Category Archives: Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday! Happy Birthday To Jimmie Vaughan

JimmieVaughanLincolnCenter7Hey everybody, we haven’t done a Flashback Friday feature before but this Friday happens to be Jimmie Vaughan’s birthday. I thought it would be a great time to revisit a tremendous show Jimmie and his friends put on at Lincoln Center back in 2011. Billed as the Texas Blues Summit, the show featured Lou Ann Barton, W.C. Clark, and Billy Gibbons. A fun time was had by all and the talent was bigger than the republic of Texas itself!

 

Here we go folks, way way back to 2011…

 

TEXAS BLUES SUMMIT

When Jazz At Lincoln Center was planning it’s second annual Blues Summit, legendary guitarist and performer Jimmie Vaughan was chosen bring together a night of Texas Blues. A better choice would be hard to find. Jimmie Vaughan has been a fixture of the Texas blues scene for nearly 40 years. One of his first bands opened for Jimi Hendrix. In the mid-70’s he founded the Fabulous Thunderbirds, a band considered by many to be the most important white blues band of all time. The band became a fixture at the seminal Austin club Antone’s and backed up major figures of the blues like Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Gatemouth Brown, Albert Collins and countless others. Jimmie learned the blues from the masters and earned their respect in return. Since those days at Antone’s, Jimmie Vaughan has accumulated many devoted fans including some famous ones like Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and B.B. King. Even Jimmie’s little brother Stevie Ray Vaughan often cited Jimmie as his favorite guitarist and biggest influence.

JimmieVaughanLincolnCenter5BnWJimmie Vaughan has experienced the blues in ways many can only imagine, not the least of which is the death of his younger brother in 1990 after a night of glorious music. He brought all his life experiences and musical influences to the stage of Jazz At Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall Theater on Thursday, June 16, 2011. He also brought some famous friends.

Lou Ann Barton has been a fixture of the Texas Blues scene for almost as long as Jimmie Vaughan. Her inimitable style, laced with a bit of Texas twang is still formidably robust and she wails the blues with the power of a singer half her age.

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Austin native W.C. Clark has been called the Godfather of Austin Blues and has been involved in the city’s music since the late sixties. He originally left Austin. Believing the R&B music scene was dead, he hit the road with the Joe Tex Band. A chance meeting with Jimmie Vaughan and Paul Ray changed his mind. A few weeks later he was back in Austin and has remained ever since. He has served as a mentor to both Vaughan brothers, taught Charlie and Will Sexton how to play guitar, backed up superstars like B.B. and Albert King, played in Triple Threat Revue with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton, co-wrote “Cold Shot” – one of Stevie’s biggest hits – and toured the world with his own band.

JimmieVaughanLincolnCenterBillyGibbonsThe Rev. Billy F. Gibbons is familiar to millions as the guitarist and singer from that little old band from Texas: ZZ Top. Billy and Jimmie have been friends since the early 70’s, sharing many experiences of the Texas music scene over the course of the last 40 years. All three musicians joined Jimmie Vaughan and his Tilt-A-Whirl Band for a salute to Texas Blues.

The night started off with upbeat instrumental “Comin’ And Goin’” from Vaughan’s recent Plays Blues, Ballads and Favorites album. It was a great way for the band to pick up a groove and each soloist got their moment in the spotlight, hinting at the level of musicianship and imagination that was to be heard over the next two-plus hours.

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The band, which features tenor saxophonist Greg Piccolo, baritone saxophonist Doug James, guitarist Billy Pitman, bassist Ronnie James, and drummer George Rains launched into Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s classic “Dirty Work At The Crossroads” and continued the nod to their regional partners in Louisiana with Guitar Junior’s (aka Lonnie Brooks) tune “Roll Roll Roll” which Jimmie Vaughan covered on Plays Blues Ballads And Favorites. Vaughan’s mastery of these songs is a heartfelt tribute to his influences and the music of his youth and is a testament to his talent and love of the idiom.

JimmieVaughanLincolnCenterWCClarkJimmie Vaughan is a formidable guitarist and appreciation of his technique and approach to the instrument is greatly enhanced by seeing him live. His fingers work magic as they weave their way around the neck of his variably capoed guitar. His use of open strings, drone notes, and percussive picking attacks all add exponentially to the flavor of his musical gumbo. The guitar jams were a highlight of the show and W.C. Clark came out for a few songs before the end of the first set and kicked things up a notch as he tore through some down home blues and even threw in a vocal tribute to Little Milton with a few snippets of “Blues Is Alright.” W.C. Clark feels at home on the stage and became the de facto band leader almost as soon as he plugged in his guitar. Jimmie shared a story about his first gig with W.C. Clark being held at a converted funeral home. Their mutual admiration is obvious and during some extended jamming, they converse with their guitars like the old friends they are.

JimmieVaughanLouAnnBartonLincolnCenter8BnWLou Ann Barton joined the band at the start of set two. The Texas Blues Summit found the Queen of Austin in fine form as she belted it out gloriously. The Rev. Billy F. Gibbons joined the fray and together with Jimmie Vaughan and The Tilt-A-Whirl Band he barnstormed through two Night Caps tunes, “Thunderbird” and “Wine, Wine, Wine”. Gibbons joked about he and Jimmie having written “At The High School Dance” back in 1962. Billy was having fun and kept begging for Jimmie to play more and then feigned fanning the smoke coming from Vaughan’s guitar.

JimmieVaughanLincolnCenter2The most poignant moment of the evening came when the band left Jimmie Vaughan alone on stage as he performed a stirring tribute to his brother. Jimmie plucked the rhythm with his thumb and the melody with his fingers in a swampy, reverb drenched rendition of “Six Strings Down” from his Strange Pleasure album. The arrangement conjured apparitions from the ether and angels from the heavens as he belted out his salute to Stevie Ray and a host of other Blues Stringers including fellow Texans Freddie King, Albert Collins, Lil’ Son Jackson, and T-Bone Walker to a mesmerized crowd.

