Friday, February 21, 2014

Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown - Goin’ to the Delta

Ruf Records, 2014

By Phillip Smith; February 21, 2014

Keeping with tradition, Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown has returned once again to the studio to record another batch of hot electric Blues for our listening pleasure. The album is called Goin’ to the Delta, and alongside of Simmonds, is bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm. 

What I really like about this disc, besides the music itself, is the cohesiveness of the songs, all penned by Simmonds, by the way.  This is album-oriented music, which is best heard from beginning to end, unlike the music popularized with the MP3 generation, where the song is the final product, and not the album. Simmonds takes us on a journey fit for the Blues, which passes through the realms of infatuation, rejection, loneliness, desperation, and reconciliation.   

Simmonds sets everything up with the first track, “Laura Lee”.  It’s fast-paced with a hint of rockabilly. This is roadhouse Blues at its best.  Following with “Sad News”, he brings it down a couple of notches, both in mood and tempo. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this one, about lost love, was written in the Thirties.  It sounds so timeless and genuine.  Then, there is “Nuthin’ Like the Blues”, a fun and cleverly written homage to the Blues itself, with references to howlin’ wolves, rollin’ and tumblin’, as well as dusting brooms.  Although the song doesn’t sound like the legendary classic, “Crossroads”, it certainly makes me think of it when I hear it. 

I love the way the instrumental track, “Cobra” gets my adrenalin flowing.  I call this ear candy because of its fast moving catchy riffs and hit bluesy licks.  Then, I like the fun little romp Simmonds takes us on, as he heads out for a little free-trade non-committal loving, in the song “Turn Your Lamp On “.   He then breaks out some killer slide on “I Miss Your Love”, as he pines for the woman who left him for another man.  Closing on a positive note, Simmonds plays his heart out and raises the mood and energy with “Going Back”, about going back to his baby because he’s been away too long. 

Savoy Brown has been a mainstay in the Rock and Blues community for the better portion of fifty years, and I’m so glad to see their legacy continue on with the album, Goin’ to the Delta.   

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Teeny Tucker - Voodoo To Do You!

TeBo Records, 2013

By Phillip Smith; February 15, 2014

Upon checking out the title, along with the track list, which includes song titles such as  “Voodoo Woman”, “Voodoo Voodoo”, “It’s Your Voodoo Working” , and “Love Spell”, one might be able to identify the recurring theme of Teeny Tucker's latest album, if hard-pressed.  That being said, Teeny Tucker doesn’t need voodoo to get anyone to love this recording, Voodoo To Do You!  She’s got it covered with powerful vocals, down-home blues,  choice song selections and a great band which includes guitarist Robert Hughes, bassist Robert Blackburn, drummer Darrell Jumper, David Gastel on harmonica and keyboards.  

Tucker kicks this thirteen track album off with a fantastic cover of Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman”.  It’s fast paced Blues, buttered on one side with her cool raspy vocals, and on the other side, with Hughes’ killer electric riffs. Linda Dachtyl, sitting in on this one with her B3, adds a cohesive bonding that nicely pulls the song together.  Then without skipping a beat, the intro to Howlin’ Wolfs “Commit a Crime” gently rolls in.  Hughes scores big points on this one as he nicely sets the song in motion.  Introducing new lyrics, Tucker tackles this one from a woman’s point of view.  “Tough Lover” is another cover, with a little modification. This one isn’t your Etta James’ version. Tucker takes the original and slows it down a bit, which I think is a great decision.  Interestingly, as the tempo increases, Hughes briefly steers the song from Blues to Rockabilly before bringing it back home again. 

One of my favorite tracks on the album is Tucker’s rendition of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”, originally by Gary Davis, and covered later by the Grateful Dead.  I love the guitar licks Hughes lays down on this dark and sullen song.  I can feel the emotion pouring off his guitar strings as he plays. This is probably the coolest song on the album.   

Tucker must have had her mojo working double time when she got the idea for the closer song, “Sun Room”.  This upbeat original, about the history and spirit of the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, coincidentally was recorded at the Sun Studios.  When this song plays,  I feel momentarily transported to the studio itself.  Tucker makes it easy to envision the iconic building at 706 Union Avenue, with her crafted lyrics.

As I find myself listening to this album over and over again, it’s no surprise to find out Teeny Tucker is nominated for the 2014 Blues Foundation’s Koko Taylor Award this year.  I think she deserves it. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

From the Archive : The Linn County Band : Original member, Larry Easter Recounts

By Phillip Smith

Interview date : May 27, 2010
(originally published in the Linn County Blues Society BluesPaper,  July 2010)

Larry Easter, the original sax player for Linn County was in town recently, and was gracious enough to sit down and share some moments and a brief history of the band, Linn County with me.  Larry now resides in Pasadena, CA, and still plays on a regular basis. 

