Friday, October 19, 2018

Photos from Mississippi

We traversed Mississippi thoroughly during our recent road trip. Here are some photos from the first few days, beginning with some of the many Blues Markers in the state.
We spent a couple of days in Jackson and visited the Queen of Hearts juke joint, where blues artist McKinney Williams (pictured) was having a drink, and Dave, Alan and Lee chose tunes on the juke box. Also Hal and Mal's where the Blue Monday jam features local blues artists including Abdul Rashid (pictured).
We visited Vicksburg during our tour where Willie Dixon came from.
Here's one of me at the Blue Front Cafe, one of the last few remaining juke joints still operating.
We continued to Cleveland to watch Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. Flash photography was banned in the theatre.
We also visited Oxford which has a pleasant square at its centre and a couple of blues markers. There is a marker and statue at the university commemorating James Meredith, the first black student to be admitted, but only after a battle. There is also an excellent record store.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Photos from Baton Rouge & Bogalusa

We are back from our US road trip, gradually recovering from our exertions. Here is the first batch of photos from the trip. This is the four of us at the recreated juke joint at the Museum in West Baton Rouge which we visited at the start of our trip.
Here another one at the museum: this is me with the motto for the trip on the wall .
In Baton Rouge we visited the Buddy Stewart museum and record shop. This is his daughter Philippa who now runs the shop. There are thousands of records there and we paid a second visit later in the trip.
We spent the evening at the blues jam at Phil Bradys's bar where this band was one of several playing.
Moving on, we went to the Bogalusa Blues and Heritage Festival. This is Big Daddy O.
Here are a couple of photos of blues man Kenny Neal.
This is Sonny Landreth, an excellent guitarist from Lafayette,
On day two there was a Fessaround - a tribute to Professor Longhair. Here is piano player Tom Worrell and the band, one of Marilyn Barbarin and one of me with Al 'Carnival Time' Johnson.
On day two, here is Chris LeBlanc.
This is blues guitarist Vasti Jackson.
Here is the excellent Ruthie Foster.
Here are a few of the headliner at the festival, the great Bobby Rush and his dancers, including Mizz Lowe.
Finally in this batch, here are the four of us at Bogalusa. From left to right Dave Carroll, Lee Wilkinson, Alan Lloyd and me (Nick Cobban). More photos soon.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Crescent City Blues & BBQ

We are on to the final stretch of our road trip and started the weekend with an early lunch of baked ham at Mother's, a New Orleans institution with good food but very basic decor. Then it was off to the first full day of the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival. First up was Mem Shannon and the Membership. He's a decent bluesman with a V shaped guitar and was fine on numbers like 3 O'clock Blues and The Blues Looked Out For Me but not exceptional. The next act  John 'Papa' Gros, played some New Orleans funk but was rather dull.
Things came to life with the next act, Rev John Wilkins, who produced some blistering gospel blues with the aid of his three daughters. Wearing a black cowboy hat he looked every bit the southern preacher and most of his songs were praising God, including You Can't Hurry God, Wade In The Water, On The Battlefield and Will The Circle Be Unbroken. One of his daughters took the lead on a couple of numbers and gave them her all. Passionate stuff and an excellent set. Next up was Shemekia Copeland who was also in great form. She has a new CD out called America's Child which includes some thought provoking songs such as Ain't Got Time for Hate and Would You Take My Blood. Others included The Battle Is Over But The War Goes On, Somebody Else's Jesus and When You Play With The Devil. Shemekia introduced Irma Thomas on stage to congratulate her on her recent Americana award. Following her was Walter Wolfman Washington, an ever present on trips to the Big Easy. On this occasion he seemed to be in one of his jazzy moods but I didn't see the whole set so can't really comment.
Headlining was Jimmie Vaughan, a fine guitarist with a top notch band with four horns who began his set with some rather mellow laid back numbers including It's Been A Long Time and I Ain't Seen Nobody Like You. Things picked up with Just A Little Bit, a sing along version of Hey Baby and You Can't Sit Down before he was joined on stage by two back up singers, one male and one female, who brought real life to Like It Like That and the Flamingos If I Can't Have You. The set closer Boom Bapa Boom was a real stormer.
