Friday, July 20, 2007

Review & Photo’s by Mark Fredell

Well for better or worse it was Friday the 13th. And even though I don’t really buy into all the superstition and folklore about such things, I don’t go out of my way to walk under ladders or break mirrors either. It was Friday the 13th and it was a very stressful even sad day for Ana Popovic and her band while in route to their gig in the Twin Cities they received word that the drummers father had passed away so once they got to town they dropped him at the airport to head home to Chicago to be with his family then Ana and her bass player needed to decide what they were going to do. Now I don’t know how many options they considered but I do understand they tried to find a replacement drummer for the nights gig to no avail, then they decided to simply go it as a duo for the night and thank god for small favors. As I arrived in the club the sound man saw me and asked if I would do the intro since the usual MC (Paul Metsa) was not there for the evening of course I was happy to oblige so he took me back stage so we could let them know, now at this point I didn’t know anything was askew so as I greeted Ana she immediately told me the situation with much concern and I told her not to worry I would introduce her and she could let the audience know what was going on.
So when the time came I welcomed the crowd and told them that there was an unusual situation going on and that I would let Ana inform them of the details, I introduced her and she and her partner in crime took the stage, seated on a couple of bar stools sans drummer, she greeted everyone and told of the drummers loss, then said this was the first time she had ever been onstage like this (without her whole band). She picked up an acoustic guitar and off they went. Ana’s singing was terrific, her playing superb and astonishingly she was able with the help of her bass player to hold the notoriously disinterested Famous Dave’s crowd seemingly spell bound not just through the first set (which by the way clocked in at nearly 90 minutes) but she held the room for the second set as well culminating in a hugely enthusiastic standing ovation just shy of 12:30am that demanded an encore. For a young lady from Serbia that is without doubt and the rock (and jazz) side of the blues this particular night tragedy and all was perhaps one of the best performances I have seen her give, just she with guitar and voice and the accompaniment of electric bass. Sitting down it was relaxed and soft, beautiful in everyway. Ana Popovic showed why she has so quickly become one of the darlings of the newest generation of blues/rock players. She ended the night with the title track of her latest release ’Still Making History’ and said good night with these words, “thank you so much this night has made this tour for me, you are the best.” What an incredible night. See you in September Ana.

Jimmy Vaughan

Jimmy Vaughan Like a Cadillac.

Style and substance and filled with class.
Review & photo by Mark Fredell

I forget where I first read it or heard it, but I remember one time hearing (or seeing) somebody comparing Jimmy Vaughan’s guitar playing to his younger brother Stevie Ray’s, they said that Stevie was like the Corvette of blues guitar players and Jimmy is the Cadillac. Of course the Corvette is fast and furious and has that sleek aerodynamic design. It runs from 0 to 60 in a few short seconds and yes it has style but it is a style designed more for the rebellious individual; that hot-rodder kid or the guy going through his midlife crisis and wanting to capture something that is just out of his reach. Stevie Ray was a remarkable player, filled with passion and creativity. He often appeared to get lost in his music seemingly becoming the vessel that it flowed through rather than the actual creator of it but don’t get me wrong he was that creator. His fluidity on the fret board allowed him to take his Fender Stratocaster to places most players can hardly imagine and boy could he play fast. SRV seemed at times to forget that in the blues the notes you play are important, but often it is the ones you don’t play that drive the emotion. That space, the air between the notes can speak volumes without a sound. Stevie could do this it’s just that most of the time he didn’t, he seemed to always be in a hurry to get there, though he perhaps never really knew where ‘there’ was.

Jimmy on the other hand is definitely the Cadillac; I would say perhaps a late 60’s or early 70’s Eldorado or a 50’s four door DeVille. Low and wide that’s the Cadillac ride. Steady, stylish and always in control, gliding through the turns, rolling down the straight stretches of highway like you are floating a few inches off the asphalt. Filled with plenty of power but holding it in reserve incase you might need it and always reaching your destination at precisely the right moment, without over stressing that engine. That is Jimmy Vaughan. Without question one of the finest guitarists on the planet today, he’s got style and finesse, dexterity and restraint. With impeccable technique Jimmy is the epitome of subtlety. He never seems to over play, he doesn’t demand the spotlight and he inspires awe among other players with his slippery, un rushed approach. On the 8th of July he and his Tilt-A-Whirl band took some time off a tour with Dylan (yeah Bob Dylan) to set up shop at the Cabooze on the west bank and show those in attendance that it doesn’t have to be fast to be great and it doesn’t have to be blaring loud to be heard. Jimmy played with passion and intensity and sang with real emotion and along with Lou Ann Barton and the band they lifted this particular Sunday night up into the realm of the sublime. It was incredible.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Joe Louis Walker

Interview By mark Fredell
As always this interview was broadcast live on KFAI radio on May 12, 2007. It has been edited for clarity and space.

Mark Fredell: On the phone with me now is one of the best guitar players in the land today, Joe Louis Walker. Good afternoon Joe, how are things going?
Joe Louis Walker: Hi, things are going REAL GOOD!
MF: Excellent. Now you are getting read to hit the road for a brief summer tour , is that right?
JLW: Yes it is.
MF: And you going to be at Famous Dave’s in Calhoun Square next Friday the 18th. I want to be sure to emphasize that because this is the first time in something like nine years that you’ve been in the twin Cities. (JLW: Something like that right) Yeah The last time I saw you in town was over at the old Blues Saloon in Saint Paul. Now I guess you’ve take some time off from the road is that right?
JLW: well yeah a little but you know I had moved over to Paris for a few years.
MF: Oh ok, now I thought I had read that you took some time off to spend with your kids, was that right?
JLW: Yeah, I took some time off then I moved over to Paris for a couple years, recorded an album over there and did some touring.
MF: Ok, now you actually have been very prolific with your time off as far as your recording goes. For a long time you were with Verve Records right?
JLW: Well yes, actually I was signed to Polygram which is Verve and then Polygram was bought by Universal and I was on a number of their imprints, I was on Blue Thumb and some others. But really I was on Polygram/ Universal for about ten years.
MF Sure. Now once that contract ran out you decided to be sort of a free agent right? Recording records then shopping them to different labels, how many releases have you done that way?
JLW: Oh I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you.
MF: I know it’s at least five.
JLW: Oh well I don’t really remember, but I know it’s been a few more than that. I know, well I’ve put out quite a few records, so I really can’t tell you when one ended and the next one started, but it’s been a lot.
MF: Alright, but you did do some musical exploring right? You put out the Latin flavored record.
JLW: Yeah, Pasa Tiempo.
MF: Then there was the slide guitar record She’s My Money Maker.
JLW: Yeah that was on JSP.
MF: Now JSP, That is the label you’ve had the most releases on since you left Universal.
JLW: Right, I had three one off records with them.
MF: Now I wanted to talk with you; you were on the Blues Cruise earlier this year and had a little bit of a health scare?
JLW: Yeah well see I had had my gallbladder out a while before the cruise and my stomach was still hurting me. Then when I got on the boat, the third day out my stomach really started hurting so they took me to a hospital in St. Thomas and I wound up there for nine days. It had turned out that I had caught an infection from when they took out the gallbladder. But they got it cleared up and I have a really good doctor now. They got rid of the infection with antibiotics and have really been wonderful with me, taking care of any little residual ailments that have come along with that. And I’m feeling 110% now. We’ve been playing around a little bit around here, in southern California playing festivals and such, and in the pacific north west. Just kind of playing all over and we played last night in Sweet Water and we start off this tour next week.
MF: Well alright, terrific. I know I can’t wait to see you next week, I’ve really been looking forward to it. Now I wanted to talk to you for a minute, you have always been one of those players that has always been really well respected by other players, yet it seems that with what I call the average weekend or blues fest blues fan, you aren’t that well known. But I think you’ve actually got a pretty interesting history as far as when you started out, and some of your associations and such, would you mind sharing some of your history with my listeners?
JLW: Well sure you know I started when I was real young, about 1962, one of my cousins had a band and I played with him till about ‘64. I was in the bay area and back then I played with Fillmore Slim, Charles Brown and people like that. Then eventually a guy named Mike Bloomfield moved in with me, when he moved to the west coast he lived with me and a guy named Johnny Cramer. Then in ‘69 I moved to Canada and about a year later I moved into the famous house in Carmelita that Michael (Bloomfield) had. I played quite a bit around there and I had a little record then with Voodoo Records when I was about 19. Then I moved to Detroit and got to know Muddy Waters pretty good and he let me open up for him for a while around there and up to Toronto. Then I had the house band at a place called the Matrix in San Francisco and I used to open up for Lightening Hopkins and Fred McDowell, he was the first on to show me slide, then I got to play with Earl Hooker, he let me play with him for a good while. There was Magic Sam and people like that, but you know when I was living with Bloomfield, after a while I needed a lifestyle change so I moved to Vancouver. You know I had quite a few of my friends that had died from various ailments and indulgences, so I joined a gospel group from 1975 to 1985, The Corinthians. I had gone back to gospel then after a while I got a little anxious and went back to blues around 1985, I signed with Hightone Records out of Oakland. I did five albums for them then after that Polygram signed me in the early ’90’s so I was with them for all of the ’90’s and was a lot of their imprints. Then I did a lot of one off’s like we talked about, I did one for Telarc, one for Evidence, the three for JSP and I did a whole bunch of compilations. I did a lot of collaborations, I did two with BB King, one that one a Grammy, ’Blues Summit’ then I did a live one with him called ’How Blue Can You Get’. I did a record with Branford Marsalis. Then I worked with Nick Lowe called ’What’s So Funny Bout Peace Love And Understanding’ I did the Beatles White Album tribute called ‘The Beatles Blue Album‘, I got to do ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. I did two Stones ones, Led Zeppelin, the music of Charlie Patton. I did a movie called ‘Hell hounds On My Trail’ The Music of Robert Johnson. It was really a whole bunch of stuff, I did a record called ‘Great Guitars’ which was really my most successful record I had I think ten different guitar players on there, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Cropper co-produced it with me. We had Robert Jr. Lockwood on there Gatemouth rest his soul, Taj, Matt Guitar Murphy, Little Charlie, Scotty Moore from Elvis Presley’s band. Lets see, umm, Ike Turner. Then on that album, I toured with different configurations of those people. Me and Buddy did some shows, me and Matt and Steve Cropper did some stuff. Me and Otis Grand and Ike did some stuff in Europe.
So you see I did quite a few things and most musicians that know me they know that I’m really sort of a chameleon, if I did just one thing all the time, people might know me more, but I’m quite versatile and not just for versatility sake, but that’s how I grew up. I grew up listening to all different kinds of music, but when I do blues it shows that that’s my first love. You plus I moved around a bit too, I lived in England for a while in the ‘80’s then I moved back here (the Bay area) then like I said I moved to France for a couple of years so I guess I did just a lot of various things.

