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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Fresh Biscuits! Dudley Taft – Screaming In The Wind CD Review

Dudley TaftDudley Taft

Screaming In The Wind

American Blues Artist Group

Dudley Taft has been a member of hard rock bands Sweetwater and Second Coming. He sounds like a rocker convert to the blues in love with Robin Trower, but he has been getting a lot of play on B.B. King’s Bluesville on SiriusXM since his new CD Screaming In The Wind came out in May. Taft dug into the history of the blues for his lead single and mined an old tune called “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” by Skip James. Taft’s gravelly voice and meaty riffs convert this old time number into something the Post-Grunge Zombie Generation can sink their teeth into.

Title track “Screaming In The Wind” traverses a dreamy Trower-esque landscape after a lonesome Hendrix style intro and riff. The vocal effects give the song a spooky ambiance to match the topic; the guitar tones and layers call to mind a Victorian era autumn forest, thick with fog and rich with the eerie din of a thousand forest dwellers.

For Screaming In The Wind, Dudley Taft was joined in the studio by Reese Wynans on organ, John Kessler on bass, Jason Patterson on drums, and Grammy winning producer Tom Hambridge. Hambridge has become the go-to guy for artists like Buddy Guy, Joe Louis Walker, George Thorogood, and James Cotton. Hambridge knows how to get the best out of the artists and his songwriter’s ear helps mold the tunes. His ear and Taft’s obvious skills make a powerful combination.

Dudley Taft has a knack for making the music fit the lyrics; he doesn’t over-play and appreciates the value of well-crafted arrangements. His playing can remind you of everyone from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Jerry Cantrell, but Taft melds them all together, creating a coherent personal style. This is not a straight blues album by any means, but it has enough blues style and spirit to count it. Screaming In The Wind is a diverse construct, with a tight band, skillful performances, and hot guitar licks that will keep you coming back.

Find Dudley Taft on tour this year:

Date Event Location
Jazzbones Tacoma, WA
Highway 99 Blues Club Seattle, WA
Schmölzer Blues Festival Schmölzer, DE
Satyr Blues Tarnobrzeg, PL
Polski Dzień Bluesa Otwock, PL
Blue Note Poznan, PL
Chacharnia Czechowice-Dziedzice, PL

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues

BoCarterIt’s Hump Day once again ladies and gents, this week we take a look at a nice pair of Bo Carter tunes.

Bo Carter had wonderful way with words. Beyond his bawdy compositions, he was a renowned musician, a member of The Mississippi Sheiks, and the first to record the standard “Corrine Corrina.” These two tracks show that Bo really knew how to sweet talk the ladies.

 

 

 

“Please Warm My Weiner”

“Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me”

Fresh Biscuits! Ronnie Earl – Good News CD Review

RonnieEarlGoodNewsCDCoverRonnie Earl

Good News

Stony Plain Records

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters new disc Good News, on Stony Plain Records, is out today. Ronnie Earl won Best Instrumentalist Guitar at the 2014 Blues Music Awards in Memphis on May 8, 2014 – pretty good for a guy who started playing guitar at the age of 20. His musical life was changed by Muddy Waters and eventually so was his name. Apparently Muddy could never remember Ronnie’s original surname “Horvath.” Ronnie changed his last name to “Earl” as a tribute to the great Earl Hooker. Ronnie Earl joined Roomful Of Blues in 1979, made a few solo albums in the 80’s and went solo full time with the Broadcasters in 1988. The band has changed lineups over the years, but the lineup on Good News, featuring Jimmy Mouradian on bass, Dave Limina on organ, and Lorne Entress on drums, has been playing together for over a decade and it shows.

