Tag Archives: Pinetop Perkins

Interview: The Power of the Pocket

Bassist being repulsed by obnoxious fan.

Bassist being repulsed by obnoxious fan.

I met these two cats several years ago when Samantha Fish played in Rochester, NY. Her earlier band had Peyton Manning on bass, and GoGo Ray on drums, when they returned they had changed bassists, adding Chris Alexander.
To me it was a giant leap for the band. Nothing wrong with the cat who went before but there was a certain chemistry that  was palpable.
We all were aboard the October 2013, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise so I grabbed them and asked if they wanted to talk about ‘the pocket’ and how it works and what it really does for the band, the sound and the overall enjoyment of the music for the fans.
We pick it up right after deep discussions about ‘fung-shui’ and other exotic life applications.
It really is three cats hanging out and discussing some stuff that doesn’t get shared too often – we all hear about the pocket, and what it should or should not be. This was a great chance to explore that subject in a comfortable situation. I thank them both for their time and knowledge that they shared with me, and us.

Chris Alexander: Hey, you guys have a movable table in your cabin! (spoken as we both leaned on it to laugh at some earlier edited out comment).
B411: Well we got the converto-room, the table moves in case we need to spread out and turn this into a recording studio. Speaking of Fung shoe -ey – Someone said, if you leave the toilet seat up, it’s bad fung shui? These folks didn’t have toilet seats back in China back in 0 B.C.!
GoGo Ray: How would they know?
Chris: Like if you leave the hole uncovered it’s bad Fung Shui?

B411: Yeah, we don’t be wantin’ no open holes!
GGR: Talk about it chef!
Chris & GGR: There it is man!

B411: So you’re really GoGo-Ray?
GGR: Yeah, that’s what I go by.
Chris: My last name is Alexander. I’ve got 3 first names – Christopher Morgan Alexander. Never trust someone with 2 first names, but 3 is ok. 3 makes you cool.

B411: What’s it like being the rhythm section, being the pocket? How hard it is? Does it change from who you’re playing with? You’re currently playing with Samantha Fish, so what’s it like?
GGR: So we’re playing with Samantha Fish it’s just my job to reinforce the tempo that is introduced. And it seems like with Chris, he’ll know whether to play his base ahead of the beat or if he wants to lay back. And we just look at each other and check each other, make sure that this is a groove that’s working. With Miss Fish, if she’s not looking back at us, she’s having a good time. She forgot about us and she’s feeling good.
B411: It’s like playing to a record.
GGR: Yeah, you just stay with it. Sometimes, she’ll have a tempo in mind. So once a song gets going, she’ll look back and pick it up or slow it down. Not MUCH, just pick it up a little or slow it down a little. That’s all.

Samantha Fish, GoGo Ray, Chris Alexander

Samantha Fish, GoGo Ray, Chris Alexander

B411: So she can control that?
GGR: Absolutely. She can do that.
B411: Ok, because I didn’t know that. So you said Chris would play bass ahead or behind? What does that mean?
GGR: He can play ahead of the beat – so whatever beat I’m playing , he can play slightly ahead of it. He’s not rushing the beat, he’s just playing VERY slightly ahead of the beat. But it creates a nice pull and tug kind of thing.

B411: Dynamic Tension!
GGR: [All laughing] Yeah, dynamic tension! I like that.
Chris: It’s tension and release. What it comes down to is that push and pull. That push and pull changes from night to night. There might be some song where he’ll particularly on top of the beat and I’ll be behind the beat. And the night previously, it was the opposite of that. It changes night to night. As far as the dynamic of being a rhythm section goes, it changes.
Even with the front man. We’ll play differently with Samantha Fish than say like if Mike Zito got up to play with us. It would change. The dynamic would change. I think the great thing about Samantha is that she plays like a rhythm section player. She solos as part of the rhythm section. She doesn’t’ just go off and doodle. Which can be really great, but I really love the stuff that people who solo in time, as part of the rhythm section. People like Alan Haynes, out of Houston, well Austin now. He’s like a master of that. I think it makes for a bigger sound. Especially for 3 people. Like whenever you don’t have an organ or whatever.

B411: Yes, because you guys are a power trio!
GGR: I think you define that very well.
B411: It’s easy to forget, because you guys have a sound. It’s not. It’s not thin, but it’s not aggressive.
Chris: I think that comes down to Samantha being part of the rhythm section. She’s got a great voice that carries itself. And on top of that, she can play killer rhythm guitar, which I think makes her a great band leader. And of course when it comes for her to step out, why she’s…
GGR: She’s not afraid!
B411: That’s the thing. She doesn’t over play. I don’t know if that’s the right term
GGR: No, you’re right.
B411: I tend to be careful.
GGR: No, she doesn’t overplay because she’s not a fan of that. She’s NOT a fan of that.

