Concert Review: Joe Bonamassa & The 4 Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse Slight Return

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*image shamelessly stolen from the Internet

My apologies to my readers, that I haven’t been posting as much or as regularly lately. I was on vacation with the Rock Chick in the Dominican Republic all of last week. I hadn’t been on a vacation in 2 years and finally the Rock Chick laid down the law… the next thing I knew I was soaked in rum and sun screen. I will say the DR is beautiful and the people are warm and welcoming. If anything goes astray with the Rock Chick my next wife will certainly be Dominican… The weeks prior to my vacation my Corporate Overlords had me traveling all around the U.S. from Herndon, VA to San Francisco to Salt Lake City… the grind of the road, such is life. As a result, I haven’t had much time to devote to BourbonAndVinyl. And let’s admit it, it’s been a shitty year for music thus far in 2017.

As luck would have it, Joe Bonamassa brought his band to Kansas City last night. Let me be the first to say, WOW. I have converted to the church of Bonamassa.

It was my buddy Stormin’ who first turned me on to Bonamassa. Stormin’ and our mutual friend Matthew got heavily into the blues a number of years ago. Matthew tried to turn me onto Tab Benoit (sp?). He was ok… but then Storm told me to buy the Bonamassa album, ‘The Ballad of John Henry.’ I must say, Joe clicked for me a lot more so than Tab did. The last time I was in Denver, Storm played me another Bonamassa album, whose title escapes me and I was again blown away by Bonamassa’s virtuoso playing. Then I saw him on VH1 on a special from Red Rocks playing Muddy Waters tunes. That’s when I knew I was a fan. If you haven’t seen that concert film, I highly recommend it.

It was a few months ago, my friend Drummer Blake reached out and said, “Let’s go to Bonamassa.” I jumped at the chance. Once again, a little over year later, I found myself nursing a martini in the Drum Room awaiting the Four Horsemen… Although I must admit it was The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse – Slight Return, as not all 4 of them were present last night. There were six of us in total and we were drinking like escaped convicts before the show, which is always good concert prep. I always ask myself before a show, “What would Hendrix do?” It was truly great to be in the presence of the Salinapocalypse again. I must say, one of the Horsemen, Spalding (name obscured to protect the guilty) is a rather finicky food guy… even ordering drinks was an ordeal. As a result of all that we didn’t skip out of the Drum room until 15 minutes prior to the show.

The line to get into the beautiful Midland Theater – and not enough can be said about what a beautiful, old theater the Midland is – was around the block. Apparently the draconian security measures to get in the theater were causing unusual delays. If we have to stand out in the cold for 45 minutes to see the blues, the terrorists have already won, my friends. Instead of being 15 minutes early and being in our seats for the start of the show, to my surprise Bonmassa started promptly at 8pm. We missed the first 20 minutes of the show, standing in the cold waiting to get through the fucking metal detectors. A couple of us peeled off and ducked into a bar to miss the frenzy. I would have thought a stage hand would have leaned into the dressing room and told Joe, “Say man, you might wanna give it 30 minutes…” Que sera, que sera.

I quickly rushed through the darkened and packed theater to my seat in the 14th row… my thanks to the niece of one of the Salinapocalypse for getting us great seats… and spotted Joe on stage. I was taken aback by how much he looks like Agent Smith from the Matrix movies… I was ready for him to say, “What do you want to hear next Mr. Anderson…” He had a great backing band that included Anton Fig of Letterman fame on drums and Reese Wynans from Double Trouble on keyboards. He had a small (2) horn section, and 2 back up singers from Australia who moved continuously though the show, giving the players a nice visual counterpoint.

And what a band they were. As Joe himself said, these guys were nominated for a Grammy. They were tight and amazing all night. I loved the constant interplay between the different instruments all night long. And what can I say about Joe’s guitar playing. The man is truly one of the best I’ve seen. He melted our faces off, in a good way. Drummer Blake claims he is the absolute best guitarist out there. I’m not sure I’m ready to say that yet, but the fact that Bonamassa played Clapton’s “Pretending” and just owned it, goes a long way toward making his case. They did a great version of “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” which I’ve always associated with B.B. King and it was scorching. The most impressive moment for me, personally, was a cover of Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times.” It takes some stones for a guitar player to rip through Clapton, B.B., and Jimmy Page covers and hold his own.

The guitar solo’ing was simply other worldly. Joe can bend a note around a corner. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the plethora of beautiful guitars the guy played, although even I have to admit the paisley one was funny looking. At one point after shredding through a guitar solo, Joe brought it way down and was quietly playing some slow, bendy notes, and someone in the crowd yelled, “We love you Joe!” It was a great moment. The rapport he has with his audience and their allegiance called to mind the crowd on B.B. King’s seminal live LP “Live at the Regal.” There is a genuine bond there you don’t see as much these days. The guy just killed it on guitar and he was able to do that for 2 and half hours… Just a fantastic show. I highly recommend anybody near a venue he’s playing at, get out to see him as this tour is winding down…

After the show, the Salinapocalypse and I slipped into a tavern across the street from the show to debrief. Everybody was impressed with the band. The conversation eventually turned toward the subject of whether Rock was dead. The concern is that there aren’t enough young kids out there playing the guitar, or learning any instruments. It’s all electronics now, DJs and rappers. I was moved at how much genuine concern and, yes, love of rock and roll was being expressed at that table. If you’re out there and you’re young, there’s still time. Pick up and instrument and as Ronnie Lane’s dad used to say, “then you’ll always have a friend.”

I’m not sure what Rock And Roll Fate brought me into the company of the Salinapocalypse crowd, but I can say, I’m sure glad it did. Without Drummer Blake I’d have missed the Joe Bonamassa show and that would have been missing out on something really special.

Until next time, Cheers!

Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967

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Ah, the blues. I must admit, when it comes to classic rock, my first love was and always will be the Rolling Stones. I picked up ‘Some Girls,’ my first album ever and it was the beginning of a life long obsession. The Rolling Stones, in many ways, were a gateway drug for me into the broad array of rock music in the world. The Stones led me to Zeppelin, then to the Beatles, Black Sabbath and beyond. It wasn’t long before I was in the basement of seedy used record stores looking for out of print Faces albums or Springsteen bootlegs. I made my friend Doug go to a used record store in a strip mall in Dallas after he’d just broken up with a girlfriend so I could look for the out of print Buckingham Nicks LP… a trip he still hasn’t forgiven me for, although it may be his unpleasant memories of that trip unrelated to “Buckingham Nicks.” I wasn’t musically sophisticated enough to understand what the root of my musical infatuation was. I didn’t understand that the common thread that links all the music I love is the blues.

By the 1960’s the blues was an underground music in the United States, segregated like so much was, in the black community. It took some groovy English youth to rediscover and reawaken interest in the blues in the States. Much of what came out of the British Invasion was what is now described as “blues rock.” There were so many key figures, people you don’t hear about any more, that were critical to that early blues rock movement.  Alexis Korner was a guy that was at the center of a lot of it and he helped fan the flame of blues in London. If time travel is ever invented, you’ll know where to find me… 60s swinging London.

Another name that I don’t hear much any more is John Mayall, leader of the intrepid Blues Breakers. I posted about these British blues rock pioneer’s American cousins, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who were also 60s era masters of the blues, a few months ago. In the comment section, Moulty58 (whose blog, The Future Is Past is phenomenal, check it out) mentioned Mayall and the Blues Breakers. In the ensuing conversation he mentioned the album Mayall did with Peter Green, ‘A Hard Road.’ The only Mayall & the Bluesbreaker album I’d ever heard or heard of was the masterpiece, “Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton.” Could I have missed something? As a musical spelunker, I pride myself on owning anything I consider critical in music. Oh sure, I have some blindspots, like say, jazz, but I own most the LPs in the “Must Have” canon. I’m that weird guy who buys the live solo Gregg Allman albums or the solo Lowell George of Little Feat LP… Maybe I have a problem, but as Van Morrison sang, “it’s too late to stop now.” Perhaps I needed to give Mayall’s catalog another look.

In retrospect, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers could be looked at more as a musical collective than a band. They changed personnel more often than Yes, and that’s saying something. Almost every band has a connection to the Blues Breakers. Just on bass guitar alone, John McVie, Jack Bruce and Andy Fraser of Free fame all played with them. On drums, amongst a large number of people, Mick Fleetwood and Aynsley Dunbar both played with Mayall. I think Dunbar played in every band ever… I think he was even in Journey for a while. Mayall actually sang, played keyboards (mostly piano), guitar and harmonica. The thing about the Blues Breakers that is probably the most remarkable is the guitar talent that went through this band. Not only did Eric Clapton play with them but so did Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac), and a very young Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones). Those are just the big names. Rick Vito (Fleetwood Mac) and Jimmy McCulloch (Wings) also played with the Blues Breakers, just to name a few. Paul Butterfield even shows up playing harmonica on one album. It’s quite an impressive roster. It seems if you were a British rock band in the 70’s and needed a player, you looked no further than the Blues Breakers. It was like a British Prep school for guitarists.

I quickly began an investigation of the Blues Breaker’s catalog and found that I had indeed missed a couple of essential LPs, beyond “With Eric Clapton.” There are really three albums that I consider “essential” for blues or blues rock fans. As you might guess, it’s the three albums featuring the three greatest of the Blues Breaker’s guitarists. With all due respect to fans of “Blues From Laurel Canyon,” which does feature Mick Taylor, I consider that a John Mayall solo album. The Blues Breakers moniker had been abandoned by that time. Without further adieu, here are the three John Mayall and the Blues Breaker’s LPs every fan should check out:

Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton (1966)

When Eric Clapton, who judging by his autobiography was an enormous twat, left the Yardbirds because they were veering away from his “blues purist” view of music, there was a lot of speculation about what he’d do next. He joined the Blues Breakers and their popularity began to soar… just as that looked like it was going to peak, Clapton runs off to Greece with a group calling themselves “The Glands.” They must have been a group of teenage boys with a wanker name like that. Jeez, Eric. Anyway, he realized he’d made a mistake and came back to rejoin Mayall and the Blues Breakers. This album was the result and it’s a tour de force. I love Cream, but I truly think this was the best lead guitar playing of Clapton’s career. He plays with a strength and confidence I rarely hear. This album is considered a blues rock milestone. I read in Rolling Stone magazine that this record and Clapton’s solo LP, “From the Cradle,” taken together are Clapton’s greatest blues achievement. It’s hard to argue. The instrumental “Hideaway” is simply amazing. “What’d I Say,” the Ray Charles cover is inspired. “All Your Love” is the perfect blues tune. Clapton does his first vocal on Robert Johnson’s “Rambling On My Mind” one of his first and best Robert Johnson covers. Clapton split after this record to form Cream with Jack Bruce (also a Mayall alumni) and Ginger Baker. It’s a shame we don’t have more of Mayall and Clapton together, because it’s one of the greatest albums of all time.