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters recorded their eighth Stony Plain album, Good News, over December 20th & 21st, 2013 at Wellspring Studios in Acton, MA. They invited some friends to join including vocalist Diane Blue, Detroit guitarist Nicholas Tabarias, and guitarist Zach Zunis of the Janiva Magness band. Together, they turned out a soulful, spiritual, uplifting record, just as the title suggests. Good News starts off fast, rolling south on the tracks toward Mississippi. “I Met Her On That Train” recalls “Mystery Train” but mixes in a dash of Tennessee Two-stepping Folsom Prison boogie. Dave Limina digs deep, taking us to the clubs on Saturday and church on Sunday. Guests Zach Zunis takes the first guitar solo of the disc – a classy move by Mr. Earl – and keeps us moving southbound with some countrified licks. Nicholas Tabarias takes the second guitar solo; playing licks that would make Carl Perkins and Scotty Moore smile, and the inimitable Mr. Earl takes the third solo of the disc. All the solos add to the song, but Ronnie Earl’s exquisite touch on rhythm guitar makes the song. He plucks out a lone bass note followed by fast moving chorded riffs on the high strings that keep the tune moving like a steam train fireman stoking the coal.

The title Good News celebrates Sam Cooke’s album, Ain’t That Good News, released 50 years ago in 1964. After getting arrested down South in 1963, Cooke was inspired to write the song, “Change is Gonna Come.” Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters also pay tribute by covering the song on Good News. They invited vocalist Diane Blue to put her stamp on the track and she sings it with power and conviction. As the song progresses and picks up energy, Mr. Earl punctuates Diane Blue’s pleas with aggressively strummed outbursts that capture the defiance of the civil rights movement and the urgency that comes from knowing you might have to bring on the change yourself. This is a powerful rendition of “Change Is Gonna Come” and is not to be missed.

On “Blues for Henry,” a song co-written with Hubert Sumlin, Mr. Earl leans into the bent notes and squeezes them for all they’re worth. He exercises perfect control without sounding like he’s trying. He wrenches your guts like your grandma died and makes you smile like you just found a puppy. He is precise even when he seems on the edge of becoming unglued. Listening to him play can be an exercise in frustration for guitar players because he is just that good. “In The Wee Hours” is another song full of Earlisms on guitar that will make you shake your head. Zach Zunis admirably sets up with master, playing a superb solo of his own but Mr. Earl now owns this Junior Wells classic. He captured in music the dreamy, transitory consciousness found in the wee hours as sleep beckons and the mind struggles to resist the call.

“Time To Remember” features delicate piano and captivating organ playing from Dave Limina. “Marje’s Melody” is a melancholy guitar workout with Nicholas Tabarias again sitting in and taking the second solo. “Puddin’ Pie” brings up the energy level with a strutting shuffle, as does the Gospel march of the title track “Good News.” The album closes with “Runnin’ In Peace” featuring words written by The band’s friend Ilana Katz Katz who was only 50 feet from the first Boston marathon bombing on April 15, 2013. Ilana and Ronnie Earl wrote the song together and Diane Blue again put her heart into the words as vocalist as she pleads for a higher power to save us from ourselves. Ronnie’s guitar has an edgier tone with a little more gain than usual and his torrid playing captures the heartbreak, confusion, and sorrow of the Boston Marathon bombing. It is beautiful music born of an ugly tragedy.

I’ve spent a lot of time with this disc since it came in the mail. It arrived the night before Mr. Earl’s scheduled performance at the Western Maryland Blues Festival. I waited for the three hour ride to check it out and I was only marginally disappointed. I’m not a big fan of female vocalists – it’s a character flaw, I know – and the albums featured vocalist is female. The Good News is that I’ve since gotten over it with this new disc. The amazing news was Mr. Earl’s Saturday evening performance. It was stunning, it was sublime; it was any superlative you can imagine. He is one with his instrument and coveys his heart and soul through his playing. He is pure inspiration. Since then, Good News has been played a dozen times or more. I’ve lost count. I hear the notes and see Mr. Earl in my mind’s eye, on stage, hands moving in tandem, face contorted by ecstatic conscription, kneeling in genuflection to the higher power of the music that seems to flow through him. I feel that joy and hear it all throughout Good News. Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters has captured its spirit and presented it to you as the Good News you’ve been waiting for. Wait no longer. And if this band turns up anywhere within a day’s drive make sure you get there.

