Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Muddy Waters & Friends Jam In Chicago (circa 1974)

Soundstage: Blues Summit In Chicago, 1974 DVD
Thirty-plus years after his death, the great Muddy Waters remains the undisputed King of Chicago Blues. Sure, Buddy Guy may be his heir apparent, but with a wealth of Waters’ back catalog CDs and DVDs remaining in print for new listeners to discover, and with new treasures from the archive trickling out each year, it’s going to be hard – if not impossible – for anybody to claim Waters’ throne anytime soon…

Legacy Recording will be adding another priceless gem to the Waters’ treasure chest on April 21st, 2015 when they reissue Soundstage: Blues Summit In Chicago, 1974 on DVD for the very first time. Credited to “Muddy Waters and Friends,” the DVD documents a July 1964 concert by Waters and a few friends that would be broadcast as the first episode of Soundstage, a beloved live concert series that was broadcast by PBS stations around the country for 13 seasons during the late 1970s and early-to-mid-1980s (and was resurrected for more episodes in the early ‘00s).

Waters by himself is a potent onstage presence, especially with a band at the time that included talents like guitarists Bob Margolin and Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson, bassist Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, pianist Pinetop Perkins, and drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Among the heavy “friends” appearing with Waters are fellow Chicago blues giants Koko Taylor and Willie Dixon; guitarists Michael Bloomfield, Nick Gravenites, and Johnny Winter; former Waters’ band harp player (and solo star) Junior Wells; and pianist Dr. John, among others. Together, these storied musicians put on a hell of a show (the full DVD tracklist can be found below).   

“This first edition of our Soundstage series definitely stands the test of time,” says Soundstage producer Ken Ehrlich in a press release for the DVD. “The same greatness that these blues legends like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Junior Wells and Koko Taylor showed in this iconic gathering of blues greats continues to influence current generations of blues players and fans. The only difference is that now, 40 years later, the other artists on the show like Johnny Winter, Mike Bloomfield, Dr. John and Buddy Miles have now achieved similar legendary status as those first generation blues artists they came to honor back in 1974.”

Soundstage: Blues Summit In Chicago, 1974 tracklisting:

Muddy Waters – “Blow Wind Blow”
Muddy Waters – “Long Distance Call”
Junior Wells & Nick Gravenites – “Messin’ With The Kid”
Junior Wells – “Stop Breaking Down”
Muddy Waters –  “Mannish Boy”
Willie Dixon & Koko Taylor – “Wang Dang Doodle”
Johnny Winter – “Walking Through The Park”
Muddy Waters & Willie Dixon – “Hootchie Kootchie Man”
Dr. John – “Sugar Sweet”
Muddy Waters – “Got My Mojo Workin’”

Buy the DVD from Amazon.com: Muddy Waters and Friends' Soundstage: Blues Summit Chicago 1974

Sunday, March 29, 2015

CD Review: John Mayall's Bluesbreakers' Live In 1967

John Mayall's Bluesbreakers' Live In 1967
Chances are that you’ve never heard John Mayall’s first album. I know I haven’t, and although a few folks through the years have told me that John Mayall Plays John Mayall (released in 1965) is quite fetching, it’s also quite obscure, and few outside of the U.K. have had the experience. Recorded live at a London club called Klook’s Kleek, the LP featured the first draft of the classic Bluesbreakers band which included guitarist Roger Dean (who would go on to do session work), bass player John McVie (if you don’t know Mr. McVie, why are you reading this?), and drummer Hughie Flint (who would pull duty later with both Savoy Brown and the Blues Band).

What a difference a year makes, though, and when former Yardbirds’ guitarist Eric Clapton replaced Dean for the seminal Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton album, Mayall and crew created one of the most commercially successful, critically acclaimed, and undeniably influential works in British blues music. In many ways, the album would overshadow everything Mayall would later record, so much so that few remember that the bandleader released a second, nearly as successful album a few months later. When Clapton flew the coop to barnstorm Greece for a few months, he was replaced by the capable and underrated guitarist Peter Green for the equally classic A Hard Road album.   

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers Live In 1967

My point is that the difference between legend and obscurity is often a combination of luck, timing, and cosmic alignment (which probably falls under the ‘luck’ category, but for the sake of argument, we’ll consider it the great ephemeral unknown). Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton is recognized and rightfully lauded by even the most casual of British blues fans, A Hard Road not nearly as much. In the wake of A Hard Road, Mayall led various Bluesbreakers bands on tour, near-mythical shows that were seemingly fated to faded memories and eventual obscurity as none of the performances were thought to have been caught on tape.

