Documentary Review: ‘ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas’ – Slight, But Entertaining Viewing

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I’m like a lot of you out there, I’m in a self-quarantine. My daughter came back home this last weekend and like a crazy person I went out to eat Friday night and drinking on Saturday. Thankfully I regained my sanity in time to cancel brunch with my elderly parents on Sunday morning. If I’d carried any of this virus thing to my parents I’d never forgive myself. While I’m symptom free, the cow is likely out of the barn where I’m concerned but on Sunday I went into lockdown. The problem with being under self-appointed “house arrest” is what to do to fill the time? I mean, there’s no sports on. With football season over, there really aren’t any sports I care about anyway and I respect the decision to delay or cancel all of this stuff. Sure, it was a tough blow to see the St Patrick’s Day Parade cancelled here in Kansas City… but I’m all about health and safety. I went out onto Netflix to seek out any rock and roll related items that might have popped into the cue of late. Lo and behold, I discovered a new 2019 documentary about ZZ Top, ‘ZZ Top That Little Ol’ Band From Texas.’

While the documentary was a little on the light side, I still found it entertaining… I must admit, it sure brought back some memories for me. I was just beginning my immersion into rock and roll when ZZ Top’s Deguello album came out in late ’79. They’d been away for three years, which was a lifetime back then, and it was seen as somewhat of a “comeback” album for them. None of that was known to me at the time. The rumor back then was they’d been on a hiatus because bass player Dusty Hill had been taking off his boots and a revolver fell out of his boot and shot him in the stomach. The documentary happily dispels that rumor. I was really enamored with the Deguello album and ZZ Top in general. As Keith Richards said about them when he inducted then into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, they had a solid blues-base. Their music always had a groove or a swing that under pinned the blues influence. They bordered on a blues funk thing in my mind. It was that bloozy thing that always draws me in.

I heard the lead single from Deguello, “I Thank You” and was hooked. It was bluesy and had some great guitar work from Billy Gibbons. I didn’t run right out and buy the album – at the time, I had a “three good songs” rule before buying an LP (there had to be three verified “good songs” on the disc, which makes me laugh all these years later) – because lawn mowing money was hard to come by. After hearing “Cheap Sunglasses” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” I was in. That album was a perfect introduction to them – muscular and bluesy but it captured their sense of humor. I really dug the deep album track, “Manic Mechanic” and the documentary explains that song’s sound was due to the influence of punk rock – another item to add to a previous post, How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s.

The first time I saw ZZ Top in concert – they were opening for the Rolling Stones in Houston, Texas (in the Astrodome no less). It was my first time seeing either of them. I remember after ZZ played, the guy standing next to me said, “They’re probably going to have to sweep a bunch of dirt off the stage from those guys’ cowboy boots.” I still wonder if he was serious… They certainly looked like a country band but they sure didn’t sound like that. It wasn’t until I got into college when a couple of my roomies, Stormin’ and Drew, turned me onto some of the back catalog. Tres Hombres is a masterpiece. The follow-up, the half live, half studio album Fandango was also a must-have. My friend Stormin’ has been searching for the burrito pictured on the inner sleeve of Tres Hombres since before I met him.

The documentary traces ZZ Top from when Dusty Hill (bass) and Frank Beard (drums) met in Dallas. We later see them both join the Houston-based Moving Sidewalks with lead guitarist/vocalist Billy F. Gibbons. Gibbons had toured as an opener for Jimi Hendrix who was an early fan. There are a number of celebrity interviews – Billy Bob Thornton, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and most enthusiastically Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. Billy Bob says meeting ZZ Top – clearly after their video success in the ’80s, was like meeting Bugs Bunny in real life. There’s even a guy in Mumford and Sons whose a fan. Who’d have guessed?

