Holy Moley Biscuiteers! The new releases this past week are a guitar fan’s dream. Buddy Guy is possibly THE Blues guitar player of all time. From acoustic grooves to face melting electric pinwheels of blues jamming joy, Buddy can and has done it all. That’s probably why the usual Blues labels don’t have anything out this week. The album dropped just one day after Buddy’s July 30 birthday and even at 79 years young Buddy strikes fear in the hearts of pretenders to the throne. Born To Play Guitar is an obvious yet perfect title for a Buddy Guy album and he isn’t ready to stop yet. Like the title track says, “I got six strings loaded on my bad machine, show me the money and I’ll make this damn thing scream!” Yeah he will.
Grooveyard Records isn’t afraid of Buddy Guy. They have three new releases by powerhouse guitarists. Jay Jesse Johnson, Craig Erickson, and Bryce Janey all push the blues rock envelope with scorched earth, take no prisoners playing and writing. Warren Haynes is player known for his rough and tumble blues based playing too but this time around he has toned it down and recorded an album of acoustic based performances. His playing is reserved and subdued, offering gracefully delicate passages and and subtle slide licks which weave through the rich tapestry sewn by his conspirators from Railroad Earth. Other guests include Grace Potter and fellow Allmans Marc Quinones and Oteil Burbridge, plus Shawn Colvin and Mickey Raphael.
We put together a short Spotify playlist and featured a few tunes from last week’s new releases as well since not all of this week’s new albums are available on Spotify. The playlist is below the new releases list. Spotify is a great way to sample new music but if you like what you hear, please support the artists and buy the CDs or mp3s. The artists deserve to be paid for their work and streaming royalties are pretty much a joke.Also keep in mind that if you buy a CD from an artist at a show, they make almost twice as much from the sale than if you buy it through a retailer. Support live music and the artists and let’s keep this thing rollin’!
On a lighter note, we hope you find something interesting for your ears! Enjoy.
LEGENDARY AWARD-WINNING BLUES ICON BUDDY GUY TO RELEASE
NEW ALBUM BORN TO PLAY GUITAR ON JULY 31
Buddy Guy, the legendary award winning blues icon, will release his brand new studio album Born To Play Guitar on July 31 via RCA Records. The follow-up to his 2013 double disc release, Rhythm & Blues, which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top Blues Albums chart, Born To Play Guitar is produced by Grammy Award winning producer/songwriter and Buddy’s longtime collaborator Tom Hambridge.
The recent recipient of the 2015 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Buddy Guy’s incredible career spans over 50 years with just as many albums released. Career highlights include seven Grammy Awards, 28 Blues Music Awards, Kennedy Center Honors, NARM Chairman’s Award for Sustained Creative Achievement, Billboard Music Awards’ Century Award for distinguished artistic development, Presidential National Medal of Arts, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to name just a few.
If you know anything about Buddy Guy, you know he was definitely Born To Play Guitar and he still does so in a dazzling manner, regularly shaming players half his age. Buddy is also a consummate showman who draws audiences into his performances and takes them along for an often wild ride. Buddy has been delivering consistently brilliant albums for over 20 years so collect them all!
Happy Hump Day everyone! With the sad news in the Blues world recently, it’s important we celebrate the good times and the true meaning of the Blues, which is of course, Seduction. Sweet, sweet seduction. For a hundred years the blues singers have been seducing mates by boasting of their sexual prowess, directly and through metaphor. They sing of their experiences, what they knew and what they could do, for you, to you, and with you. However, Willie Dixon came along and made this power congenital. That sounds dirty. Yes, Willie (which also sounds dirty) wrote about being born a sexual dynamo. He was so powerful the gypsy woman showed up to warn his mother. I’m not sure what she hoped to accomplish with that. Maybe it was her recommendation to keep him away from the Little Schoolgirls. We’ll probably never know. One thing we do know is that singing about this natural born condition was contagious.
Pretty much everyone has sung this song, even the ladies. Etta James famously adapted the song as “Hoochie Coochie Gal.” Just in case you’re not sure, she’s gonna tell you what it’s all about. Now, since we’re a Blues website we’ll stick to mostly Blues artists but “Hoochie Coochie Man” has been done by rockers like Steppenwolf and the Rolling Stones and jazz masters like Jimmy Smith, to guys like Lou Rawls and Steven Seagal.
