IT'S THE BLUES

Sunday, September 04, 2005

DESERT ISLAND RECORDS send me your list...

This is by no means the only music I would want with me it's simply ten titles that came to mind plus one that no one should be without. I look forward to you sharing your lists as well feel free to post them along with any other comments or questions in the comments section.

THE HOLLYWOOD FATS BAND ~ ‘THE HOLLYWOOD FATS BAND’ (a version released on Black Top Records in the early ‘90’s was titled ‘ Rock This House’): Michael ‘Hollywood Fats’ Mann is considered by many as one of the great guitar players of all time anywhere. By age 12 he was sitting in with the likes of Magic Sam, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells and countless others. And by 15 he was on the road playing behind J.B. Hutto, then Albert King, Then John Lee Hooker. In 1975 he was longing for home and returned to Los Angles and at 20 years old with Al Blake and Fred Kaplan founded what became The Hollywood Fats Band. This Recording which was released in late 1979 on Blue vinyl (very rare only about 2,500 were pressed) has subsequently been re-released a number of times; the best of which in the Cd age is a two disc set put out in 2000 on Cross Cut Records, with a deluxe package, the first disc is the original release in sequence while disc 2 contains alternate versions of just about every track plus a never released track called ‘Fred’s Blues‘. Listen to this release and you’ll understand why counted among his fans Fats could name Stevie Ray & Jimmy Vaughan, Ronnie Earl, Junior Watson and even Eddie Van Halen. His unfortunate death at the age of 32 in 1986 cut short a career that would have been a benchmark for all the players that have come since. As it is this recording is looked to as one of the great standard setting releases of it's time and has influenced a generation of stripped down back to basics blues revivalists.

JOHN HAMMOND ~ ‘JOHN HAMMOND’: When I was 13 I saw Muddy Waters for the first time, as a Punk Rock kid in southern California at the time it was a life altering event, the year was 1978 and the next day I hopped on my bike with about $70 in my pocket and pedaled to Music Market, the largest independent record store in the area at the time. I went straight for the back wall which had a big sign that said simply ‘BLUES’ and I began flipping thru the albums; having a very limited knowledge of the music I was searching for, many of my purchases that day were based on the cover art and one of the most captivating and intense covers was for this record, the debut on Vanguard by John Hammond. Released in 1964 when John was barley in his 20s; the black & white shot of him - profile with guitar in hand as he appears too sing out with passion, caught me and still refuses to let go. On that day I bought a lot of records by a lot of players including Muddy, T-Bone, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and even Robert Johnson (also on this list) and though I love all of them and so many more this record by Hammond holds a firm grip on my psyche. And as I’ve learned about the blues over the many years that have followed, I find it remarkable the true passion and sincerity that this (at the time) young white kid from New York was able to interpret with such authenticity the delta blues that had been laid forth for most of the century prior. At a time when the so called white blues revival was in it’s infancy, this record as much or even more than most any other helped to open the door and pave the way for those that followed. After it’s release the boom began and within 3 years Korner, Ray and Glover, the Butterfield Blues Band, Charlie Musslewhite, Canned Heat and countless other young white blues interpreters were making waves as well as helping to raise the profile of those older black performers that taught them the blues in the first place, England did have the Yardbirds, the Animals and the Stones, but the Blues of John Hammond was more “REAL” than all of them combined.

Robert Johnson ~ ‘The Complete Recordings’: As I mentioned above one of the first blues artists that I ever heard was Robert Johnson, on my first day of blues record buying I was fortunate enough to get both King of the Delta Blues volumes 1 & 2, which of course after years of listening to them and hearing their influence in nearly every inch of popular and not so popular music in the last 50+ years I’ve learned the significant importance of these 29 songs on the development of popular contemporary blues, blues rock and hard rock music. It is by no means an overstatement to say that Robert Johnson did more to influence modern music than just about any other five artists you could think of, (baring of perhaps, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, The Beatles and a few others) Johnson is certainly as important as any of them if not more so. Sighted by no less than Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, John Mayall and countless others as perhaps the greatest blues player ever, his guitar playing is magical, with a haunting tone weather playing slide or not and his vocals are otherworldly. One of the first releases in Columbia Records Roots ‘N’ Blues series, ‘Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings’ delivers all 29 original releases as well as many alternate takes that had been previously unreleased. Issued in 1990, since this release all of these recordings are available in countless variations, I cant help but chuckle when I’m going through the bins at my favorite music outlet and see as many as 40 or more different Robert Johnson Cd’s all with different packaging, on different labels with different art work and liner notes (if any); yet there are only 29 songs and every available version of all 29 are included in this package with a total of 41 tracks not to mention the 47 page (long) book that contains extensive note’s, original essays and even lyrics for all the songs, you don’t need anything beyond this package, if you have it, you have everything that this mythic figure ever gave for us to treasure.

