2011 Riverfront Blues Festival – Smack Dab in the Middle of Everything !

Blues411 had the chance to catch up with Mr. Gene Fontana of the Diamond State Blues Society. We talked about what might be one of the most comfortable and friendly Blues festivals on the East Coast. This year the Riverfront Blues Festival will be held August 5th – 7th, at The Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park in downtown Wilmington, Delaware.
We were there last year and had a blast, so if you are anywhere near Delaware next weekend, come on out !

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B411: Gene, maybe a bit of history on the festival – how long has it been running?

GF: The Festival has been running for 15 years now. First as the Cool Brews & BBQ Fest for the first six years and for nine years as the Riverfront Blues Festival.

B411: It seems to work well with the state and city, is that difficult to accomplish? How did the Diamond State Blues Society get involved with it?
GF:The tie-ins with the City of Wilmington came about when the person booking the festival was not getting it together . The city did not know what was going on, and Tina Betz, working for the City of Wilmington was very knowledgeable about Jazz, but did not know enough about the Blues. The Diamond State Blues Society was somewhat involved by having after-parties, and Tina called me and said Gene I thought I would let you know that there will be no Blues Festival this year so I do not think you can have an after-party.
Stunned by what she was telling me after telling me the reason for canceling it four weeks before I said is there anything that we the blues society can do ? Would you like me to book it for you ? Tina asked how much did I want to get paid ? I said I wanted nothing, I just want this festival to keep going. So in two weeks I put together a stellar lineup with Lonnie Brooks , Chris Cain , Bluestime with J. Geils & Magic Dick , Little Charlie and many other fine acts. In the eight years since, the festival has grown to be one of the best on the East Coast if not in the Country. But all in all the City of Wilmington funds the festival while I do all the bookings for both stages and help out with volunteers. I do have the Boss on site at all times, Tina Betz from the Mayors Office of Cultural Affairs, who keeps me calm when it’s needed. Tina is a great leader and she does know how to iron out issues when they arise. Also we need to mention Bev Zimmerman who also plays a huge role in the festival, getting hotel, gate volunteers. and vendors together and Tanya Philips who is in charge of Hospitality, Vending & Tenting and Ground Transportation for the Artists.

B411: Now some of the acts you have had there in the past are quite amazing, I am just starting to get familiar with the fest, so who were some of the outstanding ones to you?
GF: Bernard Allison, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Charlie Musselwhite, Larry Garner, Marcia Ball, Lonnie Ronnie and Wayne Baker Brooks. Last year alone we had Pine Top Perkins, Bob Margolin, Mojo Buford, Hubert Sumlin, Mike Zito and John Lee Hooker Jr.

B411: Who is on tap for the current festival, I know Super Chikan and The Fighting Cocks, Tab Benoit, James Cotton who else ?
GF: Well, first is Vasti (vast -eye) Jackson from Mississippi. A great performer who goes way back to days of the juke joints. He is a blues guitarist with a sweet soulful sound.

B411: Oh yeh, I saw him last year, what a fun performer !
GF: Then you got that triple threat from New Orleans. Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone, what a harmonica player, Accordion & Guitarist, and his new CD “The Lord Is Waiting & The Devil Is Too” WOW ! It is produced by Anders Osborne. On the release it is Anders, Johnny & a drummer on this CD no bass player. It’s some deep Louisiana sound, something the likes I have never heard before.

B411: Yeh, the drummer is Stanton Moore of Galactic (Cyril Neville plays with them).
Joanne Shaw Taylor is opening the festival Friday right ?

GF: What an up and coming artist she is. Voted Female Blues Artist of The Year, once you see her performance you will agree. Two years ago at the Tampa Bay Blues Festival I had a chance to catch her performance. She got the only standing ovation all weekend. We all looked at one another and said she’s coming to Wilmington.

B411: I am quite excited about seeing the Lowrider Band, this will be great !
GF: Yes, it’s Howard Scott, Lee Oskar, BB Dickerson, Harold Brown along with baby brothers Lance Ellis on Sax , Keith Vinet on Keyboards and Chuck Barber on percussion bringing us the sound fusion from East LA that we all know and love. These are the original composers of the hits: Lowrider, Why Can’t We Be Friends, Spill the Wine, Cisco Kid, Slippin’ Into Darkness, The World is a Ghetto and more. So make their day by flashing the three fingers salute, smile and get your groove on.