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After more songs with Lou Ann Barton including a few from their upcoming Plays More Blues Ballads And Favorites, Billy Gibbons and W.C. Clark came out for a revved up version of “DF/W” from the Family Style album. The three guitarists let loose the blues in New York City and they’re probably still running amuck in the Upper West Side. The spirit of the Texas Blues cannot be confined, reigned in or broken. Jimmie Vaughan, the Tilt-A-Whirl band and their guests were a perfect choice to showcase the history and vitality of the music that has influenced generations of musicians and listeners alike.

Fresh Biscuits! Friday Fast Five CD Reviews – August 15, 2014

Welcome to the second installment of the Friday Fast Five! There seems to be a roadhouse theme that appeared as I was writing these reviews. Each artist featured would satisfy even the rowdiest of Hank Jr’s friends. They can all play sweet, soothing blues but it’s the barnburners that really set them free. If you’re looking for some good time, rough and tumble blues this weekend maybe one or all of these albums will kick it up a notch. As always, feel free to comment, argue, and tell me I’m way off base. Comment here, Facebook or Twitter.

JohnMayallASpecialLifeJohn Mayall

A Special Life

Forty Below Records

Released on May 13, 2014

Another John Mayall record? Is there really such a thing as just another Mayall record? Let’s find out. John Mayall has spent his life playing and singing the blues and it has certainly been A Special Life indeed. The Godfather of the British Blues has become a legend just for introducing the world to legends like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, Mick Taylor, Walter Trout, and several others. However, along the way he has amassed a catalog of roots and blues music almost unparalleled by other blues musicians. Mayall is a consummate musician and bandleader and seems to never begrudge his students when they outshine the teacher. He is a gentleman of the blues.

A Special Life is the gentleman’s new album and it bristles with excitement and energy. “Why Did You Go Last Night” kicks off the album in New Orleans style as CJ Chenier sits in for a rollicking romp through his father Clifton’s tune. “Speak Of The Devil” revisits Sonny Landreth’s tunes with tough lead guitars and Mayall’s robust but plaintive tenor. “That’s All Right” takes us to Chicago via London and “Big Town Playboy” is a strutting Texas roadhouse shuffle. Too my ears, “Floodin’ In California” is Mayall’s shining moment on A Special Life. On this Albert King tune, Mayall’s levee breaks and the tune is flooded with waves of agonized organ artistry. It’s beautiful and immensely moving. Mayall also plays some lead guitar on the tune and leaves the King Albert licks to Rocky Athas.

A Special Life is well-produced, crisp, effervescing record from an 80 year old musician. Let that sink in for a moment. He’s singing great, playing well, and still writing excellent tunes about his passions. Whether he’s singing, blowing harp, or rocking out on the guitar, he’s putting younger men to shame. There will be a time someday when there will be no more new music from John Mayall, so to answer my own question, no. There is no such thing as just another Mayall record and this one proves it. Enjoy it.

 

LeeDelray570-BluesLee Delray

570-Blues

Available at CDBaby

Released Spring 2013

570-Blues came across my desk last year and unfortunately I wasn’t able to place a review of it anywhere. We’re going to fix that right now. 570-Blues is a solid collection of modern electric blues. What does that mean? Is it generic blues? Far from it. Lee Delray mixes styles of his influences. You can’t really tell if he’s playing a B.B. King lick or an Albert Collins lick. Maybe it’s Luther Allison. Maybe you shouldn’t analyze it so much and just enjoy it. He’s a New York City white boy and he knows his way around the blues. He’s even been sanctified by the Chubb Fatha himself, Popa Chubby. “Don’t Tell me I Can’t Get The Blues” tells Lee’s tale of blues living and street-side schooling and displays a lot of the guitar chops he’s picked up along the way.

Lee Delray’s guitar playing is good; maybe too good. I hear him play and I just want to hear him cut loose and roughen the edges a little. Some of 570-Blues feels like Lee is holding back in his guitar playing. Maybe it’s the recording studio environment. To paraphrase John Lee Hooker, Lee you’ve got it in you and you gotta let it come out! Let that boy boogie! I had this feeling most of the way through 570-Blues and then came “No Time Blues” This was it. Lee’s playing on this one is incandescent and worth the wait. Lee rips it wide open and lets loose in a way the rest of the albums suggests he could but never did. How’s that for a convoluted sentence? My head was still spinning I guess. 570-Blues is a great jumping off point and promises a tremendous future for Lee Delray who has musical chops, good songs, and an expressive singing voice. Now let’s get out there and see him live!

 

RBStoneLoosenUpRB Stone

Loosen Up!

Middle Mountain Music

Released on June 18, 2013

RB Stone’s voice sounds like Johnny Van Zant. You can say what you want about modern Lynyrd Skynyrd and I’d probably agree with most of it but Johnny has a hell of a voice and so does RB Stone. It’s got warmth even when singing lyrics that come with a wink and a nod. He sounds like he having fun, but he wants you to have fun right along with him. His singing style and intonation perfectly match his roadhouse ready tunes. His guitar playing ain’t to shabby either. His songs are adeptly constructed. He matches his bemused lyrics with just the right riffs.

The album also benefits from the sturdy production of “Producer of the Blues Stars” Tom Hambridge. Hambridge is also a fine musician and writer, and he pays drums on Loosen Up! The tunes range from the poignant “God Heals You When You Cry” to the hard driving “I Ain’t Buying That Bull Today.” “Texas Drunk Tank Blues” is exactly what it says and has an appropriately rollin’ and tumblin’ beat. Album opener “High Horse” sets the tone for the whole of Loosen Up! with its Telecaster shuffle and smirking lyrics about cutting loose and having a good time for once in your pontificating life. Loosen up indeed.