Afterwards we were in several minds about what to see and went to the Hi Ho Lounge to see a bit of a psychedelic improvisational band called Hash Cabbage. We soon gave up on that and went to Frenchmen Street where we ended up seeing a highly competent and enjoyable soul covers group in the Balcony Music Club called the Fleurtations. They are a nine piece outfit with horns and a couple of sassy singers. Free entry as well.
Day two of the festival began for me with Kenny Brown, a white slide guitarist who learned his art in North Mississippi. He was well worth a listen as he really drives his numbers along, Shake Your Money Maker being one example. Next up was Papa Mali, a New Orleans blues man who was merely OK, but the next act, the Keeshea Pratt Band  from Houston really got the crowd going with some full blooded blues in the style of Ko Ko Taylor. Keeshea worked the audience on numbers like Rock Me Baby, Have A Good Time, Wang Dang Doodle, Cold Sweat and Rock Steady and although it wasn't original material it was well done. Next up was a real treat: a set by 93 year old Henry Gray, whose piano playing and vocals remain in good health. His career goes back to the Chicago blues scene of the 1940s and he was a member of Howlin' Wolf's band for 12 years before returning to Baton Rouge where he still plays a weekly gig. He was backed by an enthusiastic Terrance Simien on rub board, Bob Corritore on harmonica and Lil Buck Sinegal provided some stinging guitar in a 60 minute set which included over 20 songs including Sweet Home Chicago, Bright Lights Big City (twice), Going Down Slow and Blueberry Hill.
The next act, Cookie McGee, from Texas was obviously a good guitarist with quite a soulful voice, but she didn't really do it for me. The headline act, however, was another matter. The Bo-Keys, led by Scott Bomar, provided the backing for Percy Wiggins and a quite scintillating set by Don Bryant, who must now be a contender for the title of the world's greatest living soul singer. Percy started the set with half a dozen songs sung with his customary style, rather wooden but with a truly soulful voice. They included Can't Find Nobody (To Take Your Place), Writing On The Wall and Never Found  A Girl. Then it was the turn of Don Bryant, whose gorgeous voice is only matched by his superb stagecraft. Nickel And A Nail, Set My Soul On Fire, Everything's Gonna Be Alright, I'll Go Crazy, I Got To Know, One Ain't Enough And Two's Too Many, What Kind Of Love, the ballad Tell Me How Do I Get There and That Driving Beat were all delivered to perfection, another soul master class from the great man. As an encore he sang a stunning Don't Turn Your Back On Me and finally I Can't Stand The Rain with Percy also on stage. This was a wonderful way to end a great festival and a great trip. But it wasn't quite over yet. We walked the few yards to the Ace Hotel where the Marc Stone band introduced, first, New Orleans stalwart Ernie Vincent and then Marilyn Barbarin who was truly excellent on some Aretha covers, including Save Me, Think and Respect, and some originals including her first record Believe Me. The icing on the already delicious cake we thought as we headed off for some final beers at the Avenue pub. Look out for photos of our trip in the coming days.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Nesbit to N'Awlins

After leaving Memphis we drove south to Nesbit to visit Jerry Lee Lewis's ranch. Lee, who is a big Jerry Lee fan, has been twice before but it was a new experience for the rest of us. And a surreal one it was too. It's not a big house but is packed with photos, gold records, personal items, certificates and of course his grand piano.  We were shown round by his son, Jerry Lee Lewis III who was affable and amusing about his dad's eccentricities. There's the glass fronted cabinet with a bullet hole - shot because Jerry Lee didn't like it. And a bedroom door with knife marks in it caused by him sitting on the bed and throwing his many knives at it. There's his white Rolls and another car with number Killer9. Hardly worth 45 dollars for a 45 minute tour, but if you're a fan, and even if you're not, it's a fascinating insight into a man who delights and appals in equal measure. He's still active - his son, who is also his general factotum, was off to Reno next day, - and long may he be so. It seems there's a good chance he will make a return visit to London next year, and I will be there.
