Blues Is My Business

I guess the title of the post, which I creatively borrowed from an Etta James song, pretty much gives it away. I’ve been into the blues and blues rock on and off for close to 40 years. My relatively short-lived period as a hobby bassist many moons ago started in a blues band.

After primarily focusing on other genres, I’ve turned more of my attention back to the blues over the past few years. While the old blues guard, i.e., the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, is largely gone, encouragingly, a good number of relatively young artists including a significant amount of females are keeping the blues alive and putting their own stamp on it.

The idea for this post, which celebrates blues and blues rock from young and old artists, was triggered the other day when I came across Worried Life Blues, as covered by B.B. King and Eric Clapton on their great collaboration album Riding with the King from June 2000. Most of the music I feature here is in a Spotify playlist at the end of the post. I’m highlighting six of the tunes in the upfront.

B.B. King and Eric Clapton/Worried Life Blues

Starting with the song that inspired this post felt appropriate. Worried Life Blues was written by American blues pianist Major Merriweather, better known as Big Maceo Merriweather, and county blues artist Samuel John “Lightnin’”  Hopkins, who was known as Lightnin’ Hopkins. It was first recorded and released by Merriwater in 1941. The tune was based on Someday Baby Blues, a Sleepy John Estes song from 1935. Worried Life Blues became one of the most recorded blues standards of all time.

The Boneshakers/Let’s Straighten It Out

My longtime music friend from Germany recently brought this excellent tune to my attention. The Boneshakers were formed in the early 1990s by Was (Not Was) guitarist Randy Jacobs and Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, one of the group’s vocalists after Was (Not Was) had gone on hiatus. Let’s Straighten It Out is from The Boneshakers’ debut album Book of Spells, which appeared in January 1997. The tune was penned by blues vocalist Benny Latimore, who recorded it for his 1974 album More More More. The original is great, but this rendition is killer!

Shemekia Copeland/Salt In My Wounds

Shemekia Copeland, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and vocalist Johnny Copeland, is an incredible blues vocalist who has released 10 albums to date. Salt In My Wounds is from her April 1998 debut Turn the Heat Up! The track was penned by blues guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Alan Mirikitani. Copeland’s delivery is riveting.

Jontavious Willis/Take Me to the Country

Next up is Jontavious Willis, a young country blues guitarist from Greenville, Ga. Taj Mahal, one of his mentors, has called him “wunderkind”. I saw Willis open up for him and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 and was very impressed. Mahal also executive-produced Willis’ sophomore album Spectacular Class, which appeared in April 2019. I previously reviewed it here. Following is a tune from that album, Take Me to the Country. Check this out. Not only is the guitar-playing outstanding, but the singing is great as well!

Danielle Nicole/Save Me

Danielle Nicole (né Danielle Nicole Schnebelen) is a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. Prior to releasing her solo debut Wolf Den in 2015, Nicole co-founded Kansas City soul and blues rock band Trampled Under Foot in 2000 and was their lead vocalist and bassist. The band recorded five albums before it dissolved in 2015. Save Me, co-written by Schnebelen and drummer and producer Tony Braunagel, is a tune from Nicole’s third and most recent studio album Cry No More. It features Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar.

Little Steven/Blues Is My Business

It may seem a bit odd to highlight Little Steven’s version of the above-noted tune that was first recorded by Etta James as The Blues Is My Business for her 26th studio Let’s Roll. James’ version is great. Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt) takes the song, which was co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cherney, to the next level with a soulful rendition that reminds me of Joe Cocker. He included it on his excellent studio album Soulfire from May 2017.

Here’s the above-mentioned playlist with plenty of additional music. Hope you find something you like.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

A Southern Peach Turns 50 And Remains As Tasty As Ever

“Generally, conditioned peaches will last for 3-4 days on the counter, slightly longer in the fridge, and they can be frozen for an extended time,” according to The Peach Truck. Yep, that’s a thing, and it came up when I typed, ‘what is the average shelf life of a Georgia peach?’ into my search engine. Of course, the peach I’m talking about here isn’t edible, though it certainly remains just as sweet as a fully ripe peach as it was when it first appeared today 50 years ago.

Eat a Peach, a double LP part-studio, part-live album, was the fourth record by The Allman Brothers Band, released on February 12, 1972. It came on the heels of At Fillmore East, the group’s commercial breakthrough, and perhaps the best live album ever recorded, at least when it comes to southern rock and blues rock. But while the Fillmore album had turned the Allmans into a commercially viable act, the group faced enormous challenges.

