Monthly Archives: October 2014

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 10/29/14

BluesBiscuitsHumpdayHappy Hump Day folks. This week we’re looking at a song that has become a staple in Rock and Blues. “Good Morning Little School Girl” has been done by hundreds of artists over the years. It is possibly the most popular song every written about pedophilia. The song was first recorded by John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson in 1937 as “Good Morning, School Girl.” In true blues fashion the tune is borrowed and in this case, the melody is from Son Bonds’ “Back And Side Blues.” I couldn’t find a clip of it to share but you can find audio out there on Spotify and other retailers if you want to compare them.

The song has been done many different ways. Performers like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and John Lee Hooker all did country blues versions. In 1965, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy recorded it for Hoodoo Man Blues giving it a distinctive guitar riff and bass line. That signature riff influenced nearly every future version of the song, especially in the Rock world. From The Yardbirds, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, and ZZ Top, to the Allman Brothers Band and beyond, Buddy and Junior inspired an army of guitarists to whip out their big riffs and woo the school girls. It creeps me out.

As with many Blues songs, the more it’s covered the more it is changed. The words change a lot. the original were perhaps least creepy with only the first verse focusing on the underage object of his affection. Johnny Winter took the lechery to whole new levels with lines like “When I was twelve, baby when I was twelve years old – You know I was looking for a schoolgirl just to eat my jelly roll.” Alvin Lee from Ten Years After just wanted to ball you all night long, so at least you have that going for you. The only saving grace for this song is that in 1937 a lot of people got married well before the age of 18. And there’s that monster riff.

We present to you a few different versions for your amusement and/or horror.

John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson Good Morning, School Girl

Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band Good Morning Little School Girl

Buddy Guy Good Morning Little School Girl

Ten Years After Good Morning Little School Girl

Muddy Waters with Johnny Winter Good Morning Little School Girl

The Allman Brothers Band Good Morning Little School Girl

 

 

Allman Brothers Band Retrospective – A Look At The Reviled And Underrated Albums

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2014 marks the 45th anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band and it has become their final year. The band did not embark on an extensive final tour. Instead they played their annual residency at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, which was cut short due to Gregg Allman being ill, plus they played a handful of festival dates and scheduled no more shows until the make-up dates were announced for the Beacon run. The Allman Brothers Band is now in the midst of its final 6 shows, including make-up dates from March plus a few extras, all being played at the Beacon Theatre. Fans, like me, hoping for a big blowout at a large venue have been left disappointed. The band has not even made arrangements to stream the shows on line for their worldwide legion of devoted fans, many of whom have never seen the band live due to the limited geographical area of their yearly touring over the last 15 years.

In many ways it seems like the band is going out with a whimper and catering to the most affluent among their fans. The tickets sold out quickly, yet as of Tuesday October 21, 2014, Stub Hub had 1193 tickets available ranging from $177 to a whopping $11,005. Obviously the band doesn’t set prices on Stub Hub, but if they played a big venue with 20,000 seats available they could have curbed the costs and made the final show more accessible to their fans. Yes, I’m a little aggravated by the demise of my favorite band and their nonchalant attitude as they fade away. Maybe it’s best they’re calling it a day. They may play different sets every night but they lean heavily on their first four albums, play way too many Van Morrison covers, and in recent years have performed the At Fillmore East album in full several times as well as their first two records and Eat A Peach. The band regularly ignores a large part of its discography, for personal and musical reasons, and often so does the press. It’s almost like the band stopped making new music in 1973. While the band has made musical missteps since 1973, it has also made incredibly vital music, and some of it, especially in the 1990’s, eclipses the classics and radio staples.

As a tribute to The Allman Brothers Band on the occasion of their retirement, I am taking a look at some of the reviled and under-rated records in their catalog. We’re looking at the first reunion, “Arista years,” and the live albums that stand in the shadow of At Fillmore East – which, for the record, is not titled Live At Fillmore East, Live At The Fillmore, Fillmore East, or any of the other variants I’ve seen and heard fans use. If you’re going to claim an album as your absolute favorite, learn the title of it!

 

AllmanBrothersBandEnlightenedRoguesThe Allman Brothers Band

Enlightened Rogues

Capricorn Records

Released February 1979

 

Enlightened Rogues, named after Duane Allman’s description of the band, is a buried masterpiece in the Allman Brothers Band’s discography. From the gritty opening slide notes of “Crazy Love” to the final mournful strains of “Sail Away,” the record delivers the perfect balance of its first two eras – hard blues and swinging jazz rock. The tracks are streamlined and there are no long jams, but there never really were on the studio albums. On Enlightened Rogues, everyone seemed focused on making the best possible album and it paid off for a while.

The band had been split for several years and made their first appearance together on August 16, 1978 as part of a Dickey Betts & Great Southern show. Shortly after they decided to regroup and pick up where they left off. Chuck Leavell and Lamar Williams declined to rejoin, instead focusing on their band Sea Level, so the first reunion lineup added Great Southern members Dan Toler and David “Rook” Goldflies on guitar and bass, respectively. The legendary Tom Dowd was brought in to produce the album and pulled a terrific album out of a band learning to fly again. The overall sound and the tightness of the musicians on the record owe much to the two previous Great Southern records. Dickey Betts had put together a twin-guitar band modeled on the original Allman Brothers lineup and been on the road playing bluesy rock boogie tunes and mega-jams with Toler and Goldflies. When it came time to get down to business, the front line of guitarists had been playing together for a while.

The band tears through a host of bluesy tunes on Enlightened Rogues, momentarily stepping away from the country rock sound of Win, Lose, Or Draw. Gregg Allman is menacing on B.B. King’s “Blind Love” and plays a spirited Hammond B3 solo. The guitar team burns bright and hot on “Need Your Love So Bad,” and they funk up the John Lee Hooker boogie on “Can’t Take It With You.” Gregg Allman’s only composition on the record is “Just Ain’t Easy” which is a scathing look at his time lost in Los Angeles with Cher. It is harrowing, haunting and beautiful. “Try It One More Time” is a bit of a mission statement from the band and a mark of solidarity between Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman. The two share lead vocals which had not been done before. The sound of their voices together on this rollicking, defiant rocker is perfect. Given all we know now about their relationship it’s a wonder they were able to pull it off.

The musical highlight of Enlightened Rogues is “Pegasus.” This instrumental is the return to form every fan was hoping for. The lilting Dickey Betts melody played by two lead guitarists, churning drums, and scorching solos all contribute to the greatness of this lost highpoint. The combination of the title and music give it a feeling of flying above the Grand Canyon on the mythical beast. If you do one thing today, find this song and listen to it. A lot.

My only problem with this album is the lack of distinction in the guitar tones of Dickey Betts and Dan Toler. Dan Toler was a hell of a guitar player and you’ll see this if you watch live clips of the band or listen to the Gregg Allman band records from the 80’s, but on Enlightened Rogues he sounds like Dickey Betts. Dickey plays a lot of slide guitar on the record and has noted that the Allman Brothers’ sound was built on Duane’s slide mixed with own iconic tone. Maybe the band was trying to capture this. It didn’t quite work because Dickey’s tone seems to come out of him whether he’s playing a Les Paul, SG, or Strat so on Enlightened Rogues we end up with Dickey Betts and a guy who sounds like Dickey Betts. It’s a damned shame because the playing on this record is red hot and I’d like to know who’s who without studying it. Still, the songs are solid and the performances are spirited. Enlightened Rogues is stands on equal footing with the bands early records. Unfortunately, the band doesn’t think so and has all but ignored it since 1982. Don’t be like them, check it out.

 

AllmanBrothersBandReachForTheSkyThe Allman Brothers Band

Reach For The Sky

Arista Records

Released August 1980

 

1979 to 1982 was a crazy time for the Allman Brothers Band. It is an era that has become known as The Arista Years and the band, as well as many fans, never acknowledges it. I became a fan in the 80’s while the band was defunct. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to like the Arista Years. I found the two Arista albums and Enlightened Rogues early on and enjoyed them quite a bit. I still do. It was a tumultuous time for the band and the new record company wanted the band to modernize its sound. As the 80’s crept in so did the synthesizers – and the dreaded Keytar. However, if you take away the poppy synths there’s a pretty solid rock and roll record underneath.

Even with their lives in total disarray, these guys managed to write good songs with some even bordering on great. The record starts with churning organ and gospel “oohs.” It’s a tent revival in Macon, Georgia folks and the Reverends Forrest Richard Betts and Gregory Lenoir Allman are about to start a Pentecostal fire under your ass that will most likely end in a fist fight. The two men share vocals on this semi-autobiographical funky gospel romp. The words include the phrase “they might even name a street after us one of these days.” The line sums up the entitled rock star attitude they had at the time, but this year (2014) Duane Allman had a street named after him in Macon, GA so it was slightly prophetic as well. “Mystery Woman” starts off sounding a little lightweight, but it turns into a punchy tune. It has excellent vocal work from Gregg Allman and backup singers. “I Got A Right To Be Wrong” is a rocking tune from Dickey Betts, but unfortunately it confirmed that his guitar playing was growing stagnant. It marks the second album in a row to use the same slide riff as a primary lick. The riff is the same one used on “Crazy Love,” which itself was derived from the Dickey Betts & Great Southern song “Out Ta Get Me.” You hear stock Dickey Betts licks all over Reach For The Sky which is a shame. It does make it easier to know when Dan Toler is playing since his tone remains the same as Dickey’s. Most of the fiery, hard hitting soloing is Dan’s.

Once again Dickey Betts crafted a terrific instrumental for the record. “From The Madness Of The West” is a sonic poem, traveling in the air over the American plains. The drumming is superb. Butch Trucks and Jaimoe have said this song was the only time they composed their drum parts. Their work on this track is probably the highlight of the album. Dickey Betts and Dan Toler go for the speed records during the transitional phrases between the melodic themes. It sounds like Al DiMeola jamming with the Allmans and it’s terrific. The song is marred only by Mike Lawler’s synthesizer solo. The keyboard was not meant to have its notes bent. Stop doing it. Immediately. Thank you. I now return you to Dickey and Dan. Rip it up boys.

A lot of side two suffers from the pop-rock movement desired by Arista Records. “Famous Last Words” would be a cool stomping rocker if not for the horrible synthesizer ruing the riff. “Keep On Keepin’ On”is a tune that would seem at home on one of Gregg Allman’s 80’s solo albums. It’s a solid song with a sweet guitar solo. “So Long” also sounds like it would have fared better on I’m No Angel. It’s a mournful ballad that comes alive nicely with an extended jam as a coda. Unfortunately the harmonica player sounds like he may have never heard of Little Walter, which is just criminal.

