Thursday, October 23, 2014

New Orleans to Memphis

The final leg of our US road trip began with a drive  north from New Orleans towards Jackson through mostly back roads. We continued our quest for blues markers by stopping off at a one horse town called Montecello where one is supposed to be located, but we couldn't find it and no one there knew of its existence. That evenng in Jackson we went back to Hal and Mal's for the Monday blues jam. This tme soul singer Dorothy Moore was there, celebrating her recent birthday. She sang one number (Baby What You Want Me To Do) but there were a lot of would be stars hoping for their chance to shine, some better than others. Of the regulars there, Pat Brown hosted and gave great renditions of You Were Stepping Out, Rock Me Baby and Make Me Yours, The Rock was soulful on Nine Pound Steel and got the crowd dancing with The Twist, and King Edward and his band provided excellent backing to all the acts. Once Dorothy left the crowd thinned out and things got a little chaotic with so many would be performers, but we got to eat a slice of Dorothy's birthday cake and it was another good evening, especially for a Monday.
Next day we continued our travels through Mississippi, checking out blues markers and having a down home soul food lunch in Houston, before arriving at Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis. There's  a visitors centre next to the tiny shack that was his childhood home, plus a couple of markers, none of which were there the last time I visited in 1998, and there's also a life size statue of the King in a nearby park.
Back in Memphis, our last stop, we went down to Beale Street to see Earl the Pearl once again. Next morning we visited the home of 92 year old Quinton Clauch, the man who founded both the Hi and Goldwax labels and worked with Sam Phillips at Sun. He's still active and is currently promoting a CD by a singer called Alonzo Pennington. I will be writing up the interview on The Vinyl Word soon.
After leaving Quinton's house we had lunch at Miss Girlie's soul food place and then went to the National Civil Rights Museum. Located at the former Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King was shot, this was my first visit, as it had been closed on previous visits to Memphis. It's a very impressive museum with much to see and well worth a look. Our final night in Memphis brought another visit to Beale Street, where we went to see Preston Shannon's mainly soul act at B B King's Blues Club,
Today it is back to the UK with some great memories and quite a bit of vinyl. I will be putting a selection of photos up over the coming days so watch this space!
Nick Cobban

Monday, October 20, 2014

Southern soul rounds off BBQ festival

Southern soul dominated on a fantastic final day of the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival in New Orleans, with great performances by Mel Waiters, Denise Lasalle and Bobby Rush and good stuff too from some of the lesser known artists.
Mel Waiters had a largely black female audience eating out of the palm of his hand as he swept onto the stage wearing a pink suit and showing what an excellent showman he is. Originally from San Antonio, he is a big name on the chitlin circuit and knows how to whip up some fervour with a non stop, risqué and often amusing set, backed by a lively band and two female backing singers. Numbers included many of his hits, such as The Smaller The Club The Bigger The Party, Pop It Baby, Got No Curfew (much enjoyed by the ladies in the audience), Got My Whisky, Hit It And Quit It and Hole In The Wall. He also paid tribute to two Bobby's who have passed away recently - Bobby Womack (That's The Way I Feel about You) and Bobby Bland (Members Only Tonight).
Also on top form was Denise Lasalle, appearing with her own band. In an interview earlier she explained how she had run away to Chicago from Mississippi, how she met up with Billy The Kid Emerson and how, after an unproductive year with Chess she eventually made the big time with Trapped By A a Thing Called Love in 1971. On stage she performed that song, along with the aptly titled Still The Queen, I Forgot To Remember To Forget, Juke Joint Woman, Now Run And Tell, The Walls Were Paper Thin, Drop That Zero and, inevitably, My Toot Toot.
Headlining the festival and, once again providing excellent entertainment, was the irrepressible Bobby Rush, now approaching his 81st birthday but still as fit as a flea. We know what to expect with Bobby, with his innuendo, bawdy humour, harmonica playing and big smile, not to mention his two long suffering, but very visual booty girls, and he didn't disappoint. There were the over sized knickers, Elvis impersonation, numbers such as She's Fine, Garbage Man, an all action Hoochie Coochie Man, 19 Years Old and Night Fishing, all performed in the best possible taste - if your taste is for the low down, dirty and very funny. Bobby is a one off and not to be missed.
Earlier in the day there were some names which were new to me but still enjoyable. Luke Winslow King has the look of Benedict Cumberbatch and a soft bluesy voice and is one to watch. Brother Tyrone started well with a couple of Clarence Carter songs (Snatching It Back and Slip Away) but faded somewhat, Mia Borders looked and sounded good on some self penned New Orleans styled numbers, while Vasti Jackson provided some up tempo blues and showed good stage presence. Also of interest was Valerie June, an Americana singer songwriter with a piercing voice who looks great with her dreadlocks piled high and who describes her songs as 'organic moonshine roots music'.
All in all this was one of the best days I've enjoyed at a festival and highly memorable.
After the show Dave Carroll and I, along with Dave and Julie Thomas and Ronald Cook, cousin of Scotty Mick, went to The Carrollton Station bar, where we enjoyed the New Orleans style sound of the John Mooney band, with Brit Bob Andrews on keyboards. An appropriate way to end the Crescent City leg of our trip.
Nick Cobban.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Crescent City blues and more

The Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival, a three day free event in Lafayette Square in New Orleans, is well underway, but the most exciting act of the last few days was a superbly soulful gospel show at DBA in Frenchmen Street starring the Rev John Wilkins. Supported by his three daughters, each of them good singers in their own right, and a band that included Scott Bomar on bass and an energetic keyboard player, this was soul of the highest quality. Wilkins has a voice that brings to mind greats such as O V Wright and he can ring the changes from upbeat gospel tunes like Jesus Will Fix It and Wade In The Water to slow soul drenched numbers like You Can't Hurry God. He is a first rate guitarist and his daughters provided the perfect foil both with their call and response contributions and their harmonies and enthusiasm.  After a 90 minute set they took a break before Wilkins returned with an acoustic version of A Closer Walk before ending with the band and backing singers on Will The Circle Be Unbroken and I'm Going Home On a The Morning Train. Truly moving stuff, even if, like me, you aren't a believer.
The previous evening Dave Carroll and I, along with Alan Lloyd and two of his travelling companions, had a more cerebral start to the evening at the launch of a photo book about blues players called We Are The Music Makers and a talk by its photographer Tim Duffy at the Maple Street book store, with entertainment by blues guitarist Alabama Slim. From there we went to the Circle Bar where we ended up paying five dollars to listen to a horrendous band because we were waiting for a pizza we had ordered. A mistake, but next day we made up for it by having lunch at Dooky Chase, a historic soul food restaurant founded in 1941, where we met Mr Chase himself. Great food and highly recommended.
That afternoon saw the rather low key start to the Crescent City festival with performances by the brightly dressed and always acceptable Little Freddie King, who told a couple of stories about how his daddy had prompted him to write songs such as Bad Chicken and Rabbit On A Log. He was followed by Serbian blues guitarist Ana Popovic, a lady with a heavy guitar style but good legs, as someone commented.
Next morning we went to a record fair at Tulane University where I bought some New Orleans 45s and we came across a copy of a single by Marilyn Barbarin, who we saw a couple of nights previously, on sale at 200 dollars. I passed, needless to say. From there we dashed to day two of the festival, but were disappointed by the first couple of acts we saw, the New Orleans flavoured band fronted by King James, and a funky Dr John type character named Papa Mali. Leo 'Bud' Welch was also on stage, but, having seen him three times in the last month, we didn't stay. Much better was Walter Washington, who mixed blues with funk and with a wolf howl thrown in. His sound was much better than when we saw him at DBA and his band included an extra saxophone, adding to its funky sound. Best act of the day was Joe Louis Walker, who provided a mix of blues (I'm Not Messing Around and One Time Around) and gospel (I'm A Soldier For Jesus and People Get Ready, along with some pop in the form of Don't Let Go. An enjoyable set, but the headliners for the day, Los Lobos, were just a little too rock influenced for my taste and I didn't stay until the end. The weather was great though, and the final day looks pretty mouth watering, so watch this space and look out for photos of my whole trip soon.
Nick Cobban

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The road to New Orleans

My US road trip continued on Monday with a southbound trip through Mississippi to Jackson. En route we stopped at the hamlet of Glendora to take a look at the Emmett Till museum. Emmett Till was a 14 year old African American boy who was murdered after allegedly whistling at a white girl in a grocery store in the nearby village of Money. His murder, the acquittal of two white males by an all white jury, and their subsequent admission to a magazine that they had committed the crime was one of the sparks that lit the Civil Rights movement. The museum is a fitting tribute to this struggle. Further along in Greenwood we took a look at the Tallahatchee Bridge, made famous by Bobbie Gentry, the graveyard where Robert Johnson is thought to be buried and had lunch at the Rib Shack, a roadside barbecue place recommended by Rick Stein.
Driving on through torrential rain we arrived in Jackson and in the evening we went to Hal and Mal's where the Central Mississippi Blues Society hold a weekly jam session. Last year I saw Dorothy Moore there. No such luck this time (although she is expected there next week when we also plan to go) but it was another excellent night, with some great soul/blues from King Edward, the excellent Pat Brown, The Rock and local singers Dorothy Hillard, Erica Brown and Betty Holmes, all of them very good.
Next day it was onwards through Mississippi stopping off to see the blues marker at the Piney Woods blind school, where the Blind Boys of Mississippi and Sam Myers were educated. Next, for lunch, was Laurel, where Ace records' Johnny Vincent began his career in the fifties, and after Laurel we headed, appropriately enough to Hardy Street in Hattiesburg, where I bought some records at T-Bones record store. We carried on to Biloxi where we stayed the night and met up with fellow Woodie Jay McCaddin for a meal at Leo's bar in Ocean Springs.
New Orleans, our next destination, is my favourite city after London and it was good to be back. We spent the afternoon browsing the records at Euclid, which has moved one block, before meeting up with Alan and his brother for a meal of catfish at Mulates where Lee Benoit's Cajun band was playing. Finally we ended up at DBA in Frenchman Street to see Walter 'Wolfman' Washington and the Roadmasters. This was quite a mellow jazzy set with some great guitar playing from Walter followed by a couple of guest singers on stage. One of them was Marilyn Barbarin, who recorded with Wardell Querzerque in the seventies. She still has a good voice and it was good to catch one of the lesser New Orleans names in action.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Blues and more blues