One remarkable Bluesbreakers line-up during this period featured Mayall up front, Green on guitar, bassist McVie, and a young drummer named Mick Fleetwood. Although the four of them only played together for a few months before the three guys that weren’t Mayall bolted to form Fleetwood Mac, they performed some memorable shows together during that short time. It’s lucky for us, then, that a hardcore Bluesbreakers fan from Holland by the name of Tom Huissen tucked a one-channel reel-to-reel recorder under his jacket while attending several of Mayall’s London shows in early 1967 and recorded the band’s performance each night. These tapes remained unheard and unreleased for over 40 years until they were recently acquired by Mayall who, working with Forty Below Records’ Eric Corne, restored them to a good enough quality to release as Live In 1967.

Capturing Blues History

An important note – the audio quality of Live In 1967 is less than crystal clear; it’s hollow and kind of boomy, and many performances sound like you’re standing in the back of a large, deep cave, hearing the amps echo off the paintings on the wall. Remember, however, that recording technology was in the stone age at the time and, while Huissen’s heart was in the right place, his equipment was low-fi even by the primitive standards of the time. No matter how much it’s been shined up and polished, Live In 1967 sounds like the audience-sourced bootleg that it is, and if that’s a deal breaker for your tender ears, then you probably should stop reading right now…

If you possess the intestinal fortitude to sojourn onward, however, you’ll be richly rewarded with a mighty fine performance by one of the best and brightest, albeit short-lived blues bands in old Britannia. Live In 1967 kicks off with a smokin’ read of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love.” The McVie/Fleetwood rhythm section lays down a sly groove that is embroidered by Green’s fluid guitarwork, Mayall’s soulful vocals accompanied by sparse keyboard notes to really pay tribute to the Chicago blues gem. The Bluesbreakers swing for the fences with the original “Brand New Start,” the rhythm monsters building a strong foundation atop which Mayall blows a mean harp like Little Walter and bangs the keys like Booker T. while Green unreels some greasy, soulful fretwork that sounds unlike anybody else at that time.  

So Many Roads

Returning to the Otis Rush songbook, they take on “Double Trouble,” a song so damn good that Stevie Ray Vaughan would name a band after it. With a little better fidelity (apparent across the five tracks recorded at Manor House in May), “Double Trouble” benefits from a swaying rhythm, dashes of Mayall’s mournful keyboards, and some nicely-textured and blues-drenched guitar courtesy of St. Peter. Another Manor House performance, “So Many Roads,” has become a de facto Mayall signature song. Recorded by Otis Rush in 1960 and since then by Joe Bonamassa and Foghat, among others, here Mayall and crew amp up the emotion and make the performance bolder and bluesier than anybody else, Green’s incredible guitarplay channeling more tears and heartache than his predecessor in the band ever could.

Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is played straight, that is as an old-school Chicago blues torch song with Mayall’s saddened vocals paired with Green’s elegantly tortured guitar while the rhythm section shuffles along slowly and respectably behind the two frontmen. Mayall leads his crew through a trio of vintage Freddie King numbers – most notable among them a raucous instrumental romp through “San-Ho-Zay,” although “Someday After Awhile” is quite a tearjerker with some lovely fretwork – before finishing up Live In 1967 with a spot-on reading of T-Bone Walker’s blues standard “Stormy Monday” that features some of Green’s most nuanced string-bending.    

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Once you get past its limited sound quality (turn it up!), you’ll agree that Live In 1967 is a momentous musical find, a literal time capsule of classic British blues-rock. The album offers thirteen lively, inspired, and long-lost Bluesbreakers performances from a handful of now-legendary London-area clubs, including The Marquee and Klook’s Kleek, a high-energy mix of classic blues covers and Mayall originals that should thrill any British blues fan. 

Live In 1967 is also an invaluable document that shines a well-deserved spotlight on the immense talents of, and all-too-brief collaboration between Messrs. Mayall, Green, McVie, and Fleetwood. While Mayall would go on to make a lot of great music during the ensuing years (including 2014’s A Special Life album), Live In 1967 proves that his legacy and the long shadow Mayall casts across the British blues tradition is based on more than just that one single album. Grade: B+ (Forty Below Records, released April 21, 2015)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: John Mayall's Bluesbreakers' Live In '67

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Nighthawks Throw A Back Porch Party!

Roots ‘n’ blues veterans the Nighthawks are a respected brand with a long and storied history behind the name. Formed in 1972 by singer/harp player Mark Wenner and guitarist Jimmy Thackery, the band was part of a thriving early 1970s Washington D.C. music scene that included talents like Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton. Through the years, the band has released better than 20 albums and rotated through a number of musicians, but they’ve always been led by Wenner’s undeniable vision and love of music.