Reach For The Sky is not a great record but it is an enjoyable record. Fans clinging to the glory days of At Fillmore East will find nothing to like here. However, if you can get past the fact that Duane and Berry are dead, the music business is a business first and foremost, and sometimes you just have to do what the record company wants you might enjoy this album. You also have to get past the Keytar. Did I mention the Keytar? Stick with side one and “So Long” from side two and you won’t feel like you’ve ventured too far from “Enlightened Rogues” territory.

 

AllmanBrothersBandBrothersOfTheRoadThe Allman Brothers Band

Brothers Of The Road

Arista Records

Released August 1981

 

Gregg Allman in a Hawaiian shirt, a guy in camouflage, and no Jaimoe on the cover pretty much signifies the end of the line for most people. It looks like they took everybody from the DMV waiting room outside on a hill and took their picture. If you never got past the cover I can’t blame you. It’s horrible. But again, it is not a bad record. Yeah, maybe it’s a bad Allman Brothers record but when taken in context of the business at the time, the state of the members, and the sound and styles of their collective output – including solo albums – up to this point, it is quite Allmany. And hey, the Keytar seems to have been boxed up and sent to Hell where it belongs.

“Brothers Of The Road” starts off with some terse chords and an answering riff. The synthesizers of Reach For The Sky have been replaced with a piano, there are harmony guitars all over the place, and Dickey and Dan both put a few blisters on the fingers from the heat coming off their fretboards. This is one of my favorites from the Arista Years. “Leavin’” has a churning riff and bass line and Gregg Allman delivers a tough vocal performance. “Leavin’” is a great song and I always thought it would kick all kinds of ass in the hands of the modern line-up. “Leavin’” is also the last song performed live before the band broke up in 1982. They played the song on Saturday Night Live in January 1982 and this lineup was never heard from again. Who said “good riddance?”

Gregg Allman is the star of this record even though he only wrote three songs for it. He delivers strong performances throughout. He gives his all, even on a song like “Straight From The Heart.” Again, if you look at his solo output, you’ll see Gregg likes this kind of song – a wistful love song. Yes, it’s a little poppy, and they lip synched it on Solid Gold but why let that keep you from enjoying it? His composition “Never Knew How Much” became a staple of their live set for a while. Usually Gregg, and Dan Toler would perform it on acoustic guitars. It’s an excellent song and it too deserves your attention.

Would you like to hear the “Out Ta Get Me/Crazy Love/ I Got A Right To Be Wrong” slide riff again? You get the chance in “The Heat Is On.” If Dickey played any other slide lick, this song would be a hundred times better. He does play some nice slide fills in “Things You Used To Do” which is another solid track. Dickey did come through with some good tunes though even if his leads are lacking anything bordering on new. “The Judgment” is a barnstormer. Dickey sings his ass off. His voice is strong and proud as he sings about standing your ground.

Of the two Arista records, Brothers Of The Road is stronger. The synthesizers are almost completely absent. Mike Lawler plays a lot of piano on this record and it makes everything sound better. The songs are well crafted and played with energy you wouldn’t expect from a band in turmoil. Again, if you’re someone advocating playing At Fillmore East for the aliens when they land, you’ll probably hate this record. The moral of the story is this: the Allman Brothers Band is more than their first few albums. All of their albums have memorable moments and musical magic. You do yourself, and the band, a disservice by ignoring it.

 

AllmanBrothersBandWipeTheWindowsCheckTheOilDollarGasThe Allman Brothers Band

Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas

Capricorn Records

Released November 1976

 

Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas was shortly released after the Allman Brothers Band dissolved in a stew of acrimony, drug addiction, Federal convictions, rock star egos, and record company avarice. Unfortunately this meant the band had little or no input in their second live album. When the band broke up they were still riding the wave of popularity created by “Ramblin’ Man” and the Brothers And Sisters album. They were one of the most popular bands in the United States and were selling out stadiums around the country. To many, this was a hasty, rough-shod album slapped together to make money off the band’s name and it probably was exactly that. However it contains incredible music.

The tracks are taken from a handful of concerts recorded between December 1972 and October 1975. Sides one and two are taken from a now legendary show at Winterland in San Francisco on September 26, 1973. The full show has since been released as part of the Brothers And Sisters anniversary box set. The four songs make a tremendous case for the mid-70’s lineup of Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Jaimoe, Butch Trucks, Chuck Leavell, and Lamar Williams. The hard blues has been left behind and in its place is a softer, happier jazzy sound. “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” clocks in at 17 minutes and features extended soloing from pianist Chuck Leavell. In his hands the piece becomes a Latin jazz classic as his lines bop, dip, and swing over the caliente drumming of Trucks and Jaimoe. Dickey Betts proceeds to hold a master class in solo building that amply illustrates why he is routinely included in Greatest Guitarist lists. This is Allman Brothers Fusion at its best. “Wasted Words” spits venom in the lyrics but the music is upbeat and the band seems hell bent on having a good time. Leavell’s piano lines cascade like waterfalls and Betts lays down hot licks on slide reminiscent of his late sparring partner Duane Allman. “Ramblin’ Man” gets an extended treatment and Dickey soars with a roller coaster rush of hexatonic soloing that will leave you breathless.

“Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” was recorded at The Warehouse in New Orleans on December 31, 1972, just two months after the loss of bassist Berry Oakley. Once again they defiantly picked themselves up and grieved through their music. Gregg Allman puts a lot of passion and pain in his singing, and Dickey Betts slide playing approaches the heavens. The album closes with a rousing version of “Jessica” that seems impossible given the bad blood in the band at the time of its recording in October 1975. I’ve heard many versions of “Jessica” over the years and while this one is not the best it is damned good and any version with Chuck Leavell is worth hearing. He gives us our money’s worth here. His piano work is supreme. This version of the band often gets over looked and while Chuck Leavell is known and loved by many fans, Lamar Williams gets almost no love. His bass playing is ferocious, funky, and harmonically interesting. He plays what every song needs and on occasion he drives the jams on Wipe The Windows… You can hear more of his great playing on the archival release Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY: 5/1/73 and on the Brothers And Sisters 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition Box Set.

Wipe The Windows… isn’t the heavy blues/jazz workout of At Fillmore East and it shouldn’t be. They already did that. Comparisons are ill advised and detract from the value of everything that has come since. Wipe The Windows… captures a swinging, jazzy, country-tinged, rock band at the height of its success. The record features great songs and many stunning performances from everyone in the band. To forget this album is to forget a masterful band and its beautiful music.

 

AllmanBrothersBandAnEveningWithFirstSetThe Allman Brothers Band

An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band 1st Set

Epic Records

Released June 9, 1992

 

The Allman Brothers Band returned in 1989 for a tour to support their Dreams box set and celebrate their 20th anniversary. The surviving original members Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Jaimoe, and Butch Trucks were joined by newcomer Allen Woody on bass and Dickey Betts Band alums Warren Haynes and Johnny Neel. Warren Haynes and Allen Woody were students of the Allman Brothers Band, wearing out the old records and learning the songs front to back. No one knew where it would go but the tour was successful, the band was happy playing powerful music again and decided to record an album – Seven Turns. After a few years and another studio record – Shades Of Two Worlds – they were feeling pretty good about the band and decided the third record from this lineup, like the original lineup, would be a live album. Keyboardist Johnny Neel was gone and percussionist Marc Quinones was added. This new lineup recorded shows in Macon, GA, Boston, MA and New York, NY for the album. The result is a blistering tour de force of improvisation that crushed any doubts that the Allman Brothers Band of old had been resurrected.

The album leans heavily on newer material, with three of nine songs coming from Shades Of Two Worlds. This shows the band was confident about their new material and they had good reason. Opener “End Of The Line” has two incredibly bad-ass riffs. Gregg Allman sings from his soul about his continuing trouble with drugs and alcohol, Warren Haynes’s slide solo sings the saddest song you’ve ever heard, and the coda has Dickey Betts and Warren Haynes sparring like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. You can’t open a live album any better. “Get On With Your Life” is a modern blues classic from the band. Dickey Betts tone is so rich and thick and glorious it will make you cry.

The truly astonishing moments on this album come during “Nobody Knows.” “Nobody Knows” is one of the best songs ever recorded by the Allman Brothers Band. Its power is rivaled only by “Whipping Post” from which it drew inspiration and is a bit of a contentious point between Messrs. Allman and Betts. This fifteen minute workout extends the tune by half. If you play it too loud you may incite the apocalypse. Dickey Betts plays some of his greatest licks ever in this song. He builds crescendo after crescendo, pummeling you into submission. Just when you can’t take it anymore they kick back into the main riff just long enough for you to catch your breath and then boom goes the Warren Haynes. This is the dream team Duane and Dickey would have become if Duane lived. They are powerful, harmonic, melodic, and demonic.

Other high points include a funkier arrangement of “Southbound” with Dickey Betts singing and a colossal rending of “Dreams.” “Dreams” is a thing of beauty. It is a lullaby for giants. Warren Haynes captures the feel and spirit of Duane Allman’s original slide work and adds his own brilliance to it. Warren’s incredible talent, boundless energy, and immeasurable command of improvisation drove Dickey Betts to be a better player and in the early 90’s this guitar tandem was matchless. An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band 1st Set rarely leaves the CD player in my guitar room. It is without a doubt the Allman Brothers album I have listened to most. I love At Fillmore East and I understand its historic importance, and I agree it is one of the greatest live albums of all time, but it was a snapshot of an evolving band. They were young and still learning. If Duane Allman and Berry Oakley didn’t die who knows where it would have led? With 1st Set I think we get a pretty good glimpse of where it would have gone. The band is matured, playing better with the benefit of years on the road together and apart, and with injection of some young players the band is energetic, powerful, and soaring.

 

AllmanBrothersBandAnEveningWith2ndSetThe Allman Brothers Band

An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band 2nd Set

Epic Records

Released May 9, 1995

 

Supposedly 2nd Set was to come out shortly after 1st Set but we’re talking about the Allman Brothers Band and one constant in their universe is trouble. Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman were drinking and drugging and not getting along. Warren Haynes put out a solo album in 1993 creating speculation he was leaving the band. Dickey Betts did leave the band on occasion for various reasons, sitting out a few tours here and there. All these things led to the delay. When Dickey came back full time, the band recorded the stellar Where It All Begins album and embarked on a tour. A few dates in summer of 1994 were recorded and in 1995 came An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band 2nd Set. This time four of eight songs would be from the latest album.

