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


Pat Travers Rides The Retro Rocket!

Pat Travers' Retro Rocket
A one-time high-flyer of the 1970s-era arena-rock royalty, guitarist Pat Travers has been playing aggressive, live-wire rock ‘n’ blues music for better than three and a half decades. The Canadian-born string-bender is showing no signs of slowing down, either, taking part in the Rock Legends Cruise in February and booking a U.S. tour for March and April in support of his upcoming studio album, Retro Rocket.

On March 17th, 2015 Cleopatra’s Purple Pyramid Records will release Travers’ Retro Rocket, a nine-song LP or eleven-song CD that includes “Lead Me Home,” the theme from The Walking Dead TV series, as a bonus track. On this new slate of songs, Travers pulls inspiration from his vital, essential late 1970s albums like Heat In The Street and Live! Go For What You Know, providing each of these new performances with scorching guitars and whiskey-soaked vocals.

Travers isn’t just revisiting his glory days, but rather building upon his earlier success with a red-hot slate of performances that tie the past and present together. During the mid-to-late ‘70s, Travers was a bona-fide guitar hero. Beginning with 1977’s Makin’ Magic, Travers released a string of acclaimed, fast-charting albums: 1979’s Heat In The Street and Live! Go For What You Know (#29 on the charts), 1980’s Crash and Burn (#20), and 1981’s Radio Active (#37) that made the guitarist a hot draw on the stadium circuit (and subsequently influenced young musicians like Metallica’s Kirk Hammett).

Although Travers’ commercial star waned during the late 1980s and into the ‘90s, he’s continued to tour the U.S. and Europe and record, with nearly three-dozen studio and live albums to his credit. Retro Rocket is a fitting follow-up to 2013’s Can Do and should be a heck of a lot of fun!     

Pat Travers' Retro Rocket track list:

1. I Always Run
2. Searching For A Clue
3. Who Can You Turn To
4. Up Is Down
5. Mystery At The Wrecking Yard
6. You Can’t Get Their From Hare
7. I Am Alive
8. I Wanna Be Free
9. Hellbound Train
10. Looking Up [Live]*
11. Lead Me Home (Theme from The Walking Dead)*

* CD only track

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Pat Travers' Retro Rocket

Guitar Heroes LP Spotlights Telecaster Masters

Guitar Heroes James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett, and David Wilcox
If you’re one of those That Devil Music readers that enjoys some tasty roots ‘n’ blues guitar (and, if you’re not, what are you doing here?) circle the date of May 5th on your handy Blues Images calendar. Stony Plain Records has announced May 5, 2015 as the release date for Guitar Heroes, an exciting live recording that features the talents of four acclaimed “Telecaster Masters” – James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett, and David Wilcox – who bring their collective magic to eleven classic songs.

Guitar Heroes was recorded during a one-time special performance by the four legendary musicians at the Vancouver Island MusicFest in July 2013. Backing these incredible six-string talents were members of Lee’s regular touring band: keyboardist/vocalist Jon Greathouse, bassist Will MacGregor, and drummer Jason Harrison Smith. The eleven performances documented by Guitar Heroes are presented exactly as they happened, with no editing, overdubs, or studio gimmicks – just some old friends pickin’ on an inspired mix of blues, rockabilly, and rock ‘n’ roll tunes.

The four Telecaster Masters showcased by Guitar Heroes have credentials as impressive as any musician you’ll ever hear, and nearly 200 years combined experience on the stage and in the studio. James Burton spent 11 years backing Rickie Nelson, and another eight years with Elvis Presley, and has played with everybody from Dale Hawkins (that’s him on the classic “Susie Q”), Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and even Nashville’s own Threk Michaels. British-born Albert Lee was a founding member of Head, Hands and Feet during the early 1970s before launching a career as a gun for hire, playing on the road and on recordings by folks like Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, and Rodney Crowell as well as recording better than 20 critically-acclaimed solo albums.

Amos Garrett is a vastly underrated guitarist who performed with Ian & Sylvia’s Great Speckled Bird, Paul Butterfield’s Better Days, Doug Sahm, Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur (yup, that's him on “Midnight At The Oasis”), Jerry Garcia and others, as well as pursuing an acclaimed solo career. Canada’s David Wilcox isn’t as well known as his peers, but is one of his country’s most influential roots music guitarists, singers, and songwriters with a string of hits who has also played with Great Speckled Bird and Maria Muldaur.

Guitar Heroes will be released on both CD and on 180-gram vinyl LP with a download card; check out the full track list below.

