Issue 6-46, November 15, 2012
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Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
In This Issue
Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Chicago Blues legend, Jody Williams.
We have five music reviews for you! John Mitchell reviews a new release from Shemekia Copeland. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new release from Mississippi Heat. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new release from Shari Puorto . Rex Bartholomew reviews a new album from Willie “Big Eyes” Smith & Roger “Hurricane” Wilson. Jim Kanavy reviews a new CD from The Tall Paul Band. We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
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Featured Blues Interview - Jody Williams
One evening in 1964, pioneering blues and rock guitar player Jody Williams quietly laid his guitar into its case, snapped the locks shut and slid it underneath his bed.
Lyndon B. Johnson was President of the United States at the time.
It would be 35 years later - in 1999 - when Bill Clinton was the President of the United States, before Williams’ guitar would once again see the light of day.
So why did the Alabama-born, Chicago-raised legend – a performer who had recorded with Sonny Boy Williamson and shared the stage with The Drifters, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and Bill Haley and The Comets - turn his back and walk away from a very lucrative career, arguably at the height of its popularity?
According to Williams, it was cut and dry.
It was because his career was anything but lucrative, all thanks to the greed of others.
“It seems like anytime I write a song, it’s stolen and over a million records are sold. And then about 10 other people record it. You know I got to feel bad about that,” Williams recently said. “That’s the main reason I put my guitar under the bed for 30-something years – to keep from killing somebody. I just said, ‘To Hell with it.’”
So the man who laid down the explosive and highly-influential solo on Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” and also played on classic Howlin’ Wolf sides such as “Evil” and “Forty Four” was basically MIA from the music scene for the 70s, 80s and 90s, depraving blues fans of a major creative force for three decades.
“I wouldn’t mind eight or 10 other people recording it (his songs) if I had gotten something out of it,” he said. “But to have things completely stolen, I don’t even get my writer’s royalties off a bunch of my stuff.”
Not only did Williams not play – or, for that matter, even think about playing – the blues for 30-plus years, he didn’t even bother to listen to them, either.
“I listened to some country and western and a little light jazz during those years. That was about it,” he said. That’s all I listened to for 30 years. No blues; period.”
Williams basically just vanished from plain sight overnight, leaving many to wonder if he had either passed away or maybe moved to some deserted island.
The straw that broke the camel’s
back was when Mickey Baker used Williams’ riff for “Billy’s Blues” on
the Mickey & Sylvia hit “Love is Strange.” That song hit number one on
the charts in the late 50s, and was later used in the movie Dirty
Dancing and even wound up in the Grammy Hall of Fame. And despite all of
that – even though courtroom litigation was eventually held on the
matter - Williams never received credit for giving birth to the lick
used in the song, nor did he ever garner so much as one penny from the
sale of it over the years.
However, just because he was finished with music, that didn’t mean that all Williams did was sit on his hands for three decades. Instead, he retreated to the south side of Chicago, raised a family, went to school for electronics and for 26 years, he was a technical engineer for the Xerox Corporation.
“I did that until March of 1994, when I retired from Xerox. Then after that, I became an ATM technician and worked on those machines at banks and places like that,” said Williams. “I was in uniform and wore a bullet-proof vest with a big .357 magnum on my hip. I did that from ’95 until June of last year, when I retired from that. I did 16 years of that. So really, I had two careers in engineering.”
And thankfully for those that appreciate great music, after retirement from the corporate world, Williams put aside his .357, picked up his guitar and now seems intent on making up for lost time.
“I’ve been playing shows, traveling the country … been to Europe, Japan and Australia and different places,” he said. “And I did those two albums for Evidence (2002’s Return of a Legend and You Left Me in the Dark from 2004) since I started back playing again. And since then, I’ve written some things, but I haven’t run across a company that I’d like to record for. Everybody’s still tryin’ to rip you off, you know? I was approached one of the last times I was down in Memphis by a record company that wanted me to record for them, but they wanted me to give up my publishing rights. I said, ‘No.’ Before I do that, I’d rather not record anything new at all.”
Newly-recorded material or not, Williams has still been busy playing the blues these days.