The baddassery begins with the thunderous drop-D riffing of “Sailin’ ‘Cross The Devil’s Sea.” Gregg Allman is in strong voice, belting out his tale of woe and Warren Haynes slides up and down the fretboard. Percussionist Marc Quinones adds dramatically to this song with his accents and flourishes. Betts and Haynes have the gain turned way up and the tones are as nasty as Tijuana toilet seat. “You Don’t Love Me” is shortened considerably from its At Fillmore East version and it is all the better for it. The Brothers deliver six and a half minutes of barnstorming blues, with Dickey and Warren upping the ante bar after bar. “Soulshine” has taken on a life of its own since its emergence. This live version is uplifting and heartbreaking and the interwoven solos at the end with cut you to the core. This is music as release; pure and simple.

“In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” is an acoustic performance and is simply brilliant. The recording is crystal clear and Allen Woody manages to bring the thunder even on acoustic bass. The Latin feel of the song lends itself to an acoustic arrangement and the band exceeds already high expectations for this song. Warren Haynes takes lead vocal on his arrangement of Willie Dixon’s “The Same Thing.” The arrangement features harmony guitars and riffs never heard in the original. It is a terrific re-write; at once a blues standard and Allman Brothers classic. The disc closes with the Grammy winning performance of “Jessica.” For as much as I love the Betts/Haynes duo, I still can’t get all the way into “Jessica” without Chuck Leavell. This is an epic version but it’s all guitar, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s got to have piano. I’d take the version from Wipe The Windows… over this one any day.

While this album is full of intense music, the best part for me is “Back Where It All Begins.” Dickey’s peaceful ode to the band’s audience turns into a churning juggernaut of full-band musical exploration. “Back Where It All Begins” is a perfect song. The melody is catchy, the structure is simple, and the lyrics invite a singalong. For my money, this song contains Warren Haynes’ greatest guitar solo. He spent years as an apprentice with David Allan Coe and in Dickey Betts Band. He came into the Allman Brothers as the hot young guitarist, fired up and ready to go. He went toe to toe with the master night after night and in “Back Where It All Begins” he brings everything he learned together in one epic solo that became part of the DNA of the song. Live he stretches the solo out but the changes from the studio version feel like they should have been there all along. He builds his solo to a crescendo and signals its end with a dynamic motif based on the main melody and chords of the bridge. It is brilliant. I almost feel bad for Dickey Betts having to follow it, but it’s Dickey Betts. He rises to the occasion beautifully. The heights achieved in this song and this album are a fitting cap on the legacy of this lineup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: Devon Allman – On The Cigar Box Guitar and Breaking All the Rules

With the Allman Brothers Band calling it quits this year and winding down in New York City this week and next, I thought we’d take the opportunity on Throwback Thursday to look backward and forward with this piece by Maureen Elizabeth. It was previously published at our alma mater American Blues News.

Maureen spoke with Devon Allman who quite organically found his way to the family business. Devon is making music on his own terms and like his father’s band, he cannot be pigeonholed into one genre. He makes music. Honest, soulful music done with integrity, care, and skill. In that way he is carrying the family tradition into the 21st Century. So as the Allman Brothers Band disappears into the distance, we can rest assured Devon Allman will be out there making music for years to come. Remember to check out our review of his tremendous new album Ragged & Dirty.

Alright Bicuiteers, step into the WABAC machine and hold on to your hats…

devon allman1

Inspired? Yes. Intentional? Not really. Beautiful? Absolutely. Devon Allman’s first evening spent with his own cigar box guitar inspired a melody in a quiet moment that soon became a fan favorite – “Yadira’s Lullaby.” Devon spoke with American Blues News about how the gift of his cigar box guitar reconnected two families and the excitement of playing an instrument that has no rules…

When was your first introduction to the cigar box guitar?

It’s kind of a funny genesis. I was playing a show in Tennessee and I have a fan who comes to all the Tennessee shows. He had mentioned on a fan site that he was going to be bringing a gift for me and I thought “cool!” He came to the show and my assistant brought him backstage. He has this thing in his hands and I said “what do you have there, Jim?” And he pulls it out and he said “man, this thing, I just have a feeling that you are really going to dig this” and he gave me this cigar box guitar. I was blown away! I had never seen anything like it. I had always been a pretty traditional guitar player and I just sat there immediately and started plucking away at it. I just fell in love with it.

What is it about it that attracts you?

I don’t know, I think just… visually – it is so unique – there’s no doubt about that. And when you play it the tonality of it is so Americana and I really dig that aspect of it. The guitar is such a standardized thing – you have a certain body style and neck radius and number of frets- and this kinda’ breaks all the rules.

From what I am hearing, that seems to be a large part of the appeal….

It’s cool – especially with getting down to 3 or 4 strings. It really makes you think differently, melodically, and I found that you can pop on the top string with your thumb and hold the base line while you get melodic with the other strings – it’s a cool approach.

It offers something a little different – a little new…

Definitely.

I would be curious to know your opinion – what do you attribute this renewed interest in the cigar box guitar?

I don’t know what to attribute it to, really, because the dynamic of people being attracted to something is so fleeting – people are fickle, you know – it’s one thing and then it’s on to the next. For me, I would think that the simplicity of the instrument and the unique look definitely draw people in. Once you play it- the different vibes that it embodies are definitely astounding – it can bluesy, it can be country, it can be swampy, it can be classical and that is pretty cool.

That’s amazing for one instrument.

Yes. Obviously, the guitar can be all of those things too but typically, when you have a brother or a sister of a guitar…let’s talk about mandolin, let’s talk about banjo, those instruments pretty much lean into one venue of music whether its bluegrass with a banjo, or folk music with a mandolin. The cigar box guitar crosses all genres and when I held it I fell in love with it right there. Later that night I was talking to my girlfriend on Skype – I was on tour in 7 cities-and I just wanted to show her the guitar because I was so jazzed about it. I literally wrote a tune on the spot as a lullaby to put her to sleep and it’s crazy how that song has become a fan favorite. It’s going to be on the next album. The cigar box guitar instantly inspired me to do something that I would have never done which is write a lullaby! Rockers don’t write lullabies! (Laughing) But- personal reasons aside- musically, and on an esthetic level, I was so pleased to be able to do something as simple as a lullaby. And to actually have it be something personal and poignant is cool but to also have it as worthy to put on an album or worthy to pull this out and play on the stage live and get such a crazy response has been a win, win. When I pull the cigar box guitar out you can hear the cat calls from the crowd – “what is that thing?” It’s absolutely a joy to play.

It is inspiring then?

Definitely, definitely! The fan that gave me the guitar put me in touch with its creator, Travis Woodall, and strangely enough Travis’ Uncle was really great friends with my Dad who obviously has been a musician for a long, long time in the Allman Brothers. So it was cool to make contact with Travis and know that our families were connected 30 years ago when we were kids!

There’s a lot to be said for serendipity!

The guy that was stuffing those boxes over in Honduras or over in Cuba 30 years ago -how would he know that this box would become an instrument that would bridge two families and inspire a song- that’s crazy! It’s just cool. The cigar box guitar phenomena –is very much under the radar. But I think that it is just healthy for music you know, it’s doing something a little bit different – it’s shaking things up- and that’s how I feel when I pull it out live and people go “holy cow what it is this thing?”

Maybe people are searching for something new and different- it gives you that little sense of awe because you don’t know what it is or what it can do…

The first time I ever saw one was on Beale Street in Memphis. There was a street performer out there – he is actually kind of known as the most popular street performer in the world – Richard Johnston. BI saw him sitting on the side of the street on Beale Street with a cigar box guitar with 2 or 3 strings – I can’t remember – and he had a kick drum that he worked with his right foot and a snare drum that he worked with his left foot. His thumb was working the base string and his fingers were working the melody and he had a microphone and he’s singing. He was drums, base, guitar, and vocal – a one man band! He was absolutely killing it – he must have had 100 people in a circle around him and he had these huge, these comically huge, cowboy boots that he was using as a tip jar -they were like size 15 and looked like they belonged to Kareem Abdul Jabir!  People were pulling out 20 dollar bills, 10 dollar bills – I know this guy was sitting on a grand right there and it was all because, well… number one because he kicked ass and number two because it was such a unique display! That was my first ever encounter with cigar box madness and it stuck with me.

That would leave an impression!

Richard is a great guy. He’s a monster. You know – people from Japan pay him to go over there and do the exact same street show in Tokyo. I played with him a few years ago and we’ve been text buddies ever since – he’s a great performer.

Have you built, or do you intend to build, your own?

You know, funny enough, once this fan had introduced me to Travis we just got along famously, instantly. I told him -dude it would be neat to have a double neck! He came to a show and brought me a different one – I had a 3 string and he brought me a 4 string and when I started plucking away at it I said “wow, this is an ENTIRELY different sound than the 3 string!” The 3 string was more swampy – more like a base and the 4 string was more like – I don’t even know- more of a twangy – I got more of a Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page kind of vibe out of it – so I thought it would be so awesome to have both of those sounds on one guitar – what about a double neck -3 strings on one neck and 4 on the other? He made it in a month.

And how is it?

It’s a monster! Travis is really, really good in creating these instruments – they are not shoddy in any way. They don’t fuzz out or fret out. He installs the electronics perfectly– when you plug it in it sounds great and that’s the thing. One thing I was really concerned about once I plugged it onto my amp was- how was it going to sound true- how it does it sound acoustically and would there be feedback problems- which there wasn’t.

For something that‘s kind of “kitschy” -like a cigar box guitar- that may not play or sound as well; that’s more just kind of a novelty than an actual playable instrument – it kills! It’s really, really good! I foresaw writing some material on the 4 string and then I started thinking for the live show -it would kind of suck to pull out the 3 string and play the lullaby and then go to the 4 string and play something else – it would be neat if it was all in one.

And without rules it can all be accomplished – you just have to ask!

He was really great and I think his company has a really bright future – it’s nice when someone like Travis has it together that young and can stay under the auspices of his own creation – if he sold out to some company tomorrow they could easily drag the quality down.

And the fact that he is an artist creating something and therefore putting a piece of himself, his soul, into it there is an intimate connection that raises the value not just in terms of money but as in what has been created.

Absolutely, because you are making art on this piece of art. When you mass produce it you lose that soul. It’s like if you go to a store and you buy a thousand dollar Gibson Les Paul- yeah, it’s a nice guitar but if you buy the $5,000 custom shop -you’re not just paying for the name “Custom Shop” – you are paying for the guys who take the time, use the finest material and instead of cranking out 500 guitars in a factory that day – they maybe cranked out 5. And that attention to detail is what gets lost when these companies get big. That is my wish for him – that as he grows he keeps that personal touch.