After two days of hot and humid weather, the third day at the King Biscuit Festival in Helena was much cooler, quite chilly in fact. Somehow the music seemed to cool off too, with little in the way of genuine excitement. That's not to say that there were no quality acts, and a couple of legends, in the form of harmonica blues star James Cotton, and steel guitar player Sonny Rhodes. Sonny had to be helped to the stage but sounded fine on numbers such as Why Do You Treat Me So Cold and I Go The River.
Another class act was the Kenny 'Beady Eyes' Smith band, which included Bob Stroger, Bob Margolin and Omar Coleman. Bob Stroger was particularly effective on You're Sweet. Another venerable bluesman on stage was 81 year old Big George Brock while the newer generation was represented by David Kimbrough Jr. I was impressed by the soulful voice of Nick Nixon, playing with the Andy T Band, who was excellent on the couple of numbers that I caught, including Have You Seen My Monkey.
Back in Clarksdale, the real excitement of the day came at the Ground Zero blues club where James 'Super Chikan' Johnson was playing with his all female band. The place really rocked with an all action set covering all the bases through blues to rock and roll, with the keyboard player hammering the keys with all her might. Surprise guest was the Queen of Beale Street Ruby Wilson. Now using a walking frame she looks as glamorous as ever and her voice is still true and powerful.
Sunday in Clarksdale saw what has become a traditional street festival with some good blues singers performing, including the excellent Robert 'Bilbo' Walker, who mixed some Chuck Berry alongside traditional blues. Also performing was Leo 'Bud' Welch, who I saw a month or so ago in London. Suddenly a star at the age of 82, his drummer Dixie Street told me that enough money has now been raised to make a film of his life, covering his missed opportunities, work as a logger in rural Mississippi and sudden success late in life. In the afternoon there was more blues on show at Hopsons Plantation, featuring several acts from the King Biscuit, such as Bob Margolin, and a few new ones, including the Cedric Burnside Project and Kenny Brown. A relaxing end to an intense weekend of blues.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Biscuit rises on the second day