By the time they started work on the new album at Criteria Studios in Miami, much of the band was in the throes of heroin addiction. Their newly found wealth from the commercial success of Fillmore probably was a double-edged sword. In October 1971, band leader Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley, along with two of the group’s roadies, checked themselves into a drug rehab clinic in Buffalo, N.Y.

If I interpret the background I read correctly, following the above drug rehab, the Allmans went on a short tour. The day after Duane Allman had returned to Macon, Ga., he was killed in a motorcycle accident at age 24. “We thought about quitting because how could we go on without Duane?” said drummer Butch Trucks, according to Wikipedia citing a 2014 Allmans bio by Alan Paul. “But then we realized: how could we stop?”

In the wake of Duane’s death lead guitarist Dickey Betts essentially stepped into his shoes and took over the group’s leadership. In December 1971, the Allmans returned to Miami’s Criteria Studios to finish the album. Like At Fillmore East, Eat a Peach was produced by music genius Tom Dowd who had also served in that capacity for part of their sophomore album Idlewild South.

Among Dowd’s many prior accomplishments was the production of rock gem Layla that had brought together Eric Clapton and Duane Allman for one of the most memorable collaborations in rock. You can read more about Dowd and an amazing documentary titled Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music here.

Eat a Peach gatefold: The elaborate mural was drawn by W. David Powell and J. F. Holmes

BTW, the record’s title came from a quote by Duane who had said, “You can’t help the revolution, because there’s just evolution … Every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.” I’d say the time is ripe for some music.

Let’s start with Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, which opens Side one. The tune was written by Gregg Allman shortly after the death of his brother Duane and was Gregg’s attempt to come to terms with the tragic event. The song also became the album’s lead single in April 1972, backed by Melissa. Betts does a great job on slide guitar. He had big shoes to fill!

Closing out Side one is Melissa, another tune penned by Gregg Allman. In fact, he wrote it in 1967 prior to the formation of the Allmans. “By that time I got so sick of playing other people’s material that I just sat down and said, ‘OK, here we go,” Allman said during a 2006 interview, as captured by Songfacts. “And about 200 songs later – much garbage to take out – I wrote this song called ‘Melissa.’ And I had everything but the title.” The title would come to Gregg one night in a grocery store when he watched a Spanish woman telling her active little girl, Melissa, to stop running away. Melissa was a favorite of Duane’s. It also became the A-side of the record’s second single in August 1972.

I’m skipping all of Side two, which is the first part of Mountain Jam, a track that more appropriately should have been titled marathon jam. I realize this may not exactly endear me to die-hard fans of the Allmans or Grateful Dead, for that matter. While I recognize Mountain Jam features great musicianship, which among others includes an amazing bass solo by Berry Oakley I have to acknowledge as a retired hobby bassist, 19:37 minutes followed by 15:06 minutes on Side four simply is too much of a jam for me.

Instead, I’d like to highlight Trouble No More, the second track on Side three. Like Mountain Jam, it was leftover material from the group’s 1971 Fillmore East performances. Credited to Muddy Waters, he first recorded the upbeat blues in 1955. Wikipedia notes it’s a variation on Someday Baby Blues, a tune Sleepy John Estes had recorded in 1935.

Next up is Blue Sky, written by Dickey Betts about his then-native Canadian girlfriend, Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig. Notably, this was the first Allmans song that featured Betts on lead vocals. He also sang lead on Ramblin’ Man, the group’s biggest hit from 1973, a no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Blue Sky also was Duane Allman’s final recording with the band. The country-flavored tune features beautiful harmony guitar action and alternating solos by Allman and Betts.

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track of Side three: Little Martha. The lovely acoustic instrumental is the only tune on the record solely credited to Duane Allman (Duane received a co-credit for the aforementioned Mountain Jam). Songfacts notes, Duane wrote it for Dixie Lee Meadows, a girl with whom he was having an affair. “Little Martha” was a nickname Duane called her. According to Scott Freeman’s Midnight Riders: The Story of The Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman claimed this came to him in a dream in which Jimi Hendrix showed him how to play the song using a sink faucet in a hotel room. Duane woke up and started playing it.

Eat a Peach was both a chart and a commercial success for The Allman Brothers Band. It reached no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, becoming their second-highest charting record. Successor Brothers and Sisters, which featured Ramblin’ Man, made it all the way to no. 1. Eat a Peach also did well in Canada where it reached no. 12. In Australia, the album peaked at no. 35.