B411: Gary Allegretto, native of Wilmington DE., will be there performing and with his ‘Harmonikids’.
GF:  Gary is very excited this year winning the “Keepin’ The Blues Alive Award ” for his Harmonikids Project which he takes around the world and thank Hohner for being a big part of his accomplishment.

B411: I even took part in his lesson last year, and I was able to play! He is playing on which of the two stages?
GF: Gary will be performing on what we call the Tweener Stage. Local & Regional Bands doing 30min sets in between the Main Stage Sets. Performing are Kenny Jones & Blues Streak, Randy Lippincott (Former Band Leader for the Late Great Johnny Clyde Copeland), April Mae & The June Bugs , Gary Allegretto, Mikey Junior & Stone Cold Blues (Diamond State Blues Society’s IBC Entry in 2011), Blue Cat Blues, Flamin’ Harry, Venom Blues and Zydeco A Go Go.
Oh don’t forget both Friday Aug 5th, and Saturday Aug 6th we will have after-party jams featuring Travis Haddix on Friday and Victor Wainwright & The WildRoots on Saturday night.

B411: Thanks for doing this talk, and for the festival. Anything else we need to know about the Diamond State Blues Society or their activities?
GF: The Diamond State Blues Society 501c3 is a non profit Organization dedicated to keepin the blues alive in the Tri State Area. Stay tuned to our website (www.diamondstateblues.com) for the line up for September 24th 2011 – Battle Of The Bands: Goin’ To Memphis. and November 10th Blues Harvest 2011 @ J.B McGinnis Pub & Grille.
Some exciting news in mid to late 2012, a new blues club will be coming to Saint Georges Delaware attached to The Saint Georges Country Store this will be the new home for the Diamond State Blues Society. Anyone can become a member of the blues society by sending a check or money order to:
DSBS P.O. Box 863 Middletown , Delaware 19709 $15 single membership /$25 family /$50 Corp.
Let’s all help to keep the blues alive ! See ya the Festival.
http://www.riverfrontbluesfest.com/Schedule

Until next time, Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
chefjimi
©Blues411.com 2011

photos: Leslie K. Joseph

Lionel Young Band: Blues & Boogie Woogie

Lionel Young is the first double champion in the history of the IBC. Lionel Young won the 2008 IBC in the solo-duo category, and the 2011 International Blues Challenge (IBC) band competition as The Lionel Young.

I first met Lionel on the October 2009 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, the infamous ‘cruise to nowhere’. That was the cruise that ran into hurricanes and we did donuts in the Pacific Ocean. It seemed that Lionel was everywhere on that cruise, whether it be playing as a band or jamming in with Debbie Davies, Fiona Boyes and the historic late night jams. He was impressive not only in his musical prowess but also for his openness and friendliness.
I wanted to speak to him because he has roots in Rochester, NY – adopted home of Son House (and me).

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B411: You have won the International Blues Challenge twice now, one in 2008 for Solo/Duo, and now in 2011 as a Band, congrats !
What made you ‘go back to the drawing board’ and form/re-form as a group?

LY: When I did the IBC the first time in 2008, I originally wanted to bring a band. The seed was sown then to come back and do it that way. It’s just so much funner to play music with others than by your self. It was always in the back of my mind. That’s why there were 6 of us in Memphis.

B411: How has the dynamic changed within the band, and do you think this is the best vehicle for what you are playing?

LY: The dynamic is in the process of shifting from being focused on doing our very best at the IBC to conquering the world as we know it. I’m having a little fun with this question but that answer is partly accurate. We want to focus on touring well, playing with the same commitment,drive and integrity that we had in Memphis. I want us to set our sights higher in the recording department by aiming for a BMA or eventually a Grammy. I’m not sure if it’s the best vehicle for what I’m getting into or not. I’m sure it fun though. It’s kind of like driving a high powered car. It’s more of a luxury. I still like to play by myself too, but I prefer to play with others.

B411: Speaking of winning the IBC’s, did you learn anything about the process, and intimacies of the Challenge, the first time that helped you prepare for the second, and resoundingly successful second attempt?