Don’t worry, Steven Seagal’s version didn’t make our list, but you might hate one of them just as much! See? You have something to look forward to. You should definitely look forward to a live rendition from Buddy Guy. He messes with the crowd and they deserve it too. Some of them wouldn’t shut up during the quiet intro. We’ve got Muddy Waters doing a version from a 70s TV special, Junior Wells’ studio recording, the man himself Mr. Willie Dixon performing with Stephen Stills, a smoking 1970 live version from The Allman Brothers Band, and Walter Trout laying waste to everything holy with a blazing five-alarm guitar fire.
Since the song made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll” we have to include at least one Rock & Roll version so we’re jumping way off the deep end where Lemmy is dressed in a leather and denim bathing suit and floating in a lounge chair with a Jack & Coke in one hand and a Marlboro in the other reminiscing about his legendary exploits. Yes folks, even Motorhead did a version of “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Don’t make assumptions! Give it a listen. It features the short lived early 80’s line-up with former Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson and is a pretty good Blues jam. Maybe it will seduce you into a life of Rock & Roll sin. Whatever you do, enjoy the rest of your week. Lemmy remind you, there’s still time to throw a Hump into it.
The passing of B.B. King last night has put me in a reflective mood. I’ve never been the biggest B.B. King fan, but I enjoyed his music, respected his achievements, and recognized him as giant among legends. His influence in undeniable and today’s social media feeds are overflowing with tributes to the man, his music, and his spirit. How did a poor boy born into poverty on a cotton plantation get so far and touch so many? What lessons can be learned from the man born Riley B. King? I’m sure there are many more than what I listed, but these five are what I consider the big ones.
1. Adversity can be overcome
B.B. King was born on a plantation in 1925 Mississippi. He died one of the most respected musicians and people in the world. He shared his story countless times and encouraged young musicians everywhere to keep going. He didn’t let bad circumstances prevent him from succeeding. Neither should you.
2. Music is to be shared
Over the course of his career, B.B. King shared his stage with a myriad of performers from all genres of music. He sang with a diverse array people from jazz songstress Diane Schuur to the ultimate Country Outlaw Willie Nelson. One of his biggest hits was performed with a little band out of Ireland called U2. B.B. welcomed all comers to the Blues and was welcomed in turn by everyone else.
3. One note matters
Most guitarists across all musical genres count B.B. King as an influence. All Blues guitarists were influenced by B.B. whether they know it or not. B.B. King is widely regarded as THE Blues guitarist. He didn’t build that reputation on flash. His guitar playing is simple at its core, but ultimately impossible to imitate because so much of B.B.’s spirit went into his playing. He could put more emotion in one note than most players put in 100. They know it, too.
4. Dedicate yourself to your craft and the rewards will follow
B.B. King played 250-300 shows a year for most of his career. Sometimes more. He said he loved the road and spent his life traveling from town to town taking Blues to the people. He spent his life honing his skills, building great bands, and perfecting his shows. His dedication and attention to details set him above the crowd, earned him a satellite radio channel, several TV specials and appearances, myriad awards, and millions of fans.
5. A little humility will get you everywhere
I’ve never heard or seen in print a mean word about B.B. King. Likewise I’ve never heard of B.B. King being anything but humble. His positivity, humility, and welcoming attitude made him not just the King of the Blues but a Good Will Ambassador around the world. He didn’t get that far by being an asshole.
The video below is one of hundreds of examples of B.B. King sharing his stage and music. This time he brings out Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Eric Johnson, and Gregg Allman. As Bandleader and Ringmaster, B.B. makes sure everyone gets the spotlight. Sharing, humility, and good humor are all here. Thank you for showing us the way Mr. King.
This week’s Hump Day installment is a throwback to last Wednesday which was April Fools Day. I was sick as a dog last week and in the midst of fighting a fever so I didn’t get to post it.
Anyway, we’re exploring all the fools in the land of Blues. Since it was Muddy Waters’ 102nd birthday recently and his son Mud Morganfield, along with Kim Wilson, made a great tribute record called For Pops, we have their version of “Still A Fool.” There may be two trains runnin’ but this fool doesn’t know which way to go. Is he cheating? Is she steppin’ out? We may never know, but I’m betting on both. Maybe they’re the two trains running in opposite directions from each other.
Next we have Son Seals. Every guy in the bar knows his woman is anything but faithful. Poor Son has been fooled and fooled again.eventually she’ll shoot him in the face. Too soon? Another Chicago blues man is being played the fool in Linsey Alexander’s “Too Old To Be A New Fool.” Chicago must be full of fickle women. All these fools are in Chicago getting the runaround from woman after woman. Even our last entry, from Mr. Buddy Guy, is a Chicago Blues legend but maybe he’s wising up and doing some fooling of his own. Who’s been foolin’ you baby?
