Blues Bytes

December 2004

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What's New

Sacred Steel InstrumentalsOver the past few years, Arhoolie Records have released a number of "Sacred Steel" CDs and they've always been good. The music is a bit of an acquired taste, but it's good and if you give it a chance, it grows on you. This latest CD in the series, Sacred Steel Instrumentals, is no exception. There's a good mix of up-tempo tracks and slow moody music, and a mix of live and& studio tracks, but it's well-played and well-recorded and deserving of a listen. There's good blues in here, no doubt about it! Sonny Treadway opens the album with "Jesus Will Fix It For You," and it's as good a track as any to open with. This one gets your feet tapping straight away and makes sure that you'll keep listening for more like it (the track is taken from Sonny's CD Jesus Will Fix It, also out on Arhoolie). The one track on the album that doesn't really work, for me at least, is track two --- Aubrey Ghent's version of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee." It's a difficult number to translate into an instrumental anyway, and Aubrey tries hard. Track three is back to some foot-tapping music with "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" by Lonnie Big Ben Bennett; this one works well and is equally good to any version that I've heard, including the excellent Allman Brothers one. Willie Eason gives a good rendition of "When The Saints Go Marching In," although it's little subdued and may have been better recorded slightly up-tempo. Rayfield "Ray Ray" Holoman's "I Need Thee" was recorded at the second Sacred Steel Convention; it's moody, slow and excellent. Have a listen to this track with headphones on; the slide guitar and the bass riffs merge into a combination that almost brings tears to your eyes. The remainder are a mix, as before, of tempos with "Something's Got A Hold Of Me" (Dante Harmon), and "Joyful Sounds" (Glenn Lee) the ones that you'll want to boogie to. All in all, this is an album for lovers of slide guitar work as well as lovers of gospel blues --- well worth a listen.

--- Terry Clear

Kansas City’s King Alex & The Untouchables were one of the surprise smash hits at the 2004 Pocono Blues Festival. Alex Littlejohn was born in Arkadelphia, Arkansas in 1933. He was raised in Louisiana and has had a permanent home in Kansas City since 1952. King Alex has fronted his own band for many years. In 2002, they toured Europe and recorded this 40-minute album, The Cream of King Alex, upon returning to the States. This special promotion series pressing of the CD was prepared to be available at the 2003 Kansas City Street Blues Festival where King Alex was named Heritage King. These 11 original songs were written between 1963 and 2001 and represent the best of King Alex. With his six strings, Tony Shaffer captures the emotions that "Cherry Red" creates. Here, Dana Smith’s sax softens the guitar’s blow. "Huchia Cuthia Lovin’ Man" is a jig with C&W and Cajun influences. Again, the guitar is somewhat heavy. This time, it features a killer hook, and is lightened by Ken Michaelis’ justice-seeking organ and accordion. But, even these two instruments combined cannot outdo King Alex’s overpowering bass. "Hot As A Coffee Pot" is the King’s signature tune. The brew is just off the boil here: "the woman I love, loves a lot, you know when her love gets hot, its hot as a coffee pot." It previously garnered him the title of his Black Magic CD. With its late 1960s hipness, things get on down on "Stone To The Bone." Later, Alex warns not to be dipping in his "Sugar Bowl" when he isn’t around. At times, he vocally struggles to hit the notes. Overall, the vocal styling and song arrangements are similar to BB King. But that does not distract from the backing bandits and the felonious guitar of Shaffer. The production has created a shallow sound -- especially the drums. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise given the disc’s thrifty packaging. A low budget is reflected in the production, slim jewel case (you know the kind you get when you buy CD-Rs in bulk), and the absence of any record label. However, the music is real and from the heart. Yes, things get a bit repetitive and some of the rhythms won’t be ultra-new for those who are highly versed in the blues. But, the music celebrates a unique art form that is steeped in culture and history --- an art form known as American Blues. King Alex’s accept-me-as-I-am qualities shine forth. I wonder what other gems are hiding in Kansas City’s blues scene?

