Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Wrap Up

I wrapped up 2008 pretty much the same way it started. I went to the World Famous Tuesday Night Blues Jam at the Mojo Lounge. Steve Freund was hosting the jam along with Robi Bean and Marc Carino. I arrived way late and missed the first set. I joined Scott Duncan, Marc Carino and a bunch of guys that I had never seen before. After two songs, Linda Martinez joined us and sang a couple of tunes. Mark Irwin was kind enough to let me use his very nice Masco amplifier.

The evening concluded with a couple of tunes by Junior Morrow. He was joined by Tumbleweed and East Bay Wes along with Marc Carino and Robi Bean.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Murphy's Law Jam

Everyone at home went to bed early, so I decided to head out to the Blues Jam at Murphy's Law. Johnny Cat and Mike Phillips were hosting the festivities along with June Core. For the past couple years, Johnny has performed and toured with the Terry Hanck Band. Two years ago, Mike Phillips began touring with the Charlie Musselwhite band.

June is a fabulous drummer. He is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. As a youth, he worked with Robert Jr Lockwood and Johnny Shines. He can be seen working with Charlie Musselwhite. Recently, he returned from a month long tour with John Nemeth.

It was a light night for jammers, so the members of the house band ended up performing quite a bit. I knew several members of the people hanging out, so it ended up being a good night filled with excellent music and the company of good friends, which was a nice way to spend some time during the holiday season.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Andy Santana & the West Coast Playboys

The past couple of weeks have been hectic. I decided to drop into the Poor House Bistro for a bit to see Andy Santana. Andy is a fabulous harmonica player, guitarist and singer. He's fronted a band called the West Coast Playboys for a long time. He's got some great tunes and he performs some very nice cover versions of songs that aren't heard very often. Joining Andy was Johnny Cat on guitar, Mike Phillips on bass and Butch Cousins on drums. It was a really cool evening of music.

One of the cool things about the Poor House Bistro is that it's a pretty casual atmosphere. It attracts a number of musicians, so you never know who will drop in. Jay Meduri, Marvin Greene, Big John Stokes and AC Myles played some guitar during the course of the evening. Johnny O, Aki Kumar and I played a little bit of harp. Johnny O was nice enough to allow us play through his Kinder Soulful amplifier.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm Moved In

Well, it took several weeks, but I am finally moved in and I took four years of blog postings with me from my previous site.

The main purpose of this blog is pretty simple. I attempt to document the various Blues related activities that I have going on.


First, I think there might be a few people that are interested in this stuff. Second, I am getting older and I thought I should write it down so I don't forget stuff.

What will you find here? A bunch of stuff. Mostly, it will be things that interest me like:
  • Information about the various blues shows I see.
  • Pimping my project of photographically documenting the blues scene in the San Francisco. This is a project that I have been working on since 2000.
  • I mess around as an amateur, part time blues harmonica player. From time to time, I will write a little bit about blues harmonica.
  • I've got some very cool and generous musician friends that put up with me shoving a camera in their face. Sometimes, I shoot video of their performances. That will get posted here, too.
  • I've also been called a Blues Nazi or purist, so I will write about recordings that I like. Don't expect to see read about Tommy Castro or Joe Bonnamassa here. It ain't gonna happen.
Watch for some other stuff as the dust settles.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kim Wilson's Blues Review

I ended my 394 day boycott of Biscuits & Blues. I swore I would never set foot in that place again. I decided to change my mind when I heard Barrelhouse Chuck was coming to town as part of Kim Wilson's Blues Review.

The word on the street is that Kim Wilson was going to take the band that performed on the soundtrack of the movie Cadillac Records on a tour of the West Coast. That band included: Barrelhouse Chuck (piano), Billy Flynn (guitar), Richard Innes (drums) and Larry Taylor (bass). Joining them was Bay Area guitar talent, Rusty Zinn.

Barrelhouse Chuck, Billy Flynn, Richard Innes,
Kim Wilson, Rusty Zinn and Larry Taylor (l to r)

It was a fine evening filled with three hours of traditional postwar style Chicago Blues. I don't think I've ever seen so many harmonica players in one place before. I picked up one of Chuck's CD and had an opportunity to talk to one of the premier blues piano players alive. It was a really cool night.

It was almost marred by a near fatal accident on I-80. A pushing their disabled vehicle down the road was almost rear-ended by another vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mojo Lounge Tuesday

The Tuesday night custom persists. I attended the World Famous Blues Jam at the Mojo Lounge in fabulous Fremont, CA. Steve Freund was hosting the jam. Jimmy Mulleniux joined Marc Carino and Steve. The place was jumping. Notable guests included: Mark Hummel, Tumbleweed and Johnny Cat. It was a good night.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blues Harp Players

Earlier today, I read another blog. It made me feel old. It was written by a harp player who listed a group of players that had an impact on him. He listed a group of modern day players, who were influenced by the true legends of the blues harmonica.