LY: Yes I did. I hate to sound cliche, but the more time you put into preparation, the better you’ll do at anything you want to do. We spent a lot of time preparing. I wanted to do my best to put us in a position to win. First, I picked the best players I could find. There I started backwards. I started with the sound I wanted in my head first and picked musicians who best fit that image. Most, but not all were already my friends but friendship wasn’t a priority. Some I’d played with a lot, some not so much. The most important thing was that they were great players that took pride in themselves and the way they played and knew how to play in the texture of the band. Before we played a note to prepare for the local preliminary rounds of the IBC, we worked backwards starting with the judging criteria. We’d talk about everything we did and would choose music according to the judging criteria, trying to maximize the heavier criteria like blues content, showing instrumental and vocal talent. We picked music that showed a good variety of rhythms and feels. We tried to be as original as we could be choosing songs that we wrote. If we did any covers they wouldn’t be something you’d hear at a blues jam. They’d have to serve the purpose of scoring high in other criteria. We dressed up and had a blues dance instructor help us with stage presence & stage show issues. We went in the studio and recorded the “on the way to Memphis” CD which prepared us musically to have a CD’s worth of music really down and tight.

That was one of the hardest things we did. We timed everything, both the songs individually and sets as a whole so we wouldn’t go over. The recording helped us with that. We even took a chance and did an all acapella song that ended up being a our secret weapon. It was a chance to score high in vocal talent if we did it well. We covered Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home”. Not an original tune but an original way of doing it. We tried to do what I knew other bands wouldn’t do to set us apart, like play a real slow blues or play real quiet or with good dynamics.

I knew that making decisions to do stuff that set us apart would be advantageous going into the first IBC in 2008. Almost everyone else in the situation tries to bang you over the head with their music. The IBC a high pressure situation. Because of that we knew that most acts would play louder and faster but not slower and quieter. That’s something I really learned from Josef Gingold, one of my violin teachers. He unlike most people, could play so quiet and beautiful, it would take your breath away. One thing I noticed about guys like BB and Buddy Guy and all the really good bands is that they can play really quiet. People listen harder and get sucked in. All this equipment and watts and amps doesn’t matter as much. Don’t get me wrong, I like to play loud and proud like anyone else. That’s something that just feels good, but loud noises scare the little children and take away many people’s ability to hear. Also, I really tried to connect with the audience by simply looking up. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do that and how important it is to do. Most people want to feel something, a connection to you of some kind. That’s just another thing to think about for any performer. It’s really why you’re there.

B411: Where there differences in the approach you took for these two different categories or was it about the same?

LY: The approach I took was the same, working backwards from the judging criteria. The difference between the two was that I had much longer to prepare for the band which was needed. Getting 6 people on the same page on anything is tough enough. Just getting 6 in demand musicians in the same room for a rehearsal can be challenging. Naturally, 6 people are harder to manage than just one. In 2008 with the solo/duo, I really didn’t get serious until the weekend before the contest. Like many who go to the IBC, there was a send off performance before we left. I felt I played terrible there so I got to work and prepared seriously, practicing for as many hours as I could. In a way it felt like I’d been preparing for it all my life, but if I didn’t really have what I wanted to do down, I would have felt that I wasted an opportunity . I learned an important lesson. Sometimes playing badly can be good for you. It can spur you on to play well later.

B411: You were taking violin lessons when you were six years old at The Eastman.  How did this happen?

LY: It happened this way. My mother saw an article in the local newspaper about a woman who was going to start teaching violin a revolutionary new way. Her name was Anastasia Jempelis. The way that she was teaching is called the Suzuki Method derived from a man from Japan, Shinichi Suzuki. It focused on a thing called the mother tongue method, which is a way of learning music on an instrument by ear or imitation.

B411: Who were your early influences, and who would you say are at your musical Roots?

LY: I would say my earliest strong musical influence was from my family, which was very musical. My mother played piano and organ very well. She played organ in the church we went to. Both of my parents had strong musical tastes. My dad grew up in New Orleans & had lots of records, mostly jazz. My sister was a good pianist in her own right and listened to a lot of soul, R&B and funk. I would often raid my dad and sisters record collections so their music got into my musical veins. My favorites were people to listen to out of their collections were Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha, Miles Davis, and Funkadelic. This was along with the fact that my brother played the cello and I played violin early in our lives. I was 6 and he was 5 when we started. My brother now plays in the Boston Symphony. I consider us lucky to have lived in a city like Rochester and have an Eastman School of Music to go to. Our teachers and fellow students became strong influences. Every week we were exposed to high level musicians playing. Those were my strongest earlier influences. It was later on that I became obsessed with Hendrix and the Beatles, and even later after digging up their influences when I caught the blues & boogie woogie flu that I felt I had to play the blues. Also, I was a good researcher. I’d go find out about and listen to all of these old records for hours on hours. For a little while in high school, I got so obsessed with violin music and the blues, that I’d skip school and go to the library to listen to and later play music all day. How square is that? I think at one point I skipped a couple weeks straight doing nothing but that until it was found out. I got into a little trouble with the school and my folks. It was my passion and I couldn’t stop. I haven’t stopped yet.