A Hard Road (1967)

How do you replace a messianic guitarist (well, they did used to scrawl “Clapton is God” as graffiti) like Eric Clapton? You find Peter Green. I don’t know anybody outside of Ozzy Osbourne (Randy Rhoads, Jake E Lee, Zakk Wylde) with a nose for guitar talent like John Mayall. I was surprised when I first heard this record that the Blues Breakers, despite line up changes and losing Clapton didn’t miss a beat. This is a great blues/blues rock album with inspired guitar work. The Peter Green penned instrumental “The Supernatural” is worth the price of the LP alone. I may be crazy but I hear the seeds of “Black Magic Woman” in that tune. Great, great guitar work. Green’s guitar sound is different than Clapton’s and this may sound weird, but I almost feel like Peter Green’s guitar sounds… well, sadder. The guy really conveys emotion in the way he plays. Where Clapton was more powerful, Green is more expressive. Just one man’s opinion, and I don’t play guitar. I absolutely love the Elmore James’ cover, “Dust My Blues,” and the incendiary slide guitar Green plays. They also do two great Freddie King covers, the instrumental “The Stumble” which is another stand out and “Someday After While (You’ll Be Sorry)” that blew me away. “It’s Over,” the opening track is a great John Mayall penned tune as well. This is just a spectacular album that I never heard about. You definitely hear the seeds of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac on this album, which makes sense because after this record Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood split to form Fleetwood Mac… I guess the formula in the 60s was, do one album with Mayall, split and form a legendary band of your own… At least there was some additional material Peter Green recorded with Mayall that turned up on the remastered, “bonus track” version of the album that came out years later.

Crusade (1967)

What do you do when you’ve lost not one, but two legendary lead guitar players. Apparently if you’re John Mayall you discover a teenage Mick Taylor. I had always known Taylor had gotten his start in the Blues Breakers but I’d never dug deep enough to check out his record with them. Actually, he stuck around for three albums, unlike Clapton and Green, before being recruited to join the Stones as Brian Jones’ replacement. “Crusade” is just another blues rock classic in the same vein as it’s two predecessors. The album kicks off with “Oh Pretty Woman” (not the Roy Orbison tune) and it’s again as if nothing has changed with the band. Although I will say I can tell Taylor’s guitar is different than Green’s. Mick Taylor had such an amazingly melodic way of playing the guitar. Even on these blues recordings I can hear how his lead guitar would mesh with Richard’s ragged rhythm guitar. There’s an instrumental on here “Snowy Wood” which is just fabulous playing (do I hear “Can You Hear Me Knocking” here?). Mayhall had employed a horn section on his previous LP, but never this prominently, they’re all over this record. I like the sax, harmonica interplay on “Man of Stone.” I love, love the version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” the old Willie Dixon tune that was also done by Led Zeppelin and years later the Rolling Stones, post-Taylor. “Driving Sideways” sounds like a tune a blues band would open a show with… This is just another great blues guitar album.

If you’re a fan of the blues, blues rock, Cream, the pre Buckingham Nicks Fleetwood Mac or the glory years of the Rolling Stones, there is a hell of a lot to like here. A lot of people own ‘With Eric Clapton’ and if you enjoy that record I can’t more highly recommend ‘A Hard Road’ and ‘Crusade.’ Mayall went on to have a long, storied career but other than ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon’ you’re not going to find better blues/blues rock than these three albums. Any fan of guitar will absolutely fall in love with these albums.

This isn’t cry in your beer blues, this shuffle around, chooglin’ music. Pour yourself something strong, dark and murky and start moving, baby!

Cheers!

Classic Album Sunday: A Great Way For A Music Fan to Spend Sunday Afternoon

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The older I get, the less social I’ve become. If it weren’t for the Rock Chick, I might never leave the house… If only the HOA would let me build that moat I pitched at the last meeting… If it were up to me, I’d sit in my home office and listen to tunes all night long. Thankfully my wife lures me downstairs for meals and the occasional shower… Her social network seems to continually grow as my circle shrinks as all my friends disappear into the fog of parenthood. Luckily, my dearest old pal Doug, from junior high school no less, still lives in KC. Like the Rock Chick, Doug is one of the few people who can coax me out of my tower and across my metaphorical moat and out into the world. I always chuckle as both my daughter and his daughters always reacted the same way when they heard Doug and I were venturing out on the town… “Oh, you’re going out to drink beer…” Little teapots have big handles as my mom used to say.

Doug had approached me a couple of weeks ago, while my hapless Chiefs were still “alive” in the NFL playoffs… I think we all knew where that would end, but I digress… (the wounds never heal). Anyway, Doug approached me about something called “Classic Album Sundays.” The Classic Album on this particular Sunday was to be, and this is awesome, “Houses of the Holy,” Led Zeppelin’s masterpiece fifth album. I was intrigued but didn’t want to commit until the Chiefs were out of the playoffs…sigh. It was being billed as a group of rock n’roll music fans, gathering in cities across the world to listen to the same classic rock album on a Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t sure what to think about all of this but I decided early on this would be worth checking out. I investigated the website, and found that there are Classic Album Sundays across the planet. From London to Oslo to New York and Chicago to Kansas City to Los Angeles… This started to look more and more interesting. I would urge any of you with an interest to check out their website, posted here:

http://classicalbumsundays.com

When the time came, I must admit, I was a little nervous. This was something that was so outside my current comfort zone. I finally took a deep breath and decided, “no expectations.” It was time to venture out of my cave. I swung by and picked up my buddy Doug, and we headed down to Waldo Pizza, the gracious host establishment for Classic Album Sundays. I walked in and quite to my surprise, the place was full. There had to be between 40 and 50 people in there. The room was bustling with tables full of beer drinking, pizza eating, music lovers of all ages, albeit the demographic probably skewed more toward older er, classic folks. They were packed in there like early Christians, strangers sitting together, elbow to elbow, true believers. The local host, who was wearing a t-shirt with a vinyl album on it, couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming. I could tell I was in the presence of someone who really knew his music. Most importantly, the first thing I spotted was a stack of vinyl albums. I knew this was going to be a great time.