Linn County, a band originating in Linn County, IA,  migrated to Chicago, and then later transplanted themselves in San Francisco.  They recorded three albums in a three year period for Mercury Records (1968 - 1970).  Original members were Stephen Miller (organ, vocals),   Larry Easter (saxophone, flue), Dino Long (bass guitar), Fred Walk (guitar, sitar), and Jerry ‘Snake’ McAndrew (drums) who left the band and  was replaced by Clark Pierson.  

Phillip: What brought you into the band?

Larry:  I went and sat in with them at a club called the Cougar Lounge.  So I got hired on the spot.  And then they said well we were going to be going to Chicago, and I said, “That’s fine“, because I had nothing better to do, and so I just went up there with them.  And what that band did was become the house band of the most prominent blues venue in Chicago at the time, it was called Mother Blues.   We played five or six nights a week from like 9:30pm to 3:30 in the morning. 

This guy Jerry Rubin, does that name ring a bell with you?  He was the guy that was with the Chicago Seven.  The political thing.  He comes into the club, and says, “We’re going to make a riot here… in Chicago  Do you want to be a part of it?’ And we didn’t want to.  We were just a bunch of guys that played.  We weren‘t into that whole political thing. 

Phillip: Were you still the Prophets when you were in Chicago?

Larry:  No, they had already changed the name.  It was originally called the Linn County Blues Band, then it became Linn County, because we went past blues, strictly speaking.  None of this was my call.  I just played ball, I played saxophone.   They ended up signing with Mercury Records, made three records with Mercury.  After we moved from Cedar Rapids to Chicago, we went on the road a lot.  We went to Detroit, Cleveland,  and Montreal,  which was really the best one of them.  People loved that band in Montreal. 

Martin Luther King got assassinated.  We left Chicago three days before that happened, I think, or maybe two.   And so, Chicago burned after that.  That whole club got burned.     We got out of that by the skin of our teeth.

Phillip:  So when you got out of Chicago, were you on your way to San Francisco?

Larry:  That’s right.  It was coincidental, but this did happen.   So we got out and just kept going to San Francisco.

Phillip: That was 1967?

Larry :  1968.  We were signed to a record contract by Mercury Records at the time.  We got a big advance at that time, a lot of money.    What happened after that was basically downhill.  It was a hell of a good band.  When we were in Chicago, everybody loved us, but you go to San Francisco where the Grateful Dead was, there was a lot going on, very provincial.  They were really taken with people from San Francisco, and anyone from outside of San Francisco had a really rough uphill battle.   We played the Fillmore, but it just wasn’t the same.  Because prior to that, even going outside of Chicago in places like Cleveland, Detroit and Montreal, everybody loved that band.  In Montreal, for instance, they’d  rate the top ten bands.  We’re talking about the Beatles, Rolling Stones, all of that.  We were listed among the top ten.  It had that kind of impact.  But when we went to San Francisco,  it wasn’t the same thing.  It was just like we were a year or two too late.  We just couldn’t crack.  I’d say we played on  the same bill with the Grateful Dead four times.  But for whatever reason, we couldn’t bridge the gap.

Phillip:  Which album was your favorite to record?  Did any one of them stick out as being a lot of fun to record?

Larry:  I’m actually a little frustrated by all of them.  Because I was so young at the time, I was like nineteen or twenty when this was all going on.  So as I look back at my own playing, in terms of what I do now, I am kind of embarrassed by it a little bit.  Most people will tell you Fever Shot was the best.  They might be right.  The first one was called Proud Flesh Soothseer.  That was really psychedelic. 

Phillip: Of all the bands you shared a stage with,  does any one strike you as one you really liked to work with?

Larry:  That’s a tough call. We did the Grateful Dead a bunch of times.  Quicksilver Messenger Service, I liked those guys.  And they liked us too.  Steve Miller was a guy in our band, but there was another Steve Miller too.  And he would sit in with us.  A lot of people would sit in with us, James Cotton, Paul Butterfield. 

Phillip:  Is there any particular live performance that stands out the most?

Larry:   The thing is that the best ones are not the ones that would jump out at you.  There was a place in Montreal Canada called the Penelope, it was just a coffee shop, but Frank Zappa played there.  The Mothers of Invention… Paul Butterfield... there was a whole circle that played at that particular club.  Anyway, we were really popular at that particular venue.  That’s what sticks out in my mind.  We played the Fillmore East with Eric Burdon and the Animals and Sly and the Family Stone.

Phillip:  You played both Fillmores.  Which one, if you had to pick,  one was your favorite?

Larry:  Well, we only did the Fillmore East one time.  That was in New York City, and that made it special in and of itself. 

We played in Detroit with Led Zeppelin.  A funny thing happened at that show.  Our bass player, Dino was playing this Hofner Bass like Paul McCartney played., and the neck breaks off, so he had to borrow the bass from Led Zeppelin.  Our band manager who is still alive and a dear close friend, got it into his head to get us all these psychedelic clothing items to play this thing.  And so we are playing on stage, and they’re shrinking.

Phillip: Reminds me of George Costanza’s cotton baseball uniforms.