The documentary, using animated scenes, replays the band meeting manager/producer Bill Ham who guided their career until he passed away in 2016. It’s pretty apparent they were still torn up about Ham’s passing. ZZ played a ton of live shows and toured incessantly and built a following. The documentary mentions them playing a Memphis Blues fest – where the organizer didn’t realize they were white – with many of their blues heroes like Muddy Waters. Another memorable story is when the Stones had them open for a series of shows in Honolulu. Mick would wear a disguise and watch them from the wings. After a giant tour where they brought along a bunch of, well, “livestock” for lack of a better word, the band decided to go on the aforementioned hiatus. It wasn’t a Dusty Hill bullet wound that drove it, it was drummer Frank Beard’s heroin habit. Frank went into rehab, Dusty got a manual job at the local airport (which is mind blowing) and Billy went to Europe and India searching for the truth. They reconvened and Deguello was the recharged result. It’s pretty amazing what a little time off will do… although three years was quite a bit.

From there, the doc jumps to the massive success of Eliminator. ZZ Top, who as Billy Bob Thornton pointed out, were a bit cartoonish in appearance – on the hiatus Hill and Gibbons had grown outrageously long beards. They hired Randy Newman’s cousin, found three pretty girls and a hot rod, added some synth to their sound and suddenly the Little ‘Ol Band from Texas was a sensation. Eliminator sold 15 million copies. That’s pretty much where the story ends in the documentary. That’s one of my gripes about watching this, ZZ Top recorded a lot of music after Eliminator and they kind of blow that part of the story off. If you haven’t heard their last LP, the Rick Ruben produced comeback La Futura, do yourself a favor and check it out. You hear the first song playing over the fade out credits, “I Gotsta Get Paid.” It’s their signature dirty blooze.

Another complaint I have – there are scenes of the band playing older tracks in a hall in Greune, Texas in current time. These live scenes of them playing “La Grange,” for example, are interspersed with a lot of vintage footage of the band. It’s cool to see these guys siting around casually playing but the hall they chose to play in is so cavernous the sound gets lost. I think if they’d chosen a better venue maybe the sound would have come across better on those live shots. They still kill it live, so it’s just a matter of band location.

One of the things that impressed me about seeing them hanging out in the hall in Greune is how close these guys are. I can only think of Rush as a band that was able to remain friends for decades while being in a band together. It’s no small feat. Frank Beard says towards the end, “I found the people I want to play with.” ZZ doesn’t seem to get as much respect as they probably should… it probably has to do with what made them so big – the ’80s video stuff, but they should absolutely be celebrated as one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

As you’re trying to while away the hours in your self-quarantine, if indeed you’re choosing to do so, this documentary isn’t a bad way to spend an hour and a half. Now what to do with the rest of the time? It’s a historically weird time out there folks. Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.

Cheers!

LP Review: Billy F Gibbons, ‘The Big Bad Blues’ – Blooze Rock As Greasy As A Bacon Sandwich On Wonder Bread!

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The blues have always been my Alpha and Omega… the beginning and the end. Even in the early days of my record collecting, when I didn’t know what the blues were, they were always in the background, driving my vinyl purchases. I started off, as I’ve often said, with the Stones LP Some Girls. Soon I was working my way backwards into their catalog and I realized early on I liked some of the slower tunes, with big guitar solos. I was finding my way to the roots of rock and roll… the blues. There’s a guy online whose link my brother sent me, who thinks that rock has died because it got too far away from the blues… who knows? Anyway, everything that came after that first Stones album, unwittingly, had it’s basis in the blues. I branched out to Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Pretty soon I picked up an album by that “Little Ol’ Band from Texas,” power-trio ZZ Top, Deguello. “Fool For Your Stockings” remains a favorite of mine. The guitar on that album is amazing. It’s Billy Gibbons, a man whose playing, none other than Jimi Hendrix said he admired.

From Deguello I plunged into the ZZ Top back catalog. There are so many great albums, but my favorites were Fandango! and of course, Tres Hombres. Those are essential listening for any fan of blues or rock or blues rock. I even liked Rio Grand Mud. As the 70s transitioned into the 80s, a lot of bands struggled to make the turn. I was surprised that ZZ Top was able to do so. El Loco was a solid transition album that brought that old blooze rock into the 80s with big anthems like “Party On the Patio,” and “Pearl Necklace.” But it was their smash-hit, aided by a series of videos on MTV, 1983’s Eliminator that broke ZZ Top into a world wide phenomenon. Every frat house and dive bar was blaring “Gimme All Your Lovin'” and “Sharp Dressed Man.” I remember being on a dance floor at a wedding and there was a guy on crutches using one to air guitar to the latter song. Ah, youth.