B411: I saw you on the October 2009 Bluescruise, and was blown away with your playing and stage presence, it was warm and affable, yet you took no prisoners when you played. It seems to me there is a large difference between classical performances and blues performances, and crowds – do you like the engaging persona of blues audiences, and did you find this in classical performances ?

LY: Here’s what I’ve found about those audiences. I don’t think that there is that much difference. People are people. The music is either good or bad. When the music is good, classical or blues audience will react to it. I’ve seen and experienced classical audiences go nuts crazy over a good performance. It could have a deep effect on you like it did me sometimes. I remember seeing a Vladimir Horowitz recital, and an Ornette Coleman show not long after that had about the same lasting good effect on me. They both gave me so much energy that you almost feel like you could run through a brick wall.

B411: Can you tell us some more about your classical training, and some of the events you played at thru those connections?

LY: Some the more memorable events were traveling to Europe, specifically Austria and Switzerland as a teenager with the Pittsburgh Youth Orchestra, getting a full scholarship to Indiana University and studying with Josef Gingold. Playing in LA for part of the summer at Universal Pictures Studio Orchestra, playing at Carnegie Hall in New York, going to the Olympics in “88 in Seoul Korea with the National Repertory Orchestra.

B411:Would you say these prepared you for the move to the blues scene?

LY: Most definitely these prepared me to move to the blues scene. Any time spent in front of an audience prepares you for any other time. Being in front of an audience isn’t natural but becomes more natural with practice. That’s why a lot of people get stage fright. I got it too. That doesn’t happen much any more. I get a little anxious sometimes, but not like when I was a kid when my legs would shake and my mouth would be dry and it was hard enough to stand there and almost impossible to make music. You have to relax and breathe. No matter what kind of music you’re playing, you can only communicate your state of being.

B411: The Blues, why? Did it just present itself to you one day, or was it always there waiting to be discovered by you?

LY: I think in a previous life, I played the blues guitar or bass. For a while, I tried to play with a slide on the violin. It almost worked but it wasn’t quite right. It was when I first took a slide to guitar that I really felt that I’d done it before. Everything just fit. I seemed to know where things were without any real practice. The real blues is always there waiting to be discovered by everybody. It seems like it was always there in my life. Why not blues? It’s great music and I love it. It’s changed me and I know it’s changed most of you. It shows up at transformation points, and turns negative situations into positive energy. It has everything I need in it. In it there’s a microcosm of everything else. It feels like it’s essence has always been here.

B411: There is a history of violin in the Blues, from the Jug Bands, to the Folksy Good Time Music of the 60′s, to Papa John Creach – did any of this inspire you, or encourage you to pursue the
blues?

LY: To tell you the truth, no it didn’t really encourage me to pursue playing the blues though I wish I could say it did. I was more into the general sound of the Blues. As we all know, it would appear in all kinds of music and in many ways like for me Aretha or Count Basie or Ray Charles. I was more shock influenced by the sound of Hendrix, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf & John Lee Hooker. It was later when I heard Charlie Patton or early Muddy or the Mississippi Sheiks and Sugar Cane Harris that I realized that the violin had been there all along. By then in my life I was already deep into the blues music, so it did inspire and encourage me but I’d already tried to play the sounds I heard on the violin. Nothing inspired me more that hearing Hendrix. I can still remember trying to imitate what he did on the only thing I knew how to play at the time, the violin. I think that the violin was kind of fazed out of the blues and popular music. My guess as to why that happened is that it probably had to do with how it was perceived, like it was old fashioned or it was king in some bygone musical era. Also, I think that this happened partly because it wasn’t loud enough compared tohorns and later the electric Guitar. I got a chance to speak with Claude Fiddler Williams a few years ago (1999) in Kansas City. He played violin and guitar with Count Basie. He told me that as a condition to get signed, John Hammond senior told Count that he had to get rid of the strings, so he was out.