--- Tim Holek
Freelance Journalist/Photographer

Marvin SeaseIt's been several years now since I reviewed Marvin Sease's Hoochie Mama CD (Blues Bytes - June 2000), a release that I thought was one of his better ones, so I was anxious to hear this new one in light of the fact that this is his first release with his new label Malaco Records. So what's the verdict? Playa Haters (Malaco) is as good or better than anything else he has done for quite some time. I was always partial to those early "Candy Licker" songs. They were so nasty, but in a fun sort of way, and they sort of set the tone for his career and live show. Thought of as a bluesman as much as a soulman, even gracing the cover of Living Blues magazine several years ago, his career has taken on a more international scope similar to that of Bobby Rush's. Benefiting from Malaco's excellent production and sound, we have a release that will satisfy his fans once again. Writing 10 of the 13 tracks, the consistency of his writing remains strong, even though the CD opens with a strong George Jackson tune, "Bad Love Affair." It moves into "Playa Haters," a slow tune that opens with a spoken intro and makes the most of the great horns and background vocals. The third track, "Everything You Eat Ain't Good," has an obvious message to all you candy lickers. The following song, "I Wanna Do Ya," is the first single release from this release, and it has gotten a lot of plays on Southern radio stations. This one is a Rich Cason tune, another one of Malaco's stable of fine songwriters. One of my favorites is the slower "Mrs. Right," a tune that showcases Sease's fine vocals. His voice is as smooth as ever, and with that little spoken bridge the song is a winner, one you'll come back to many times. "Sit Down On It" is an answer to the very popular Theodis Ealey song, "Stand Up In It." Need I say more. "I Wanna Rock You" is a slow ballad that has a deep spoken Barry White type intro and is another tune that shows off the ballad side of Marvin Sease. In closing, this appears to be a natural partnership between Sease and Malaco Records, and one we hope will produce many more fine collaborations like this one. What a nice Christmas present for those you love this year. Let Marvin say it all for you. Four deep bows to Mr. Sease and Malaco Records. Just a pleasure to review.

The Capitol Years (EMI/Honest John's (U.K.) brings together two complete albums that Bettye Swann recorded for Capitol Records between 1968-1970 plus two singles. Those albums, The Soul View Now and Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me have become legendary albums among Southern soul record collectors and demand a high price on the collectors market. Once again it appears that contractual problems have prevented these great LPs from being reissued in the U.S., and as with the recent Candi Staton release, it took EMI in England to assist in its release. These albums were not Bettye Swann's first releases, as she had a 1967 hit on Money Records, "Make Me Yours," that made it to #1 on Billboard's R&B charts, which also yielded a fine album the same year. That album has been available for some time now. This new release, perhaps more than any other, shows the fine line between Southern soul and country music. Among the selections here are two songs by Hank Cochran and two by Merle Haggard, which of course have their roots in country music, as well as songs by the Bee Gees and Otis Redding, which are more firmly rooted in pop & R&B. Each song here is given a great soul treatment by Swann, so even if country music is not your thing this release will fill your soul full of tunes you have previously heard by others. The Bee Gee's "Words" and Hank Cochrane's "Don't Touch Me," the classic "Today I Started Loving You Again" by Merle Haggard, and such R&B stalwarts such as Otis Redding's "These Arms Of Mine" or John D. Loudermilk's famous "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" are all standouts. But it is on the classic Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" that you can see the progression from the pure country of Wynette's version to the country soul of Swann's version to the pure soul of Candi Staton's version. I don't think there is any better choice of a song, or three different versions, that could make this point any better. This is one of 2004's finest releases and one that I hope will give Bettye Swann a place in music history she so greatly deserves. Our thanks to Honest John's Records for this release, the previously reviewed Candy Staton, and the just released Willie Hightower CD, which we will review next month.

Carl SimsBilled on the front cover as "The Godfather Of Southern Soul," Carl Sims has been around for a number of years. I last reviewed a CD he recorded for Waldoxy in the October 1998 issue of Blues Bytes. Since that time I believe he recorded another CD for Waldoxy in 2001 and a gospel CD which I have not heard. He has always been a favorite of mine due to the gospel inflections in his voice and presentation. A CD he recorded for Paula Records several years ago is remembered for having one of the finest versions of "A Change Is Gonna Come," a song best associated with Sam Cooke. Sims' new CD, It's Just A Party, follows Ecko's tried and true formula. Most songs are written by John Ward with help from a few others, a contemporary sound approach with programming and a few real instruments added and a theme that the title track ably conveys ---"It's Just A Party." The track I have heard most on the radio, "It Ain't A Juke Joint Without The Blues," follows in the same mold. My favorite tracks are the two slowest ones (does that mean I'm getting old?): "The Memories" and "I Would Be Missing You," both with nice spoken intros to get you in the mood. All in all, this is a fine example of Ecko at their best, showcasing a veteran singer supplied with a handful of newly-penned catchy tunes. Looking forward to more fine releases from this great artist and kudos to Ecko Records for adding another star to it's already impressive roster.