I had that album on cassette, I’m embarrassed to say… In my college town, Manhattan, Kansas, the radio was so bad you had to have cassettes in the car to avoid Michael Jackson and Madonna. They were tough years. After Eliminator, I sort of got off the ZZ bandwagon. The synthesizers and gimmicky effects that Gibbons had used to make Eliminator sound cool in ’83 went a little overboard on ’85’s Afterburner. So much accursed drum machine I couldn’t even listen to it. I completely lost track of them after 1994’s Antenna, which actually had two of my favorite ZZ Top tracks, “Breakaway” and “Pincushion.” It wasn’t until the Rick Rubin produced comeback album, La Futura that I found my way back to ZZ Top. It got them back to that basic, bloozey sound they’d gotten away from. It’s great listening and I would say essential to any ZZ Top fan. It’s the type of album this blog was founded on…

Since then it seems Billy Gibbons has decided to leave behind the confines of the power-trio format and has gone solo. His first album Perfectamundo was steeped in Cuban and Latin rhythms and frankly, left me a little cold. It seemed like the patented Billy Gibbons’ sense of humor had gotten the best of him. I had heard he had another album coming out but I really hadn’t paid attention. I thought, based on the title it was a blues covers album, but I quickly realized that was wrong. I was not prepared for the smile that broke across my face the first time I heard The Big Bad Blues. I haven’t had this much fun listening to Billy Gibbons play guitar since side two of Fandango!

Billy is joined on The Big Bad Blues by Matt Sorum, of GnR and the Cult fame, on drums; Joe Hardy on bass; Austin Hanks on rhythm guitar; and most importantly James Harman on harmonica. I have to say this is as loose as I’ve heard Gibbons in years. This is the sound of a group of men in a small room, having a blast with their instruments. On first listen, I had flashbacks of walking into the old Grand Emporium, past the Amazing Grace BBQ stand, under the big picture of Belushi as Joliet Jake, to find the dance floor full and the joint hoppin’. This record has the feel of a great roadhouse on a Saturday night. This is bloozey music, as greasy as a bacon sandwich with too much mayo on wonder bread. I need a napkin to listen.

While this is not a blues cover album, there are 7 originals, Gibbons does do some old blues standards. Two of the tracks are associated with Muddy Waters. Gibbons crushes “Standing Around Crying.” It’s my favorite blues tune here. He also does “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” which, when compared to the version Rod Stewart just released on Blood Red Roses, it can illustrate to you what real blues is vs overproduced schlock. Gibbons also does two Bo Diddley tracks here – which is perfect. I’ve always thought that Bo Diddley was one of those great artists who bridged blues and early rock and roll, which is kind of what this album is about. “Bring It to Jermone” is the first Bo track and it’s got that Bo Diddley-beat and is probably the best of the two. “Crackin’ Up” is one of those odd tunes, it almost sounds reggae, and while not my favorite, it’s been covered by the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney so it has street cred. It ends the album here.

The originals here are all classic Gibbons. The opening track, “Missin’ Your Kissin'” sets the tone. It was written by Gilly Stillwater, Gibbons’ main squeeze. Actually she’s his wife, but I just feel like Billy  is the type of guy who would describe his wife as his main squeeze… it’s kind of a Telly Savalas thing. Anyway, from the first chord and Billy’s raspy “Hey” you know you’re in for a good bluesy rock time. Gibbons rapsy, growling vocals coupled with his hay-in-a-windstorm beard gives one the impression that Howlin Wolf and a hay bail had a child… Gibbons’ playing is loose and fierce on this record. What I like is that he has a foil in James Harman on harmonica. Often the first solo break in a track they throw it to Harman on harmonica and Gibbons follows on guitar. I love the way they play off each other. That dynamic fuels many of the tunes. I was really blown away by the harmonica on “Bring It To Jermone,” Harman is an amazing blues harp player.