RB Stone’s guitar playing is impressive and he’s equally adept on slide, punctuating the title track “Loosen Up” with appropriately greasy licks. RB unleashes the slide on a cigar box guitar too, which appears on “Harley Heart,” the breakneck album closer. This is fun, booze-drinkin’, pool-shootin’, dust-kickin’, duck-walkin’, house-rockin’ boogie on a Saturday night and Sunday’s comin’ much too soon music. Loosen Up! has also been floating around my desk and made it into my car a few months ago and I’ve been enjoying the Hell out of it since. Send all your speeding tickets to RB. They’re his fault.

 

Nighthawks444The Nighthawks

444

EllerSoul Records

Released on June 17, 2014

I’ve always thought of the Nighthawks as a Rock & Roll band. Hell, their first album 40 years ago was called Rock ‘n’ Roll. It comes as no surprise that 40 years on The Nighthawks are still out there beating the drum for early Chuck Berry and Elvis-style Rock & Roll. Sure they play the blues and sure they’ve backed up every Blues legend who ever rode through the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and sure they’ve spawned a pair of legends themselves in Mark Wenner and Jimmy Thackery, but at their heart is a Rock & Roll band. This is a good thing. It keeps moneymakers moving and grooving way until the break of dawn. 444 is a throwback to the early days of Rock & Roll. Please note I’m not saying “Rock.” We’re talking Rock & Roll: boogie that swings, bounces, bops, and pops. It’s Chuck Berry’s sped up blues and the Nighthawks know it inside out.

Thankfully The Nighthawks aren’t as rhythmically repetitive as Chuck became, and they cover a lot of ground, from the acoustic roots of Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues” to The Du Droppers’ vocal workout “Walk That Walk.” The title track “444” is one of those classic “had the girl out to late” tunes that were popular in the era before profanity. It chugs along with the urgency of a young man being chased by her angry daddy. “Got A Lot Of Livin’” absolutely pops. Mark Wenner’s howling harp is all over the record. He has a rich, thick tone that never gets to the fingernails-on-chalkboard screeches employed by lesser mortals. The band’s line-up has been somewhat unstable over the years but Wenner has held it all together and still puts out excellent Nighthawks music. If you’ve got the blues and need a pick-me-up, grab your girl and keep her out late cuttin’ the rug to 444.

 

ChrisOLearyLiveAtBluesNowChris O’Leary Band

Live At Blues Now!

VizzTone Label Group

Released on August 12, 2014

Chris O’Leary is the former front man of Levon Helm’s Barnburners. The Chris O’Leary band was formed in 2007 around a tight group of road warriors. Chris’ years spent with the Barnburners, backing up an eclectic mix of musicians at Levon Helm’s New Orleans club, and touring the country afterward, turned him into a musical medium. He channels a multitude of blues & soul styles authoritatively. It’s hard to believe he grew up closer to Albany, New York than New Albany, Mississippi. The blues pours out of his fuzz-drenched, raspy harp and his band is right there with him at every twist and turn. After two successful and acclaimed studio albums, this red hot combo has unleashed a sizzling live album.

Live At Blues Now! has tunes from both studio albums and a grooving, bouncing version of Billy Boy Arnold’s “Wish You Would.” Chris sings some of it through the harp mic and his vocals take on a Howlin’ Wolf snarl. I was really excited to have a live version of “Tchoupitoulas” (that’s “Chop-ih-too-liss” to you and me). If “Tchoupitoulas” doesn’t get you moving you may be dead. Have someone take your pulse immediately. Administer mouth to mouth as desired. It should have you singing and dancing like you’re down at Tipitina’s with the second-line hot on your heels. The whole album, from the opener “Give It” to the closer “History” has incredible drumming. The beats are almost tribal, churning and chopping, like waves of the sea surging and receding, thrusting the band forward, reeling rocking in rhythmic ecstasy.

On “Trouble,” special guest guitarist Alex Schultz rides the rhythmic waves like a man who’s conquered the Pipeline. Chris O’Leary’s harp cuts through like a thrusting oar and keeps the band on course. The shimmering guitars of “Louisiana Woman” and lonesome harp conjure a hoodoo mist across the bayou and “Water’s Risin’” swings, rocks and reels. This is rock & roll blues at its best, combining gospel vocals, Chuck Berry rhythms, and dueling guitars into a spicy gumbo of American music which pretty much encapsulates the Chris O’Leary Band. This band is the real deal. Bring the band into your living room, car, or bayou back porch with Live At Blues Now!

If you are interested in these or any other Fresh Biscuits! click on our link to buy from Amazon or visit the artists pages linked in the reviews. As always, please support the artists!

Flashback Friday! Walter Trout Looks For Common Ground

WalterTroutWMBF-1It’s Flashback Friday once again. This week, we tie in to our review of Walter Trout’s new CD The Blues Came Callin’. We now turn you over to Maureen as she takes up back in time to her insightful and illuminating interview with the legendary Walter Trout…

I had the opportunity to interview Walter following the release of his CD Common Ground. I was impressed and encouraged by his depth. As Walter now faces his greatest struggle his words ring even deeper….

me. Let’s talk about your latest CD Common Ground.   I was impressed when I read that the title track was written “in response to cruelty in the world.” Was there something in particular that inspired you to write that song?

Walter Trout: Well, I can tell you that that concept of “can we find some common ground between us” where we can sort of agree and get together and attempt to find our mutual humanity between us- I had that idea for years and I kept trying to write it as a political song, you know, I put on TV and I’d sit there and watch somebody on the left and somebody on the right just scream at each other and disrespect each other and laugh when the other person is trying to make their point and shake their head and just be so disrespectful of each side and I watched this over the course of the years get more and more polarized and I tried to write it for years as a political song and I could never get it done. One day it just dawned on me that it had to sort of be above that and it had to basically almost be a prayer and a call for help because I see us descending more and more into that more rash disrespect between people and I think the mass media does a lot to encourage it for ratings –it becomes entertainment to watch people get their balls cut off on TV. I find the whole thing disgusting and I’m a very politically savvy, well-read, opinionated person and I’ve got to where I don’t even want to know about it anymore. I don’t turn on news stations anymore; I don’t want to know about it anymore. So once I realized it had to be a call to whoever or whatever you believe is a higher power than man- ‘cause if we’re it, it’s a pretty sad universe-once that dawned on me, that song wrote itself in about 10 minutes-but it took 10 years. But once I got that concept, instead of making it political-make it spiritual, it was 10 minutes-not even 10 minutes. I have the page that I wrote the lyrics on and there’s not even anything crossed out. It just came out the way it is. And then once I had the lyrics, the melody also just…the song happened almost instantaneously once I changed my focus. I almost felt like that song was given to me.

me. Almost like it was waiting to be born…

WT:It was handed to me-I just had to open up to it.

