Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Blues Jam @ Murphy's Law

Last night, I hit the Pro Blues Jam at Murphy's Law in Sunnyvale. It was a great time. Mike Phillips was celebrating his birthday. Johnny Cat was in the house, as was Dennis Dove. There were a bunch of impressive players and vocalists present. One particularly impressive singer was Lee Donald of LD & The Blues Crew.

LD is a vocalist and harmonica player that is schooled in the South Side Chicago tradition. It was fun to play tunes out of the Muddy Waters, Big Walter Horton and Ray Charles songbooks along with him, Johnny Cat and Artie Chavez. Other people in attendance were Sid Morris (whose performance I missed because I was running fashionably late), Scott Miller, Greg Greenspan, Ryan Cohen and a fabulous guitar player named Bobby G.

Later in the evening, I played a few more tunes with the house band, James Brown's "Sex Machine" and a Marvin Gaye tune. The title of that tune is escaping me. That was a load of fun. Dennis Dove is a great singer. He did a couple of really nice Tyrone Davis tunes. Excellent songs that you don't usually hear at a blues jam.

The club is nice. The bartenders are cool. The house band is excellent. Most of the people performing are very good. Sadly, there were a few people that I had hoped to see, but they weren't in attendance. Overall, it was a lot of fun and well worth the drive.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Review - Chicago Blues Jam DVD

Santa proved to be very kind once again this year. He dropped off a copy of the Chicago Blues Jam featuring Billy Branch and Keb Mo. It's a very cool DVD that was shot at Buddy Guy's Legends during the mid 90's. Keb Mo contributes a couple of very nice acoustic blues tunes, but the bulk of this disc and the really cool part one is the portion focused on Billy Branch.

The disc features some really cool performances and interview segments with Billy. The interviews are focused on his early years in Chicago. To most of the people familiar with Billy and his music, there isn't really much new stuff that was presented during the interview segments, but it was very cool to hear the story come from the man himself without edits.

The musical performances are really very cool. Billy, his singing and his incredible harmonica playing are front and center throughout the performance. It features one of the most powerful combinations of the Sons Of Blues. The members of the band include: Carl Weathersby (guitar), Melvin Smith (bass) and current SOB Mose Rutues (drums). Billy handles the majority of the vocal duties and Carl contributes a couple of nice tunes. For people familiar with the SOB's of this era, this disc provides a really nice trip down memory lane. For people new to Billy Branch and his music this DVD captures the aspects of live performance that studio CD's simply can not capture.

The production quality is good. The quality of the music in excellent. There are several other discs in the series. If this DVD is any indication, these are really worth picking up for lovers of Chicago Blues. It's available dirt cheap online from Amazon and it provides a really nice view into Billy and his music.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

TWIB - This Week In Blues

Tuesday, December 20th @ The Mojo Lounge

R.J. Mischo was still on hiatus in Mexico at the Blue Mamou. In his absence, the NC Blues Connection featuring Wild Bill Pruitt and Jesse Brown were holding down the fort with their special guest, Artie Chavez.

Jesse Brown is a fabulous singer. There were a whole host of guest artists in the house. It was a fun evening. There were several people in attendance that hadn't been down there in a while. Overall, the quality of the music was good with the exception of a horrible cover of "Play That Funky Music White Boy", which has no place in a blues jam, proving once again that some people have absolutely no taste.

The highlight of the evening was that I got to play a really bizarre version of "Play That Funky Music White Boy" with Don Yonder and Freddie Roulette.

Friday, December 23rd @ JJ's Blues Lounge

I had hoped to make it down to the Poor House Bistro to catch the exciting duo of Bob Welsh and Hans Bosse, but the weeks of procrastination finally caught up me. I was running late doing some last minute shopping and Christmas wrapping. Just as I was becoming resigned to watching some incredibly crappy two hour movie stretched into a three hour long debacle on Lifetime, I saw Stan Erhart's message reminding people that he was appearing at JJ's and that Cathy Lemons/Johnny Ace/Steve Freund would be there, too. I was out the door.

Fortunately, the traffic wasn't too bad. When I arrived, Stan had just begun a very nice set. I had never seen Stan with his band before. My awareness of his tasteful guitar playing has come at the Tuesday night Mojo Lounge blues jam.

I grabbed a table with Artie and Gail near the front of the club. Stan was settling into a group of very nicely done Albert King tunes. I really liked his cover of Laundromat Blues. His guitar playing was very soulful and the rhythm section was spot on. He followed that up with very good version of Oh, Pretty Woman. It was a very enjoyable set. I look forward to seeing him again.