MF: Wow that is a varied history, you know like I said, I can’t wait to see you. You know I came to you, for the sake of our listeners I first saw Joe at a little club in San Juan Capistrano called the Coach House as part of the Antone’s tenth anniversary tour in I guess 1986 and what Joe did was they had basically tow “house” bands for what I think was maybe 12 or 15 “headliners” and when they would switch over the bands, Joe Louis would move to center stage with his guitar and just tear it up… I thought you were great.
But I wanted to ask you, about that time, it has always been interesting to me that then, during your Hightone era, you were going along pretty well with I think your second release with them when they signed a then relatively unknown guitar player from Portland named Robert Cray. Well it seems to me that you got sort of a raw deal out of that, they (the label) seemed to turn all their attention to Cray and sort of left you out to dry.

JLW: Yeah well you know they’ll be the first to admit that, they did put a lot more energy into Robert than they did to me but you know I really can’t complain. Over time people have seen that really we are two totally different artists, you know they have seen the differences, it’s like when Bruce Springsteen came out they compared him to Bob Dylan. See all kinds of stuff happens like that and all you can do is keep doing what your doing. Now people realize that you know it isn’t over yet, I like to think that my best is a head of me.
MF: well Joe lets hope so, I want to thank you for joining me today, I can’t wait to see you next week. Thanks again for taking the time out of your day to join me here on the Showcase Of rhythm & Blues.
JLW: Oh it’s my pleasure. I want to let every body know that I will be on that Blues Cruise again next year so any one that missed me last time I’ll be there. Also I’m looking forward to playing Minneapolis next Friday, thanks Mark…
All photo's By Mark Fredell copyright controlled.

Monday, March 26, 2007

‘Icepick’ James Harman.
Interview and photo’s by Mark Fredell

This interview originally aired live on KFAI radio in the Twin Cities on January 31, 2007 and has been transcribed for prit in the April issue of the regional music paper Blue Monday.

A little back ground, I first saw James Harman on stage at a Hollywood club around 1980 sittin’ in (along with the legendary Michael ‘Hollywood Fats’ Mann) with Los Angles’ top roots punk band X. Maybe it was the Roxy or the Starwood or perhaps the world famous Whiskey A Go- Go, I can’t remember which venue, but I do remember the indelible impression of witnessing this stout, hipster, blowin’ his harp and swingin’ his hips as John Doe, Exene Cervenka, D. J. Bonebreak and Billy Zoom thrashed and slammed out a propulsive beat and Fats fired off gloriously inspiring flourishes on his fret board. X with Harman and Fats was a revelation, I had been hipped to the blues a few years earlier, but was still mostly a ‘Punk Rock Kid’. But this singular event began a transformation in my mind that has broadened my musical horizons and helped to put me on the path that eventually led to where I am today. This show was the one and only time I had the privilege to see Hollywood Fats and James Harman on the same stage together, though I was lucky enough to catch the Hollywood Fats band some three or four times as well as seeing a couple of shows by the Blasters after Fats had taken over guitar duties when Dave Alvin left the group around ’84. And of course I began to check out Harman shows as well, those most dangerous gentlemen, The James Harman Band, in all incarnations have always been a force to be reckoned with, weather it was Jr. Watson, Kid Ramos, Fats, or Kid Teddy Morgan (among others) on guitar Jeff Turmes or Steven Hodges on bass and any number of drummers, throw in a keyboard player here and there and the occasional saxophone, this band has always rocked and swung hard. With Harman’s insightful, witty and provocative lyrics at the fore. The man knows how to turn a phrase weather it be a funny barb about love or a sarcastic jab at politicians, or even a heartfelt and somber good bye to a lost friend, James Harman is one of the most gifted and unique song writers the blues has ever known. And when he’s on the band stand he always delivers, weather it’s a hole in the wall out of the way working class bar room with 20 guys just off from a second shift or a sell out festival in Europe James Harman is a master show man.
I finally got to know him after going to see him perform over the years around 1991 right around the release of Do Not Disturb his Black Top Records debut, and I can tell you he has become one of my very favorite people in the world, he is funny and kind he’s got an amazing knowledge of the history and heritage of the blues and is usually happy to share it, his listen parties are legendary; know
for having an amazing music collection of vintage 45’s 78’s and more he’d gather other, younger players in his home and school ’em on the real deal for hours on end. He’s got a quick wit and can have a short fuse, he might snap at you one minute and then he’ll buy you a beer the next. Though he can be difficult at times, I’ve never seen him to be mean spirited or deceitful, and that’s all he asks in return, be honest and come forward straight, and you and James will get along fine but he doesn’t tolerate side stepping or behind the back talking.
Icepick James Harman is the real deal, an song writers song writer and a showman’s, showman, a joker one minute and as serious and a tornado siren the next, I do love this man, and that’s why it was such a thrill to be able to finally interview him on KFAI, I was sitting in on a Wednesday for the House Party when Harold Trembly was in Memphis for the International Blues Challenge and I wanted to do something special so I called James, we have talked about doing this for some time but never did it before this, and what a charge I got when what had been planned to be about a 10 minute interview went on for just over 30 minutes, and though I didn’t ask him every thing I had hopped he answered every question no matter how inane or trivial honestly and openly and for that I am thankful to my friend James ’Drinkin’ Friend’ Harman.

