Blues Bytes

November 2001

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What's New

The Best of Lightning Hopkins Arhoolie Records has been digging in their vaults, producing a superb collection of tracks by Lightning Hopkins. Just under half of the 17 tracks included on The Best of Lightining Hopkins were recorded for Houston-based Gold Star between 1947 and 1950; the balance come from the years 1961 to 1969, and were recorded by Chris Strachwitz in Houston and in Berkeley, California. Unusually, there is one track with Hopkins on piano, and another one, a zydeco blues, "Zolo Go," with him playing organ. There are two tracks of Hopkins talking and telling stories which adds to the atmosphere of the album, and some excellent music all the way through --- from the Gold Star "Whiskey Blues" to "Once Was A Gambler." I've got a couple of favourites on this album, and for me they would be excuse enough for buying this one --- "Tim Moore's Farm," one of the old Gold Star recordings, and the much later "Please Settle In Vietnam," which showcases the purity of Hopkins guitar playing. Excellent sleeve notes by Chris Strachwitz

The Best of Fred McDowell Another "Best Of" from Arhoolie, this one from Mississippi Fred McDowell, is a fantastic CD for any fans of traditional blues. It features some previously unreleased material alongside tracks that have appeared on various CDs down through the years. Arhoolie has really excelled in putting together a fine selection of McDowell's work. The CD opens with a well know track "Write Me A Few Of Your Lines" and closes with some live concert takes of "Shake Em On Down" & "Louise" (the previously unreleased material) - in between is a mix of old favourites and some material that I certainly haven't heard before. Most of the Fred McDowell tracks that I have heard before have been solo tracks with Fred singing and playing bottleneck guitar. However, on this album there are some tracks with Mike Russo on second guitar, John Kahn on bass and Bob Jones on Drums, plus one track with Fred's wife Annie Mae McDowell providing additional vocals, and one track with some lovely harmonica provided by Johnny Woods. This CD includes the best blues version of "When The Saints Go Marching In" that I have ever heard, a short interview where Fred explains about his bottleneck, and the previously mentioned live concert material that was recorded at 1965 University Of California Folk Festival. It's worth buying for these things alone --- when you add the other 15 tracks it becomes an absolute must for any serious blues collection. As with the Best Of Lightning Hopkins, there are good sleeve notes compiled by Chris Strachwitz.

Chris Thomas King's It's A Cold Ass World (Arhoolie) is a re-release of King's debut CD "The Beginning," which originally hit the shops in 1986 while he was calling himself plain old Chris Thomas. For those unfamiliar with the name, Chris is the son of Baton Rouge bluesman Tabby Thomas, and he grew up with the music of Slim Harpo, Henry Gray and Baton Rouge legend Buddy Guy. He mixes the influences of these great artists with that of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, coming up with an individual rocking blues style all of his own. The 10 tracks on this debut CD really give a good idea of what Chris Thomas King is all about, and what a good musician and songwriter he is (he wrote most of the songs here). Only one track on the album disappointed me, "Southside Shuffle," and that was only because it's too short! This is a CD from a young versatile musician who deserves to be heard. Hopefully, the fact that Arhoolie has re-released it will bring it to the ears of more people.

The Campbell Brothers I have to admit that I fell in love with the sound of The Campbell Brothers when I heard Train Don't Leave Me (Arhoolie CD 489), so I'm slightly biased when it comes to reviewing this CD Sacred Steel On Tour (Arhoolie CD 503). That said, I defy anyone to sit still when they play the opening track of "On Tour." Once you've heard that track, you've just got to listen to the rest of the album. Leaving aside the incredible guitar work, with some stupendous vocals by Denise Brown and Katie Jackson, the atmosphere and music mix here is thoroughly addictive. If you played this CD at a party, people would dance all night long! Turn the volume up and play track one, "Thank Ya," or track 12, "Oooh Oooh," and you'll be hooked on the Campbell Brothers Sacred Steel sound. The tracks were recorded live at various locations in New York State, Minneapolis and Atlanta during 2000 and early 2001, and you just know that the audiences were grooving. BUY IT !!! Arhoolie has also released The Campbell Brothers - Sacred Steel For The Holidays (CD 504), a mix of Christmas tracks played with the lap and pedal steel guitars that the Campbell Brothers are so good with --- something different for Christmas

Another name which is probably only known by the cognoscenti is Innes Sibun. This is a man who played guitar on tour with Robert Plant and also recorded two albums with Steve Robinson. During his career he has also played with Roger Chapman (Family), Chris Farlowe and Peter Green. His latest album, East Monroe (Ulf Tone), is bang on track with a mixture of mainly electric blues. All 13 tracks were written by the band. They are due to tour Europe and the USA on the back of this album, and they should go down a storm with their exciting brand of rocking blues. As you might guess from the names above with whom Sibun has played, the members of this band really know their stuff and they are superb musicians to a man. To my ears, there are influences here from Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix and, of course, Robert Plant, all merging to make something unique. There are four instrumental tracks on the CD, one of which (the title track "East Monroe") is an absolute gem, featuring great slide guitar work. Personally, I'd like to have seen more like this included on the album, but it's just a matter of taste. Well worth a listen!!