“Second Line” is a great rock tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on Deguello. “That’s What She Said,” also with a great harmonica solo, also evokes the sound of old ZZ Top for me. “My Baby She Rocks” is a great, rockin’ Gibbons original. All of this music makes me want to order a Bulleit Rye and take my shoes off. “Mo’ Slower Blues” lives up to it’s title, but has an almost funky beat. “Hollywood 151” features some wonderful, intricate guitar work. Gibbons has rediscovered his blues roots, but in doing so, he’s also rediscovered that old ZZ Top sound as well. It’s all tied together.

This is simply, one of the best albums of the year. B&V highly recommends this good time of an album. This is rock n roll and blues that’ll put hair on your chest! Turn this one up loud and strap in for some chooglin’ music!

 

Muddy Waters: 1977 – 1981, The Late Career, Johnny Winter Produced Records

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“Well the blues had a baby and they named the baby ‘Rock and Roll'” – Muddy Waters, “The Blues Had a Baby”

I was a fan of the blues before I even knew what the blues were. I can still remember in the movie The Jerk, when Steve Martin’s character, Navin Johnson, is asked by his brother if he’d like to come out on the porch and sing the blues… Martin deadpans, “No, there’s just something about that music that depresses me.” That was my only impression of the blues. I grew up in the suburbs of a small, midwestern, American town and the blues were not something you heard on the radio. My parents weren’t exactly musical people and that didn’t help. So I really didn’t know anything about the blues except this vague impression that it was “downer” music. The only blues song I’d probably ever heard at that point was the amazing B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” and that’s a pretty sad song. I used to like to put that on mix tapes when I broke up with someone, but those records are sealed.

However, without even knowing it, I was already a fan of the blues. Every band I liked played blues-based music or as it was known, “blues rock.” My first love, the Rolling Stones, were basically a blues cover band for the first five years of their career and still play the blues today (LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). Led Zeppelin’s music was steeped in the blues so much they were sued for copyright infringement. Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Faces, Foghat, AC/DC, Humble Pie, the list goes on and on, were all either blues rock or at the very least performing blues covers. People think of the young Bob Dylan as a folkie, but I hear as much Robert Johnson in his early music as Woody Guthrie… I had no idea “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” was a blues cover… I thought it was just a Foghat song. Oh, the ignorance of youth… It wasn’t until I purchased, and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, the Blues Brother’s live album, Briefcase Full of Blues that I realized the blues were more than just sad, acoustic based songs. The blues were powerful and joyful and simply amazing all at the same time. God bless John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. A lot of criticism was leveled at the Blues Brothers, but that was an amazing band – Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn and an amazing horn section… Sure Belushi was no Sam Cooke on vocals, but he was committed. I love it when he says, “I suggest you buy all the blues albums you can,” in between songs. Sage advice, indeed.

It’s easy I suppose, especially when you’re young, to hear a band and not realize they were influenced heavily by other artists, the artists that came before them. It’s easy to hear Van Morrison’s band Them doing their version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” (perhaps the definitive rock version of that song) and not realize how heavily influenced he was by Muddy Waters’ version. As a young kid I heard Cream’s version of “Rollin’ and Tumbling'” and thought it was their song. After hearing the Blues Brothers I began to explore the roots of all this rock and roll music I was listening to, and started reading liner notes and writing credits, and realized there was a world of blues artists I hadn’t realized existed. Searching and seeking out the blues was really the root of my life long obsession with musical spelunking.