The second set was also great. Cathy Lemons and Johnny Ace with Steve Freund and the human Rolex watch on drums, Robi Bean. It had been a long time, since the last time that I had seen Cathy Lemons and Johnny Ace. It was actually too long. She's a really good singer that always puts on an enjoyable show. Johnny Ace is an ball of human energy and an entertaining guy. He is constantly in motion, but never misses a beat. Steve sounded great as always. Seeing him back other singers is always a treat because he is such a great rhythm player. He always does an incredible job of filling holes but he leaves enough open space to allow his playing to breathe and sink in.

Unfortunately, I couldn't hang out to catch the last set with Sammy Varela. The only down side of the whole evening was one set for two bands made everything feel rushed. I guess it was in keeping with the holiday activities.

It was nice to get back to JJ's. The club has nice vibe. The new owner seems to be a pretty nice guy. I'll be returning, especially if they have more shows like Friday evening's performance.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Carol Fran @ Mojo Lounge

Carol Fran

Last night, I went down to the Mojo Lounge to catch the special Christmas concert featuring the one and only Carol Fran. The band had just started playing when I walked in.

I met up with a bunch of friends sitting at a table including: Robin Overton, Chris Brown, James Reed, Byrd Hale and Wendy Dewitt. Robin introduced me to Carol. She is a very sweet and very down to Earth lady.

The guitar player had recently relocated back to the Bay Area from New Orleans. He was playing a big hollow body Gibson guitar. He was great. His playing had a nice blues/jazz feel to it. It was very mellow and it really set the tone for the evening. His name was Larry Scala.

Rounding out the band was the majestic Kedar Roy thumping the big upright bass. He's one of the few guys like Willie Dixon that makes a huge bass look like a violin next to him. Andrew Griffin on drums. I had never seen him before. He was very good. These guys set a very nice rhythm and kept time better than a Stratum 1 clock. James "Loose" Reed playing added some very nice and mellow harp playing to the opening songs.

After a couple of tunes, Carol Fran stepped on stage. This was the first time that I had seen her. She put on a great show. The first couple of songs had a really funky feel to it. Her piano was amplified to the hilt and its sound was reminiscent of the Howlin' Wolf classic, "How Many More Years." It had a very cool sound to it, but it wasn't the right mood for the evening and it certainly didn't capture the Christmas spirit. Once that got fixed, she began an American music history lesson that won't soon be forgotten.

During the course of the evening, she played several Christmas tunes and a multitude of blues and jazz songs from the 1940's and 1950's. If someone shouted out the name of the song, she played it. It sort of didn't matter what it was. When some guy in the audience shouted out, "Sweet Home Chicago." A bunch of people grumbled and she began a Professor Longhair style tune.

When she began singing, "Come on, baby don't you wanna go..."

She blew several minds. That was the most non-standard, but very cool version of "Sweet Home Chicago" that I had heard in several years. She played and sang several Ray Charles songs.

I am really glad that I didn't miss this show. It was a very intimate performance.

Catching Up...

With the Christmas holiday and the end of the year rapidly approaching, it's been a busy few weeks. After the December 4th show at the Horseman's Club, I've been sort of laying low. I've been trying to fight off a cold. Here is a really brief summary.

Mojo Lounge Jam - 12/06/05

I caught R.J. Mischo's World Famous Tuesday Night Blues Jam at the Mojo Lounge. It was a really fun night.

The lovely Lara Price made an appearance. She is a very good singer. She also played drums quite well. I played a couple of songs with R.J. and a few more tunes with a young guitar player named Shakey Jake.

At this point, I can't remember much more of that evening. Heck, it was almost two weeks ago. I can't be expected to remember too much, after the weekend that I had prior to this day.

R.J. Mischo @ Mojo Lounge - 12/10/05

This show was a lot of fun. It's nice to hear a whole show from Mr. Mischo. He's a rather unique guy. He is a rare type of harmonica player on the West Coast. While he can play that style of blues quite well, he can go an entire evening playing nothing but old school post war blues. He borrowed heavily from the songbooks of Big Walter Horton and Snooky Pryor, in addition to playing his own material from his most recent CD entitled, "He Came To Play!"

Making a surprise guest appearance from Los Angeles by way of Chicago was the infamous Cadillac Zack. He sat in on a couple of tunes and sounded great.