WILLIE DIXON ~ ‘I AM THE BLUES’: In 1970 The big man Willie Dixon, set out to reinterpret some of the classics he had penned for many of the biggest artists in the world of blues the result is Columbia records ‘I Am The Blues’ contained on this fine release are 9 blues standards all written by the man many call the poet laureate of the blues having created literally hundreds of songs for scores of artists of which a partial list reads like a history of modern blues, he wrote for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Chuck Berry, Koko Taylor, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), ‘Big’ Walter Horton, ‘Little’ Walter Jacobs, Bo Diddley, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and the list just keeps going and going. Willie Dixon was perhaps one of the most important figures in the Chicago blues scene, as the liaison between the Chess Brothers and their artists, as the main songwriter, arranger, session producer, bass player, talent scout and more it was Dixon that after writing a song for Muddy would tell Waters that he had a great new song for the Wolf but maybe he’d like to cut it first and likewise for the Wolf, allowing each of these giants the chance to believe they had one-upped the other hence it was Dixon that was coaxing the best possible performances on songs like ’Spoonful’, ,Back Door Man’, ‘Seventh Son’, I Ain’t Superstitious’, ‘That Same Thing’, ‘You Shook Me’, I Can’t Quite You, Baby” and more; all of those and a few others are included here, with Willie’s terrific, sympathetic voice and the backing of his Chicago All-stars. The songs are great, these versions are great, the one downside on the original vinyl or any subsequent CD version that I've found is the lack of detailed liner notes, since as far as the band goes, it’s credited as the Chicago Blues All-Stars as I said, but that was a band that Willie had formed around 1968 (primarily for the American Folk Blues Festival Tours of Europe) and the line up changed often, so it could be Big Walter Horton on Harmonica or a very young Billy Branch. I’m pretty sure it’s Cash McCall on lead guitar considering he and I have talked about this recording and he told me it was him, beyond that I have no idea who the players are, I do know that these are great versions of 9 of Willie's best known tunes sung by the Big Man Himself Mr.Willie Dixon.

T-BONE WALKER~ ’LOW DOWN BLUES’: So if you’re already a T-Bone Walker fan then you know, but if you’re new to the name well you should begin studying. Aaron Thibeaux Walker is quite possibly the single most important electric guitar player of all time( except perhaps for Le Paul), his was the first electric guitar to be heard by BB King, Muddy Waters, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Albert King, Freddie King and numerous others, while most of the big band guitar men were still trying to be heard on their big acoustic axes, T-Bone discovered the fat bodied electric Gibson and jump started a revolution helping put the guitar at the forefront of the popular band instrumentation format. His stylized finger picked “uptown” sound plucking single notes as he sang in his silky smooth tenor voice. He not only led the way with electricity, but also helped pioneer the small jump combo at the end of the big band era, featuring a couple of horns, a drummer, piano player, bass and his guitar and vocals, his influence is immeasurable and his classic style unsurpassed even today, just think of the song ‘Call It Stormy Monday” (some times called ’Stormy Monday Blues’) this was Walker at his best and stands as one of the all time great blues standards. As for this pick well it was random, there are plenty of great T-Bone Walker compilations available and you’d be hard pressed to find a bad one, ’Low Down Blues’ was released on a label out of Great Brittan called Charlie R&B and contains 22 of T-Bones Classic 1940’s Black and White Label recordings including Stormy Monday, T-Bone Shuffle, She’s My Old Time Used To Be and more, I could have just as easily picked something from his Imperial Records days or his time on RCA or else where but I picked this one, all I can say for sure is that if you don’t already have some T-Bone Walker in your collection you need to fix that and soon.