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me. That’s beautiful. In the 60’s, folk songs were truly aimed at creating change and affecting people…with this song, was that your active thought – or your hope for it – that someone would really hear what you are saying?

WT: I would hope so. You know, I grew up in the 60’s and I was out protesting the Vietnam War and protesting the draft – I was a part of all of that. I was pretty radical in the 60’s and I was the biggest fan on the face of the earth of Bob Dylan and those early songs Masters of War and A Hard Rain’s Gonna’ Fall and songs like that but I was trying to write one of those when I was trying to make it political and it never came out. So it really came out, I think, as a religious tune, but I think it could be listened to by a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Muslim as well as a Christian – and they would be able to get something out of it because I’m not mentioning any sort of specific prophets or beliefs. It’s just a call to a higher power saying we are scraping and crawling and floundering and we need help to get back in focus here.

WalterTroutWMBF-3me. Do you think that it’s still possible – having grown up in the 60’s and having music define my life – to have music impact and define us today the way it did back then?

WT: Well, I agree with you, my life was defined like that too – it was the most important thing in my life and I believed very idealistically, when I was a teenager, that music could change the world and could change people. It was a social force. Now, back then, things like Rock and Roll and protest songs were still a little bit out of the mainstream-a little anti-establishment. You didn’t have Coca-cola sponsoring Bob Dylan or a Rolling Stones tour. It’s become big business, it’s become corporate. The radio has been taken over by corporate interests. It used to be FM radio, in the 60’s, played whatever they wanted and they could really mold their listeners, they could influence their listeners. Now, it’s all about demographics-one corporation owns 50 radio stations in America and they have some guy that sits in Minneapolis and programs all of them and has no idea that what’s happening locally in St. Louis may be different than what’s happening locally in Minneapolis. It’s a little sad to me-I feel it’s gotten watered down and taken over by the very people who the music was trying to be an antidote to back then. I think it’s still possible –I do believe it is still possible- that even bands who are big groups who are trying, maybe, to write some songs that have something to say-for instance, U2. I think they are a huge band but I do believe they are still trying to write some songs that maybe have some meaning other than “let’s party and get drunk and get laid” which is the majority of the crap that is out there now. Even bands like that – their tours are sponsored by big corporate interests and I think that’s a little bit sad. I think you have to look now out of the mainstream to find the kind of music that really might have some sort of deeper meaning to it, deeper thought behind it than “I want to make a single that sells a million and maybe I’ll get to tour with Kim Kardashian.” You have to look for it now – I think you can find it on things like satellite radio, I think you can find it on things like college radio, I think you can find it on the internet, but on corporate mainstream radio, you’re not going to find that anymore – that’s done. And to be honest, I think that the corporate mainstream radio is killing itself and they don’t even know it. They’re in their death throes, you know, and I think if they took more chances and were a little more on the edge and a little more unafraid to step out of their box that they’re in-they might survive. But I think corporate radio is on the way out. There’s a classic rock station in LA-it’s the last one left and it plays the same songs over and over and over. I used to listen to it but I can’t do it anymore. There’s more to classic rock than 40 songs-they’re killing themselves. They lost me! I used to listen to it-I won’t anymore. Even classic rock bands like the Stones who have been making records for going on 50 years now- on this rock station out here they play the same 4 songs. This band has 400 songs! For instance, Paul McCartney made a record a few years ago under a different name – The Fireman– have you ever heard that?

WalterTroutBBKings-1-1me. No!

WT: Well, he did this experiment where he would go in the studio and in one day he would write a song, he would record it and play all the instruments and then they would mix it. He would go in, in the morning, and by the end of the day they would have a brand new song recorded and mixed. He did a lot of electronic stuff, he did a lot of tape loops, he experimented and he thought it was so far out of what people expect of him that he put it out under a different name and it’s called Electric Arguments by The Fireman and it’s stunning. I’ve never heard it played on the radio and it’s one of my favorite, newer records. It’s very unique-sometimes it takes a little getting used to-but the creativity of it is astounding and the poor guy had to put it out under a different name. It never gets played but it’s worth your checking out. Matter of fact, the opening track is so nasty, I played it to my band in the van on the last tour-I said “I’m going to play you a cut here; I want you to tell me who this is.” I played it and at the end of the song everybody went “I don’t know.” My drummer said “was that Buddy Guy?” And I said “no, that was McCartney” and they all said “you’re kidding me!”

WalterTroutArmFlailingBBKingsme. One of the things that you mentioned on your website, about music giving you the opportunity to speak directly to people’s hearts-what is it you hope your music does for people?

WT: Well, one of the things that I have tried to do throughout my career of writing is to try to lean towards a positive message. Songs that can maybe make people feel better, maybe uplift them, maybe get them to believe that there is hope-not just wallow in sadness or wallow in frustration or wallow in desperation. I find a lot of music does that and there’s a lot of blues music that does that. If I write songs about even regular Blues themes like adultery-I wrote one about it called “Her Other Man” on Common Ground. I tried to stay away from the typical blues themes like this is “the backdoor man” or whatever –all the typical themes-but there is a line in there “as her lover kisses her it’s more than she can bear as she lays beneath her lover and she dreams of yesterday.” It’s yes, she’s doing this but it’s not making her feel good. It’s not hey baby let’s get laid and let’s party up. It’s yeah, you’re doing this but it feels like shit! I’ve tried to write songs that will make people feel good. I’ve tried to write something that has something to say and could mean something to somebody. That is what I hope my music can do – to move someone and make them feel something. That was a long-winded answer to your question.

