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

Louisiana Guitarist Shows Blues Rock Is Alive

The electric guitar may be fading, but the blues ain’t dead yet

A few weeks ago, I read for the first time about Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s upcoming new studio album. It brought a big smile on my face. Ironically, this happened in the wake of a Washington Post story with the clever title Why My Guitar Gently Weeps with a cheerful subhead The slow, secret death of the six-string electric. And why you should care. Care I do. And there is perhaps nothing that gets me more excited than a bit of defiance!

Shepherd, a 40-year-old guitarist from Shreveport, La., is one of several young artists who are keeping blues rock alive. Three other musicians I can think of in this context are Texans Gary Clark Jr. (33), from Austin, and Casey James (35), from Fort Worth, as well as Joe Bonamassa, a 40-year-old hailing from New Hartford, N.Y. James just came out with his latest record Strip It Down, which I previously reviewed here.

Of course, I’m not suggesting all it takes to reverse declining electric guitar sales is a bunch of young blues rockers – BTW, “young artist” in my book means up to 40 years. But I hope, perhaps naively, the more cool guitar dudes are out there, the more young kids will realize there are cool things beyond video consoles and games. And, last time I checked, you can still impress a lady with playing the guitar – just saying! 🙂

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Back to Shepherd who started teaching himself how to play the guitar at age seven after he had been blown away by seeing Stevie Ray Vaughan. In 1990, the then-13-year-old already recorded his fist demo tapes. His studio debut, Ledbetter Heights, followed in September 1995. Shepherd’s upcoming album, Lay It On Down, will be his eighth studio release. It’s scheduled to come out Friday, August 4.

Shepherd discussed his new album during a recent interview with Billboard. “I wanted to grab from several different genres,” he noted. According to the publication, the music ranges from hard rockers (Baby Got Gone), soul-flavored tunes (Diamonds & Gold), blues songs (Down For Love and The Ride Of Your Life) to country-influenced ballads (Hard Lesson Learned, Louisiana Rain and the title track).

“The goal was to make a contemporary sounding record,” Shepherd noted, “something that was new and fresh and obviously doesn’t sound like many of my other records. The last record I did (2014’s Goin’ Home) was traditional blues, so on this one I needed to do some different things, and I think we did.” From what I can tell at this time, he succeeded.

Four of the album’s 10 tracks are already available in iTunes/Apple Music and I imagine other platforms. The record vigorously opens with Baby Got Gone, a tune I instantly liked after listening to just the opening bars. Here’s a nice clip of the official video.

Next up: Diamonds & Gold. The track has a kick-ass horn section that gives it a nice soul groove. I’m also turned on by Shepherd’s use of the wah-wah pedal – yep, that antique electric guitar effect that became famous in the late 60s when Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and other guitarists widely embraced it. My kind of music!

Nothing But the Night takes things down by a tiny notch. The mid-tempo rocker has a good groove and a catchy chorus. Listen for yourself!

The final song I can call out is the title track, a beautiful mid-tempo ballad. It’s one of the above mentioned country-influenced and stripped back tunes. Shepherd co-wrote it with blues rock singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, a Nashville songwriter. Sillers is probably best known for co-writing I Hope You Dance, a no. 1 country hit for Lee Ann Womack in 2000 – one of the most beautiful inspirational tunes I know.

Commenting on the song during the above Billboard interview, Shepherd said, “This one is very complex…It’s got a very significant lyric to it. It’s personal. It’s about someone I know very well; It’s about a girl who has bought into the idea she’s not good enough, and that’s not the truth. Everyone else sees the beauty in her except her, so the guy in the song’s trying to say, ‘I wish you could see what I see.’ The message in the song is, like, ‘Believe in yourself. Don’t buy into the voices in your head that want to drag you down.’ I think that speaks to a lot of people in the world, too, not just who I’m singing the song about.”

Produced by Marshall Altman, Lay It On Down was recorded at Blade Studios in Shreveport. Altman also produced Shepherd’s previous studio album Goin’ Home, which appeared in May 2014. Despite what Shepherd called the experimentation, he believes folks who have come to like him because of his blues rock sound are going to embrace the new record. “That’s the foundation of what I do. You hear that in all my music, and in all of the tracks on the record,” he told Billboard. “Drawing from these different genres and various musical influences, it enables me to take that blues foundation and put it in different directions and try different things with it, step outside the box a little bit.”