I believe that the time for the violin to be out of the blues and other popular music is forever moved to the past. I see it coming back. There’s just too many of us violin players and there are so many newer electric violins that volume isn’t an issue any more. I’m so glad you asked this question. In a way for me, when I saw it, it was like opening Pandora’s box. I sincerely believe that part of what my spirit in this body is here to do is tied in with the violin and is connected with winning the IBC in Memphis this year. The violin has enjoyed many years of being the alpha or dominant instrument in the orchestra. I’m in love with it. It can do so many different things musically. It’s said to be the musical instrument most like the human voice. I could see no reason why it wouldn’t have a more prominent place in blues or other popular music. I have to admit that in coming to this years IBC, I had something to prove.

After I won the solo/duo part of the IBC in 2008, I was a little bothered at how I was perceived. I’m not whining, I’m just saying. I’d hear whisperings about how the only reason I won was because I was playing a “novelty instrument”. That’s bullshit! I heard that some people were even upset that a non guitar player won and that my winning was just a fluke. That attitude (when I’d find it) really pissed me off. It discounted how hard I worked and the true love I had for the blues and all the great people that influenced me. It doesn’t matter what you play as much as how you play, who you are and what you have to say. I really believe that. If someone played fork or a paper plate really well and could sing and make you feel something, theoretically they should have be given the same consideration at the IBC as someone playing a guitar, piano or harmonica. I saw that if I really believed that, I had to prove it and win the IBC again against all odds. By that I mean playing a violin primarily and winning twice. Winning once is hard enough. That can be a charm or a curse. It can be an obstacle if you attempt to do it again because the IBC process is based on subjective opinions. It’s not who makes the most baskets or who crosses the finish line first. A judge could consciously or unconsciously score you less high just because you won it before giving someone else a chance. I saw that happen so I knew that whatever I did had to be strong enough to overcome that too.

B411: Looking at your ‘set lists’ on-line, we’ve got everything from W.C. Handy, Sinatra, and Sly Stone to Count Basie and Jimi Hendrix. It sounds like my CD collection.
How do you go about selecting music to cover, what do you look for?

LY: First I get a panel of experts together and poll them on what covers they like. Then I use a computerized rating system. Just kidding. I play what’ll fit the situation or what I’d like to hear in the moment.

B411: Not to be overlooked, your songwriting stands well on it’s own. Do you have any influences as to style of writing, someone who you have heard and say ‘yeh that’s it’?

LY: I’ve heard a lot of people and said,”yea that’s it”. One of my best influences is a guy by the name of Johnny Long. He wrote and played lots of great originals. I know he’s recorded for Delta Groove records. I played with him for a while and he introduced be to Homesick James at one point. He’s just great. Everybody should know him. I wouldn’t be who I am in the blues world without his influence and example. I love the way Sonny Boy Williamson wrote a song. Always interesting and makes you think. In a much different way, I love Otis Taylor because he breaks new ground and writes about heavy stuff. I like James Taylor as a song writer and have met and played with him. Most of what I right about comes from my experience in one way or another. Lately I’ve been writing about warnings and concerns around the topics of our environment and what I envision happening in the next year and 1/2. The way I see where we’re at now is that we feel like we’ve been given platform to sing and speak on the challenges we’re facing as people who are facing extinction. That’s the stuff I care about. How are we gonna survive this next couple of years. Not just me, but everyone. I know that we’re better and stronger if we help each other. That’s part of why I take music so seriously. It brings people together. We need good music now today more than ever.

B411: Where are you and the band going now? Is there anything you guys are up to in the studio, summer festival time is upon us, where can we look forward to seeing you?

LY: We’re setting our sights high. Why not go big? We have some stuff in the can that we can release when the time is right. Meanwhile, we’re looking at situations where we can get our music out and more available. There are some serious looks at some good companies and situations in the immediate future. Meanwhile, we’re going to be all over the US, Canada. We’re playing lots of festivals this summer. Most or all of where we’ll be will be posted on our website at www.lionelyoung.net. We’re presented with lots of opportunities and we what to make the best of them. Going to Europe in November, doing the Blues Cruise again. I’m excited.