So, as April fools us here in the Northeast into thinking it’s still winter, hopefully some April Fools Blues will warm you up, wherever you are. Don’t get fooled while you’re foolin’ around on Hump Day.
Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson Still A Fool
Son Seals I Think You’re Fooling Me
We’re back again for our weekly CD reviews. This week we’re featuring a reissue, a terrific album from 2014, and a biscuit so fresh you can’t even get it in a store yet. We hope you can check them all out and find something interesting for your ears!
What can you say about Junior Wells that hasn’t already been said? He is a legend truly deserving of his stature. Junior took over the harmonica slot in Muddy Waters’ band when Little Walter left the group. Together with Buddy Guy, Junior Wells made one of the greatest Blues records in history with Hoodoo Man Blues. Junior and Buddy – the original Blues Brothers – worked together on and off until the time of Junior’s death in 1998 but along the way, Junior forged his own style, was a master of the harmonica, and a powerfully passionate singer.
Southside Blues Jam was Delmark’s attempt to capture on tape the feel of Junior’s regular working band that had a weekly Monday night gig at Theresa’s Lounge on Chicago’s South Side. The band you could find weekly at Theresa’s featured a Who’s Who of Blues legends. Buddy Guy and Louis Myers on guitar, Fred Below on drums, Ernest Johnson on bass and the incredible Otis Spann on piano. You almost have to wonder what Junior had to contribute. One listen to Southside Blues Jam and it becomes apparent what Junior had. Beyond the obvious, Junior was a band leader who could draw great performances out of his band. He can be heard directing the soloists, calling out arrangements and tempos, and he lends a tremendous presence to the proceedings.
The first sound you hear on South Side Blues Jam is Otis Spann’s piano. Spann is a master pianist and if you didn’t know it before, you’ll know it by the end of this album. His work provides the harmonic backbone of every song. His triplets, trills, and tangents add flair to the songs and make his a standout performance. “Stop Breaking Down” is the lead track and Junior blows his harp like Hell, fired by the spirit of Otis Spann. Junior emotes the words as much as he sings them, pleading the blues like no other. “I Could Have Had Religion” is another powerful performance. Junior seems to be improvising lyrics about then recent blues tragedies like Howlin’ Wolf’s heart attack, Muddy Waters’ car accident, and the death of Magic Sam. At the end you hear him talking like it was a rehearsal take. The informality in the studio gives it the feel of a true late night blues jam but Junior sang those improvised words with fire and passion. This is the real blues.
Let’s say a few things about Buddy Guy. Buddy is a show-off. He’s a head cutter, a ball buster, and an all-round son of a mother, but when he takes on the role of sideman he checks his ego at the door. His playing here is exceptional, but it never overpowers Junior or any of the other musicians. Buddy plays in the open spaces and never detracts from the main event. Buddy stretches out on “Lend Me Your Love” and hearing it now I can easily understand why guitar heroes like Clapton, Beck, Page, Hendrix, and Vaughan all worshiped at the feet of Buddy Guy.
The original album ends with track eight on this reissue which is a fantastic duet/duel between Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. They share the vocals and go toe to toe with their solos. Their rapport transcends music. It transcends the bandleader/sideman dynamic, and their obvious friendship. It’s nearly eight minutes of pure blues improvisation with Junior, Buddy, and Otis at their finest. If this is what was witnessed on Monday nights at Theresa’s, get my time machine ready, we’re going to hear some Blues!
The reissue features seven previously unreleased tracks, nearly doubling the amount of music on the original album. The biggest difference is the absence of Buddy Guy. Louis Myers handles the guitar work on most of the bonus tracks and proves to be a more than capable foil for Junior Wells. Junior dedicated “Rock Me” to Muddy Waters and Spann pulls out all the stops. Junior whips up a fierce Windy City bluster as he plays his harp in honor of his old boss. “Lexington Movies” is an amusing bit of studio chatter, and the disc closes with an upbeat tune called “Got To Play The Blues” which belies Junior’s fascination with James Brown.
The bonus tracks are less formal than the cuts on the original LP. However, it is during these bonus tracks that you get a feel for Junior as band leader. You can hear him directing Spann and Myers during “It’s Too Late Brother” and on a rambunctious, and thematically very different alternate take of “I Could Have Had Religion” you hear Junior direct the band to do it “funky, low down, and dirty – just like that.” This simple, off the cuff directive from Junior perfectly sums up this record. Funky, low down, and dirty – just like that.