Anyway, here is my list. The people impacted me directly or through their recordings.
  • Big Walter Horton - I had started goofing around with the harmonica, shortly before Big Walter's death in 1981. I remember reading his obituary in the Chicago Sun Times. It stated that his passing represented that death of the last of the true blues harmonica giants. I picked up a copy of his Fine Cuts LP and was blown away by his monsterous tone. A few months later, I started hitting some of the blues clubs in Chicago and found a Blues scene that was thriving.
  • Little Walter - I was six when Little Walter Jacobs passed away. I remember reading about the importance of Little Walter in the book, Chicago Blues written by Mike Rowe. It didn't sink in until a few weeks later, I heard his legendary instrumental, Off The Wall. I was hooked.
  • Sonny Boy Williamson II - What more needs to be said about Sonny Boy Williamson II? His music was never overstated or understated. It was merely perfect. Fantastic tone, timing and technique. He was a prolific songwriter.
  • James Cotton - I lived in Chicago during the early and mid 80's. Whenever, James Cotton wasn't on the road, he was in Chicago. Some of the most incredible shows I ever saw were James Cotton shows. It didn't matter if the shows were with his band led by Michael Coleman or the special shows he did at Wise Fools Pub on Christmas day with Sammy Lawhorn, Pinetop Perkins, Calvin Jones and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. James Cotton is a fabulous harp player. He was also a very good singer.
  • Billy Branch - Billy Branch is one of the absolute baddest and most under-appreciated harp players that are currently active. He's appeared on hundreds of recordings for one very good reason. He's that damn good. I've seen Billy Branch more times than I can count. He's got the tone and the technique. He's not afraid to break new ground or take the blues harp in new directions blending R&B and Soul music in with traditional Blues. When the band starts playing that material, most harp players step off the stage, that's when Billy Branch begins to demonstrate his unique talents. Every time I see him, I learn something new.
  • Carey Bell - I've seen Carey Bell every time he appeared within 100 miles of home. I'll never forget the time he appeared at one of Mark Hummel's Harp Blowouts with a bunch of the current generation of harmonica heroes. They had been blowing their brains out for 90 minutes before Carey Bell walked on stage. He opened his set with a couple of chords that demonstrated his deep, rich tone and the crowd went nuts. He said more in 12 bars than all of the previous players did all night long.
  • Junior Wells - I had the opportunity to see Junior Wells on several occasions. The depth of his Blues playing run as deep as the Grand Canyon. He never seemed to have the respect of a lot of harp players, but he always had mine. Shortly after I moved to California, Junior was playing at JJ's in Mountain View. At the time, JJ's had three clubs. The horn section went to the wrong club and missed the first set and a half. Junior played some of the deepest Blues that I had ever heard. He blew some of the most amazing harp that I had ever heard. He was being backed by George Baze and Steve Ditzell. He sounded as good as the Hoodoo Man recordings. Amazing stuff.
  • Little Willie Anderson - He was probably one of the most underappreciated harp players in Chicago. He was a great stylist in the tradition of Little Walter. He had an excellent recording out on Earwig label. One of the coolest shows I ever saw was Little Willie Anderson and the Aces. They played three sets of songs true to the spirit and sound of Little Walter. I saw him several times. He was an excellent player. I quite a bit from him.
  • Sugar Blue - Sugar Blue was doing stuff 25 years ago that people are trying to do now. Of course, they give the man no credit. They don't cite him as an influence. When I lived in Chicago, he hosted the jam at the Kingston Mines. Very few harp players ever showed up to that jam. I think most people were intimidated by Blue's skills. He could play the low down traditional stuff and he could do his own thing. I learned a lot from him.
  • RJ Mischo - He's an incredible player. He has beautiful tone and technique. If it wasn't for RJ Mischo, I probably wouldn't be playing today. He got me motivated to play after a laying off for a long time. He gave me the opportunity to sit in with the best players on the west coast.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Steve Freund & Charles Wheal @ the Grand Dell Saloon.

I went to the Grand Dell Saloon in Campbell, CA. It's a pretty cool place. It's a great neighborhood bar. The neighborhood happens to be in an industrial park pretty close to the freeway. It is also the the home of BBQ & Blues in the San Jose/Campbell area.

Steve Freund was performing with Charles Wheal, Steve Wolf and Robi Bean. Charles and Steve Wolf were long time members of the Mark Hummel's Blues Survivors. Charles is a solid practitioner of Chicago Blues who taps into the songbooks of legendary artists such as: Jimmy Reed, BB King and Magic Sam. It was a great night of deep Chicago Blues in the postwar tradition.