B411: See you at Bluestock, August 26-28, 2011 (http://www.bluestock.com/)  !

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
chefjimi
©Blues411.com 2011

photos: Leslie K. Joseph

 

This conversation orginally appeared in Blues Blast Magazine, and it has been edited and re-published here with their kind permission.
To learn more about Blues Blast Magazine go to http://www.thebluesblast.com/bbnow.htm .

Assaying the Oxymoronic Nature of the Blues – Shared Knowledge and Some CD Reviews

So we all know (or maybe not) that I took some time off to chill on the hot and sunny shore of South
Carolina recently. I had planned on getting some work done, and did – but not in the ‘traditional’ sense of what I do.

Meeting new people and getting better acquainted with others led to some interesting discussions about the ‘mysterious’ Blues genre. Such things as, “it’s Jazz right”, “it’s always depressing”, “what are the real Blues”, “you should write more for the novice, so we can learn more” – - -  all these things played out before me as I tried to explain the differences, the subtleties, the glorious oxymoronic nature of it, and goodness knows what else to everyone and anyone who was interested. Yes they were interested, that’s a good thing. From seventeen year old Michael, who plays a little guitar wanting me to show him some Blues licks and patterns, to a new member of the half century club, Judy, wanting to really understand what makes the Blues the Blues and how she could learn more without feeling overwhelmed.

While there I had a good supply of CD’s that I had planned on listening to and reviewing, and was glad I did. I gave them out to these good folks – carefully selecting styles that I felt would compel them to learn more about the mother of American Roots Music. Thanks to the various publicists, record companies, Sirius/XM Bluesville 70 and all the artists who have allowed me to hear and spread the music in reviews or by word of mouth. So what I will do here is to offer up, for them and others – not a stale, word-smithing version of what the Blues are – but a sampler of music that in some respects illustrates how wide ranging and complex the genre is. These are newer releases, I chose them because of the familiar feel and production values that they contain, no need for trying to listen over scratchy vinyl.

I hope that you enjoy it and maybe pass it around and also hopefully pick up some of these discs and add
them to your collection. It is by no means being stated as a de facto standard. It is just the evolution of what went on in South Carolina and my attempt to help clarify and educate friends of all ages to the greatness that is the Blues.

K.K. Martin: Naked Blues, Vol. II (Ranell Records) www.kkmartin.com

What better way to introduce someone to the traditional aspect of the Blues than with K.K. Martin’s ‘Naked Blues Vol. II’. While there are many choices, I was looking for something that was fairly current and featured the songs of artists that may be known to the casual fan. And, oh yes, it needed to be really, really good.

Here we have a man and his guitar – that’s it, copping to the title ‘Naked Blues’ it is that personal and that private a release here.With the first cut ‘Rattlesnake Shake‘, a cover of the Peter Green tune, Mr. Martin revels the true nature of this song with some slithering slide guitar and gritty ‘c’est la vie’ vocals that reiterate the inevitable outcome of shakin’ that rattlesnake. Next up is a Rev. Gary Davis tune, ‘Slow Motion Daddy‘, done with justice featuring excellent finger picking and slide work here.

On this ten track release Mr. Martin covers both past and modern era greats. From one of the sweetest versions of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean‘, to a dark interpretation of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ song, ‘Alligator Wine’ which allows us to rusticate in that swampy, unctuous bayou with the moon burning bright at midnight.

Moving to a more modern master, Johnny Winter, K.K. states that Johnny is a true hero – responsible for bringing the Blues to young rockers worldwide. Mr. Martin’s cover of ‘Dallas‘ is a slide filled, grit encrusted wrangling of Mr. Winter’s musical tribute to the big D. Included also on this release are two Tom Waits tunes. Mr. Waits may not be thought of as a Blues artist, but what Mr. Martin does with these tunes leaves no doubt that with a skilled interpreter amazing results can be accomplished. While we are drawn to Mr. Martin’s guitar playing, careful listening to his voice shows a depth and sincerity that is paramount in the Blues world.

What the listener will get from this release is the authentic true feel of acoustic blues played by a man whose love of the music coupled his own superior talent and confidence shine through, and in doing so make for one compelling release that will appeal to hard core Blues fans as well as the new members of our congregation. The figure of the solitary blues artist with their guitar is almost symbolic of the genre itself. Robert Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, John Lee Hooker, to more recently Rory Block, Fiona Boyes , Guy Davis and Eric Bibb, these individuals are a true link to the past.