Tinsley Ellis has been making music for a long time. He got started on guitar at a young age and by his teenage years he was already an accomplished musician. Tinsley was born in Atlanta but spent his early years in south Florida. He left Florida behind, returning to Hot ‘lanta in 1975. He formed a band with future Fabulous Thunderbird Preston Hubbard and in 1981 formed a new band called The Heartfixers with Chicago Blues man Bob Nelson. By the time of The Heartfixers’ 1983 platter Live At The Moonshadow, the Washington Post declared Tinsley to be a “legitimate guitar hero.” By the end of the 80s, Tinsley was picked up by Alligator Records and hasn’t stopped. He tours consistently and since starting his own label, Heartfixer Music, he has put out a new album every year. The latest is Tough Love and Tinsley’s scowl on the cover is letting you know he’s not fucking around.
While Tinsley may be deadly serious about his music and his gruff expression on the cover might make you think he’s going to be pissed if you even point at it, Tough Love is a welcoming album. He brings you in right away with “Seven Years.” This funky lead track features slinky, clean lead guitar licks that bring to mind Robert Cray. Ellis’ voice is in terrific form here and throughout the new disc. Somehow it is simultaneously raspy and smooth as he delivers his tales and punctuates them with biting commentary from his guitars.
“Midnight Ride” is a hard strutting shuffle and Tinsley unleashes the beast during his solos, bending the Hell out the high notes until they’re screaming like over-heated tires burning rubber and launching the midnight ride. “Give It Away” is an acoustic guitar based ballad that is an exact match for Tinsley’s older and wiser crooning. “Hard Work” reminds me of J.J. Cale and features plenty of grooving slide licks. Like anything Tinsley does, his slide playing is not a retread of someone else’s ideas. His slide licks are just far enough outside the box to sound fresh. Maybe it’s because he is not primarily a slide guitarist. His approach is different and the results speak for themselves.
Ellis is joined on Tough Love by a core band of Lynn Williams on drums, Steve Mackey on bass, and Kevin McKendree on keyboards. “Should I Have Lied” is a piano ballad that gets set ablaze when Tinsley lets loose on his guitar. It sounds like he’s using a hollow body guitar and it has an earthy tone. Tinsley is a master at matching the guitar to the song. This tune pulls together all his strengths as a singer, player and writer. It is superb. The set closes with another smoldering slow blues called “In From The Cold.” McKandree plays a mellotron, of all things, on this one and it’s a delight. I’m pretty sure they won’t be bringing the ancient behemoth on tour but damn it sounds great on the record. It’s like King Crimson meets B.B. King at John Paul Jones’ house. I don’t know who had the idea, but kudos to Tinsley for running with it. This mix of old sounds spurred some damned fine, fresh-sounding music.
Somehow, Tinsley Ellis manages to consistently present engaging new music. It seems like stepping away from big blues labels and making music for his own record company has freed his spirit. The music of his last few albums has been filled with joy. Anyone wondering if Blues is just depressing songs needs to look no further than Tough Love. Tinsley tells it like it is. Sometimes it’s rough and ugly but sometimes it’s the best thing in the world. It’s all here.
J.P. Soars came to the Blues world from the south Florida heavy metal scene. Soars credits a trip to Memphis and a meeting with the legendary Jessie Mae Hemphill as a life altering experience that eventually led to his career in the Blues. By chance, Soars met cigar box guitar pioneer John Lowe and was smitten by the rustic instruments. Soars traveled to Memphis again as a member of David Shelley and Bluestone for the 2007 International Blues Challenge. The band made it to the top ten. Soars was inspired to form his band, the Red Hots. With the Red Hots, he won the South Florida Blues Society competition two years in a row and represented the group at the IBCs where in 2009 they won. Soars also took home the Albert King Blues Guitar award. The heavy metal kid has mixed influences from Django Reinhardt and Guitar Slim to Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix into a signature sound that capitalizes on his distinct voice as much as his guitar prowess.
J.P. Soars’ latest foray is Full Moon Night In Memphis. The title track and album opener is an urban mixture of Hill Country cigar box guitar, driving rhythms, and howling Mississippi saxophone courtesy of rising star Brandon Santini. Soars’ voice reminds us of a guy who got his start in Memphis all those years ago. J.P. has a Howlin’ Wolf style rasp that serves the music well. It seems to be his natural voice. It doesn’t come across as shtick. It definitely fits with the grinding tones of the cigar box guitars. It’s a match made on the wrong side of the tracks somewhere in Hell and I can’t get enough.