WalterTroutWMBF-ToungueOutme. Actually, that was a wonderful answer to my question and it makes me think- because when I speak to people about the blues there is always the element of the humanity and human nature and the idea that the way the songs were written expressed that element of being human. But that doesn’t necessitate that “being human” always implies the negative-there is still the other side of that that can still be “Blues” but not always the down and out kicked to the curb kind of thing.

WT: Sure. You can always write Blues songs that are topical that talk about things happening in the world, things that have happened to friends of yours. I wrote a song on “The Outsider” called “Child of Another Day” and it was all about people I’ve met who I think are sort of living their life stuck in the past and I was trying to present that to people-here’s four different people I have met who I think are sort of stuck and maybe try to not get stuck if you can help it. Look towards tomorrow because yesterday’s dead and gone. Don’t get caught up in it, don’t stop.

me. So a lot of your writing is basically storytelling then?

WT: I think so. I do. And I think I’ve done a lot of writing to the working man, everyday common people and their struggle to find some dignity in this world and to find equality in this world. I’ve done a lot of that. I recorded a song that I wrote with Jeff Healey called “Workin’ Overtime.” I did one called “They Call Us the Working Class but We ain’t Working Anymore”-it’s about that.

WalterTroutWMBF-2me. You have a real connection with the working man…

WT: I feel for them. My Mom was a teacher, my Dad was a carpenter and when I hear certain politicians trying to get out there and say that teachers and firemen and policeman are what’s ruining our economy –it makes me throw up. Teachers are underpaid not overpaid.

me. It sounds like you are coming from a spiritual place…

WT: Yeah! I hope so. Sometimes it comes from a little bit of anger from things I see. “They Call Us the Working Class” was written in 2008, when everything collapsed – that was written with a little anger. The everyday, struggling people getting ripped off by the power elite and not really seeming to have much they could do about it.

me. I wonder too about how musicians struggle!

WT: Well they struggle, but it’s fun too! You know, being an artist, sure it’s a struggle. For me I’ve done 20 albums in 21 years and sometimes it’s a struggle to come up with “do I have anything more to say?” The travel is a struggle sometimes too, but to get up and play and to look people in the face when I am playing and singing to them and seeing that it affects them is the thing that makes my life worthwhile and I feel incredibly blessed to have been given that gift and I work really hard not to ever take it for granted. I know that if I ever lost the ability to do that I’d probably just shrivel up in a ball and fade away. It’s what gives me a purpose.

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me. When you think about how one lives one’s life, that is, to me, a very spiritual practice to put yourself out there, to give to others on a daily basis – you are obviously giving from your soul and your heart and from all these things and your hope is that maybe they take away something that lifts them up a little bit!

WT: I’m not out to depress people I want them to come out of it feeling good and to wake up the next morning and say “wow I feel great this morning that was a really great concert last night and I’m in a good mood and I’m ready to go out and face this struggle.”

 

…and we’re back!

We hope you enjoyed this Flashback Friday feature. Walter Trout’s new album The Blues Came Callin’ is available now at all the usual outlets and on his own website. Walter Trout is a recent liver transplant recipient and will be out of action for a while. His band is out touring with Danny Bryant out front and special guest, Walter’s son, Jon Trout also. Please support the band out there on the road keeping Walter Trout’s music going while he recovers.

Tour dates can be found here.

danny-jon_usa_tour_2014

 

 

Flashback Friday – Paul Nelson Interview

paul_nelsonAlright kids, it’s time for a flashback. This week we’re flashing back to an interview I did with Johnny Winter’s manager, guitarist, producer, and all-round good guy Paul Nelson. Down And Dirty, the film about Johnny Winter, is debuting this year and Johnny has a new guest-filled album, Step Back, coming out in September. This interview should whet your appetite for more wild Johnny Winter stories and get you ready for Down And Dirty.

At the time of this interview, Paul Nelson had just received a Keeping The Blues Alive award. As it turns out, he has kept Johnny Winter and Johnny’s career alive too, and given us fans more time with the man, the myth, the legend that is Johnny Winter. My utmost thanks go to Paul Nelson who was so generous with his time.

Okay, fire up the Wayback machine and drop us back in 2011…

The Blues Foundation recently announced the 2011 recipients of the Keeping The Blues Alive award. The KBA recipients are chosen by a panel of blues professionals and awarded to dedicated, hard working individuals actively promoting, supporting and documenting blues music worldwide. In the press release, KBA chairman Art Tipaldi said “The recipients of this year’s awards – as with every year – are people and organizations who are an integral part of not only promoting blues music, but of preserving it as well. Their work applies to the business of recorded music, but also to live events, print media, radio and visual broadcasts, and increasingly, the internet.” This year’s winners are from as far from Memphis as Norway and Poland and as close as Mufreesboro, TN.

The winner of the Keeping The Blues Alive award for Manager this year (2011) is Paul Nelson. Paul has been managing Johnny Winter since 2005 and playing guitar in the Johnny’s band even longer. The two met while Johnny was doing sessions for his “I’m A Bluesman” album at Carriage House Studios in Connecticut. Johnny heard and liked Paul’s playing and asked him to write a few songs, one of which became the title song. Johnny liked Paul’s work enough to ask him to play on the songs he wrote, and then a few others on the album.

