Blues Bytes


December 2012

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Milton Hopkins / Jewel Brown
Milton Hopkins & Jewel Brown
Dialtone Records

Milton Hopkins - Jewel Brown

Guitarist Milton Hopkins is a native of the Fifth Ward in Houston, a cousin to Lightnin’ Hopkins. Beginning in 1950, Hopkins joined the great sax man, Grady Gaines, in a band called the Tempo Toppers. They backed the R&B legend, Little Richard. He later served as a session guitarist for Duke/Peacock Records and toured with Johnny Ace, Big Mama Thornton, and Gatemouth Brown before reuniting with Gaines in The Upsetters, which became THE R&B/Rock & Roll group, backing artists such as Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and the Drifters. Hopkins later worked with Lou Rawls and Marvin Gaye, then he served as B.B. King’s rhythm guitarist for nine ten years.

Vocalist Jewel Brown was raised in the Third Ward in Houston, singing in her brother’s group while in her teens. She was good enough to attract the attention of jazz master Lionel Hampton, who invited her to join his group for a European tour (she declined). She recorded a single for Duke and began to branch out from the Houston area, working with organist Earl Grant and subsequently working in a nightclub owned by Jack Ruby. Based on her performances there, she became the featured vocalist in Louis Armstrong’s band for eight years. She left the music business in the early ’70s to care for her parents and eventually became a successful businesswoman.

Dialtone Records has teamed up these two Houston legends for the excellent Milton Hopkins & Jewel Brown. The 12-track set covers a wide range of styles, ranging from the reggae-flavored “Jerry,” a song familiar to Jewel Brown’s fans from her days with Armstrong, to a pair of old school R&B classics (Ruth Brown’s “Daddy Daddy” and Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin’”), to an acoustic tribute to Lightnin’ Hopkins (“I’m Leavin’ You Now”). Brown also shows off her gospel roots with “There’s A Light,” and “How Can I Lose.”

Hopkins gets his opportunity to shine on several instrumentals, including “Tater Tots,” “Evening Breeze,” and “Back to the Shimmy.” He doesn’t overwhelm you with endless riffing, opting to keep things on the understated side, with sparse but sharp solos and fills. Brown has lost little, if any, of her vocal prowess. She’s amazingly nimble on many of these tunes, alternating between sassy and refined.

Lending a hand are drummers Corey Keller and Jason Moeller, guitarist Mike Keller, piano player Nick Connolly, bass player Johnny Bradley, and sax man extraordinaire Kaz Kazanoff. Dialtone chief Eddie Stout wears the producer’s hat and the whole session has a laidback, down-to-earth feel to it.

Milton Hopkins & Jewel Brown should receive lots of consideration for inclusion on many blues fans’ Top Ten list for 2012, including my own. This is a nice set that will remind listeners of the old Carol Fran/Clarence Hollimon (another Gulf Coast blues couple) albums from the early ’90s with its far-reaching versatility.

--- Graham Clarke



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