This past year, Williams was part of the impressive memorial concert staged for his old friend and former band-mate Hubert Sumlin at Harlem’s fabled Apollo Theatre.
“I did a couple of things there with Eric Clapton. We played “Evil” at the Apollo. Matter of fact, Clapton recorded one of my songs that I wrote for Billy Boy Arnold back in the 50s,” said Williams.
Williams’ entry in the world of music got its start on the street-corners of the Windy City, where he and Ellas Bates/McDaniel (Bo Diddley) used to perform for passers-by. Williams played harp at the time, his first instrumental love, before later switching over to the six string.
“We played these amateur talent shows at different theatres in Chicago when we wasn’t playing on the streets. And then this guy at the Indiana Theatre heard us play and that’s how we really got started,” Williams said. “We had two guitars and a washtub bass.”
It didn’t take long for the world to get introduced to the wonderful talents of Bo Diddley, as tunes like “I’m Looking for a Woman” and the now-classic “Who Do You Love” found an eager audience for this wild, new form of music.
And Jody Williams was at the heart of it all, playing lead guitar on the chug-chug-chugging “Who Do You Love.”
“I never thought that (song) would be as big as it is. A lot of guitar players say they started playing because of that song,” he said. “But when I was in the studio for that one, I just put my stuff on it … just did my thing. But I’m glad I managed to inspire somebody.”
If the Chicago blues in the 1950s was anything, it was inspirational. A person would probably have been hard-pressed to find any place in the city, on any given night, that did not have some kind of a blues band holding court. That had to have made for some serious posturing in order to secure a gig, even with so many plum spots in the city to play the blues back then.
“I don’t know if we looked at it like that or not, but there was a lot of competition around,” he said. “Everybody and his brother had some kind of a guitar they was playing or a harmonica they was blowing. It was really an amazing time.”
Williams credits B.B. King and T-Bone Walker as being the two musicians that were most influential on his own style of guitar playing. And as luck would have, Williams ended up getting to play with both of the Hall of Famers.
“I played with T-Bone and I recorded with B.B.,” said Williams. “And they were my main influences on guitar. Matter of fact, I could play B.B.’s style almost like he could. I was one of the few that could do that.”
Although the first time he met B.B. King face-to-face, he wasn’t entirely sure who he was greeting.
“We were in the studio on the first day of recording “Forty Four” – Wolf, Hubert and I, with Earl Phillips on drums and Otis Spann on piano. And while we was on a break, a couple of guys that I didn’t know walked into the studio. Then I noticed after we got back to work, this one guy was watching my hands. That’s what a guitar player does if he wants to steal another player’s licks – he watches his hands. So I said to myself, ‘This Mother … is in here ripping me off,’ Williams said. “So it went like that for awhile and he was still watching me, still ripping me off. So I didn’t say anything, I just turned my chair around so he couldn’t see my hands. When we finished that song and was listening to Leonard Chess play it back, Wolf called me over to the other side of the studio. Well, by chance, that guy that was sitting there watching my fingers was over there talking to Wolf. So when I got over there, Wolf said, ‘Jody, I want you to meet a friend of mine – Mr. B.B. King.’ And oh man, I felt bad. That studio was too small for me to run and hide in. But here was a guy that I thought was ripping me off, when I had been ripping off him! But we hit it off real good. At the end of the day, B.B. got on his guitar, I got on mine and Spann got on the piano and we recorded “Must Have Been the Devil.””
Williams and King would collaborate a few years later on a tune called “Five Spot.”
“When I recorded my album (Return of a Legend) after retirement, I re-recorded that song as a tribute to B.B. But on the album, I called the song “Jive Spot.” But that’s a tribute to what B.B. King meant to me,” Williams said.
Williams’ re-emergence into the world of blues music was through a couple of old friends – Dick Shurman and Robert Junior Lockwood.
“He (Shurman) stopped by the house one day and asked me if I could manage to see someone from the 50s that I liked, who would it be? I told him that me and Robert Junior Lockwood got along real good and I really liked him, even though I had not seen him since the 50s. Robert and I always looked like father and son,” said Williams. “Dick told me that Robert Junior was going to be down at (Buddy Guy’s) Legends on Saturday night and did I want to go see him? I told him I would go on one condition – that nobody knew who I was. But as soon as I got in there and sat down, he (Robert Junior) know who I was. We talked and had a good time that night. Oh man, that made me feel good.”