The next tune is called “Back To Broke” and it is one of the catchiest sing-along Blues I’ve come across in a long time. Sometimes you hear a song and think “that’s catchy” but then it disappears as quickly as it arrived. “Back To Broke” will stick with you for a few days. The music is funky and it will get you moving while you join J.P. in singing “I’m back to broke, it ain’t no joke. I had some money in my pocket but it went up in smoke.” Mark “Muggy Doo” Leach adds some Memphis style B3 BBQ sauce to this tasty musical concoction and J.P.’s fingers dance their way through a jaunty solo. It’s refreshing to hear such a happy memorable tune about a dire situation. That’s Blues at its best, right?
“Somethin’ Ain’t Right” is another standout tune. It is built around a monster riff that could have been born in 1970 at Leslie West’s house. I hope Leslie wasn’t home because this thing is ripping up everything in sight. J.P. feeds the monster with freewheeling solos while drummer Chris Peet and percussionist Raul Hernandez propel the beast. Somethin’ ain’t right if you don’t like this song.
Full Moon Night In Memphis isn’t all bluster and blooze. Soars covers a lot of ground. There’s a trip through that other famous Tennessee music city on “The Road Has Got Me Down” which also features the wonderful harp playing of Brandon Santini. J.P. works his full moon magic on Lap Steel and the backup singers croon like the Carter Family. Again, this is a well-constructed song; it feels fun, and uplifting even when the subject would otherwise seem very sad. He’s on the road and missing home but turns it into a sprightly song. Soars seems to have a knack for songwriting. All his prowess as a guitarist would be for naught if he couldn’t wrap great songs around it. Luckily he can. He successfully takes on Latino guitar instrumentals with “Lil’ Mamacita” which features his incredible chops on acoustic guitar, and closes the album with a jump blues number that would make Louis Jordan proud. It’s a Full Moon Night In Memphis and anything can happen. With this new album from J.P. Soars, you can be certain something will.
Happy Hump Day folks. This week we’re looking at a song that has become a staple in Rock and Blues. “Good Morning Little School Girl” has been done by hundreds of artists over the years. It is possibly the most popular song every written about pedophilia. The song was first recorded by John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson in 1937 as “Good Morning, School Girl.” In true blues fashion the tune is borrowed and in this case, the melody is from Son Bonds’ “Back And Side Blues.” I couldn’t find a clip of it to share but you can find audio out there on Spotify and other retailers if you want to compare them.
The song has been done many different ways. Performers like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and John Lee Hooker all did country blues versions. In 1965, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy recorded it for Hoodoo Man Blues giving it a distinctive guitar riff and bass line. That signature riff influenced nearly every future version of the song, especially in the Rock world. From The Yardbirds, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, and ZZ Top, to the Allman Brothers Band and beyond, Buddy and Junior inspired an army of guitarists to whip out their big riffs and woo the school girls. It creeps me out.
As with many Blues songs, the more it’s covered the more it is changed. The words change a lot. the original were perhaps least creepy with only the first verse focusing on the underage object of his affection. Johnny Winter took the lechery to whole new levels with lines like “When I was twelve, baby when I was twelve years old – You know I was looking for a schoolgirl just to eat my jelly roll.” Alvin Lee from Ten Years After just wanted to ball you all night long, so at least you have that going for you. The only saving grace for this song is that in 1937 a lot of people got married well before the age of 18. And there’s that monster riff.
We present to you a few different versions for your amusement and/or horror.
John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson Good Morning, School Girl
Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band Good Morning Little School Girl
Buddy Guy Good Morning Little School Girl
Ten Years After Good Morning Little School Girl
Muddy Waters with Johnny Winter Good Morning Little School Girl
The Allman Brothers Band Good Morning Little School Girl
Welcome back for some Hump Day fun. I was in the mood for Lonnie Brooks this week and it led me to Lonnie’s “Wife For Tonight.” Now, Lonnie seems to be looking for loving so I’m hoping he didn’t end up with a Honey-do list, maxed-out credit cards, and dinner with the in-laws.
Thinking about Lonnie thinking about his nagging woman issues got me thinking about Buddy Guy’s version of “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In).” It’s gone by other names but I like Buddy’s version the best. His facial expressions sell the song. The tune also serves as a warning to guys out there looking for a wife tonight. Maybe the wife you already have is looking for a husband for tonight. Maybe you should all go home and put things right.