There were names that my Rock Star heroes were dropping in interviews, the names of their heroes. There were the Three Kings – B.B., Freddie, and Albert. Albert Collins was another guy I heard a lot about. Then I discovered the legend of Robert Johnson, which is a whole other blog post. All of these men were Titans of the Blues. But there were others – names that conjured awe and fear all at the same time… Who was this Howlin Wolf person? That’s a pretty scary moniker… and then I heard that otherworldly voice. But the one name that always caught my ear, that made me feel we were talking about someone special, was Muddy… Muddy Waters. That name conjures up the very Delta where the blues sprang from. It was as if this Muddy Waters was the personification of the blues. His name was spoken of in such reverential tones you just knew he was important. I assumed, wrongly, that this was a person who had lived and sang the blues and died decades before I was born, like Robert Johnson. I didn’t even realize that Muddy was still alive when I was in high school while all of this musical spelunking was going on. Muddy didn’t pass until 1983. I didn’t even know it was Muddy’s version of “Mannish Boy” that was used so effectively in the movie Risky Business. “All I’m saying is, walk like a man…”

McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters was born in the Missisippi Delta. By the time he was in his teens he was playing guitar, harmonica and singing with the authority of a man much older. He was actually recorded by Alan Lomax on his famous recordings for the Library of Congress. Eventually, like the music of the blues itself, Muddy migrated north to Chicago. Muddy was one of the bedrock foundations of what was known as “Chicago Blues.” He played mostly acoustic blues on record, but in the clubs at night he had a full-on electric band. With Muddy and the legendary Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Otis Spann on piano and Little Walter on harmonica (or as it’s known in blues, the harp) Muddy’s band was probably the greatest blues outfit ever assembled. Muddy was the King of Chicago blues from the late 40’s through the mid-50s. I can close my eyes and see Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield hanging out in southside Chicago clubs hoping to get up and jam with Muddy…

While his fortunes may have waned by the dawn of the 60s, Muddy had toured England and in doing so turned-on a generation of white, English blues musicians from Steve Winwood and Van Morrison to Mick Jagger and Alexis Koerner to his brand of blues. His seminal live album, 1960s At Newport spurred on a whole new wave of popularity and boosted Muddy’s career. That was the first album of Muddy’s I ever heard and man… that voice gave me chills. He’s probably my favorite blues singer. The deep resonance of that voice rumbling around that broad chest… Simply amazing. Muddy’s career continued in a series of ebbs and flows well into the 70s. It was in the latter half of the 70s that a huge fan and follower of Muddy’s, blues-rock guitarist Johnny Winter, approached Muddy to produce an album for him…Muddy’s career had ebbed a bit at that point… he’d just signed a new contract with Blue Sky Records… I don’t think anybody saw anything coming as forceful and joyful as Hard Again. 

BourbonAndVinyl has always attempted to shed light on the latter careers of great artists like Bob Dylan or David Bowie. New music by older artists has always been my focus. When Johnny Winter entered the picture for Muddy Waters, and produced three studio albums (and one live album, but I’m only focusing on the studio stuff here), Muddy entered a golden, twilight period in his career. It was certainly one of my favorite periods in Muddy’s career. I could write and write and write about Muddy’s whole, long and storied history, but in the B&V tradition, I’m just focusing today on the Blue Sky Records, Johnny Winter period. If you’re a fan of anybody from Hendrix, who just released a cover of “Mannish Boy” (Jimi Hendrix: “Mannish Boy,” From The Upcoming, ‘Both Sides of the Sky’) to Greta Van Fleet, the music of Muddy Waters is the root of that music. I urge everyone to seek out the three Johnny Winters’ produced albums of Muddy’s post haste…

Hard Again, 1977

The first thing you hear belting out of the speakers on this record is Muddy’s voice as he begins “Mannish Boy.” “Oooooh, yeah, everything, everything gonna be alright this morning…” It’s one of the iconic moments in the blues. This music is loud, brash and so, well, joyful. You can tell everybody involved is having a great time, when you hear the band shout back at Muddy in the call and response of the song. Muddy and Johnny are on guitar along with Bob Margolin. Legends Pine Top Perkins is on piano and James Cotton on the harp (alas Little Walter had passed years prior). Willie “Big Eyes” Smith is pounding the skins and Charles Calmege is on bass. This is big, old-school Chicago blues. There is not a bad moment here. Muddy revisits some of his older, iconic tracks here, like “Mannish Boy,” and also “I Can’t Be Satisfied” (A rare acoustic blues moment here) and “I Want To Be Loved.” They also do some new stuff, the epic “Bus Driver” and “Deep Down In Florida.” This is simply one of the greatest blues albums of all time. It sounds like these guys cut the whole thing live in the studio. Heralded as a “comeback” it proved Muddy still had the power and glory.