That good feeling continued to resonate with Williams and helped to encourage him to once again pick up his guitar and start unleashing his signature sound to a legion of hungry blues fans that had been starving for something – anything - from Williams for many years.
Robert Junior would later make an appearance on a couple of songs off Williams’ second post-retirement disc, You Left Me in the Dark.
Of all the many tunes that Williams helped craft for the Chess and Vee-Jay labels when he was one of the top blues session men in the world, the song that he feels best represents the ‘classic Jody Williams’ sound’ is a tune of his own - “Lucky Lou.”
“Most of the guitar players that try to play that song really can’t, unless I show them how. Tinsley Ellis played on Return of a Legend and he had been playing “Lucky Lou” but he hadn’t been playing it right. So during the sessions for that album, he asked me to please show him how to play it right,” said Williams. “So I showed him – give me a D-flat minor chord down here at the bottom - and he got it. He said, ‘After all these years of playing that song wrong, I can finally play it right.’”
Little moments like that have no doubt re-enforced Williams’ decision to return to the arena of playing the blues, even though it’s not quite been forgive and forget for him.
“All the things that I’ve done that people have stolen from me, I should be a millionaire. When I quit playing music, that left a bad taste in my mouth for 30 years,” he said. “But the things that happened to me, there’re going to happen to somebody else. And I hate that for them. But you know, there’s a lot of artists from back in the 50s – still living or not – that never did get what was rightfully theirs; songs or money.”
More hurt and disappointed by that than he is bitter about it, Williams seems to understand that if he continues to play music, he’ll probably be constantly reminded of what all he’s lost.
“I was playing down at Legends after I came out of retirement and I heard a song on the jukebox (by a newer band) that had something on it that I did when I was playing with Memphis Slim,” he said. “I heard my stuff on someone else’s record. But I guess they heard something worthwhile and decided to take it. But as you’ll notice, on both my CDs on Evidence, you’ll not hear me stealing anything from anybody. It’s all original material. And they were both nominated for Blues Music Awards.”
Mad props to James Walker for his help with this feature.
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He's also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE.
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Featured Blues Review 1 of 5
Shemekia Copeland – 33 1/3
11 tracks; 44.51 minutes
I have been a fan of Shemekia Copeland since her first album. This CD retains Oliver Wood in the producer’s chair. Wood plays guitar throughout but makes space on two tracks for Shemekia’s regular guitarist Arthur Nielson and on one track for Buddy Guy to add his distinctive sounds. The rhythm section is Ted Pecchio (Susan Tedeschi) on bass and Gerry Hansen on drums; pedal steel is added to three tracks by Roosevelt Collier and to a fourth by Charlie Starr; Neil Wauchope (Sean Costello) plays organ on two tracks, Jon Liebman harmonica on two and JJ Grey shares vocal duties on one track. Writing credits are varied with producer Wood teaming up with long-standing Shemekia composer John Hahn on four tracks alongside a selection of well-chosen covers.
The album opens with Wood/Hahn’s “Lemon Pie” a chugging beat and a lyric about social divides, the ‘lemon pie’ of the title being a little like Marie-Antoinette’s famous ‘let them eat cake’ comment. Straightaway Skemekia’s brilliant voice is at the front of the mix. Second track is “Can’t Let Go”, a lighter song with an ‘ear-worm’ chorus about the difficulty of ending a relationship, a song by Randy Weeks. Two more Wood/Hahn songs follow: “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo” is a serious song about abusive relationships: “Just what I said wrong is anyone’s guess, but the bruise on my face was as blue as my dress”. The slow paced song takes us from that opening scene of the guy beating up his girl and follows her through her low moments to the possibility of a new relationship – only to discover that the new guy is probably the same. From verse two onwards Buddy Guy joins in, at first gently, then opening into a solo of savage intensity. The second song is in my view the best on the whole CD – “Somebody Else’s Jesus”, a song about false evangelists. Appropriately, Shemekia lets her voice take on all the gospel tones that she learned in the real church as she debunks the false preacher: “You say the Lord called you early one morning telling you to preach, so you opened up a big church in Miami Beach. You got a hot line to heaven, puts you in control. The only thing you’re missing now, baby, is forgiveness in your soul”. Musically this is almost country rock (Oliver Wood plays his guitar like vintage Lynyrd Skynyrd) with the soulfulness of Shemekia’s voice – check out the way she sings the title in the chorus.
