Clips & Pix: Chuck Berry with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band/Johnny B. Goode

Unforgettable performance of iconic tune at 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert

This morning, I listened to a nice compilation of tunes released by Chess Records. The legendary Chicago blues and R&B record company and the amazing artists it had under contract make an excellent topic for another post to explore in the future.

The first track on the list was Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry. Following is a clip of a great live version of the song, which has always been one of my favorite classic rock & roll tunes. It brought together Berry and the Boss as part of a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert in 1995 to celebrate the dedication of the Hall of Fame Museum. The performance also marked the first appearance of the reunited E Street Band, which Springsteen had dissolved in 1989.

The quality of Berry’s concerts varied substantially, which is obvious when you watch clips of his live performances on the Internet. In great part this happened because Berry did not want to have a standing touring band. Instead, he insisted that tour organizers hire local musicians from the towns where he would perform. Typically, these bands would not get an opportunity to rehearse with Berry. Essentially, this left the musicians with following Berry’s lead. Not surprisingly, the outcomes varied.

The above clip is one of the best live performances of Berry I could find. He was still in pretty decent shape at age 68. You can clearly see the kick that Springsteen and The E Street Band got out of it. Also great to watch is the interaction between Berry and Clarence Clemons, the band’s amazing saxophonist at the time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jane Lee Hooker/No B!

Debut album from all-female New York band serves hard-charging blues rock

Jane Lee Hooker is another discovery I made when looking for free outdoor concerts in my area this weekend. The five-piece all-female blues rock band from New York City is scheduled to perform Sunday evening in Long Branch, N.J. as part of that seaside city’s summer concert series. The moment I started listening to No B!, I literally thought, ‘holy shit’ – these ladies are playing a furious type of blues rock, sometimes mixed with a dose of punk.

Just like my previous discovery this weekend, The John Byrne Band whose most recent album I reviewed here, Jane Lee Hooker or JLH doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry- too bad! But their website does provide some background. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Hail Mary Z (bass), Tracy Hightop (guitar), Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston (drums) and Tina “T-Bone” Gorin. In 2015, JHL signed with blues label Ruf Records and released No B! in April 2016.

Jane Lee Hooker Live

As the website points out, while JLH was only founded four years ago, the band’s members have “between them decades of experience in the studio and on the road.” Each of these ladies were in other bands before they joined JHL. The two guitarists previously played together in the ’90s in a band called Helldorado where they “honed their love of blazing dual leads.”

JHL has shared bills with WilcoSouthside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and The Blasters, among others. Earlier this year, they conducted a European tour, including Germany, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland. One of their gigs was a performance at the end of May on Rockpalast, a well-known long-running German rock TV show.

No B! starts off furiously with Wade In The Water, setting the tone for the album. According to Wikipedia, originally, the tune is a negro spiritual written by John Wesley Work III and his brother Frederick J. Work and was first published in 1901 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Next up is Mean Town Blues, which kicks things up a few notches. The song was written by Johnny Winter who first released it on his 1968 debut album The Progressive Blues Experiment. JLH’s version of the tune sounds like Winter spinning on 78 instead of 45 rpm!

While I Believe It To My Soul slows down the speed, the track sounds just as intense as the two previous tunes. Originally, Ray Charles wrote and first recorded the song in 1961 on his studio album The Genius Sings the Blues.

In The Valley is only JLH original tune on the album. It was written by Athens, the singer, whose voice at times reminds me a bit of Melissa Etheridge.

Free Me is another nice cover showing a soulful side of Athens. Written by Otis Redding and Gene Lawson in 1967, the song appeared on Redding’s fourth posthumous album Love Man, which was released in 1969.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the great Muddy Waters tune Mannish Boy. Waters recorded it first in 1955. While it’s perhaps a bit peculiar hearing a woman sing, “I’m a man, I’m a full-grown man,” JLH does a great job with it.

JHL, whose current tour apparently started in mid-July, will be on the road all the way to mid-November. After Long Branch they are scheduled for seven additional U.S. gigs until early September before taking their tour back to Europe in late October, returning to Germany and Switzerland. They are also adding Denmark and the Czech Republic where the tour will conclude in Šumperk on November 18 at the Blues Alive Festival.

Here is a clip of JLH’s above mentioned live performance on Rockpalast – not sure how long it will be available.

Sources: Jane Lee Hooker website, YouTube, Wikipedia

What I’ve Been Listening To: The John Byrne Band/The Immigrant And the Orphan

Album mixes Americana with traces of Irish folk

During this time of the year, I like to go to free outdoor concerts. Fortunately, there are many parks and other facilities within about an one-hour driving radius from my house, featuring summer concert series. This is how I came across John Byrne, who I’m going to see this evening at one of these venues. Until a few hours ago, I had never heard about this Irish-American singer-songwriter.