Following lunch in Como where there are some blues markers we drove to Baton Rouge for the night. In the evening we made a return visit to Kenny Neal's Juke Joint hoping for some live music. There wasn't a band but his brother Fred, who plays keyboards in his band, was there and made us incredibly welcome. He did some impromptu solo numbers including Bring It On Home To Me, Members Only, No Woman No Cry and Cheaper To Keep Her and a young lady called Vernicia, a law student from Seattle, happily chose songs on the juke box with Dave for us. Fred insisted on buying  us drinks and Bernicia got quite emotional when we left. They were all genuinely friendly and it was a lovely, unexpected evening. Maybe we are the only white visitors they've had. Sad but probably true.
Arriving in New Orleans next day was a bit like coming home as I've been there so many times over the last 30 years. The weather was great and we all felt more relaxed after our exertions of the last fortnight. In the evening we went to the Rock 'n' Bowl to see Geno Delafose, one of the best zydeco performers around. We were taken aback when, just before the show, a video came on of someone singing the Star Spangled Banner. The entire audience stood with hand on heart with the exception of us and an English woman who was equally bemused. I know the owner of the place, John Blancher is known as being very right wing, but this sort of jingoistic claptrap went out of fashion in the UK in the sixties when people stopped standing for the National Anthem after cinema performances. Geno was excellent though.
Next day we walked around the French Quarter up to Frenchman Street before settling down in Ryan's Irish bar for a goalless bore draw against Croatia. This was the first day of the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival with just two acts. The first was the ever reliable Little Freddie King dressed, as usual, in a brightly coloured jacket and standing stock still throughout his set. Not great but quite enjoyable. Next up was Samantha Fish, who was clearly very popular with the crowd. A blonde rock chick, she looks good but is more rock than blues. I enjoyed Chills And Fever and one or two other numbers but some of her other numbers, played on any of five guitars, were too heavy for my taste. From there we went to the Parish Room at the House of Blues to see Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band. They are a three piece from Indiana comprising a guitarist with a finger picking style, Breezy, a female washboard player  and a drummer. There's a bluesy feel about them although they have quite a tough edge tempered with quite a bit of humour. An entertaining outfit who have made eight albums so far. Two more days of the festival to go so a final report will appear soon followed by some photos.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Soul ramblings in Yazoo City and Memphis

After Clarksdale we thought we would try something different and drove south towards Yazoo City  stopping off to look at blues markers in Tchula and Lexington on the way and nearly getting lost on a seemingly endless dirt road. Yazoo City is much like other delta towns except that its Main Street comprises rows of different coloured buildings known as the Painted Ladies. It was there that the town's free music festival was being held and 99 per cent of those attending were African Americans. Many of the artists were big names in southern soul, but little known outside the South. These included Johnny Rawls who was even better than the day before in Helena. His set this time included two Tyrone Davis songs and Walking The Dog, which got several members of the audience cocking their leg and faking doggy sex. Another great act was Ms Jody, a bouncy singer who has recorded dozens of albums. Her numbers included uptempo items like The Bop, Sugar Daddy and Ms Jody's Thang, a pleading duet with a band member, Don't Give A Damn and Let's Play Hide And Seek. It was raunchy, fun and excellent entertainment. Also popular, especially with the ladies, was the headline act Sir Charles Jones, whose set included popular items such as Friday, Pop That Coochie and Mississippi Boy. He was on late and seemed to lose much of his audience midway through his set and we joined the exodus. Other acts included Gary Lil G Jenkins, who sang and played guitar and had a backing tape rather than a band but was good on Its A Man's World, DanI, a modern R and B singer, and bluesman Jimmy Duck Holmes. An excellent and very hot day.
Next day, Sunday, we drove north towards Memphis, stopping off for an excellent pork lunch at Jake and Rip's in Grenada. We started the evening off in Beale Street, as you do, with a quick look in the Jerry Lee Lewis bar. Then to the Blues City Cafe for a couple of beers and a Memphis Soul Stew where Earl the Pearl was playing his usual enjoyable stuff. The next day was a frustrating one. We found Little Milton's statue, near that of Bobby Bland which we saw last night, and decided to have breakfast at the Arcade Cafe, a famous Memphis landmark. What a mistake. We waited 75 minutes and our food still hadn't come so we left. Last time I go there. We were on a mission to find music graves and found a few in Memorial Park Cemetery: Isaac Hayes, Marshall Grant of the Tennessee Two and Bill Justis, but there are many more there. From there we went to the Galilee Memorial Gardens intent on finding the marker for O V Wright but despite our best efforts and careful study of a video of the ceremony when it was put there, after a fund raising campaign by writer Preston Lauterbach, among others, we couldn't find it. We did find Memphis Slim's grave however. It was a quiet Monday night so after a meal on Westy's we had a couple of beers in the Flying Saucer and called it a day.
