Clips & Pix: Sonny Landreth & Derek Trucks/Congo Square

If you’re into electric slide guitar blues, check out this clip captured during Eric Clapton’s 2013 Crossroads blues festival, showing two of the finest artists in that genre: Sonny Landreth and Derek Trucks – damn!

Trucks, part of the Tedeschi Trucks Band and former member of The Allman Brothers Band, probably needs no further introduction. I’m not sure the same can be said about Landreth, who I don’t believe is widely known beyond blues circles. Admittedly, I wasn’t aware of this ace slide guitarist either, until a good friend recommended that I check him out – BTW, the same friend who told me about this new Tom Petty live box set covered in my previous post. If you like Petty, you’re going to love this!

Congo Square was co-written by Landreth, Mel Melton and David Ranson. Melton heads a blues band with the awesome name The Wicked Mojos. Ranson is a bassist, who frequently plays with Landreth and is also in the clip. The tune appears on Landreth’s fourth studio album South Of I-10, which was released in 1995. You can bet I’m going to check out additional music from him!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

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Casey James Finds His Own Voice With New Album

The Texas singer-songwriter leaves his country past in the dust with smoking electric blues

Until a few hours ago, I had never heard of Casey James. Then I coincidentally came across his new album Strip It Down in Apple Music. Now I think I’m a new fan. All it took to get my full attention was to listen to the opening notes of the first track, and I immediately liked what I heard!

Released independently on June 9, Strip It Down is the kind of electric blues that puts a big smile on my face. According James’ web site, blues is the music the 35-year-old from Fort Worth loves, citing Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall II and ZZ Top as key influences. And it shows!

Casey James_American Idol

James initially became known as the third-place finalist on American Idol in 2010. In August that year he signed with Sony Music Nashville. In March 2012, his eponymous album appeared on the BNA Records label. The country-oriented pop rock album was co-produced by Casey and country heavyweight artist and producer Chris Lindsey, who has worked with Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw and Martina McBride, among others.

But while his debut brought James some success, apparently, it did not bring him happiness as an artist. Explaining the new album’s title, his web bio notes, “It’s titled Strip It Down because it’s exactly what Casey James did – shed off the layers of stylized artistic clothing that he’d been given in those other public ventures to find the real artist underneath, a guy with a convincing, smoky vocal quality and a burning, lyrical skill with a guitar.”

Strip It Down opens with All I Need, a nice blues shredder that does remind me a bit of Vaughan. I could not find a clip of the studio version, but here’s a nice one of a live performance.

Things continue briskly with Bulletproof, a co-write with Tom Hambridge, a country and blues artist and producer, who reportedly has been called the “White Willie Dixon” by Buddy Guy. The tune features Delbert McClinton.

Next up is Hard Times, Heartaches & Scars, where Casey is slowing things down for the first time. The horn accents give this track a nice dose of Memphis soul. I also love the Hammond-style keyboard.

Another great tune is the album’s title track, which apparently is a co-write. Here is a nice clip about the song’s making.

The second soulful tune on the album I’d like to call out is Supernatural. Written by James, it again features great horns, similar to Hard Times, Heartaches & Scars. The track also has great background vocals.

Strip It Down was produced by Hambridge mostly live in a Nashville studio in just four days. Hambridge brought in a top-notch musicians, including guitarists Pat Buchanan and Rob McNelley, bass player Tommy McDonald and keyboarder Kevin McKendree. Most of the songs were recorded in three takes or less. James funded the album through fan contributions with a one-month Kickstarter campaign.

Says James on his web site: “If you were to give me two options – one to have a shot at being famous, but it might mean I never play music again, or the other, to play every single night at bars, I would immediately choose option B. Because I want to play music.” Most importantly, James appears to have finally reached his ultimate goal: being himself.

Sources: Wikipedia, Casey James web site, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listing to: Stevie Ray Vaughan/Couldn’t Stand the Weather

Vaughan’s second studio album remains an electric blues gem more than 30 years after its release

I’ve always admired Stevie Ray Vaughan for his incredible guitar skills and cool sound. He is right up there with Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy. In fact, he oftentimes reminds me of Hendrix.

The first time I was introduced to Vaughan’s music was in my early twenties after I had joined a blues band as a bassist. Among the songs I had to learn was Tin Pan Alley, one of the tunes on Couldn’t Stand the Weather. Vaughan’s second studio album with Double Trouble was released in May 1984. I bought the CD shortly thereafter. It remains one of my favorite blues albums to this day.

The record kicks off with Scuttle Buttin’, an instrumental Vaughan shreds at breakneck speed. It is one of two instrumentals on the album and one of four tracks written by him. Here’s a nice clip of a live performance of this incredible tune.

Next up is the record’s fantastic title song, another Vaughan composition. A cool mix of blues and funk, the tune features Vaughan’s brother Jimmie Vaughan on rhythm guitar. Here is a clip of the official music video, which according to Wikipedia received regular play on MTV – a pretty remarkable feat, given the song sounded very differently from the music that dominated the charts at the time. I imagine the funky grove had something to do with it.