Well said! I can’t wait until the entire album will become available.

Sources: Wikipedia, Washington Post, Billboard, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Rory Gallagher/Blueprint

This 1973 gem started the period that brought the Irish blues rocker his biggest successes

While I enjoy exploring different types of music on the blog, somehow the journey always seems to lead back to the blues and great guitarists who contributed to the genre. Undoubtedly, one of the finest craftsmen in this context is Rory Gallagher, though I’m not sure the Irish blues rocker has always gotten the recognition he deserves.

Blueprint was Gallagher’s fourth studio album, which was released in February 1973. It was the first of five records with then-new drummer Rod de’Ath and the addition of a keyboarder, Lou Martin. Rounding out the four-piece was bassist Gerry McAvoy with whom Gallagher had played since 1970, following the breakup of Taste, a blues rock and R&B power trio Gallagher had founded in 1966.

All you need to hear are the opening bars of the album’s first song Walk On Hot Coals, and you know you’re listening to one hell of a guitarist. Here is a cool clip of a live performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test. And, by the way, Gallagher could sing as well!

Next up is Daughter of the Everglades, which takes things down a notch. It features Gallagher on both acoustic and electric guitar. The man was a multi-instrumentalist. In addition to guitar, Gallagher also played the mandolin, harmonica and occasionally the saxophone. And, by the way this virtuoso was entirely self-taught!

Banker’s Blues is a great acoustic blues written by American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. According to SecondHandSongs, Broonzy originally recorded and released the tune in 1931. Apart from the great music, you just gotta love the lyrics: “If you got money in the bank/Don’t let your woman draw it out/Cause she’ll take all your money…and/Then she’ll kick you out.” Here’s a great clip of Gallagher performing the tune live on Rockpalast, all by himself with just an acoustic guitar – that’s all you need!

Another tune I’d like to call out is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the longest track on the album. It’s an 8-minute-and-26-second blues rock tour de force with a great riff. I also love Martin’s keyboard work.

From Blueprint Gallagher went on to release eight additional studio records and two live albums. After collapsing during a show in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in January 1995, Gallagher was hospitalized in London with liver failure. Following what initially looked like a successful liver transplant, he got a bacterial infection and passed away on June 14, 1995. He was only 47 years old.

Gallagher may be long gone but his impressive legacy continues to live on. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked him at no. 57 on their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists. Being included in the same list with other guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Duane Allman, just to name a few, speaks for itself. And while the ranking perhaps matters less than being in the list, I’m still a bit surprised Gallagher didn’t come in at a higher spot. For example, I don’t quite get how John Lennon was ranked ahead of Gallagher at no. 55. And I’m saying this as a huge fan of Lennon who undoubtedly was one of the greatest songwriters. But frankly to rank him as one of the greatest guitarists is a bit of a stretch to me.

Rory Gallagher
Gallagher with his signature beaten up sunburst 1961 Fender Stratocaster

During a 1973 interview with Beetle Magazine, which is reprinted on his offical website, Gallagher commented on what Rolling Stone in the above ranking called his non-stop touring ethic: “I’d like to work six nights a week, basically because this is not just a job with me, it’s my entire life. I enjoy what I do and I like to think that others do, too. It’s really inhuman the way some bands will retreat to the countryside for years on end and leave their audiences with nothing but their latest albums.”

Sources: Wikipedia, SecondHandSongs, Rolling Stone, Rory Gallagher website, Beetle Magazine, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Flamin’ Groovies/Supersnazz

After seeing an intriguing review of one of their albums, I started listening to the Flamin’ Groovies and immediately liked what I heard.

I literally heard about the Flamin’ Groovies for the first time two days ago, when I saw a review of their third album Teenage Head on the excellent hotfox63 music blog. The next thing I learned was Mick Jagger reportedly noted similarities between that album and Sticky Fingers, adding the Flamin’ Groovies had done a better job in revisiting the theme of classic blues and rock & roll than The Rolling Stones on their widely acclaimed 1971 studio release. That got my full attention!