Mojo Lounge Jam - 12/13/05

Johnny Cat and Mike Phillips hosted the Tuesday night Blues jam. Johnny Cat and Mike Phillips opened the show with Dennis Dove playing the drums. The first set was great and it featured some fantastic covers of a few Tyrone Davis tunes.

It was a fun night. There were a lot of new faces that dropped in from the south bay. The most impressive performance of the evening came from J.C. Smith. He's a very good singer and tasteful guitar player.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

It's All About The Lumps

Carl Weathersby & Magic Slim

Early Sunday afternoon, I hit the ground running. I was headed to the Horseman's Club in Sacramento to see a fabulous show with a lineup that would put most so-called Blues Festivals to shame. Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne, Phil Guy, Carl Weathersby and Magic Slim & the Teardrops. While enroute, I stopped to pick up Don Yonder to ensure that he received a proper education South Side-style.

We were cruising along the freeway traveling at a high rate of speed. We were making excellent time when we were passed by a big blue van with Illinois plates that was loaded to the rafters with musical equipment. This is now the second time that I've been passed on a California freeway by Magic Slim and the Teardrops. We followed them up to Sacramento and we continued on to the Horseman's Club.

When we arrived, I thought we were in the wrong place. It's a hall in a real rural setting. There was a sign that simply read, "Fest." There was a long line. The only indication that we were in the right place were some familiar faces in the crowd that made the two hour trek from the Bay Area to Sacramento for this show.

It was well worth the four and a half hours in the car.

Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne opened the show with a righteous band consisting of David "Hurricane" Hoerl (harmonica), Takezo (guitar), Paul Olguin (bass), and Rick Sankey (drums). This was a very nice, but very abbreviated set. Kenny tickled the ivories on several tunes and proved that he is one of the last members of the old school piano players. He also switched things around a bit on his keyboard making his instrument sound like an organ or a scat singer. It was very cool. Dave Hoerl blew some very fine harmonica. Takezo added a couple of very tasteful guitar solos.

After about 30 minutes, Phil Guy stepped onto the stage with a white Telecaster that he would torture for the next hour or so. He worked through a couple tunes out of the Z.Z. Hill songbook including, "Open House At My House" and "Someone Else Is Steppin' In". He tore into one classic Chicago Blues tune after another. He opened each tune with an extended guitar solo to set the tempo and groove of the song. The band just followed him along like soldiers into battle. The tone coming out of his guitar stung to the core like ice water on a tooth with an exposed nerve. It was a lesson in pure unfiltered Blues from Chicago's South Side. He closed out his set with a fantastic version of Buddy Guy's, "Stone Crazy".

During a brief break, Omar Shariff took to the keyboards and played a couple of nice Christmas Blues tunes. From the weather and the heat generated in the hall, you wouldn't have known it was the Christmas season. These tunes were a nice reminder that the holiday season is upon us.

It seemed like a good time to grab a beer and something to eat. Six bucks. What a great deal! The link was excellent and there were several choices of high quality libations to ensure proper hydration.

Next up was Carl Weathersby. He was backed by Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne and company. Takezo left the stage and Phil Guy played rhythm guitar. This was an excellent set. He tore through a bunch of classic Chicago Blues while mixing in a few Albert King and Howlin' Wolf songs. His guitar playing was tasteful and incredibly intense much like Albert King. Pure raw emotion and feeling is transferred from his fingertips through his guitar. Carl Weathersby is the present and future of the Blues. His set raised the bar to an almost incomprehensible level.

It was hot in the hall, so I headed outside during the break. I talked to Carl and Guitar Mac briefly. I got a couple of quick and dirty lessons on blues theory. Magic Slim overheard one of the conversations and they started shooting the breeze about old times in the clubs in Chicago about twenty years ago. They gave each other friendly crap. They talked about bluesmen past and present. They reminisced about guys like Lefty Dizz. It was something that I'll never forget.

Next up was Magic Slim & the Teardrops. What can someone say about Magic Slim that hasn't been said already? The guy is simply great. His Blues are very traditional and old school. His guitar tone is indescribable. It's very heavy and it leaves a long lasting impression. It's sort of like getting hit in the head with sledgehammer. When you experience it, you aren't going to forget it anytime soon and it's not likely to be like anything that you've ever felt before.