B411: Everything is tight and she’s getting better. I’ve known her for a long time. I met her on a cruise. She was…
Chris: [Singing the Rick Estrin song] “I Met Her on The Blues Cruise” I Met Her on The Blues Cruise – YouTube)
B411: And it was Watermelon Slim about twelve inches high!

Danielle Schnebelen

Danielle Schnebelen

B411: When I met Samantha for the first time, she was dressed like a little Angel. She came in with TUF (Trampled Under Foot) and that’s when Danielle from TUF had some medical issues on the cruise and so they had to take her off in a helicopter.
I’m like “Hello, my darning, who are you?”Then later that week I see she’s out there playing and I’m like OMG…!

GGR: And that’s still the reaction. She’ll come in. You know how she loves to dress up. She has to have her dresses and her heals. She comes in, and people are like “so, you’re part of the band? So you’re singing? Oh, you’re just strumming guitar? ” And we’re like, “no, that’s our boss. She is singing and playing guitar. She is the guitar player. She’s not afraid. We’ll do the sound check, and she just cranks up. And you just see people “OH!!”
Chris: Even people who have seen her before.
B411: Absolutely. Again, because I’ve known her for a while. And I’ve known you guys for a bit. And its just that she’s more confident now. She’s more confident with her singing. But we didn’t sit here to talk about her!

GGR: [Laughing] I like to think that the rhythm section, we give her a chance to, hey, if you want to solo more do it. If you want to sing more, we’ve got you. Do it! We’re listening. We got you.
B411: She’s got to be confident – she’s got to have confidence in you guys so she can do that. Because if you were shoddy, well, you wouldn’t be on the cruise.
GGR: Exactly! As you can already see, there was a change [in the band] at one point. It just got to the point where enough was enough. Chris is here now. There’s new energy in the band.

B411: So who have you guys played with?
GGR: I go way back.
B411: Wait, aren’t you like 20 years old?
GGR: I wish! I’m like a mixed bag of nuts. I’ve played in successful R&B Funk Soul band, played in successful band pop band, done the punk/rock/jazz thing. Man, I’m all around.
Chris: It makes it very fun to play with him by the way!
B411: I would bet! So you can bring it all to the table?

GoGo Ray always smiling and engaging.

GoGo Ray always smiling and engaging.

GGR: Certain elements. You can take the power of rock, we can take the feel of funk.
Chris: The attitude of punk.
GGR: The attitude of punk – she likes attitude on stage!
And I’m allowed to bring that. That’s me bringing the ‘tude to the blues-of all things. Blues cat back in the days were rebels, man. You didn’t mess with those cats.

B411: I’ll cut you if you stand, I’ll shoot you if you run?!
GGR: There you go. Very direct.

B411: I say to the blues purists, I like to say hip hop and rap are urban blues. “Oh no, you don’t understand”. I say – Where did you grow up man? Where do you live now?
There it is. The old blues guys were hardworking people, who worked during the day doing shit that you couldn’t get a Mexican to do. And on the night or on the weekends when the check came in, they went to the plantations and little juke joints and played for money. And they dressed up. And they brought it because it was about life. Now, …
GGR: It’s got this whole other thing going on.

B411: But back to Chris, who have you played with?
Chris: When I was about 17 to 21, I was playing in a classic rock band in Fredericksburg, VA with a bunch of folks that were about 3 times my age. Because I’m from the DC area. I was 18, and they were in their 50′s. So I kind of got my classic rock education from them. Eventually, when I turned 21, I decided I wanted to move down to Austin, TX and try to pursue music for a career. Because growing up in that area, there’s not a whole lot … there is a thriving scene, but it’s like a pipe dream to be able to do that. To play music for a living. So, I was like, you know what, I’m 21 and I have nothing to lose, so I’m going to give it a try. I cashed out some bonds that my great-grandmother gave me throughout my life, so I had $3,000 and I made that stretch over 3 months. Which was pretty easy, actually, after renting everything. I started applying to straight jobs. It didn’t work. I had an Associate’s Degree, and still I couldn’t get a callback to work at the freaking sunglass pagoda. But luckily enough, the phone started ringing. I started picking up gigs when things started getting really rough. I ended up playing with a lot of great Austin musicians and a lot of great national musicians like I got the opportunity to play several times with the legendary Pinetop Perkins. I played with Pinetop Perkins a whole lot around Austin, TX. He was fantastic. So as a result, I’ve got the songs “Chicken Shack”, “How Long”, “Got my mojo working“, “Mississippi” ingrained in my head.