Our final full day in Memphis began with us seeking the birthplace of Aretha Franklin in Lucy Ave. It's derelict but there's talk of turning it into a tourist attraction.  They've done something similar with Memphis Slim's former house near Stax which is now some kind of studio. We also had a look around the new Blues Foundation centre. It's quite well done with a lot of interactive stuff but not that many exhibits beyond Eddie Clearwater's headdress and dresses once owned by Denise LaSalle and Mavis Staples. From there we went grave hunting again, to the New Park Cemetery where we found the graves of Rufus Thomas, Johnny Ace, Al Jackson and three of the Barkays. We failed to find, in another cemetery a few miles away, that of James Carr. After a look round the Goner record shop, which had some good but rather pricey records, we had a beer and a game of table football in a nearby bar. We spent our last evening in Memphis in Midtown which has seen a great revival in recent years with loads of bars and restaurants. We had a super meal at the Soul Fish Cafe and some beers at a local bar before, for once, an early night. We are travelling south tomorrow for more adventures. Photos in a week or so.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Travels around the Mississippi Delta

Leaving Cleveland we headed to Drew, where there is a blues marker on the Staple Singers, and passed Parchman Farm prison, which inspired many blues songs. From there we went to the university town of Oxford which, unlike most of Mississippi, is thriving and prosperous. There's a pretty town square with an English phone box at one corner and a recent addition is the brilliant End Of All Music record shop, with a great selection of blues and soul records, which has relocated from out of town. Continuing our quest for blues markers we checked one out at the university and  while there, we took a look at the statue of James Meredith. He was the first black student there whose admission was opposed by the state governor and other white racists and only admitted when President Kennedy sent in the National Guard. It was a key moment in civil rights history. Chatting to a post grad student we learned that Meredith is still alive and pays visits to the campus occasionally.
We moved on to Clarksdale and, after a meal at the Stone Pony, where a quiz was taking place, we went to Red's, still as basic a juke joint as ever, to see local bluesman Lucious Spiller. He's an excellent guitarist with a humorous approach who claims to be the nephew of Magic Sam. A good evening.
Next morning we walked around Clarksdale for a bit. It seems to be benefiting from all the blues tourists but most of the buildings remain empty and/or derelict. From there we headed in search of Emmett Till, the 14 year old black boy from Chicago who was murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. We visited the courthouse in Sumner where his murderers  were acquitted by an all white male jury. They later told a magazine that they were in fact guilty. There's an interpretative centre there with details of the trial. Not far away, at Graball Landing, is the spot where Emmett's body was found. The sign marking the place was recently peppered with bullets and removed. The replacement has also been shot at. In nearby Glendora there is a small museum that Dave and I visited a few years ago but which was closed this time. We went on to the Tutwiler funeral home, now derelict, where Emmett's body was taken. When the casket was returned to Chicago it was opened, revealing the mutilation that had occurred, sparking anger and igniting the Civil Rights movement. In the evening we went to the Ground Zero blues club for a blues jam featuring Big A and Steve Kolbus and hosted by co owner Bill Puckett.
Friday saw us drive over to Helena, Arkansas, for a little bit of the King Biscuit Festival. It was a baking hot day so we were happy to spend it at the indoor Front Porch Stage where Bobby Rush kicked things off on good style with a solo set (no dancing girls). He was followed by PatThomas with some country blues and husband and wife duo Johnie B and Iretta Sanders with some Chicago blues including Wang Dang Doodle and Something You Got among others. After some straight ahead blues from Earl the Pearl Banks, a long time regular performer on Beale Street, we were treated to some superb soul/blues by Johnny Rawls. Johnny has played with many of the greats, indeed I saw him back James Carr when he played at Blackheath in the nineties, and is also a good solo performer. He has a new CD out called I'm Still Around and his 45 minute set included some real gems, including Red Cadillac, Turn Back The Hands of Time (on which he backed Otis Clay he said), I Say Yes, Can I Get It and Shake It. A great day at the festival which cost us nothing and to cap it all I bought a bunch of 45s for 10 cents each.
