Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Buddy Guy – Buddy’s Blues – The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection

This disc compiles Buddy Guy’s works with Chess Records during the early-to-mid 60’s which, while the blues boom was just starting, was actually a slow time for blues records for Chess and a time where they tended to experiment with a number of their artists, with varying degrees of success. These cuts are generally more traditionally blues-based, which form a perfect foil for Guy’s early guitar work-outs. I know that the Chess brothers were holding Guy back a little from letting loose like he was in the local Chicago clubs, but I totally dig the guitar tone and playing here.

Although everything is based in the blues, there are variations here, such as the groovy dance number “Pretty Baby”, the moody, slower blues of “My Time After a While” (with passionate, soulful vocals and fiery guitar work), the soul/r’n’b (not unlike Otis Redding) of “Keep it To Myself”, and the Booker T/almost jazzy r’n’b in “Got To Use Your Head”. “I Cry And Sing the Blues” is Buddy in his bluesy best, though – amazing, tortured vocals and superior guitar work. Fine stuff!

This is definitely my favorite Buddy collection that I have found. This shows why this man is a legend!

The Love Me Nots - Detroit

After being knocked out by this band in concert and by their amazing debut, Black & White, I lost touch with them for the longest time and am just now picking up some of the releases that I am sorry to say that I have missed.

This is the group’s sophomore effort and it is basically a continuation of Black & White – which means that it is a wild, high-energy garage stomper! This is the original line-up, with fuzz bassist Christina Nunez and incredible drummer Jay Lien augmenting sultry singer/organist Nicole Laurenne and fuzz & reverb master Michael Johnny Walker as they pursue intense garage-drive aural odysseys with equal parts moodiness and sexiness.

I got nothin’ bad to say about this disc – superb songs, amazing sound, great playing (maybe even better than their excellent debut) and an over-abundance of power, piss & vinegar. Garage-maniacs will flip over this one!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dickies, Avengers, Agent Orange - Las Vegas Country Saloon, Sunday May 27, 2012, Punk Rock Bowling

We decided to venture out to the wilds of punk-rock-dom for Melanie's birthday this year and this show seems to be the best overall of the bunch. So many of the festival shows out here don't draw nearly as many people as they would in most any other city, so we were surprised when we arrived at the Country Saloon and found a line wrapped around Fremont Street and halfway down the street. So, we missed the opening band (which apparently changed, so I'm not sure even who it ended up being) but got there just as Agent Orange was starting. Truthfully I was never a big fan of AO - by the time the OC punk bands started gaining popularity I was getting bored with the fast'n'furious punk scene - but the packed crowd loved 'em and Melanie dug hearing "Bloodstains", even though the version they did was, according to her, their "speed metal version" of the song.
Up next, though, was the amazing Avengers, who I always did love! They were part of the first wave of west coast punk bands and their style and songs are more up my r'n'r alley. Here, their sound was by far the best, with an amazing guitar tone and Penelope's terrific vocals. Each member was highly animated, as well, especially their bassist (sorry - I'm not sure who is currently in the group) who was bouncing around like a ping pong ball! They did all of their best tunes and were in terrific form. Highly recommended!
Closing the night was the always-fun punk-pop of the Dickies. The overall sound was a little off for them and they were overly loud, but the band seemed tight and Leonard can still pull off his insane vocal stylings! Leonard had his bag full of props (puppets, masks, blow-up dolls, etc.) but, otherwise, visually they were a little haggard looking. None-the-less, the songs were there (pretty much everything you could have asked for, except for the Spiderman theme), the playing was great and the audience went nutz the entire time!

Fun night to celebrate the early hours of Melanie's birthday! And she even got to see Stuart!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I'd Rather Be the Devil - Skip James and the Blues - Stephen Calt

Skip James is, of course, best known for writing "I'm So Glad", made famous by Cream. James never sold many records in his own time and his eerie, original blues were so different and - even for the blues - depressing that it was difficult for him to ever make a living with his music. Of course, the 60's blues revival and Cream's rendition of his tune brought him to prominence, but he stubbornly remained true to his own vision and never gained the noteriety of many of the other Delta bluesmen.

Because of his lack of popularity during the time the he original recorded in the early 20th century, little was known about Skip. Many of the details in this book were provided by James himself in interviews with the author, who got to know him and talked with him at length about his youth. But, since James is known for exaggeration and tall tales, it is hard to determine for sure how much of this is true. 

James grew up on a plantation, but with his mother working as a maid in the house of a bossman, he didn't have the extreme hardships that many other blacks did at the time. He actually was able to receive some schooling, but due to his sense of superiority provided by his mother's position and his own natural egotism and intelligence, he believed himself to be better than most of his peers. One way he attempted to prove this was by learning words that his schoolmates didn't know and using them in conversation, even though he never learned to use them correctly - something that he continued to do throughout his life. So, direct quotes from him can be quite abstract and convoluted without the author's "translations".

His egotism extended towards his music and his way with women - he claims that men were constantly jealous of him due to his prowess in both ever since his was a teen. Again, many of these stories sound like they have been stretched a bit, but there is no way to know for sure. He does claim to have killed several men who attempted to do him harm due to his way with women - often married women. But again, due to lax record keeping and white folks contempt for black at the time (especially on plantations and other work communities where a mule was worth more than a black man), there is no way to ever confirm these tales.