Chris Alexander keenly aware of what is going on while on stage.

Chris Alexander keenly aware of what is going on while on stage.

B411: But, from him.
Chris: From him. The thing that a lot of people don’t say about Pinetop is that Pinetop had a great sense of time. He wasn’t just a piano player. Even into his later years, he’s sit there and his foot would keep the beat right where it was supposed to go. You’d follow his foot and you don’t move. And it wouldn’t move. He was just, he just plays over all these solos up until the day he died. But I got the opportunity to play with him a lot which was very special to me. I got the chance to play with some great Texas artists like JT Coldfire, Eric Tessmer, Alan Haynes. I even got to play with Gary Clark Junior on several occasions. He’s fantastic, I love him.
I’m really proud to see the stuff he’s doing right now. But I was playing at the historic Maggie May’s with Eric Tessmer, when Rob Lee, who plays with Johnny Sansone, Mia Borders, Mike Zito, all that, comes in. And we’re talking a little bit. I’ve known him for a little bit. He was talking about, he called me a couple of days later and said hey man, Mike Zito is looking for a bass player, are you interested? And I said YES! Absolutely. I had heard of Mike Zito, and I’d like to do some road work. Yeah, sure, why not? So Mike gets in touch with me. Sends me “Pearl River” and “Today”. So I learn all that stuff, and Mike says, “Alright, I’ll see you in Wichita.” 

B411: And there it is!
Chris: And there it is! The rest is history. And actually, on the second gig, we played Knuckle Heads in Kansas City which is where I met Samantha Fish. We became friends, and the rest is history!

Chris & Mike Zito

Chris & Mike Zito

B411: Did you record with Zito?
Chris: I did not. I actually came in a little soon to be part of the “Greyhound” record.
B411: I’m just curious, because I saw Zito in Delaware when Rob was his drummer. Were you playing with him them?
Chris: Maybe. It’s very possible.

B411: I’ll have to look back at our pictures. We took a bunch a pictures, and I’m sure we took pictures of everybody.
Chris: It could have been anyone from Lonnie Trevino Jr to John – I don’t know his last name, he’s playing with Guitar Shorty right now – and myself.

B411: It’s just funny. Oh yeah, wait a minute, that was you?
Chris: Believe me, that’s happened to me before! That’s a compliment to a bass player. That means, though I want to stand out to a certain degree, I don’t want to be a distraction from the rest of the show.

B411: For both of you guys, that’s not your job. Your job is not to stand out. It’s your job to fade, just be there, be the background, be the wall.
GGR: Provide a strong foundation.
Chris: We’re supposed to be the engine. The Engine for the train.

B411: I’ve learned to listen since I’ve been doing this.
GGR: We chose our instruments for a reason. Once you get into the instrument and you get into how your instrument works with others. Now you get to the whole psychology thing of it. It’s just fascinating. What makes this work?

Chris: Why don’t you tell Chefjimi how you came across playing drums?
B411: I was just going to ask that!
Chris: See I’m right there for you! You can say that you asked that in the interview.
B411: No, no. You’re more than just a bass player, your bright, cognizant and witty! Want some more Absinthe?

Always prepared.

Always prepared.

Chris: Give me some more Absinthe and I’ll be really witty.

GGR: Growing up in Dallas, TX where I was born and raised. It was a treat to stay up on Friday nights and Saturday nights with your big brother and sister to watch “Midnight Special”. To watch Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert. To watch ABCs “In Concert”. And you see the band, but there’s the guy in the back who’s all this. (Hands flying around) And I’m like, what’s going on back there? I’m like, ok, I don’t have a drum set but your mom has dishes.

Chris: And wooden spoons.
GGR: The best pots and pans made the best sounds. To me. My mom didn’t want to hear that. I’m putting a woopin’ on her dishes! She’s putting a woopin’ on me. My Dad is like, “what’s wrong with you boy? What’s wrong with you?” Then, hitting a bean bag, that’s like a bass drum. So I’m just ruining stuff. And they said, buy this boy a drum so he can play. That’s how I started man.

B411: Damn straight, ain’t that what almost all of us did? You talk about it, and why don’t we have those shows on any more? But you know what those show would be now? Those shows would be what popular music is now.
Chris: Like Tayor Swift, Justin Bieber and garbage.