--- Terry Clear

Henry Gray hails from just outside New Orleans. At the age of eight, he began to demonstrate his talent on piano. In 1956, he joined Howlin' Wolf's band where he remained until 1968. According to his website,, Henry is considered one of the best living exponents of the Windy City piano blues style. You will come to the same conclusion after experiencing this phenomenal live disc, Live - Blues Won't Let Me Take My Rest (Lucky Cat Records). Recorded at Grant Street in Lafayette, Louisiana on March 19, 1999, it is Henry's first live performance to ever be released. Its a lively 72-minute set of danceable blues and early rock and roll, including four originals. From the brilliant instrumental opener, "Greyhound Blues," to the traditionally arranged finale, "Lord Have Mercy," this recording is pure bliss. Throughout there is plenty of rollicking piano, charismatic fiddle, full-throttle slide and extraordinary harp. Henry's voice is well-weathered and it scratches the higher notes, as heard on "Rock Me." Here, he performs a nonchalant version of this classic that creates a mood and pace that many of us feel when the 'honey do' list comes out. On "Dust My Broom," his fingers work wonders up and down the keyboard. Hear the master at work as he delivers happy, partying and shaking music on "They Raided The Joint." He credits Maceo Merriwether as being his greatest influence and pays him homage on "Worried Life Blues." Henry is backed by a tight band of experienced and talented musicians. Sonny Landreth and Martin Simpson's slide guitars create a unique brand of spicy blues while Earl Christopher's drumming is stomping and sweaty. Brian Bruce's wizardry on harmonica will have many referring to him as Superharp, while Eric Aceto proves there is a home for the fiddle in blues music. Longtime bassist of the Cats, Andy Cornett, introduces Gray as the engineer on the piano. Henry was 74 years old at the time of this recording , and Cornett openly admits that he couldn't keep up with him. Although a similarity of keys and shuffles feature in the songs, Gray's barrelhouse runs will enrapture his listeners. In fact, most of the keys take a beating from Gray. None of them are safe from the two-fisted, feisty bluesman. This recording is the epitome of Henry Gray live. It's simple, straight to the point and packed with a wallop. For CDs, booking and information, write to: Lucky Cat Records, 226 Jackson St., Lafayette, LA 70501, Tel (337) 269-5153, E-mail:, Website:

Mel Brown At blues festivals throughout the country, 2001 W.C. Handy Award Winner Mel Brown proves to be the most authentic, real blues artist on the bill. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Brown grew up in a family where playing music was as instinctive as breathing the Delta air. He has shared the stage with the greats, and has been both Bobby "Blue" Bland's and Albert Collins' regular guitarist. He relocated to Kitchener, Ontario, Canada for a steady gig in 1989, and has remained there ever since. Now Electro-Fi has re-released a completely repackaged version of his former independent live CD, Homewreckin' Done Live (Electro-Fi Records). Recorded in 1998 at Wally's Pub in Guelph, Ontario, this recording was previously only available off the bandstand. Now the whole world can enjoy this Mel Brown and Dave Ellerson produced 60-minute set. Including nothing but covers and standards, the set is very typical of his simple, down-home, electric blues gigs prior to the Electro-Fi days. Mel doesn't mesmerize with speed, but rather chooses to hypnotize with smooth, sharp, precise note pickin' which is unique. This sets him apart from the rest of the crowded universe of blues guitarists. Imagine what you would get if you removed the aggression from Son Seals and added the grace of Johnnie Bassett. This is obvious on "Woke Up This Morning" and "The Sky Is Crying." No wonder Guitar Player magazine ranked him #4 on their list of 25 electrifying guitarists you may have missed! By far he is a finer guitar player than singer, yet this doesn't discourage him from using his growl-like voice. At times he stretches for the notes and clearly misses them. A refreshing, new arrangement of the oft-covered "Hoochie Coochie Man" will be welcomed by many listeners. On this and several others, guest David Wiffen is remarkable on saxophone. Keyboardist extraordinaire, John Lee, spent much of his career with Canada's Prime Minister of the Blues, Dutch Mason, but has been a permanent Homewrecker for over 10 years. Throughout the performance he blazes across the keys proving to be as well-trained as Brown. On Rod Piazza's "Honeybee," John takes over on vocals. They are in sharp contrast with Mel's. Lee's are clearer and more rhythmic. A reggae sounding introduction is used for "Hey Joe" where bass player Al Richardson makes his presence known by making the floor rumble. Things come to a scorching finale on a song made famous by one of Mel's former employers, "Turn On Your Love Light." It's a foot-stompin', hand-clappin' celebration of organ, bass, guitar and sax. You have heard these songs countless times in the past but not in this manner, thanks to the brilliance of Brown and Lee. This is soul stirring blues at its finest. What we have here is the standard for all future live blues recordings. For CDs, booking and information, write to: Electro-Fi Records, PO Box 191, LaSalle Station, Niagara Falls, NY 14304, Tel (416) 251-3036, E-mail:, Website:

