Editor's Note: With many good reissues and past CDs worthy of inclusion in this section, we cover two very fine CDs in this month's Flashback.
The Hollywood Fats
Los Angeles has been home to some fantastic blues players over the past five decades, but none have achieved a more mythical cult status as Michael Mann, AKA Hollywood Fats, in his way too short career. He was hailed by such blues icons as Muddy Waters, Freddy King and Buddy Guy as the greatest blues guitarist of his age, and toured with names such as Jimmy Witherspoon, J.B. Hutto, John Lee Hooker, Muddy, and Freddy and Albert King.
Fats recorded only one album, in 1976, with a group of fellow L.A. musicians under the name of The Hollywood Fats Band (Cross Cut Records). The album didn’t see release until 1979, with a limited pressing on blue vinyl that was primarily distributed in Europe. This was due to the fact that Europeans were the main audience for the blues, especially West Coast blues, in an era when most Americans were taking it easy with "middle of the road" rock or flocking to the latest chic disco to learn the Hustle (shudder). The album has been reissued several times over the years, with the Black Top reissue containing the extra tunes that were recorded during those sessions.
This brand new, beautifully packaged and re-mastered two-CD set beats out the earlier reissues in a few of ways. In addition to the extra material, there are also alternate versions of four numbers that have never been released before, a number that has since been re-recorded by one of the band’s members being released for the first time, and the comic book that was included with the original release is being reprinted for the first time. In addition, the re-mastering adds quite a bit more fidelity than was there before.
Before I tell you what’s in store for you on this exceptional release, I think a quick rundown of the rest of the band's personnel is in order because of the incredible talent that made up what essentially became a prototype for West Coast blues bands. On vocals and harp are the duel talents of Al Blake. Massaging the 88s ever so delicately is Fred Kaplan. Thumping both electric and upright bass is Larry Taylor and pounding away on the skins is Richard Innes.
Disc one is solely the album as it was released on vinyl, and rips right out of the gate with some splashy soloing from Fats and a liquid harp run from Al Blake on a superb cover of Jimmy Rogers “Rock This House.” If you are familiar with Gatemouth Brown’s “Okie Dokie Stomp,” you haven’t lived until you hear this version of it, with guitar licks so explosive that Fats probably had to immerse his fingers in water after this take to cool them off.
One of the hottest numbers is the Chicago stomp, “Red Headed Woman.” It's been covered by a multitude of artists over the years, but this one is the real deal, folks. An original of note is a mid-tempo groove, “All Pretty Women,” highlighted by gritty vocals. “Poor Boy” has a moody bopping beat.
Memphis Slim's “Lonesome” gets a superior shuffling workout, with Fats once again making this one his own, as does the disc's closer, Walter Horton’s “Have A Good Time.”
Disc two is comprised of the alternate takes from these sessions and six additional numbers that were released on the Black Top reissue. There's also the newly issued “Fred’s Blues,” with Kaplan stepping to the forefront for a very sultry piano number.
Two different takes of “Shake your Boogie” are interchangeable, in my opinion, as they are equally as good, with the same to be said for the three different takes of “Too Many Drivers.”
The real gems of the second disc are the slow smoky blues of “Little Girl,” grooving to a relaxed beat, and a sensational cover of “Kansas City” that is laced with just a bit of naughty attitude.
Every number in this collection was recorded on an old two-track machine with no overdubs, capturing the vintage sound the band was after. It was originally done on a state of the art eight-track, but the results were not what they were after.
Unfortunately, with the blues going through an abysmal period of acceptance at the time, this fabulously talented quintet split up and went their separate ways, with Fats spending time in James Harman's band and then replacing Dave Alvin in The Blasters for brief stint. They re-formed briefly in 1986 for a few gigs, and were going to take a shot at things once again when Fats, already beset with drug problems, died of a heroin overdose at the age of 32. This was just when the blues was about to enter a tremendous boom period, with people tiring of the techno rock that dominated the 80s and searching for something more soul satisfying.
Would The Hollywood Fats Band have changed the face of the blues forever? It is a question that will remain unanswered. But, in my opinion, they served as a model for what has become the West Coast blues sound of the modern blues age.
Recently, the remaining members of the band reformed and started playing gigs around the Los Angeles area under the name of The Blue Flames, with Junior Watson, Kirk Fletcher and Nick Curran, all of whom have Fats’ influence rolling through their styles, filling in the guitar slot on any given night.
But let’s face it, there was only one Hollywood Fats. This collection sounds as fresh today as it did upon its original release, and I highly recommend it for any true blues lover's collection, especially if you're a fan of West Coast blues.
This one doesn’t miss.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
Mighty Joe Young defined 1970s blues while Robert Cray revitalized the genre in the 1980s. The man with the definitive sound for the 1990s was, undoubtedly, Carl Weathersby. After a 14 year stint as the lead guitarist with Chicago's Sons of Blues, Weathersby left in search of a chance to perform less traditional blues. Although Looking Out My Window (Evidence) was Carl’s second solo release, in many ways it was really his first. Unlike his debut CD in 1996, by the time this one hit the stands in 1997, Weathersby had officially left the SoBs and was enjoying a musical rebirth.
The same hard-edged musicians from the debut back Carl here, including Levy Wash (rhythm guitar), Lee Zeno (bass) and Herman Ernest (drums). Herman does more than keeps the beat due to his interesting snare/bass/high hat combinations. This visionary release lasts for 60 fierce minutes and showcases Carl’s triple attack of torrid, rapid-fire
guitarist, warm and assured vocalist, and versatile songwriter, via 12 songs.
The title track is heavily influenced by the Hendrix classic "Machine Gun." Musically and lyrically, there are close ties between the two songs. The battlefield now takes place in the concrete jungle where America’s youth are armed and killing each other. On the song, Carl summons pain to the fretboard and guns you down with his six string. Then he exercises his pedals and pushes them to the limit on "Do You Call That A Buddy." It is a pop-flavored tune that you can dance to thanks to David’s electric piano. Here, the sins of Weathersby’s one-time friend are put into proportion with lyrics such as ... "...now if I had a thousand donuts, I wouldn’t give that clown a donut hole..."
"Sweet Music" is as relaxed as a summer breeze. The lyrics here
--- "...glad I found music …" --- reveal the essence of Carl Weathersby. On "Love
Shock," he purposely emulates Albert King via a series of devoted high voltage contortions and convulsions. "Standing At The Crossroads" is an in-your-face rockin’ boogie where Carl slides along the fretboard while David surfs the keyboard.
--- Tim Holek
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