Thursday, March 24, 2011

Magic Dick & Jay Geils - Little Car Blues

The cats from the incredible J. Geils Band have grown and matured since their time in the hottest (white) blues/r'n'b band of the 60's/70's but still have their hearts firmly rooted in the blues. They are now taking a bit mellower groove, though, and are creating a big band/swing/jump blues sound as opposed to the gritty Chicago blues the original group was based on. This is still fine stuff, but not as wild as dirty as the old days.

Magic Dick is singing lead here as well as playing phenomenal harp, but he is just ok as a vocalist - nowhere near as "magical" as he is on harmonica. The backing band includes a second guitarist, drummer and stand up bassist, which adds to the more trad/swing sounds.

Fans of the fantastic J. Geils Band should not be expecting more of the same, but if you dig variety in your blues (T-Bone Walker, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, etc), then check these guys out for more fiery licks!

Black Snake Moan - Soundtrack

I have been fascinated with the bizarre, almost surrealistic movie Black Snake Moan since it came out and, of course, have totally dug the main character, Lazarus (played by Samuel Jackson), a retired bluesman who still falls back on his music in times of trouble and sorrow. This soundtrack, while flawed as almost all soundtracks are, is a cool companion to this very politically incorrect movie filled with twisted biblical allegories and wild symbolism (a space heater is one of the main characters in the story!).

The movie is dedicated to bluesman R.L. Burnside and utilizes many of his songs and even his sidemen. Jackson actually learned how to play guitar for the movie, though I'm not sure if he really appears on the soundtrack or he just used that so that he could be convincing on screen. Jackson does sing here though and there are some superb moody tracks ("Black Snake Moan" - a Blind Lemon Jefferson tune - and "Just Like a Bird Without a Feather") and outrageously upbeat wildness ("Alice Mae", "Stackolee"). Other artists on the soundtrack include Burnside himself, John Doe (of X), Precious Bryant, the Black Keys and more.

Not a perfect blues album by any stretch but some fun tunes worth checking out. Funnily, this soundtrack tends to be more expensive than the DVD itself, but both are cool blues!

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings - I Learned the Hard Way

I think I stumbled across this band via Crooks and Liars Late Night Music Club and was highly impressed by what I heard. This modern band perfectly mimics the fine soul sounds of the late 60's/early 70's with super vocals by Sharon Jones (with tones ranging from Petula Clark to Lisa Kekaula from the Bell Rays) and classy backings from the 8 piece (!) Dap-Kings, who are sometimes augmented by additional musicians!

Any fans of great, sweet soul should pick this up! I will definitely be looking into Jones' other records!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

aww, bummer - RIP Pinetop Perkins

Longtime blues piano player Pinetop Perkins dies

Muddy Waters was looking for a new piano player when chain-smoking journeyman Pinetop Perkins showed off his aggressive keyboarding during a jam session.

"He liked what he heard. The rest is history," said Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, who was a drummer in Waters' band back in 1969.

By then, Perkins, an old school bluesman with the gravelly voice, for years had played the rickety bars among the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, and toured far beyond them with rock pioneer Ike Turner in the 1950s. He performed with the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson and slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk.

When he and Waters hooked up, Pinetop was in his 50s and never had recorded an album of his own but "had more energy than us younger folks did," Smith said.

That verve kept him jamming in the clubs and collecting Grammy Awards until shortly before his death from cardiac arrest Monday at his Austin, Texas, home. He was 97.


Friday, March 18, 2011

The Big Horn – The History of the Honkin’ and Screamin’ Saxophone

I have always been a big fan of the 40’s & 50’s sax-oriented jazz, jump-blue & R’n’B that was the obvious precursors of R’n’R. This music had the wild abandon and energy that would later epitomize r’n’r and which drove its own audiences into the same type of frenzy. The honkin’ & screamin’ saxophone was just as vitally important to this music as the guitar later became and, in fact, did much to influence the sound and style of the guitar and the guitarists. (For those who don’t know, the original fuzz boxes were meant to imitate the sound of a sax, due to that instrument’s popularity and the sax players were probably wilder and had more stage presence that 98% of all rock players.)

I have never been well versed in this music, though, other than a couple of compilations and knowing who Big Jay McNeeley was (and having had the privilege of seeing him in the late 80’s/early 90’s). This 4-CD set of over 100 songs contains many, if not all, of the important players of this phenomenon and is a fantastic overview. Again, I found this at a very reasonable price and again the packaging and huge booklet are terrific and informative.

Anyone who wants to learn where their favorite guitarist picked up his sounds and moves should grab & study this amazing set! (Great pick of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady tripping to the sounds on the cover, too!)

The Cosimo Matassa Story

I just found out about this legendary New Orleans studio via the Dr. John book. When I discovered this 120 song (!), 4-CD set at a very reasonable price on Amazon, I had to pick it up.