Some 40+ years later, the band is still rockin’ and earning new fans around the world. On April 21st, 2015 the Nighthawks will be throwing a Back Porch Party with the release of their latest EllerSoul Records album, and we're all invited! Following up on their critically-acclaimed 2014 album 444, the Nighthawks – frontman Wenner, guitarist Paul Bell, bassist Johnny Castle, and drummer Mark Stutso – have put together another fine set of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll with a bit of twang and R&B thrown in for good measure.

Back Porch Party was recorded “live and acoustic” in the studio, the band running through a dozen songs that include five originals as well as covers of classic tunes by Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Slim, Willie Dixon, Ike Turner, and Jimmy Rogers. A couple of performances defy expectations, even for a band as flexible as the Nighthawks – their own version of “Down In The Hole,” better known as the theme from the acclaimed HBO series The Wire, and the Patsy Cline gem “Walkin’ After Midnight.”

As for the band’s return to an unplugged album so soon after the overwhelming critical success of the Blues Music Award-winning 2010 album Last Train To Bluesville, Mark Wenner explains the decision in a press release for the new album. “Although the band mostly continues its amplified style, they are quick to take advantage of situations that warrant the acoustic format,” says Wenner.

“Having enjoyed both the sound and father/son team of engineers in Montrose Studio in Richmond, Virginia, and mixing some acoustic numbers into the material on our 444 album, it seemed like the perfect place for another unplugged recording. The band and EllerSoul execs also invited a small group of sympathetic listeners in for the recording session. The resulting totally live performance was captured by Bruce and Adrian Olsen and quickly mixed into this presentation of a truly fun event, a Back Porch Party.”

Of course, the band will be touring in support of the new album – after all, the Nighthawks are a gang that lives on the road – and we have the initial slate of tour dates below. 

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: The Nighthawks' Back Porch Party


03/26 @ Bradfordville Blues Club, Tallahassee FL
03/27 @ Blind Willie’s, Atlanta GA
03/28 @ Double Door Inn, Charlotte NC
04/04 @ The Hamilton, Washington DC
04/10 @ Garfield Center for the Arts, Prince Theatre, Chestertown MD
04/11 @ Ramshead on Stage, Annapolis MD
04/12 @ Ramshead on Stage, Annapolis MD
04/17 @ Harvester Performance Center, Rocky Mount VA
04/24 @ Godfrey Daniels, Bethlehem PA
04/25 @ World Café Live, Wilmington DE
05/01 @ The Tin Angel, Philadelphia PA

The Nighthawks, 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015

Nils Lofgren’s Solo Debut Reissued

Nils Lofgren's Nils Lofgren
These days, guitarist Nils Lofgren may be best known as the guy standing on stage behind Bruce Springsteen. Although Lofgren has been an E Street Band member for around 30 years now, his career stretches much further back – as a member of Grin, the early 1970s pop-rock band that scored a minor AOR hit with the song “White Lies” in 1972 and, before that, as a de facto member of Crazy Horse, recording with Neil Young (After The Gold Rush) when he was but 17 years old.

Lofgren has also enjoyed a lengthy solo career, which began in earnest with the 1975 release of his self-titled debut album. With four albums with Grin under his belt, as well as his experience in the studio and on stage with Young, Lofgren was a seasoned veteran at the tender age of 24, and expectations in the rock press were high for the young guitarist’s initial album. Lofgren knocked it out of the park, issuing an excellent twelve-song collection that featured eleven original numbers, underrated classics like “Back It Up,” “One More Saturday Night,” “If I Say It, It’s So,” and Lofgren’s tribute to Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, “Keith Don’t Go (Ode to the Glimmer Twin),” all of which established Lofgren’s songwriting ability. 

The album’s lone cover was of Carole King’s “Goin’ Back,” which put for Lofgren’s vocal skills on display. Although many fans expected a display of six-string pyrotechnics, Lofgren’s fretwork on the album was tasteful and imaginative rather than bombastic, and he was just as likely to accompany himself on piano as to tear off a screaming solo in the middle of a song. Backed by bassist Wornell Jones (who he continued to record with well into the 1990s) and drummer Aynsley Dunbar (a journeyman who had played with Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and many others), Lofgren delivered a debut album that was smart and carefully crafted, a suitable showcase for his many talents.