Mark Fredell: James Thanks for joining me. Your out there hanging out in California still.
James Harman: Oh Yeah Thanks Slim, yeah you know every winter, you know I tour spring, summer and fall but you know I stopped ground touring in 2000 it’s all flying now but yeah I stay in California in the winter producing other projects and really keeping away from the cold, you know that’s my philosophy in life, I don’t do cold.
MF: Oh I know you’re a good old southern boy right, Aniston Alabama is you home town, I was reading in your bio. You know I have to say it feels a little odd to me, you and I have know each other for a lot of years and it’s a little weird to interviewing a friend.
JH: Well for you maybe.
MF: Thanks. Anyways, I’ve always wanted to ask you, or I guess talk to you about your liner notes, it’s something I always look forward to when there is a new James Harman release is those great liner notes.
JH: Really? I’ve never really thought that much about it, it’s really just what I’m feeling about those songs at the time.
MF: Well you know it’s always insightful, it’s always interesting and it seems to always put a smile on my face.
JH: Well I believe anything your write it’s like, a song a poem or what ever it’s like the rule is it’s like a woman’s dress. It’s got to be long enough to cover the subject and short enough to keep it interesting.
MF: See there you have it as I tell any one I meet that’s not familiar with you, I say James Harman knows how to turn a phrase, But listen I wanted to say I guess the only extensive Bio information on you really that I’ve come across was in the notes to those Dangerous Gentlemen the Rhino Records release came out in the early 80’s, well no in 87 I guess but it was recorded in the early 80’s.
JH. Well I don’t record albums I record songs, when ever I’ve got 3 or 4 songs ready to record I record them so it’s not usually bands I get together the guys I feel are right for the songs and record them then when I have enough done for a full package I put it together. I’m not trapped in that ridicules game of the band you know make the record in three weeks and put it out there I’m not gonna do that.
MF: Fair enough. Now though my question about that release, well those liner notes anyways, that’s where I’ve gotten the most info about you other than your web site, and it says in there I guess you dad was in law enforcement?
JH: Yeah, he was a police captain in Aniston, Alabama.
MF: Ok, well lets talks about when you were a young man, I bet still wearing those little boy shorts back in the fifties you used to cut class and head over I guess to the wrong side of the tracks to go play your harmonica.
JH: Oh sure you know it was before that, there was no cutting class yet I was just a little kid and had found some old guys that played and sang blues downtown and I found it interesting so I would go down and hang around them and play a little. There was this one guy, the main one his name was Radio Johnson and he used to play the guitar with a knife. I’d find him in this one alley behind the store where I’d buy my model cars, I’d come out and get on my bicycle and I’d hear them out there playing, and I’d stay and listen and then some times stop and play with them. So every now and then another policeman would see me down there and they’d call my dad on the radio; they’d say like captain Harman Jimmy’s in they alley of so and so playing with those guys again.
MF: Wow that’s something else and I suppose back in those days that was not musically the right place for you to be was it.
JH: Well I guess it could have been dangerous because of the people that might of walked by and not liked what they saw but, it wasn’t dangerous as far as my father was concerned see he was never a racist or anything he always had me going in the right direction. You know he’s the one that got me going on all of it, my mom got me on the piano when I was four and my dads harmonicas were in the piano bench so when I got done with my piano lesson I could take the harmonicas out and play them, so it all came at the same time plus I was singing in the church choir. We’re talking about from childhood not teenager you know. By the time I was sixteen I had stopped singing in the church and was singing for money.
MF: Alright. And that’s about when your life on the road started. You went from Aniston too? Didn’t you go to Florida first?
JH: Yep. Went to Panama City Florida and then To Miami Florida, then Chicago, New York, New Orleans, then California. I had to start over in each of those places trying to make a stand, you know I’d had nine 45’s out through the 60’s and toured non stop, playing dances for radio stations then nightclubs and such and really have been on the road ever since, it’s really all I’ve ever done.
MF: And you’ve got plenty of stories to tell about it too, I know I’ve heard plenty of them. But for the one listener who doesn’t know who James Harman is, all I’ll say is you need to find out cause he’s definitely a force to be reckoned with in the blues world.
JH: Aw shucks.
MF: Well now I mean it you are. I mean you’ve put out some great stuff, I think every record is a masterpiece. And even though you say it all the time and we just talked about it, the way you record and how you do a few songs at a time then eventually figure out which ones will work together, well they always seem to fit together perfectly.
JH: Well that’s the art don’t you see the art of making what we used to call an album, now it’s a Cd release, but if your gonna put a dozen songs on a release, they need to fit together well so you can have a motif, you know an over all picture of what that means; so that’s the art of doing this.
MF: So talking about releases, do you have anything in the pipeline now, I guess your last release was Lonesome Moon Trance came out in ’03...
JH: Well no I had a release after that it was the re-release of Strictly Live In ’85, which had three extra songs you know cause it was digitally re-mastered so you could fit more songs on it. Because Strictly Live In ’85 was mastered for an Lp., back then you could only have about 22 minutes on a side, so two sides is 44 minutes and a Cd will go an hour, so you know when I transferred all those four shows to a digital disc I was able to pull out three more songs that fit on to the disc. You didn’t get that?
MF: No that’s the one gapping hole in my collection
JH: Well it’s not the one gapping hole but it is A gapping hole…Anyways Lonesome Moon Trance and Strictly Live I actually have nothing to do with because my ex-partner (wife) of 35 years has seen fit to separate and break from me and so as a result I am getting nothing from either of those two albums.
MF: And such is the life of a blues musician I suppose.
JH: Yeah you’d think I’d be to smart for that but I made a great mistake, it wasn’t like keeping an eye on the record label guy it was keeping an eye on your best friend and partner.
MF: Well what’s in the pipeline now can we look forward to a new release?
JH: I’ve been busy producing other people really, I haven’t thought about putting out something on me in a while. I just produced this Danish artist Peter Nandy (? I couldn’t catch the last name clearly there was some static on the line I think this was it) from Copenhagen he’s a good friend of mine. And we’ve been doing some stuff that hasn’t come out yet. Eventually I get to throwing some tracks down and putting an album together, I haven’t really thought about it though. I only fly to about 40 or 50 festivals a year right now so it’s not like I’m out on the road 250 nights a year; it’s well see in the rock world you tour to promote the sales of your record in the blues world your record is just your calling card to get you work so it’s backwards. So there’s no point in touring if you don’t have a release but I’ve got that many festivals that call me and want me so I go play them without a new release and they seem to want me and still pay me so that puts me in a place with less pressure and I’m all about the path of least resistance. You know though I’ve probably got forty or fifty songs in the can at all times.
MF: Well of course you are ever vigilant in your writing I know that.
JH: Well you know your either prolific in writing or your not, when I’ve got three or four song ready to record I call in who I want to hear on them and we record them. That’s why I have so many different players on my albums. You know if you look at the one you just named, Lonesome Moon Trance, there’s probably 25 guys on that one.
MF: Yeah there’s a whole bunch of great guitar players, including Bob Margolin among others as well as all the rest of them.
JH: Well there’s no use in using a lame guitar player, there’s no percentage in that (laughs…)…
MF: Point taken, score one for Mr. Harman.
JH: See when your growing up and your playing with your friends and you playing parties and you all having fun and it’s all a great time then the minute you cross over that line and you start really making money and it becomes your work, eventually that point will come when the guy that can sing recognizes that he can sing and the guy that writes the songs weather it’s the same guy or not recognizes that he can write the songs. Well eventually poor old Tom the bass player from boy scouts is gonna get kicked out and their going to hire a real professional player cause they want it to sound good. It’s not a forward game it‘s more fun if you keep it that way. See I have some friends that are lawyers that have a band for fun on the weekends, you know hey what a hoot. But if your really in the ’music business’ it’s different, it is a business. See it’s a matter of learning the definitions, a band is not a group of friends, it’s a group of professional musicians playing behind an artist. An artist is a person with a recognizable voice. A song comes on the radio and you go, that’s Bobby Bland, well that’s an artist, now who’s in his band? You see. No one ever went crying down the hall did you hear Bobby Bland broke up… See people when they say band they mean group, cause there orientation is based on pop groups and you know that’s never gonna work anyways, cause look the most successful pop group of all time couldn’t stay together cause a few of them brought their girlfriends to rehearsal. Think about it.