When I was talking to Travis about the resurgence in popularity of the cigar box guitar he talked about how people turn to music no matter what the hardship is they are facing and that this instrument is a bridge for people who have always wanted to play but felt they couldn’t or couldn’t afford to. So it becomes that accessible instrument that anyone, really ANYONE, can hang on to –if they want to produce a little bit of music in their backyard.

It’s true. Somebody picks up a guitar for the first time – if it only has three strings – it’s a little less intimidating. You can kind of pluck away at it without thinking what should I do with all these other strings?

When you pick up the cigar box guitar what does it do for you?

It’s something different. If I had to give it a really lame analogy- it’s like if you already drove a really great car- say you drove a really nice Cadillac every day – you love it, you’re used to it, you’re comfortable in it but then you get to go off road in a really cool jeep – it’s a completely different feeling. Well, that’s how it is grabbing the cigar box guitar- it’s just kind of… there’s no rules… it’s a nice diversion.

So getting back to my earlier question…would you ever build one yourself?

You mean physically, with my own hands? (Laughing) Oh no, no, no, I don’t build them -I just play them! I’ll leave that to Travis!

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Fresh Biscuits! New Releases For October 21, 2014

It’s a big week in Blues for new releases. There’s a terrific new disc from Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls which we reviewed here, along with new music from Lisa Mills, Rory Block, and HowellDevine.

The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research put together a set of previously unreleased tracks Sean recorded with Paul Linden, Melvin Zachery and Ray Hangen at The Magic Shop in New York. The producer Steve Rosenthal and the distributor, VizzTone, are donating all proceeds to the the The Sean Costello Memorial Fund. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of In the Magic Shop will go to support research at a rehab facility dedicated to creative people with co-occurring illness. So beyond the music there are great reasons to pick up a copy of this new release.

Lastly, there’s the Deluxe Edition reissue of one of the greatest live albums of all time – Rory Gallagher’s Irish Tour ’74. This new set has 8 discs, complete shows from the tour and 43 unreleased tracks. I had to order it from Amazon UK. It seems the US is only getting a paltry 2CD version of the full Cork show. I can’t wait to get the box set and we’ll publish a review once it lands in my hands.

Howelldevine

HowellDevine Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju

Rory Block

Rory Block Hard Luck Child: A Tribute to Skip James

Sean Costello

Sean Costello In the Magic Shop

Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls

Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls Soul Brothers

Ben Poole

Ben Poole Live At The Royal Albert Hall

Howard Glazer

Howard Glazer Looking In The Mirror

Lisa Mills

Lisa Mills I’m Changing

Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher Irish Tour ’74 Deluxe Edition

Songs For Saturday – Weekly CD Reviews

I hope you’re all enjoying your weekend. We have four new reviews for you. Yes, I’m a day late and a dollar short but I wrote a lot, went off the rails here and there and even threw in a rant! I hope you enjoy this week’s reviews and find something interesting for your ears!

OtisClayJohnnyRawlsSoulBrothersOtis Clay & Johnny Rawls

Soul Brothers

Catfood Records

Released Date: October 21, 2014

 

I am not the world’s biggest Soul music fan. I like it but I have to be in the mood for it, and I have conflicting feelings regarding its inclusion under the Blues umbrella. If I go to a Blues festival or show, I want to hear blues. I want to hear some poor bastard with a broken heart playing his guts out in 12 bars or less. I want it lean and mean, and not too clean. Soul music is just too nice. I’ve seen Johnny Rawls, and Otis Clay in concert and while both shows were enjoyable I wasn’t blown away by either. Then again, each set was at a Blues festival and I wasn’t really in the mood for Soul music. Hell, either could have been one of those times I listened to Soundgarden on the way to the show. Soul music doesn’t make its way into my purview all that often. I have my Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett records and that’s about as far as it goes. And now, across my desk comes a new album by two big names in Soul music – Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls. I had low expectations. I hear soul music in movies, or on SiriusXM once in a while for a change of pace, and a lot of it seems schmaltzy. Such was my state of mind when I popped Soul Brothers into the player.

Wow. The first song has these two Soul music gurus doing a classic Dave Mason track. It seems like a sellout to get people interested – the white people that unfortunately make up 90% of the Blues audience. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. The band gets a little funky and the vocal arrangement plays to the strengths of both vocalists and by the end of the first chorus I’m digging in and listening closer. What seemed like a pandering choice started to seem like a bold choice. They could have led off their first full length collaboration with any song but they went with this. I don’t know if it was their idea, the management, the label, or who, but it was a great choice. It helps that the band pulled it off. The band is The Rays featuring Richy Puga on drums, Bob Trenchard on bass, Johnny McGhee on guitar, Dan Ferguson on keyboards, Andy Roman on sax, Mike Middleton on trumpet, Robert Claiborne on trombone, Nick Flood on sax and The Iveys – Arlen, Jessica and Jillian – providing background vocals. I guess it worked on all levels and hopefully not just because I’m white. They definitely got me interested and in the mood to hear more.

This dynamic collaboration started last year when Otis Clay was a guest on three tracks on Johnny Rawls’ O.V. Wright tribute album Remembering O.V. They both put their hearts into Soul Brothers which for my money is better than anything I’ve heard from them individually. The biggest surprise for me is the seamlessness of the originals and covers. Sure you’ve heard “Only You Know And I Know” and “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” before but it feels like you’ve heard “Road Dogs” and “Poor Little Rich Girl” too. They’ve crafted a “Best Of Soul” record using original material. It’s quite a feat and a testament to the artistry of these two men. Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls are both in excellent voice and this is one of those recordings where you can hear the smiles going back and forth between these guys. “Road Dog” has them exploring their parallel travels in the business and in Tyrone Davis’ “Turn Back The Hands Of Time” Rawls calls on Taylor to take us back to 1966 just as Otis belts out his testimony as the tune closes. “Hallelujah Lord” finds both men embracing their gospel roots, “Voodoo Queen” is the closest they come to a blues song, and “Living On Borrowed Time” has big bad horn arrangements straight out of Memphis. To call Soul Brothers a tour de force may see like hyperbole and maybe it is, but with Soul Brothers Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls have delivered a timeless Soul and R&B album that needs to be heard by everyone on Pop radio calling themselves Soul singers. Soul Brothers is the real thing.

DukeRobillardCallingAllBluesDuke Robillard Band

Calling All Blues

Stony Plain

Released on September 23, 2014

 

Duke Robillard’s history is in many ways the history of modern blues. He’s been in Roomful Of Blues and Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Blues Music Awards named him “Best Blues Guitarist” four out of five years from 2000 to 2004, and even B.B. King has called him “one of the great players.” Over the years Duke has been a champion for all forms of Blues and has covered most of them. The new record from the Duke Robillard Band is “Calling All Blues” and once again Duke brings together many styles on to one disc.

The music has a classic sound and Duke’s gruff raspy vocals are the perfect complement to the songs. His name may be Duke Robillard but he is the King of Tone. Even if he wrote horrible songs they would sound great. I would hate Techno less if they sampled Duke’s tones. Every blues tone you could want is on this new disc. And the acoustic bass? Damn, that thing sounds good. It was recorded perfectly too. It’s unobtrusive but if it was gone you’d probably cry until they put it back. It’s warm, fuzzy, and groovy – this music swings with style. Duke addresses the tones lyrically too, with “Nasty Guitars.” In the liner notes he mentions that he’ll occasionally be playing some beautiful passage in a nice clean tone and people will be looking bored. He knows it’s time to rip it up with some Nasty Guitars.

“Down In Mexico” is a laid back shuffle that suits the fun in the sun vibe. “I’m Gonna Quit My Baby” is a swinging bopper that will have you moving like a tilt-a-whirl. Duke’s open string fills and gritty tone are superb. The beat is countered by stuttering piano lines courtesy of Bruce Bears. It’s delightful. “Svengali” is a mind bending carnival of sound. I don’t know what the Hell is going on in this song but I love it. There are echoes, slides, stomps, string bends, and the machine that goes “ping.” It will make you dizzy, twist your mind, and make you wish you were Big. Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times please. “Emphasis On Memphis” is as advertised and “Motor Trouble” seems to be a veiled reference to losing a little bit of your get up and go power. As producer and guest guitarist on many Stony Plain releases, and with his own prolific output, this surely can’t apply to the Duke himself.

I love the tones and tunes on Calling All Blues but “Confusion Blues” is too soft and smooth. It sticks out among the gritty vocals from Duke and all the grimy, low-down grooves on the rest of the album. It’s not a bad song or performance, but it pulls you out of the moment. Otherwise this is a perfect album. It clocks in around 40 minutes and makes the most of it. Even Sunny Crownover turns up to sing her guts out for you on “Blues Beyond The Call Of Duty.” Calling All Blues is calling all blues fans far and wide, mobilizing the troops and bringing in new recruits. Get in line with the Duke and move, people. It’s boogie time.

 

SkylaBurrellBandBluesScarsSkyla Burrell Band

Blues Scars

VizzTone

Released On October 7, 2014

 

Skyla Burrell Band. Never heard of them. It’s a big blues world out there and new contenders appear constantly. I was surprised to learn the band has been in existence for quite some time. The band was formed by Skyla Burrell and Mark Tomlinson in 2002. Their first album was 2004’s Working Girl Blues. The new disc, Blues Scars, is their fifth! The good thing about discovering a band five records into a career is that you don’t have to wait a few years to hear more, if you want to. I want to. The Sklya Burrell Band is tight. They don’t just lay it down; they knock it down and kick it. It’s blues, it’s rock, it’s swinging good time Saturday night fist fight low down hoe down get down and boogie music. Even the ballads have a fair amount of strut and swagger.

The disc kicks off with little fanfare and dives right in to the title cut which features a stuttering riff under Skyla’s vocal. She belts it out and fills in the gaps on lead guitar. Skyla Burrell shares lead guitar duties with Mark Tomlinson. Thankfully the liner notes let us know Skyla takes the first solo in each song and Mark takes second. Their styles mesh like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor. The rhythm guitars are just as important as the leads in this band and they masterfully weave around each other. “Shut You Down” has a marching stomp beat with a sidewinding riff and terse lead guitars. “Love Letter In Blue” is a wistful ballad with tender sentiments and mournful lead guitar lines permeating the soul of the song. On “6 Mile Cemetery Road” they unleash some Screamin’ Jay Hawkins hoodoo and “Juke Joint Tonight” has all the tilted swing of the finest Chuck Berry records. Drummer Ezell Jones, Jr. reminds me of Steve Jordan on this tune, and a few others, from the style to the tuning of the snare. Mr. Jones is a jazzy rocker deep in the pocket. It’s a beautiful thing.