Doug and I quickly squeezed into a picnic style table and introduced ourselves to the welcoming rock fans around the table. Any anxiety I had before I sat down was gone immediately. Of course that may have been the hourglass of Boulevard Tank 7 ale I was drinking… The host stood up and outlined the gear he had set up to play the vinyl albums with. Oh my God: Klipsch speakers, Ankoru Amps, TT2 Turntable… The amps had old style tubes! I’m no stereo gear guy but I could tell we were in for a magnificent soundscape. I wasn’t wrong.

The best part, aside from the great communal music-fan vibe and the great stereo gear, was the wonderful, careful curation of the musical afternoon. You don’t just show up and they play the album. The host had carefully selected a slate of music that told the story and set the back drop for the album. It was a really brilliant ramp up for the main event. He started off by setting the historical backdrop of Led Zeppelin’s blues influences. He played songs from B.B. King, Robert Johnson (“Traveling Riverside Blues” later covered by Led Zeppelin), Jimmy Reed and Little Milton. From there he took us through the British Blues rock scene with tunes from John Mayall, Cream, and the Yardbirds. During intermissions between songs he explained where Zeppelin fit in, what the background of forming the band was, all with this great music as a backdrop. I was surprised and thrilled when he played a James Brown song, which was a huge influence on the “Houses” song “The Crunge” and some Bob Marley, whose influence is felt on the album’s “D’yer Maker.”

Once the host set up the back drop, he moved to playing songs from 1973, when “Houses of the Holy” was released to help compare and contrast what the then current music scene was like when Zeppelin released the album. We heard Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd (“Time,” which was great), Queen (“Keep Yourself Alive” from their debut), Aerosmith (“Dream On” from their debut), and David Bowie (“Let’s Spend The Night Together” his Stones cover from ‘Aladin Sane,’ an inspired choice). It really gave you a feel of where Zeppelin fit in on the contemporary music scene – and it helped you feel the huge influence of the mighty Led Zeppelin (esp on Queen and Aerosmith). On the equipment this guy had set up, all of this music sounded spectacular. For a second I thought Pink Floyd was actually at the front of the room, playing live, thus was the clarity of the sound.

The host did take one small break from the musical story of “Houses of the Holy” for what apparently is the monthly ‘In Memoriam’ section of the program. He played, and this was to a Zeppelin crowd, a George Michael song, “Faith.” I have to admit, that took some balls. He held up a copy of Wham’s album, and lamented that he couldn’t play a song from the LP as it was still in the original factory seal. Someone yelled, “and better off keeping it sealed…” Ah, Zep fans. I do think it’s great they would take a moment to honor a fallen musician, even if their style didn’t fit the program. He also said if he’d had the vinyl version of “Singing In the Rain” he’d have played a Debbie Reynolds’ song. I think honoring the music of all genres is perfectly within the spirit of the afternoon. Well played, sir, well played.

He then took us through some Zeppelin, to catch us up on what music they had released prior to “Houses of the Holy.” He did a great selection from each of the first four Zeppelin records, not always the most popular tunes: “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” “Communication Breakdown,” “Whole Lotta Love,” the Rock Chick’s favorite “Tangerine,” “The Immigrant Song,” and finally “Black Dog.” It really showed you how they’d developed from a blues cover band (essentially) to a hard rock juggernaut.

Finally, it was time for the main event, the album of the afternoon, “Houses of the Holy.” There had been some chatting and chatter during the earlier songs, but when the host dropped the needle on “Houses” the room was a hushed silence. It felt like rock n’ roll church in there. The monster riff of “The Song Remains The Same” burst out of the speakers like a clarion call… I couldn’t help but glance around the room. Many people had their head down, eyes closed, listening with intense focus. There was an older guy, a table away from me who was dancing in his chair… he was bouncing around, nodding his head. The host was on the side of the room, head bopping to the music. I couldn’t help but think, these are my people. By the time “The Rain Song” was over the room was all rapt attention. It was really a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The host even played a second version of “The Ocean,” the last song on the album, from the first pressing of the album, because every other pressing has changed the sound… which was news to me, so even I can learn something new about Led Zeppelin.

I think Classic Album Sundays is a must for any classic rock fan who is lucky enough to have a local chapter in their city. We’re fortunate here in Kansas City to have Waldo Pizza as a host location, because the sound in that room is perfect. The next album up for February is “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane. I’m not a jazz-bo but I gotta tell you, I’m already trying to figure out how to buy tickets (at only $5/each it’s quite a bargain). I feel like I’d learn something by attending. In KC they have a great slate of albums picked for 2017: “Sgt Peppers,” “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Dr Dre’s “The Chronic,” (which I love how they span genre’s from jazz to rock to R&B and rap), Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” “The Velvet Underground and Nico” and Steely Dan’s “Aja.” I may not hit every single one of these, but I’m going to make more than I miss. Again, it’s a great afternoon of food, booze and learning about rock n roll classic albums.

Check it out! Cheers!

Artist Lookback: The Often Overlooked Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Two Brilliant LPs

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 It was kind of a weird Christmas for me. For the first time in years, there were no square, flat packages under the tree… no LPs? Sad way for a sad year to end. There weren’t even any box sets out this year that I could slip past the Rock Chick and onto my list. I kept hoping Neil Young would put out Archives II, but I guess we have to wait till next year. I couldn’t help but think of last year when I found Bob Dylan’s “The Cutting Edge 1965-1966” under the tree. It was the fabulous box set, reviewed on an earlier post here at BourbonAndVinyl, highlighting outtakes from “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Bringing It All Back Home,” and “Blonde On Blonde.” One of the greatest things about that box set was the incendiary guitar work of overlooked, under appreciated guitar wizard Michael Bloomfield.

So this year, with no new shiny black vinyl under the tree, I found myself drifting back to Bloomfield’s first band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I don’t know why that band wasn’t huge but they never found the commercial success they deserved. The British Invasion bands like the Stones were always given credit for reintroducing black blues to the white American audiences, but the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was also critical in that process.

