Saturday, October 29, 2005

Photos From The Hurricane Katrina Benefit

Photos from Steve Freund's Hurricane Katrina benefit hosted at the Ivy Room are now available. The people that I caught in action were:

Rusty Zinn, Rick Estrin, Craig Horton, Kenny "Blue" Ray, Applejack Walroth, Kid Andersen, John Graham, Birdlegg, Jon Lawton, RJ Mischo and Misty Browning.

Photos are located at: 2005: A Year in Progress

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My Ultra Cool Tweed Champ Build

5F1 Champ

Last year, I started playing the harmonica again. I had two little practice amps. A little solid state Yamaha amplifier that sounds kind of funky. That isn't funky in a good way. The second one is really old. The are two labels. One says Tower Corp. The other is an address label that reads:

Tower Corp
400 S. Peoria Street
Chicago, IL

That's an address that is about a mile straight north of the original Chicago's Maxwell Street Market. It is a really cool little amplifier with some potentially cool Blues history. When coupled to the right microphone, it's got a very cool sound to it. Due to it's age, it doesn't exactly scream reliable. Plus, it has a pair of 6V6 tubes. I haven't pulled the chassis to see how it is wired up, but I suspect it should be a lot louder than it is. I would guess that it should be 10 watt amp. It's still pretty loud for the house.

A few months back, Don Yonder loaned me his Pro Junior. It's a nice little amp, but it was really loud. Paint peeling loud. Too loud for the house. He then loaned me a nifty little 15 watt Vox solid state amp. That one had a very cool boxy sound to it. It was nice, but it was still really loud. When I returned the amp, there were a bunch of guitar players milling around. I asked about a small low powered amp. The consensus was that I should look for a Fender Champ. I played through a silverface one twenty years ago and I didn't like it very much, but I was told the tweed ones were really cool. I started looking at tweed Champs on ebay and just about had a stroke when I saw the prices. I started looking at Champ clones. While the prices were lower, they were still astronomical. After bidding and losing on a couple of Victoria 518's, I decided to stick with what I had.

I was talking to Steve Freund about amplifiers and he told me that I really wanted to stick with an amp that was wired point to point. He suggested that I build one. I started looking at Allen Amps. They had some incredibly cool stuff, but the prices were more than I wanted to pay and their amp kits looked really complicated. Considering that this was my first electronics project since I was 11, I decided that it was too complex.

After some googling, I came across some tweed Champ kits. I researched the these things to death and eventually decided to buy one. I eventually decided to buy a 5F1 Champ kit from Mike Marsh at Marsh Amps. The reason why I decided to go with the Marsh kit was pretty simple. Mike Marsh has gotten nothing, but glowing reviews from his customers and his kit provided a brief set of build instructions. Plus, when I contacted him about the order, he gave me some feedback on speaker selection.

The build went smoothly. I took my time and it worked the first time that I powered it up. It sounded fantastic. It had a nasty hum that I couldn't diagnose, so I shipped it off to Mike. He found the problem pretty quickly. I had an errant glob of solder in the wiring of the 6V6 which wasn't easily visible. While he had it, he added the virtual center tap. When the repaired chassis arrived, I installed it in a laquered cabinet along with a Weber AlNiCo Signature 8. It looks and sounds fantastic. The tone is simply amazing. It's incredible how big the sound is from such a small box.

I took it out on it's maiden voyage at RJ Mischo's World Famous Blues Jam at the Mojo Lounge. Unfortunately, RJ was test driving a nice little Kalamazoo Model 2, so the true test didn't happen for another week. The following week, Birdlegg was hosting the jam, so I brought the amp down there to test it out.

I brought an old low impedence Green Bullet. Due to the lower output of this particular microphone, I was able to crank the volume up to 11 before reaching the feedback threshold. It was loud enough to be heard in the back of the room without being run through the PA. It ran non-stop for a couple of hours without a problem. It had a really fantastic sound to it.

Needless to say, it was a really fun project and I am very happy with the results.

A Quick Update

Gary Smith

I haven't really been up to much during the past couple of weeks. Last Saturday, I caught Gary Smith at the Mojo Lounge. He put on a great show with Mike Phillips (bass) and Jimmy Mulleniux (drums). I can't remember the name of the guitar player. He was really good. Chris Brown (aka Chris Evans) played guitar on a few tunes.

The only other musical activities that I've participated in during the past couple of weeks has been RJ Mischo's World Famous Blues Jam at the Mojo Lounge on Tuesday nights. This past week was pretty cool. I had the opportunity to play a couple of tunes with three fifths of the Buzzy Dupree Orchestra. They kept me guessing the chord changes on an original tune. By the time, it was all over I think I got it down. It was fun. Hopefully, I didn't stink it up too badly.

