Hey, Hey, The Blues is Alright

I got this song/I’m gonna sing/I’m gonna sing it just for you/If you dig the blues/I want you to help me sing it, too/I want everybody to hear me when I say/The blues is back, and it’s here to stay.

The above intro from The Blues is Alright, a tune by Little Milton, nicely captures how I’m feeling as I’m writing this post. Of course, the blues has always never really left, though I guess it’s fair to say it had greater visibility when Milton released that song back in 1984 and Stevie Ray Vaughan was all the rage.

Sadly, Vaughan and Milton are no longer with us, not to mention the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, to name a few artists of the “old guard.” But over the past few months, exciting new blues music has been released. And as somebody who digs the blues, that truly makes me happy. Are you ready for some? Ready or not, here we go!

Robert Cray first appeared on my radar screen in 1988 with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the title track to his sixth studio album, a tune that grabbed me immediately. Fast-forward some 32 years and 18 records later to February 28 this year when Cray released That’s What I Heard. Produced by longtime collaborator Steve Jordan, who also plays drums and percussion, the great collection includes four original tracks and eight covers. The Robert Cray Band also features Richard Cousins (bass), Dover Weinberg (keyboards) and Terence F. Clark (drums). Here’s the opener Anything You Want, an original. Apart from being a decent guitarist, I think Cray also has a great soulful voice.

Ever heard of British blues-rock guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor? Damn, that lady sounds smoking hot to me! Even though Taylor is only in her mid-30s, she has an impressive record. She was discovered at the age of 16 by Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics), who in 2002 invited her to tour in Europe with his band D.U.P. In 2009, Taylor’s debut album White Sugar appeared. Her latest release is Reckless Blues, an EP that came out two weeks ago on March 6. Here’s a great cover of Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, a tune John Mayer wrote and first recorded for his third studio album Continuum from September 2006.

Let’s move on to Frank Bey. Admittedly, I had never heard of him until earlier today, even though the man is 74 years old and, well, has been around for some time. According to his website, he began his singing career 70 years ago as a gospel singer – yep, we’re talking as a 4-year-old. At age 17, he joined the Otis Redding Revue. In the mid-70s, Bey became entangled in a legal battle with James Brown over one of his songs Brown had recorded without his permission. While the matter was settled out of court, it left Bey embittered, and he got out of the music business for 17 years. Then he returned and since 1998 has released six albums, the most recent of which is All My Dues Are Paid that appeared on January 17 this year. It’s warm and soulful. Here’s the tasty opener Idle Hands, featuring some cool wah-wah guitar and nice horn work, along with Bey’s great vocals and some hot gospel backing vocals. Check it out!

Ready for two more? Here’s Christone “Kingfish” Ingram with his new single Empty Promises, a live recording that came out on February 14. The 21-year-old from Clarksdale, Miss. released his debut album Kingfish last May and got rave reviews. It’s certainly no coincidence he has played with the likes of Buddy Guy, Keb’ Mo’, Eric Gales and Rick Derringer. I think we will hear many more great things from this super talented young artist. Empty Promises was written by blues and soul singer and guitarist  Michael Burks who passed away in May 2012 from a heart attack. He was only 54 years old.

The final tune I’d like to call out is by Tas Cru, another blues artist I had not heard of before either. While he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, luckily, there’s a website. According to his bio, Cru is truly a blues eclectic who refuses to let his music be bound to just one blues style…with a repertoire of over 60 original songs from multiple albums and dozens of crowd-pleasing classics…Tas Cru is currently is based out of upstate New York and performs in multiple formats ranging from solo acoustic to a 7 piece-backing band. Cru’s most recent album, which was released on February 1, is titled Drive On. According to a review in Elmore Magazine, it’s his ninth and 11th overall, when including two blues-for-kids records he made. Here’s the funky title song featuring great horn and organ work. Don’t get fooled by the tune’s slow start. Keep listening!

Sources: Wikipedia; Robert Cray website; Joanne Shaw Taylor website; Frank Bey website; Tas Cru website; Elmore Magazine; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Jimmie Vaughan/Baby, Please Come Home

Lately, I’ve been listening to blues music quite a lot. In part, it’s thanks to fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast and his recent New Music Review that featured two excellent artists, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Big Daddy Wilson. The other part is my own curiosity, which led me back to the Billboard Blues Albums chart where the other day I had spotted a surprising entry: a collection of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry covers by George Benson. This time, I came across Baby, Please Come Home, another great covers album by an old hand of Texas blues: Jimmie Vaughan.

Other than the fact that Jimmie is the older brother of electric blues dynamo Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my long-time favorite blues guitarists, admittedly, I knew next to nothing about Jimmie, so had to read up a little. But that happens to be one of the aspects I particularly enjoy about music blogging – learning about new artists and their music. Yes, this can be time-consuming, but I’m not in a hurry. Most importantly, it would be far less fun if I would only write about stuff I knew!

