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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Homesick James - "gone home"

(I only found out about this today - guess I haven't been reading the Blues news enough lately)

Chicago blues legend Homesick James passed away Wednesday, December 13, at
11:15pm. He was in his mid-90s, but his own accounts of his age would vary.
He passed away resting comfortably in his home in Springfield, Missouri.
Funeral arrangements will be made by his family, and the funeral will take
place on Saturday, December 23 in Covington, Tennessee
from: Who's Who Chicago -

"One of the last of the generation that came from
the Delta in the mid-40s and invented electric Chicago blues, John
William Henderson got his nickname from a track he cut for Chicago
label Chance in 1953. The Chicago slide guitarist spent years playing
with blues legend Elmore James (who Homesick has long claimed as a
"cousin" -- Elmore is said to have died on Homesick's couch while the
latter frantically searched for the former's heart pills),
roommate/cousin Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Big Walter, Big Bill Broonzy, Sunnyland Slim
and Johnny Shines. High-pitched voice and stark slide guitar mark his
southern roots authenticity, and were part of the famous Maxwell Street
sound of a few decades ago.

Born in Somerville, Tennessee, his wailing moans hark back to the field hollers of the Mississippi delta. Self-taught on guitar, Homesick developed a wild slide guitar style which he developed playing at local dances and taverns by the age of 14. In his early years, he played with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Boy Williamson, Hammie Nixon, Snooky Pryor, Muddy Waters, Honeyboy Edwards, Blind Boy Fuller (Homesick's mentor), Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, and Big Joe Williams.

Homesick led a group called the Dusters during the early '30s, featuring at various times Pryor, Baby Face Leroy Foster, and Albert King on drums. Later that decade, James began his recording career, with sides for RCA and Vocalion. Homesick moved up to Memphis during the 1940s, playing regularly with Big Walter Horton, and in the early '50s, he continued north, settling in Chicago.

There, he began sitting in with Memphis Minnie (Homesick's girlfriend for many years), Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, Yank Rachell, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Roosevelt Sykes, Henry Townsend, Junior Wells, Sunnyland Slim, Little Walter Jacobs, and Elmore James. Homesick apparently bought Elmore his first guitar, and taught him how to play slide, and was a longtime member of Elmore's band (from 1955-1963), contributing to such classics as "Dust My Broom," "The Sky is Crying," and "Roll and Tumble."

Since then, he has recorded for Delmark, Prestige/Fantasy, Bluesvile, Appaloosa, Stanhope, Trix, Black and Blue and Earwig Records. Most recently, he released Words and Wisdom on Icehouse Records. Though over 90 years old, he remains active, performing both locally and at international festivals, including headlining gigs at the Chicago Blues Festival, San Francisco Blues Festival, and St. Louis Blues Festival. Homesick fans including Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and members of the Black Crowes have come to Chicago to see their idol perform in the last few years."

Living Blues Magazine calls him "One of the most delightful characters in blues...." and Option says "Hearing this is as riveting as discovering Robert Johnson recordings for the first time... it's like finding the roots of every blues guitarist twisted together in a single source."

Says the Chicago Reader, "... in recent years he's raised irascibility to an art form: throwing together snippets of standards both vintage and recent; pulling and popping his guitar strings with anarchistic fierceness and then breaking into a shimmering slide run; and interspersing his tight-throated vocals with boasts, anecdotes, and aphorisms drawn from some 70 years of hard traveling."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Come Back Baby - where did it start?

I have been singing the old Blues standard "Come Back Baby" for more than 25 years, but I never really bothered to research the origin of the song, just collected a number of verses from here and there along the way...

In a recent conversation with my friend Raviv, he mentioned Dave Van Ronk's recording of "Come Back Baby", and said he always thought it was by Ray Charles, since it was credited to him on his recordings, and also on the cover by Dave Edmund's band Love Sculpture. I told Raviv that I was pretty sure the song was older than that, and that sparked an obsessive effort to try and discover the earliest known version.

I have always admired 2 versions of the song in particular - Dave Van Ronk and Bert Jansch. Each of their versions is powerful, simple, elegant, and moving. Van Ronk took a very delicate and slow approach to the song, with a soft 2 note guitar chord opening.
Jansch has a slightly more "snappy" upbeat guitar accompaniment, and that Scottish accent and high slightly nasal voice also adds charm to his version.

So where did it begin? The latest edition of Blues and Gospel Records, 1890-1943 tells me that the earliest known recording of a song titled Come Back Baby was recorded by Whistlin' Alex Moore in 1937, but once I found a recording, I found that his song has no connection or relation to the song I'm familiar with. Next in line was Walter Davis, with 2 recordings, one from July 12, 1940, and the other ("New come Back Baby") from 1941. So at the moment, it looks like this could be the earliest and possibly the original version of the song. My experience with folk music history tells me that it's likely that the song is much older - I just haven't found the proof yet...

Well, I searched high and low, and could not find the 1940 version by Walter Davis, nor a listing of the lyrics... until a DJ contact in Denmark (thank you Kjell!) forwarded my request to a collector in Norway (thank you Rolf!) - who sent me an MP3 copy of the song so that I could transcribe the lyrics. I also managed to locate a lovely 2 CD compilation (the Essential Walter Davis) by Document records and ordered it from the UK - it arrived within a week.

So here are Walter Davis's verses:

"Come Back Baby"
Walter Davis (rec. July 12, 1940)

Oh, come back baby, please don't go
'bout the way I love you you'll never know
Come back baby, cain't we talk it over one more time

My heart is full of sorrow, my eyes is full of tears
Lord We've been together for so many years
Come back baby, cain't we talk it over one more time

You know this world, wasn't made in one day.
Can't we talk it over, just before you go away.
Come back baby, cain't we talk it over one more time

Come back baby don't break up my home
You know I'm gonna miss you after you've gone
Come back baby, cain't we talk it over one more time

I begged you all night , all the night before
Please don't ever leave me, don't ever leave me no more
Come back baby, cain't we talk it over one more time

Now you know babe, you the only one I love,
Lord I just as soon to be dead, gone to the lord above
Come back baby, cain't we talk it over, one more time

I'll get into other versions in the next blog entry...