During the last set, Steve asked me to join him on a few songs. Harp player Aki Kumar also played a few tunes. In the video below, I accompanied Steve and his band on a version of the Muddy Waters classic, "Got My Mojo Working."

Friday, December 5, 2008

This Week In Blues

Tuesday night - I hit the blues jam at the Mojo Lounge. Steve Freund was the host. He was joined by Marc Carino and Robi Bean. I sat in with them during the first set. Later in the evening, Mark Hummel dropped in and played a killer set with the host band.

Wednesday evening - Steve Freund was the featured band at the Redwood City Blues Jam. It was an evening filled with some pretty fine harp playing. During the first set, he was joined by Steve Kaufman. Steve Kaufman used to live in Chicago and played with Jimmy Walker, the legendary piano player. About 24 years ago, he relocated to San Francisco. He's a fine harp player and singer. He can be seen periodically sitting in with people at the Saloon in San Francisco.

I played a set with Scott Miller, Alan Oehler, Eric Hoyer, Norm Decarlo and a bass player named Mike.

Later in the evening, Mark Fenichel joined the house band for a few tunes. He was followed by Mark Hummel, who played a fabulous set with Steve Freund's trio.

Masco MA-17 Review

About a month or so ago, I took a one of my amps to amp repair guru Skip Simmons. Skip is well known for his refurbishing of old amplifiers and old PA heads. When I picked up my amp, he talked briefly. He handed me a box, asked me to take it home for a while, try out what is inside and let him know what I thought.

What was inside the box?

A Masco MA-17 PA head that has been refurbished to the original 1944 specifications. Skip had built up a few of them for Paul Oscher. He sent him a couple of modified heads and a stock one. The stock one was returned.

I took it to the jam at the Mojo Lounge and played through it. I plugged it into a 15" speaker that was in East Bay Wes's 1963 Vibroverb amp. It's amazing how loud 18 watts can be. It had a bottom end as fine as Jennifer Lopez. It sounded great.

A few weeks ago, I had a few spare hours in the evening. I plugged it into the pair of Weber 8" speakers in my Harpgear Double Trouble. I pulled out an old vintage JT-30 and started messing around. I cranked it up to the brink of feedback and cranked up the tone control. The sound was huge and vintage postwar 1950's Chicago Blues. I shot a little bit of video, but the camera could not capture the huge bottom that was pouring out of the Double Trouble's speakers.

A couple of days later, I decided to try the Masco with a pretty common microphone, a dynamic Shure 520DX aka the Green Bullet. I sounded pretty similar to the vintage Astatic microphone.

This amp is a definitely keeper, but I decided to postpone the purchase until the economic climate becomes a bit better. I do see one of these in my future when things stabilize.

November Update

I saw a lot of great music in November.
  • November 1 - Jimmy Dewrance was at the Poor House Bistro. Joining him were Steve Freund, Kedar Roy and Hans Bosse. It was a good night. Big John Stokes and I sat in on a couple of tunes.
  • November 4 - Steve Freund hosted the World Famous Blues Jam at the Mojo Lounge. I sat in with Steve, Marc Carino and June Core during the opening set. John Nemeth and Dmitry Gorodetsky (formerly with the Roomful of Blues) dropped in for a bit and sang a few tunes. They joined Steve Freund, June Core and me. I think Johnny Cat was there, too.
  • November 11 - Kenny "Blue" Ray was hosting the jam at the Mojo Lounge. I joined Johnny Cat, East Bay Wes, Ray Figueroa and Norm Decarlo for several tunes.
  • November 18 - Charles Wheal was hosting the jam at the Mojo Lounge. He called me up to play with him, Marc Carino and June Core during the last set. We were also joined by Junior Morrow for a few tunes. Dallas Breed joined us to close out the evening. It's always fun to jam with those guys.
  • November 19 - I stopped in to catch the School of the Blues All Star Band at the Redwood City Blues Jam. I had a great time jamming with several students from the School of the Blues.
  • November 24 - On this evening, I began a short vacation during Thanksgiving week. I headed to the jam at Murphy's Law in Sunnyvale. It had been far too long since I had seen the Pleasure Kings do their thing. I sat in with a couple of groups. The highlight of the night was playing a nice slow instrumental Blues with Scott Miller and Chris Brown.
  • November 25 - Jimmy Dewrance was hosting the jam at the Mojo Lounge. I jammed with Scott Duncan and several other guys that I hadn't met before. The final set with Johnny Cat, Aki Kumar, Eddie B and Hans Bosse was fantastic.
  • November 26 - Dennis Dove's South Bay Blues Reunion was the host band at the Redwood City Blues Jam. He was joined by a number of very talented people including: Kid Andersen, Johnny Cat, Mike Phillips and Bob Welsh. During ther second set, they were joined by Kenny "Blue" Ray and a singer from Sweden named Simon. They were kind enough to invite me up during their set which was caught on video.