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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...