Which brings us to Magic Slim & The Teardrops and “Shake It.” Maybe if you engaged your lover and got her shaking that thing you wouldn’t be out at night looking for another. Give it a try. Happy Hump Day everybody. Have some fun and shake it with the ones you love.
Lonnie Brooks Wife For Tonight
Buddy Guy Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In)
Hump day, hump day, hump day! Step right up folks, but keep quiet and low down. We’re waitin’ til your man is gone, sneaking around back, and making a special delivery. I’d say we’ll be your back door man but I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea, if you know what I mean.
This week the tunes aren’t as naughty as usual but the characters involved certainly are. What we have are some tunes about sneaking around, covering multiple perspectives. Poor Albert Collins wondering who ate the steak attached to bones left on the dirty dishes, Buddy Guy letting his woman know that her sneaking around back fired, and Mr. Rick Estrin realizing he’s just another conquest of a woman sneaking around on her fiancee during the Blues Cruise. Oh, how wicked the women are in the world of blues. They’re as fickle as can be. The whole lot of them are immoral tarts and we love them. And so does everyone else apparently…
Albert Collins – Too Many Dirty Dishes (Montreux 1992)
Buddy Guy – Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ In)
Rick Estrin & The Nightcats – (I Met Her On The) Blues Cruise
I was looking for some pictures to commemorate Buddy’s Guy’s birthday and for Throwback Thursday on our Facebook page. I was led to a nice set of shots taken at Bluestock, the ill-fated festival in the Catskills that literally and figuratively took a bath thanks to Hurricane Irene striking far inland three years ago. The post led to a conversation on Facebook with ChefJimi Patricola and Chris Lyon, our ticket winner for Pennsylvania Blues Festival, and it got me thinking about that fateful weekend at Hunter Mountain in New York state.
So let’s get in the WABAC machine once again and revisit the one, and so far only, Bluestock…
Skies were blue and spirits were high on Friday afternoon as the first annual Bluestock festival kicked off with two time IBC winner Lionel Young and his band, but a sense of foreboding was palpable as attendees wondered what Sunday would bring as Irene left a wake of destruction in her path up the east coast.
No, Bluestock did not exactly happen as planned. Gregg Allman, Saturday’s scheduled headliner, had to cancel due to illness. Mysteriously, or perhaps enigmatically, Steven Seagal and his band Thunderbox (yes! this is a real thing) were no where to be found. Shemekia Copeland was a late addition to the lineup and Robert Cray was added as a headliner. Then the unexpected, unwanted guest arrived: Hurricane Irene. Producer Steve Simon probably never had an inkling that hurricane season could disrupt his monumental undertaking of combining the Blues Cruise with Woodstock. A hurricane? In the Catskills? Never. Well, think again.
By the end of Friday night, Sunday’s schedule had been scrapped and the festival, originally intended to take place outdoors, with two side-by-side stages for continuous music, was to be moved indoors on Saturday. Thankfully, Hunter Mountain Ski Resort had several halls to accommodate the indoor festival allowing them to keep the original plan of adjacent stages and continuous entertainment. To everyone’s surprise, the headliners Robert Cray and Buddy Guy were to play outdoors on Saturday afternoon and all the other acts that could make it would be playing indoors for a marathon thirteen hour show.
Of course, many were displeased by the turn of events and several angry customers shared their opinions on social media sites like Facebook. Some were angry about cancellations and many felt the festival should have been cancelled altogether. However, the majority of people gathered on the mountain thought the show must go on. And go on it did. Crammed into two days of music were nineteen acts featuring a veritable who’s-who of modern blues. Performers ranged from longtime favorites like Elvin Bishop, Tommy Castro & The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, Tab Benoit, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Shemekia Copeland to relatively newcomers Moreland & Arbuckle, Alexis P. Suter Band, Trampled Under Foot, and Port City Prophets to local favorites Bruce Katz Band and Chris O’Leary, who made a surprise appearance with Bob Margolin & Matt Hill (Matt now plays full time in his wife Nikki Hill‘s band).