 

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters have some shows coming up this summer:

Sat June 28 Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Saratoga Springs, NY  1:20pm
Thur July 3 Payomet Performing Arts  Truro, MA  8:00pm
Sat July 26 PA Blues Festival  Palmerton, PA 6:15pm
Sat Aug 2 Jonathan’s  Ogunquit, ME 9:00pm
Fri Aug 15 Evanston Space Chicago, IL 8:00pm
Sat Sept 6 The Knickerbocker  Westerly, RI 8:00pm
Fri Sept 12 Natick Center for the Arts  Natick, MA  8:00pm
Fri Oct. 17 The Newton Theater Newton, NJ 8:00pm

Fresh Biscuits! New Releases For June 17, 2014

There are several blues releases this week. At Blues Biscuits we are striving to be your go-to resource for new release information, dates and itineraries. We hope you’ll check in every week and see what’s fresh from Blues hearth.

This week’s batch features a stunning new set from Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, and retrospective sets from Too Slim & The Taildraggers, Joe Louis Walker, and Long John Baldry.

Fresh Biscuits  –  6/17/14

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters – Good News

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The Nighthawks – 444

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Mannish Boys – Wrapped Up And Ready

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Vaneese Thomas – Blues For My Father

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Andy T – Nick Nixon Band – Livin’ It Up

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Alastair Greene Band – Trouble At Your Door

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Colleen Rennison – See The Sky About to Rain

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Joe Louis Walker – The Best of the Stony Plain Years

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Long John Baldry – The Best of the Stony Plain Years

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Too Slim and the Taildraggers – Anthology

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Friday The 13th Hoodoo Moon Playlist Re-cap

This past Friday the 13th, with the Honey Moon about to loom large in the night sky, we hosted a Facebook Blues Jam. We jammed your news feed with thirteen songs of superstition, bad luck, and trouble. 

What blues songs had you moaning in the moonlight? 

Here’s a quick recap of ours:

1. Albert King – Born Under A Bad Sign

2. Albert Collins – The Moon is Full 

3. Beck, Bogert & Appice – Black Cat Moan

4. R.L Burnside – Bad Luck and Trouble

5. Samantha Fish – I Put A Spell On You

6. Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child

7. Willie Dixon – Seventh Son. I just realized “Seventh Son” was the seventh song.

8. Matt Hill – Hellz Bellz. Matt now plays in his wife Nikki Hill‘s band.

9. Moreland & Arbuckle – The Devil And Me

http://vimeo.com/68025058

10. Robert Johnson – Me And The Devil Blues (Take 1)

11. Gov’t Mule with Derek Trucks & Oteil Burbridge – Superstition

12. Muddy Waters & Junior Wells – My Mojo Working 

13. Howlin’ Wolf – Evil 

Throwback Thursday | Ronnie Baker Brooks Interview

A few years ago I had the chance to interview Ronnie Baker Brooks for American Blues News. it was part of our Father’s Day special feature. ABN has since become dormant and the expansive content has been lost to the ether. Since Father’s Day is this weekend, I thought it would be a perfect time to throwback to that feature and this interview with one of the leading sons of the blues: Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of Lonnie Brooks.

Ronnie Baker Brooks-1Ronnie is on tour this summer with his own band and as a special guest with Big Head Todd & The Monsters. Tour dates can be found here: RBB Tour Dates. I’ve been fortunate too see Ronnie’s show and he always leaves it all on the boards. He is a veteran showman, skilled entertainer, and ace guitarist. His show will leave you wanting more.

Now let’s get in the WABAC machine and check in with Ronnie Baker Brooks circa spring 2011…

JK What was it like growing up with your Dad (Lonnie Brooks) as a famous blues musician?