--- Alan Shutro

Barbara BlueBarbara Blue returns to the scene with another heaping helping of Memphis soul and blues, compliments of her latest CD, Memphis 3rd and Beale (BIG Blue Records. Backed by stellar support from the Phantom Blues Band and some of the funkiest horns heard since the Stax era from the Texicali Horns, Blue brings her A-game to Memphis 3rd and Beale. Her vocals, a potent mix of both Etta James and Janis Joplin, are always a pleasure to hear. She really outdoes herself on several tracks, including a reading of Charlie Rich’s “Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave” that would surely bring a smile to the Silver Fox’s face. Though Blue does a great job on the bluesier numbers (like “The Road Comes To Me,” “Careful Blues,” and “Red Cadillac & The Blues”), to me she really shines on the soul tracks, like the opening cut, “24-7-365,” which sounds for all the world like it came straight from Stax. Other soulful highlights include “Rainy Night In Memphis” and “If I Had You.” As on Blue’s previous release, Sell My Jewelry, there are covers of songs by Lucinda Williams (“Lake Charles”) and Janis Joplin (“One Good Man”), both of which Blue handles easily. Equally comfortable singing the blues or soul, Barbara Blue continues to improve and impress with each subsequent release. Go to to pick up this great disc and to find out more about this talented singer.

Sarasota Slim, based in Florida, has been playing the blues for over two decades, and not that garbage that passes for blues at your local yuppie bar. Slim (a.k.a. Gene Hardage) plays the real thing. After four releases on the Italian Appaloosa label, Slim has returned with Boney Fingers, his second release on his own Possum Phono-Graphics label, and it is a breath of fresh air. Though he’s associated with the blues, he mixes various genres well, including a touch of swing (“Swing Thing”), some blue-eyed soul (“Out-O-Sight,” “I Found Out”), and even calypso (“Calypso Joe”), all of which mesh well with his blues tunes. The latter includes the standout opener “I’m Gonna Get You,” which sounds straight out of the Elmore James songbook, “I Want To Know,” with it’s ’50s-era Chicago feel, and the grooving “Booty Boomerang,” which is so funky it appears in two installments. Slim is an outstanding guitarist, whose style ranging from some tasty slide to straight-ahead blues, and it also has a smooth, expressive vocal style. In addition, Slim wrote all the songs on the disc and there’s not a dud in the bunch. The band, made up of musicians from the Tampa area, provide skin-tight backing and really complement Slim well. This disc was recorded at Slim’s house and sounds great. This is very good stuff and is highly recommended. For more info on Sarasota Slim, check out his website at

--- Graham Clarke

Tony MonacoThe Hammond B3 organ has allowed players a pastel of blues hues since maybe the '40's, evolving into hit-making potential in R&B. A handful of innovators later became a cement between jazz and blues possibly because of integrated bass lines laid down by the left hand and/or foot pedals of the instrument, which could either swing or anchor. A couple Hammond B3 discs arrived during the summer of '04, both blues-based, the first from Columbus Ohio with a jazz energy a notch above other organ combos and the other from Massachusetts containing funky rocking backbeats. The former is the fourth release on Summit Records from Tony Monaco, of whom a separate article could be written on career challenges alone. Kudos must be given him on label loyalty and relentless determination. I had a chance to hear Tony in performance recently and was immediately sucked into the powerful hydraulic swing of his groove from note one. He also did an occasional vocal or ballad. In humble verbal acknowledgement to main influence Jimmy Smith, Monaco's organ playing forged fiercely forward, without undermining Smith's still-active career, admittedly in its twilight.

Appropriately called Fiery Blues (Summit Records), from Tony Monaco Trio and Friends, there is something very appealing to the feel of the music, I think played by jazz players, but in a deep, greasy "chitlin' circuit" feel for our times. This is not music made to preserve yesterday's sound or scene. Nor is it "Acid Jazz," which to me is kind of organ Hip-Hop without the words! Something forward-thinking with retro instrumentation is going on. For compositional material, jazz organist Don Patterson, pianist/composer Horace Silver, and Miles Davis are represented alongside Memphis Slim, T-Bone Walker and from the roots of acid jazz, guitarist Leon Spencer. One Willie Pooch is vocalist on three cuts. Most of the other musicians, guitar/drums/sax, are pairs of players sharing duties among the tracks, and are longtime Columbus cohorts of the leader. To top it off, Tony produced and recorded his own disc, playing with some new sonic toys for this production, with the soul of the music, not technology, the highest priority. Rather than break down the tracks, let me just say I have listened to the disc repeatedly due to attraction. Groove time!

Bruce KatzUntil spinning the Massachusetts disc from The Bruce Katz Band, A Deeper Blue(Severn Records), I wondered how another blues organ release could rate. The first thing obvious is an all-instrumental group. What we have is an experienced sound since Katz spent many years with guitarist Ronnie Earl (a guy who's jazzy but established in blues circles, usually accompanied by organ). Earl guests on a couple tracks but lesser-known guitarist Michael Williams, a collaborator with Katz for years, plays on other cuts with biting results. As an organist Bruce Katz doesn't lay down his own bass lines for this record but defers to electric bassist Rod Carey to shuffle, dance, and "after-hours" the night away. He also plays rather frequent piano right down to boogie-woogie rhythms, which not all organists do. Nods at country music, the boogaloo rhythm and a tune by blues guitarist Earl Hooker meld with some swing, more bouncy than grooving. What we don't have is a rock sound, such as what Hammond B3 organ did for Deep Purple, Santana, and Brian Auger. If anything, this leans toward ’60’s R&B, echoing the Memphis sound of Booker T & The MG’s or Bill Black’s Combo. And of course, Ronnie Earl’s present-day instrumental group sound. It’s also been “wife-tested,” blindfold-style, and it got her foot tapping. That’s always a great gauge. Suffice it to say this is neither jazz nor rock, but blues down the middle. And that, I'd rate it quite worthwhile. Party time!