Friday, December 08, 2006

"Hootie" is gone at 90

I just heard that Jay "Hootie" McShann has passed on,
and although he reached the ripe age of 90 years, I still feel a sense of great loss.
I feel fortunate to have been able to see and hear McShann a couple of times in the 1970's in Toronto, when he would do a week or two each year at the Chick N' Deli restaurant on Mt. Pleasant Ave.
McShann always amazed me in the power of his singing and the elegance of his piano playing, this was especially admirable when he was in his 70's or 80's. He also had a baby face and a charming smile, maybe that is why it is so hard to believe he is gone.
Rest in peace "Hootie".

James Columbus McShann: January 12, 1916 - December 7, 2006

Kansas City pianist, bandleader and songwriter Jay 'Hootie' McShann has died in hospital today (Dec. 7) after a brief illness. He was 90 years old. He was the last of the great Kansas City players, and the creator of a style that combined swing and blues and changed the course of popular music. A piano player with a unique and subtle touch, he was a bluesman at heart. His best known composition 'Confessin' The Blues' has been recorded by artists like The Rolling Stones, BB King, Little Walter, Esther Phillips, and Jimmy 'Spoon' Witherspoon among many many others. McShann was born in Muskogee, Oklahama in 1916.

James Columbus McShann was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, January 12/ 1916. He taught himself piano as a child, despite his parents' disapproval of his interest in music. His real education came from Earl Hines’ late-night broadcasts from Chicago’s Grand Terrace Ballroom. “When Fatha went off the air, I went to bed” he would later state. Jay McShann began his professional career in 1931, playing with Don Byas. He studied at the Tuskegee Institute, and performed around Arkansas and Oklahoma from 1935 to 1936. In late 1939, Jay had assembled a progressive band, which included Gus Johnson, Gene Ramey and Charlie Parker.

By 1940, Jay McShann had his own big band which included a young alto sax player called Charlie Parker. The Jay McShann Orchestra toured extensively and recorded for the Decca label in 1941. The band's most popular recording was a Blues titled 'Confessin' the Blues', but the band performed and recorded many modern compositions which bridged traditional Kansas City Jazz and Bebop. There were hits like 'Hootie Blues', and the Blues classic 'Ain’t Nobody’s Business', debuting a young Blues singer named Jimmy Witherspoon. During this period, he recorded mostly for Aladdin and Mercury Records. Jay returned to Kansas City, where he raised his family, and played locally. During the 1950's, he attended music school at the University of Missouri, KC where he continued his music studies in arrangement and composition. Jay McShann was in obscurity for the next 2 decades, making few records and playing in Kansas City.

In 1969, Jay resumed touring, and has been performing and recording internationally every since. March 3, 1979 was declared 'Jay McShann Day' by the governor of Missouri, and he has received many other awards and honors. He was the subject of the documentary film Hootie Blues (1978), and was showcased in the film, Last of the Blues Devils. He tours internationally constantly and records frequently. He has recorded through the years for Onyx, Decca, Capitol, Aladdin, Mercury, Black Lion, EmArcy, Vee Jay, Black & Blue, Master Jazz, Sackville, Sonet, Storyville, Atlantic, Swingtime, Music Masters and and most recently for Stony Plain Records. Affectionately know as "Hootie" he remains a vital pianist and an Blues vocalist who keeps a classic style alive. Jay McShann was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1987 and received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award in 1996. Jay McShann is a Blues force of nature that keeps rolling on.

Toronto was frequently on his tour schedules; jazz musician and Downtown Jazz Festival artistic director Jim Galloway brought him to the now-vanished Bourbon Street club in 1972 and he recorded close to a dozen albums in the city for the Sackville label. His last four albums, including the Grammy-nominated 2003 release "Going to Kansas City", were recorded for the Edmonton-based Stony Plain label; three of them were co-produced by guitarist Duke Robillard. Stony Plain's owner, Holger Petersen, acting as tour manager, frequently accompanied McShann to international jazz festivals in Montreal, Toronto, Monterey, and the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland. Said Petersen: "Jay had a great uplifting smile and kind words for everyone. He was always a delight to travel with, and had a very laidback, inquisitive and cheerful attitude. I'll miss his smile, and hearing him and saying 'Everything's cool'."And Jim Galloway summed it up: "His passing marks the end of a line. He will be missed." Jay McShann leaves his companion of more than 30 years, Thelma Adams (known as Marianne McShann), and three daughters - Linda McShann Gerber, Jayme McShann Lewis, and Pam McShann.

Funeral services will be announced shortly; plans are pending for a musical celebration of his life to be held in Kansas City early next year. For further information please contact:
Richard Flohil at 416 351-1323 Holger Petersen at Stony Plain Records 780 468-6423

Monday, November 27, 2006

Give me some of Ye Olde Blews

It occurred to me while reading an etymological site describing the possible origin of the phrase "the Blues", (spelled "Blews" in 18th century style), that maybe there is a connection between the Blues and the word to blow (in the musical sense).

A quick game of word association went through my mind -
from "I've got the blews (blues)" to "blew his mind" (freaked him out), to "blowing session"(a Jazz jam session with horns).

The recent passing of my father in law (Goodman Al Ritz, 1926-2006), brought to mind the Hebrew term for passing on - "Naphach Et Nishmato" - which is literally "he blew out his soul", since in Hebrew, the word for soul (Neshama) is the same as the word for breath, and you can also reference John Lennon's "he blew his mind out in a car", and that brings me back around to "he blows with allot of soul".

Finally, may I argue that the phrase "blow me" can actually be interpreted somehow as "give me the blues (blews)" or "play me some blues"???

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Robert Lockwood Jr. dies at age 91

Robert Lockwood Jr., 91, a Delta blues guitarist who became the torchbearer of Robert Johnson's guitar legacy and a revered musician in his own right, died Nov. 21 at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. He had a brain aneurysm and a stroke.

Robert Lockwood Jr. was born in Turkey Scratch, a hamlet west of Helena, Arkansas. He started playing the organ in his father's church at the age of 8. The famous bluesman Robert Johnson lived with Lockwood's mother for 10 years off and on after his parents' divorce. Lockwood learned from Johnson not only how to play guitar, but timing and stage presence as well. Because of his personal and professional association with the music of Robert Johnson, he became known as "Robert Junior" Lockwood.

Lockwood’s first recordings came in 1941, with Doc Clayton, on his famous Bluebird Sessions in Aurora, Illinois. During these sessions, he cut four singles under his own name. These were the first incarnations of “Take A Little Walk with Me”, and “Little Boy Blue,” Lockwood staples sixty years later.