RB When I was younger I didn’t realize what impact Dad had. He was just Dad around the house. Me and my brother Wayne used to just try to emulate Dad around the house with brooms, spoons, pots & pans, and when I went to see my Dad play at the Chicago Blues Fest when I was around 11 or 12 years old, that’s when I was like “Wow! This is not normal.” It was something special and something different. I didn’t really, really embrace it until I got on the road with him after I graduated high school. That’s when I realized it was so special.

JK Did you go out with him as a kid accompanying Dad or as a musician?

RB Well, I went out with him on weekends from around age 14 to 18. I would carry amplifiers, set up the stage, tune guitars, and sometimes he would let me play one song a night. Then when I graduated from high school I went out full time doing that – being a roadie. Whatever the band needed; I sold albums – back then it was vinyl – I set up the stage, drove the van, everything they needed and my Dad would reward me by letting me play one or two songs, then two led to four, then four led to one set and one set led to being in the band.

Ronnie Baker Brooks-2JK When did you start playing guitar?

RB I started playing and my Dad started teaching me when I was six. My first time on stage in front of an audience I was nine, at a club called Pepper’s Hideout.

JK What was that like for you?

RB That was weird, man, because we always played with Dad at home and I felt pretty comfortable. It really kept me out of trouble because I grew up in the ghetto on the south side of Chicago. It was kinda rough over there. Being in the house playing music with my Dad kept me away from trouble and I really, really enjoyed it. I looked forward to it. Just to hang with my Dad and for him to give me that attention through music. I started playing on stage, my first time was at Pepper’s; it was packed and I had a mood ring on and it was turning all kinds of colors. My Mom was there with me and she was like “calm down, calm down. Just play like you do at home.” When she said that, it calmed me down and I got up on stage with him and the people didn’t believe it was me playing. They thought my Dad was playing so he held up his hands. When they saw it was me playing, they threw money on stage. I made more money than my Dad that night and I thought I was a superstar! I thought I made it, man.

JK So did you want to go back the next night?

RB Yeah! But my Dad said “we can’t have kids coming in there all the time.” It was a special occasion, like a birthday and coming home party. He had gone to Europe for six weeks or something like that and it happened to be around the time of my birthday. But, he said if I learned more songs he’d get me up there again. That was my big splash into the music business. I did some local TV commercials and I thought I was famous. It went to my head. Then I decided to quit and play basketball because my Dad said “You can’t do both.”  You know, most of my friends, I didn’t have any that were playing music. Most guys I knew playing music were my Dad’s age. Most of my friends were playing basketball or football – some kind of sport. I told my Dad, I want to play basketball. Well, he said “You can’t do both. If you want to be good you’ve got to concentrate on one or the other.” He later said I broke his heart when I decided to play basketball (laughs). He didn’t tell me until I got back into music. But my Dad would play until 4 am, get up and take me to my games at 9 am, watch me play, take me to lunch, take a nap and he go back out to work that night. I had no idea he was thinking “he broke my heart.”

JK That’s a good Dad right there. He let you pursue what you wanted to do.

RB I’m glad I did it too. Basketball taught me teamwork that I apply to my band today. Everybody can’t have the ball at the same time. We all have our roles to play to make this work.

Brooks Family DynastyJK There are a lot of parallels between a sports team and a band; it’s everybody working together.

RB That’s right. Dad didn’t tell me until I was back into music and back out on the road – “You know you broke my heart.” I said “what do you mean?” He said, “When you decided to play basketball. And I’m so glad you’re back into music, but you’ve got to prove it to me this time.” He didn’t pay me. He took a lot of grief for taking me on the road. We were riding in the van and his band members were saying, “Man, we don’t need him. Why’s he out here?” But I wasn’t getting paid. I was out there just to help Dad.  So I had to earn everybody’s trust. I loaded the van, tuned guitars; I was the roadie, the gopher guy. I did it so well that they depended on me. When I wasn’t there, they’d be asking “Hey, where’s Ronnie?” I didn’t realize he was preparing me for my own band. It was to prepare me to get my own career going. Everything from calling hotels, setting up load-in times, advancing the shows – it just prepared me. And I thank my Dad for that.