Around this time, Paul was asked to join Johnny’s touring band and he was thrown head first into the swirling turmoil that was then Johnny Winter’s career. His first gig as a member of the band was supposed to be at Bishopstock Festival in the UK. It was there that Paul got his first glimpse of the paralysis gripping Johnny’s life and consciousness. Johnny suffered from anxiety and was using alcohol, and anti-depressants. His playing had slowly lost its edge, his voice was weakened and off-stage he was detached and zombie-like. Before the Bishopstock gig, which Johnny was headlining, Paul got a call from then manager Teddy Slatus saying that Johnny had fallen asleep on his arm and pinched a nerve. They had to cancel the show. It was one of many missed opportunities and it took Paul no time at all to realize something needed to be done. Paul had managed other artists and saw that management was largely to blame for the stupor in which Johnny existed. When Paul attempted to speak up he was regularly told not to question authority or speak directly to Johnny about what was going on. However, Teddy Slatus had alcohol dependency problems of his own and in a short time Paul became the last remaining voice of reason. He recently told me “I used to have to pick the guy up in my arms and carry him to clinics. The manager was in worse shape than the artist and the artist was a wreck.”

As Paul’s relationship developed with Johnny they were able to discuss the situation. Johnny grew to respect Paul’s opinion and together they began to reclaim Johnny’s legacy and make him relevant in the 21st Century. Johnny has gone from playing a few weeks a year before 2005 to 100-140 shows a year since. The fire and fury have returned to his playing and his voice is once again strong. They have been releasing archival audio recordings with their Bootleg Series CDs and video recordings in the form of two DVDs – “Live In The 70’s” and “Live In The 80’s.” They continue to tour regularly and plans are underway for a new album in 2011.

Paul Nelson has worn many musical hats over the years and was an accomplished guitarist, producer, arranger, writer and manager before he met Johnny Winter. He went to Berklee School of Music and was one of Steve Vai’s first students. Beyond blues Paul is comfortable with rock, funk, jazz, and pop music. His influences range from Albert King to Tommy Bolin including Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, Larry Carlton and Jimi Hendrix. Paul has even written music and played guitar for the WWF’s short-lived XFL Football broadcasts. Thankfully, his many talents and adventures prepared him well to help out his friend and living legend Johnny Winter. Paul Nelson has been integral to Johnny’s reawakening and resurgence. He recently spoke with American Blues News about the sometimes difficult, sometimes funny, often gut-wrenching journey that has brought Johnny and his career back from the abyss.

Paul Nelson guitar EDIT“I was doing lots of session work and touring with tons of artists from The Temptations to Halifax. It was during sessions at the Carriage House that I met Johnny. I was recording for the XFL – that football league the WWF was putting together. I was in there writing and Johnny heard me playing because Johnny was waiting to come in there next. Then he asked me to write songs for the new album and then he asked me to play on the new record, then ‘do you want to tour?’ and things just started developing and that’s how I started out with him.”

Blues and blues rock players were a big part of Paul’s development as a musician. “I used to listen to Johnny’s stuff like crazy. You had to have some blues in your playing, and it was blues rock so you listen to him, Aerosmith, and guys like Jeff Beck and Tommy Bolin.” Paul probably never imagined he’d be in a touring blues band one day, let alone with one of his heroes but he seems to be enjoying it quite a bit especially now that Johnny is healthy; playing and singing his best in years. “Oh, it’s great,” he said. “And now he’s mixing it up. He’s healthier and playing blues and rock. It’s great playing with him. We’re playing stuff from the old days and new ideas. His singing is great. He’s strong. That’s all I wanted to see”

Our conversation turned to the recent revelation that Johnny is finally off methadone and Paul revealed the inspiration behind his involvement in getting Johnny’s life back on track. He saw a fellow musician and human being in need and knew something had to be done. “As a musician I though ‘wow, I could’ve gone that route.’ I thought, if I was in that position, what would I want done for me? If I was in his position with everything that had happened and I wasn’t able to say or do anything to get out of it, how would I want somebody to save me from that? First thing, is as a guitarist, get a manager with knowledge of music, finance and managing. You know, somebody that knows the music. I think that’s why we get along so well, because we’re both musicians. It’s another strange thing that his manager is in his band. That doesn’t mean that while we’re playing I’m taking calls but sometimes it’s been pretty close!”

Johnny Winter-1For many years, from 1994 or so until a few years in to the 21st century, Johnny was off the radar. He seemed to disappear. “That was old management’s fault,” Paul says. “Johnny had the vices but management just wasn’t strong enough. They didn’t say no.”
It was at the dawn of the internet and information on Johnny was hard to find. Paul sees that as a blessing in disguise. “It was a good thing because while he was going through the bad years, the down years, the internet really hadn’t taken root. So, for some reason the timing worked out perfectly. Just when he started getting better Youtube started getting popular.” He adds, “A lot of the way he was wasn’t getting recorded. But I saw the phones starting to come into the shows and I thought ‘uh-oh, we gotta fix this quick or it’s going to be permanent.’” Fan-filmed video could make it hard to rebuild the reputation of the ailing icon, but it could possibly help too and that was not lost on Paul. “Every new step along the way in his career, whether it was musical changes or whatever, it was all being recorded. That was huge thing.”

Prior management under Teddy Slatus was not as concerned for Johnny Winter’s well-being and public perception. They didn’t stand up to or for Johnny and no one in the organization was willing to say what needed to be said. “I’m sure the same thing happened in the Elvis camp, Michael Jackson camp, or the Beach boys with Brian Wilson or the Ozzy camp. I just went in fresh and asked ‘what’s wrong with you?’ He (Johnny) says, ‘what do you mean what’s wrong with me? Nobody asks what’s wrong with me.’ I said, ‘this is bad’”

After a while, Paul’s questioning and caring led to respect between the two musicians. “I would say things before I was manager, actually working under management, and just say ‘how long are you going to do this?’ He ruled the roost. I got him off the alcohol, the anxiety pills he was taking and I was determined to get him off that methadone.” Paul’s quest to get Johnny off the drug finally came to fruition this year. Johnny was on it for almost 40 years as a treatment for his infamous heroin addiction in the early 70’s. It was a tough battle for Paul and an important milestone for both him and Johnny, even if Johnny didn’t know it was coming. “I knew if he knew what was going on it wouldn’t have happened, but I took it upon myself to go against doctors wishes. ‘No, he should stay on this. Certain people just need to be on it forever.’ I’m like, okay, whatever. I’m getting him off this. The doctor thought we were going to diminish it a little but I was lowering and lowering it. But, I had to monitor it so I needed a doctor to monitor him to see what effects there were.”