JJ Grey’s “A Woman” is a quiet follow-up with Charlie Starr’s weeping pedal steel maintaining that country feel to the music while Shemekia emotes strongly on the vocal. “I Sing The Blues” is an Earl Thomas song that Tracy Nelson covered on last year’s “Victim Of The Blues”. Shemekia takes it at a slower pace with Jon Liebman’s harp adding a slightly oppressive feel to the song. “Mississippi Mud” is the last Wood/Hahn song and is introduced by a funky guitar riff. Shemekia shares vocals with JJ Grey and the song is another catchy success. Shemekia always includes one of her late father’s songs and this time around it’s “One More Time”, a slow paced song about infidelity and its possibly fatal consequences: “I catch you again I’m gonna take your life, one more time to catch you running around”. You can really believe that Shemekia means it from her vocal! More cheerfully Sam Cooke’s “Ain’t That Good News” finds Shemekia jumping for joy at her lover’s return. As well as the great vocal Arthur Nielson’s short fills on lead guitar drive the song along really well. “Hangin’ Up” was written by Chris Long of Georgia’s King Johnson (Oliver Wood’s former band) and it’s a terrific song, another highlight of the CD. A rousing chorus and some more excellent lead guitar are wrapped in the warm organ tones of Neil Wauchope. The final song is Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Bay Tonight”. It’s a song which is usually done at a fast pace and comes across as a lively love/lust song. Here Shemekia sings far more slowly, making the song more wistful and somewhat at odds with the famous line “bring that bottle over here, I’ll be your baby tonight”.
This is a strong album with several outstanding songs and a host of superb vocal performances from Shemekia who has been well served here by her production team and the selection of songs. I can definitely recommend this one.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 2 of 5
Mississippi Heat - Delta Bound
14 songs; 61:33 minutes
Styles: Traditional Blues, Chicago Blues, Zydeco and Delta-Influenced Blues
As late autumn’s chill descends, Pierre Lacocque’s Mississippi Heat from Chicago will surely warm one’s bones! They’re “Delta Bound” this time, celebrating their 20th year of performing, their 10th album overall, and their 4th release on Delmark Records. Their previous Delmark CD from 2010, “Let’s Live It Up,” won the acclaimed Blues Blast Music Award for Best Traditional Blues CD of the year! There’s no question that Lacocque (pronounced “la-coke”) and his fellow musicians live and breathe real-deal blues. Thirteen original masterpieces and one catchy cover (“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Ben Benjamin/Gloria Caldwell/Sol Marcus) comprise this collection, undiluted by traces of rock or other genres. The only exception is the third track, “New Orleans Man,” featuring Zydeco legend Chubby Carrier on accordion. Regardless, all of them will make purists sit up and take notes! It’s nigh impossible to pick only three crème-de-la-crème compositions, but here goes:
Track 01: “Granny Mae”-- In this gritty ballad, reminiscent of “Downbound Train” by Chuck Berry and featuring Lacocque’s ominous harmonica, lead vocalist Inetta Visor celebrates her lover’s return. He’s been caring for his ill grandmother, but a kindly elder she is not: “I never liked this Granny Mae, but she had a nasty fall. Her health was fading fast, but she kept on drinking alcohol….” It’s almost chilling how the “tears (are) running down my cheeks,” as Inetta says, from how much she misses her man rather than from sorrow at his loss. Halloween may be over, but for one more scare, check this song out!
Track 06: “Padlock Blues”—Chris “Hambone” Cameron presents one of 2012’s most beautiful blues piano arrangements on Visor’s velvet-voiced torch song. “Padlock Blues” only runs for three minutes and ten seconds, but partners on the dance floor might wish it were seven minutes longer! “What is it, my sweet darling, that makes you stay away?” Inetta pleads. “Can this padlock be opened if I can’t find the right key?”