Other than his website, there is very limited information about Byrne on the Internet. Surprisingly, Wikipedia does not appear to have any write-up on him. If I were his publicist, frankly, that’s something I would change. When I checked Apple Music, I noticed Byrne has released three albums as The John Byrne Band since 2010, though his website suggests he started recording music in 1999. Immigrant And the Orphan, which appeared in September 2015, is his most recent studio release.

Byrne was born in Dublin, Ireland, and lives in Philadelphia. He and the band he leads tour in two configurations: an acoustic four-piece formation, including banjo/accordion, fiddle/cello, guitars and horns, and a six-seven-piece band that adds drums and bass to its lineup. I have no idea which of the two I’m going to see tonight.

In a YouTube video about the making of Immigrant And the Orphan, Byrne notes, “My biggest influence has always been folk music from Ireland and America…because to me it encompasses all manner of real organic music, and that’s what I love.” Following are clips of some of the record’s songs. This selection is based on my initial impression, after browsing the record a couple of times.

The album opens with Sing On Johnny, a song about Byrne’s father. Like the majority of tracks on the record, it’s predominantly acoustic.

Dirty, Used Up, Chewed Up, Screwed Up Love, one of the few tunes that cross over into folk rock, has a catchy chorus and some nice ups and downs.

Lie to You has a country flavor. It’s one of the tunes that stood out to me.

Me Over Him is another acoustic track I like.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s title track, which features a beautiful string arrangement.

Immigrant and the Orphan, which apparently at least in part was financed via a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, was recorded at Spicehouse Studios in Fishtown, Philadelphia. The record was produced by Rob Schaffer, who also plays guitar and banjo in Byrne’s band. I’d like to finish this post with the above noted video clip about the making of the album.

Sources: John Byrne Band web site, YouTube

An Evening of Joyful Blues with Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’

Blues Legends Bring Good Time to Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley

A long three months finally came to an end last night. Shortly after Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ had issued their collaboration album TajMo in May, I found out about their All Around the World tour and got a ticket to what I knew I simply wouldn’t want to miss. It was a great decision!

Yesterday night, the two blues dynamos brought their show to the F.M. Kirby Center of the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The heart of the Wyoming Valley is not exactly New York or Chicago, but was well worth the 2.5-hour hike from my house through the Pocono Mountains!

Readers of the blog have probably noticed the blues has been on my mind frequently as of late. Undoubtedly, the excellent TajMo album, which I previously reviewed here, has something to do with it. In addition, I’ve been excited about other recent new releases in the blues and soul genres from artists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Casey James and Southern Avenue. Maybe Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ are right when they expressed full confidence that the blues will survive during a recent PBS NewsHour segment.

Jontavious Willis

Before I get to TajMo, I’d like to say few words about the opening act, a country blues artist called Jontavious Willis. According to his online bio, Mahal called Willis “my Wonderboy, the Wunderkind.” After having seen last night’s 30-minute performance by the 21-year-old from Greenville, Ga., I have to say this is not an exaggeration and yet another indication that the prospects of the blues look bright these days!

Willis, who is currently finishing his studies at Columbus State University, released his debut album Blue Metamorphosis in February this year. He’ll continue to tour with TajMo for many of their upcoming gigs in August and September. What this young artist got out of just an acoustic guitar was insane. It’s hard to find clips that do his exceptional solo acoustic skills full justice.

After Willis blew off the Kirby Center’s roof with his dynamic acoustic guitar performance, it was time for TajMo. From the very first moment they walked on stage, their joy of performing together was palpable. The set opened with Señor Blues, a jazz standard by Horace Silver, which Mahal covered on his 1999 studio album with the same title. This was followed by Don’t Leave Me Here, the first of five songs Mahal and Mo’ played from TajMo, and one of favorites from that album.

After six tunes with the full band, the two blues maestros took things “to the deep country blues,” as Mahal put it, playing Diving Duck Blues. Written by Sleepy John Estes, Mahal first recorded the track on his 1969 eponymous debut album. It is also included on TajMo and another highlight of that record. Watch the amazing chemistry between the two.

One of the highlights during the second half of the set was The Worst Is Yet to Come. Co-written by Mo’, Heather Donovan and Pete Sallis, Mo included the tune on 2014’s BLUESAmericana, his 12th studio album. I wonder whether Mo’ got the inspiration for the song’s title from the American songbook 1959 standard The Best Is Yet to Come, which became one of Frank Sinatra’s popular tunes in the mid-’60s. Unfortunately, the only TajMo clip I could find is cut off in the beginning.

Ironically, The Worst Is Yet to Come was followed by one of my longtime favorite blues tunes: She Caught the Katy And Left Me a Mule to Ride. Prior to that I only had known the great version by The Blues Brothers. It turns out Mahal co-wrote this classic with Yank Rachell and included it on this second studio album The Natch’s Blues, which was released in 1968.