Dru Lombar rose to fame as singer/songwriter/guitarist and leader of the 1970s Southern rock group Grinderswitch. Now he fronts Dr. Hector & the Groove Injectors. They are a powerhouse rock and blues quartet with a colossal sound. After five critically acclaimed studio CDs, the band has just released the first live recording of their 14 year career. (For much more information on the band, be sure to visit The new disc, Vital Signs (NSP Records), was recorded in late December 2000 at their regular stomping grounds in Florida. Included on the incinerating 70-minute disc are fiery cuts from "Prescription," "House Calls," "Emergency" and "Bad Connection." The Groove Injectors machine gun their way through 10 tracks in total, including nine originals. Throughout the CD, the boys stay true to their southern heritage by feverishly jamming for longer than 10 minutes on four of the tunes. With sheer excitement, Dru practically shouts out the lyrics of "Bad Connection." This romping, roadhouse raunch is used to forcefully kick things off. Within minutes, the listener is introduced to Stuart Baer (organ) and John Davies (bass) thanks to their "bursting with energy" solos. Drummer Gene Melendreras pounds his skins so hard on "Fool Like Me," expect the floor to shake. Then Baer cranks out the funky notes of "Midnight Run" on his clavinet. It's a tune that tells the tale about living life as a road warrior. As such, it fits this tireless and well-traveled band to a 'T.' All through the disc, Lombar lays down the lyrics the way he plays guitar, which is rough and straight to the point. The pace is reduced on "Safe In Your Arms Again." Its a long, slow burn where Dru's frets blaze with the intensity of the mid-day sun. The tune is a highlight of any Dr. Hector show and it has been captured perfectly here. After experiencing this one, you will be looking for Lombar's name on the Handy Ballot. "14 Carat Fool" is another slow blues with plenty of hot guitar work. Dru is a master at spontaneously combusting into an inferno of notes. On this track, Stuart proves he can do the same on keys. With a new, intricate chord arrangement, "When Did Love Let Go" is sure to please guitar enthusiasts. As will the Elmore James classic "Picking The Blues," where Dru plays some ripping slide. He is well studied in the art of slide, as he has thrilled audiences with this one since the Grinderswitch days. The cover art might deceive you that this is a low budget production. However, what is contained inside is guaranteed to make your heart, head and feet skip to the beat. The band plays tight and the members know each others moves well, especially on the steamy guitar and organ jams. Per Tom Ray's liner notes: 'if your appetite leans towards music that's based in the blues, but knows every other move worthy of the roadhouse, then come fill your plates!' For CDs and information, write to: New South Productions, PO Box 50361, Jax Beach, FL 32250, Phone: (904) 223-0461, Website:, e-mail:

--- Tim Holek

Arthur (Rockin’ A) Neilson’s first solo CD, a piece of wood, some strings and a pick (Dixie Frog), is truly a masterwork and maybe one of the few Blues CD’s available this year that doesn’t have “Richland Woman Blues” on it.If you zoom into this website at, you can read more about who he is and what he has done, plus the songs can be sampled here. But this review exists solely to tell you seekers of Rock, Soul, and Rockabilly that you are better off buying this CD than any other. Intensely great covers of “That’s Alright Mama,” “No More Doggin’,” and “Walking Blues” are surrounded by really creative originals like “One Way Street,” “Leave Me Alone,” and “Feel Like Going Home.” This last number would be right at home on a '60s classic soul LP.I have never been a fan of guitar instrumentals, but when you’ve got catchy songs like “Restless,” “Dance Of The Zombie” (Surf Alert!), and the moody, dark “During The Storm,” I’m happy to make an exception. So if you are suffering from a blues overdose of samey sounding crapola put out by a lot of the big major labels, this CD is the cure. So often, when it comes to bad original songs, blues bands often take the grand prize. It is quite the opposite with this French import. This New York City native has really produced a polished gem. You can order from and I urge you to.

