as his guitar, as every word dripped with emotion and cried out deep feeling.

Anyway, he died way too young of a heart attack at 32. West Side Soul and the follow up, Black Magic, were all he left us with in terms of studio albums. His Cobra and Chief recordings are available. After his death, live recordings surfaced with examples of his genius, and were indeed magic. My personal favorite has always been Live at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival from 1969. After showing up with his bass player and borrowing a guitar, he lit the audience up with his guitar work and superb vocals. After the appearance, his reputation spread way beyond the club scene. His live album from the Alex Club is great too, but doesn't come close to the raw abandon that he unleashed on the Ann Arbor. It did provide a excellent snapshot of Sam working in his home environment. The only drawback to both is that the quality of the recordings leave a bit to be desired, but neither diminishes the quality of the musicianship on display. I have both these albums on vinyl, but I think that Delmark has package them both for CD. They also released a recording of Sam playing at home some years back.

Fast forward a few decades later, Delmark has release a set that was recorded in 1968 at a folkie type club in Milwaukee. My friends, this recording languished way too long in the hands of Jim Charne, who caught the magic of Magic that night, and not to have been shared with the rest of us. Damn worth waiting for, though. From the opening notes of Freddy King's instrumental, "San-Ho-Zay", to the ending, trendy 'Hully Gully Twist', this recording captures what Magic Sam was all about in his element, ripping it up in a club. The difference between here and the Alex Club is that his audience is mostly a white one. Aurally, it is the best live representation of what his audiences enjoyed. It's all here. Tune into any cut and be amazed by the talent of the man. The vibrato in his voice on Lowell Fulson's "It's All Your Fault" is other-worldly and few can match the heartbreak that those vocals elicit. It's also a great example of his interpretation of the blues penned by others. He owns the songs here written by the aforementioned Freddy King and Fulson, along with Junior Wells' 'Come On In This House", Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man", Muddy Waters' "Still A Fool", Otis Rush's "All You Love (I Miss Loving)", Jimmy Rogers' "That's All Right", and Jimmy McCracklin's "Everynight Everyday". That's quite a feat, given that these songs were so associated with their composers. They were far from being old warhorse blues tunes back in 1968, though.

Of course, having released West Side Soul the year before, he thrilled the club goers with his own material. "You Belong To Me" can't be beat for an example of his rhythm guitar workout while he sings his lungs out. The set includes one of my favorite slow blues by the man. If anyone really wants to know what the blues is all about just point them to "Bad Luck Blues". Stone cold blues dripping with high pitched, tortured vocals and exquisite guitar riffs. Both of Magic Sam's studio releases offered up servings of Soul and Rhythm and Blues. His jaunty, jumping "That's All I Need" is a prime example of his talents in regards to those sub-genres. He kicks off the instrumental "Hully Gully Twist" with some Elmore James' inspired riffing before rocking the house like Chuck Berry.

Live at the Avant Garde instantly joins West Side Soul on my desert island list. Yes, it is not a professionally recorded live recording, but the sound quality is head and shoulders above what came before it. Every blues fan needs to have this one in their library. For those unfamiliar with this blues master, this is as good a place as any to experience the genius of the bluesman. Heck, I bought three discs as Christmas presents just to share the Magic.  'Nuff for now.