Jackie Johnson: Memphis Jewel (Catfood Records) www.catfoodrecords.com

The eternal discussion as to the relationship between Blues music and church music is an interesting one. We have had Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Aretha Franklin (daughter of a preacher man), Reverend Gary Davis and Son House among countless others, male and female, who have straddled that fine line between Gods’ and the Devil’s music. Looking for something that would incorporate these qualities – while being familiar we find Ms. Jackie Johnson.

Opening with ‘It Should Have Been Me‘ which was originally done by Gladys Night & the Pips back in 1968, we find Ms. Johnson displaying her gospel roots and giving palpable distress to the bridesmaid’s situation as her ‘man’ weds another woman. Give her voice a listen to (ignore the groove if you can) and you will hear all the joy and grief that comes from such a situation as well as it’s roots in the cold comfort of the church where the ceremony is taking place.

Another superb cover is the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles signature piece ‘Tears of A Clown’. Featuring Ms. Reba Russell on background vocals and an enticing mix of instrumentation, they work together to help Ms. Johnson perform a musical act of eminent domain (not an uncommon occurence in music). While it might still be Smokey’s, Jackie has claimed a piece of it for her own. What follows this track is an absolute killer duet with Memphis legend Mr. Johnny Rawls. ‘Love You Still’  harkens to the days of such classic duets as Otis Redding & Carla Thomas in the hey-day of Stax Records. The pure force of these two vocalists makes you sit up and take notice on this Johnny Rawls penned song. One other familiar track is Betty Wright’s ‘Clean Up Woman’ a true Southern soul classic.

Ms. Johnson gives undeniable verity to what the human voice can do and the range of options that a quality artist possesses. With this release we can also remember that back in the day – yeh THE day – the Blues were ruled by female singers, Ida Cox, Memphis Minnie, Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith. With releases such as this one I have to attest that, to me, they still run the roost.

Lubriphonic: The Gig Is On (Lubricated World, Inc.) www.lubriphonic.com

It is said that ‘the Blues are the Roots , and everything else is just the fruits’….if this is so, then we should having no problem in accepting R&B as part of the Blues world. Rhythm & Blues incorporates Funk, Soul and whatever else industry moguls spuriously devise to keep us divided. R&B, Soul, Funk and yes, Hip-Hop are consanguine with the Blues.

Please allow me to introduce one of the funkiest, greasiest bands around currently. Lubrophonic. Based out of Chicago (the Northern home of the Blues where Muddy Waters went and turned it electric, as well as Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon to modern day apostles such as Buddy Guy, Nick Moss, Liz Mandeville, Billy Branch, and The Brooks Family all reside) this band is busy keeping the world lubricated and dancing in the aisles and living rooms across America.

With a drum roll, reminiscent of a circus intro, which turns into a spanking solo, quickly joined by such impertinent horns that we have no choice to listen up at the ‘Rhino‘ coming down the track. If you can get thru this cut without banging on the table or dancing – then as the old Blues adage goes – “Jack, you’re dead”. With trumpet, sax, trombones intermixed with keyboards, bass and filthy guitar licks and rhythms we feel much at home and in familiar company here. Sly Stone, Tower of Power and Curtis Mayfield amongst others. But they are current not regurgitated rhythms and music.

At times the vocals remind me of Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chili Peppers, with their rapid fire staccato delivery on such tracks as ‘Under The Line’ by band leader Giles Corey. Then they move to a hip-hop feel with lyrics that speak of hot summer nights, punks on the train, and dope men hangin’ on the streets. ‘The Getaway’  is a prime example of such vocal treatments, with piercing lyrics to add to the gritty inner-city urban feel, then they break off into an organ riff laced with acid jazz overtones which then gives way to the ghost of Terry Kath on guitar.

We hear the influences of Rock, Latin, and Soul which come together with such musical authority that it effectively proceeds to abrogate the artificial boundaries that separate the musical styles from one another. This is most apparent in the title track ‘The Gig Is On’ which starts out with a steady groove and soft wah-wah effects from the guitar and picks up force and speed much like a ride in the express track of a runaway subway train. Bolstered by two sizzling sax solos and searing guitar work it is truly a fast paced drive thru the bands world and leaves no room for the weak hearted or for fools.