B411: It’s not the same.
GGR: It’s all polished. They didn’t know what they were doing back then. They were just trying to get music to the masses. They were innovating.
Chris: They were having fun back then.
GGR: Here’s a music show. We’ve got all these bands. Ok, you’re all going to get along. You’re all going to play.
Chris: Show up mostly sober to the gig!

B411: Yeh that helps. I remember seeing Hendrix on Dick Cavett.
Chris: I loved that interview! I saw that on the internet. I didn’t see it live.
GGR: That was a beautiful interview. That was Jimi being Jimi
B411: Ray, that’s a perfect word to describe what Jimi was – he was beautiful man, (said  in a Jimi voice). I loved Jimi.
Chris: My favorite quote was Dick Cavett: “What makes you get up everyday?” and Jimi said “Man, I just try to get up everyday!” [Laughing] I loved that man!
B411: And you can just hear him say that in his voice. “I just try to get up everyday”. He was totally floatin’ round and round…

Chris: What did he say? Dick: “How do you feel about being one of the greatest guitar player in the word? “ And Jimi was like, “no, not at all”. Dick: “Well, you’re at least the greatest guitar player in the building.” And Jimi said “Well, how about I’m the greatest guitar player sitting in this seat right now?”
B411: And that attitude has transferred to you guys. I was talking to Mike Zito and Eric Lindell today. I know them both. I’m standing there talking to them, and I’m like damn, I can’t talk to you guys. You guys have so much talent between you. Why am I talking to you? And Zito goes, “no, I’m standing next to talent” (meaning Eric). But you guys are humble.

GGR: That’s the only way to be. It’s how you keep growing.
Chris: Absolutely.
B411: It’s just amazing. I just love it. That humility and, of course the talent level, was what drew me in and made me want to do what I am doing now.

GGR: I’m sure you’ve seen your share of musicians, they know when they walk thru the door, they’re the best thing ever.
Chris: Yeah, really bad ass.
GGR: You don’t have time for that.
Chris: Albert Castiglia brought up a good point while we were over at his house a couple of days ago watching Sunday Night Football.
B411: Name dropper! Hah, talk about a modest and heavily talented cat.
Chris: So we were over at Albert’s house watching football. He made a really good point, that this business for some folks, not all, some folks it really twists them. It twists up your ego and it’s really easy for that to happen. But, doing just normal stuff, hanging out, talking to people, having a drink of Absinthe. (Drink mixing sounds in the back ground)

I didn’t start out to do this. I’ve always loved music. Hendrix, but before Hendrix were The Beatles. These guys had guitars. The guitar was an instrument. A guitar used to be, there was talk about Bill Haley, but that didn’t register with me. Because that was corporate white people. It didn’t have the soul. My brother loved it. To me, it was like, there’s something missing. Then, The Beatles came out and they played pretty guitars. And that was the sound of the band. It was 3 guitars – one was a bass – but it was 3 guitars and a drummer. That was pretty cool. It took me into Cream, Hendrix.

GGR: Possibly the Stones? When the Stones came up.
B411: Oh absolutely. The Stones weren’t my favorite. I was a Beatles boy. The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, The Animals. That’s where I learned about John Lee Hooker. Burden (Eric) is still out there doing stuff with Tony Braunagel.

Chris: We saw them when we were in Annapolis, Maryland. That blues festival up there.
B411: If I could just jump to Tony Braunagel. To me, Tony is an incredible drummer. You hear other drummers all the time. What, to you, makes a good drummer? You guys play all the time. This is what you do for a living. Outside of the male modeling that Chris does, but we won’t go there.

Day of the Bassist of the Dead!

Day of the Bassist of the Dead!

Chris: Hey man, being an underwear model ain’t easy. [Lots of laughing]
B411: How do you put all those socks in your shorts and still look comfortable?
Chris: It’s an ancient Chinese secret!
B411: It’s like Fung Shui!

GGR: First of all, you just hear a drummer with a great groove. Probably playing the simplest beat ever. Just playing a simple beat and you just go, man, he means that. It’s cool. He’s laying it down, you’re moving to it. Then he may give you just a smidgen of razzle dazzle. Then you go, there’s something going on with this cat. He knows his job. He’s playing for the music. He gets a little feature here and there. But he still plays with the music. That’s how you tell. A great groove and everything is just right. The dynamics of the band.
Chris: I totally agree.
GGR: He’s not getting in the way. He’s not a distraction.

