Blues Bytes

September 1998

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Joe Louis Walker

Hezekiah and the House Rockers

Tom Principato

 

What's New

Joe Louis Walker - Preacher and the PresidentJoe Louis Walker is one the most consistently solid contemporary blues artists. He never really has made anything less than excellent CDs among the ten or so releases in the last dozen years. Preacher and the President (Verve) was recorded at the famous Muscle Shoals studio, and co-produced by legendary guitar player Steve Cropper. As expected, the CD carries a real soulful punch, with Walker's usual stinging guitar and rich soaring vocals. The title cut is an interesting story about a typical, money-grubbing evangelist, with real nice backing vocals from Joe Thomas. Walker displays some of his finest guitar playing on the catchy uptempo "Yveline." His more soulful side comes out on the hook-laden "Lyin' In The Name Of Love." Another great one from one of the best.

Hezekiah and the House RockersOne of the more unique albums in my collection has always been the wonderful self-titled album on High Water Records from Natchez, Mississippi band Hezekiah and the House Rockers. First released on vinyl in the mid-1980s, it now makes its first appearance on CD. Led by drummer / harmonica player / singer Hezekiah Early and featuring octogenarian trombone player Peewee Whittaker, this band played raw, raucous, extremely energetic downhome blues, with the odd twist of the trombone. Despite having to play harp from a rack on the drum set, Early played some mean blues harmonica, especially on "Hezekiah's Boogie." The best cut is the discombobulated uptempo stomper "Do Your Thing," featuring great trombone from Whittaker. Containing 18 songs, this CD is a bargain, and comes highly recommended!

There have been many B.B. King "greatest hits" collections throughout the blues ambassadors prolific recording career, so you might wonder why this latest one is necessary. Simply titled Greatest Hits (MCA), this set starts off with two cuts from King's landmark Live At The Regal album, "Every Day I Have The Blues" and "Sweet Little Angel." The emphasis is on his ABC and BluesWay recordings from the 60s and 70s, so of course it contains classics like "The Thrill Is Gone," "How Blue Can You Get?" and "Better Not Look Down." Frankly, I think that you can't get enough B.B. King music. If still another "greatest hits" package introduces this man's music to another generation of blues fans, that's fine by me.

Tom Principato - Really BlueTom Principato was one of my favorite guitarists when I lived in the Washington, D.C. area many years ago. I was a semi-regular at his gigs, first with the band Powerhouse and later with his own ensemble. Now I generally have to be content with hearing him on CD, so Really Blue (Powerhouse/Ichiban) is a welcome addition to my blues collection. Principato kicks his Fender into high guitar immediately on the first cut, the original "Every Minute, Every Hour," and then again on the blazing instrumental "In Orbit." He also does a nice straight blues cover of Little Johnny Jones' "Sweet Little Woman." Most touching is his tribute to the late guitar legend Danny Gatton, "One For Danny." Really Blue is a really nice album.

Delmark Records has been on a hot streak in the last two months, reissuing some of their classic LPs on CD for the first time. Another is Memphis Slim U.S.A., with 19 cuts featuring Memphis Slim's definitive blues piano and booming vocals. Most notable here is the sterling guitar work of a very young Matt "Guitar" Murphy, who was 22 when he joined Memphis Slim and His House Rockers in 1952, just in time for the first session captured here. While Murphy's style was still developing, his prodigious talents were already showing through. He claimed to have been more influenced by horn players rather than other guitarists, and it shows in the lines he puts down on these sessions. One of my favorite songs on the album was the powerful slow blues "Blue And Lonesome."

Luther Allison - Hand Me Down My MoonshineThere certainly has been no shortage of old recordings from the late Luther Allison surfacing since his death. They're all great, in my opinion, so bring 'em on. Hand Me Down My Moonshine (Ruf) captures Allison in a completely different setting, playing acoustic guitar with very limited accompaniment. The title cut is 9 1/2 minutes of intense, emotional experience, and is the highlight of the disc. Allison also displays some deft fingerpicking on "One More." By the way, this CD was previously released in 1992 on the German Inak label. For those of you familiar only with Allison's electric blues recordings, you need to check out this very talented guitarist's other side.