Lockwood was a King Biscuit Boy on KFFA’s ground-breaking King Biscuit Time radio program.

Lockwood moved around, the usual route was Memphis, St. Louis, to Chicago. By the early 1950’s, he had surfaced in the Windy City, where he became the top session man for Chess Records, the epitome of blues labels. He recorded with the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson II, Little Walter, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim, and Eddie Boyd, whom he toured with for six years, you can hear his smooth chords on their recordings. He was also an early influence on B.B. King, and played with King during his early career in Memphis, Tennessee.

Lockwood’s solo recording career, exclusive of the 1941 Bluebird Sessions, began in 1970 with Delmark’s Steady Rollin’ Man, backed by old friends Louis Myers, his brother Dave Myers, and Fred Below, collectively known as The Aces. In 1972, Lockwood hooked up with famed musicologist, Pete Lowry to record Contrasts, the first of two for Trix Records. Does 12 followed in 1975. They have been remastered and repackaged by Fuel 2000 Records.

In the early 1980s Lockwood teamed up with another long-time friend, Johnny Shines, to record three albums for Rounder, which has been comprised into 1999’s Just the Blues. Plays Robert and Robert, a Black and Blue recording of a solo show in Paris in 1982, was re-issued on Evidence in 1993.

Lockwood’s recordings earned Grammy nominations in 1998 and 2000.
He was well-known to Arkansas audiences for his frequent appearances at festivals in the state.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ruth Brown, Blues and R&B Queen -
gone at age 78

Ruth Brown, 78, a Blues and Rhythm-and-Blues singer whose hits in the 1950s made Atlantic Records "the house that Ruth built" and who revived her career decades later as the Tony Award-winning star of the musical revue "Black and Blue," died Nov. 17 at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Henderson, Nev., after a stroke and heart attack.

Ms. Brown, who lived in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb, became known as a persistent and vital activist in the musicians' royalty reform movement of the 1980s. Her efforts brought aging, often ailing musicians payments that major music companies had long denied them.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Ruth Brown,
Background information
Born January 12, 1928
Portsmouth, Virginia
Died November 17, 2006
Las Vegas, Nevada
Genre(s) Blues, Rhythm and Blues
Instrument(s) Vocals
Years active 1949 - 2006

Ruth Brown (born Ruth Alston Weston, January 12, 1928 [1] in Portsmouth) was a singer who brought a popular music style to rhythm and blues in a series of hit songs for Atlantic Records in the 1950s.

Following a resurgence that began in the mid-1970s and peaked in the eighties, Brown used her influence to press for musicians' rights regarding royalties and contracts. Her performances in the Broadway musical Black and Blue earned Brown a Tony Award, and the original soundtrack won a Grammy Award.

Ruth Brown's father was a dockhand who directed the local church choir, but the young Ruth showed more of an interest in singing at USO shows and nightclubs. In 1945, Brown ran away from her home in Portsmouth along with a trumpeter, Jimmy Brown, whom she soon married, to sing in bars and clubs. She then spent a month with Lucky Millinder's orchestra, but was fired after she brought drinks to the band for free, and was left stranded in Washington, D.C.

Blanche Calloway, Cab Calloway's sister, also a bandleader, arranged a gig for Brown at a Washington nightclub called Crystal Caverns and soon became her manager. Willis Conover, a local DJ, caught her act and recommended her to Atlantic Records bosses, Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson. Brown was unable to audition as planned though, because of a serious car accident that resulted in a nine-month hospital visit. In 1948, however, Ertegun and Abramson drove to Washington from New York City to hear her sing in the club. Although her repertoire was mostly popular ballads, Ertegun convinced her to switch to rhythm and blues. His productions for her, however, retained her "pop" style, with clean, fresh arrangements and the singing spot on the beat with little of the usual blues singer's embroidery.

In her first audition, in 1949, she sang "So Long", which ended up becoming a hit. This was followed by Teardrops from My Eyes in 1950. Written by Rudy Toombs, it was the first upbeat major hit for Ruth Brown, establishing her as an important figure in R&B. Recorded for Atlantic Records in New York City in September 1950, and released in October, it was on Billboard's List of number-one R&B hits (United States) for 11 weeks. The huge hit earned her the nickname "Miss Rhythm" and within a few months Ruth Brown became the acknowledged queen of R&B.[2]

She followed up this hit with "I'll Wait for You" (1951), "I Know" (1951), "5-10-15 Hours" (1953), "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean" (1953), "Oh What a Dream" (1954), "Mambo Baby" (1954) and "Don't Deceive Me" (1960). She also became known as Little Miss Rhythm and the girl with the teardrop in her voice. In all, she was on the R&B charts for 149 weeks from 1949 to 1955, with 16 top 10 blues records including 5 number ones, and became Atlantic's most popular artist, earning Atlantic records the proper name of "The House that Ruth Built."

During the 1960s, Brown faded from public view to become a housewife and mother, and only returned to music in 1975 at the urging of Redd Foxx, followed by a series of comedic acting gigs, including a role in sitcom Hello, Larry and the John Waters film Hairspray, as well as earning a Tony Award for her Broadway performance of Black and Blue and a Grammy award for her album Blues on Broadway, featuring hits from the show.

Brown's fight for musicians' rights and royalties in 1987 led to the founding of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. She was inducted as a Pioneer Award recipient in its first year, 1989. In 1993, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as The Queen Mother of the Blues.

According to an article in JazzImprov Magazine by Stephen Thanabalan, she has become an iconic symbol to many black women for later generations, where she is also a favorite artist and inspiration for later blues artists such as Bonnie Raitt. Brown recorded and sang along with fellow rhythm and blues performer Charles Brown, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and toured with Raitt on Raitt's tour in the late 1990s, "Road Tested". Her 1995 autobiography, Miss Rhythm, won the Gleason Award for music journalism.

In 2006, Hummer used her song "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'" in one of their H3 commercials.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Jon Cleary is such a funky guy!!!

"British born Jon Cleary is a triple threat-with a salty-sweet voice, masterful piano skills,
and a knack for coupling infectious grooves with melodic hooks and sharp lyrics.
- from the Bonnie Raitt website

Jon Cleary's name appears in the credits of close to 100 Blues albums from the past 25 years, so when I ordered one of his CDs and collected it from my postbox, I expected to hear some good old piano-based Blues, right???

What I heard on "Pin Your Spin" from 2004, was a singer and piano player with a very funky and tight band playing almost everything but Blues - from tunes that are like smooth Jazz, to funky New Orleans swamp music, to solid rock with an upbeat pace.
I heard vocal and musical ideas that remind me of Stevie Wonder, the Neville Brothers and Dr. John, as well as a touch of Professor Longhair's classic Boogie Woogie piano stylings.

All these influences are wrapped up into one man who makes everything he plays sound very authentic and believable. The only 2 things that I find hard to believe when I hear his music are that he's British born, and that he's not black.

To date, Cleary has made 4 albums under his own name (see the discography page on his website).
The first album - "Alligator Lips and Dirty Rice" from 1989, is officially out of print, but can be purchased online by download, or in CD form directly from Jon Cleary's website. This album is actually the closest to a normal Blues album, and contains some amazing Boogie Woogie style piano playing by Cleary, as well as some interesting original songs.

The other albums show the much more developed and individual music style that I described before, and the latest 2 were recorded with his regular band, "the Absolute Monster Gentlemen". "Monsters" they are, talent wise that is, each one a master of his instrument and comfortable in many different styles - together they make up a fantastic unit with a very high energy level in their playing.

What can I say? In the space of a few weeks since I received my first Jon Cleary album, I've become hooked, and that's why I wanted to share it with all of you...

If you are attending any live Bonnie Raitt shows in the next month, you will probably get a chance to hear Jon Cleary live, since he is both opening for her, and playing in her band on many dates throughout November and December, including opening 2 shows by the Rolling Stones!!! See the shows page for tour dates.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Re-Discovering Paul Pena

It's been just over a year since Paul Pena passed away at the age of 55, and I finally got my hands on his recording - "New Train" (the CD cover pictured at right).
I guess I must have subconsciously known about Paul Pena for years, his name has been around in Blues circles since the early 1970's, but it wasn't until I read his obit last year that I really took notice...

Paul Pena was a singer, guitarist, bass player, and songwriter. He had a hard life, having been born with a serious case of congenital Galucoma which left him legally blind from the age of 10 onward. He still became a talented musician, playing in the band of Blues icon T-Bone Walker during the early 70's.
Paul recorded 2 albums under his own name as leader:

"Paul Pena", released in 1972 by Capitol Records (currently out of print)
"New Train", recorded in 1973, released in 2000 by Hybrid Recordings

Following the recording of his 2nd album (New Train, 1973)he suffered a sort of blacklisting in the industry due to an unscrupulous producer (Albert Grossman) who refused to release the recordings and also would not release Paul from his binding contract. If it weren't for a stroke of luck and a hit song to provide him with royalty checks, Paul Pena would have starved - Pena just happens to be the writer of the song "Jet Airliner" which was a big Top 10 hit for
Steve Miller in 1977. He also happens to be the author of a number of other interesting songs.

One of those songs, "Gonna Move", sounded much too familiar to me the minute I heard the rhythm track at the start of the song, and then I realized that I have been hearing the Derek Trucks Band and Susan Tedeschi (Derek's wife) performing that song as a regular part of their live repertoire.

Another moving song (no pun intended) is the title track - "New Train",
a song of spirituality and a hope for peace, here are the lyrics:

"I remember a time back in the big city near my home
To the clocks tolling the morning
'Hear the sound of a Gospel choir, singing soft and low
On a rainy day the sun was dawning
But it's been a long long time, since I've heard the rhyme
Of a time and a season hidden in the past
And the days are growing harder, time is growing shorter
Brother hating brother spreading fast...

You gotta get on the new train and ride
We gotta find our way to freedom
You gotta get on the new train and ride
Buy our ticket for a brand new season

Trippin down south in the Easter time
See the folks coming out from worship
Everyone talking about the glories of the resurrection
While all of them thinking that they're perfect
When there comes a helpless man
who's down and needs a hand
And the will of Christ is done by one from prison
So he gets a hand from one, and is condemned by some
but divine love we all have and this he lays on him

You gotta get on the new train and ride
We gotta find our way to freedom
You gotta get the new train and ride
Buy our ticket for a brand new season

As I look back on my history
See a house with children playin' in the street
Mama sittin' cross legged tellin' us
Be our brother's keeper
And I take my strength from daddy's song
You know I love what I see
'Cause it's taught allot to me
Made me strong and helped this boy understand
That this world is here for giving
And life is here for living
Let the choir sing and let me sing it with the band

You gotta get on the new train and ride
We gotta find our way to freedom
You gotta get on the new train and ride
Buy our ticket for a brand new season"
[copyright 1973, 2000 Paul Pena]

For more information on Paul Pena:

The official Paul Pena website

Article on Paul in CV MusicWorld

Paul Pena memorial page on Friends of Tuva website

Paul Pena entry in Wikipedia

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Blues and Male Existentialism

Why do men write Blues songs?
Why do we sing the Blues?

Well, some might say that women invariably give us the Blues,
and that is why there is so much music out there trying to tell the story of
how hard it is for a man to get lovin' from a woman.

In the spectrum of man/woman relationships,
there is so much misunderstanding,
so much lack of real communication,
cheating in a small way (acts of omission),
cheating in a big way (infidelity),
and outright cruelty...
The Blues is one way to deal with the pain, the feeling of being left out of the loop, not getting the joke, or simply not getting enough loving.

I was watching a movie on late night TV called "Kiss the Sky" - a 1999 movie which depicts an existential search by 2 guys having a mid-life crisis, who decide to visit the far east and look for answers. The movie contains some pretty serious conversations about the nature of the man/woman relationship, expectations, unsaid and misunderstood feelings and desires, double standards, jealousy, and also Zen.

I don't think that I'll spoil the story if I tell you that even though for most of the movie they both seem to be of the same mind, each of them finds a different answer ultimately to their existential angst, the search for "true freedom" and "true happiness" and their problems in relating to the women in their lives.

I recommend this movie, I think it is both fun and insightful, and it seems like there aren't nearly enough movies of that kind these days...

Libi's Birthday

Local Rock and Blues singer Libi has been making a comeback this past year, with a very hot band named Flashback, and with many old friends to come out and show their support.

On Tuesday night, Oct. 24, Libi celebrated her 55th birthday at the Jerusalem Syndrome club, a small but very funky little bar with live music.

Originally hailing from the New York area, Libi was known as a somewhat controversial singer back in the early 80's in Israel - she might have been ahead of her time as "Libi and the Flash" - Israel was not ready yet for her intensity or her antics on stage at the time. Some 20 plus years later, she assembled a number of crack musicians from the Jerusalem area, and named them "Flashback" to reflect her comeback status.

By the time Libi got on stage, the club was packed with barely even standing room by the bar, as she tore into some Rock-Blues standards from the late 60's and early 70's. I was pleasantly surprised when she did a rendition of Freddie King's "Woman Across the River".
Libi and the band gave a hot show that lasted at least 90 minutes, and included an original new song that was written by Libi and arranged by the band.
To top it off, one of her friends brought a birthday cake, so that at the end of the show, there was chocolate cake for all...

Mini-Woodstock in Israel

A couple of weeks ago, during the week of the Succot holidays in Israel,
I was invited to an evening titled: "Min-Woodstock".
Thrre different bands presented music from the 60's and early 70's in atribute to the era and spirit of the legendary Woodstock festival.
The evening started with singer Eyal Peretz and his very professional band,
with 2 horn players and 3 female backup singers. Eyal does a crack imitation of Joe Cocker, singing many of Cocker's hits from the period.

Following Peretz, and one of the producers of the evening, was Danny Shoshan and his "Time Machine" band, who opened with a hot rendition of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". Danny Shoshan is an historical figure who was once in the "Churchills" which then became "Jericho Jones" and gained popularity in England at the beginning of the 70's. Today, he sings and plays bass like the best of them...

The third act of the night was Shlomo Mizrahi and his band, who did an hour's program of a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Shlomo was one of the first Israeli musicians in the late 60's to play real Blues, and later focused on the music of Jimi Hendrix, to the point where he is known as "the Israeli Jimi Hendrix". He even did a send up of Jimi's controversial "Star Spangled Banner" by playing the Israeli national anthem Hatikva ("the Hope") as a screaming Hendrix guitar solo...
The 300 plus audience was rocking and swaying to the music all night...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

James "Snooky" Prior gone at age 85

Harmonica great and elder statesman of the Blues,
James "Snooky" Prior passed away on October 19, 2006
he celebrated his 85th birthday just a month ago.

Here is the website of the Canadian Electro Fi label where Snooky recorded in recent years:
Electro Fi

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Happy New Year 5767!!!

Well, I'm now seven times seven,
Way past twenty one,
I'm a grown man now,
But I still like to have my fun...

Today is my birthday, and it falls during the week between the Jewish/Hebrew new year and the day of atonement (Yom Kippur).
In Jewish tradition, this is the time to reflect on the past year, and to forgive and ask forgiveness from one's fellow man for our transgressions.
Then on the day of atonement, you ask forgiveness from God for your transgressions against him, and hope that you are "written" into the book of goodness and righteousness.
So this time of year has always been a period of introspection and reflection for me, aside from being the time when I also scratch another "notch" on the wall for my years on this earth.
The sort of questions I ask are:
Have I been a kind person this past year?
Have I done enough to help other people out?
Have I done my part to help advance the Blues?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Chicago Blueswoman Bonnie Lee dies at 75

Bonnie Lee, one of the last great voices in urban women's blues, passed away on the morning of September 7th. Born in 1931 near the Texas-Louisiana border, the young Bonnie played piano and sang gospel in her hometown church. In her teens, she toured the South as a singer with the great minstrel show; but her life took a new direction when she caught a ride with a moving van driver and headed north to Chicago. Living with an aunt on the South Side, she made her debut as a performer in neighborhood clubs -- first as a dancer, then a singer. Her powerful voice delivered blues in the full range from flirty simper to throaty growl, and her reputation grew as she gained experience.

By the 1970s she had withdrawn from public performance for family reasons; but her heart remained with the blues in the clubs. Her unfulfilled need to sing was painful to her and eventually led to a breakdown that left her fragile and shaken. When she regained her strength, music opened the door to her recovery.

She gave full credit for her comeback to her longtime friend, Willie Kent. Thanks to his insistance, she returned to the clubs, first as part of the audience, later as a singer invited up onstage, and finally as an integral part of the show. Her friend Willie also led her to make two excellent recordings (Sweetheart of the Blues on Delmark, and I'm Good! on Wolf Records), which unveiled the richness of her singing to a wider audience; and her voice also appears on several compilations of Chicago blueswomen. She participated in the "Ladies Sing the Blues" tour in Europe and was an authentic, vibrant presence on the Chicago blues scene. Until her death, she was a regular performer at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted.

Bonnie Lee's singing style has been compared to that of Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, and Koko Taylor; but her versatility, power, and sense of timing were entirely her own. In her later years, her performances surprised many: she would arrive slowly, an apparently timid, fragile-looking older woman, would be helped up the steps to the stage, and as the music started she would close her eyes and sway slightly... and from that gentle, unlikely source, a powerful, vital song would blaze out to sear the night. And it would swing.

Bonnie Lee is survived by a son, and by many friends and fans worldwide. Bonnie, we'll miss you!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Blues Patriarch Henry Townsend dies at 96

This is 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.

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" Herman - 9/24/06 in Grafton, WI

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.

Blues Icon Etta Baker dies at 93

Etta Baker is one of the first guitarists who's recordings taught me fingerpicking techniques. Her special and unique version of the old folk ballad "Railroad Bill" was one of my favourite songs when I was growing up and forming my musical tastes. She was also known for playing slide guitar with a pen knife - and her slide version of "John Henry" inspired me to start learning the art of slide guitar as well.
Bless her soul, may she rest in peace.

here is an obit article from Sept 25, 2006
in the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina:

Etta Baker's signature picking drew folks to music's down-home artistry

Etta Baker, who traded a job at a Morganton shoe factory to become a blues music legend, died Saturday in Fairfax, Va.

She was 93.

Baker's unusual two-fingered picking style on the guitar earned her a reputation as a master of the Piedmont blues, a resonant blend of bluegrass and blues that dates back more than a century in the mountains of N.C. and Tennessee. The self-taught musician from humble roots in Caldwell County influenced legions of musicians and crossed a variety of musical styles.

Baker's oldest child, Darlene Davis, said Sunday evening that her mother died Saturday afternoon, after traveling from her Morganton home to Fairfax, Va., to visit another daughter who requires dialysis. Davis said Baker's health had been declining since the late 1990s.

"Mother's been up and down for the past couple of years, but she felt like she needed to be there with my sister," Davis said.

Davis said family en route to Morganton and funeral arrangements hadn't yet been set.

"She embodied everything we love about the South," Tim Duffy, who worked with Baker through his Music Maker Relief Foundation, told the News & Observer of Raleigh.

Despite her age and health problems, Baker remained active in the music business. She played guitar on the most recent CD by blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd that sold a million copies. She also recorded a CD of banjo music scheduled for release next year.

Beth Pollhammer, the founder of the Charlotte Blues Society, said Baker's music was a unique hybrid of white rural music and black music and her two-finger picking style was extremely unusual for the blues. She described Baker as an impeccable player and a phenomenal self-taught musician.

"So much of blues is a feeling. It's not a sound," Pollhammer said. "When people were moved by her playing, it was because of her life force and what she put into it, her soul, when she played.

"When she played, it was like she was talking. If you love the blues and you're listening that way, it's more of a feeling."

Pollhammer also said that Baker, in person, was charming.

"When you met her, it was just like you'd known her forever," Pollhammer said. "She was very sweet, very open. She was a beautiful woman, a beautiful spirit."

Baker was the product of a Caldwell County family and the daughter of "Medicine" Boone Reid, who played banjo, guitar, harmonica and violin in the N.C. foothills and mountains.

She learned to play guitar from her father but didn't become a full-time musician until she was in her 60s.

She raised nine children and was working at a shoe factory in Morganton in 1958 when she was approached by a professional musician and asked to change careers.

" `Etta, why don't you quit the Buster Brown plant and play music for a living?' " Baker recalled in an interview in June 2005, during Etta Baker Day festivities in Morganton. "This was on a Wednesday. I went in and told 'em I was quitting on Friday, and I did. I never did go back."

Baker's fame grew over the decades, and her versions of "One-Dime Blues" and "Railroad Bill" became classics.

Veteran blues musician Taj Mahal said Baker's guitar picking on "One-Dime Blues" was "beautiful stuff."

"It just cut right through me," he told the News & Observer. "I can't even describe how deep that was for me."

A CD containing "One-Dime Blues" helped her earn national recognition in 1991. She won a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and also was awarded the Folk Heritage Award from the N.C. Arts Council.

During the years, she suffered the kinds of problems that would make a compelling blues song.

She was involved in a serious car accident in 1964 in which a grandson was killed. And in 1967, her husband died and a son was killed in the Vietnam War -- within a span of one month.

About a decade ago, she began losing the strength to play guitar. Rather than give up music and quit touring, however, she just changed instruments and took up the banjo.

Wayne Martin, a fiddle player on her upcoming CD, said Baker was still playing a month ago.

"I consider her to be one of the most important traditional artists of our lifetime," Martin told the News & Observer. "She touched hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people with her music.

"It's amazing that she raised nine kids, attending to their needs, then had a career that didn't even start until she was in her 60s."

Davis, Baker's daughter, said music was her mother's way of meeting other people. She loved meeting people on engagements in Europe or Texas, Davis said, because the music brought them together.

"She loved that, because she was able to bring happiness to other people through something she loved," Davis said.

Davis said her mother advised her to always be honest, to work for what she wanted, and to always be friendly, nice and respectful to others.

"She's loved by people all over the world," Davis said. "Everyone was welcome just to come and visit and be with her. She made them welcome."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

St. Louis Blues Legend Bennie Smith Dies


Bennie Smith, known as the dean of St. Louis electric blues guitarists, died
Sunday evening (Sept. 10, 2006) after suffering a heart attack Saturday,
according to John May, chairman of the St. Louis Blues Society.
He was 72.

Born in St. Louis in October 1933, Mr. Smith was the seventh son in a family of
14. He went on to become known as a leading electric blues guitarist who played
with several artists, including Chuck Berry, Ike Turner, Big Bad Smitty and
Johnnie Johnson.

"Bennie Smith was one of the last of the blues/rhythm and blues legends of his
generation," May said. "I was happy to see that he was at the top of his world
last week at the blues festival."

Mr. Smith remained active in music throughout most of his life, playing guitar
in the Bennie Smith & the Urban Express blues bands and performing regularly at
bars, clubs and blues festivals in the region. His most recent performance was
earlier this month at the Big Muddy Blues Festival on Laclede's Landing.

At the festival, on Sept. 2, Mayor Francis Slay proclaimed the day "Bennie
Smith Day" in St. Louis. The city's Board of Alderman also recognized him as
the dean of St. Louis electric guitarists.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Jammin' with the General in the Holy Land

Spiritual Blues singer and guitarist Gypsy "The General" Carns flew in and out of Israel for 3 days.
I organized a show at the new Lavontine 7 music club in downtown Tel Aviv on Tuesday night, and his buddy Richard in Jerusalem organized a gig at the Maabada Bar in the Holy City.
Gypsy arrived with his blue Dobro guitar, his "stomp box" and a few other accessories.
I had been listening to some of Gypsy's CDs for the past 6 months or so, and I could tell that the man has deep roots in the traditional slide guitar and delta Blues and Gospel, but experiencing "the General" live on stage is a whole different ballgame.
You must see the man live on stage to feel the enormous power and energy that he puts into his show. His slide guitar playing is impeccable, and his vocals are very strong too.
All this is combined with a black ski hat and reflector sunglasses, leather boots with spurs, and 2 sets of little bells tied to each leg for percussion as he plays "bass drum" by stomping on his wooden "stomp box".
I had the pleasure of doing a guest spot with my National steel body guitar - we sang 2 Blind Willie Johnson classics, "God Don't Never Change" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine".
The following night, we repeated the show at the Maabada Bar club in Jerusalem, extending the show to 2 hours or more, and Gypsy called me up for 2 different guest spots.
Quite an honor and a special experience to be on stage and jam with the General.
You can get information on Gypsy and even download a number of his recordings at

Playin' the Blues for the Troops

Got a call Friday, asking if I was willing to play some music for our soldiers on the night before the ceasefire agreement took effect.
I said sure, and so, on Sunday night, August 13, I drove up the coast about 20km with 3 other local Blues guys: singer and harmonica wiz Dov Hammer, acoustic Blues/Folk artist Yaron Ben Ami, and my good buddy Johnny Mayer, the guy who created Blues For Peace.
We got up to the base, and were told to follow the car that was waiting for us at the gate. We set ourselves up in the middle of a tent area that held reserve unit soldiers,
and a few of the younger soldiers (including some young ladies) also came to hear the show.
I started off with the National steel guitar, pulling out the old Walking Blues with Johnny backing me his custom hand-made Blues For Peace electric guitar.
Then Dov came up and we did some of the duets we've been doing together for years - Key To the Highway, Midnight Rider (Allman Brothers), and then went on to some chicago style standards.
Yaron joined in, and contributed his nice fingerpicking version of Statesboro Blues.
I was actually surprised how well the crowd received all this Blues material, as this isn't the kind of music the general population in Israel listens to ost of the time...
Well, we managed to do a 2 1/2 hour set between all of us, and the guys were pretty appreciative.
It made me feel good that at least before the ceasefire came, I did my part to help support our soldiers...

Blood from a stone

Like getting blood from a stone
that's what it's like
trying to get some loving outta you
Now that you brushed me off
and you're already snoring
you've left me with another hard night
to try and get through...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

"Justice" by Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn

What's been done in the name of Jesus?
What's been done in the name of Buddha?
What's been done in the name of Islam?
What's been done in the name of man?
What's been done in the name of liberation?
And in the name of civilization?
And in the name of race?
And in the name of peace?

Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Can you tell me how much bleeding
It takes to fill a word with meaning?
And how much, how much death
It takes to give a slogan breath?
And how much, how much, how much flame
Gives light to a name
For the hollow darkness
In which nations dress?

Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Everybody's seen the things they've seen
We all have to live with what we've been
When they say charity begins at home
They're not just talking about a toilet and a telephone
Got to search the silence of the soul's wild places
For a voice that can cross the spaces
These definitions that we love create --
These names for heaven, hero, tribe and state

Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Copyright 1981 High Romance Music

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

This is my pain

I ain't looking to get even baby
Revenge isn't really my game
Just looking for some loving,
But of course, this is my burden,
This is my pain

This is my burden, this is my pain
Outside I have sunshine, inside I feel rain
Bruised on the inside, but no one can see
The way that my woman is really treating me

You've got emotional amnesia darlin'
You got Aldsheimer of the soul
You seem to forget I'm right here beside you
And the love I have for you is whole

I'm right beside you here darlin'
But I feel so all alone
C'mon mama, gimme some lovin'
Throw this old dog a bone

Here comes thunder
Here comes rain
Here come the blues all over again,
This is my burden, this is my pain

Copyright 2006 Bluesman Productions

Blues this morning

I got the blues this morning people
My woman don't pay me no mind -
I ain't sayin' she's mean,
It's just that she ain't too kind


It's a quarter past five in the AM,
everything is quiet and calm

As the early dawn light silhouettes your body
I just want to hold you in my arms

Just to touch and feel your soft skin
As it softens my pain,

To feel a little sensuality, affection
and then fall asleep again...

Copyright 2006 Bluesman Productions

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sam Myers is playing Blues Harp up on high...

Singer and Blues harmonica great "Sweet Sammy" Sam Meyers passed away on Monday, July 17, 2006.
He was laid to rest on July 22 in Paulding, Mississippi
next to his mother and father.

Sam Myers was born in Laurel, Mississippi on February 19, 1936. Visually impaired by cataracts from a young age, Sam was educated at the Piney Woods School near Jackson. While there, Sam developed an interest in music as a career. He became skilled enough at playing the trumpet and drums that he received a non-degree scholarship from the American Conservatory School of Music in Chicago. Sam spent his days in the classroom learning the academic side of music and his nights honing his blues chops in the rough nightclubs and streets of Chicago’s South Side.

Sam met and sat in with such blues luminaries as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Hound Dog Taylor, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and the great Elmore James, with whom Sam formed his first long-lasting musical relationship. Sam played drums with Elmore on a fairly steady basis from 1952 until his death in 1963. In 1956, Sam wrote and recorded what was to be his most famous single, “Sleeping In The Ground,” which has been covered by Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and many other blues artists.

From the early 1960’s until 1986, Sam worked the clubs in and around Jackson, Mississippi as well as across the South in the Chittlin’ Circuit. He even found himself touring the world with Sylvia Embrey and the Mississippi All-Stars Blues Band. Then in 1986, Sam met Anson Funderburgh and joined his band, The Rockets. Since that time, Sam and Anson have traveled all over the U.S. and the world, winning acclaim as one of the best live blues bands playing today.

Sam passed away while at home on July 17, 2006, following his release from the hospital after throat cancer surgery. He was making good progress with his recovery, and his death was totally unexpected. He was laid to rest next to his parents, Ollie and Celeste Myers, near Meridian, Mississippi.

Sam’s autobiography, “Sam Myers: The Blues Is My Story,” will be published by the University Press of Mississippi in October, 2006.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Floyd Dixon is no longer with us

Floyd Dixon was a sweet man who had a double career - once in the 1950's as a hot new item on the Blues scene, and a sort of comeback career in the 1990's as a living legend. I highly recommend the early Specialty recordings, re-released on Fantasy Records. Bless his soul...

Floyd Dixon, 77; Blues Singer, Pianist Influenced Ray Charles
By Geoff Boucher, L.A.Times Staff Writer
July 28, 2006

Floyd Dixon, the singer and jump-blues pianist who dubbed himself "Mr. Magnificent" and became an influential figure in the burgeoning R&B scene of 1950s Southern California, died Wednesday of cancer at Chapman Hospital in Orange. He was 77.

Dixon's best-known song was the raucous "Hey Bartender," which was made popular by the Blues Brothers. His other notable recordings included "Wine, Wine, Wine," "Call Operator 210," "Telephone Blues" and the early Jerry Lieber-Mike Stoller song "Too Much Jelly Roll."

His career found him taking on a variety of styles and sounds: mournful blues, R&B ballads, ribald bar songs and even a channeling of Little Richard on late 1950s tracks such as "Oooh Little Girl." But his strongest suit was jump blues, which added a grit and vigor to the smooth blues lessons he absorbed from his major influence, Charles Brown.

"I liked Charles Brown's style more than just about anybody's," Dixon told an interviewer two years ago. "People told me I sounded like that before I even heard him."

Dixon was born Feb. 8, 1929, in Marshall, Texas, not far from the Louisiana border, where he taught himself to play the piano and soaked up the region's blues, gospel and rural music styles. At age 13, his family moved to Los Angeles during World War II and found, as did so many arrivals in that decade, that the growing city was a place of much promise and easy disappointment.

To pay the bills he worked at a drugstore and caddied, but his young eye was pulled toward other pursuits — he took courses in hotel management and considered a football career. Always, though, he sang and longed to make it into a living. In 1947, he made his first recording, "Dallas Blues" for Supreme Records and after that, it was all about the music.

Again and again, he was told that he sounded like Brown, who was known for his mellow blues and burnished stage performances. In 1948, Dixon won the big talent show at the Million Dollar Theater and some people in the audience thought that he was Brown — except for those who noticed that Brown was seated up front, watching.

"That was something," Dixon told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2004. "The people just screamed and yelled and laughed, because they thought it was Charles and they didn't know it was me."

Brown would help the younger man's career. Dixon would pass on that mentorship, famously to Ray Charles, B.B. King and Robert Cray as the decades went by. Charles would become famous for melding gospel and R&B into the potent concoction called soul music, and some music commentators say that in the hoarse, church-born vocal style of Dixon, Charles may have found a compass point for the direction that made him famous. Before going on the road with Dixon, Charles' sound was far closer to that of the polished Nat King Cole than to the raw soul sound he would later create.

The late 1940s and early 1950s were a feverish time for black music in Los Angeles, and its reach and accomplishment were historic. The confluence of styles in jitterbugging postwar years found up-tempo blues, sophisticated R&B and swing merging into a music that would become the protean sound of rock 'n' roll.

The rock 'n' roll era took its toll on the older R&B musicians and, though he toured into the early 1960s, the end of the decade found Dixon fading from the limelight. He made a significant comeback in 1975 with a European tour, and in the following decade he was commissioned to write a blues song for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

The next decade found more success as he won the 1997 W.C. Handy award for comeback blues album of the year for "Wake Up and Live!," a concert recording that veered from the ribald "450 Pound Woman," his famous old tune "Hey Bartender" and the forlorn "Don't Send Me No Flowers in the Graveyard." The album was hailed by reviewers as a late-career declaration of self-worth. Last year, Dixon recorded with fellow piano heroes Pinetop Perkins and Henry Gray for an album scheduled to be released this fall by HighJohn Records.

Bruce Iglauer, president of the blues music label Alligator Records, which released "Wake Up and Live!," said Dixon's hits from the 1950s did not earn the man a lasting memory with the public, but that for students of the tributaries of American pop, he was a notable figure.

"All that music came together and he was right at that pivot point," Iglauer said Thursday.

Iglauer said Dixon never flashed the bitterness of a maestro who had felt cheated of his rightful spotlight.

"He simultaneously knew that he was a quite an important figure in music, but he was also a somewhat neglected one," Iglauer said. "But he felt he had a good life and a good time in life. He was very gentle and jolly. He liked being the life of the party."

Dixon, who never married, is survived by two first cousins, Marie Banks of Los Angeles and Mary Dixon of Marshall, Texas.

There will be a public memorial service from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday at Grace Chapel on the grounds of Inglewood Park Cemetery at 720 E. Florence Ave.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Jessie Mae Hemphill (1934-2006)

In Memory of Jessie Mae Hemphill, who passed on July 22, 2006:

Jessie Mae Hemphill's music has seen a revival in recent years due to the popularity of her hill country blues influences in the work of Daniel "Slick" Ballinger and Richard Johnston. Both artists are devotees of the lady from Senatobia, Mississippi. The Hemphill family, going back to her Great Grand Father was very influential in the development of this specific genre of northern Mississippi blues styles. Her grandfather, Sid Hemphill was featured of some the early recordings by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress.

When Jessie Mae Hemphill was growing up, she came in contact with a large number of local and national musicians, whether in the Delta or in Memphis. She discovered Fred McDowell, from Como, Mississippi, as well as Johnny Woods, the harmonica player who sometimes accompanied him. In the 1960s, she mentioned McDowell to George Mitchell but McDowell had already started performing for the blues revival crowds by the time Mitchell reached him. Since she was a member of a renowned musical family she met many of the local musicians when they visited her grandfather, this was the case with Sonny Boy Williamson [Rice Miller]. When she was living in Memphis, she became friends with some of the best-known blues and rhythm-and-blues artists of the times: B.B. King, Albert King, Junior Parker, Robert Nighthawk, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. She remembered that one time, she and two other women -one piano player and one drummer- decided to play while B.B. King and his band were taking a break. They got on the stage, started playing, and the people in the club started dancing. The members of B.B. King's band did not dare return inside the club right away; they thought that the owner had hired another band because B.B. King and his m
usicians had taken a break which had lasted too long.

The instruments that Jessie Mae Hemphill played illustrated this stylistic and musical duality, the style of music she played, and the songs she composed and interpreted also underline this stylistic situation. Her instrument of choice on stage was the electric guitar that she played in what could be seen as a traditional adaptation of a modern instrument: she did not play extended solos or fast musical phrases. Instead, she used the guitar as a rhythm instrument by strumming or elaborating patterns to accompany her singing. It could be said that she used the guitar in a way similar to the drum found in the traditional fife-and-drum bands of the Delta, such as the bands that her great-grandfather and grandfather directed. She has also recorded tunes where she uses a tambourine attached to her foot or bells attached to her leg. In addition, she is known to have recorded at least one tune where she accompanies herself on the diddley bow (a horizontal piece of broom wire attached on the outside wall of a house, with two bottles serving as bridges that is played by striking the wire with a finger while sliding a small bottle or a piece of metal pipe on the length of the wire, in a manner similar to what is produced when a musician plays bottleneck guitar).

If Jesus was...

if Jesus was the son of a carpenter,
he could have been the one killed today
by a rocket in the Galilee
those heathen wretches
might have killed the next Messiah
and then where would we be?
are these the signs of
the bringing of the apocalypse?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

testing, testing, hey does this mic work?

testing, testing,
hey, does this mic work?

Well, here I am - out in cyberspace,

I got here by accident actually,
following the blog by Lebanese musician
Mazen Kerbaj - check out his blog from a shelter in Beirut
he's got some amazing cartoon drawings
of the madness of the war going on,
he also made an improvised recording of
bombs falling in the distance as he plays his trumpet

without stating any political agenda,
his blog is very human and also contains
much humor in the face of all the crazyness

I've been in that situation (shelters, bombs..) before,
so I can empathize.

well, I guess that's my opening blog entry for now
go listen to some good blues music, say, by Magic Slim and the Teardrops...