Paul slowly started to see the positive changes in his friend as they traveled around the globe together taking Johnny’s music to the masses once more. He elaborates “Being able to have a one on one relationship like that you can see the changes and get him off it slowly. It’s not like the clinics that say ‘Okay you’re down to this, goodbye’ and you go through withdrawals and it’s a revolving door. I knew it wouldn’t work that way, so I dwindled it off.” He adds, “Another thing too is that the rest of the world didn’t know what was going on because they’d come back and tell him!”

Things are definitely looking up on the business side too. “Now he’s in great shape and we’ve got a record deal. His whole business was a mess. No DVDs, no CDs. Interviews were non-existent. At a point when everyone was being retrolized, he wasn’t. He’s an icon. Now there’s tons of stuff. I’m finding old archival footage; stuff found in attics; some held by old disgruntled employees.” There is indeed an influx of Johnny Winter products including archival CDs & DVDs and an instructional DVD.

101_0492There’s also the book, Raisin’ Cain, by Mary Lou Sullivan. “You know what a pain in the ass that book was?” Paul asked. If the tribulations of the last 15 years were any indication, it was probably quite an exasperating undertaking. He continues, “She was fired by the old management. She started digging a little and got information on them. They kept telling her they wanted to read it and she said no. So he (Teddy Slatus) told Johnny’s wife that Mary Lou had the hots for Johnny. So then it stopped. I knew Mary Lou was trying to put the book out on her own so as soon as I took over I told her ‘We’ve got to get this book going. You spent too much time on it.’”

Even with new management there was still an important issue to resolve. Johnny’s wife still believed that Mary Lou was after Johnny. Paul said “I told her (Mary Lou) ‘you’ve got to get together with his wife and work this out.’ So I took them both to lunch and sat them at the table. The wife didn’t want to do go and I said we’ve got to do this. There’s been too much time spent and now that he’s healthier we can have an ending to the story. They had no ending before. And Mary Lou didn’t even know I was taking him off the stuff (methadone). She only interviewed him until 2003 and he was still alcoholic then. That’s why she’s running around now saying ‘oh yeah, we sat down with a bottle of vodka…’ He hasn’t had a drink in years!”

Paul found himself having to do damage control all over again and he wished Mary Lou Sullivan had taken the time to update the narrative. “I said you’ve got to take it easy. He’s not like that anymore. New stuff was developing. That book is like a sugar-coated tip of the iceberg. Right after Johnny finished her interviews he was still out of it. When she came back in I said ‘I know you have all the notes and stuff but you’ve got to interview some of those people again. There’s other stuff going on here.’ And she never did. The stuff going on behind the scenes while she was wrapping it up was insane – the firing of the manager, Johnny kicking it, the alcoholic stupor.”

Teddy Slatus drank heavily and eventually it led to his accidental death. In a drunken state one night, he fell down the steps at home and died in the ambulance. By the time of Slatus’ death, Paul Nelson was on his way to rebuilding Johnny’s career and reputation. He now had Johnny’s cooperation. “Johnny, by then, was just totally fed up. All the stuff we had found out – the attorneys, the records, all that stuff was just crazy. So much more than what’s in the book. But he’s doing great now and it’s all good. As far as managing goes, it’s a great situation we have. We live close together, we’re in the same band, we travel together.”

When Paul speaks about his accomplishments with Johnny, it all sounds so simple. “I just made sure that every aspect of his home life and life on the road was taken care of – from finances, to drugs, to his relationship at home.”

It’s that kind of attitude and selflessness that led Paul to be this year’s recipient of the Keeping The Blues Alive award for management. Paul comments, “I never thought I would get this award. I wasn’t going for it. I thought, wow, that’s pretty wild. The guy that called me from the Blues Foundation said the guys that get it never expect it and the ones that think they earned it never do. I didn’t even think about it but it’s pretty nice.” It is obvious that Paul cares very much about Johnny personally and professionally. He is thrilled to have Johnny healthy and happy.

101_0494Many of us have probably been wondering if Johnny still has it. For several years, the audio and video making the rounds did not pain a pretty picture of Johnny’s withered abilities. Music fans everywhere were skeptical about going to a Johnny Winter show. Paul has gone above and beyond on many occasions to make sure Johnny is healthy, playing well and giving people exactly what they came to see and hear. He shared one such story with American Blues News. He looked back with amusement at what had to be immensely frustrating and daunting at the time. “The confidence had to be built back up with all the promoters. One time, when I had first taken over and I fired Teddy Slatus, Johnny had a gig in Texas that was three weeks away. It was a run of shows for concerts that had been cancelled due to health and the old management. Here I come along, fire the management, fire accountants, fire all these other people, handle lawsuits against him for all this other crap, handling all that and his wife calls me up ‘Johnny fell and broke his hip.’ I go over there, pick him up, put him in the car, drive him to the hospital. He weighed about 90 pounds – now he’s around 150 something – but he’s about 90 pounds, sitting there in the hospital. ‘I’m sorry’ he says ‘here you just took over, I broke my hip, these shows are so important.’ I said ‘This is it.’ So, I talked to the doctors and said ‘look, he sits down while he plays.’ The doctor says ‘when are these shows?’ I say three weeks. He says ‘well, don’t cancel anything yet.’ I said ‘What?’ The doctor says “how does he get to these shows?’ I said ‘He goes in a wheel chair to the bus, from the bus to the airport and on to the flight. He sits in his seat.’”