Larry:  You got this guy, Steve Miller, who is six foot four, and all the buttons had popped off everybody, and he was so mad.  You can’t believe this, but it did go down.   We played, and our clothes shrunk on us during that performance, and none of us wanted to wear that crap in the first place because we just wanted to wear jeans, and shirts. 

Phillip:  Is there possibility in the future of any of your albums being re-released on CD

Larry:  It’s obscure. But believe it or not, there are CDs of us out there, but not a lot. 

Phillip:  Larry, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me.  I really appreciate it.  Your stories have been very informative and enlightening.   It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.  Thank you.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Damon Fowler - Sounds of Home

Blind Pig Records, 2014

By Phillip Smith; February 8, 2014

Damon Fowler’s latest solo album, Sounds of Home is a grab-bag of Americana at its best.  Soon after finishing the tour with the band, Southern Hospitality, which released one of my favorite albums last year, Easy Livin’, Fowler returned to the studio with bassist Chuck Riley and drummer James McKnight.  Tab Benoit not only produced, recorded and mixed this eleven track album, but he sits in on several songs as well, pitching in on vocals, acoustic guitar, and pedal steel. 

The album is a heavy mix of Country and Blues music. Fowler breaks out some really thick slide, on opening track “Thought I Had It All”.  This one gets the energy flowing, as Fowler makes his slide scream.  It almost borders on Southern Rock.   

Title track, “Sounds of Home” puts a smile on my face, as the guitar riffs bring to mind Steve Cropper, while the backing rhythm is very reminiscent of those cool early days of Stax Records. Big Chief Monk Boudreaux also makes a guest appearance here, pitching in on vocals and tambourine. 

Fowler tackles Elvis Costello’s “Allison” with a slightly different approach as he brings a little country twang to the vocals and melody, and an outstanding guitar solo on the bridge.  While on the subject of outstanding guitar and cover songs, Fowler brings it on again with a very swampy bluesy rendition of Johnny Winter’s “TV Mama”.  It’s so fun just to hear him play guitar, especially on songs like this.

Fowler digs deep and goes really ‘old school’, as he dusts off the classic spiritual, “I Shall Not Be Moved”, and plays it in a very traditional sense as he is joined by Benoit on acoustic guitar and harmonizing vocals.  Beautifully played, I thought this was a cool song to close the album with.    

Albums like “Sounds of Home” are so welcome to hear, as it allows the artist’s raw talent to shine through, and not be muddled by special effects and over-production.  This album is a “keeper”.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Michael Louis Band - Morning Gasoline

MMM Records, 2013

By Phillip Smith; February 1, 2014

Morning Gasoline is the latest release from The Michael Louis Band, a funky little blues group from Brooklyn, NY.  The band consists of frontman/guitarist/vocalist Michael Louis, bassist/keyboard player Andre Sebastian, drummer Keith Crupi, and special guest Chauncey Yearwood on congas.  Morning Gasoline captures the Rock and Roll spirit of the Seventies with great song writing, and top-notch performances.  Louis skillfully blends Blues and Funk, with a bit of Southern Rock.   

I really like the way the title track, “Morning Gasoline”, gets the heart pumping.  I’ve been using this as a ‘go-to’ song to help wake me up on my morning drive to work.  This one is really great fuel to start the morning off with.  The guitar is very enjoyable and I love the driving beat provided by Crupi on drums and Yearwood on congas.

When I hear Louis’s voice on “City Boy”, “Late September”, and “Vanilla Plain”, I immediately think of Elvis Costello and John Hiatt, both singer/songwriters I hold in high regards. There is slow infectious groove to “City Boy”, which pulls me in like a magnet.  Plain and simply, “Late September” is just a beautiful song. I like the tinny single guitar note accents which give it an added layer of character to it.  

Reminiscent of the funky instrumentals on the Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In sequences revolving around a dancing, bikini-clad, flower-powered Goldie Hawn, “Tazer” is one big bowl of fun. Interestingly, it slowly morphs itself from fun and funky, into a warm bath of psychedelia.  “Makin’ Time” another enjoyable treat, has that bluesy southern rock sound akin to the music of the Allman Brothers, with that slide guitar and piano.  It really surprised me how much Louis on guitar, and Sebastian on keys sounded like the Allmans. As I listen to this song, it occurs to me, there’s no doubt Louis has the chops to play pretty much anything he wants.  

The cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” shot chills up and down my spine.  This is song I’ve heard a million times, both the Stevie Wonder version, and the Stevie Ray Vaughan version.  This rendition is similar to neither of those.  It’s almost as if the tune had been dragged down South and baptized in the Mississippi river, giving it a brand new life with a thick coat of swampy grit.  There’s an uneasy daunting heaviness to it, that’s for sure. That’s what makes this cut so cool and interesting.

Morning Gasoline certainly took me by surprise.  After listening to this album, I can honestly say I am now a fan, and will be on the lookout for more to come from The Michael Louis Band.