Guitar Heroes CD track listing:

1. That's All Right (Mama)
2. Susie Q
3. Sleep Walk
4. Leave My Woman Alone
5. You're The One
6. Comin' Home Baby
7. Flip, Flop and Fly
8. Only the Young
9. Polk Salad Annie
10. Bad Apple
11. Country Boy

David Wilcox, James Burton, Amos Garrett & Albert Lee
David Wilcox, James Burton, Amos Garrett & Albert Lee, photo by Holger Petersen

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Omnivore revisits Memphis with Beale Street Saturday Night

Beale Street Saturday Night
Archival experts Omnivore Recordings have struck gold before with the label’s reissues of essential albums by Memphis music legends like Alex Chilton, Sid Selvidge, and Big Star. The label will be going back down to the Bluff City one more time with the April 14th, 2015 release of the long-lost roots ‘n’ blues compilation Beale Street Saturday Night.

During the mid-to-late-1970s, the thriving musical Mecca of Beale Street in Memphis was being torn up by the city in the name of “urban renewal;” clubs were being shuttered and destroyed, and the legendary Stax Records building was demolished. Memphis songwriter, musician, and producer Jim Dickinson – who had played with folks like the Rolling Stones and Ry Cooder and who produced albums by artists as diverse as Big Star, the Replacements, and Willy DeVille – decided to capture a bit of that old Beale Street magic on vinyl.

Originally released in 1979, Dickinson produced Beale Street Saturday Night for The Memphis Development Foundation, with proceeds from the album going to help restore the legendary Orpheum Theatre on Beale Street. In keeping with the spirit of the original recording, a portion of the proceeds from this Omnivore reissue will go to Beale Street Caravan, a non-commercial radio program that broadcasts live Memphis music to an audience of 2.4 million listeners on 400 stations worldwide.

The album’s fourteen performances were recorded at a variety of venues, including the famous Ardent Studios, The Orpheum Theatre, Sam Phillips’ studio, and even Dickinson’s home with his favored Ampex 8-track tape recorder. Beale Street Saturday Night offers intimate, inspired original performances from some of the city’s best blues, roots-rock, and soul artists including Mud Boy & the Neutrons (which included Dickinson and Sid Selvidge), Fred Ford, Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, Teenie Hodges, and others. The Omnivore reissue will be available on CD, as a digital download, and on clear vinyl with a download card, and will include new liner notes from Jim Lancaster (who worked on the original album), previously unpublished photos, and the original LP cover art with William Eggleston’s classic B&W photo.  
The Omnivore Recordings reissue of Beale Street Saturday Night was approved and supervised by the Dickinson family and represents an important documentation of a vital and creative music scene for modern audiences. In a press release for the album, Dickinson’s son Luther says, “only in Memphis would young white record producers put such raw black music and storytelling together to create an integrated southern masterpiece. Only in the grooves of this record does this Memphis exist, the ghosts telling the stories to the kids, aged memory and youthful fantasy combining to create a world all its own. Only James Luther Dickinson could have produced Beale Street Saturday Night. World Boogie is coming.”

Beale Street Saturday Night track listing:

1. Sid Selvidge – “Walkin’ Down Beale Street”
2. Fred Ford – “Hernando Horn”
3. Grandma Dixie Davis – “Beale Street Blues”
4. Sleepy John Estes – “Big Fat Mama/Liquor Store”
5. Prince Gabe – “Ol’ Beale Street Blues”
6. Furry Lewis – “Furry’s Blues”
7. Teenie Hodges – “Rock Me Baby”
8. Alex – “Rock Me Baby”
9. Thomas Pinkston – “Ben Griffin Was Killed In The Monarch”
10. Johnny Woods – “Frisco Blow”
11. Mud Boy & the Neutrons – “On The Road Again”
12. Thomas Pinkston – “Mr. Handy Told Me 50 Years Ago…”
13. Furry Lewis – “Chicken Ain’t Nothin’ But A Bird”
14. Grandma Dixie Davis – “Roll On, Mississippi”

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Beale Street Saturday Night

Cash Box Kings Hold Court with new Blind Pig Records album

The Cash Box Kings' Holding Court
Chicago blues outfit the Cash Box Kings have announced an April 28th, 2015 release date for Holding Court, the award-winning band’s third album for Blind Pig Records. Holding Court continues the Kings’ tradition of blending old-school roots ‘n’ blues from the 1940s and ‘50s with a contemporary sound and energy.