Lead singer, harmonica player Paul Butterfield was a blues enthusiast and student at the University of Chicago when he started hanging out at South Side Chicago blues joints. Eventually folks like Little Walter, Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf were inviting Paul up on stage to play with them. Coincidentally, Michael Bloomfield, son of a wealthy department store family in Chicago, had a similar experience, hanging out and jamming with the blues greats in Chicago. It’s a testament to those old blues giant’s enormous generosity that they’d mentor and encourage these white kids from the suburbs to further the blues. They say that the blues giants recognized Bloomfield’s virtuosity immediately…. Michael himself said, “black people suffer externally in America and Jewish people suffer internally, so we have a lot in common.” All that suffering translated into some amazing guitar solos. As a lapsed Catholic, I often wonder what kind of suffering I could have brought to the instrument, but it’s too late to start now.

Eventually, Butterfield met guitarist Elvin Bishop and they recruited Howlin Wolf’s rhythm section of Sam Lay on drums and Jerome Arnold on bass with Mark Naftalin on keyboards and the line up was set. At the recommendation of a manager/producer they added Bloomfield and the chemistry was incendiary. The dueling guitars of Bloomfield and Bishop is the thing of legend and what I believe every dual guitar band since has emulated – from the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Metallica. That back and forth, solo vs solo thing was founded in the Butterfield Blues Band. It broke the mold of lead guitarist, rhythm guy.

They struggled to get their first album on tape. As they attempted to recreate their sound on an album, they continued to grow a cult following by playing live. They famously backed up Bob Dylan at his first public electric performance at Newport. On the version of “Maggie’s Farm” on Dylan’s Bootleg Series Volume 7, Bloomfield melts the faces off the folky crowd with his lead guitar licks. It’s simply the greatest expression of the electric guitar outside of Hendrix that has been committed to tape.

Finally after three false starts, in 1965 the Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded their eponymous debut album. Not just because I was born there, but because it’s an amazing opening, “Born In Chicago” is one of my all time favorite songs. The album is a mix of new songs, written by band members, and covers of those blues greats who had mentored them. Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” and Muddy’s “I Got My Mojo Working” are stand outs. “Screamin'” and “Thank You Mr. Poobah” make Michael Bloomfield’s guitar felt in your bones. It was blues with a jazz sensibility. It was like “jump blues” was invented by these guys. It was the blues but it sounded all new and it sounded more rock and roll than anything that had come before. The Animals, The Yardbirds and The Zombies wanted to sound this good. These guys just had the chops. Their first album is about as perfect as you’re going to find in blues rock. If you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor and pick it up immediately.

While it’s easy to think the first album was the peak, just to blow our minds, they followed up with their second album, a true masterpiece, “East-West.” The title track, which ends the album, is a 13 minute work of genius that Bach would envy. Influenced by Eastern, Indian raga and blended with Western blues, its simply one of the greatest pieces of music ever. The Stones even responded with their own epic blues jam “Going Home” which lasted 11 minutes. The Butterfield Blues Band had expanded the limits of what was possible. Jam bands like the Grateful Dead spun their heads around and thought, “hey, we can noodle on and on and get away with it.” The Butterfield Blues Band created the entire jam movement with one song. Bloomfield, Bishop and Butterfield all solo on the song, guitar, harmonica and guitar. It’s like a religious awakening hearing “East-West.” It’s the entire buddhist sixties ethos in a 13 minute song. There would be no Cream without “East-West.”

Other than the epic title track, the second album covers the waterfront of American roots music – from blues covers, Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” to R&B, Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out Of My Life, Woman,” they prove they can do anything. The traditional blues song “I’ve Got a Mind to Give Up Living” is as mournful as the blues can get. Shit, they even cover Mike Nesmith’s “Mary, Mary.” This band was clicking on all cylinders at this point.

Alas, the incendiary talents in this band couldn’t hold the group together. After “East-West” Bloomfield split to form Electric Flag. Bishop soon followed to start his solo career. Bloomfield also did the seminal “Super Sessions” LP with Al Kooper, his old pal from the Dylan days. Bloomfield, like myself a life long insomniac, ran away from the early guitar hero fame and dissipated to the point of OD’ing on heroin. Butterfield made it to his 40’s but also succumbed to a heroin overdose. I like to think of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band like the stereotypical shooting star, bright and brilliant, but only burning for a short period.

Nobody talks about the Butterfield Blues Band and their two legendary albums, but it’s essential listening to anybody who loves blues, rock and blues rock. I can trace everything I like straight through The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Do yourself a favor and check these LPs out immediately.

Cheers and Happy New Year folks!

LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle

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In the beginning, for me, it was The Rolling Stones. As a kid, I only turned on the radio to listen to sports, most likely the Royals game while I was trying to go to sleep. It was my brother who had the stereo and all those odd albums with the strange, colorful covers. Then I heard the song, “Miss You,” and shortly after that “Beast of Burden.” That music hit me in the lower brain stem. I immediately went out and bought the LP “Some Girls,” the first album I ever bought with my own money. In many ways that album changed my life forever… I’ve been looking for that same “Some Girls” high every time I drop the needle on the vinyl. I then made a cassette recording of my brother’s double album, “Hot Rocks,” the Stones iconic greatest hits album. I wore that damn thing out. Suddenly I was saving up money for one of those cheap, turntable/receiver/cassette players all in one stereo unit.