I’m Ready, 1978

By happenstance, Muddy was reunited on this album by a member of his classic, late 40s/early 50s band, Jimmy Rogers on guitar. Hard Again gets all the attention, but I almost like I’m Ready better. The way Muddy and Jimmy weave together their guitars, much like Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood do, is mesmerizing. Margolin jumped over to bass. You throw in Johnny Winters on guitar and it’s a pretty amazing trio of axes. The title track opens things up and it’s a great version of a Muddy classic. Muddy not only wrote his own stuff, but he sang a bunch of Willie Dixon’s songs with the great “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” included here in a rousing version. “33 Years” is another stand out blues track. That good time, happy vibe continued over from the first album. These guys had found blues gold and they kept it rolling on this second album of the trio. Another must have blues album from Muddy.

King Bee, 1981

After a live album (which is definitely worth checking out), the team reconvened in the studio for the third and alas the final installment of this trio of superb records. By this time, Muddy’s health had begin to fail and he was forced more often than not to cancel his live performances. His great touring band made most their money from concerts… if a show was canceled, they didn’t get paid. This caused a schism between Muddy and his manager and the rest of the band. The big party sound of the first two albums is gone and Muddy sounds like he’s settled into a sadder, bluesier mood here. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just a farewell vibe. They only managed to bang out part of the album and had to augment it with outtakes from the Hard Again sessions. It’s too bad that money always seems to get in the way. I still think this record is essential listening. The title track is still great and I love this version of “Champagne and Reefer,” later covered by Buddy Guy and the Stones, live. Muddy’s favorite drink was champagne, why not sing about it, I mean, there are worse pastimes. On the extended version, the last track, “Clouds In My Heart” was the perfect capper on what was an amazing three record run.

For me, these three albums are a great place to start your Muddy Waters collection. For his early work, a nice place to start is the excellent Muddy Waters: The Anthology which collects over 50 of Muddy’s earliest recordings from 1945 to 1953. You can start at the beginning with Anthology or start at the end with the Johnny Winter produced albums, but I urge all of you to start somewhere on adding Muddy Waters to your collection.

Listen to these records and you know, deep down, “that everything, everything, everything gonna be alright this morning…”

 

 

 

 

 

Gregg Allman,The Blues/Rock Legend, RIP: The Midnight Ride Is Sadly Over

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*photo shamelessly stolen from the internet

Man, has it been a tough couple of weeks. It started it off well enough. I saw Soundgarden two weeks ago today and they were spectacular. I left hopeful to hear a new album from those guys sometime this year. Then things took a dark turn. Chris Cornell passed away after a show in Detroit. Then a few days later some idiot in Manchester attacks a teeny-bopper concert full of young girls, the height of cowardice. And now, in the midst of Memorial Day weekend, I got the news blues/rock legend Gregg Allman has passed away. I have to admit, my “Spidey-Senses were tingling” about Gregg for a while. He’d been hospitalized and had cancelled some tour dates. He was only 69.

The Allman Brothers Band, which bore Gregg and his brother Duane’s name, is to guitar playing what the SEC is to college football. They have all the championships. My nickname for the Allman Brothers was always “Guitar University.” Whether it was Duane Allman/Dickey Betts, or in the later years Warren Haynes/Derek Trucks, manning the guitars, you were certain to hear virtuoso guitar performances. Even surrounded by all those guitars the bedrock of the Allman’s sound was Gregg’s Hammond B-3 organ which was the melodic platform from which those guitars launched and soared. The heartbeat, and for me the key component to the Allman Brothers’ sound, was Gregg’s vocal. Even in his younger days he sang with a depth and knowing despair usually reserved for men three times his age. Who else could write, in their 20’s, “Just one more mornin’ I had to wake up with the blues…” “Dreams” indeed…

When he was a very young child his father, an Army sergeant, was shot and killed by a drinking buddy. You have to wonder if that early tragedy informed Gregg’s soulful, sad voice. Gregg Allman didn’t just sing the blues – with all the tragedy (his father, his brother’s untimely death), the women, Cher, the divorces (6), the drugs, the booze, and all the legal problems divorces, booze and drugs bring – Gregg Allman lived the blues.

