Friday, September 19, 2008

Old vets B.B. King, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith still bringing the blues

Two new blues CDs from two grizzled old pros crossed my desk recently and they were a much welcomed reprieve from much of the mediocre crap that passes for blues these days.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that one of the CDs was from the legendary B.B. King, who turned 83 years young on Sept. 16.

B.B. King has never gone away for very long in his storied career, but his new recording, "One Kind Favor," (Geffen Records) represents sort of a comeback for the King of the Blues. Much of the credit goes to producer T. Bone Burnett, who tried to duplicate the sound of King's recordings from the 1950s with much success.

Wisely, Burnett bypassed the current formula of pairing blues legends with rock stars, a technique that might sell CDs, but often produces bland, if not lifeless, recordings.

Instead, Burnett recruited a crack band of session pros, including Nathan East on stand up acoustic bass and Jim Keltner on drums. Dr. John, who contributes on piano, is the best known band member, but he never steals the show, leaving the spotlight for B.B. and Lucille, his trusty guitar.

Speaking of King, his playing and vocals are in fine form, as usual. And, the song selection of old blues covers are impeccable, including songs by T-Bone Walker, Lemon Jefferson, John Lee Hooker, Chester Burnett (Howlin' Wolf)and Lonnie Johnson, to name a few.

The other CD comes from Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. "Born in Arkansas" (Big Eye Records) is state-of-the-art Chicago blues from Muddy Waters' former drummer from the 1960s and 1970s. Smith also played with Bo Diddley, Johnny Shines, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and Howlin' Wolf, a veritable who's who of blues legends.

On "Born in Arkansas," Smith is backed by veterans of the Chicago blues scene, including Bob Stroger on bass, Barrellhouse Chuck on piano, Billy Flynn on guitar, Little Frank Karkowski on guitar and Smith's son, Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith on drums.

"Big Eyes" Smith contributes vocals and harmonica on the recording, which doesn't stray far from the tried and true sound of Chicago blues. That's meant as a compliment of the highest order ... if anyone else does a better job with this genre of blues, I'd like to hear it. Certainly, the old man himself, Muddy Waters, would be proud of his former band mate if he were alive to tell us.

--Jeff Stevens

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kings of Rhythm still feel Ike Turner's presence

Ike Turner may have left this world when he passed away late last year, but apparently he isn't quite ready to leave the recording studio, according to the drummer of his backing band, the Kings of Rhythm.

Drummer Bill Ray said the band felt Turner's presence during a recording session at a home studio in Santa Monica, California, in late July.

"Ike made an appearance in a very bizarre way. We were recording a song called "After Hours' -- one of Ike's favorite songs," Ray told Blues Music "There's a part where Mack Johnson screams 'Turn out the lights and call the law." When that part arrived the lights in the studio mysteriously dimmed and we all thought the engineer did it but there was no one near the light switches."

Ray continued: "We all instantly knew who it was -- Ike. I don't find that far-fetched at all, as the same people who were in the house when he passed were on this session as well."

Despite Ike's "ghostly" practical joke, the Kings of Rhythm recovered to record about 10 songs. Ray said the session was "amazing" and should lead to a great album, although there are currently no plans for releasing the tracks. "Right now we are 'building it' in hopes that 'they' will come,'" he said.

The musicians, most of whom backed Turner on his Grammy-winning album, "Risin' with the Blues," were:

Seth Blumberg- Guitar
Armando Cepeda- Bass
Kevin Cooper - Bass
Leo Dombecki- Sax
Paulie Cerra- Sax
Mack Johnson- Trumpet
Paul Smith- Hammond
Ernest Lane- Piano
Bill Ray- Drums

Monday, August 04, 2008

B.B. King returns to the 1950s for his latest disc

The latest disc by the legendary B.B. King will return to the vintage sound of 1950s-era blues when "One Kind Favor" is released by Geffen Records on Aug. 26.