The previous week, RJ was on tour and the jam was hosted by Birdlegg. Birdlegg is an excellent entertainer. His harmonica playing is in the style of Sonny Boy Williamson II. He sings and plays through the same microphone. That means, if you don't plan on singing and you're a harmonica playing, you had better bring a microphone to plug into the PA. Since, I knew that Birdlegg would be hosting the jam, I used this as an opportunity to test out my recently completed project, my tweed Champ clone.

There were very few harmonica players that day and Birdlegg was being very generous. He let me play for over an hour with a variety of players including: Scott Duncan, Vance Ehlers, John Graham and Don Yonder. One of the highlights of the evening was the opportunity to share the stage with the legendary lap steel guitarist, Freddie Roulette. I wanted to get some time on the amp, plus I wanted to hear how it sounded, so I let one of the harp players, Jeff, from the Buzzy Dupree band play through the amp. More on the amplifier later...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Phantoms Of The Barrelhouse @ The Mojo Lounge

Last night, I dropped by the Mojo Lounge to take in the show by the Phantoms Of The Barrelhouse featuring: Barrelhouse Solly, Phil Harmonica, Scott Miller, Vic Vicena and Kenny Gross. I showed up at about 9:30. The place was packed to the rafters with people drinking and dancing during the all day Blues-A-Thon. They were treated to a fabulous performance which exceeded by high expectations.

The band played an ultra-long extended first set. I was floored when the first set ran for a little over a record two hours. Barrelhouse Solly, Phil Harmonica and Scott Miller all traded off vocal duties and each of them were in fine form. Barrelhouse Solly reminded the audience to lock up their women when he was in town. Unfortunately, one couple didn't heed the warning, but more on that later.

It must be said that the Phantoms Of The Barrelhouse are a very hearing friendly band. A couple of people mentioned that the lower volume levels made for a much more enjoyable listening time than some of the earlier rock-infused performances.

Scott Miller's guitar work was very impressive. He's a very good Blues guitar player. Phil Harmonica, or whatever name he's using these days, was sounding very good. His harp playing was very powerful. His tone was very heavy and classic. Barrelhouse Solly was the same as he always is. Great! His fabulous vocal stylists are reminiscent of an era that is long gone. Vic and Kenny didn't miss a beat.

During the second set, a few guests dropped by to perform a few numbers with the band. Gino Bambino played some fantastic harp playing on a couple of songs. I was asked to sit in on a couple of tunes. Gino Baronelli dropped by to add a third guitar to the mix.

Near the end of the set and during one of Barrelhouse Solly songs, a couple couldn't stand the hypnotic and apparently very sensual music the Phantoms were laying down. The removed the tip jar from the stool on the dance floor. The woman sat down and her male companion proceeded to gyrate and rub up against her in a very non-subtle way.

If you get a chance to see these gentleman, they are well worth it. The Phantoms Of The Barrelhouse provide their audience with excellent music that can be danced to in ways that violate moral turptitude laws.

RJ Mischo @ The Poor House Bistro

Yesterday, I went down to the Poor House Bistro with the family in tow to see the prolific and captivating, RJ Mischo and his fine band consisting of: Kid Andersen, Vance Ehlers and Hans Bosse. RJ was in fine form as he ripped through a bunch of his own material from his recently released CD entitled, "He Came To Play!" He mixed in some classic songs from the books of JB Hutto, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and Big Walter Horton. RJ is one of those rare musicians that is true to the tradition, while adding a bit of himself to his performances which make them unique and spell binding.

Rick Estrin said it best, RJ has the prettiest tone around. Plus, he really knows his way around those ten holes. When you add in the electrifying guitar playing of Kid Andersen and the rock solid groove laid down by Vance and Hans, it made for a great evening of music. RJ was also kind enough to ask me to play on a couple of Elmore James tunes. That was a great deal of fun!

It was great to see a bunch of familiar faces and to meet some new people. We should probably all say a prayer for BJ as my kids adopted her into our family for the evening. I fear she may be scarred for life. It was great to see the fabulous Robin O and the lovely Miss Heidi.

Demonstrating that the Poor House is a family friendly environment, there were a multitude of kids in the audience. While I was walking to the bar, I found a little girl's hair bow on the ground. I walked up to a group of four young boys and asked them, if it belonged to them. Their eyes got as big as dinner plates before yelling the obvious, "Hair bows are for girls! We are not girls!"