I’ve read quite a bit on line about Gregg Allman the last twenty-four hours. Almost unanimously they refer to Allman as a “southern rock” pioneer. I do know that Gregg considered the term southern rock redundant. If it’s southern music, it rocks, baby! When I think about the Allman’s music, I don’t think of it as southern rock. Yes, they built the template of the multi-lead guitar, bluesy, touch of country, rock and roll. To me they were just a great blues band with a jazz ethos. The solo’ing and the playing off each other was so much more akin to Miles Davis than well, Marshall Tucker. I don’t really like jam bands, like say, The Grateful Dead, but you could easily call the Allman Brothers Band a jam band. In my opinion they played more forcefully than all that Grateful Dead noodling. These guys were taking the blues places it hadn’t been.

My introduction to the Allman Brothers Band was an odd one. When I was in college my musical taste and my album collection was exploding in all different directions. I had musical ADD. I’d buy a Stones album, then maybe a Beatles album, then back over to the Faces. I had the good fortune to have a roommate, Drew, who had a singular focus when it came to music. When he got into an artist he went straight through the catalog until he had it all. We were both musical completists. Drew came home one day with “I’m No Angel,” Gregg’s great ’86 solo album. Yes, the production is a little dated, but it was the strongest thing he’d done since “Laid Back.” This was my introduction to Gregg Allman and my gateway into the Allman Brothers Band. You have to remember, when I came of record-buying age, Allman was married to Cher and had just put out “Allman And Woman.” Not my bailiwick. Up to the point Drew brought home “I’m No Angel” I was aware of the Allmans but hadn’t paid any attention to them.

Drew also played me “Live At the Fillmore East” for the first time. That’s when I was hooked, my musical life changed that day. It wasn’t until I moved to Arkansas that I crashed through the entire early Allman’s catalog. I mean, if you live in the south you better own some Allman Brother’s albums… I consider “The Allman Brothers Band,” “Idlewild South,” “Fillmore East,” “Eat A Peach” and “Brothers And Sisters” all ESSENTIAL rock music listening. It’s an amazing catalog of work. They defined jam rock, southern rock, blues rock, just plain rock! Through losing Duane Allman, founder/leader/legendary guitarist and founding bassist Barry Oakley they continued to put out fantastic music. While it’s easy to focus on those early records, when the Allman Brothers regrouped in 1990 for the great reunion/comeback album ‘Seven Turns’ it led to a string of really great albums. I would highly recommend ‘Where It All Begins,’ but I also loved the last Allman album, without Dickey Betts, ‘Hittin’ The Note.” There’s some great playing on that record especially on the long track, “Desdemona.” They also cover the Stones’ “Heart of Stone,” which I’m rather partial to.

While the Allman Brothers’ legend is cemented, I don’t hear nearly enough about Gregg’s great solo work. One of the unique things about Gregg’s solo work is on almost every solo album he’d go back and rework one of the Allman’s early songs. His first solo album, “Laid Back” is his masterpiece and his reimagining of “Midnight Rider” is so differently orchestrated than the original you almost forget there are 2 versions of that track. “Laid Back” is a must have. His cover of Jackson Browne’s oft-covered “These Days” is definitive. His follow-up, the live “The Gregg Allman Tour” is, like “Fillmore East,” one of the great double live albums of the 70s. Gregg always brought more of an R&B feel to his solo records vs the bluesy muscle of Allman Brothers. The other 70s solo Gregg album that everyone should own is ‘Playing Up A Storm.’ You won’t recognize any of the tunes, I don’t think there are any “hits” per se, but it’s almost the same high quality as “Laid Back.” Choice listening!