While Saturday had illustrious acts seemingly every hour on the hour, Friday’s lineup was stellar in itself. The Lionel Young Band got the early birds moving with their leader’s guitar pickin’, fiddle pluckin’ boogies and a rollicking version of “Got My Mojo Working.” Literally moments after the closing notes of their set, Bob Margolin & Matt Hill continued the show on the adjacent stage allowing the crowd nary a second to catch its breath. Bob Margolin is a proven crowd pleaser but 2011 BMA Best New Artist winner Matt Hill stole the show with possibly the best AC/DC cover ever in “Hellz Bellz” – done Jerry Lee Lewis style, it was a nearly unrecognizable revved up rock n’ roller that would have left Malcolm and Angus Young drop-jawed and stupefied. Matt Hill then upped the ante with a song presumably called “Lemon Squeezer.” He sang about squeezing your lemons, woman, showed you his technique, bounded around the stage and removed his belt to whip you into submission. His infectious energy spread through the crowd and band. When Chris O’Leary came out to blow some harp it seemed the hurricane may have come early. They laid waste to preconceived notions of legendary jams when Lionel Young came out with his fiddle and joined the fray. This supergroup tore into another version of “Got My Mojo Working” that had the Catskill evergreens shimmying on the slopes.
The Bluestock crew kept the music going, operating like a well-oiled machine, getting BMA nominees Trampled Under Foot on stage just as the jam with Bob Margolin ended. The band appeared on many “best” lists in the last few years and it is immediately apparent why. This trio of siblings plays almost telepathically, locked in the groove and playing hard. Once their fiery set ended, the festival modeled after the Blues Cruise found ports of call in Louisiana with sets from Tab Benoit and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Benoit’s laid back delivery and sinewy grooves took us deep in the heart Cajun Country. Exuberant fans threw plush alligator hats to the band and Tab obliged by donning the cap while playing. His searing solos were hot as a raging skillet in a blackened shrimp contest, and were twice as tasty.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue took us from Benoit’s rural bayou to the Crescent City with an effervescent set full of New Orleans funk and jazz. Many concert goers later commented that the band seemed out place at a blues festival, but enjoyed them nonetheless. Blues and jazz are inextricably linked, born of similar circumstances and using the same musical language. It was a master stroke to remind the fans of this oft forgotten musical relationship and the powerful music of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue certainly had the crowd in the palm of its hand by the end of the set. Shorty’s passion and connection to his instruments was nearly tangible as he breathed life from the trombone and trumpet into the air around Hunter Mountain. The band was one of only a few selling their CDs for less than twenty dollars – theirs were merely ten – and I hope everyone who enjoyed the set took one home. A better value for ten bucks could not be found at the festival.
Friday’s closer Elvin Bishop took the stage and played a set roughly based on his recent CD “Raisin’ Hell Revue” recorded on one of the Blues Cruises. Unfortunately he told some of the same stories from the CD but his good humor helps overcome the familiarity. His guitar playing helps a little too. Well, it helps a lot. The jamming kicked up a notch when Tab Benoit joined Elvin Bishop and the band for a few songs to close out the set. They didn’t play “Got My Mojo Working” and I’m glad for that. After the first two acts of the day did it I was getting worried.
Due to a bizarre twist of weather-related fate, Saturday noon found Robert Cray on stage while the crew set up the opposite stage for Buddy Guy. Robert Cray and Buddy Guy, back to back, on a Saturday afternoon. It almost made you glad to be in the path of a hurricane. Cray’s smooth, soulful blues eased the bleary-eyed revelers into the day. Cray joked a few times about the bright sunlight and time of day but there was no detrimental effect on the music.
While Robert Cray’s set was somewhat laid back, Buddy Guy came out all guns blazing. If the hair of the dog didn’t cure your ills, trouble was coming your way at maximum volume and speed. Buddy’s amps must have been bought from Spinal Tap because he was definitely one louder than everyone else. He sang “74 Years Young” from his Living Proof album but played like the owner of 34 years young fingers. His passion, humor, stage antics and propensity to say “fuck” a lot certainly woke everyone up.
About halfway into his set, Buddy brought out 12 year old Quinn Sullivan who has been appearing with the Buddy Guy Band for a few years. Quinn has enormous talent and his technique is flawless, but unfortunately he’s at a stage of his musical life marked mostly by imitation, and Buddy let him dominate the rest of the set. Sullivan sang a few songs, but his pre-pubescent voice is too high and was washed out in the mix. Still, he is only twelve and will hopefully evolve into a powerful musical force in the next ten years or so. Buddy Guy believes in him and even quipped that he would certainly come back next year, but only if Quinn gets an invitation too. I say Quinn Sullivan should be invited, but give him his own set so we can get a full ninety minutes of Buddy Guy next time.