Track 08: “The Blues Matrix”--Chock-full of references to the 1999 blockbuster featuring Keanu Reeves, “The Blues Matrix” offers women with cheating men a pointed scenario: “The red pill? You can lay down and go to sleep for a while. Maybe you better not take that green pill--it may mean his funeral, and your trial….” Drummer Andrew Thomas and guitarist Giles Corey nudge listeners to choose which pill they’ll take in “The Blues Matrix”!
Joining Lacocque and Visor are such fantastic guest musicians as Dietra Farr, a Mississippi Heat alumna (vocals), Carl Weathersby, Billy Flynn, Giles Corey, Billy Satterfield, and Keith Blair (guitar), Johnny Iguana (piano and organ), Kenny Smith (drums), and Joseph Veloz on bass for all songs.
Missisippi Heat is burning with more power than any furnace this season, and this CD should be headed for awards of its own!
EDITOR'S NOTE: The official CD release party for Delta Bound will be at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago on Friday December 28!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 33 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Blues Society News
Maximum of 175 words in a Text or MS Word document format.
Mississippi Valley Blues Society - Davenport. IA
Chicago singer and educator Maggie Brown will be returning to the Quad Cities for Blues in the Schools sponsored by the Mississippi Valley Blues Society. Brown will be the MVBS Blues in the Schools artist-in residence in Quad City area schools during the week of November 26-30.
She will also appear at four open-to-the-public performances:
Monday Nov. 26, 6:30 p.m.—Davenport Public Library 6000 Eastern
Ave., Davenport, IA
For More info visit http://www.mvbs.org
Suncoast Blues Society - Tampa, FL
The members of the Suncoast Blues Society are proud to join the many sponsors, including the Realize Bradenton organization in sponsoring the first annual Bradenton Blues Festival. The inaugural fest will be held on Saturday, Dec.1, in downtown Bradenton in the newly redeveloped Riverwalk area along the Manatee River. Gates open at 10 a.m and music starts at 11 a.m. with the Steve Arvey Horn Band. Additional acts include Ben Prestage, Homemade Jamz, Southern Hospitality, Johnny Sansone, Dave "Biscuit" Miller, Kenny Neal and Ruthie Foster. Tickets are only $25 and can be purchased at the festival website. For more information, please go to : www.suncoastblues.org
River City Blues Society - Peoria, IL
The River City Blues Society presents Jimmy Nick & Don't Tell MaMa at 7:30 PM Friday Nov 23th at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois Admission: $7.00 general public or $5.00 for Society Members For more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com or call 309-648-8510
Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL
The Illinois Central Blues Club presents "Blue Monday" every Monday night for the last 25 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:00pm $3 cover. November 19 - Harper, December 3 - Andrew "Jr Boy" Jones, December 10 - Hurricane Ruth, December 17 - R. J. Mischo, December 23 - Blue Sunday With The Blue Suns, December 30 - Blue Sunday With Mojo Cats And Tombstone Bullet Open Jam. More info available at icbluesclub.org
Featured Blues Review 3 of 5
Shari Puorto - Real
This is the latest in a long line of gritty-voiced tough-girl R&B belters that have crossed my path. She has the necessary pipes for the job, but this is the kind of music that doesn’t stick in your “craw”. Music scene veteran Barry Goldberg serves as co- producer here with Shari, along with providing his keyboard skills as well. He has gathered a group of first-class musicians to supply very able backing for the songs. Shari has her moments, but I think more songs from outside writers would have helped. Some tunes with more melody and substance.