MF: Yeah, well that’s the truth, and if there is one thing that James Harman always does it’s speak the truth.
JH: Hey there’s no point in lying, life’s to short.
MF: I know I’ve got 20 plus years of experience of you truth’s. And I’ll tell you it’s been 20 some very colorful and insightful years. I’ve learned a lot from your insights. Your one of just a handful of people in this blues world that I have always looked too to kind of help guide my direction on my journey of learning about this stuff. Not being a player and simply being a fan who wants to do what I can to promote it, your one of the guys I’ve always looked to as sort of a guiding light.
JH: Well thank you, I appreciate that. You know all I’ve ever tried to do is be a guy with a good song who could sing and if you got some inspiration out of that, well that’s a good thing.
MF: Oh absolutely. You know I got to ask you this; I heard, going back to the Strictly Live In ‘85 recording. You know for those of us that are from the west coast, that was one of those really legendary roots times you had some really great almost legendary players in the band at that time with Hollywood Fats and Kid Ramos on guitars among others, but some one told me that they’ve actually seen film of those shows, that there is some video out there.
JH: well you know there was probably so fifty or so videos shot from our shows we had no control over that then. There was also some five or six videos that we produced back when it seemed like videos might be a viable thing in the early eighties. You know we made it wasn’t anything real serious just like 35 millimeter film and it was on MTV and some of the movie channels late at night. You know video then was a different thing and nobody really cared about a blues band anyways, so we took our most commercial song and tried to get some attention. We had the Big Dance off of the Thank You Baby album on Enigma from eighty two or three, The Big Dance was trying to be a hit record, then of course Those dangerous Gentlemen album on Rhino you mentioned on there we had My Baby’s Gone. Those were just absolutely directed at the radio, there not blues records by any means. Their blues like the Rolling Stones would have played. We were trying to get on the radio so we could sell more records and do bigger shows. So there’s plenty of film now on this Youtube thing people are always sending me this amateur shot film of the band, now I get nothing from that, I have nothing to do with it, I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t sign on it to say they could do it, but this is the digital age of bootleg and nobody cares anymore. You know if some one on some dance floor at a show had a camera and filmed the band I have no control over that.
MF: Ok fair enough, but that kind of leads me to my question, which well one of my new obsessions is collecting video and film of blues, cause with the advent of DVD there is just so much stuff coming out now.
JH: Yeah your right and most of it, nobody is getting paid. See right now there is a DVD out that was a VHS five years ago and a CD ten years ago Live at Buddy Guys and it came from a TV show that I appeared on but I did not agree to ever have it released for sale. See the guy that well some body on the production crew it was a TV show in Chicago that I was on, they interviewed me then came to the show that night and shot a three camera shoot of the show and put it o TV well some one on that crew got a hold of the tapes and released a Cd and then the Video, I never agreed to that and I’m not getting paid for it. The show I agreed to it to be aired twice in Chicago and that was it, the guy put out the Cd then the video and now a DVD people are asking me all the time about it and they the guy that put it out well he’s a criminal and he’s robbing me, I never got a dime and I’m not the only one he’s done this with a bunch of guys.
MF: Oh I see. Well of the film footage that you have done though, those videos and such, it seems that that’s kind of the new wave of things, or even some of the labels now are putting out DVD’s or Cd’s with a companion DVD is that something you may consider down the line?
JH: No I won’t do that, I’m to old and fat now. When I made those films 25 years ago I looked ok but now I’m an old weird looking fat guy with a long white beard and that’s just not the image I want to capture. You know at 60 years old with arthritis in both my knees, it’s just not what I want to see on film. Now when you’d see me in the sixties, seventies or eighties or even the nineties, that was alright, is was still dancing around and looking pretty good. But now as an old guy it becomes less and less important to me I have no interest in filming what I do.
MF: Alright. So is there anything else on your plate, I know you said your doing 50 or so festivals a year. And what about Europe are you still getting over there to play?
JH: Well there’s tours in April or May I’ll be in Scandinavia then later in the year I’ll be down in central Europe. I usually go there every year, but in 2006 I did not go because I had done three European tours in 2005 I played twelve or fifteen country‘s even Liechtenstein you know a few that you don‘t usually go too. yeah so last year I did no Europe at all I did East Coast, Midwest, Canada and West Coast. I’ve already got some stuff going. I know there’s stuff being booked now there’s a big show in Delaware, one in Boston and then Detroit and Canada, then I’m sure you had mentioned one (MF: Yes a festival down in Iowa), Well that’s probably the Mississippi Valley Festival in Davenport I might be on that, I don’t really know for sure, I don’t know if that’s with my band or as a special guest with some regional band or maybe with Mark Hummel on one of his Harmonica blow down tours we do a lot of that. We do a lot of them, we’ll saddle up, the last one we had Kim Wilson then the one before was Lee Oscar, we’ve had Paul DeLay, you know they’re fun.
MF: Yeah I’ve talked to Mark about that and I want to try and help him find a venue back here to bring that show.
JH: You really should and make sure you have him bring me on it, he always gets different guys, it’s usually three to five harmonica players and their all friends and then a great backing band (Hummel’s band The Blues Survivors). Hummel’s got a great band a really solid rhythm section, and you know every body does their set each guy does a short maybe twenty or thirty minutes set then we all get up together and have a blow down, and you know what’s sillier than four or five harmonica’s on stage together maybe 4 or 5 clarinets. You know you don’t have five piano’s or something but we all get up there and play and it works cause everybody‘s polite everybody knows how to play with each other and we have a good time.
MF: Yeah, those Cd’s that Mark has put out from those shows it seems like a lot of fun from those.
JH: Oh yeah, you know we were on the Legendary Blues Cruise The first one to Mexico last year was Mark and his band and Kim Wilson and me and Kid Ramos was there back some one else Jeneva Magness I think. So of course when we did our last show, we got him up there with us so we had Rusty Zinn and Kid Ramos Bob Welsh the piano player, well he also playes great guitar, so we got him up there too playing guitar. It was just a lot of fun we had all had plenty of drinks and just played, lots of jammers.
MF: Well James, I don’t want to take out any more of your time. I want to thank you so much for taking a half hour of your day to chat with us here.
JH: Aw it’s a gas Mark your always fun, it‘s always great to talk to you.
MF: Your just such a great guy and you have a special place in my heart. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you I guess it was out in that little bar in San Pedro or some place about a year and a half two years ago.
JH: No no that was Lameda, a place called Ricky Jeans?
MF: Yeah that sounds right.
JH: Yeah I played there with Zola Moon twice, that was a little Crap bar. You know I don’t play out here much at all last year I only played three shows in California with my band. I Played the San Francisco festival, the Doheney festival and the Merced festival up in central valley. Three gigs in all of California in a year, I don’t play in California, I got priced out of all the clubs years ago. (MF: So I just got lucky then) Yeah well that was just an oddball thing Zola’s an old friend, believe it or not she used to open for me back around ‘78 and ‘79, she had just quit singing country and tried singing rhythm and blues. She was young and she’d open for me and now she looks just exactly the same and she sounds just great. But yeah that’s the reason I was there normally I wouldn’t have been in that place.
MF: Alright we James it’s just such a kick to finally get you on the air and share some of that great banter that you have all that knowledge and wisdom. You hold a special place in my heart I just want you to know that. Oh and I want to thank you for your tips about my Billy Boy Arnold interview. Thanks again.
JH: Aw Mark it’s been a treat thanks a lot.