Another guitarist who runs the gamut of blues styles is California's Ron Thompson, with his band The Resistors. On Magic Touch (Poore Boy Records) Thompson gives us a pleasant mix of acoustic and electric blues, ranging from his real hot mandolin pickin' on the uptempo "Saddle My Pony" to a heavy slide-driven electric version of "Baby Please Don't Go." Thompson also plays some mean boogie woogie piano on his own "R.T.'s Piano." Magic Touch closes with what should become a seasonal favorite for slide guitar fans, a seven-minute instrumental version of "Little Drummer Boy."

Blues/rock legend Elvin Bishop is a guy who always seems to enjoy playing his music, and that feeling again shows through on The Skin I'm In (Alligator). "Country Blues" is vintage Bishop music, in that it he sings about his favorite topics --- fishing and eating. Another fun number is "Middle Aged Man," which seems to be the man's answer to "Middle Aged Blues Boogie," recorded on the first album from Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women.

The title of D. Johnson's new CD, Mississippi Delta Blues (Nation Sack Records), accurately describes the type of music he plays. Johnson plays nice, but not flashy, acoustic slide guitar on mostly original songs. One of my favorite cuts is a cover of Robert Johnson's "If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day." The best original is "Radio Blues." Alan "Dr. Blues" Werblin joins in on harmonica on half of the cuts.

Just when you think that every possible Mississippi Delta bluesman has been discovered and recorded, along comes 72-year-old Eddie Cusic, from Leland, MS. Cusic was a big influence on an old friend from the Delta, Little Milton, but he decided to stay at home instead of striking out for Chicago. His first album, I Want To Boogie (HMG), is one of the most refreshing I've heard in quite some time. Cusic plays good acoustic guitar, with a nimbleness in his fingers that belies his age. He's also got a good gruff blues voice. There are a few originals among the 15 cuts, with the rest being blues standards like an excellent version of "Cut You Loose." I highly recommend this CD for any serious blues fan.

Harp fans are sure to dig this one. Down Home Harp (Testament/HMG) reissues 22 great harmonica recordings, all from the early to mid-60s. Represented here are the well-known, like Big Walter Horton, Billy Boy Arnold, Dr. Ross and Little Walter,  to the obscure, such as James "Bat" Robinson, Big John Wrencher, Coot Venson and George Robertson. Arnold's "Billy Boy's Jump" is very similar to his classic "I Wish You Would." Wrencher's "You Know I Love You" is a fabulous cut, down home harp at its best.

Swing music is still hip, so a lot of retro swing bands are springing up to satisfy the demand for this music. The Backsters are more blues-based than most; in fact, their new CD, Live! (Front Runner Records), is dedicated to the memory of Albert Collins. This band packs a lot of wallop for a four-piece group, with John Marx's T-bone-style guitar shining on "Mean Old World." Sax player Joel C. Peskin shines on Nat Adderly's "All These Blues." They also do a nice version of the slow blues "Years Go Passing By." This is a fun party CD.

I always enjoy hearing groups that fuse different styles of music. Los Blancos are a Syracuse band which gives you a little blues, a little Latin music, and a touch of ZZ Top-style boogie on For Sale By Owner (Doctor K Records). While not ready for the big time, this band gives the listener some decent music here, although the consistency isn't quite there yet. "El Ciemplies" is a Latin-flavored instrumental featuring the guitar work of Jose Alvarez.

When A Guitar Plays The Blues (Southern Tracks) is a collection of 13 original compositions by Nashville artist Roy Lee Johnson. Johnson is a competent but not flashy guitar player, and the backing band is strictly rudimentary in their skill levels. It's typical Southern soulful blues, but nothing too exciting.

--- Bill Mitchell

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