When this disc showed up I had no idea what to expect. The CD cover’s Windows Paint lettering screams low budget ambivalence and the band shot looks like a Prom photo gone wrong, with the band leader looking like she just stepped off the Walk Of Shame. Is it wrong to complain about album covers? I know budgets are tight but still, you want something representative of the music. You don’t want somebody putting the CD down or passing it by altogether because it looks like maybe you just didn’t give a damn how your hard work was represented on the cover. The high energy, rough and tumble spirit of the band would have been better captured almost any other way. I have mad Photoshop skills. I volunteer to do the next cover for them, free of charge. And it’s not just this band. There are several out there with album covers of dubious origin and it obviously irritates me. Maybe the record labels are to blame. I don’t know, just fix it! Okay, end of rant. It’s the music that matters and I want people to be interested enough by the cover to want to hear the music.

Blues Scars is a Rock & Roller’s blues album. It swings, it bops, it zips, and it dips. It’s old style Rock & Roll that came straight from the Blues. This band hits it fast, hard, and often. Most of the songs are between two and a half and four minutes. They fill the songs with hot licks, sweet tones, impassioned vocals, and undeniable spirit. Between Skyla’s tremendous voice, twin blazing guitars and deeply grooving rhythm section you have a recipe for all night boogie marathons that are guaranteed to leave a few Blues Scars behind. Get yours today!

 

MarkusJamesHeadForTheHillsMarkus James

Head For The Hills

Firenze Records

Released Date: October 28, 2014

 

Markus James loves percussion and he loves the blues. Markus has been playing blues-based music with traditional West African musicians since 1994. In that year he made his first visit to Niafunke, the northern Mali home of the legendary Ali Farka Toure. Markus James has studied the West African rhythms, cadences, and styles as well as their blues counterparts in the United States, particularly in Mississippi. As he traveled around Mississippi after a successful 2003 appearance University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, he encountered familiar music and was drawn in by the old-school drummers. At one point, after performing in Mali, West Africa, Markus James made a realization, “I came back to the US, saw the Deep Blues film, and was amazed to see the exact same thing that I had just seen in the sand dunes outside Timbuktu: three drummers and a guy playing what they call a cane flute. It was just such an obvious connection between the musical traditions I had been immersed in in West Africa and some of the traditional music in North Mississippi.” On his new album, Markus chose to Head For The Hills. The North Mississippi Hills.

Markus James recruited Junior’s son Kinney Kimbrough, Calvin Jackson who played with R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough, Aubrey “Bill” Turner from Otha Turner’s fife and drum band, and R.L. Boyce who played with Jessie Mae Hemphill. In addition to these A-list rhythm makers he brought in Marlon Green, who was the last drummer for John Lee Hooker, and who is currently working live shows with James. The drummers, who split duties on the album, are the only instrumentalists aside from Markus James on the album but James plays a plethora of instruments himself. He sings and plays electric slide guitar, 3-string cigar box guitar, gourd banjo, slide dulcimer, acoustic guitar, harmonica, beatbox, and a snakeskin-covered 1-string diddley bow. The result is an earthy, primitive, and complex combination. Everything about this music is percussive, even James guitar playing. The way he plucks the strings and slaps the guitar while playing slide belie the heart of a drummer. Even the most stripped down tracks on Head For The Hills will give you plenty to hold on to and will keep your foot tapping.

You can’t get much more primitive than “Diddley Bow And Buckets” which has only the instruments named in the title. Still it is a compelling track, solidifying the notion that excellent music can come from unlikely objects. Album opener “Just Say Yes” is a driving, thumping Hill Country trance-inducer, “Gone Like Tomorrow” is a spacey, wide open adventure in dreamland, and “Nomo” is an anguished dirge. “Woke Me” which features Kinney Kimbrough has a “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” groove. Head For The Hills closes with an appropriately organic acoustic piece called “Green.” Most of the music can’t really be described. The tones and beats come at you in unfamiliar combinations and every song raises your expectations for the next. Head For The Hills is a wonderful exploration of primordial music in a high tech world and makes the musical connection from future to past.

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 10/08/14

BluesBiscuitsHumpdayWelcome back for some Hump Day fun. I was in the mood for Lonnie Brooks this week and it led me to Lonnie’s “Wife For Tonight.” Now, Lonnie seems to be looking for loving so I’m hoping he didn’t end up with a Honey-do list, maxed-out credit cards, and dinner with the in-laws.

Thinking about Lonnie thinking about his nagging woman issues got me thinking about Buddy Guy’s version of “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In).” It’s gone by other names but I like Buddy’s version the best. His facial expressions sell the song. The tune also serves as a warning to guys out there looking for a wife tonight. Maybe the wife you already have is looking for a husband for tonight. Maybe you should all go home and put things right.

Which brings us to Magic Slim & The Teardrops and “Shake It.” Maybe if you engaged your lover and got her shaking that thing you wouldn’t be out at night looking for another. Give it a try. Happy Hump Day everybody. Have some fun and shake it with the ones you love.

 

Lonnie Brooks Wife For Tonight

Buddy Guy Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In)

Magic Slim & The Teardrops Shake It

Fresh Biscuits! New Releases For October 14, 2014

Alright, finally a week with some blues new releases. Over the last few weeks new releases of blues have been all but barren. This week however offers a basket full of hot biscuits. Devon Allman’s second solo album debuts this week. You can find our review here. This week is a guitar lover’s dream with a hot collection of Jimmy Thackery’s work on Blind Pig, Chris Duarte’s Lucky 13, a new Popa Chubby disc, and the US release of European sensation Erja Lyytinen’s new set.

Beyond the scorching guitars we have new music from JW Jones, plus dUg Pinnick of King’s X has a new Blues project out called Grinder Blues and NOLA supergroup New Orleans Suspects unleashes their new effort.

 

Popa Chubby

Popa Chubby I’m Feelin’ Lucky – The Blues According To Popa Chubby

Chris Duarte Group

Chris Duarte Group Lucky 13

New Orleans Suspects

New Orleans Suspects Ouroboros

JW Jones

JW Jones Belmont Boulevard

Jimmy Thackery

Jimmy Thackery Extra Jimmies

Grinder Blues

Grinder Blues Grinder Blues

Erja Lyytinen

Erja Lyytinen Sky Is Crying

Devon Allman

Devon Allman Ragged & Dirty

Get Yourself Some Snake Oil Here! Holler! An Interview with Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band

Shane Speal wants you to be afraid. Very afraid. Because anything can happen. Speal’s Snake Oil Band performs with a near manic energy that is, at best, unpredictable. There is no homeostasis here – and the band wants it that way. What’s coming next?  You.  Just.  Don’t.  Know.

Vaudevire: A theatrical performance which incorporates song, dance, comedy, and magic… and, if you are lucky, rubber chickens.

Snake Oil: Various liquid concoctions, of deeply questionable medical value, sold as an all purpose curative medicine by traveling hucksters, to heal you.

Snake Oil1

This is the traveling tent under which you will experience Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band. The magic of the Snake Oil Band will captivate your mind, your body and – if you buy the snake oil – your soul. You cannot walk away untouched – flying rubber chickens and toilet paper cannons won’t let you. And if you give yourself over to the Snake Oil experience – you will have a damn good time.

Blues Biscuits had the opportunity to sit down with Shane Speal, King of the Cigar Box Guitar, and Ronn Benway, Master of Mayhem, Band Philosopher, at the Annual Guitar-B-Cue held in New Alexandria Pennsylvania. As I approached the well worn picnic table for our interview, Ronn was busy preparing his body (and yes, it is his instrument) for the evening show, with duct tape, thimbles and other assorted assemblages.

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I had interviewed Shane Speal several years ago when The World’s First Cigar Box Guitar Museum opened at Speal’s Tavern. At that time Shane was primarily a solo artist, and, even then, performing with an intense energy that has only been magnified with the addition of Ronn Benway, Aaron Jones and Farmer Jon.

MaureenElizabeth: Tell us about the evolution of this particular incarnation of your music… Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band.

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Shane: It all started as jams at a bar… the band has never practiced. We take the stage without a set list and we just feed off the audience. It started with me being a solo performer back when I ran an open mic out in York, PA. Ronn is originally from Las Vegas and Venice Beach, California and for a while he was busking…

Ronn: I was busking in Seattle; just singing and street performing in the market area and it became clear to me that if I didn’t get there early enough… it’s a real shot for the best spot at the market everyday because you want the 12:00 – 1:00 spot. So, I kept this washboard with me and if I couldn’t get the best spot to play, I could pony up with another guy and say “hey, look, we can make more money if there is two of us together.” That’s how I started with the washboard – I just bought it – I didn’t know how to play it! It was $3.99 in the Mexican market and it was the first washboard I ever bought. I went to Lowes ® and bought the least amount of screws and stuff I could put on it and started playing it. When I moved here in 2011, I left my washboard in Seattle. I went to Shane’s open mic and there was a washboard sitting there. He had a washboard on a stand with cymbals and cowbell…

Shane: I jokingly called it my drum set for the open mic because here I am, running an open mic, playing Cigar Box Guitar using a footstomper. So, I brought a washboard as the house drum set and Ronn walked in…

Ronn: As far as I could tell no one was touching it.

Shane: No one was…

Ronn: And it just sat there…

Shane: And when Ronn saw it he went nuts!

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Ronn: I couldn’t believe I walked into a bar in Pennsylvania and there was a washboard. So I said “hey, can I play this?” and Shane said nobody plays this. I said I can play this! Anyone who runs an open mic for any length of time is like Oh? You can do that? Go ahead! You get to know who in your audience can do what… you know this guy does poetry and this guy sings…

Shane: That’s a good point! That’s an excellent point. Ronn would sit in with me and I would play the first forty minutes of the set and Ronn would play washboard.

Ronn: After a while when my friends would ask me to go to play trivia at another bar I would say I kinda have to go practice washboard with Shane – not like it’s a burden- but like as a “thing.” I need to go do this! At first I was just coming into open mic and we were just hanging out and singing and putting my name on the list and suddenly I needed to go practice with this guy every Wed night.

Shane: “Practice” meaning sitting in, live, in front of people!