Couldn’t Stand the Weather also includes an amazing version of the Hendrix classic Voodoo Child (Slight Return). It nicely showcases Vaughan’s virtuosity and his impeccable command of the wah-wah pedal – just like the maestro himself! Here’s a great illustration.

Another tune from the record I’d like to highlight is Cold Shot, which was co-written by the “Godfather of Austin Blues” Wesley Curley Clark and Michael Kindred. Here’s a pretty hilarious clip of what apparently is the song’s official video.

And then there is of course Tin Pan Alley, written by James Reed. Vaughan’s version is perhaps the best electric slow blues I know. It literally makes the hair in my neck stand up. Here’s an epic clip.

Couldn’t Stand the Weather was recorded in just 19 days at the Power Station in New York City (now called Avatar Studios). Other major artists, such as Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, David Bowie, Neil Young and Sting, have worked at that studio. The record was produced Vaughan and Double Trouble (Tommy Shannon, bass; and Chris Layton, drums), Richard Mullen and Jim Capfer. John Hammond was the executive producer.

Following on the heels of his 1983 debut Texas Floods, the album was another success for Vaughan, climbing to no. 31 on the Billboard 200, and selling one million copies in just five weeks – a remarkable showing for a blues album. Couldn’t Stand the Weather is part of Vaughan’s impressive recording legacy.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Vaughan no. 12 in its 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, saying he “was recognized as a peer by the likes of B.B. King (no. 6 on the list) and Eric Clapton (no. 2 on the list) and despite his 1990 death in a helicopter crash, he’s still inspiring multiple generations of guitarists, from Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready to John Mayer and rising young star Gary Clark Jr.”

Another inspired young blues guitarist is Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He told Rolling Stone in 1999, “Stevie Ray Vaughan was the whole inspiration for me picking up the guitar. I got to hear him play for the first time when I was seven years old, in Shreveport, Louisiana…It’s weird to think that a seven-year-old child can have such a spiritual experience, but it affected the rest of my life. Six months later, I got my own guitar.”

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, Rolling Stone

What I’ve Been Listening to: Buddy Guy/ Born to Play Guitar

Buddy Guy couldn’t have chosen a better title for his 17th studio album, which is full of electrifying energy.

John Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” Well, if Chuck Berry is Mr. Rock & Roll, perhaps Buddy Guy could be called “Mr. Blues,” at least among the still-living electric blues guitarists. No matter how you may want to characterize Guy, one thing is clear – his 17th studio album sure as heck illustrates he was born to play the guitar!

Released on July 31, 2015, Born to Play Guitar certainly doesn’t sound like an album from a man who was close to 79 years old when he recorded it! The record kicks off with the title track, an excellent slower tune showcasing Guy’s amazing electric blues guitar skills and, not to forget, his still-formidable voice.

Buddy Guy_Born to Play Guitar_Sleeve

Then things pick up with Wear You Out featuring ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, one of many guitarists who were influenced by Guy. The album also includes guest appearances by other top-notch musicians. Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Weston plays a bad-ass harp on Too Late and Kiss Me Quick. English singer-songwriter Joss Stone shares vocals with Guy on (Baby) You Got What It Takes. And then there is Van Morrison who joins Guy on vocals for Flesh & Bone, a beautiful tune dedicated to B.B. King.

While each of the above songs already is a true gem, to me there is one that takes things to an even higher level: Whiskey, Beer & Wine. This kick-ass blues rocker sounds like a reincarnation of none other than Jimi Hendrix, another guitarist Guy influenced.

While many artists listened to Guy, he of course was influenced by other musicians as well. One of them was Muddy Waters. Guy is paying homage to Waters with the album’s closer, Come Back Muddy, the only acoustic blues on the record. The tune’s last lines pretty much sum up what Guy views as his mission these days – keeping the blues alive: “Come back Muddy/The blues ain’t been the same/Give you my promise/That I’m gonna keep on playing.” It’s also a message Guy shares during his concerts. I witnessed this firsthand when I was fortunate to catch one of his shows last July, an amazing double bill with Jeff Beck. You can read more about it here.

Buddy Guy_Born to Play Guitar_Cover Backside

Most of the album’s music was written by Richard Fleming and producer Tom Hambridge. He also was one of the studio musicians, playing drums and other percussive instruments and contributing background vocals. Guy only has co-writing credits on four of the songs. But as Rolling Stone’s David Fricke observed, Guy sings “lines he didn’t write but lived. In the blues, that’s what matters.”

Born to Play Guitar climbed to no. 1 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart and made it into the Billboard 200, peaking at no. 60. It also won the Grammy for Best Blues Album in 2016. As reported by Blues and BG Music News, when Guy accepted the award, his 7th Grammy, he said: “At least I know the blues is not dead yet! I want to thank my record company, because I don’t think blues is getting played that much no more. And I’m not ashamed to say that, because I used to could drive down the streets and hear Muddy Waters once or twice a week. But I didn’t give up. And I gotta thank my record company for puttin up with me and my producer Tom Hambridge.”

Of course, I couldn’t finish this post without a clip of – I suppose you correctly guessed it – Whiskey, Beer & Wine.

Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, Rolling Stone, Blues and BG Music News, YouTube