 JK It sounds like he taught you the whole trade.

RB Yes, he did.

JK Were the guys openly hostile or just griping?

RB Some were, man. I had to earn it. And my father was always saying “Look, I don’t want anybody saying you got anything because I’m your Dad.” I had to prove it, and not only to the band, but to the audience too. I didn’t want anyone to say “He got this because of his Dad.” And, I didn’t my father to feel responsible for carrying me. I didn’t want that pressure on my father. So, I had to do three times the work to earn it. I still feel like that sometimes.  I feel like the pressure is on, being his son I still feel like I have to do that for the music. Compared to rock & rollers, rappers and hip-hoppers, we have to work harder to prove we’re justified in being here.

JK I would think it would be harder to convince the audience. They might be thinking “Oh, it’s just his kid.”

RB You know man, I got that coming up. “What do you know about the blues? You don’t know no blues.” This was before Jonny Lang and Derek Trucks and all those guys getting those good contracts at a young age.  When I was coming up it was “No, he don’t know nothing about the blues. What’re you talking about blues?” It made me dig in that hole a little harder and I did my homework and learned about all the previous blues musicians I could – Muddy, John Lee Hooker, I was listening to the raw stuff too like Son House and Lightnin’ Hopkins, and I was feeling it. But I always had to prove it. Koko Taylor, Eddy Clearwater, Son Seals, Luther Allison, they all said “Do this. You are the future. You’ve got to keep this music alive.” There were a few though that were like “Put that thing down! You don’t know blues.” And they weren’t giving out contracts like they are now.

Ronnie Baker Brooks Bluestock-1JK Jonny Lang, Derek Truck, Joe Bonamassa – they all have something in common which is that they’re white. Younger people like you, Bernard Allison, Shemekia Copeland and so on get the interest from the blues labels but Trucks and Lang and the others get the interest of the big labels like Sony. Is that a cultural thing or is it just that the business doesn’t see you as a viable product? They’d rather sign Jay-Z and sell him to the black kids.

RB There you go. It boils down to money. The companies that put big money into an artist want to see it come back and it’s got to be a no-brainer. There are many great musicians out there deserving of that kind of attention but it comes down to money.  In America, if you see something you can relate to you’ll support it. If they see a black kid playing blues, they think “Ah, I don’t know about blues.” But if they see some hip-hop, that’s the thing in their neighborhood. They can see themselves doing that. That’s the ticket out. They see them making money and in the ghetto you don’t want to be reminded of the tough times. They don’t want to hear about blues. But you know what, it’s an educational process.  A lot of my friends who would’ve been teasing me about it back then love it now. You have to go through some of it maybe to understand it or enjoy it. Now they say, “Oh, now I know what they’re talking about.” Some of them come to my shows and tell me “I thought the blues was crying in your drink but you’re having fun!” It’s a hard thing to get across. I really believe that with the right African-American artist who had the chance, it would help the African-American kids back into the music. With Jonny Lang, Derek Trucks, & Joe Bonamassa the white kids see themselves so they think “I can do that.” Like “Mom, can I get a guitar like Jonny Lang?” You know? So they can relate quicker to them than they could me because they see themselves but it’s getting better and I’ll tell you what, I’m glad anybody listens to this music. No matter what color, how old or whatever, if we get one fan at a time I’m happy. If Derek Trucks gets 1,000 fans I hope they investigate more and find out about others. But that’s how it is. It’s been that formula for a long time. Eric Clapton and the British Invasion did the same thing for Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. It took the Stones and those guys to bring that music back here for the people to appreciate it.

JK Yeah. It’s ridiculous.

RB Yeah. But I’m not the one who started this; I’m just out in it. Hopefully we can get past the barriers that our music inherited.

Ronnie Baker Brooks - Bluestock-2JK Do the people you grew up with like blues music now?

RB They love it now man. Especially when they come out to the shows. Plus, they don’t want to listen what they’re kids are listening to. Some of the people that teased me come looking for backstage passes now and want to hang. So, it’s weird. I’m just glad I was exposed to it early fro my father and absorbed it. Even today I think back to when I was first exposed to it at such an early age and I’m grateful for that.