After a first day at the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas, when rock, rather than blues, dominated, day two brought some excellent blues acts, until an electrical storm drove us away without having seen Bobby Rush.
Sonny Burgess and the Pacers kicked things off on day one with some solid rockabilly with blues and R and B numbers included, such as Just A little Bit, Caldonia and Sweet Home Chicago. Drummer Bobby Crafford took the lead on Shake It Up And Go and there were good versions of Ronnie Hawkins' Odessa, Long Tall Sally, The House Is Rocking and Fulsom Prison Blues, before Sonny finished with Red Headed Woman, first recorded at Sun in 1956. There's only one stage in use on the festival's first day and the organisers tend to play it safe with heavy guitar sounds dominating. Eric Hughes, now a regular at the Rum Boogie Cafe in Memphis, proved to be effective but a little on the heavy side. Numbers included I'll Play The Blues For You and Drink Up, title track of his latest CD. Next up was festival regular Sterling Billingsley whose set tended towards the tried and tested, with Down Home Blues, Caldonia (again) and There's A Man Down There included. Billy Branch and the Sons Of The Blues brought a touch of genuine down home blues before the really heavy guitar started with Guitar Shorty who walked through the audience playing all the while. His numbers included The Blues Got The Best Of Me, I'm Gonna Leave You and Hey Joe. Some light relief followed with Jimmy Hall and Wet Willie. I saw both Guitar Shorty and Jimmy Hall at Porretta this year and Jimmy in particular exceeded expectations. He didn't disappoint this time either with the Doowop flavoured Street Corner Serenade, Gimme Some Kind Of Sign, Lonely, Love The One You're With, the New Orleans styled Too Tall To Mambo, Same Old Moon, Grits and Groceries and the Wet Willie hit Keep On Smiling. Not blues perhaps but enjoyable and probably the day's highlight. Finally it was back to heavy rock with not one but two slide guitarists on stage in the form of Roy Rogers and Sonny Landreth.  A bit too much for me so I didn't see out the set.
The second day, with three stages in action, offered more choice and three stand out acts for me, none of them on the main stage.  The first was Lonnie Shields, a dynamic home town singer with a good, if loud, band who mixed some heavy blues with soul in the form of Can I Change My Mnd, The Turnng Point and Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City. Lonnie spun around playing his guitar and got the crowd going with soulful interpretations of How Can You Mend A Broken Heart and The Thrill Is Gone. Enjoyable stuff.
Elsewhere Earnest Guitar Roy on the main stage sounded pretty good, Toronzo Cannon with his Flying V guitar, was loud, and Richard Rip Lee Pryor, playing solo, provided foot tapping blues, but it was Demetria Taylor, daughter of bluesman Eddie Taylor, who lit the fuse on the Front Porch Stage. A lively performer with a big voice, she was excellent on such up tempo numbers as Bad Girl, Trying To Make A Living, Miss May's Juke Joint, Going Back To Mississippi and Ernestina Leave My Man Alone. Other numbers included Hoochie Coochie Girl, Long Way From Home and Sweet Home Chicago. An excellent set, well received.
Demetria was followed on stage by a promising young bluesman named Marquis Knox while on the main stage festival regular Anson Funderburg was superb as ever, with quite a few New Orleans numbers such as Something You Got and Sick And Tired, and with Big Joe Meyer as guest vocalist. Finally, and as it turned out, the last act before the storm arrived, it was the turn of Nora Jean Bruso, a blues singer with more than a hint of Ko Ko Taylor about her, along with a touch of Etta James, who was a revelation. Originally from Greenwood, Ms, she moved to Chicago and has been around for many years, first recording with Jimmy Dawkins in 1985 but it was the first time I've seen her. This was an exciting, high quality set with a couple of numbers (Miss May's Juke Joint and Going Back To Mississippi) that Nora recorded which Demetria had covered earlier. Her highly enjoyable set included quite a few self penned numbers and she showed that she is as effective on slow numbers such as At Last as she is on solid up tempo blues songs such as Got A Man To Ramble and I'm Just A Fool For You and the gospel flavoured Let's Shout. She ended her set with I Can't Seem To Make The Right Moves and within minutes the rain was falling and the lightning was flashing, depriving us of Bobby Rush. But it was a pretty good day overall with much to enjoy.
Back in Clarksdale afterwards, having driven through some incredibly heavy rain with lightning all    around, Dave and I went to Red's once again, where there was some excellent blues on offer from
Anthony 'Big A' Sherrod, enlivened by a bunch of characters who could have been the cast from a play set in the Deep South, including a skinny guy who shouted encouragement and posed during songs, a dude with a big hat who danced with the ladies and a huge guy who looked like Lenny from Of Mice And Men. Great entertainment.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

US road trip - Memphis and Clarksdale

Two days into my latest US road trip and there's already been some good music and more than a little stress. I was prevented from getting onto my flight to Philadelphia en route to Memphis because my camera had no battery in it, the battery being in my luggage which had already been loaded. Apparently under the latest over protective security rules a camera that doesn't work is considered a threat. Fortunately US Airways booked me on another flight via Charlotte. I retrieved my suitcase, reunited my camera with the battery and arrived in Memphis only 20 minutes after my travelling companion Dave Carroll.
We went down to Beale Street and there we came across 76 year old bluesman Earl 'the Pearl' Banks at the Blues City Cafe playing with a band that included Hi Rhythm Section members Archie Turner and Leroy Hodges. Chatting with Archie, who I saw less than two weeks ago at the Take Me To The River show in London, he told me he would be back in London soon with other Hi musicians backing Paul Rodgers, former singer with Free and Bad Company, at the Royal Albert Hall for the launch of a new album recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis.
Next morning we took a look at the newly erected marker at the site of American Studios, where the likes of Elvis, the Box Tops, Wilson Pickett and Bobby Womack recorded. The site is now occupied by a Family Dollar store, but at least its significance has been belatedly recognised. From there it was off to Mississippi to check out various historic blues markers to the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell,, Otha Turner and R L Burnside. We had lunch in Como, where McDowell and Turner lived, and then went to Oxford, a pleasant university town with a delightful square at its centre with a red British phone box. I bought some 45s at The End of All Music vinyl record store just outside town, an excellent shop and the only record store for miles around.
Then it was off to Clarksdale. We met up with Alan Lloyd and his party at the Ground Zero Blues Club where a mediocre blues band was playing. The music was better at Red's juke joint where 87 year old Cadillac John was singing and playing harmonica. Today we are off to day one of the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas. More reports to follow and photos when I get home.
Nick Cobban