Originally formed by singer, songwriter, and harmonica player Joe Nosek, the Cash Box Kings also feature singer and songwriter Oscar Wilson, a charismatic and larger-than-life frontman that reminds audiences of the golden Chicago blues era of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. The band also includes drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and guitarist Joel Paterson as well as guest members like bassist Gerry Hundt, guitarist Billy Flynn, and pianist Barrelhouse Chuck, among other talented musicians.

With Holding Court, the Cash Box Kings pay tribute to some of the founding fathers of contemporary blues with raucous covers of classic songs from giants like Jimmy Rogers (“Out On The Road”) and John Lee Hooker (“Hobo Blues”), as well as tunes from lesser-known but no less important artists like Big Smokey Smothers (“I Ain’t Gonna Be No Monkey Man”) and Honey Boy Allen (“I’m A Real Lover Baby”). The album also features a raft of original material that skillfully blends a variety of roots sounds with Chicago blues tradition.   

In a press release for Holding Court, Nosek says “we're very excited about putting out our third release with Blind Pig. We feel that this is some of the strongest and most topical music that we've ever recorded and we're really excited to share it with the rest of the blues world. Like all our other albums, this is a 'live' in the studio recording that is primarily focused on the traditional style of Chicago blues music that we feel so passionate about.  But we also tried to touch on some of the other great American musical styles that we love like ragtime, jump blues and swamp pop. We really feel 'at home' with Blind Pig and appreciate all the support that the label has given us. We're grateful for them having faith in us and our musical vision.”

Alligator Records Announces Johnny Winter Record Store Day LP!

Johnny Winter’s It’s My Life, Baby – The Best of the Alligator Records Years
As I write, Record Store Day 2015 is slightly more than six weeks away. Collectors are taking out home improvement loans (‘cause new music does improve your home, doesn’t it?) and plotting strategies to acquire those rare RSD releases they covet, while fans of individual bands and artists are hoping that their musical idol will participate in RSD with some lil’ bit of vinyl memorabilia, whether it be EP or LP, or even a bitchin’ 7” single (with picture sleeve, of course)…

Various labels’ plans for Record Store Day are beginning to trickle out in advance of the event, and one of the first to go on the Reverend’s list is Johnny Winter’s It’s My Life, Baby – The Best of the Alligator Records Years. Winter released three superb albums for the Alligator Records label during the mid-1980s, and the esteemed blues label has put together an eight-track compilation of the best songs from those albums, pressed onto glorious 180-gram vinyl and including a download card for the album.

After leaving the CBS/Sony associated labels that he’d spent better than a decade recording for, Winter signed with Alligator after a hiatus of four years so that he could play the blues music he loved without the inflated commercial expectations he’d experience by again enlisting with a major label. His first album for the label was 1984’s Guitar Slinger, widely considered to be one of the blues-rock guitarist’s best efforts; the album also earned Winter his first Grammy™ nomination. A year later, Winter followed with Serious Business, which garnered a second Grammy™ nomination for the guitarist and charted even higher than its predecessor.

The last of Winter’s trio of albums for Alligator was 3rd Degree. Released in 1986, the album reunited the guitarist with his original rhythm section of bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer ‘Uncle’ John Turner, and also featured a guest appearance by New Orleans music legend Dr. John (a/k/a Mac Rebennack). Due to Winter’s stellar reputation, all three of his Alligator Records releases received airplay on rock ‘n’ roll radio, and his video for “Don’t Take Advantage of Me” (from Guitar Slinger) was in rotation on MTV for over six months.

Winter left Alligator when his management coaxed him into returning to a more commercial blues-rock sound; he’d record a single album for MCA Records (with synths?!) before signing with Virgin Records subsidiary Point Blank for a handful of records. Winter continued to tour and record until his death in July 2014. Winter stayed true to the blues throughout, and It’s My Life, Baby reflects some of the best music the guitarist made throughout his lengthy and acclaimed career.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

CD Review: Vanilla Fudge's Spirit of '67

Vanilla Fudge's Spirit of '67
Vanilla Fudge made their bones by covering pop, rock, and R&B songs long before the hair metal ‘80s made it an artistic requirement. The band’s psychedelic, acid-washed arrangements kept enough of a song’s original flavor to entertain while still adding something new and original to the mix. Formed by singer and keyboardist Mark Stein, guitarist Vinny Martell, bassist Tim Bogert, and drummer Carmine Appice, the Fudge came to the attention of legendary product George “Shadow” Morton, who was smitten by the band’s slowed-down, sludge-drenched live performance of the Supremes’ hit “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” The band recorded the song with Morton producing, scoring them a deal with Atco Records (an Atlantic label subsidiary), and their subsequent self-titled 1967 debut.