Ronn: It was as if something was growing and we had to keep helping it grow and keep nourishing it. Farmer John had a plastic bucket when we started…

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Shane: Farmer Jon, our bass player, built a washtub bass out of a plastic bucket – he showed up just to be goofy and we tried to put microphones on it just to make it work – it was just fun. One night I brought in parts and we electrified his washtub bass and plugged it into the P.A. system and it worked. So he started sitting in. Ronn on washboard, Farmer Jon on washtub bass and Aaron Lewis, who is one of the best harmonica players in Central PA, ended up coming out to the open mic and sitting in as well. So, once a week, for the first half hour of an open mic, four people got onstage without any practice and just ripped the place apart. I looked at these guys after a few months and said “you know, I’m gonna start booking gigs, you are that good.” So we booked our first gig, showed up with no set list, no plan – everybody just plug in and go – and we rocked the joint. These guys watch me constantly. If you ever watch a Snake Oil Band concert, they (the band members) are dancing in the crowd, they are going nuts-but they always have on eye on me and all I have to do is lift my guitar up once and strike it down and everybody stops. It’s almost like Frank Zappa, the way he used to lead his band, with one motion of his hand the band would stop. We are now that tight that I can do that and -Boom – the band stops.

ME: It’s becoming intuitive…

Shane: Yes, very intuitive.

Ronn: You learn to read your leader.

Shane: Lately we’ve been performing our album from start to finish, which means for the first time in our existence we use a set list. And these guys don’t like it. It’s weird.

Ronn: Yes, it’s weird.

ME: Lacking the spontaneity!

Shane: Yes, because if we are feeding off the crowd and someone starts yelling something at us we want to play what they want!

ME: Do you feel that this was certain alignment of stars that brought you all together?

Ronn: (laughing) Nooo – we’re people that just like to drink…

Shane: We like to get together and drink and jam.

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Ronn: Everything in my life works out this way. Everything just drops in my lap and it just happens. We all create what we need in our lives and we all hope for what we want. Some people hope for horrible things and get them. Some people hope for wonderful things and get them. Literally, I joined my first band the first week I moved to York. I remember one of the first times I played with you (Shane) was at the Revolution Field at a beer fest at a minor league baseball stadium at second base. Shane said “ why don’t you come out and join me out there?” and I said “oh, okay.” We had never really played outside of the open mic-we were nowhere near close to amplification at that point – and he leans over to me and says “hey, we’ve practiced in this bar why don’t we play a baseball stadium!” (At this point Ronn and Shane erupt into laughter at the sheer absurdity of the moment.) When we were playing at the stadium, Shane leans over and says “man, I know what you want to do Ronn Benway – I am sitting on this stool, banging on this box with my foot. I cannot dance with these people, but you can – go dance with these people!”

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Shane: And Ronn looked at me and said “you get me.” And that is the magic of this band – even though my name is one the top of the bill and I’m in the center of this stage – Ronn has become the star of this band – people talk about him and his washboard playing once we leave – yeah, I’m playing 3 string cigar box guitar doing Led Zeppelin on it and they go nuts about that, but they go insane about Ronn. Each member of the band has their own distinct personality just like the Beatles and Kiss – both of those bands were four parts of one whole and that is what I love about this band.

Ronn: Oh, I forgot all about this (story). I’m at the Hive, which is in the Royal Square, it’s an art studio, and a photographer from the York Daily Record comes up and takes some pictures from across the street. I’m playing guitar and Michael Sallemi is playing upright bass and we’re singing and dancing around, putting on a show… we’re gathering a crowd in front of the studio and this photographer comes over and she comes up and she’s a little confused… and she says “you’re Shane Speal?” And I said “I’m not Shane Speal” and she says “but you’re in Shane Speal?” And I said “I am a member of Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band” and she says “and what’s this?” And I said “not the Snake Oil Band!” (Laughing) and she says “well, what do I call this?” I said “I am Ronn Benway.”

Shane: York is going through an Art renaissance right now, so there is music everywhere… so that’s how we started, just four guys jamming around an open mic, getting an audience. Our shows got more and more insane – we added the confetti cannons, we began throwing rubber chickens at the audience …whatever we could to bring the theatrics -because I’m all about theatrics. I grew up with Kiss and Blue Man Group – lately our newest weapon is our toilet paper gun –we’ll be firing that off tonight as well.

ME: I’m going to hide – I’m feeling very unsafe right now!

Shane: It’s hilarious – but any time we do these things, it’s a fun interactive thing – and, let’s face it, no Blues band I know of is doing anything like this. We are a Blues band – we’re playing Blues, we’re playing old Blues, we playing our new version of it. – the day we put the album to bed we sat there in the studio and looked at each other and the feeling was… we think that we created a new genre or a new subgenre of the Blues. As we were listening we were all thinking no one is doing anything like this – it’s all homemade except we are mixing stomp/rock blues sort of like R. L. Burnside based, a little Led Zeppelin thrown in there, a little bit of punk with jug band and prison chants

ME: I love the chants on your new CD.

Shane: It was something no one was doing…

ME: Oh, I want more!

Shane: Thank You! I’ve been listening to them and wanted to do a project based all on prison chants and I had one record company interested in it but it ended badly.

ME: Ronn, watching you play the washboard – that looks like a skill…

Ronn: Skill? (Laughing)

ME: It doesn’t look like just anyone can pick it up and just do it!

Ronn: Easier than digging a ditch I’ll tell you that! A couple of times I have put it (the washboard) on a drummer and just have him not know what to do with it because he is a drummer and they drum! They don’t play themselves! I get washboard players who don’t like my technique. They want me to bring it down, like you’re trying too hard, really that’s not the way you play washboard.

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Shane: I don’t want Ronn to play rhythm – I want Ronn to play MAYHEM. Just like Farmer Jon, I don’t want Farmer Jon to play bass _ I want him to play rumble. What blew our minds was nobody could really hear Jon on stage and then when we were in the recording studio and we had done some isolated tracks – Jon went into the studio and did tracks on top of what we did. When we were listening to it later we all looked at each other and we’re like he’s playing gospel running bass lines on a washtub bass! None of us realized how intricate he was playing. He doesn’t have time to listen to anything that any of us are doing. He’s stomping on his feet, he’s picking up the next guitar and, not to be insulting to Farmer Jon, I don’t think that any of us thought that he was playing much on the tub until we listened! We sat there and listened and we thought wow he should be playing in a Black Baptist Church! It was just insane what he was playing!

Ronn: But none of us can hear him usually because we are all busy…

Shane: …and it’s always been enough rumble to give the bottom end to this band that we were lacking – and I wanted that low rumble! Just like with Ronn – I don’t want him to play perfect washboard, to play perfect Rock. No, I want him dancing, I want him slamming whistles, and I want him shaking his butt with the women in the audience

Ronn: And these are all things I enjoy! Coincidentally enough!

Shane: Nobody ever accused KISS of being good musicians – yet they were one of the biggest bands in the world.

ME: Very theatrical.

Shane: Yeah and that’s why you go to a KISS show. But, if you actually break KISS down, you realize that Gene Simmons is one of the most underrated bass players in history. With us, too, I’m not too worried about musicianship, but if you break the musicianship down, everyone is a baddass in my band. And they’ll rip any musicians head off. The harmonica player, Aaron, – the funny thing about him is I like him better than any other harmonica player because he knows when not to play. I need John to be the rumble, I need Ronn to be the rodeo clown, I need Aaron to step back whenever he needs to step back, and then I just do my thing. Trust me, I’m a lazy man and I would never force this band to have a practice, but I would lose it if I lost any of these members because I can get on stage, no preparation, and know that we are going to blow away the audience. The shows we pay – nobody can touch us. They may be better musicians – but nobody can touch us.

Ronn: I have a little workout regimen that I do before I play – a little stretching – and people will ask “what are you doing?” Or when I am taping up before I play “what are you doing?” and I say “just relax, this will all make sense in a little bit.” Don’t worry – you’re gonna love me or hate me in 20 minutes.”

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Shane: And that’s what we’re all about. There are a few ingredients in this band. Number one is the theatrics, number two is the novelty of the instruments that we are playing, and number three is that our music has hooks. We have hooks in all our songs.

ME: And those hooks do stay with you!

Shane: Ronn used to run a music store out in Venice California, so Ronn is my music trivia nemesis.

Ronn: Before the internet, you know, when you just had to know stuff.

Shane: Well, Ronn’s a music expert and we’re both huge Bowie freaks, Beatles…all songs with hooks and Ronn is a songwriter too. He’s going to start opening up Snake Oil shows, and so is Aaron, and all his songs have hooks and sing along choruses. We want to take things back to the roots. Howlin’ Wolf used to crawl across the stage in concert, he used to bark at the audience, if you ever go on You Tube and see some of his concerts he’s eating his harmonica, licking it and eating it and shoving it in his mouth and pulling it out and playing it. It’s all his theatrics and it was dangerous. The Blues used to be dangerous and it’s not now. You go to a Blues festival and there is nothing dangerous about it. We want to bring that back. We want people to be afraid you’re going to get electrocuted when you go to one of our shows (laughing). Or hit with a rubber chicken.

ME: Well, I’m getting a little nervous….

Ronn: I have the worst aim with those rubber chickens – I hit children. I hit a lady in a wheelchair…I have these worst aim…

ME: Where does your theatrical background come from, Ronn?

Ronn: I was born in Las Vegas, my parents both worked in the Sands Hotel with the Rat Pack on stage. I used to go to Wayne Newton’s Christmas parties – I am born and raised Las Vegas and all the BS that goes with that is in my soul. I am the party commissioner. I am here to make sure that everyone has a good time. I didn’t drink alcohol for 14 years and that was great time for me because I would go out and think how much would I spend if I was drinking. I would buy the bar drinks and then once everyone got liquored up enough I could be myself. I don’t need alcohol to be like this –although I enjoy alcohol – and I can get a little out of hand sometimes if I have too much of it – but I don’t need alcohol to perform a show. And I have this thing too where I really try to play every show like as if I might walk out of the venue and get hit by a bus. I don’t want anybody to go like “wow did you see his last show?” “Yeah, it was alright.”

Shane: He leaves everything on stage. This whole band leaves everything on stage. That’s just how we are.

Ronn: I play like I’m never going to play again – that’s the only way I want to do it.

Shane: And we’re getting older and older and it’s getting tougher and tougher.. and we still drink.

Ronn: I was old when I started this!

ME: So how long is recovery time these days?

Shane: Red bull is my best friend.

Ronn: If I’m not feeling it, then how are you going to feel it? I mean we are selling snake oil here. In general the music business is snake oil – it’s hey look over at this it’s shiny and pretty – it’s a trick. We’re tricking people to have a good time. You go to a bar, you buy the beer, you think you want to have a good time, and you sit there with your arms crossed and say “impress me.”