OMAR ~ ‘BLUES BAG’: Born in Macomb Mississippi, the little country town that also gave us Ellis McDaniel (best know as Bo Diddley) Kent ‘Omar’ Dykes has spent the better part of the past 30 plus years as one of the mainstays in the red hot Austin Texas Blues scene as the front man for the road hardened outfit Omar & The Howlers. On ’Blues Bag” Omar’s first and as yet only solo release (at least in title) and to my ear at least his bluesiest with the first eight tracks featuring Omar solo on guitar and vocals (harmonica is added to his bag on ’Big Chief Pontiac’) then for tracks 9 thru 15 he’s joined by Gene Brandon on drums, Bruce Jones Bass and Greg ‘Fingers’ Taylor on Harmonica (some of you may know Taylor from his long association with Jimmy Buffet as his harp player for some 30 odd years). The results are pure gritty gut bucket blues with 12 Kent Dykes originals and 3 well chosen covers. Omar’s voice is the main attraction with his husky baritone breathing life into these blues like an iron lung. Imagine Credence meets Howlin’ Wolf with a splash of AC/DC thrown in, that’s about the range that Omar sings, and he makes it all blues here, known to rock hard with the Howlers when the occasion calls for it, ’Blues Bag’ Is what you might imagine he would play on his front porch on a lazy summer Saturday afternoon laid back yet intense, simple yet gripping, Omar writes great songs and sings with conviction, I love this record… And if you like the blues with some Texas soil in it this is just about as good as you’ll find.

MAGIC SAM ~ ’WEST SIDE SOUL’: At the risk of becoming redundant, this is one of the most important and influential blues recordings of the 1960’s. ‘Magic’ Sam Maghett born in 1937 in Mississippi, moved to Chicago and by the mid fifties had become one of the more popular of the second generation of urban blues players in Chicago, along with Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and a bit latter, Luther Allison and Lonnie Brooks, Magic Sam and these other mavericks raised the bar and set the standard for contemporary blues, while the older guys kept to the formula set down in the late forties and early fifties, Sam and the other second generation players adapted to the times and were able to incorporate the different sounds coming from the world of popular music, while Muddy Waters had trouble attracting a younger audience Magic Sam blended his heavy deep blues sound with large doses of rock and deep southern soul music to help create what would become the west side sound and by the release of this record ’West Side Soul’ Magic Sam was among the most popular acts in the genre and the sounds on this recording are unlike any thing that had come before it, it’s as though a 30 year old Muddy Waters recorded a record of James Brown songs, it grooves, it rocks and it gets down deep into your soul, Sam’s guitar along with that of Mighty Joe Young squeal and scream while Sam sings with a gritty soulful confidence rare even by today’s standards. This record contains some of his classics including ‘That’s All I Need’, ’All Of Your Love’, and his take on “Sweet Home Chicago’, which some consider to be the definitive version; these and other great tracks fill ’West Side Soul’ and live as a document of the great potential of a talent lost much too early. Unfortunately Magic Sam Maghett suffered a fatal Heart Attack in December 1969 he was just 32 and on his way to great heights. At least we have this and a few other recordings to preserve his legacy.

SAFFIRE ~ ‘THE UPPITY BLUES WOMEN’: The only women on this particular list Saffire are truly “uppity” and we all love it. And on this their debut record released by Alligator in 1990, they deliver the goods like fabulous diva’s that don’t give a damn what you or I think in the first place, these middle aged working moms, got into the music biz. at a rather late date but quickly proved themselves up to the task winning legions of fans and the attention of the legendary Willie Dixon whom it’s said was instrumental in these Uppity Blues Women getting signed to Alligator. On this release they deliver a set of eleven straight talkin’, frank, blunt blues that sound as though a time machine had set it’s controls for around 1929, rounded up Bessie Smith, Ma Rainy, Ida Cox and some of the other queens of the “golden era” of blues and dropped them firmly in the late 20th century… These women play mostly acoustic and sing with great conviction, and they are funny as well, I have to wonder if they realize how many men (myself included) get the oddest looks when we get caught at a signal light singing along to the Middle aged Blues Boogie --- “I Need a young, young man…” any how this record was a classic the day it was released and some 15 years later it is as good as anything that has come out since. Parts are sad, parts are joyous and parts are simply made to get you dancing. This is one of those perfect blues records that has something for everyone and keeps you engaged from track one to the very last note.