After Buddy Guy’s set, the festival moved indoors, just moments ahead of the rain. Recent concert tragedies from stages falling at the Indiana State Fair and the Ottawa Blues Fest surely had the promoters and crew concerned and they made short work of taking down the outdoor staging. Accommodations were also made to allow the campers to stay in the lodge on Saturday night. Steve Simon and crew put safety first making sure all attendees were protected.
Meanwhile, two stages were ready to go inside. One in a large auditorium style hall and the other in place for the late night jams with Mitch Woods, dubbed Club 88. Mitch hosts Club 88 on the Blues Cruises and usually persuades lingering musicians to join in the fun. Tucked in the corner of the lodge, the stage was like an eight ounce brisket sandwich with sixteen ounces of brisket on it; messy, over flowing, and finger licking good. The sky was crying but the blues lovers were smiling as the two stages provided continual music for the next eleven hours as the rain pounded the mountain outside.
Saturday’s indoor lineup was Shemekia Copeland, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Curtis Salgado, Bruce Katz Band, Shakura S’Aida, Moreland & Arbuckle, Tommy Castro & The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, Albert Cummings, Alexis P. Suter Band, and Port City Prophets. Every one who made it to the mountain played a set and then the music continued once more when Mitch Woods’ Club 88 re-opened for business with the Prince of Beale St. Billy Gibson at the microphone.
I must confess I’ve seen Shemekia Copeland three times this year. She played basically the same set each time and told the same stories. I suspect I’m spoiled by bands that vary their sets. Her band is tight and plays perfectly each time, which makes once a year enough for me. Ms. Copeland has a powerful voice and uses it well, but there are no surprises for repeat customers. If you haven’t heard her sing live though, I highly recommend it. No studio wizardry, and sometimes no microphone, is used but her tiny frame holds inside an immense musical force.
Ronnie Baker Brooks gave the guitar fans one long guitargasm after another and even soloed his way through the crowd to the bar for a drink and a bottle to play some slide. It’s not a new addition to the traditional trick bag, but it gets the crowds going every time. Curtis Salgado’s blue-eyed soul had the faithful swaying to the beat; Bruce Katz Band whipped up some Hammond B-3 blues with Alexis P. Suter’s guitarist Jimmy Bennett pulling double duty, playing and singing with Bruce. Shakura S’Aida’s vigorous vocalizing drew cheers and Moreland & Arbuckle literally and figuratively kicked everything up a notch with their guitar and harmonica led trio. They were asked to play a bit longer while Tommy Castro was setting up next door and the enthusiastic crowd response drove them to greater manic intensity. They even had the audacity to release their new album on vinyl, which was quite popular at the merchandise table.
The delay from getting Tommy Castro set up caused a schedule crunch and bands had to play simultaneously, dividing the attention of the Bluestock survivors but Tommy Castro & The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue held most of the focus once under way. They played an incendiary rendition of “Gotta Serve Somebody” before being joined by Rick Estrin, Deanna Bogart and others for a recreation of the legendary blues cruise’s favorite jams.
Albert Cummings took the stage with the rhythm section from Shakura S’Aida’s band – two guys he met a mere thirty minutes before going on – and they wowed the small crowd in front of the tiny Club 88 stage. The trio played seamlessly with Cummings’ molten licks flowing freely over the bedrock of bass and drums. Alexis P. Suter’s powerful, booming voice filled the auditorium and the band’s gospel infused blues surely added weight to those prayers for shelter from the storm pounding the Catskills. Port City Prophets, an upcoming band from South Carolina, played last on the Club 88 stage, mixing amusing originals with clever covers. They played a dynamic version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” in honor of the looming devastation that would be unleashed by morning.
And so, we had Bluestock 2011: One of the headliners cancelled, an MC was AWOL, minor acts hoping for major exposure were crammed into a ski lodge playing for hundreds instead of thousands, headliners opened the show, openers closed; all the signs of the Apocalypse were there. But the Apocalypse never came. The crowd was well behaved in the cramped space, everyone was happy to be there enjoying a seemingly endless variety of blues, and the producers, promoters, managers and musicians all pulled together to provide those who braved the weather the best possible experience. They came through with class and grace, deftly handling one dilemma after another making Bluestock 2011 an unforgettable weekend of music, friends and adventure. Although I’m already looking forward to the next Bluestock, strangely enough, the Simon brothers and the Bluestock crew will have a hard time topping it next year.