But if the daytime was good the evening was brilliant. We headed off to the Horseshoe Casino in Robinsonville to see one of the best soul shows I've seen in a long time  with a 90 per cent black audience who really got involved. First up was Carla Thomas, dressed in a black cat suit, who was in fine voice and who was backed by the cream of Memphis musicians, including Charles and Leroy Hodges and Thomas Bingham. She began well with Lovey Dovey and followed with several of her own songs including Something Good, No Time To Lose, a great song written by Deanie Parker, Sam Cooke's version of Little Red Rooster,  Baby I Like What You're Doing To Me, Let Me Be To Good To You and B-A-B-Y. After Take Me To The River she closed with a tribute to Denise LaSalle with Trapped By This Thing Called Love with a few bars of Gee Whiz. A fantastic set.
Then it was the turn of Latimore, backed by his own Chicago band, to really wow the ladies in the audience with a set which was both classy (his keyboard skills and voice remain excellent) and a little raunchy. He's an imposing man with a mane of white hair and matching beard and he kicked off with Bad Risk and moved on to Take Me To The Mountain Top, a personal favourite of mine. After some amusing chat he did an extended version of Stormy Monday, with some keyboard brilliance, then My Give A Damn Gave Out A Long Time Ago, She Took Me Round The World and the risque I'm In Love With A Big Old Pretty Girl. There was more sexy charm with There's Something About You and a song  celebrating the sexual prowess of older men called, I think, I May Be An Old Dog But I Know How To Bury A Bone (Bow Wow). Finally it was time for the song the audience had been calling for, Let's Straighten It Out, which was just superb in the hands of  the master. This was a superb set on a day that ticked all the boxes music wise. And there's much more to come. Photos will follow when I get home.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Tales from Mississippi

Our trip continued into Mississippi with breakfast at The Depot in Hattiesburg and a look at a couple of blues markers there, the Hi Hat Club and the Roots of Rock and Roll. From there it was on to Laurel to check out a marker and to Forest, where Arthur 'Big Boy Crudup came from. We stayed overnight in Jackson and went looking for the Queen of Hearts, a juke joint where they still have live blues at weekends. There was no band there but some great music on the juke box. It's a tiny place which was serving takeaway soul food to locals with very few people drinking, one exception being Bluesman McKinney Williams who has recorded a couple of albums.
Next day we had breakfast in Brent's Drugs, a fantastic original forties diner with a soda fountain and turquoise furnishings. Checking out more blues markers we moved on to Vicksburg where there is a large mural along the Mississippi river front featuring local scenes and one with Willie Dixon who came from the town. From there we went to the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia  one of the last remaining juke joints in Mississippi. In the evening, after a beer and burger at the Pig and Pint, we made our now annual visit to Hal and Mal's for the Blue Monday jam session. It was my sixth visit but, unlike others when Dorothy Moore, King Edward or J J Thames had performed, this evening was a bit low key. Regulars Abdul Rashid and Percy, in his gold lame suit, sang and the band was good but the others were rather disappointing with the exception of harmonica player Jock Webb. A good night none the less. Next day we breakfasted at Sugar's, a soul food place where I had no option but to have grits with my eggs and bacon. Reminds me of the semolina I was forced to eat at primary school. Leaving Jackson we had a look at
Kosciusko,where there is a marker for Charlie Musselwhite and where Oprah Winfrey and James Meredith hail from, and Grenada, home town of both Magic Sam and Magic Slim. In the evening we took a chance and went to see Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue at Delta State University in Cleveland. We didn't know what to expect as his fan base is young.  But he's from a well known New Orleans family (his grandfather was Jessie Ooh Poo Pah Doo Hill) so we hoped for some New Orleans funk. What we got was a wall of incessant noise from the eight piece band which included two very loud drummers. Shorty (Troy Andrews) is clearly a talented trombonist and trumpeter but his sound is not to our taste . I recognised Ernie K-doe's Here Come The Girls and Kool and the Gang's Get Down On It, but while the students in the theatre screamed their approval we were unimpressed and left after an hour to go for a much needed drink at the Airport Grocery