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Shane: A lot of bands show up with their hats and their 2000 Stratocasters and play Messin’ with the Kid. I’ve heard that that motherfucking song 15 million times and if another Blues band does Messin’ with the Kid I’m going to fucking cut ‘em. I swear to god we did a Blues fest last year and I heard it three times! I’m sorry but our goal is to shake up and destroy the Blues status quo and take it back to a dangerous period!

ME: What drives your anti-establishment vision?

Shane: I’ve always been that way. It even goes back to being in school and being a nerd misfit –not like the rest of the kids. Back in the 80’s everybody was listening to Duran Duran and that’s when I decided to go through my Beatles phase.

Ronn: That’s why you hate fedoras!

Shane: If I see the waves are going one way with a trend I will immediately go the opposite way. I don’t know why – it is ingrained in me. In the 90’s everyone was playing Strats and wanted to be Stevie Ray, so I started playing the shittiest guitars I could find – the stuff that Hound Dog Taylor played – because to me Hound Dog Taylor was the opposite of clean Blues. From Hound Dog Taylor I got into the Cigar Box Guitar. I’ve always gone against the grain. We have only one goal – to make it impossible for anyone to follow us – and we will pull out every anti-establishment trick.

Ronn: I love that someone came up to us after a festival and said that we blew Tesla off the stage!

Shane: We hear that a lot! Angry Johnny Stangry played ahead of us today – he could rip my head off on the guitar, he could rip my head off. That’s not what I want to be. He’s doing his thing and he is going to get famous because he is that good. Me, I’m playing three strings on a stick jammed through a box. I’ve got three guys behind me playing on homemade instruments. Even my harmonica player is playing his harp through a beer can microphone. I want to do everything different. I don’t want to follow any trends – I want to create the next trend and be the king of it. I call myself the King of the Cigar Box Guitar because nobody was stupid enough to choose it in the first place. Now that I’ve chosen it and I have used that stupid moniker for 10 years, people respect the name. I think it’s hilarious because it’s always been a joke to me. But, in the same way, I’ve always wanted to create my own sound and let everyone else follow me. Right now we are in a big movement of Bluegrass. Where we’re from, everybody is doing Bluegrass. My band refuses to do Bluegrass, but my band will get in to Bluegrass shows and I will plug my guitar into distortion and I will crank it up to feedback levels in the middle of a Bluegrass fest and people love it. They freakin’ love it because nobody’s crazy enough to do it. We’re antiestablishment. We’re punk rock on junk instruments –we’re junk. Jug band punk – junk rock. (Laughing)

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Ronn: In life you are either your own product or you are helping someone else sell their product. That’s really what we all are. I owned a record store and I sold other people’s products and at one point in my life one day I said I don’t want to sell other people’s products anymore, I want to sell my own product. And if there is anything that is counter culture about us, it’s that this guy sits in his woodshed and makes this shit and makes it look easy – easy enough to sell to people. He is his own product. I am my own product. I moved to York and somebody said what are you going to do for money and I said I am going to go in front of the Strand Theater and play before the concert. Really? Nobody does that! Well I just made a hundred bucks doing that! I came to town and I created my own job. This guy (Shane) didn’t like selling advertising and so he created his own job and now he is his own product. And that’s the trick to being free. Everybody wants to be free deciding between Coke ® and Pepsi ® and the truth to being free is not being controlled by all these others – it’s taking your own destiny and making your own – making what you want to see in the world.

Shane: At the same time I still feel compelled. I have made my own genre; I’ve made my own music. But I still feel compelled to teach everyone how to do it. I actually started the whole Cigar Box Guitar movement by posting free plans on line. And now that I am playing, I do free lessons on line. How hard is it for me to set up my iphone and show my tips and cheats on guitar? I do it for free and other people are joining suit and their starting their own bands and showing up at open mics

ME: Giving people the opportunity to follow their own creative spirit…

Shane: Exactly. If you want to pigeon hole us, in a way, I am telling booking agents that we are bringing back Vaudeville. Vaudeville died when motion pictures took off – we’re bringing it back and we’re putting it in stage. Ronn is very much the comic relief on stage. We’re doing the Snake Oil pitch and everything else. When you come to see us you will see modern electric blues that is as rough hewn as R.L. Burnside , as funky as Bootsy Collins and as rocking as AC/DC in a Vaudeville setting. This is just who we are and this is just what we do.

~~~

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Rubber chickens, confetti cannons and toilet paper guns aside… there is nothing like the live experience of Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band. Let me tell you, whatever they’re sellin’ – I’m buyin’. You will be healed.

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Olivier Basselini would be proud.

~~~

Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band is currently touring the Mid Atlantic States.

 

shane-speals-snake-oil-band-sideshot-Freddie Graves Photography

Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band is:

Shane Speal – cigar box guitars, vocals and stomping foot

  • Ronn Benway – washboards, rubber chickens and stunts
  • Aaron Lewis – harmonica, vocals and confetti cannons
  • Farmer Jon – electric washtub bass and high fives

CONTACT: SHANE SPEAL
shanespeal@yahoo.com
717-781-6463

shane-speals-snake-oil-band

 

 

 

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 10/08/14

BluesBiscuitsHumpdayIt’s Hump Day again boys and girls and it’s time to get truckin’, if you know what I mean. If you’re not sure, these lewd, crude blues will surely get you into gear.

Ah, truckin’, the age old rhyming slang for its f-word counterpart – and I don’t mean fruckin’. Blind Boy Fuller referred to truckin’ in a few songs including “Truckin’ Little Baby” and “Truckin’ My Blues Away.” He liked to have some truckin’ fun! “Truckin’ My Blues Away” also gave rise to another song of his called “What’s That Smells Like Fish Mama” and you can all guess what it is. SPOILER ALERT! It rhymes with “sprunt.”

A few years after “Truckin’ Little Baby,” Big Bill Broonzy pulled a Led Zeppelin (or is it the other way around?) and came up with “Truckin’ Little Mama” albeit with somewhat different lyrics. Blind Boy Fuller’s influence reached far into the 20th Century and beyond. Hot Tuna regularly played a version of “Truckin’ My Blues Away” they called “Keep On Truckin’.” Blind Boy Fuller is widely credited as the originator of the phrase “keep on truckin'” so his reach is far beyond the musical realm. Nowadays, the term seems to mean “keep going” or “carry on” and the intercourse angle has been put to bed. It’s a truckin’ shame.

DavePhilAlvinCommonGroundBig Bill Broonzy has had a major influence on music of the 20th Century and beyond as well. He was a huge influence on Muddy Waters who in turn revolutionized Blues, Rock & Roll, and even popular music, of every era since. In early 80’s southern California the Alvin brothers put together a band called The Blasters which was greatly influenced by Big Bill Broonzy. Dave and Phil Alvin have rekindled their musical relationship and released a tribute to Big Bill Broonzy (our review of it can be found here). Today we have a video from their recent tour doing a truckin’ great version of “Truckin’ Little Woman.”

If all goes well you’ll find yourself a truckin’ little woman for Hump Day who hopefully doesn’t have anything that smells like fish. if you are a truckin’ little woman, keep your cabin clean and keep on truckin’. For our final entry (that sounds dirty) we have a tune I found that doesn’t really fit in except that Kokomo Arnold seems to be happy to engage a Sissy Man if he can’t find a lady. So, if you can’t find a truckin’ little woman, maybe try a sissy man. Good luck with all that…

Blind Boy Fuller She’s A Truckin’ Little Baby

Big Bill Broonzy Truckin’ Little Woman

Hot Tuna Keep On Truckin’

Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Truckin’ Little Woman

Kokomo Arnold Sissy Man Blues

Fresh Biscuits! Friday Fast Five CD Reviews October 3, 2014

Hello again. It’s time for our weekly Fast Five reviews. I dug a little deeper into the Blues Bin this time for a few albums that came out earlier this year. I think they deserve our attention and hopefully you will be interested enough to give them a shot – Bob Corritore’s Taboo and Luther Dickinson’s Rock ‘n Roll Blues. We’re ahead of the game with the new Billy Boy Arnold disc and we also have Sena Ehrhardt and Too Slim & The Taildraggers. As always, I hope you find something interesting for your ears.

TheBluesSoulOfBillyBoyArnoldBilly Boy Arnold

The Blues Soul Of Billy Boy Arnold

Stony Plain

Release Date October 21, 2014

Chicago Blues stalwart Billy Boy Arnold has returned to Canadian label Stony Plain. The new disc marks Arnold’s second album for the label, the last being 2001’s Boogie ‘n’ Shuffle. Over the years, Arnold has built quite a catalog. The Blues Soul Of Billy Boy Arnold showcases Billy’s love of Soul and R&B, along with his brand of Chicago Blues. Billy Boy is backed by producer/guitarist Duke Robillard and his band, with the Roomful Of Blues horns sitting in on a few tracks.

As a teenager, Billy Boy got a personal harmonica lesson from his hero John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson. His life trajectory changed at that moment and before long Billy was playing with Bo Diddley. During sessions for Bo’s “I’m A Man” Billy was offered time to record the single “You Got To Love Me” which got his solo career off to a running start. His classic “I Wish You Would” has been recorded several times, including stand out versions by The Yardbirds, Canned Heat, and John Hammond. The Yardbirds had a big hit with his tune “I Ain’t Got You” which has also been recorded and performed by a host of artists from Aerosmith to Sugar Blue.

This time around, Billy Boy has recorded some of his favorites. One of the highlights is a moving, melancholy “St. James Infirmary.” The tune keeps the minor key tones of Louis Armstrong’s famous version and starts off with a lonesome harmonica howling over some minor chords on the piano. Billy’s conversational, low-key delivery accents the despair and heartbreak, and Robillard plays some gritty licks over the loping shuffle. Chuck Berry’s “Nadine” is revved up and rockin’, and Billy Boy tips his hat to Ray Charles with a swinging, swirling take on “Don’t Set Me Free.”

Mixed among other covers like Joe Tex’ “A Mother’s Prayer” and Ted Taylor’s “You Give Me Nothing to Go On” are some new Billy Boy Arnold gems like the sly, shuffling “What’s On The Menu Mama” and tongue-in-cheek album closer “Keep On Rubbing.” These two are prime examples of the fun, good-time Blues that made Billy Boy Arnold famous. Duke Robillard gets to flex his considerable blues muscles on B.B. King’s “Worried Dream.” This tune really brings home the vintage sound that permeates The Blues Soul Of Billy Boy Arnold. There is no new ground broken here, but at this point in his career does Billy really have anything to prove? He’s out there going strong, making music, and bringing joy to the people. At a time he could be relaxing, it’s good to know he’s still willing to share The Blues Soul Of Billy Boy Arnold with us.