JK Does your Dad still tour?

RB A little bit but not as much as he used to. He’s 77. Back when I was with him we’d do 250 to 300 dates a year. But it’s changed a bit. He doesn’t have gigs during the week like he used to. Dad is at an age where they can’t sell him the gig like they can me, you know like “this can really help your career.”

JK He doesn’t have to take gigs. I can’t believe he’s 77. I would never have guessed that.

RB He doesn’t look 77 and he doesn’t always act 77 (laughs). He’s got a brand new record coming out soon, I don’t know when, but it’s got new material he wrote. I’m really proud of him. The older you get the more difficult it gets. You’ve really got to love it to stay with it for so long. I’m glad to see it and I’m really looking forward to the record being released. It might motivate him to get out there and play more.

JK What about your brother Wayne; he has his own record label?

RB Yeah, he has his own record company. He has a new single out by rapper Twista. He still does his own thing and still plays with my dad when he does shows. We’re all going to get together and play some shows over the summer billed as the Brooks Family.

JK Any chance of a Brooks Family record?

RB I hope so. We’ve talked about it from time to time.

JK Were you and Wayne in your Dad’s band at the same time?

RB Yeah. He came up the same way I did; being a roadie and tech, you know. Dad sent us to blues college, man.

JK Were you one of the band members giving him crap when he came out on the road?

RB (laughs) Well, no. Really I made it easier for him because I broke the ice. He caught it too though. That’s just part of being the boss’s son. You’ve got to prove yourself and pull your own weight.

JK Was there any different audience reaction when both of you were in the band? Audiences can be cynical especially with two sons out there.

RB We didn’t hear any of it. In fact it was kinda the opposite. I’ve had grown men coming to me in tears talking about “It’s great you’re up there with your Dad. I wish I could have that relationship with my father,” you know, that kind of stuff.

JK Was there any sibling rivalry on stage?

RB (Hesitates) Well…yes. Like I said, we’re all competitive. Wayne & I used to play basketball together no one wanted to lose. We’d play cards with Mom & Dad and no one wanted to lose. So, yeah, we have that drive, but we love and respect each other. We would drive each other to be the best we could be.  If you didn’t work at it, it would be exposed, but we all brought our A game and wanted everybody to look good.

JK I’ve noticed in your music there’s some funk and soul influences. Did you deliberately set out to be different from your Dad’s music or do you just feel it differently?   

RB It’s a combination of both. Dad would always tell us to be ourselves. Learn all you can from what B.B.’s done, Albert’s done, but remember, you’re never going to be Albert King. But you can take what they had to offer and make it your own. So that enabled me to be different when I wrote songs. I listen to blues, gospel, soul, R&B, even country music – my Dad used to play country music once in a while – and Wayne and I grew up in the hip-hop era so there’s that too. I try to apply all that to what I do, but I never think this is going to be a blues song or this is going to be an R&B song; it comes out as it is.

JK What’s your guitar set-up like?

RB I have a number of guitar pedals (laughs). But it all boils down to your fingers. Even my Dad always said you’ve got to have your own fingerprint. I use pedals to get different sounds. I’ve got a three piece so I use them to keep it interesting; so every song doesn’t sound the same. But really it’s in the fingers. When Buddy guy sat in with me he played my guitars and amps and sounded just like Buddy Guy. I try to establish that for myself.

Ronnie Baker Brooks - StratJK Do you usually use Strats?

RB On the road, yeah. They’re durable. But I have about 35 guitars. I use a lot of them in the studio and every now and then I’ll take some on the road if it’s a short trip, but some of the Gibsons are delicate. So, I take my two main Strats – the one I call “The Baby” and the other one I call “Champagne.” Those two go on the road.

JK What guitars did your Dad use? He had some guitars that looked like Strats but I couldn’t tell what make they were.