After listening to Teenage Head, an amazing album that sounds very “Stones-esque,” I decided to go back to the band’s beginning: Supersnazz, their first studio album released in Sep 1969. Just like Teenage Head, the record is full of raw energy and has a good dose of Stones-like sound.

Right from the get-go, the Flamin’ Groovies leave no doubt they mean business, kicking things off with a fast blues rocker, Love Have Mercy. This is followed by a fantastic cover version of the Bobby Troup classic The Girl Can’t Help It, which was first performed by Little Richard in 1956. Other standouts among the upbeat tunes on the album are The First One’s Free, Bam Balam and the final song on the original release: Around the Corner, where the band throws in vocal harmonies that are a bit reminiscent of The Beach Boys.

Flamin Groovies_Supersnazz 3

The album’s mid-tempo songs also include gems, such as Laurie Did It and A Part From That, which sound less like blues rock and more like British Invasion pop. It’s a style the band would largely embrace on their albums beginning from the mid 70s – a trajectory that started when co-founder Roy Loney left in 1971 and was replaced by singer and guitarist Chris Wilson. While in the process the Flamin’s Groovies lost some of its originality, as a huge fan of the British Invasion, I don’t consider their transformation as a turn-off!

For a debut album it’s impressive that of the 12 songs on the original edition only four were cover versions. Speaking of covers and coming back to Teenage Head, the CD edition of that album features seven bonus tracks, most of which are remakes. Superb versions of Shakin’ All Over (Johnny Kidd & the Pirates), That’ll Be the Day (Buddy Holly), Louie Louie (The Kingsmen) and Carol (Chuck Berry) prove the high caliber of The Girl Can’t Help It from Supersnazz was not a one-off.

Here’s a clip of Love Have Mercy.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve been listening to: The Allman Brothers At Fillmore East

Like many other folks in the U.S., I haven’t been exactly cheerful over the past few days. Music including this 1971 classic can be great to overcome the post-election blues.

I certainly don’t want to trivialize the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, which does concern me a great deal. Turning to the blues in this situation may also seem to be ironical. But I find there is something in this great music that puts me at ease, providing a welcome distraction from all the post-election media coverage and analysis.

At Fillmore East is the third album by The Allman Brothers Band. I agree with critics who consider it to be one of the best live albums in rock music. It captures material from three concerts the band performed at Fillmore East, a legendary late 60s/early 70s music venue in New York City, which also featured other icons like Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks and Led Zeppelin.

Even though the Allman Brothers had already released two excellent studio albums, their eponymous debut (1969) and the follow-up Idlewild South (1970), it was At Fillmore East that gave them their commercial breakthrough. It’s really not a surprise, since the band was such an amazing live act.

At Fillmore East showcases the Allman Brothers’ outstanding musical craftsmanship. It features long jams mixing blues and rock with country and jazz elements. Of the seven songs on the original release only two are Allman Brothers compositions: Dickey Betts’ In Memory of Elizabeth Reed from Idlewild South, and Gregg Allman’s Whipping Post. Both are among the album’s highlights blending amazing dual lead guitar parts by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts with the treffic sound of Gregg Allman’s Hammond.

Statesboro Blues nicely showcases Duane’s slide guitar work. Another standout is Stormy Monday. The tune starts off as a slow blues, picks up to a jazz grove driven by Gregg’s organ and then slows down again to a blues tune. It’s just brilliant!

Released July 1971, At Fillmore East reached No. 13 on the Billboard 200 and received RIAA Gold certification in October that year. Eventually, it was certified platinum in August 1992. The album is No. 49 on Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and was one of the 50 recordings the Library of Congress selected in 2004 to be added to the National Recording Registry.

At Fillmore East is the last album the band released when all of its original members were still alive: Duane Allman (slide guitar, lead guitar), Gregg Allman (piano, organ, vocals), Dickey Betts (lead guitar), Berry Oakley (bass guitar), Jai Johanny Johanson (drums, congas, timbales) and Butch Trucks (drums, tympani). A few months after the album had come out Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident.