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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By the 1970s she had withdrawn from public performance for family reasons; but her heart remained with the blues in the clubs.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.