On May 5th, 2015 Real Gone Music will reissue Lofgren’s Nils Lofgren on CD with “behind the scenes” liner notes penned by Lofgren, as well as several rare photos. Originally released on CD in 1990 by RykoDisc (with whom Lofgren had a lengthy relationship), the album has been out of print since a limited edition re-release almost ten years ago. In the interim, a generation of new fans has discovered Lofgren’s talents, and the album’s stature has only grown during the years.

As Nils Lofgren himself says in the liner notes for the Real Gone reissue, “my first self-titled solo album, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Fat Man’ album (after the front cover photo), remains a colorful and dramatic chapter in my musical and personal life. And still, one of my best albums.” If you’re a fan of 1970s-era rock ‘n’ roll, this is an album that demands a place in your record collection!

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Nils Lofgren's Nils Lofgren

Thursday, March 12, 2015

John Wetton’s The Studio Recordings Anthology

John Wetton’s The Studio Recordings Anthology
Bassist John Wetton is one of the true MVP’s of progressive rock – a prolific artist and musician who has been a major contributor to bands like King Crimson, Roxy Music, UK, and Asia as well as forging a lengthy and substantial solo career. On March 17th, 2015 Cherry Red Records will release Wetton’s The Studio Recordings Anthology, a two-disc set that features the best of the legendary bass player’s six solo albums.

Featuring performances that date from 1980’s Caught In The Crossfire to 2011’s Raised In Captivity, The Studio Recordings Anthology provides prog-rock fans with 32 songs which capture Wetton’s fluid and imaginative bass lines, soulful vocals, and mesmerizing songs. Also this month, Wetton will be releasing the live New York Minute, the album capturing a 2013 concert at the Iridium in NYC with the Les Paul Trio that features unique performances of songs like Wetton’s solo hit “Battle Lines” and Asia’s massive chart-topper “Heat of the Moment,” as well as several songs that he’s never sung elsewhere.

John Wetton first came to prominence as a member of British folk-rock legends Family, the bassist performing on the band’s classic early 1970s album Fearless and Bandstand. He would leave Family to join Robert Fripp’s King Crimson, spending several years with the prog-rock pioneers as the band’s singer and bass player, appearing on four Crimson albums, including Larks’ Tongue in Aspic and Red. When Fripp broke-up Crimson in 1975, Wetton joined Roxy Music, contributing to the band’s 1976 album Viva! Surprisingly, Wetton appeared on more of his Roxy bandmate’s albums than he did for the band itself, lending his skills to solo works by Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry (four albums), and Phil Manzanera (also four albums).

Wetton spent much of the rest of the 1970s as a journeyman, playing with bands like Uriah Heep and UK and performing session work on albums by his former bandmates Roger Chapman (Family), David Cross (King Crimson), and Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield, among others. Wetton launched his solo career proper with 1980’s Caught In The Crossfire, and has released a dozen studio and live albums since, as well as musical collaborations with Phil Manzanera, Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley, and Geoff Downes of Yes (as Icon).

It was with Asia, however, that Wetton found his most overwhelming commercial success, the band’s 1982 self-titled debut album yielding hit singles in “Heat of the Moment” (#4 on the Billboard “Hot 100”) and “Only Time Will Tell” (charting at #17) that made the album the best-selling release of the year. As represented by the tracks on The Studio Recordings Anthology, Wetton has enjoyed a lengthy and fruitful solo career.

If ever there was an artist worthy of a career-spanning multi-disc box set, it’s John Wetton. Until such time as that happens, if all you know of Wetton is Asia, The Studio Recordings Anthology is a great way to become familiar with Wetton’s immense talents.      

The Studio Recordings Anthology track list:

Disc One
1. The Circle of St. Giles
2. The Last Thing On My Mind
3. Hold Me Now
4. Where Do We Go From Here?
5. Another Twist of the Knife
6. I've Come To Take You Home
7. I Can't Lie Anymore
8. Lost For Words
9. Battle Lines
10. Caught In The Crossfire
11. Arkangel
12. Right Where I Wanted To Be
13. Nothing's Gonna Stand In Our Way
14. Second Best
15. Woman
16. Real World

Disc Two
1. Heart of Darkness
2. Say It Ain't So
3. Cold Is The Night
4. You're Not The Only One
5. Raised In Captivity
6. Steffi's Ring
7. Walking On Air
8. Take Me To The Waterline
9. Silently
10. Battle Lines (acoustic)
11. I Lay Down
12. Rock of Faith
13. Who Will Light A Candle?
14. You Against The World
15. Emma
16. After All

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: John Wetton's Studio Recordings Anthology