RB He had custom made Strat style guitars by Flynn Guitars, but right now he uses Gibson SGs or the 335.

JK I was surprised to see him playing an SG on the album covers because he had a slinky, trebly tone I wouldn’t normally associate with a Gibson SG.

RB That SG on the front cover of Bayou Lightning was my first guitar. That’s my Gibson SG on there. That was the first professional grade guitar that he bought for me. He got me a cheaper Sears model before he knew I really wanted to play but then he got the SG. Before I went out on stage with him the first time he bought me that SG. Then when I quit to play basketball he took it back! Then he did Bayou Lightning and Turn On The Night with that guitar. I got it back when I returned to the band.

JK what do you have coming up?

RB I’ve got some touring, I’m always writing. I’m getting a record together, either at the end of this year or beginning of next. I’ll be doing some dates with my brothers and father this summer.  I just produced Eddy Clearwater’s record and I produced this group from Holland called The Juke Joints. I did their CD which is out now over there. I’ve been making guest appearances. I’m on a record coming out soon called Living History of Chicago Blues or something like that. It’s got Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, James Cotton, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell, John Primer; a bunch of people from Chicago got together and we did this record. I did my father’s song “Don’t Take Advantage Of Me.” I did that one over and one of my songs over. So, I’ve done everything for everybody else. I also helped Dad with his record. So now it’s time for me to do something for myself.

DSCN1491JK What’s it like for you as a producer to work with Eddy Clearwater or even your Dad? Do they take it well when you assert yourself?

RB Yeah. Actually, they listen to me. They want me to take control. Eddy said “If you want something done you tell me what to do. I trust that you know what you’re talking about.”  For him to give me that, it added a little pressure to be sure about what you want, because you’ve got a legend that you’re telling what to do. That was awesome. That was probably one of the best times of my life; for Eddy to embrace me like that and trusting me. First it was only supposed to be one or two songs and I went over to his house and it just started rolling. Ideas started popping out and everything was flowing really well and he said let’s just do the whole album. I’m honored. That’s something no one can take away from me. It was a great experience. He was the first person other than my father who said “I want you to do this for me and I know you can do it.”

JK What album is that?

RB West Side Struggle on Alligator Records.

JK To sum it up and put it in perspective for us, what do you think is the most important thing you learned from all the time spent playing with your Dad?

RB To be a man – a human being. Treat people how you want to be treated, be professional and do the best you can. You can’t please everyone but you can please yourself by doing your best. That keeps me grounded. You get compliments all the time. There are huge egos out here. You can’t start believing all that stuff and let it get to you. My Dad gave me a firm foundation to build on. That’s the best gift he gave me. He gave me a craft and I embraced it. He never forced us – me or Wayne – to do anything but once we showed him we wanted to do it, he sacrificed so we could do it. I’m very grateful and I feel like I have to carry this on; the family legacy.

My thanks to Ronnie baker Brooks for taking the time to explore his musical pedigree and I hope all you Fathers and Sons out there enjoy Father’s Day 2014.

 

 

Amazon.com: Blues: Prime Music

Amazon Prime launched its new streaming music service for Amazon Prime members. There is a surprising amount of blues music available for streaming. From newer music from Tedeschi Trucks Band & Ana Popovic to classic Robert Johnson sides, Junior Wells, and one that caught my eyes and ears – Fast Fingers by Jimmy Dawkins. Check it out blues fans.

Amazon.com: Blues: Prime Music.

Amazon.com: Blues: Prime Music

Fresh Biscuits! | Royal Southern Brotherhood – heartsoulblood

heartsoulbloodThe new RSB CD heartsoulblood is out today. These guys keep getting better and better,  and they’re prolific too! Since the debut they have put out a live CD/DVD, and Devon Allman, Cyril Neville, Yonrico Scott, and Mike Zito have all put out superb albums of their own, plus, most of the band played on Black Wind Howlin’ – the new Samantha Fish CD. Let’s give bassist extraordinaire Charlie Wooten some love too. He is a master musician.