---Tom Coulson
(Read my column)

Amos GarrettAmos Garrett left his native Detroit to first work a guitar professionally in Toronto. He later crossed paths with Ian and Sylvia as a member of the country-rock ensemble Great Speckled Bird. His guitar playing was made famous in Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis" and Anne Murray's "Snowbird." Stony Plain Records just released two titles from this still active fret master. First is the reissue of The Return of the Formerly Brothers, which earned a Juno Award when it first came out in 1989. This recording is with Gene Taylor (The Blasters, Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Doug Sahm (Texas Tornados). An interview with Sahm is one of two bonus tracks, the other being the song "Louis Riel" about an aboriginal Canadian hung by the government. From this classic roots rock recording it is a straight line to the fun and spirited new acoustic solo album from Garret, Acoustic Album. Here, like listening to a Leo Kottke or John Fahey album, we get to revel in generous helping of Garrett's distinctive playing. Garrett selected a slew of classic tunes from Hoagy Carmichael, Jelly Roll Morton and Leadbelly along with new Garrett material to make this an entertaining instant classic from a real country-pop guitar icon.

Rounder Records ( released six classic Leon Redbone albums back in July and August. The mysterious bluesman (who to me looks like comedian Don Novello --- they even work the same events) is responsible for delightful and entertaining music drawing from early country and ragtime styles. Songs like "Dancin' on Daddy's Shoes" and the whimsical "When I Kissed That Girl Goodbye" on Whistling in the Wind showcase the humor and light melodies of Redbone's particular brand of nostalgia. There are a lot of talented guests on this album, such as guest vocalists Ringo Starr ("My Little Grass Shack") and Merle Haggard ("Settin' by the Fire"). On No Regrets, the particular, cheeks-full effect of Redbone's intonation seems a blend of Louis Armstrong and Dr. John on this jazz and Western swing album. On this album, compare Redbone's album-closer, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," to Elvis Presley's take. Guests include Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas. Hank Williams, Jr. shows up on Red to Blue for a little banter before "Lovesick Blues." This is one of the many gems from the past that Redbone reincarnates. Hank pere as well as Patsy Cline and many others previously did "Lovesick Blues". The second installment, released in August, was made up of Sugar, Up a Lazy River, and Any Time.

It is commonly known that The Beatles arose from the "Merseybeat scene," but most would be hard-pressed to identify any other participants in that movement. This DVD collection of two video programs, Swinging U.K. and U.K. Swings Again (JEF Films), contains such Merseybeat participants as The Merseybeat and Liverpool's The Wackers. This is all pretty tame stuff, not like digging back to heat The Beatles howling "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" in Hamburg as everyone delivers the goods on a fine line between swinging and being a Monty Python skit on the scene. There is good stuff here from Millie (the petite singer that gives a whole new spin to lollipop), The Animals, Lulu & The Luvvers and more.

Über-bassist Rob Wasserman provides us with a rich, three-disc set, Trilogy (Rounder), exploring his output in solo, duet and trio configurations with one ensemble form per disc. Duets and Trios previously came out separately and earned Grammys. This set contains those two as well as Solo, a collection of acoustic bass pieces. Wasserman possesses a talent that can exist in a wide spectrum of styles. He had been a member of the Grateful Dead side project Ratdog for years, as well as working long term with Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, and Van Morrison. Other than Van, all those associations are captured here along with (duets) Rickie Lee Jones, Stephane Grappelli, and Aaron Neville as well as (trios) Willie Dixon, Neil Young, and Marc Ribot. These three discs brought together: "trioly" a thing of beauty.

This rich bevy of smashing Jimi Hendrix material, Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight (Universal), is bursting at the seams even at the same time it is spread out over two audio CDs and a DVD. This all strives to document the monumental and historical event that was Hendrix's appearance at the third and final Isle of Wight festival. This was a time when Hendrix could look back to and perform songs like "Dolly Dagger" and "Foxey Lady" in order to build the audience up to receive the new experiments of "Ezy Ryder" and "In From the Storm." The DVD includes concert footage, making-of elements and scene-setting shots of the rebellious outsiders without tickets and one jubilant local. This includes much breezy commentary from Jimi onstage as he plays fast and loose with descriptions of those gathered and world events.

--- Tom Schulte

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