B411: If we’re doing the root thing, I go back to Ginger Baker, this guy had an afro-rhythm going.
GGR: Game changer. He was in a rock band, but he had this other element. That made you pay attention. This crazy guy, why is he doing this?

Chris: “Sunshine of Your Love” are you kidding me?
B411: (Doing the drum double beat) But compare that to Mitch Mitchell,
Chris: Who was doing all that Jazz.
GGR: A Jazz drummer who got a cool rock gig. And they said, Mitch you just play. You do what you do. Jimi will take care of the rest.
B411: That’s why I asked. You guys are professionals. You hear people differently than I do. What do I really know about drumming?

Wrestlin' With the Groove!

Wrestlin’ With the Groove!

GGR: But you’re going off of a feeling. If the music is feeling good, they have your attention.
Chris: And that’s the beautiful thing about that. I always love hearing an audience’s reaction to a musician. A lot of the times, the person in the audience isn’t trained in music. So, it’s just going off of what they feel. To me, I agree with what Go Go Ray said about drummers. If the guy can just lay it down, just lay down a simple 4 on the floor, and just make it feel good. That, to me is a good drummer. It’s the same thing with Bass players. A Bass player can be technically proficient all they want, and be able to play a million and one notes. I’m a huge Jaco Pastorius fan. Huge Jaco fan. Every bass player is. Would I play that many notes in Samantha’s gig or Mike Zito’s gig? No. I wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t fit. I want to keep my gig.

GGR: Yeah, discipline.
Chris: Whenever you hear a musician, whenever you hear a bass player or a drummer or even a guitar player, you can just tell. You can intrinsically tell that they know their shit. That they’ve studied. That they learned this. They lived this. Eat, breathe, sleep and shit this music. And they can do these cool multiple note runs, but they don’t. It’s discipline. It’s knowing when and when not to use that information. I’ve learned on Jaco’s record “Portrait of Tracy” forwards and back, I learned “Teen Town”, I learned a lot of his stuff. I really loved his stuff. I got obsessed with it. It took me a solid, I was listening to his stuff nonstop for almost 5 years.

B411: Ok guys we have spent way to  much time in this here room, the fung-shui is in perfect order, the Reflections In Absinthe has been recorded, now lets get back to this cruise.
The lag time on this is a bit long even for me, but I firmly believe things happen for a reason. case in point, this was posted Wednesday 2/26 on Chris Alexander’s Facebook page.

“Tomorrow, I embark on my last trip with Samantha Fish and Go-Go Ray. It’s been such a pleasure to be a part of this group for the past year and a half, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m so grateful I’ve gotten to make so many incredible friends and make unforgettable memories.
I will always cherish the time I spent in the band, and will always love the people I spent it with. There is absolutely no ill will or bad blood between us, and I will always consider them some of my closest friends and I wish them the absolute best.
My final show with Samantha will be at the Blues Blast festival in Phoenix on the 8th and it’s damn sure to be a good time! 
Thank you guys for everything.”

I will miss Chris, and the dynamic that he brought to the band. He will go on and do fine, Samantha and GoGo Ray will do so also.
It is music, it is art, it is fleeting and always changing. See the music while you can, take nothing for granted. Thank you Chris, thank you GoGo Ray and thank you Samantha for bringing these cats into my life.. There is so much good that comes from all of this – good luck and my continuing support for what you all do.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
©Blues411.com 2014
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph
Where Blues Thrives


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Filed under Blues, Blues411, Bluescruise, Entertainment, Festivals, Interviews, Music, Opinion, Performance Review, Rock & Roll

Photo Gallery: In The Halls at The Blues Music Awards

Hey now – while the word in the press is about the great performances, and worthy awards given at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis next week…who will win, who will wow the audience with their performance etc.  Word on the street is what’s happening around town and most importantly in the hall ways of the convention center !

So here are some snaps of where the elite meet ‘n greet each other and just what you might see while hanging out during the break or visiting the necessary room. Also all the events going on and around Beale Street  make it a party not to miss. Oh yeh don’t forget the midnite snacks !

See ya’s all there in about a week, can’t wait.

Blues Music Awards 2010-11

Everyone knows of the great music inside the ballroom, but the secret spot is in the hallways just outside. It's where the neat, petite and elite meet 'n' greet - it's sweet !

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
©Blues411.com 2012
photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411

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Filed under Blues, Blues411, Charity, Entertainment, Festivals, Photo Gallery, Rock & Roll

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,
©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.

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