And there you have it my conversation with one of the most talented and unique members of the blues world, Icepick James Harman. no matter what you might think, if you haven't heard or seen Harman you are not hip to some of the best in contemporary blues in the world today. James Harman is a genuine master!!!

Monday, December 25, 2006

JB Rest in peace...

MAY 3,1933 ~ DECEMBER 25, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

A conversation with Billy Boy Arnold

A while back I had the priveledge to visit on the radio with Billy Boy Arnold. He had come to town to do a show with Mar Hummel and the Blues Survivors, it was Billy's first time in the Twin Cities in nearly 17 years, so it was a real honor to have the chance to spend some time with him...

Talking about Sonny Boy. The real Sonny Boy.
Interview and Photo's by Mark Fredell

Billy Boy I want to hear stories. James Harman gave me a few points to talk to you about and one of them was to ask you about John Lee Williamson. I guess your were 13 or 14 when you met him?

Yeah, The real Sonny Boy Williamson I was 12. See when I was 11 years old I heard one of his records and was inspired by the way he played the harmonica and was fascinated at the sounds he was getting and I found out he was living in Chicago. I was working at my uncles store at 31st. and Giles and one day I saw a guy pass by with a guitar so I ran out and asked him did he know Sonny Boy and he said yes Sonny Boy just lives right down the street here (That guy with the guitar was none other than Lazy Bill Lucas.) at 3226 Giles, so I went in the store and wrote it down. Then on Saturday me and my cousin and another kid Patshay Jones, my cousin Archie we used to go to the movie theater on Saturday. So one Saturday we were getting ready to go to the movie show and I said lets all go over to Sonny Boys house and they said no, no lets go to the movie first then after we can go over there to Sonny Boys house. So we went to the movies at 63rd and Halsted we got out around 2 in the afternoon maybe 2:30 then we took the elevated train down to 33rd street right around 33rd and State, right between Sate and Wabash and we walked over to Giles and it was a rainy day. It had rained and it was just clearing up, you could still smell the rain in the air. So we got there and we rang the door bell; now we had never seen him so we didn’t know what he looked like but we rang the bell and a well dressed real dark skinned man came to the door and he said can I help you? We said we want to see Sonny Boy, he said this is Sonny Boy. We said we want to hear you play your harmonica, he said come on up I’m proud to have you. So we followed him in he lived on the second floor and we all went up stairs and up there was a piano with Johnny Jones along with a young lady there at the time and he said to them, they came to see Sonny Boy. So I asked him I said Sonny Boy how do you get your harmonica to make that wah wah wah sound? He said you have to choke it. So I told him you know I can play just like you, if you play your record, I can play just like you, but I didn’t know how to choke . But you know he was amazed that I knew the lyrics to his song he said, he told Johnny, he said this boy’s gonna be better than me. Then he demonstrated to show me how to choke the harmonica. Then he hooked up his amplifier and he played every song that we asked him to play. He’d do one then say does that sound like me and we say yeah that sure does sound like you. He took a lot of time with us , my cousin would take the microphone and say stuff in it like calling all cars calling all cars, you know like a kid would do. Then a guy came in with a guitar, his wife said somebody let that man in with the guitar. They were working on a new song, the title was ‘You Sure Make A Man Feel Good’. So, you know we being kids, we told him well we’re going to leave, I shook his hand and said well I’ll see you mister John Lee Williamson and he got a big kick out of that and he said come over any time and I’ll show you every thing I know, he said any time just come on by.
So I met with him another occasion, me and my cousin went by. See he traded comic books with the kids in the neighborhood and we came by, and I had seen his marine band harmonica so I knew what to buy, I didn’t have one but I’d seen his so I knew what to by, they were well worn you know like they had really been through the mill. So anyways we went by and I showed him my new marine band harmonica. So he said where’d you get the money to buy this, how did it cost you? I said 2 dollars and fifty cents. He said where did you get the money, I said well I sell Chicago Defenders after school on Friday and on Saturday’s I work at my uncle’s store. And he told his friend, he had another friend there with him and told him, you see now he sells papers and buys harmonicas and records. Then he told me he said now look don’t steal, if you ever need anything, if you are short for anything, come and see me I’ll give it to you, he said don’t steal. If I ain’t got it, he said his friend; he’ll give it to you. So then, it was kind of late, this was about maybe three weeks or so before he got killed. It was getting kinda late and he had called a cab, he said I sure would like you to see me play, me and my band, but you’re so young they won’t let you into the club but I sure would like you to see me play. So the last time I saw Sonny Boy he was getting into that cab to go to his show.
Now of course being kids, I didn’t come back for maybe three weeks, me and my cousin. We rang the bell and the lady on the first floor she looked out and said who are you looking for and we said we’re looking for Sonny Boy. She said haven’t you heard, Sonny Boy got killed. She said they killed him, they crushed his brain; she said his wife was down in Jackson Tennessee, she’ll be gone 2 weeks, then she’ll be back. I came back about a week or so later and she was back, she had some people with her a lady and a man and I got there and she said, this is the little boy who was taking lessons from Sonny Boy and she told me, oh he had one of your harmonicas, he looked for you to come back, she said let me pay you for it. I told her no you don’t have to pay me for it, he was my friend. The I said I wonder who would want to kill Sonny Boy, she said I don’t know, I said he was a real nice guy; she said evidently somebody didn’t think so. She said whoever it was there had to be more than one person cause Sonny Boy was a good man and he could wup the average two men, that’s what she said. And so at the age of 34 Sonny Boy was wiped out, he had been recording for about ten years. He was a major blues artist like BB King is today, at that time and he was the same age as Muddy Waters and Elmore James and all those guys. But you know he started out, he had a natural gift if you listen to ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’ you can hear where his talent was. You know his first record was a smash hit ‘ Good Morning School Girl / Sugar Mama’ and after that he just put out hit after hit after hit. So Rice Miller, Sonny Boy number 2 knew him, his wife said that he used to come to there house down in Jackson Tennessee and they called him Boy Blue. So Sonny Boys record was so popular, it was so big with the black audience I can’t even describe; the white audience didn’t even know who he was, but with the black audience he was extremely popular. Cause he was the only major solo harmonica player on records and if it hadn’t have been for John Lee Williams there would have been no Little Walter, no Billy Boy Arnold, no James Harman, Junior Wells, Charlie Musselwhite, now the reason why is because we would have never been inspired, see no one had done what Sonny Boy did. See what he did was he made the harmonica so popular that people wanted to do that. Muddy Waters, when Sonny Boy made Good Morning… Muddy Waters was trying to play the harmonica, Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Boyd, see Eddie Boyd was kind of a snob, he didn’t want to play blues, he wanted to be a jazz man; but Good Morning School Girl was such a phenomena that everybody jumped on the harmonica kick. So that’s how it happened.

His relationship with Bo Diddley.

Now I wanted to ask you, you are just one of a handful of guys, still around that are one of the direct links that connects blues to Rock & Roll, now it was back in the early fifties I guess 51 to maybe 53 that that you were playing on the street corners with Bo Diddley. Now where you aware that you guys were doing, creating something totally different and new.

Well I was aware that Bo Diddley had something special. Of course then he wasn’t Bo Diddley, see he was named Ellis McDaniels and we were called Ellis McDaniels and The Hipsters and I was aware that he had something different from most people. See he wasn’t a straight blues player he had something extra a little jazz and calypso thing he’d do. He had an acoustic guitar with a tremolo on it and he played that hambone beat. So when we went to Chess Records, we didn’t have a song called Bo Diddley and his name wasn’t Bo Diddley. Now how that came about, when I was 15 years old we were playing on a street corner and Roosevelt Jackson , he was the bass player, well once he said hey Ellis, there goes Bo Diddley, pointing to this little short bow legged guy on the opposite side of the street. Now that guy was a comedian at the Indiana Theater, see back at that time movie theaters were every where, television had just came in in 1948. So then at the Indiana Theater they showed movies all day, then every Saturday night they had what they called the midnight ramble. And at the midnight ramble they had singers, dancers comedians and they featured a major blues artist. Well the blues artists that they featured the most was Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie see I used to pass by there and I saw that they had a big life sized portrait of them, now they wouldn’t be there together maybe Big Bill would be there three or four weeks then Memphis Minnie would. So anyways when he said there goes Bo Diddley, that was the funniest thing I think I had ever heard in my life I just cracked up I had never heard that before and I just laughed and laughed. So anyhow when we went to Chess Records we were Ellis McDaniels and The Hipsters and we didn’t have a song called Bo Diddley, he was playing the hambone beat on the guitar with the tremolo. And he was just making stuff up, singing papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring, if that diamond ring don’t shine he gonna take it to a private eye. So then I said to him why don’t you say Bo Diddley. then Leonard Chess said wait a minute, what does that mean, what does Bo Diddley mean? is that something derogatory would that offend the black people, would they get angry? I said no it just means a little bow legged comical guy. So then he started singing, Bo Diddley gonna buy his baby a diamond ring… Now I wrote three or four of the versus of that song right there in the studio. Cause really we didn’t have a song we made it up there in the studio and I wrote, I know three but I think it was four of the lines, but I didn’t get the credit because you know I was just 17 or 18 and I didn‘t know to say wait a minute I‘m helping to write this song. Then to our surprise when the record came out, we thought it was going to be by Ellis McDaniels, but a couple weeks later it came out Bo Diddley by Bo Diddley. Now if I had never said, why don’t you say Bo Diddley, the name Bo Diddley would have never appeared on records.

Just talkin’ bout the blues.

Maybe you could talk a little about those early days, all the great players and maybe even why some hit it big and some didn’t…

Well you know the blues is about telling a story. You know and you had some great story tellers, like Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon and such, but the you know a lot of the players for them guys didn’t ever step out cause they weren’t good singers. Hubert Sumlin, or Matt Murphy, there great guitar players but they can’t sing, and you need to be able to sing the blues you gotta tell the story. Jody Williams he left music pretty early, he never really presented himself as a star then he quit. But you blues is about the story, jazz is about the music and that’s where the great players can step out. But if ya don’t sing your not gonna make it real big I blues.
And you and your own career, did you do a lot of sessions for people in those days?
No, no not at all, I did I think two sessions with Ellis (Bo Diddley) then I went over to Vee Jay and got my own career as a recording star. Over at Chess they had Little Walter and he had surpassed everyone you know, even Sonny Boy. Walter was the main guy over there and I didn’t record with anyone after Bo. Only did my own thing.
From this point we chatted a little about that nights show and a few other non specific things and then we were done….