 

BobCorritoreTabooBob Corritore

Taboo

Delta Groove Music

Released on April 15, 2014

So, I was listening to the new Bob Corritore disc Taboo, grooving along, thinking man, this really calls to mind a 60’s get together with friends, and playing records in the living room. I can see the brightly colored drapes, the wood and stone décor, the contrasting colors, the miniskirts. Did I mention the miniskirts? This tune completely put me in a sixties TV state of mind. Since the new disc is all instrumental I had no clue to the song title so I had to look. I picked up the CD jacket, flipped it over whilst bobbing my head along with track and what do I see as the title? “Mr. Tate’s Advice.” Mr. Tate. As in Larry Tate on Bewitched? It has to be. I really want it to be Larry Tate. Everything about this song says Bewitched, especially once you know the title. It’s subtle, but it’s there and you hear it at once if you have that frame of reference. That’s great instrumental writing. To convey mental images through music is certainly a difficult task but Bob Corritore does it here and all through Taboo.

Several of the tunes on Taboo have a vintage feel. “Fabuloco (For Kid)” sounds like a bit like the Latin craze mid 60’s pop instrumentals. It’s a fun, percolating tune that will surely get you moving. Another throwback is the beach party romp called “Harmonica Watusi.” If you’re not picturing Annette Funicello’s pointy bathing suit while you do the Mashed Potato and The Watusi around your living room you aren’t living. Blues fans need not be worried; it’s not all Beach Party Playboy After Dark Shindig music. There are blues tunes on this new record. “5th Position Plea” is not a sexual reference as far as you know. It probably takes its name from the 5th position harmonica playing which is fairly uncommon in blues. “Shuff Stuff” is a Texas Style shuffling blues with Jimmie Vaughan as the featured guitarist. Jimmie and Bob lead the band on a road trip around the great Republic of Texas. Saxophonist Doug James and Papa John Defrancesco take solos tasty as Central Texas BBQ and twice as fiery. Jimmie Vaughan delivers his usual peerless perfection. He gives exactly what the song needs every time.

Bob Corritore has become one of the most acclaimed harmonica players in the world. He has shared stages and recorded with the who’s who in blues. His interest in Blues was sparked by hearing Muddy Waters on the radio at age 12. Bob was born in Chicago and made it to many blues shows around town getting to know major and minor players alike and soaking up everything he could. Bob Corritore is steeped in blues and blues tradition so it is no surprise that this eclectic mix of instrumentals would have a retro vibe and classic tones. If this was 1960, this music would be “cool.” Hell, it’s still cool today. Maybe that’s why it’s Taboo. Check it out; it’s a gas!

 

TooSlimAnthologyToo Slim & The Taildraggers

Anthology

Underworld Indie Records

Released on June 17, 2014

Tim “Too Slim” Langford has been a fixture of the American music scene for about 25 years and has put out 15 albums. That’s amazingly prolific, especially by recent standards with bands taking two or more years to make new records. This new Anthology brings together songs from Too Slim’s Underworld Records catalog featuring songs from his last decade of recordings. Anthology includes three new songs produced by Grammy Award winning Producer Tom Hambridge. Also included are some previously unreleased versions of familiar songs. The liner notes are skimpy and only give details for the new songs. The fact the songs are new is more implied than explicit. For a sprawling, 34 track Anthology I expected more song information, especially for the previously unreleased songs. Personally, I enjoy the music more when I have some context and usually an Anthology is accompanied by some reflections from the artist or, at a minimum, an essay by someone well acquainted with the music and band. It may seem like a minor sticking point, but I could make my own anthology in iTunes or the like. Sure it wouldn’t have the alternate versions or new songs, but alternate versions are often unreleased for a reason. I’d like some inside information on the songs to read while I reminisce over decade spanning collection. Okay, end of complaints section. Moving on…

The music runs the gamut from swampy Blues to Cowpunk to Country & Western and all points in between. “Mississippi Moon” is the kind of swamp rock slide guitar driven tune I could listen to all day long. “When Whiskey Was My Friend” crosses into modern rock territory and has some stinging lead guitar from Too Slim. “Mexico” is weird Jimmy Buffett blues but it’s catchy. It has sultry slide guitar and steel drums (or a close approximation). It had me looking for my salt shaker and a cheeseburger. “Devil In A Double Wide” has guitar riffs as Hellish as the title suggests. “She Sees Ghosts” has a sick single-coil guitar tone and a tight horn arrangement. The song closes out disc one which seems to highlight the harder rocking tunes from Too Slim & The Taildraggers.

Disc two has more of the deep Blues tracks like the gut wrenching “Everybody’s Got Something” to some acoustic tracks like the haunting “La Llorona.” Slim’s slide work on “La Llorona” is a study in intonation and left hand control. It also helps that he plays a beautifully sad melody. “Good To See You Smile” is the kind of blues I love the best. Wicked tones, churning Hammond organ, and caustic solos with notes bent to Hell and back. The three new songs are spread around the set and fit in well. “Big Ole House” is a mournful tale of emptiness echoed in the tremolo guitar effects and wistful piano. Strategically placed guitar glissandi appear like apparitions in the night. Everything in Too Slim’s voice says he wants them to stay, but the apparitions are fleeting at best. Another new song, “Wishing Well” opens disc one with a disgusted look at the charlatans disguised as spiritual advisers and faith healers. His repulsion is underscored by sparring solos from Too Slim and Nashville guitarslinger Bob Britt.

By the end of Anthology, you have to catch your breath and reflect on the diversity of the music you just experienced. It’s a little uneven and they’re not all keepers but you get an overflowing plate of Blues on Anthology that is sure to satisfy most of your musical appetites. Here’s to Tim “Too Slim” Langford and the Taildraggers for keeping the faith for 25 years and pouring their hearts into an impressive catalog of music.

 

SenaEhrhardtLiveMyLifeSena Ehrhardt

Live My Life

Blind Pig Records

Released on September 2, 2014

 

Sena Ehrhardt’s debuted in 2011’s Leave the Light On from Blind Pig records. Since then she’s been collecting accolades from around the music industry. Sena lists Luther Allison as a major influence, having experienced the power of his live show and the raw emotion in his voice. She got her start singing with her father’s band Plan B but in 2010 she formed her own band and began to shape her destiny. Sena has certainly focused Luther Allison’s influence and she pours her all into every note she sings. Her new disc Live My Life shows incredible growth and focus. She’s formed a new band and wrote much of the album with new guitarist Cole Allen.

From the opening guitar riffs this band sounded to me like the Robert Cray Band via Austin, TX. I like it. The band is tight and guitarist Cole Allen cuts a wide swath of territory. Sena gives the band plenty of room to shine and together they have come up with interesting riffs and song structures. “Everybody Is You” has a stuttering riff and the words work their way around to a glaring twist. The guitar solo recalls Alberts King and Collins. The opening tune “The Stakes Have Gone Up” strides through Cray’s “Smoking Gun” territory, picks up the still hot weapon and fires again. This is a menacing opener, laying it down in no uncertain terms that they are here to play and here to stay. Smokin’ Joe Kubek sits in on “Things You Shouldn’t Need To Know” and delivers a blistering slide solo perfect for the desert hot shimmering shuffle. The twin guitars build to a crescendo under Sena’s vocals until she brings it all down with the flirtatious “take it off babe.” Wait, she was talking about a blindfold? I have to listen to that one again.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I usually don’t like female vocalists who aren’t also instrumentalist. Yes, yes, the voice is an instrument, I get it, but I mean guitarist, pianist, and so on. For some reason unknown to me, they don’t always seem to be able, or allowed, to sing honestly. They go full-on sex kitten or gruff whiskey and cigarettes Janis Joplin style. Sena Ehrhardt is able to balance her delivery in an honest manner. She sings high notes when the song demands it, gives the coy come hither tones when appropriate, and has impeccable phrasing and note control. Her lyrics are smart and sing well. Nothing seems forced. Maybe it’s the industry that tries to back female singers into one corner or another but Sena dances around the ring like Ali. She’s staking her claim in the Blues scene and doing it her way. Live My Life isn’t just an album title, it’s a mission statement and it’s a mission you’ll want to get in on.

 

LutherDickinsonRocknRollBluesLuther Dickinson

Rock ‘n Roll Blues

New West Records

Released on March 18, 2014

 

With a title like Rock ‘n Roll Blues, you might expect to be getting North Mississippi Allstars Part Deux. Not so. Luther Dickinson is a talented guy with eclectic tastes and an ear for fresh tones. He plays roots music in a variety of musical configurations. On Rock ‘n Roll Blues he is joined by upright bassist Amy LaVere, Sharde Thomas on drums and fife, and Lightnin’ Malcolm on drums with all contributing vocals. Rock ‘n Roll Blues has songs that date back twenty years and gives the listener a sense of Luther’s journey from young punk in the Mississippi Hills to seasoned performer and respected musician.

The focus of the album seems to be on rhythms. The opener is a manic tale of teen rebellion set to tin can percussion. Luther proclaims with raw abandon “I grew up on punk rock when I was young, Lived in the country was the only one, For miles and miles nobody around me, Rockin’ solo skateboard anarchy.” And continues with “I get so excited, have to vandalize!” it’s the portrait of a pent-up misunderstood teen with no other outlet for his frustration. It would be funny if it didn’t hit home for so many. “Blood ‘n Guts (The Ballad Of Boots And Dixie)” puts Luther out on the road and finding his way. This is another heavily rhythmic tune with Luther playing a churning acoustic guitar figure over a bouncing bass line. The ebb and flow of relationships on the road is reflected in the words as well with lines like “Take A bullet for any one of these, can’t stand these sons of bitches.” “Bar Band” takes shots at the naysayers.

On “Rock ‘n Roll Blues” Luther rails against the slave trade-like recording industry and the harsh realities of being under a recording contract. On “Goin’ Country” Dickinson sings about defying Dad and hanging up the rock ‘n roll shoes. The disc closes with a delicate yet rhythmically throbbing ballad called “Karmic Debt.” In enigmatic fashion, his words don’t tell you if it’s all been worth it or not but you get the sense he’s at ease with his decisions. Rock ‘n Roll Blues is raw, rough, and rhythmic, but it’s alternately quiet, chilling, and beautiful. The music and words are much more intricate than the simple instrumentation and laid back delivery make them seem. This is an unexpectedly beautiful album which gives us a deeper sense of Luther Dickinson as artist and fellow traveler in the land of Rock ‘n Roll Blues.