Calt's writing is deeply personal and opinionated, which means that he makes some statements as if fact that are simply his notion of what happened or what was someone's motivations. He has a major issue with the 60's folk movement that revitalized many bluesmen's careers, to the point of quoting materials from nearly a half a century before as problems with the movement. Not to say that he is necessarily completely wrong in some of these thoughts, but his extreme over-simplification and over-generalizations can be a bit much at times and are certainly far from objective.

Even on his death bed James told Calt that he hadn't revealed much that was true about his life and this book is thin on details (it is filled out with a basic history of the blues and the 60's revival) but seeing as there is practically nothing else that tells of Skip's life, this is a cool & interesting tale. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Buddy Guy / Quinn Sullivan - The Smith Center, Las Vegas, May 19, 2012

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts is the newest cultural center in Las Vegas and will be home to many a varied shows, from concerts, such as this one, to musicals, plays, cabaret jazz and more. It is a beautifully built and designed building with superior sound and great sightlines throughout. Hopefully, there will be enough interest to support this endeavor in town.

Since I have been so immersed in blues music lately, my wonderful wife bought us tickets to see the legendary Buddy Guy for my birthday. While Buddy has never made the name for himself that many of the giants that he worked with did (Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, etc.) he is still well known as respected by rock icons and Grammy awards nominators alike. He managed to fill the Smith Center this night, which is encouraging to me - I hope that there will be more interesting musical acts here.

Opening for Buddy was a 13 year old guitar prodigy, Quinn Sullivan, who has been wow-ing the world since at least the age of 6 when he appeared on the Ellen Degeneres Show. He is an incredible player who has been influenced by many of the greats, with a special fondness for Eric Clapton, as he proved by covered two Clapton numbers (well, one was actually Clapton's take on Hendrix's "Little Wing"). He has a great voice, as well, and while his sound is a little more commercial than I normally care for, he is a spectacular talent who has just released his debut CD, Cyclone, and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

Buddy Guy, of course, has been a staple in the blues world since his arrival in Chicago in 1957 and his work with all of the masters in that town. He went on to his own solo career and in the process influenced nearly all of the upcoming blues-rock guitarists, with gentlemen such as Hendrix & Clapton crowning him one of the best players of the genre. He has been known for his outrageous stage shows and, before the advent of wireless guitar systems, having the longest guitar cords, which would enable him to prowl the entirety of whatever venue he was playing.

At 75 (just shy of 76), he is still a ball of fire on stage, with presence, showmanship, edge and humor to spare. His fingers can still fly across the fretboard, although he does tend to fall back on somewhat noisy flash at times, whereas more tasty licks may have been more effective (in my humble opinion). I do like the fact that he has a little more grit in his sound than some (including Sullivan). I think he has learned what the average audience goes for - flash, dirty jokes, jams, and, of course, romps through the audience. He now uses a wireless system, naturally, which enabled him to travel through the Smith Center and even take the elevator up to the 3rd floor box seats! He brought Sullivan back on stage for his closer and the two of them trading licks was one of the highlights of the night.

I wish I could have seen Guy (and many of the other legends) back in the day in Chicago clubs, but it was still a bit of an honor to see one of the last remaining links to those times in concert and still knocking people out! With luck and the grace of the blues gods, he will have many more years of bringing the blues to the masses!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Beau & the Outfit and the Psyatics - Cheyenne Saloon, Saturday May 12

Beau & The Outfit is not afraid to play shows even when a member or two can't make it out that night. This time their drummer was unavailable, so they decided to do an acoustic set. Not what you would normally expect in a Las Vegas dive bar, but Beau & his crew (tonight made up of guitarists Jon Wolske and Hoz) gave a terrific performance of intimate tunes with personal lyrics, some fine playing and superb harmonies. Quality all around!
Closing the night were the Psyatics - an energetic garage combo made up of ex-members of the Yeller Bellies (Rob Bell - voice/bass and Jimmy Krah on drums) and a guitarist (Jack Ball) who makes his living as a classical violinist! So, needless to say, there are many influences at work with these guys. The concept is garage, but there are early punk/new wave sounds (I'm hearing Voidoids in places) as well as rock, heavy metal and everything else in between. More real songwriting here and true talent in the playing. I'm already hearing improvement from their stellar debut last month, so these cats are sure to be a force to be reckoned with!

Thanks to the Cheyenne Saloon for breaking with their tradition of heavy metal bands for this fun night of rock'n'roll!

RIP legendary bassist Donald Dunn

Bass player Donald 'Duck' Dunn dies in Tokyo 
From Booker T. & the MG's to the Blues Brothers and innumerable sessions, this man was a star and highly influential. Sad to see him go at the all too early age of 70.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Josh White – Sings the Blues and Sings Volume One & Two

I first heard Josh White on a compilation performing “Well, Well, Well” (better known – to me, at least – as “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed”), an excellent and passionate gospel blues. I was hoping for more of the same with this compendium of two of his records, but am somewhat disappointed. While he is a superior guitar player and a fine singer and the sound here is excellent, the songs are soft in the extreme, to the point of practically being easy listening. And while I dig some slick blues – say, T-Bone Walker, for example – I want some fire and feeling bursting from the grooves. A lot of the tunes here are more folk than blues and the delivery is quiet and, at times, downright boring, I’m sad to report. Good for what it is, but not my kind of spoonful.