During one of his opening tunes, Carl Weathersby was watching Magic Slim with a great deal of admiration. He looks at me and said something like, "that guitar that Slim is playing is a Fender Jazzmaster. Most people feel that guitar was never capable of anything great. Those people never heard Magic Slim play it." Slim ripped through one shuffle after another. The intensity level just kept creeping up.

He asked Carl to join him on the stage and the intensity level broke the meter. The two of them traded solo after solo. They exchanged vocal duties each taking a verse or two in each song. They kept raising the bar and you could tell they were feeding off the energy of each other. At the end of the set, Carl said to Slim, "That was like old times, wasn't it Slim."

I stopped to talk with a few friends about the show before it was time to head further on up the road. For the third time this weekend I would say, "this may have been the best show that I've seen all year long."

Before leaving, I went outside to say good bye to Carl. As I was leaving, he walked up to Magic Slim and said, "Damn Slim! I haven't lumped that hard in years."

Slim responded, "I told you, man! It's all about the lumps."

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Carl Weathersby @ The Boom Boom Room

Carl Weathersby

Saturday night, I took my lovely wife to the Boom Boom Room to see Carl Weathersby. The ad for the Boom Boom Room in the Guardian had him incorrectly billed as Albert King's guitarist from 1979 - 1982 and as the pianist in Willie Dixon's Big Three Trio in the 40's and 50's.

Outside the Boom Boom Room, I ran into Pork Pie Phillips. He and the Bay Area Blues Society rode picked up Carl from the airport. We talked outside for quite a while. When we walked into the Boom Boom Room, Carl saw us and immediately said, "Hey Joe, how come you never told me you play harmonica?" I asked him, "I don't. Who's telling you those stories?" He responded, "I rode over with some of your buddies." Liz had a good laugh at my expense, she said that I had a deer in the headlights look on my face.

For this show, Carl was being backed by the Bay Area Blues Society's Caravan of All Stars including: Ronnie Stewart (Guitar), Donnie Kountz (Drums), 'Funky' Rob Gordon (Keyboards) and Chuck Trujillo (Bass). Featured vocalists included: Wylie Trass and Pork Pie Phillips.

The Caravan of All Stars opened up the show with a couple of really cool R&B numbers featuring the voice of Wylie Trass. In the middle of the song, Carl walked on stage to play along with the band. Wylie Trass cut out after getting the dance floor filled to capacity. For the remainder of the set, it was pretty much all Carl Weathersby. He started off with a couple of up tempo numbers to keep the audience moving. He walked off the stage and took an extended solo walking the audience, playing the guitar behind his head, playing with his teeth never missing a note.

He slowed it way down playing a very wicked version of the Albert King classic, Sun Gone Down. During the course of this particular tune, he continually brought the volume down until he was playing acoustically. The room was silent, except for his guitar playing. You could hear a pin drop. It was very impressive. Other than Albert himself, Carl plays the most intense and true to form Albert King style guitar around.

During the fourth of fifth song, the sound coming from his amplifier stopped. All of a sudden the smell of electrical smoke could be smelled throughout the club. He burned up the house Mesa/Boogie combo. They continued along with Carl diplaying his very deep and soulful vocal style. The club staff wheeled in a Fender Twin and they were back in business.

He learned a great deal from Albert King and his influence is very apparent in his playing style. With the Bay Area Blues Society backing him, they tore through song after song with an incredible amount of intensity that words can't describe. He also did a very nice tribute to Howlin' Wolf. He also tossed in a couple of Tyrone Davis tunes.

They played two incredibly long sets of nothing but incredibly deep blues. Those who stuck it out until closing time saw one of the most incredible shows that I've seen in a long ass time.

When we were leaving, for the second time this weekend I would say, "this may have been the best show that I've seen all year long."

Monday, December 5, 2005

Magic Slim @ Biscuit & Blues

Magic Slim

It has been a very long weekend for me. It was a tremendous amount of fun. I am sort of sad to say this, but in a way I am glad it's over. I am dead tired, but it was really worth it. I guess I don't bounce back as well as I did in my younger days.

Friday night, I headed up to San Francisco to Biscuits and Blues to see Magic Slim and the Teardrops. The first time that I saw Magic Slim was in 1983. I've seen him more times than I can remember or count. There is a very simple reason. He always has an excellent band and he always puts on a great show. Friday night's festivities were no exception.

I took BART into the city. After a ten minute walk and dismissing about a dozen bums looking for spare change, I arrived at the club shortly before the show started. I took a seat at the bar.