That album rose to number six on the Billboard albums chart on the strength of the band’s unique readings of popular songs by the Beatles, Sonny Bono, Curtis Mayfield, and Rod Argent. Slowing down a song’s tempo, layering in a rich brew of Stein’s Hammond keyboards and Martell’s stinging guitar, and backed by the sludge-like stew of Bogert and Appice’s mesmerizing rhythms, the album struck a chord with young rock fans. Morton would go on to produce the band’s following two albums, both of which went Top 20, but the further the Fudge strayed from that initial plodding approach to cover tunes, the more their commercial returns diminished, and Vanilla Fudge broke up in 1970, after the release of their fourth album, Rock & Roll.

Vanilla Fudge’s Spirit of ’67

The Fudge reformed in 2000, sans Bogart, who had retired from touring after a lengthy career, and they’ve been performing occasional shows ever since. Spirit of ’67, a collection of cover tunes of songs made popular in, yes, 1967, is the Fudge’s first album in ten years. Unfortunately, there’s little to like about Vanilla Fudge’s Spirit of ’67. The arrangements proffered these classic songs aren’t so much imaginative as they are dated and boring, the band trying to add a contemporary sheen to vintage tunes that, by their very familiarity, are part of the hardcore music fan’s DNA and thus require no feats of imagination. Even sadder, the “contemporary” edge the band attempts to bring to the material is from the 1980s or ‘90s…wielding overused, abused musical tropes that barely outlasted their initial use two or three decades ago. I’m not against a band bringing its own vision to classic material, but it has to improve upon the original, not deconstruct it in favor of something less.

Take, for instance, the Fudge cover of the Doors’ gem “Break On Through (To The Other Side),” which is “spiffed” up with backing harmony vocals and a vague flamenco rhythm that completely overwhelms an otherwise engaging Vince Martell guitar solo. The song is stripped of its original malevolence and turned into a Vegas stage show with a truly outrageous and unnecessary exit. Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” is…well, I’m not sure what they were trying to achieve here. There are Gothic tinges to the song’s instrumentation, which is overly lush and claustrophobic rather than cautious and celebratory. The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” is completely shorn of its pop-psych charm in favor of tinkling pianos and a thick, Tran-Siberian Orchestra-styled soundtrack.

I Heard It Through The Grapevine

The band has always had luck with the Motown songbook, but their stab at Marvin Gaye’s classic “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” is just downright embarrassing. The vocals are straining to achieve soulfulness, the instrumentation is overblown and over-the-top all around. True, the bar for covering this song was set pretty high by Gaye and, later, John Fogerty’s CCR, but the Fudge’s arrangement robs the song of its heartbreak, making it sound more like a house party than a tearjerker. The rapping in the middle of the song does nothing to redeem it, either…and speaking of embarrassing, the band’s cover of the Boxtops’ “The Letter” is equally blustery and OTT, with crescendos of out-of-place orchestration and an overall vibe that is at odds with the original’s frantic, romantic “in-a-hurry” intentions. Alex Chilton is likely spinning in his grave at the song’s lounge-singer vocals and (too) busy instrumentation.

Not all of Spirit of ‘67 is thus, however…the band manage to hit the right tone throughout much of their cover of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears,” creating just the right balance of pathos and emotion to make it work, even if the instrumentation is a wee bit more grandiose than necessary. Their take on the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer” is more imaginative than most of these covers, sounding like a cross between Argent and Iron Butterfly, with flailing keyboard riffs and heavy percussion bringing a share of that old Fudge black magic to the song. The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” is given more of a throwback sound (think 1970s), and while Vince Martell is no Steve Winwood, his vocals here are OK (although I could do without the gratuitous backing vox), his guitar solos crisp and creative. Procol Harum’s “White Shade of Pale” benefits from Mark Stein’s eerie Hammond B3 licks, and although the song’s instrumental arrangement attempts to fly a little too close to the sun, the performance comes back to earth with its wings only singed.  

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

OK, so it’s brass tacks time…Vanilla Fudge’s Spirit of ’67 is an overall mess. By my count, only four or five of the album’s cover songs (i.e. half) add anything to the original performance, while the rest are mostly just mundane and gimmicky. The album’s one new song – Stein’s “Let’s Pray For Peace” – is of a similar overblown nature as much of Spirit of ’67, but that’s OK. It’s an original song with a solid melody, an earnest message, and heartfelt, if a bit overwrought vocals. It works, even if it’s completely out of context of the rest of the album’s conceptual conceit.