It was a real treat to have the chance to visit with this true legend of the blues world, and when you consider that Billy Boy Arnold was there at the very beginning with Bo Diddley, as well as penning what has become a certified classic song which has been covered by countless blues and rock artists over the years, ranging from John Hammond, The Yardbirds and David Bowie just to name three to record I Wish You Would. Billy is a true gentleman and a wealth of blues history. I thank him sincerely for the time he spent in studio with me. It was a blast.
Later that night, the show was a lot of fun Hummel and the band were as good as ever and Billy was solid as a rock...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Passing of another legend
I recieved this in an email today.

From Hawkeye Herman:
It is with a heavy heart that I report to you that 96 year old blues legend Henry Townsend passed away this evening at St. Mary's Ozaukee Hosptal, Mequon, WI at approximately 10PM (CDT) just hours after having been the first person presented with a 'key' in Grafton's Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame. The last surviving blues artist to have recorded for Paramount Records.The Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame, currently under construction, will be a stylized piano keyboard. Forty-four keys will each have the name of a famous Paramount recording star.It was in Grafton, Wisconsin that Henry Townsend recorded two songs for Paramount Records in 1930; "Doctor, Oh Doctor," and "Jack of Diamonds Georgia Rub."Mr. Townsend made the trip to Grafton to be honored by the Village of Grafton as the first inductee on the Walk of Fame along with his son, Alonzo, his son's fiance, Kendra, and two members of his band. Mr. Townsend arrived in Grafton on Thursday, Sept. 21st in good spirits, but confined to a wheelchair. He was to perform at the first annual Paramount Blues Festival as the honored guest. He was to be honored again on Sunday, Sept. 24th, at a noontime Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame ceremony. Myself, members of the Grafton Blues Association, Alonzo, Kendra, and the band members all went out to dinner together on Thursday night. Henry was talkative, happy to be in Grafton, and excited about the weekend events that lay ahead.However, the following day, Friday, 9/22, he was not feeling well and it was necessary for him to be hospitalized. The hospital staff took immediate and great care of him. He wanted to get out of there and perform on Sat. a the festival. But it was not to be. He condition did not improve and the doctors refused to release him on Sat. so that he could perform. He was extremely disappointed. He told band member Jeff Shuman, "They didn't say I couldn't perform today." Shuman had to go and get the doctor and have him come back to Mr. Townsend's hospital room and explain to him that this meant that he could not leave the hospital to perform.An announcement was made at the festival that he would not be present to perform. Alonzo Townsend spoke on behalf of his father, and apologized to the crowd for his father not being present, and that it was wonderful that Grafton had chosen to honor him, and that he hoped that he would be able to make it to the Walk of Fame ceremony on Sunday. It was not to be. Alonzo Townsend attended the noon ceremony on Sunday and accepted the honor for his father. (see photo below)Henry Townsend is one of the few musicians who has recorded in every decade for the past 80 years. He was the last surviving Paramount blues artist. Born in Shelby, MS in 1909. As a youngster, he ran away from home to St. Louis where, as a teenager he heard Lonnie Johnson and other legends develop the blues sound. Henry was influenced by local barber Henry Spaulding's recording of "Cairo Blues," and his boyhood friend, David Perchfield. In 1929, an audition was arranged by Sam Woolf, owner of a music store in St. Louis. Townsend recorded for Columbia in 1929, and for Paramount in 1930. It was piano great Roosevelt Sykes who brought Townsend to the attention of Paramount records.Henry Townsend became the 'Godfather' of St. Louis blues. Performing on piano and guitar his entire life, and nurturing the younger generations in the world of the blues. His last release was "The 88 Blues."Sadly submitted by Michael "Hawkeye" Herman9/24/06 in Grafton, WI------------p.s.Since I am on the road and unable to take the time to submit this message to other interested parties and web sites ... you all have my permission to post this message and photo wherever blues fans might congregate online and in the media.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

She's Back...

By Mark Fredell

Wednesday afternoon I got home from work and as I usually do I turned on the old computer and checked my email(s) and surfed around a bit. While I was checking in on my My-space page (yes I am one of the masses), I came across a rather intriguing bulletin posting that read like this:

If you happen to be near Shaw's Bar and Grill in Minneapolis tomorrow (Thursday) evening located at 1528 University Ave. N.E. around 9:00 you should stop on in. I hear someone and her band will be doing a surprise pre-tour show :o)

It was from my old friend Shannon Curfman.
Many of you may remember Shannon from some 8 years ago when she hit the local scene at the tender age of 13 as one of the next “big things” to come out of the Fargo meets Minneapolis music world. A friend of Jonny Lang, Shannon even then was an emotive soulful singer, she did hit it big, signing to Arista Records, touring the world with the likes of Aerosmith, BB King, Buddy Guy and others, even scoring a TV concert special ( I think on the family channel). Then things took a turn and she fell off the radar. There were issues with the label(s), artist integrity, boyfriends, you know the usual stuff that every 14, 15, 16.… your old girl goes thru. Well now it’s 2006, Shannon turned 21 in July, has a new band, is working with an independent label and is about to hit the road for the first time in close to 6 years. It has been a whirlwind ride for this very talented young lady but she seems to have kept things together pretty well and yes the Shannon Curfman Band played a surprise show at Shaw’s in Nord-East Thursday August 17.
Now of course she did come through town a few months back on a short tour sharing a double bill with another young female singer song writer named Lennon, but that show was simply a sit down two guitar affair for Miss. Curfman. This one on the other hand was the first time in front of an audience for her new band before hitting the road (actually as I write this) for shows that will take them from coast to coast now thru mid November. They’ll be playing festivals and clubs in towns from California to New Jersey, North Dakota to Florida even coming back to the cities for a show at Bunkers in October. They used the opportunity at Shaw’s to kind of work off the first show jitters and try some of the new material in front of a mostly familiar and friendly crowd. All in all it was a fun night, they did just one set about 90 minutes long and I must say Shannon’s voice seems a strong and expressive as ever, her guitar playing is even better than before and the new band is really pretty good. They seem to get along well and it shows that Shannon is in charge. There was nothing flashy or fancy just some catchy bluesy rock tunes old and new and maybe 70 people there to listen. It was good to see her on stage again I hope things keep going in the right direction for this nice young lady and once again I will be able to say I knew her when. Good Luck Shannon!

Another Elder Statesman of the BLUES.

It Ain’t Nothing But A Party.
Story and photo’s by Mark Fredell

August 1st 2006, It was hot and steamy in the mid west the air was thick like you were walking thru a damp sponge. I had made the trip from my place in Saint Paul Minnesota down to Chicago the day before and man was it ever sweltering, this nation wide heat wave was showing no signs of loosening it’s grip anytime soon. Chicago was very near 100 degrees with lots of humidity and the night ahead promised to be even hotter, I was in town for this night and this night only as it was the celebration of Buddy Guys 70th birthday. I knew it would be busy but had hopes (un answered hopes as it turned out) that the AC in Legends would be up to the task; NOPE… I arrived with my brother-in-law Marquel Jordan at about 10 minutes before 8 and the place was already filling up and hot. Quel (Marquel) is the tenor sax player and sometimes singer for Brother John (Kattke) Band. And as one of the two host bands for the Legends Monday night blues jam they were invited to be the house band for the party this night. I found myself a spot near a column with a small ledge enough for the plate of food I eventually ordered and stood there and sweated. As Marquel and the band got set up the crowd grew thicker and the room got warmer, then at 9 o’clock it was show time and they began, brother John is a solid guitar player, though he toured with Buddy as the keyboard player on the Damn Right I Got the Blues Tour back in the early 90’s he’s also a pretty good singer, they stuck to mostly straight bar room blues for the first few numbers then in the middle of a song, The man of the hour took to the stage strapped on his black and white poke-a-dot strat and they cut deep into Muddy Waters ‘She’s Nineteen Years Old’. then there were two more slow blues and Buddy thanked everyone for coming out to help celebrate his birthday. He seemed genuinely moved saying that for a while he never thought he’d make it this long. He closed by stating “Ah man, I don’t want to play right now I just wanna go down stairs and get high.” He left the stage and disappeared to the dressing rooms; only to emerge a short time later and greet some of his well wishers. The band continued to play, John pulled Marquel to the vocal mic and he cut loose on some classic soul tunes, some Al Green, King Floyd and others, then it was time for the first break. Brother John asked for Buddy to return to the stage and they brought out a huge cake, the whole room sang the birthday song, he blew out the candles and a lovely waitress in the house brought him his present (from the staff) a custom painted Fender Strat with his image, the Chicago skyline, some classic club signs and more painted on it, as well as his name in flaming lettering in the frets of the neck. Buddy seemed to tear up a bit as he thanked every once again. By this time Koko Taylor was in the house sitting in the VIP area, also in attendance were Wayne Baker Brooks, Nick Moss, Mathew Skoller and other Chicago blues veterans. As the staff was serving up cake there was mixing and mingling, Buddy took up a seat at the front of the bar and signed autographs, then after a while the Brother John Band retook the stage and it wasn’t long before the birthday boy was back up, guitar in hand, singin’ and playing with passion and intensity that only he Buddy Guy can conjure. After another three songs he was off again, and the band tore through another fine set of blues and soul keeping the room grinning from ear to ear. At the midway point of this second set both Skoller and Moss were invited up and they played some very satisfying straight (no chaser) Chicago blues. Skoller blew some tasty harmonica while Moss’ guitar was in the pocket. As the second set wrapped up, the crowd began to thin a bit and before to long Buddy himself departed for the night, leaving perhaps a hundred or so diehards in the room to soak up one more stellar set from Brother John and company, the highlight of which had to be Marquel’s awe inspiring version of Sam Cooks ’A Change Is Going To Come’ the band wound down just past 1:00am and as I hung out for them to pack up, the temperature in the room was finally approaching bearable though the heat generated from the stage is what has left the biggest imprint in my mind. To be able to share in the reaching of such a milestone for some one that is arguably one of the most important members of the blues world is a memory that will stay with me forever. Happy 70th Buddy Guy and here’s a wish for many more years ahead for you.