In the beginning, for the Stones, it was the blues. Thank God, it was the blues. Everything I’ve ever liked is based on the blues and I think that’s probably because the Stones were my “first.” Their early albums were essentially blues cover albums. “England’s Newest Hitmakers” and especially “12×5” are two of the greatest blues/blues rock albums ever recorded. They were full of young man bluster back in those days. Now, with the release of the amazing new “Blue And Lonesome” it seems that the Stones have come full circle. They’ve returned home, they’ve returned to their roots, the blues. In many ways it was the Stones who turned America back onto the blues. They shined a light on this “black” music and suddenly white audiences rediscovered the blues. Keith says shining the light back on the blues may be the only thing that gets him into heaven… good luck with that Keith.

Much has been written about the creative conflict between Keith, the blues/rock traditionalist and Jagger, who has always had an eye on what’s current. That push and pull, with Keith looking backward and Mick looking forward is what a lot of the experts think has fueled the Stones creative process over the years. In light of that, it’s easy to think of this as a “Keith album.” And, it was Keith who suggested they try the Little Walter tune, “Blue And Lonesome” in order to get comfortable in the new studio they were recording a new album in last December.

However, I would beg to differ with the idea that this is a more Keith-centric record. People forget that while Mick likes to stay current, he’s always kept an eye on the blues. As late as 1993 he holed up in L.A. with a local blues band, The Red Devils, and recorded an album of blues songs, which sadly remains unreleased to this day, except for 1 track on Mick’s solo “Charmed Life” collection. I found a great live set of Mick doing blues tunes at the Mustique Blues Festival with his back up band. Yes, he’s always looked forward, but Mick is still firmly rooted in the blues. At the Stones 50th Anniversary show I saw in New Jersey, Mick brought the Black Keys and Gary Clark on stage to do Freddy King’s “Goin’ Down.” Mick’s blues cred is pretty solid with me. I would argue, with all their personal issues (the biggest being Keith’s stupid comments about Mick in his autobiography) the one thing that holds these guys together is the blues. It’s their common vernacular.

The Stones never completely abandoned the blues. I can remember the first time I heard “Down In A Hole” from the “Emotional Rescue” album. That’s a great blues song. “Black Limousine” from Tattoo You and “Back of My Hand” from their last studio album, “A Bigger Bang” are great, later period blues tunes from the Stones. Every Stones album has a great blues tune hidden in their somewhere. Each live album they did seemed to have a blistering blues cover on it. They never really left the blues, however far they roamed musically.

“Blue And Lonesome” does bring the Stones full circle but these aren’t the same young men who recorded the blues over fifty years ago. These guys now sound like Muddy when he did “Hard Again,” elder statesmen who have grown into these songs. While I can certainly picture Keith sitting with his guitar on a chair near Charlie’s drum kit with a shit-eating grin on his face while they recorded this album, this is the Mick Jagger show. His vocals are so committed, he’s feeling these tunes. There’s zero affect in his voice. His enthusiasm was clearly infectious within the band. Mick Jagger is the greatest harmonica player in rock and roll and he proves it on this album. It had to be a very conscious decision of Keith’s to lead Mick to the songs of Little Walter (three of which are recorded here), the blues’ greatest harmonica player, to get this thing jump started. It was an inspired choice. The harmonica drives a lot of these tunes. I was frankly blown away by Mick’s playing, it’s simply put, out of this world. Even the Rock Chick came in and said, “This sounds great, Mick is an amazing harp player…” which was a surprise as I’ve never heard the Rock Chick use the term “harp” to describe a harmonica. That woman is like an onion… so many layers.

The sound of this album grabbed me right away. These are loud, dirty blues. The music explodes out of the speaker with a strength and force that surprised me. The album has the sound of a late night blues club, in a shack on the outskirts of town, near the crossroads. I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly pay the cover charge to get in. It sounds like a party and the Stones are having a blast. Mick’s vocals and harmonica are right out front in the mix. The rest of the band just sort of rides behind him in the pocket. The playing is right in the groove. There is some great guitar playing, but again it takes a back seat, it’s more of a compliment to the songs. Eric Clapton plays on two tracks, and his best solo is probably on “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing.” I would say that Ronnie Wood matches the heights of Clapton’s solo on the title track, his playing is just great. The vocal from Jagger on “All Of Your Love” starts off as a visceral howl. It’s his most impassioned vocal here. I can never say enough about the fabulous drumming of Charlie Watts, he’s definitely the engine. I love the fact that they didn’t select well known tunes, they went deep into the blues catalog. Only a band like the Stones, with their knowledge of the form, could put together a song list like this. I love the version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit a Crime.” Many folks think the blues are all slow tunes, but a lot of these tunes are upbeat “jump blues” kind of tracks like “Ride Em On Down.”

This is a great, great album. It seems the Stones now only put out one album per decade so this is a big fucking deal. I’m hopeful they continue working on that new album they were recording when this creative blues super nova burst. Now that they’ve gone back to their early days, playing the blues, maybe they’ll revisit their dirty rock 70’s period. “A Bigger Bang” was such a great late-period album from the Stones I was hopeful we’d see a return of them releasing albums more frequently. Of course that was 11 years ago. Even if they don’t finish the new batch of tracks for an all-new album, I’m pretty happy to have “Blue And Lonesome.”

Put this one on loud, pour a Blanton’s bourbon over some ice cubes and dance around… I guarantee clothes will start coming off. “Blue And Lonesome” gets BourbonAndVinyl’s strongest recommendation! Enjoy!

Cheers!

LP Review: The Record Company, “Give It Back To You” Strong Blues Rock

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I was talking to a friend of mine one time. The topic turned, as it inevitably does when you’re talking to me, to music. This was guy was a bigger music fanatic than I could ever hope to be. This guy was into the some of the hardest, heaviest metal I’ve ever heard. He was espousing the virtue of a band that I hadn’t come across, Opeth. I think there was a band named Lamb of God. It was all what I call, scary monster rock. He even tried to play me one of those “cookie-monster,” growly vocal type of things. I shook my head. Frustrated, he finally asked, “So what music do you like?” My answer was simple and straightforward. The roots of everything musical that I like can be traced to the blues.