Gregg’s last solo album, ‘Low Country Blues’ was produced by T Bone Burnett and featured Gregg doing almost exclusively old blues covers. The opening track, “Floating Bridge” will stop you in your tracks. He tackles Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and matches the Stones version for sheer blues awesomeness. My only complaint about ‘Low Country’ was there wasn’t enough of Gregg’s seminal organ playing, but it’s a nit of a complaint.

Another album that didn’t get a lot of attention, but everyone should check out is Gregg’s 1997 solo album, “Searching For Simplicity.” He does a great, acoustic re-work of “Whippin’ Post.” There is a great, great version of John Hiatt’s “Memphis In The Meantime.” For me, “Rendezvous With The Blues” is the highpoint. Gregg’s bluesy growl is let loose on that one. It’s a solid, bluesy record and well worth checking out.

Today I am sad, because we have lost another legend. I’m starting to get that bad 2016 feeling again… We’re starting to lose people in bunches again. Thankfully we have an amazing back catalog to console us through our grief. And, I was pleased to hear that Gregg had completed his long-awaited follow up to ‘Low Country Blues,’ and that album should be out in September.

Make no mistake people, a giant of the blues, of rock and roll, of music has passed this weekend. The world is better off for knowing Gregg Allman’s artistry.

Cheers!

A Brief Word On The Passing of J. Geils, RIP

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As is my lot in life, I was traveling the first half of the week, in the service of my Corporate Overlords. A grueling planes, trains and automobiles odyssey through America’s homeland, well without the trains. Cheap motels, bad food and long car rides where it all starts to blur together. Luckily I was with some good people and they made it a lot more enjoyable. However, as seems to happen lately, whenever I take a trip for work, a rock star seems to die. I’m starting to feel some Catholic guilt about my travels. I may need to look for a job that keeps me home more…

Most people, when they think of the J. Geils Band, think of “Freeze Frame,” or “Centerfold,” the late period, more pop oriented music they broke through with. Some may remember their first big “hit” if you will, “Love Stinks.” Personally, I became aware of the J. Geils Band when I heard the song “Must Of Got Lost” for the first time. The J. Geils Band was so much more than their latter day pop hits.

The J. Geils Band was an old fashion, touring, bar band. They celebrated rock and roll every night, night after night, on stage, sweating in small halls and bars. They spent the entire decade of the 70s toiling on the road but never found great success until the dawn of the 80s and then they couldn’t hold themselves together when they got the success they so richly deserve. Peter Wolf ended up leaving the band after “Freeze Frame.” In a lot of ways, the J Geils Band was like the American version of The Faces, well, maybe without the booze. Loose on stage with an oddball sense of humor, they never could recreate that live sound in the studio. And like the Faces, J. Geils Band had their lead singer leave for a more lucrative solo career.

All of this is much more bittersweet as the J. Geils Band missed out on being inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame this year. I was sorry to see Yes inducted merely a year after original bass player Chris Squire passed away. Looks like the J. Geils Band will suffer the same fate… which could have been avoided. I read somewhere this week that J. Geils Band should be considered the Rock Hall of Fame’s official bar band. Anybody who doubts J. Geils Band should be in the Hall or that J. Geils isn’t a great guitar player needs to put on “Give It To Me” one of their earlier great, great tunes. It starts as almost a lilting reggae thing, but the band jams to the fade for the last 3 or 4 minutes… J. plays a mean guitar on that jam. Very impressive. His legacy as a guitar player could stand on that one tune, but there’s so much more to his guitar playing legacy…

I would urge any of you unfamiliar with the J. Geils Band’s early 70s work to seek out one of their two monster live LPs, “Live: Full House” from ’72 or “Blow Your Face Out” from ’76 (the same year as “Live Bullet” and “Frampton Comes Alive”) and you’ll get one of the greatest educations in rock and roll, soul, R&B, funky blues that you’ll find anywhere.

RIP J. Geils. Rock n’ Roll with the angels, baby.

It’s a long dark ride, enjoy it while you can.

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!

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 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.