The last song I’d like to highlight is All Around the World, which also appears on TajMo and was the closer of the 20-song regular set. The tune perfectly sums up the positive vibes Mahal and Mo’ sent to the audience throughout the show. People were up on their feet and made some noise, so they came back for one encore: Soul, yet another tune from their collaboration album.

Finally, I’d like to say a few words about the top-notch band that backed up Mahal and Mo’. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the names of the musicians, but here are a few things I remember. The drummer comes from Memphis, Tenn., former home of the storied Stax Records label. The bassist, who is a lefty, hails from Washington, D.C. The fantastic horn section consists of a male trumpet player and female saxophonist. Mo’ called her out for her amazing sound. The keyboarder, who among others played a seductively roaring Hammond, was top-rate as well. Last but not least, there were two special background vocalists: Mahal’s daughters, Deva and Zoe. And they were not there just for alibi – these ladies can sing!

TajMo are taking their tour next to Wheeling, W.Va.; and Richmond, Va. before hitting New York City’s SummerStage in Central Park this Sunday, where they will perform a free show. I’m tempted to go there to see them again! The tour continues throughout the remainder of August and September all the way into October, when it concludes in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on October 21.

Sources: PBS NewsHour, Jontavious Willis website, Setlist.fm, Facebook, TajMo web site, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’

The two artists talk about their collaboration and their brand of upbeat blues

This clip from the PBS NewsHour beautifully captures the spirit of Taj Mahal’s and Keb’ Mo’s collaboration album TajMo and their ongoing tour. I can’t wait to see these two amazing artists at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. tomorrow night.

Taj Majal: “Life brings a lot of strive. In the digital age it’s even more intense. A lot of people don’t know how to get loose. So our job as musicians is to help them get loose and have a good time, and think good about themselves.”

Keb’ Mo’: “There is something working in life, in the universe, in the bigger picture that has nothing to do with commerce and money. And for me, I’ve found after 20 years of going after money that the faster I ran after money, the faster the money ran.”

Sources: PBS NewsHour, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Muddy Magnolias/Broken People

Muddy Magnolias is one of the most exciting acts I came across last year when I read about them in Rolling Stone. I was reminded of this powerful urban-R&B-meets-country-and-delta-blues duo when listening to Memphis soul and blues act Southern Avenue, which I’ve done quite extensively over the past few days. I’m not saying the two sound the same, but there are some similarities.

Broken People is the title track from Muddy Magnolias’ excellent full-length debut album, which was released on Third Generation Records in October last year. It was produced by Rick Beato, with support from Mario Marchetti and Butch Walker, and recorded in Atlanta and Nashville in late spring 2016. Last Friday, the album’s latest single Shine On! appeared.

Muddy Magnolias was formed in Nashville in 2014 by two singer-songwriters: Brooklyn, New York native Jessy Wilson, who has an R&B background and is a protegee of John Legend, and Kallie North, who grew up in West Texas, listening to country and folk music. After their performance at CMA Music Festival in August that year, Rolling Stone called them the best unsigned duo, comparing their blend of styles to The Rolling Stones inhabiting Indigo Girls. Looking forward to more music from this act.

Sources: Wikipedia, Muddy Magnolias web site, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Southern Avenue/80 Miles From Memphis

In a short amount of time, Southern Avenue has become one of my favorite new band. It all started when fellow blogger Music Enthusiast  included this firecracker Memphis blues and soul quintet and their tune Don’t Give Up in a recent post. I immediately liked what I heard.

Don’t Give Up and the tune I’d like to highlight in this post, 80 Miles From Memphis, an uptempo blues with a cool groove and amazing singing, are both on the band’s eponymous debut album. Produced by Kevin Houston and released in February this year, the record appeared on none other than Stax Records, the storied Memphis soul label (now based in Los Angeles) that in its heyday had artists like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Booker T. & the M.G.’s and Albert King under contract. According to a story in the Commercial Appeal, Southern Avenue is the first Memphis act signed to Stax in five decades – pretty incredible! For more on Stax, see my recent post.

Named after the street that runs from the east of Memphis to Soulsville, the original home of Stax, Southern Avenue was formed in 2015. The band’s line-up includes Ori Naftaly, an Israeli blues guitarist who came to the U.S. in 2013; Tierinii Jackson (lead vocals); her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, vocals) and Jeremy Powell (keyboards). Daniel McKee, who plays bass on the recording, has since left Southern Avenue. The band is currently relying on a couple of different bassists during shows.

I just find it very refreshing to listen to these guys. Oh, by the way, their album entered the U.S. Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 during the week ended March 18 and remained in the chart for four weeks. Not bad for a debut – I hope they’re just getting started!

Sources: Wikipedia, Commercial Appeal, Billboard Charts, YouTube