“The doctor says ‘Is there a wheel chair all along?’ I said ‘yeah, we wheel him to his seat. He gets off the plane, we put him in a wheel chair and he goes to the show.’ (ed. note – Johnny had broken his hip previously forcing him to be seated on stage) The doctor says, ‘Well, he can do those shows. He’s just going to be sitting down. He’ll spend 3 days in the hospital, then we’ll send him for rehab and he’ll be walking in 12 days.’ I said ‘Are you kidding me?’ I go to Johnny’s room and he’s saying ‘I’m so sorry, you take over, I’m happy with the way things are going, I see progress, it’s great and I know these shows are important. You know I feel so bad you had to cancel the shows.’ I’m just looking at him. He says ‘you did cancel the shows right?’ ‘No.’ He says ‘What!? What do you mean? I can’t go. Are you insane?’ I said to him, ‘Think about it. You’ll be sitting down all day. The doctor tells me you’ll be here for 12 days. That’s perfect.”

Johnny would be able to play the shows, but nothing is ever as easy as it sounds. Paul continues, “So this is huge. His mother didn’t know he broke the hip, his brother didn’t know. He said ‘Can I tell anybody?’ I said ‘You don’t tell a soul that you broke your hip.’ This news can’t get out. We had just signed with Piedmont Talent, the booking agent. They didn’t know it was broken. They got a series of gigs and I’m gonna call them up and tell them Johnny Winter is broken in half? We’re going. We go down there. We get there and the second plane doesn’t have a wheel chair. So I’ve got to pick him up and carry him to his seat on the plane. Imagine all the Johnny Winter fans – ‘honey, you’re never going to believe this. There’s some guy carrying Johnny Winter in his arms down the aisle of the plane’ I carried him to Texas.”

Paul laughs but he wasn’t too happy at the time, and, he continues “It gets worse! I roll him in to the back of the club. I didn’t want any pictures of him in the wheel chair. I covered up the wheel chair with some black cloth, he’s sitting at a table and it looks like a regular lounge chair. Even his brother walks in and doesn’t know he’s in a wheel chair with a broken hip. So now I’m wondering how in the hell am I going to get him on stage? It’s the first show, old manager’s gone, Johnny’s healthy – he was already playing and singing great, he was off all this stuff – so I knew all I had to do was get him out there, but he had to look healthy. I had a guy working with us sit in the front row. This is at soundcheck, so I said, I’m going to sit in Johnny’s chair. I screamed to the houselight guy ‘When I say GO shut off all the lights in the house.’ He says ‘Okay, I gotta we gotta notify somebody…’ I said ‘just for a second! I’m going to count to 15 – the time it would take to get Johnny from the side of the stage to his chair.’ I told our guy in the front row to let me know if you can see anything at all. So they turn off the lights, I walk to the stairs, down the steps and back up again and ask ‘what did you see?’ he didn’t see anything, it was pitch black. ‘I said that’s it! That’s how we’re going to get Johnny up to the stage. We’ll pretend there’s a power failure in the auditorium, I’m going to run him up there, carry him in my arms and no camera will see me and I’ll place him in the chair. You see, previously they had said there were curtains in front of the stage but they said we couldn’t use them because they had Budweiser advertisements on them.”

“Come show time – remember, I’ve got to time this right – I’m going to run out there with him, those lights gotta come on when he’s there. So, the band’s playing the introductory music, the lights go off, I grab Johnny, pick him up – he’s like ‘What the hell!?’ – and I run up the stairs, I put him in the chair. I go to run off and they turn the lights back on! So I jumped behind the chair and hid behind his chair for the whole show. On stage!” Paul chuckles. “Edgar walks out to jam. He’s looking at me like, do I play now? I’m giving everybody cues from behind the chair because I don’t want anybody to know Johnny was lifted. Then the Mayor comes out and wants to give him the fucking key to the city, looking at me behind the chair like ‘do I do it now?’ I’m like, yeah just stretch. Everybody’s looking behind Johnny for this person who’s ‘not there.’”

“So, the show goes through. I’m thinking how do I get him out of here? So I’m signaling, going kill the lights, kill the lights! So they kill the lights and I run him off. Then I look at the press for the show and it was ‘Johnny Winter back with a vengeance’ and as if by magic no one can figure out how Johnny appeared on stage. It was poof! And then he was gone.” Paul laughs. “They didn’t know how the Hell he got off stage.”

Paul Nelson BilltownSo that was the start of Paul Nelson’s career as Johnny Winter’s manager. Johnny was wondering what he got himself in to. Paul remembers “Johnny says ‘is this how it’s going to be?’ I said yep, we’re doing it. And we’re going to use the music that got you into this situation to get you out. The music is going to be your exercise – walking to hotels. And then I piled on the gigs. I piled them on! He was doing two weeks a year now he’s doing 100 to 140 a year. He also needed it for the income – he needed to pay for all that stuff to get fixed and he needed it for his own health. He was sitting around turning to mush. But nobody ever knew he broke his hip! And it’s not in the book.”

Ever since, Paul has guided Johnny’s career and legacy upward and onward and the hard work is paying off. Johnny Winter is back in the magazines, playing high profile festivals like Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival and The Allman Brothers’ annual Wanee Festival in Florida. There are official archival recordings readily available reminding everyone what a treasure Johnny’s music was and is. Above all, Johnny is healthy and happy and the blues world is recognizing the hard work Paul put into the success. Paul says “You think back and say maybe I did take that extra step but I had to. You don’t think. You’ve got to do those things. You have to make on the spot judgments on his behalf and you do as much research as you can to make sure he’s safe, doesn’t get hurt, his career isn’t tainted. He looks like a pro coming in and out and you just do it. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”

Thanks to Paul and Johnny’s hard work, cooperation and determination long time fans, skeptics and newcomers can now feel confident when they buy a ticket for a show. Johnny will be there, he’ll be healthy and he’ll be blowing the roof off the joint with his inimitable style of rockin’ blues. Congratulations to Paul Nelson for receiving this year’s Blues Foundation Keeping The Blues Alive award.

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