The lead-off song “Love Fever” gives the first glimpse of her vocal skills, but the song itself is just a “throwaway”. “All I Want Is You” is more like it, incorporating tough-girl swagger along with Goldberg’s bluesy electric piano and Nick Kirgo’s slinky slide guitar. A pop singer-songwriter’s take on Cajun music livens up “Breakfast On Sunday”, where Nick Kirgo’s slide sounds “accordion-like”, ala slide genius Sonny Landreth. What’s a tough-girl vocalist without a tough-girl anthem of her very own? That’s what she gives us in the guitar-driven “Rock Me Right”, a song that could easily suit any singer of this ilk. She offers up more of the same sentiment in “Don’t Mess With Me”…It overflows with tough-girl clichés, but the roughness is bolstered by “rough and ready” guitar goodness. “Who’s Gonna Put Out The Fire?” is a slow-burning (no pun intended), simmering slab of Memphis-style soul. The shuffle rhythm, along with Goldberg’s New Orleans style piano playing on “Show Me What You Got” is a nice change of pace. “I Wish I Knew” gives a sincere “tug on the heartstrings” as a memorial to one of Shari’s troubled friends that took his own life. If this song doesn’t get to you, seek help.
An ok experience here if this is your type of music. The production values and musicianship are up to “snuff”. Female singers of this type tend to be “a dime a dozen”. All the basics are here, they just need to be framed in better song structures. There should be some semblance of a “hook”, something to make the tune stay in your mind.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 4 of 5
Willie “Big Eyes” Smith & Roger “Hurricane” Wilson – Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson
13 tracks / 64:23
Blues has evolved through the years, and there are so many different variations that it would be impossible to figure them all out, but every once in a while you stumble across blues in its pure form. Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson is just such a collection of music, and it is a real treasure. This is a live CD from Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Roger “Hurricane” Wilson that was recorded on December 11, 2009 at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This was a sold out show, and the crowd sure had a real treat that evening!
Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was a legendary bluesman, and a skilled vocalist, harmonica player and drummer. You probably know him best as a sideman for Muddy Waters, although he had quite a career that culminated in winning the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album with fellow legend Pinetop Perkins. Sadly, Willie passed on last year so we will not be blessed with his magical harp playing anymore, which makes this recording all the more precious.
Roger “Hurricane” Wilson put together this project, wrote four of the songs, and is a veteran bluesman in his own right. He plays over 200 shows per year, travelling around the United States in his recreational vehicle; he has been gigging for 40 years, and has been playing in his own bands since 1978. Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson is his eighth album, and it was released under his own Bluestorm Records.
As the CD starts out with the Sonny Boy Williamson song, “Eyesight to the Blind” you will hear that this is a stripped down blues show with one guitar, one harmonica and two voices. This recording catches all of the nuances of their live show, and the harp, guitar and voices are well mixed; you will find that the sound quality is consistent throughout. Coming in at a little under three minutes this is the shortest song of the collection and is a nice warm up piece.
Not surprisingly we get to hear a few Muddy Waters tunes too: “Long Distance Call,” “Got my Mojo Workin’,” and “Can’t be Satisfied.” “Long Distance Call” is remarkably restrained, and Smith’s harmonica howls on this one while his voice is seasoned and rich. “Got my Mojo Workin’” is more up-tempo with a little shaker percussion to spice things up, and Smith and Wilson give a little back and forth on the vocals. These classic songs are great to hear in this stripped down format.
Slim Harpo’s chart-topper “Scratch My Back” starts off with 3 minutes of harmonica and some tasteful guitar picking. There is not really much to the lyrics on this one, which allows the performers the opportunity to shine. “Hoochie Coochie Man” from Willie Dixon is always a winner and was certainly a crowd favorite the evening this was recorded. As with the rest of the album, Wilson holds a rock steady beat with his guitar playing, and he really digs in on this one while doing a fine job on the vocals. Listening to Smith’s harp on this track makes one realize that there really are different levels of harmonica players, and he was definitely top shelf material.
A little dialogue gives the early history of Louie Carr’s “How Long Blues,” an 8-bar blues classic that has been recorded in every genre imaginable. These guys capture the original country blues spirit of this song, and Wilson’s voice brings out the hound dog sadness of the lyrics. “Willie’s Boogie Finale” is a neat instrumental to wrap up the CD, and it is not surprising that it showcases his talent on the harmonica. It was a certainly a good choice to bookend this album, and Willie’s sentiment “If you enjoyed yourself tonight as much as I did, you’d go home in peace” is a fitting end.
Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson is a great collection of songs that is presented by two really neat guys. Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Roger “Hurricane” Wilson had a great chemistry, and unfortunately will not be collaborating again (at least not in this world). I strongly recommend that you give it a listen.
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician. His blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 5 of 5
The Tall Paul Band - Sleeper
11 Tracks, 39:48
The Tall Paul Band has built a solid reputation in the blues world on the strength of guitarist Paul Webner’s considerable chops, fiery playing and well-written original music. Tall Paul Webner has been a bit of a nomad. He was born in Canada, spent part of his life in Washington, D.C. and now lives in Tucson, AZ. He spent some time backing Sam "The Man" Taylor before forming The Tall Paul Band in 1998. Sleeper, on Blind Raccoon, is the band’s debut album.
“Sleeper” is also the lead off track on the album and it has a deep bass groove; rumbling and active like volcano about to blow. Paul’s guitar tones are crisp and the bass/guitar unison runs that punctuate the song are akin to the classic prog-rock style of another notable trio, Rush. This tune is definitely not sleepy, but Paul’s vocal delivery is relaxed and provides an acute juxtaposition for the song and indeed the whole album.
“Space Race” starts off like a surf music boogie morphing into power chord bashing that blasts off to space station number five. If it was played on a Les Paul through a Marshall cranked to eleven it too would sound at home on an early 70’s Rush album. Maybe it’s Paul’s latent Canadian urge to rock coming through. I happen to like it a lot. The song is expertly crafted and lives up to its name. He reins in the bombast, keeps it short and to the point and leaves you wanting more. It’s a nearly perfect song for any genre, but maintains enough of a blues rock edge to avoid seeming out of place.
Tall Paul seems right at home on a motorcycle and the tune “Ridin’” extols the virtues of clearing your head as you thunder along the open road. “Somethin’ Special” has thunder from another, torn asunder in the bass line provided by Kevin Heiderman. “Somethin’ Special” takes the hard rock of “Space Race” to another dimension riding a sine wave of bass energy. The electric guitar riffing may propel the tune and the acoustic rhythm guitar strums in the arrangement make it pop, but that underlying bass makes this track successful.
Bassist Kevin Heiderman is the secret weapon of the Tall Paul Band and thankfully prominent in the mix. A full sound is important to a trio and a bass player pumping eighth notes isn’t going to do it. Heiderman keeps it interesting, goes low, goes deep, and builds a groove in nearly every song. He understands the harmonic structure of the music and knows his sonic space in the mix like he was born there and never left. Heiderman also has a writing credit on the record with “199 Days,” an early Rock & Roll-style tune where Tall Paul gets to flex his Chuck Berry muscles as the band churns out the boogie.
A lot of people play guitar really well but never connect with an audience because of poor song writing or sub-par band mates. Tall Paul has the songs and the skilled musicians along for the ride. However, one minor drawback on Sleeper is Tall Paul’s voice. Paul’s voice isn’t bad, but something is lacking. If any sleep comparisons could be drawn, this is the place for it. He doesn’t sound confident. His material is above average and in some cases excellent but his voice doesn’t do it justice, and their choice of covers like the reworked version of Koko Taylor’s “Come To Mama” (here it’s “Come To Papa”) really needs strong vocals to sell the song. I’m guessing Paul got sick of lead singers and decided to do it himself. A few more records might make it better and he might start to feel it, but some people just aren’t singers. Most singers can’t play guitar like Tall Paul either.
Paul’s guitar playing isn’t perfect. It isn’t particularly technical, and it isn’t gratuitously flashy. He probably won’t be the next guitar hero either, but that doesn’t matter. Paul knows the songs inside out and plays exactly what they need. He knows how to pick the right tone, the right notes, the right chord forms and the right amount of time to get his point across. This is probably most evident in the album’s two instrumentals, “Space Race” and album closer “Don’t Leave.” It takes talent to write memorable instrumentals and convey the spirit of the music without using words and Paul Webner has that talent. If Paul gets his vocal chops in line with his playing and songwriting he will be a force to be reckoned with. Sleeper may end up just what it says; an unexpected success derived from hard work and positive word of mouth. Sleeper is an enjoyable album from start to finish and worthy of your attention.
Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit http://jimkanavy.com.
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