The CHRIS CAIN Band ~ ‘CUTTIN’ LOOSE’: If you’ve looked around in here, you probably already know that Chris Cain gets my award for the most underappreciated guitar player on the planet today. It simply doesn’t get better than this guy, everything that is Fats, Robert Johnson, Magic Sam, as well as BB Albert and Freddie King, well Chris Cain is the sum of all those parts with a heavy dose of T-Bone, Pat Matheny, Eric Johnson and countless others. Chris Cain can play his ass off and hardly break a sweat, if you want to try and cut heads with him you better be ready cause he can fire off a barrage of furious notes that are liable to knock you off your feet then flow into the tastiest mellow riff you’ve ever heard. Chris a one of those oh so rare musical geniuses. He’s taught music (jazz theory and composition) and he’s shared the stage with just about every blues great of the last quarter century. Cuttin’ Loose is his second release; his first for Blind Pig and it happened to be the first that I owned issued in 1990, it is a master piece of different styles of blues with Chris’ guitar and full thick baritone vocals out front along with dual Saxophones, bass and drums as well as a bit of keyboards also played by Cain. This is the definition of uptown blues with soaring horns and great arrangements that swing and jump in the best tradition’s of BB and Albert King, and although Chris was raised in the bay area of California this record at least to me seems to have a bit of a Texas vibe to it. The song writing is great the guitar superb and Chris has a voice that many singers would sell their souls for. This one or any in the Chris Cain catalogue are worth exploring.

HOUND DOG TAYLOR AND THE HOUSEROCKERS: It was 1971 and a young man named Bruce Iglauer borrowed money from friends and family so that he could found a record label in Chicago for the expressed purpose of recording Hound Dog Taylor and the House Rockers thus this record released in ’71 became in some ways the catalyst of the post Chess Records era and the foundation on which Alligator Records was built. And now 34 years later Alligator is considered one of the premier labels for blues throughout the world. It Started here with Theodore ’Hound dog’ Taylor, Brewer Phillips and Ted Harvey two guitars and drums, and Hound Dogs cigarette's and whiskey soaked voice; if you want rockin’ party blues this is where you’ll get them, Taylor had long been a mainstay on the Chicago blues scene and his weekly Sunday afternoon blues jam at the legendary Florence’s drew a who’s who of the blues world, he had never gained much notice outside of that city though within it he was highly regarded, he had recorded a few 45’s some for Chess in the late 50’s as well as a few others for some other now lost labels and most of his recorded out put never saw the light of day, it was this self titled release that put the blues world on notice and gave a wake up call to all that longed for real gritty down home blues, (the kind that was at the time getting lost in the era of “soul blues”; that smooth polished fare being produced by the likes of Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Johnny Taylor and others) that there was still some real straight ahead blues to be found, this record catapulted Hound Dog and the band to the top of the heap and within months they were touring the festival circuit world wide. He went on to record two more records for Alligator before is death from cancer in 1975 and they also released a live record and an album full of studio out takes from his recording sessions but it all started here. This truly is Genuine House Rockin’ Music!
and the bonus 11th record

ALBERT COLLINS, ROBERT CRAY, JOHNNY COPELAND ~ ‘SHOWDOWN’: This record released by Alligator in 1985 is a MUST HAVE for any blues collection. As the elder Texas master’s stars were both rising and Cray was about to break through to the level that few blues players have reached before or since. 'Showdown' is a terrific slice of guitar playing with each of these men given the chance to shine, they all sing, they all solo and they all seem to be having a good time, as they work through some great classic tunes, it has a definite Texas slant It is Albert Collins that was the real focus having come off of his appearance with George Thorogood at the world wide television event that was Live Aid he had already had a long established relationship with both Copeland (going back many years) to their days in Texas as well as Cray who’s band was one that would back Collins when he toured the Northwest, using Albert’s Icebreakers as the band, these three got to cut lose and stretch out as they each tried to top the other. Showdown has been on the list of countless critics as not only one of the best Blues records of ’85, but one of the best of the decade of the 80’s or even all time. It’s a fun filled masterpiece.

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