This is a terrific collection for any lover of early r'n'r, R'n'B, blues and the New Orleans sound. Dozens of artists are showcased, from T-Bone Walker to Fats Domino to Little Richard to Guitar Slim to Pee Wee Crayton to Huey "Piano" Smith to Clarence "Frogman" Henry and many, many, many more.

This comes with a large, info-packed booklet and superb packaging. There are no negatives here (other than not one, but two versions of the tune that became Chuck Berry's biggest - and most annoying - hit, "My Ding-a-Ling") so grab it if you see it!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Under a Hoodoo Moon – The Life of the Night Tripper – Dr. John (Mac Rebennack)

This autobiography of Dr. John, the Night Tripper (Mac Rebennack) draws you in right from the start with his tales of growing up in New Orleans and its food, street life, street characters, Mardi Gras traditions and, of course, the music. Mac writes in a cool, hipster, jivey way, keeping in the style of the times and the music scene. I love New Orleans in general and this sounds like it was a wonderful time to live and grow up in this fascinating city.

Apparently, nearly everyone in the town played boogie-woogie piano and his family was no exception - he grew up with cool music being played around him in the homes of his relatives and, of course, the local clubs, almost constantly. In a funny twist, seeing as I grew up a few years later with the emergence of the Beatles and the British Invasion, Mac, while drawn to the piano, thought that there were so many good piano players that he should learn to play the guitar - a less common instrument at the time! How things would change!

He infiltrated the music scene as a teenager and was soon gigging around town as well as on the famous Chittlin’ Circuit. Along with this came the vices and he was hitting heroin while still a teen. He still managed to become a producer as well as musician for innumerable New Orleans recordings while also gigging on a regular basis. This went on until an anti-vice politician shut down most of the clubs (and consequently, the NO music scene) and, at about the same time, Mac went to the slammer.

Upon his re-entry to society, Rebennack moved to LA (where many NO musicians moved to after the scene died in their home town), got another producer/songwriter gig, played on many pop tracks (including bands like Sonny & Cher and the Monkees, which he hated) and eventually scored some studio time and created his alter ego, Dr. John, with a number of other NO musicians who wanted to get back to their roots and have some fun after playing studio pap all the time. He hit big time with this for a while, but with the all-too-common management issues (along with his drug problem), he really didn't get to savor his accomplishments.

But, Mac continues to play to this day and has done many things, from winning Grammies to kicking dope. This is a terrific tale told in a compelling and entertaining way. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in New Orleans in particular and cool 50's/60's R&B in general.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Suzi Quatro – Unzipped

This is a perfect title for an autobiography of the leather jumpsuit-clad 70’s rocker chick, which is told in a casual, unassuming way, giving plenty of personal as well as musical information along the way. Sometimes, especially as she tells of her early years, she gets a little overly cutesy, but not to the point of annoyance.

Suzi grew up in a musical family – her father was a working musician when she was a child (with all of the temptations and vices that come with that) and her siblings all played and sang – and consequently formed the Pleasure Seekers with her sisters and some neighbors. This all-female group recorded the 60’s garage classic “What a Way to Die” as their first single with Suzi singing and I get the impression that she has no idea that this is probably her most often covered song of her career! The band actually did far more than I suspected, lasting several years, procuring a recording contact with Mercury Records (which apparently did nothing), and touring the country before mutating into Cradle, an all-girl jam band, and then dissolving. Suzi was then picked up by producer Mickie Most, taken to England and given 18 MONTHS to get her act together! If only this kind of development was encouraged these days, who knows what kind of talent might emerge!

Of course her hey-day as a Chinn-Chapman glam rock leather girl was the highlight of her career for me, but then she moved on to even bigger success as Leather Tuscadero in the TV show Happy Days, and then had a couple of her biggest hits with some of the worst disco-pop-drek imaginable – shit that to this day I thought was someone like Olivia Newton John, not ricker-chick Suzi Quatro. I thought that her musical career had long been over by this time, but it was just because I would turn these songs off the second they came on the radio so I never knew they were hers!

Suzi is also a little over-the-top in her spirituality – including numerous ghost sightings, possessions and who knows what all. A bit much for this atheistic skeptic. She also gets somewhat whiny at times, not feeling appreciated, complaining about friends, family and lovers and generally not getting the treatment she felt she deserved (rightfully or not).

She moved on to acting – stage and TV – from music and actually seemed to prefer that, something that I find difficult to comprehend as a life-long rocker, who would have loved to have earned a living making music.

The book has a surprising number of typos, but I get the feeling that this is a small press. Otherwise, this is an engaging tale of a multi-talented - and certainly flawed - cult personality who has moved in many different media circles and never really gained major success or notoriety in her home country.