The Stones started as a blues cover band. Zeppelin exploded the blues to the limits of the form. The White Stripes, for all the trappings of being a punk rock band, are a blues two-piece masquerading as a punk band. They cover Blind Willie McTell for heaven’s sake. Give me a hummable melody, good vocals, preferably a great guitar solo, and I’m up and on the floor, headed for the volume knob.

Sadly, you don’t hear a lot of blues rock these days. Gone are the days when bands steeped in the blues like The Animals, The Yardbirds, or even the early Stones ruled the airwaves. If I want to hear bluesy music I have to head down and get the genuine article, at Kansas City’s premier blues club, Knuckleheads. I do miss the days before I met the Rock Chick when the Grand Emporium was KC’s blues hub, downtown, but those records are sealed. Bad men doing bad things to the blues. I saw Koko Taylor there… amazing, but I digress. With these unsettling times, who couldn’t use a little blues music.

About six months ago I came across a great song by a new band, The Record Company. The Record Company is a little three man outfit from of Los Angeles. According to “the Wikipedia,” they were three like minded musicians who would gather together to share their latest blues LP finds. Eventually they put the LPs away and picked up their instruments and began jamming in one guy’s living room. The next thing you know they had an album put together. The tune that originally alerted me to these guys was a song called “Off The Ground,” a greasy blues rock number with a great slide guitar solo. I bought the song but neglected to check out the rest of the album. “Off The Ground” was the first single and I never heard anything else on my satellite radio and subsequently spaced them off.

Flash forward a few months to this week and the Rock Chick comes downstairs and says, “I think you need to hear this…” Never argue with a beautiful woman bearing music (throw in some bourbon and you have all three of my greatest distractions in one package…). I always trust the Rock Chick’s musical instincts. The LP she had was the Record Company’s debut album “Give It Back To You,” the one I had neglected to check out when I bought “Off The Ground.” It was so refreshing to hear some brand new blues rock. This whole album has gone into high rotation here at B&V.

“Off The Ground” and the second single “Rita Mae Young” are great bluesy singles. “Rita…” the second single, is a laid black bluesy tune with a great vocal. These guys do some great acoustic driven stuff. “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” is built around a great shuffling, acoustic riff. It sounds like something Muddy would have done in his early acoustic days. The title track, “Give It Back To You” is a great acoustic stomper, if you believe a song with that description actually exists.

It’s clear who these guy’s influences are. Naturally critics are likely to decry this as “derivative” but find me any music that doesn’t build on what came before it. “Feels So Good,” “Turn Me Loose” and “In the Mood For You” (a nice rolling blues tune) all feel like they were influenced by John Lee Hooker. About midway through “In the Mood For You” the band breaks into a gallop to the finish line and it’s a wonder to behold. The harmonica is all over that song. Speaking of harmonica, there’s a great harmonica breakdown that starts “On The Move” which also boasts some great, primal drumming. If John Lee Hooker is your reference starting point, sign me up boys. The song “Hard Day Coming Down,” another acoustic blues number has a chorus that makes you feel like you’re going to church, baby! And I mean that in a good way.

It’s probably too much to hope that the Record Company would spark a blues rock revival, it’s a good album, but it’s not going to convince the unconverted. “The Crooked City” is the only real quiet, ballad on this collection. Everything else is firmly rooted in the blues. Like Dan Aykroyd once said, “Pretty soon the music known as the blues will only be found in the classical music section of your local library…” and that is a damn shame.

“Give It Back To You” is a very solid rock album. Usually to hear music like this you have to find an older artist so I’m very encouraged to hear a new band who can play this kind of music. I give this album a definite purchase recommendation. And then, maybe, if you’re brave, it’ll lead you to some actual John Lee Hooker…. or if you’re really, really brave maybe some John Lee Hooker with Canned Heat, like say, “Hooker ‘N Heat,” but now I’m getting way too obscure.

Cheers!

RIP Leonard Cohen.

LP Review: Van Morrison, “Keep Me Singing” Rock’s Curmudgeon’s Understated, Rootsy Return

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I have to admit upfront that the Rock Chick hates Van Morrison with the same passionate distaste she usually reserves for the Eagles. Oh well, no two people’s musical tastes are ever going to match up perfectly… with the Rock Chick and I, we’re a Venn Diagram… with significant overlap, thank God. I couldn’t be with anybody with crappy musical taste. I once stopped seeing a beautiful, rich girl after two dates because she liked Barry Manilow. Gads man, Barry Manilow. Somehow, I’ve digressed way off point here. Anyway, I love hard rock and heavy metal as much as the next rock and roller, but there are those moments that I need to turn the volume down. Those 3 am, everybody’s asleep and I’m out on the deck, waiting for the sun to come up and join me, with a tumbler of bourbon in my hand, ruminating about “the big questions.” Oddly, I never find any solutions out there, just more bourbon. For those moments I can’t hear screaming guitar. I need more contemplative music… like Peter Wolf’s “A Cure For Loneliness.” In a word, or in this case a name, I need some Van Morrison.

My college roomie, Drew was the one who turned me on to Van Morrison. He played me “Astral Weeks” for the first time and after that I was hooked. In his early days I’d say Van was second only to Bob Dylan as rock’s premier poet. There was something about that crazy, Irish mystic that I found irresistible. That voice… Those early records were simply transcendent. 1968’s “Astral Weeks” is as close as this pagan ever got to a religious experience. I felt like I was listening to a groovy jazz monk chanting. Van was an Irish Soul Man extraordinaire. Emphasis on the Soul… Van was a searcher, always reaching out for some truth that just exceeded his grasp. He expressed his longing for enlightenment in almost every thing he did.