If you’re a diehard, longtime patron of Vanilla Fudge, my words won’t dissuade you from buying Spirit of ’67, nor should they. Enjoy, I say, it’s all rock ‘n’ roll to me! But for the Fudge newcomer, your money would be better spent on the band’s self-titled 1967 debut album or even Psychedelic Sundae, a “best of” collection which offers up some tasty covers of the Beatles, Motown, Donovan, and others. As for Vanilla Fudge, I’d just as soon they applied their long-suffering shtick to current songs by the likes of Taylor Swift or Sam Smith. That, my friends, is something I’d like to hear! Grade: C (Cleopatra Records, released March 3, 2015)

Buy the CD on Amazon.com: Vanilla Fudge's Spirit Of 67

CD Preview: John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ Live In 1967

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Live 1967
The storied career of British blues-rock legend John Mayall spans seven decades now and, as proven by the release of Mayall’s critically-acclaimed 2014 album A Special Life, it shows no signs of slowing down as the man approaches his 82nd birthday this year. Mayall has better than 50 studio and live albums to his credit and, as a bandleader, he’s discovered or enlisted talents like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Walter Trout, Harvey Mandel, Jack Bruce, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and many others. As an artist, Mayall has explored and expanded the boundaries of rock, blues, and jazz-fusion and although not a household name stateside (save among blues fans), he’s certainly influenced a number of musicians that are much better known.

With all this to his credit, Mayall is still largely acclaimed for one single album – 1966’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton – the foundation on which Mayall’s legacy is based and which launched Clapton to superstardom, first with Cream then with Derek and the Dominos. Few remember that Mayall released a second, just as successful album a few months later in 1967’s A Hard Road, which featured the extraordinarily-talented guitarist Peter Green. Charting just a few spots below its predecessor, many Mayall aficionados would argue that A Hard Road is the better of the two albums released nearly back-to-back.

However you want to slice it, the period from mid-1966 to mid-67 was a heady, productive, and commercially-fruitful one for Mayall. Sadly, none of the legendary and talented band line-ups he fronted at the time were caught on tape – until now. Forty Below Records (which released Mayall’s A Special Life) has announced an April 21st, 2015 release date for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Live In 1967, a rare live recording by one of the best of the many Bluesbreakers line-ups. Although the band of Mayall, Peter Green, bassist John McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood were together a mere three months, they made some mighty fine music together before the three guys that weren’t Mayall flew the coop to form Fleetwood Mac.

This special live recording is available courtesy of a hardcore Mayall fan from Holland by the name of Tom Huissen, who concealed a one-channel reel-to-reel tape recorder on his person as he attended shows at a handful of London clubs (including the legendary Marquee) in early 1967, recording the band’s performance each night. The tapes Huissen made of these shows remained unheard and unreleased until they were recently acquired by Mayall who, working with Forty Below’s Eric Corne, restored them to releasable condition. “While the source recording was very rough and the final result is certainly not hi-fidelity, it does succeed in allowing us to hear how spectacular these performances are,” says Corne in a press release for the new album.

“I'd known for a decade or two of the existence of these tapes and, in fact, Tom Huissen had sent me a CD with 50 second teasers for some of the tracks that he'd secretly recorded at our London shows,” recalls Mayall in the press release. “Last year, Tom decided he wanted the world to hear these performances and work soon began on restoring the already fine quality on the old reel-to-reel tapes.” The band’s set list for their 1967 performances included songs from both Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton and A Hard Road as well as Mayall’s forthcoming album Crusade (which featured future Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor). Along with Mayall’s original songs were inspired covers of classic blues numbers by artists like Freddie King and Otis Rush (see full track list below).

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Live 1967 is a momentous find, a veritable time capsule of classic British blues-rock that provides an invaluable glimpse into the past and shines a well-deserved spotlight on the immense talents of, and too-brief collaboration between Messrs. Mayall, Green, McVie, and Fleetwood. 
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Live in 1967 tracklist:

1. All Your Love
2. Brand New Start
3. Double Trouble
4. Streamline
5. Have You Ever Loved A Woman
6. Looking Back
7. So Many Roads
8. Hi Heel Sneakers
9. I Can’t Quit You Baby
10. The Stumble
11. Someday After Awhile
12. San-Ho-Zay
13. Stormy Monday

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