Producer T Bone Burnett and King have formed the type of blues band used by the King of the Blues back in the formative years of modern blues. Featured players include Dr. John on piano, Nathan East on stand up acoustic bass and Jim Keltner on drums. In addition, vintage studio conditions were reproduced at The Village Recoder in Los Angeles for the sessions.

The full track listing for One Kind Favor, along with the name of the artist who originally recorded the track, is:” See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” (Lemon Jefferson), “I Get So Weary” (T-Bone Walker), “Get These Blues Off Me” (Lee Vida Walker), “How Many More Years” (Chester Burnett), “Waiting For Your Call” (Oscar Lollie), “My Love Is Down” (Lonnie Johnson), “The World Is Gone Wrong” ( Walter Vinson, also known as Walter Jacobs, and Lonnie Chatmon, core members of the Mississippi Sheiks), “Blues Before Sunrise” (John Lee Hooker), “Midnight Blues” (John Willie “Shifty” Henry), “Backwater Blues” (Big Bill Broonzy), “Sitting On Top Of The World” (Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon) and “Tomorrow Night” (Lonnie Johnson).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

New Buddy Guy album drops July 22

Five-time Grammy winner Buddy Guy will release his latest recording, Skin Deep on July 22. His tenth studio release on the Silverstone/Zomba label, "Skin Deep" features Eric Clapton, Robert Randolph, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks.

The 72-year-old Guy said he exercised more control over the recording of this album, which features all new material.

"This is the first time I really had more control," Guy says. "Everything in here is new. Most of the other albums have been a few new songs and then back to the older stuff or the covers-which is fine, but you gotta be creative. I would talk to Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck when they were all making records, and they would tell me that they would go in the studio with the freedom to play what they wanted. This time, I had that."

You can listen to streams of several songs, including the Eric Clapton collaboration, "Every Time I Sing the Blues, at the Earbender Web site.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Legends help celebrate Delmark's 55th

By Steve Sharp
CHICAGO -- A frail-looking Delmark Records founder Bob Koester greeted admirers near the front of the stage throughout the evening of March 7, 2008 at Buddy Guy's Legends, enjoying his label's 55th anniversary celebration. The marathon concert featured performances by Delmark's still-impressive stable of talent, including Taildragger, Lurrie Bell, Billy Branch, Aaron Moore and Byther Smith. These and many other artists were backed by a superb rhythm section including drummer Kenny Smith and bass legend Bob Stroger.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Get on the blues bus

Our latest installment of "Scenes from the Road" takes us back to Chicago's Maxwell Street, circa 1992. Today's photo features the blues bus, a fixture on the street back in the day.

Photographer Steve Sharp writes this about the bus: "Painted blue, it was operated each weekend at the Maxwell Street Market in the 1980s and 1990s by a couple of old gentlemen from Mississippi. They sold crusty blues tapes by everyone imaginable -- from Isaac Hayes to Muddy Waters, from Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker to Poonanny."

For more about the blues bus, visit Blues Music

Sunday, February 10, 2008

And the blues GRAMMYS go to...

If you're a blues fan, you don't have to bother to watch tonight's GRAMMY telecast, as both blues album winners were announced in the infamous "pre-tel" awards ceremony earlier in the day.

The best traditional blues album went to "Last Of The Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas." The recording, released on the Blue Shoe Project label, featured Henry James Townsend, Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and David "Honeyboy" Edwards.

Other nominees in the category included "Pinetop Perkins On The 88's - Live In Chicago" by Pinetop Perkins [Sagebrush Productions/Vizztone Label Group], "10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads" by Kenny Wayne Shepherd Featuring Various Artists [Reprise Records] and "Old School" by Koko Taylor [Alligator Records].

The GRAMMY for best contemporary blues album was awarded to JJ Cale & Eric Clapton for "The Road To Escondido" [Reprise Records/Warner Music Group]. The duo beat out "Into The Blues" by Joan Armatrading [429 Records], "Is It News" by Doyle Bramhall [Yep Roc Records], "Truth" by Robben Ford [Concord Records] and "The Scene Of The Crime" by Bettye LaVette [Anti].

GRAMMY Web site