Jimmy Vaughan

Jimmie Vaughan was born on March 20, 1951 in the Dallas area, about three and a half years prior to his brother Stephen Ray. He started playing the guitar as a child and in fact inspired his younger brother to pick up the instrument as well. At the age of 19, Jimmie moved to Austin and played in different blues bar bands for some time. In 1972, he formed his own group, The Storm, which backed many touring blues artists. Two years later, he co-founded The Fabulous Thunderbirds with harmonica player Kim Wilson. While the T-Birds gained a strong fan base in Texas, their first four albums didn’t sell well, and by the end of 1982 their record company Chrysalis had dropped them.

Meanwhile, Stevie Ray Vaughan broke through and became a dominating force in the Texas and national blues scene. It took the T-Birds until 1986 to score a success with their fifth studio album Tough Enuff. The record featured more of a mainstream sound, an approach the band replicated on their next two albums. Unhappy about the commercial direction the T-Birds had taken, Jimmie left in 1990 and recorded an album with his brother, Family Style. It came out one month after Stevie Ray’s untimely death in a helicopter crash under the name The Vaughan Brothers.

Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan
Jimmie Vaughan (left) with his brother Stevie Ray Vaughan

Jimmie’s solo debut Strange Pleasure appeared in 1994. He hasn’t been exactly prolific since then, sometimes leaving many years in-between releasing new studio records and focusing on touring and guest-appearing on albums by other artists. Baby, Please Come Home, which was mostly recorded at Fire Station Studio in San Marcos, Texas, came out on May 17 on the Last Music Co. label. It features deeper cuts from a variety of different artists, such as Lloyd Price, T-Bone Walker, Etta James, Fats Domino and Jimmy Reed. Let’s get to some music.

Here is the opener and title track of the album. The tune was written by Lloyd Price and released as a single in 1955. Often called “Mr. Personality,” after his 1959 million-seller Personality, the R&B singer from Louisiana is also known for Lawdy Miss Clawdy, a song he recorded in 1952, featuring Fats Domino on piano. I just dig the horn section and the cool retro sound on Baby, Please Come Home, which is present throughout this 11-tune collection.

No One To Talk To (But The Blues) is a song by country music singer-songwriter Lefty Frizzell, which he recorded in 1957 as a single with country and rockabilly vocalist  Shirley Caddell, who later became known as Shirley Collie Nelson. From 1963 until 1971, she was married to Willie Nelson.

Another great tune, and frankly I could have selected any other track, is What’s Your Name?  That song was written by blues, R&B and rock & roll singer Chuck Willis and appeared as a single in 1953.

Next up: I’m Still In Love With You by T-Bone Walker, one of Vaughan’s guitar influences. Co-written by Walker and Charles Glenn, the ballad was released by Walker with Marl Young And His Orchestra in 1945. From what I have heard thus far, Jimmie is more of an old-style pre-Jimi Hendrix type blues guitarist whereas his younger brother clearly embraced the virtuosity and sound of Hendrix.

The last track I’d like to highlight is So Glad by Fats Domino, which first appeared on his 1963 album Walking To New Orleans. The song was co-credited to Domino and his musical collaborator Dave Bartholomew.

In addition to playing guitar, Vaughan is also handling all lead vocals, something I understand he hasn’t always done. While I think it’s fair to say he’s a better guitar player than a singer, his vocals go well with the music. Vaughan is backed by outstanding musicians, with some of whom he has worked for a long time: George Rains (drums), Ronnie James (bass), Billy Pittman (rhythm guitar), Mike Flanigan (Hammond B3), T. Jarrod Bonta (piano), Greg Piccolo (tenor saxophone), Doug James (baritone saxophone), Randy Zimmerman (trombone) and Jimmy Shortell (trumpet), as well as the Texas horns: Kaz Kazanoff (tenor saxophone), John Mills (baritone saxophone) and Al Gomez (trumpet). The record also features guest vocalists Georgia Bramhall and Emily Gimble.

Commenting on the eclectic mix of tracks, Vaughan told Guitar World, “When I was young, I didn’t really pay much attention to categories of music. I just heard what I liked and decided to explore that. And that’s really what I’m still doing.” The result is a great-sounding. old style blues record I find very enjoyable. I also agree with one review I read that it was not Vaughan’s goal to make a hit record but simply play music he loves. That being said, the album is currently at no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. No. 1, by the way, is Christone “Kingfish” Ingram with his eponymous debut – that 20-year-old blues guitarist and singer from Clarksdale, Miss is just dynamite!

Vaughan is going on the road starting June 19 in Atlanta, and playing what mostly look like smaller venues. Now, that could be fun – I know I’ve been saying I need to restrain myself investing in concerts, but seeing Vaughan up and close in some intimate venue probably would be a great experience! Some of the other dates include Cleveland (Jun 26); Austin, Texas (Jul 6); Boston (Jul 16); Washington, D.C. (Jul 20); Los Angeles (Aug 7); and San Francisco (Sep 11). The last current gig is in Dallas on Sep 21. The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Jimmie Vaughan website, Guitar World, YouTube