It was a great surprise

Ron Thompson gets and gives a surprise.
Story and Photo’s by Mark Fredell

You may not know the name Ron Thompson but if you’re a fan of the blues of the past 30 years the odds are good you’ve heard him play. Based in the bay area of California since the mid 70’s Ron has played with, recorded with, and simply shared space with some pretty heavy hitters over the past 4 decades. He spent a few years in the early eighties touring and recording with John Lee Hooker, he’s also worked with Santana and Mark Hummel to name just two others, and was for a brief time in a (side project) band with Mick Fleetwood (yes that Mick Fleetwood). Well like so many others, I was (until August 5th ) one of the many that had read is name in the liner notes of countless recordings but had never seen him in person before this show.
And what a show it was. Originally slated as a double bill with another Bay area guitarist Ron Hacker; Hacker unfortunately was under the weather and couldn’t make the trip, but Thompson and his band the Resistors made up for it in spades. Starting off solo with his acoustic guitar (pick-up literally duct tapped in place) Ron and the guys performed with an inspired fervency. A passionate and energetic performer, Ron dances and moves with almost reckless abandon. Not only playing guitar, but piano and harmonica, at times all at once. He’s a good singer too. The music was a blend of straight blues with lot’s of slide ala Elmore James, J.B. Hutto and Robert Nighthawk to some solid roots rockers from the likes of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis to the Blasters and even a rendering of the Mink DeVille inspired ‘Cadillac Walk’. They played (mostly) fast and hard, slowing the tempo only a few times during their first 2 sets. Set one ran just over 90 minutes which anyone that frequents the clubs these days knows is a long one, then within about 15 minutes they were back at it hitting just as hard for set 2, rockin’ & rollin’ till about 5 minutes before midnight. At this point the majority of the audience figured it was over and headed out the door, which as it turned out was a BIG mistake, after a very brief 5 minute break Ron and the Resistors took the stage one more time. During the first song I had to, well lets say ‘take care of some business’ and while I was indisposed that first song ended and I could hear Ron talking to the people though I couldn’t make out what he was saying. So imagine my surprise as I came back into the show room to see not just Thompson and his band on stage but also Chris Isaak and half of his band as well. Lime green outfit, guitar in hand singin’ an old blues rocker. Chris and his guys who one by one hit the stage until you had both bands filling it sang and danced and played for a full half hour then like in a flash of light they were gone. Ron thanked everybody for coming out and the evening ended. What a great surprise. Ron Thompson and the Resistors were great. And to be treated to a star the magnitude of Isaak in such a setting made it a doubly good treat.

Friday, July 28, 2006

It's a site to see


I recommend a visit to to discover the passion, vitality, sincerity and diverse musical talents of Michael Ubaldini. Mike’s an artist that defies categorization...the Los Angeles times stated he is better than Bruce Springsteen at probing the national soul. He began picking out tunes on guitar at the age of seven playing Hank Williams and Ray Charles songs his father taught him. Influenced early on by the likes of Otis Redding, Elvis, Creedence Clear Water Revival, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Gene Vincent, Muddy Waters, The Beatles and Bob Dylan, as well as other writers and poets. In early 1980 he formed his first band "The Earwigs" at the age of 16, and recorded the 45 inch single "Here Come the Earwigs". They subsequently disbanded in 1984.

From his heart and soul 'Michael' with his cranking band (or with only his acoustic guitar and harmonica) goes against the grain of today's fabricated pop and 'watered down' Punk and Country formula music. Michael plays and sings his songs with a passion and integrity rarely heard these days. He lives and has lived his songs. Singing them with honesty, integrity and sincerity. He inked a record deal with EMI in 1994. His debut CD 'Mystery Train' produced by Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats which featured Michael's original material and guest guitarist Brian Setzer. Brian invited Michael to open several shows. In 1999 Michael abandoned his electric guitar and released the indie classic 'Acoustic Rumble' a haunting disc that received rave reviews in the United States and was the LA Times pick for #1 Disc of the year (1999) as well as, 10th best of the entire decade. In May 2001, after releasing the artistic follow up 'American Blood', the 'Rock N Roll Poet' strapped on his electric guitar and toured the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan. When arriving home he formed a new band and the result was 2002's 'Rock N Roll Saloon'. Critically acclaimed in the United States and Europe it was picked by the Orange County register as "One of the top records of the year!".

2005 would turn out to be a big year for Michael with the release of "Avenue of Ten Cent Hearts", an impressive mix of 15 solid Ubaldini originals showcasing his wide range of musical styles. A favorite of fans and critics alike, it earned Michael five star reviews in the United States and Europe. He also won two Orange County Music Awards for Best Roots rock and Best Live Male Performer. A tour of the American South, and the United Kingdom which finished at The Cavern Club in Liverpool England, home of the Beatles.

Now in 2006 Michael Ubaldini is back with a new release ‘Empty Bottles & Broken Guitar Strings’ 20 tracks of rootsy American rock & roll!
He’s not Blues, but Michael is definantly bluesy. As a singer he is rough and reliable, a solid guitar player and simply one of the best “unknown” songwriters in the land today.

Michael is a Rock N Roll Poet.

He is a true...American Rebel.

all photos courtesy of Micheal Ubaldini's web site.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Another Blues Legend Leaves Us


It Saddens me to read the words; Floyd Dixon died Wednesday, July 26, 2006 in Los Angeles, California, of kidney failure. He was 77. One of the major artists of the 20th century he was sorely under appreciated and to a degree over looked even in the blues community when he should have reigned supreme. It was in the late forties and into the fifties that Floyd along with Charles Brown, Ray Charles and Louis Jordan helped to transform swing music into Rhythm & Blues. Legend has it that Dixon was the man that told a then struggling Ray Charles he needed to stop trying to sound like Nat Cole and create his own sound, and along side Charles and the others Floyd helped lay the foundation for what would eventually become Rock & Roll. He began recording in 1947, and had his first minor hits in 1951 and 52 with Telephone Blues and Call operator 210 before striking gold with the now classic Hey Bartender.
He was born in Marshall, Texas on February 8, 1929. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was 13. A self-taught pianist, Dixon began his career by singing mostly cool, after-hours piano blues in the Charles Brown mode. Soon enough, however, Dixon charted his own territory with a more rocking, jumping style.