“Moondance” from 1970 was his best known LP and his other masterpiece but he did a lot of other great work. “His Band And the Street Choir” is a great, great album, that was a heavy influence on both Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger. Seger even covered “I’ve Been Workin'” from that LP on “Live Bullet.” It’s hard to exaggerate Van’s influence on popular music in the ’70s. “Tupelo Honey” is one of the most romantic songs I’ve ever heard. If it weren’t for the Rock Chick’s antipathy for Van, we would have danced to that song at our wedding. As it turns out, I snuck a Van song in for that first dance with “Have I Told You Lately,” but I used the Rod Stewart version.

That purple creative patch that Van had during the late 60’s, early 70’s drew to a close around the time he recorded “St Dominic’s Preview” in ’72. That was another set of mostly long tracks full of mystic poetry. “Listen To the Lion” still blows me away. Shortly after that he recorded one of the greatest live albums ever, “Too Late To Stop Now.” Do yourself a favor and pick that one up. Turn it up loud and just…groove, baby. He called his band in those days the Caledonia Soul Orchestra and they sounded like nobody else.

After that period Van’s music was kind of hit and miss for me. It’s hard to sustain that kind of creative genius. I know he went through a divorce somewhere in there. Like Dylan, he even went through a Christian period, although not quite as overt and strident as Dylan. I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise, the spiritual had always mixed with the sensual in Van’s music. But as I said, it was always a little inconsistent for me. For every great album like “Poetics Champions Compose,” or “Enlightenment” there was a “How Long Has This Been Going On,” or worse, “Days Like This.” I sort of consigned Van to the past. I continued to cherish those early albums but gave up on hearing anything new and exciting from him. His personality turned sour and he became the quintessential curmudgeon. I was waiting for him to record a song entitled “You Kids Get Off of My Lawn.” His latest interview with Rolling Stone can only be described as “prickly.” He’s always got that porkpie hat on… It’s like he’s channeling Boris from the old Bullwinkle cartoons. Bitter party of Van…your table is ready.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere Van released “Down The Road” in 2002. It was jazzy, bluesy and Van sounded really committed. It’s like suddenly he was focused and trying again. He even evinced a sense of humor on that record on songs like “Whatever Happened To PJ Proby.” Van wasn’t breaking any new, transcendent ground here, he was just playing great music. He continued that streak with 2003’s “What’s Wrong With This Picture,” another jazzy, rootsy album. It was official in my mind, Van was on a hot streak. This was the kind of late career stuff that inspired B&V. He capped all of that off with “Magic Time” which was a return to those mystic, searching grand songs of his early period. “Magic Time” really blew me away. “Gypsy In My Soul” from that record is a song they should play at my funeral.

His follow up album, “Keep It Simple” was still strong but it paled in comparison to the three preceding LPs. Other than a great live performance of the entire “Astral Weeks” album recorded at the Hollywood Bowl I slipped away from Van again. He put out a critically lauded album, “Born To Sing: No Plan B” but I thought, if he couldn’t bother to come up with a better album title than that, why bother. If Van wasn’t going to make the effort, why should I? He followed that up with “Duets: Reworking the Catalog,” which screamed “cashing in,” although the critics were very kind to that record as well. It wasn’t like he was recording with Lady Gaga or any current pop singer. He mostly recorded with old friends and did obscure deep album tracks so perhaps my judgment on that LP was a bit harsh. I did pick up the song “Streets of Arklow” from that disc, the duet with Mick Hucknall from Simply Red – and believe me, I know how that sentence looks (Simply Red?) – and it’s an amazing song. I almost want to put on a kilt when I hear that one… almost.

I was in my car a few weeks ago, with the satellite radio on when I heard, “Too Late” a rollicking bluesy thing from Van’s new album “Keep Me Singing.” I really liked that song. It was catchy, well sung and gave me hope for another great LP from Van. I must admit, he’s delivered just that. This is not a party record, or a screaming guitar album. It’s Van’s usual mix of jazz, blues and Sinatra-era pop standards, a truly rootsy brew that is great late night music. Listening to “Keep Me Singing” makes me feel like I just walked into the basement music joint in Westport, Blaney’s, and the band is grooving. Van’s music is so anachronistic these songs could have been recorded 40 years ago or 40 days ago. Just hearing this album, makes me want to go up on the roof and pour a bourbon and it’s not even 3am.

There is a palpable sense of longing on this album. It’s not melancholic, but Van is clearly missing someone or some period of time, now distant and past. “Every Time I See A River” and “Out In the Cold” are both great “I still miss someone” songs. “Out In the Cold” is a true stand out here. “Memory Lane” again looks to the past as the title would obviously suggest. “In Tiburon” harkens back to Van’s halcyon San Francisco period as he name checks people and spots where he used to hang and “Going Down to Bangor” also is tied to Belfast memories. Van actually quotes the old spiritual “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…” in the great song “Holy Guardian Angel.” While this all sounds like sad stuff, it doesn’t come across that way. The title track is another of Van’s songs about reaching out for something just out of his grasp. His voice is spectacular as always. His “instrument” has aged quite well. I love his bluesy growl on “Going Down to Bangor” and “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword.” I just wish John Lee Hooker was still alive to have done one of those with Van as a duet…

While the theme here seems to be looking back, perhaps longingly, it’s with a certain joy. I don’t sense regret here. It’s more of an acknowledgement of the impact the past can have on you, on all of us really. It’s all heady stuff and really enjoyable music, if you dig music grounded in the traditions of jazz and blues. This is a triumph for Van to put out something this strong at this stage in the game. I always worry about craft over creativity with Van, but in this case, creativity wins out. There’s passion on this record.

Pick up “Keep Me Singing,” pour something strong after everyone has gone to bed and head out to the deck… those “big questions” need contemplation and this is just the soundtrack you need.

Cheers!