It was a very good show. Slim really tore it up during the second set. He played several standard tunes and he also mixed in a handful of self-penned songs from his most recent CD. There is nobody quite like Magic Slim. He has his own inimitable and very unique style. He can take often heard songs and make them his own. They always come off sounding fresh. He is also a human jukebox. It seems like he knows about a million songs and he always plays at least one song that I've never heard him play before. I really dug hearing him cover Johnny Christian's, "(If You Got To) Love Somebody" and Little Milton's "The Blues Is Alright." I think he is virtually untouchable on those really slow blues tunes that drag like a long slow freight train pulling out of the railroad yard. His guitar solos have plenty of room to breathe and his razor sharp guitar playing slices a hole right into your soul. He's like the old school players that never really seem to hit a wrong note. It always seems to come out sounding absolutely perfect.

Before I knew it, the time flew by and the night was over.

For the first time this weekend I would say, "this may have been the best show that I've seen all year long."

Thursday, December 1, 2005

RJ Mischo's World Famous Blues Jam - 11/29 Edition

Freddie Roulette & Nick Moss

It was Tuesday night and time for another exciting edition of RJ Mischo's World Famous Blues Jam hosted in the ballroom of the renowned Mojo Lounge in Fremont, CA. RJ was out of town and was unavailable to perform his hosting duties. In an American tradition, he outsourced the task to Nick Moss & The Flip Tops. Nick did an outstanding job. His band consists of some great musicians that are strong multi-instrumentalists. Nick Moss (guitar, harmonica, bass and vocals), Gerry Hundt (bass, mandolin, guitar and vocals), Piano Willie (piano and bass) and Bob Carter (drums).

Nick and his band opened the show with a fabulous version of Johnny Littlejohn's "Bloody Tears" and we were on the express train to Chicago. Nick spent a great deal of the first set playing slide guitar in a variety of styles demonstrating influences by Elmore James, Houng Dog Taylor, Muddy Waters and others.

Midway into the first set, Gerry Hundt picked up a mandolin and Nick picked up a harmonica. They played a couple of Johnny Young tunes that would have fit in really well on a 1960's Vanguard recording. Nick's harmonica playing was strong and displayed a nice Big Walter Horton influence with a big fat tone.

Afterwards, Piano Willie took a break. Gerry picked up a guitar and Nick played a few Hound Dog Taylor tunes that were simply breathtaking and were probably the highlight of the first set. After a few more songs...

There was a short musical break.

Nick called to the stage the first set of people to kick off the jam. Gerry Hundt played the guitar and sang a few songs with Felix Bannon (guitar), Wild Bill Pruitt (bass), Travis (drums) and me (harp). We played one tune together before Chip and Ray, the Sax Maniacs joined the stage for a couple of songs.

There was a short musical break.

Barrelhouse Solly led the next group of people with his fine vocals, harp and kazoo playing. Joining him was my twin brother by different mothers, Scott Miller (guitar), Ryan Eric (guitar), Sneaky Pete (bass), Donnie Kountz (drums) and the Sax Maniacs on horns. Solly took advantage of the horns and sang an old school Big Joe Turner tune utilizing the horn section to full effect and adding a trumpet-like solo using his homemade kazoo.

There was a short musical break.

Next up on stage was Nick Moss (bass and vocals), Stan Erhart (guitar and vocals), Don Yonder (guitar), Freddie Roulette (lap steel guitar) and Greg Greenspan (harp). These guys were joined by a variety of drummers including: E-Rock, Artie Chavez and another guy whose name I didn't get. This was a really nice set consisting of some great music. Throughout the set, Stan and Don traded some fabulous guitar licks. Greg provided some very sympathetic harp playing.

There was a short musical break.

The Flip Tops returned to the stage along with Freddie Roulette. Nick started the final set off with a very nice version of the Jimmy Rogers classic, That's All Right. The next tune up was simply awesome, Earl Hooker's Blue Guitar. Nick used a wah-wah pedal on this tune and it featured some incredible slide guitar playing by Nick and Freddie Roulette. This song was can only be described as jawdropping. The remainder of this set they did with Freddie Roulette was pure gold. That may have been the best that I've ever heard Freddie Roulette sound.

This concluded the evening's musical performances and another edition of RJ Mischo's World Famous Blues Jam at the Mojo Lounge was nothing but a memory. For those of us that were present, at least, we have that. Those that weren't there just have this crummy report and the feelings of jealousy wishing that they had been there.