From traditional, slow blues to booming R&B, pop and proto-rock and roll, he truly created a sound and style that was his alone. Dixon recorded and performed throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s touring with just about every other major blues artist of the time. He nearly left music for good in the late 70’s living quietly in Paris Texas until he got a call to perform in Sweden. Then in 1980 he joined the European Blues Caravan tour with his old friends Charles Brown and Ruth Brown. He spent the early and mid eighties on the road once more even touring with the then unknown Robert Cray and Little Charlie & The Nightcats. As things slowed once more in the later 80’s he landed in the Los Angeles area and this is when I had the privilege to meet and get to know him a little. I was hosting a blues radio show in Barstow California and living in Huntington Beach at the time and Floyd was a bit of a fixture playing small bars and hitting the blues jam circuit. It was at one of these jams that our paths first crossed. then In 1992 I had the brilliant idea of producing a one day blues festival in the high desert and Floyd was on the short list of artists I wanted to perform. He wound up being my headliner and though the day was a financial disaster for me.

Mr. Dixon was incredible, closing out a long day of music in grand style having to follow some great acts, not the least of which was Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers. Floyd was up to the task and played his heart out.
In 1993 Dixon received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Career Achievement Award. This helped him secure gigs at major outdoor blues festivals, including the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Sacramento Blues Festival and the Chicago Blues Festival. Then in 1996 a new album, "Wake Up And Live!," was released on Alligator Records. The album won the 1997 Blues Music Award from The Blues Foundation for "Comeback Album of the Year." The CD reintroduced Dixon to old fans and brought him many new ones. He never stopped performing, and he recorded another CD, "Fine, Fine Thing," for the HighJohn label in 2005. In June 2006, Dixon recorded a live CD/DVD with fellow pianists Pinetop Perkins and Henry Gray, scheduled for a fall release on HighJohn.

Floyd “Mr. Magnificent” Dixon was always a class act. With style and grace, he was a humble and caring man and always had a warm smile to share with a fan. He will be greatly missed.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A True Blues Imperial!
My conversation with Lil’ Ed Williams.
By Mark Fredell

So the weekend of July 7th was a guitar enthusiasts dream come true; on Saturday that weekend you had two great shows by two of the best players in the land Tinsley Ellis was stopping by Famous Dave’s and Lil’ Ed (Williams) & the Blues Imperials where playing at the Narrows in Navarre, I once again hosted the Showcase of Rhythm & Blues on KFAI radio and had the pleasure of getting to do a short interview with each of them. Tinsley and I talked for maybe four minutes since he was actually driving at the time but I caught Ed as he and the band were getting checked into their hotel and that chat lasted a bit longer and went a little something like this….

Mark Fredell: On the phone with me right now is Mr. Lil’ Ed. Ed how you doing brother?
Lil’ Ed: Hey Mark, we’re doing good, how you doing?
M.F.: Just great Man.
Ed: Awe good.
M.F: Now I haven’t seen you since last month at Buddy Guys club in Chicago.

Ed: Yeah that’s right.
M.F: Now I know you were going to try and get down here to the station but of course traffic and all that road construction I guess we’ll just do this on the phone. So how was last nights show? You were somewhere in Wisconsin right?
Ed: Yep we we’re in Myrtle Wisconsin, we had a really good time. I had a chance to present the people some stuff from my new Cd.
M.F: Right that just came out in the past few weeks right, tell the people a little about it?
Ed: Right it just came out it’s called Rattleshake, and I’ll have some of them with me down at the club tonight.
MF: Now so the people can know your playing at the Narrows to night in Navarre, what time will you be starting?
Ed: I think around nine or nine thirty, something like that.
MF: Ya know for the people that don’t know it astonishes me in the blues world, as good as you and the band are that there are so many blues fans that haven’t actually seen or heard you, I hear things like oh yeah I’ve heard OF him but they don’t necessarily know what you sound like. But maybe you could share with us a bit about who your influences are where your sound comes from that kind of thing?
Ed: Well you know my influences are really all the old guys, you know my uncle ( J.B. Hutto) started me off. And after then he got me listening to guys like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, all those guys you know. Yeah all those guys are basically my influences.
MF: Right. You know you keep it real simple you know it’s real, straightforward gutbucket blues in the finest tradition of Chicago blues (Ed: YEAH…) It’s real Chicago party music.
Ed: That’s right, I like it like that.
MF: Now for all those out there that haven’t seen this man he’s got a great grin, he’s got a smile that goes from ear to ear, his teeth just shining and he’s usually grinning like that as he’s doing some sort of back bend or duck walk across the stage ( Ed laughs on the other line… Yeah that’s right). Its great, but you know that tone you have I gotta say it’s almost eerie, not just how much you look like you uncle (Ed. Well thank you) but your sound you sound so much like him too. The sound you get is almost like a highbred of J.B. and Elmore James.
Ed: Well yeah, you know those are really the two guys I focused on you know J.B he started me off teaching me and then when I heard Elmore, wow, I just loved his style and his tone and I wanted to combine those two together you know.
MF: Well Ed to my ear at least you did it, and it’s a good thing (Ed: Thank you.) Ah E you know I love you guys, and I can’t say enough about what a great show this band does. I was trying to remember the first time I saw Lil’ ed & the Blues Imperials and I don’t recall if it was at the Long Beach Blues Festival in the late 80’s or if was on that Alligator Records anniversary tour you guys all did so many years ago (Ed: Oh yeah that was fun that tour, I don’t remember which one we met at I guess I’m getting old…) Well it was one of them but what I remember it was like the top of my head got blown off simply from the sheer energy and joy you all put into every song on stage.( Ed Laughs…) Anyways Ed what are some of the highlights on this new record?
Ed: You know I really like this new record because it’s got a lot of more of me than what most people think I am, I got a little bit of country and western, blues style, there’s a little bit of soul and even a little rock & roll in there. So this is really more about the stuff I like to listen too you know cause I listen to all types of music now a days. You know back then (when I was starting out) I listened to mostly all the old blues guys cause I was trying to learn it but now, I like to listen to all types of music I like to feel it and hear what’s going on cause every body has something different to say.
MF: Alright then. Now Ed you gotta tell me about, tell the story about your first recording session. Now you had already been playing for some ten or 11 years when you were invited to record for Alligator Records for their ’New Blue Bloods’ record right?
Ed: Oh Yeah, yeah Bruce (Iglauer) had come in when we were playing in a bar called B.L.U.E.S. in Chicago. And on a break he came to introduce himself to me and you know I didn’t really know him I didn’t know Bruce at all. But he introduce himself and told me he wanted us to do a couple of songs for a compilation record he was putting out, which was cool with me you know cause me and my brother (the Imperials bass player Pookie) was trying to, um we were gonna safe up some money and cut a 45 cause records were still out then. So we set the date and got down to the studio about 5, you know I was working at the carwash and my brother was too so we got there in our work clothes cause we didn’t have time to go home and change so there we was boots and all we set up and started playing. At first Bruce told us to just play like we always do, just have some fun and play some songs, well none of us had ever been in a studio before, so that’s exactly what we did, and we finished a song or two and all the people in the control room were hollering and hootin’ so I started doing duck walks and back bends (MF: all in the confines of the studio… Laughter…) Yeah that’s right, right there, just getting wild and crazy. So then after a while he (Bruce) cam out and he said man this is great, lets go ahead and do an album, we shook hands and just kept going, we had cut 30 songs in about three hours, just kept the tape rolling. (MF: I heard that some where in there some one made a beer run too…) Yeah they did I’m not sure who that was.

MF: I guess your first couple of albums were done pretty much the same way weren’t they? Just go to the studio and cut every thing live…
Ed: That’s right, that one (Rough Housin’), Chicken Gravy & Biscuits, then on What You See Is What You Get we did just a couple of overdubs and then the next one to. This one (Rattleshake), this last one we pretty much just went in and cut it. No overdubs or retakes on this one really.
MF: Now the thing I want to know Ed is when are you going to work that deal with Bruce to release all those extra songs from those first sessions?
Ed: I don’t really know, probably when we’re both old and grey and both can’t walk.
MF: Well ok but that’s along time off. Ed I want to thank you for taking some time to spend with us here at KFAI I’ll see you tonight at the Narrows in Navarre, Now we’re gonna get back into the music with the title track form that second record of yours Ed what was that called?
Ed: Oh thanks Mark. That was Chicken Gravy and Biscuits….
MF: That’s right, Chicken Gravy and Biscuits thanks again Ed see ya later my friend…

Later that evening I headed out to catch the first couple sets from Ed and the Imperials it was great as usual though the first set was hampered a bit by some amplifier troubles though once they got them worked out Ed and the guys put on a typically stellar show.

This interview aired live of KFAI Radio in the Twin Cities on July 8th, 2006 and was also published in the paper Blue Monday.