This album features Ivan Neville playing organ on three cuts as well as the clavinet on one. His appearance solidifies the wide range of urban influences that paint the grooves of this release as they travel from inner cities up and down the Mississippi as the forefathers of the Blues did. We sometimes forget that music is energy and it expresses desires, deep inner feelings and a drive to transcend the current situation of the artist, whether it be in a simple song or a rave up of epic proportions they are all about life. This release captures these dynamics and lays them out for all to hear.

Lee Pons: Big Boogie Voodoo (Mind Balm Records) www.leepons.com

Can you believe that just as women once ruled the Blues scene – that the piano was king. Yeah, long before the guitar became the rattlenake that shakes the blues world the trusty 88′s were the driving force in the blues. Such luminaries as Amos Milburn, Leroy Carr, Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis up through ‘Champion’ Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim to Ray Charles, Pinetop Perkins and Otis Spann. These names resonate with the soul of the Blues – piano blues.

Lee Pons is out of Florida, but his soul is in New Orleans. He comes from a family of accomplished, even famous musicians. In the 1930′s his dad played upright bass in big bands and was in the Danny Kaye film ‘A Song Is Born’ which featured a jam session with Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman (that was Lee’s dad on the bass). But the bass wasn’t for Lee, he found his calling one night seeing the good Dr. John on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert – it was all over for him.

Opening the release with ”The Voodoo Boogie‘ we jump the train down to new Orleans and never look back. Showing some serious left handed bass runs and joyous right handed fingering we are treated to a showcase of ivory and we are now, hooked. The third track is titled ‘Blues for Nawlins’ and it is a moody pace enhanced by loving lyrics for his adopted home. His vocals sit deep in the chest and rasp like the long black line still hanging over the fifth ward and other areas forgotten by America, but underneath is the undying hope that it will return to its ol’ self.

With the Professor Longhair song ‘Her Mind Is Gone’  Lee pays tribute to one of the great Nawlins pianists. A full tilt boogie woogie with a solid walking bass line and enough triplets to make even octomom happy Mr. Pons shows a deep respect and understanding of the classic music of New Orleans and ‘Fess to inspire anyone to learn more about this style.

The love song here would be ‘Me Minus You’ as Lee pines the loss of his lover and how ‘me minus you equals lonliness’. With a sideways nod to Leon Russell this track is a nice change from the up tempo collection that he offers us. Slow, heart felt and with a sincerity that might scare other men away he does a fine, fine job of relating the situation and where it stands. Not to get too hung up on ‘real feelings’ Lee proceeds to ‘Radiate the 88′s’ in true piano man boogie fashion, then hits us with an cleverly titled ‘BoogieRobics’. I can see all the ladies at Zumba class shaking their money makers to this, well actually I can see everyone dancing to this at his shows – a solid boogie which holds a mirror of reverance to Pinetop and Sunnyland Slim.

This release will open up the cupboard and allow many folks to listen forward while looking back at the piano greats that once ruled the jook joints and chicken shacks. People like Art Tatum, Jellyroll Morton, Roosevelt Sykes and even the current crop such as Dr. John, Mitch Woods, Eden Brent and Marcia Ball – all worthy torch bearers of the radiatin’ the 88′s legacy.

——-author’s note:
As I set off to accomplish this simple task of revealing used mysteries, I realized that it was taking on a life of it’s own. It already has experienced shape shifting and directional movements that I had not foreseen. That being said, I like the way it is working on the many different levels, I believe that new fans will gain insight into the disarmingly reassuring world of Blues music, and will return for more. For the experienced readers they will, no doubt, have their hackles raised by some of my choices. But since this is a ‘friendly cactus’ of sorts it is meant to start conversations, or perhaps to open eyes. It is that exact jinxed charm that flows in the blood of the Blues and sometimes makes it hard for outsiders to grasp. So with your kind allowance I will make this into a multi part blog and hope you are looking forward to part II with sulky optimism.

 

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
chefjimi
©Blues411.com 2011

photos: courtesy of artists.

The Blues: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blues
Female Blues Singers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classic_female_blues
Piano Blues: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_blues
by no means comprehensive but it’s a start, just Google Blues, The Blues or some of the names above and sit back and relax as the world opens up to ya.