Felix Cabrera, a New York City harmonica phenom / soul singer has been around a long time and has made a lotta great music. But with his latest release, Pressure Cooker (Fountainbleu), he's unleashed a true masterpiece! It kind of reminds me of War in their Spill The Wine era. It's hard to convey the power of this CD, although to say the guitarist is Arthur Neilson should be enough.

--- Lee Shafer

As their name might indicate, Delicious Blues Stew, are not just a straight blues band, but a mixture of several potent ingredients. Throw in some blues, a little rock, a bit of Cajun and zydeco, a little second-line, a smattering of swamp pop and country, and a healthy dose of humor, and you've got a savory gumbo that should please all that should sample it. Their latest effort, 2Stew (Nightfly Music) should satisfy their loyal fan base as well as anyone else who might give it a try. Based in the Nashville area, the Stew is known for its wild live gigs where no one is safe from the groove. 2Stew attempts to capture the feeling of being at a live show. From the opener, "Trouble," which sounds like it could have been an outtake from a Little Feat album, to the Cajun beat of "Maw Maw Paw Paw," to the goofy "De Con," which must be heard to be believed, to the funky "I'm the Man," it's obvious that the Stew is comfortable in several different arenas. They can also display a softer side, as on the ballads "House Built on Love," and "Place We Fell In Love," and even a serious side with the moving "Star Spangled Lady," about a mother waiting on a call from her son who disappeared in Vietnam years before (which strikes a little closer to home now, in light of recent events). Also covered is Jimmy Davis' "You Are My Sunshine," with guest star Larry Garner (who also appears on the bonus cut, "Mardi Gras Women") and lead singer/harp man / frottoir player Shannon "Bayou" Williford's 4-year-old daughter Julia Bee, who sings the opening verse. "Bayou" and the other lead vocalist, Scott "Paddio Daddio" Achord, are both solid vocalists who fit the band's sound like a glove, and the band itself is top notch. Fans of good music and a good time should check out this disc. It's available on their website,, which is pretty entertaining by itself.

O'Donel Levy is better known in jazz circles than in blues, given his previous work as guitarist with Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff and Herbie Mann. For the past ten years, however, the Baltimore native has been based in Singapore, producing commercials, demos, and jingles for local and regional performers and for companies like McDonalds, KFC, and 7-11. He has been dubbed "The Quincy Jones of Southeast Asia." O.D.'s repertoire consists of a funky mixture of blues, soul, and jazz. Now he's decided to release a CD, Asia Beat, which largely consists of blues songs, but includes a few jazz instrumentals and some jazzy R&B stylings as well. Levy is a pleasant enough singer, but his guitar work is the attraction on this CD. He breathes life into these tracks with his Benson-esque guitar (check out the instrumental "In Walked Amy"). The title track, an instrumental, also has some great fretwork from Levy. The straight blues tracks are the most interesting, with some original, fresh lyrics ("Guinness World Book on the Blues" is as good a blues song as I've heard this year) by Levy, who also produced the CD. There are also a couple of tracks that lean more toward R&B and light jazz. But I preferred the straight blues and instrumentals and felt they were a better vehicle for Levy's sound. That minor quibble aside, I really enjoyed this CD, and I hope that Mr. Levy can get it to a wider audience because it deserves to be heard. For information about purchasing this CD, please send an email to

--- Graham Clarke

By now, the story of Peter Green, founder of the (then) British-blues band Fleetwood Mac, should be known to every blues fan. For those who are not totally up to date, let's mention only that Green has quietly come back to playing music after years away from the scene. Given his mental health problems, the process has been slow and gradual, so as not burn him out right away, I suppose. His group, Peter Green Splinter Group (but the band's 2000 effort, Hot Foot Powder, reviewed here in July 2000, was credited to Peter Green with Nigel Watson Splinter Group), has quietly been performing since 1996. Until now, most (if not all) the tacks recorded by the band were covers, notably from the Robert Johnson songbook. So I guess it was time to move on. The band's newest release, Time Traders (Blue Storm), is its first album that is nationally distributed in the States. It features original material only, penned by keyboardist Roger Cotton, bassist Pete Stroud and guitarist Nigel Watson (four songs each), with Green contributing one instrumental composition. Watson sings his own songs, while Green is the vocalist on the other tracks. It is a very "produced" pop record with blues overtones (harmonica, some slide), aimed squarely at bringing Peter Green back in the spotlight and, hopefully, on the radio. As such, it will probably disappoint most blues fans, although Nigel Watson's contributions (notably "Downsize Blues") do have a certain 'je ne sais quoi.' I suppose all I can do is wish the band good luck, and wait for more blues in the future.

Dr. JohnListening to Dr. John is an experience akin to a gentle drug-induced buzz, if I may say so without risking imprisonment. With crisscrossing rhythm patterns and various exotic percussion instruments, piano and B-3 joy sprinkled generously, and witty life observations delivered in his customary streetwise drawl, the good doctor is a sure antidote to: 1) cold and wet autumn days; 2) depressive bouts brought about by income tax reports, anthrax sneak attacks or smelly cat litter; 3) one more prolonged visit by your mother-in-law; or 4) any other lousy excuse for not being blissfully happy that you might have. His latest, Creole Moon (Blue Note), features such scrumptious players as Michael Doucet from BeauSoleil, Sonny Landreth, David "Fathead" Newman, ex-JB Fred Wesley and the downright funky Lower 9-11 band, David Barard on bass, Herman Ernest III on drums and newcomer Renard Poché on guitar. All originals, the songs include a couple of ballads, including the jazzy title track, and plenty of light fonk (as Rebennack writes in his delirious liner notes --- by the way, this is the first time in my life that I've had the pleasure to read liner notes that come with a glossary!). The intro to "Bruha Bembe," with some spooky flute by Charley Miller, is pure voodoo music the likes of which you cannot hear on commercial radio (the dead would be sure to rise from their grave), and the funky "Food for Thot" features little one-liners designed to make you think (or laugh), like the following ... "...The day breaks, but it never falls; night falls, but it never breaks..." In between, you'll swoon, dance or swagger, chant or murmur, and in the end, if the gray clouds haven't lifted, you'll push "Play" again. And again, until you too are under the spell.

From Jimmie Vaughan to Eric Sardinas ... you can't find two Texas guitarists as radically different as those two! On Devil's Train (Evidence Records), Sardinas' latest, there are no traces of the romantic bent and controlled, pleasing atmosphere of Vaughan's disc. Instead, you get irresistibly rowdy, roadhouse-style slide guitar through and through, plenty of annoying macho posturing, and some ear-grating vocals that make Johnny Winter sound like a silky-voiced crooner! When Sardinas lays back a little or plays an instrumental piece, he gets us every time. When he goes into Steven Tyler territory, well, it depends on your tolerance for this type of over-the-top stuff. One thing is certain, as a guitarist Sardinas concentrates into one person everything that was conducive to beer drinking and all-around good times in the music of ZZ Top, Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James and, yes, Stevie Ray Vaughan. This is a record to listen to on your portable CD player while you're riding the metro and staring at hundreds of blank faces, not at home on a Sunday morning. One thing is for sure ... based on this CD, I know that Mr. Sardinas must give one hell of a live performance on stage. I'll drink to that.

In Quebec, Stephen Barry is pretty close to a blues institution. This bassist has led blues bands for more than 30 years, specializing in early Chicago blues, but with enough flexibility to adapt to all sorts of situations. For example, when Vann "Piano Man" Walls, a New York pianist who played on many hits by (among others) Ruth Brown and Big Joe Turner in the '50s, was discovered, alive and well and living in Montreal, at a time when everyone thought he was long dead, it was Barry's group that became his de facto backing band for the last few years of his life. Other acts may feature flashier guitarists, funkier bassists and stronger drummers, but none ever beat the various incarnations of the Stephen Barry Band in terms of ensemble playing and sheer knowledge of obscure tunes (to say nothing of longevity). Original (Bros Records --- see for more detail) is, after all this time, Barry's first solo record. It is also a deeply personal album, with more than half the songs that could qualify as singer-songwriter material. Surprisingly, despite a good portion of blues, the best songs have a decidedly more "country" feel. At his best, Barry comes up with simple vignettes that make you feel like you've known him all your life. (It helps that he's got a great sense of humor…) I know I can't stop humming a few of his songs (particularly "Still a Fool"). Give him a try --- maybe he'll become one of your friends, too.

--- Benoît Brière

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