In December 1995, Eat a Peach reached Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Together with At Fillmore East and Brothers and Sisters, this makes it one of the group’s three albums with certified sales of at least one million units.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Peach Truck; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday morning, at least in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey where you can always run into a confused deer and spot the occasional fox. Or watch the squirrels chasing after one another. And did I mention Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and that other guy many of you aren’t fond of (though 100 million fans can’t be wrong!) are Jersey boys, as is Walter Trout (at least originally)? Okay, this is starting to sound like a silly ad for the Garden State, so let’s move on to the business of the day: Six tunes of music of the past and the present.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio/Don’t Worry ‘Bout What I Do

Speaking of the present, let’s start today’s musical journey with some groovy organ jazz by Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, an act I’ve previously featured. Founded in 2015, the trio includes self-taught Hammond B-3 organist Delvon Lamarr, guitarist Jimmy James and drummer Dan Weiss. From their website: Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio—or as it is sometimes referred to, DLO3—specialize in the lost art of “feel good music.” The ingredients of this intoxicating cocktail include a big helping of the 1960s organ jazz stylings of Jimmy Smith and Baby Face Willette; a pinch of the snappy soul strut of Booker T. & The M.G.’s and The Meters; and sprinkles Motown, Stax Records, blues, and cosmic Jimi Hendrix-style guitar. It’s a soul-jazz concoction that goes straight to your heart and head makes your body break out in a sweat – in other words, it’s some pretty cool shit! Don’t Worry ‘Bout What I Do is an upfront single that was released on January 6, 2022, from DLO3’s upcoming fourth studio album Cold As Weiss scheduled for February 11 – my kind of music!

The Fabulous Thunderbirds/Wrap It Up

Let’s keep groovin’ and movin’ and slightly pick up the speed. This next tune takes us back to 1986 and a tasty tune by The Fabulous Thunderbirds: Wrap It Up. Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote that song for Stax soul duo Sam & Dave who included it on their fourth studio record I Thank You from 1968. The Thunderbirds did a beautiful job with it, recording it for Tuff Enuff, their fifth studio album that appeared in January 1986. If I see this correctly, it became one of the Texas blues rock-oriented band’s most successful singles, reaching no. 50 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The Fabulous Thunderbirds, who were founded in 1974, remain active. Their current line-up includes original member Kim Wilson (vocals, harmonica), along with Johnny Moeller (guitar), Kevin Anker (keyboards), Steve Gomes (bass) and Nico Leophonte (drums).

The Merry-Go-Round/Live

Time for a dose of ’60s psychedelic rock. Frankly, I don’t recall how The Merry-Go-Round ended up on my list of earmarked tunes for a Sunday Six installment. I can confirm I wasn’t flying eight miles high on some controlled substance! I suspect it must have been a listening suggestion by my streaming music provider. Anyway, The Merry-Go-Round were a short-lived American band from Los Angeles formed in the summer of 1966 by singer-songwriter Emitt Rhodes, along with his friends Gary Kato (lead guitar), Bill Rinehart (bass) and Joel Larson (drums). Inspired by contemporaries like The Beatles, The Byrds and The Left Banke, The Merry-Go-Round only released one eponymous album in November 1967. It barely made the Billboard 200, reaching no. 190. After various subsequent non-charting singles and an attempt to record a sophomore record, the group disbanded in 1969. Here’s Live, their first and most successful single from 1967, which peaked at no. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also was the opener of the album. Nice tune!

Fastball/The Way

Probably, this has happened to you as well. Suddenly out of nowhere, you recall a great tune you hadn’t heard in years. That’s exactly what prompted this next pick by Fastball and their January 1998 hit The Way. It probably saved the American alternative rock band’s career after their first single and debut album had gone nowhere. Fueled by The Way and a second tune, Out of My Head, Fastball’s sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy went Plantium within six months of its March 1998 release. It also yielded two Grammy and one MTV award nomination. Written by group member Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), The Way was inspired by a story he had read about an elderly Texas couple who had gone missing and eventually were found dead in their car hundreds of miles away from their original destination. The song’s great cinematic story-telling would make a good episode for The Twilight Zone. Fastball are still around in their original line-up, which in addition to Scalzi includes Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). Sadly, as is all too common in the tough music business, the band never managed to come anywhere close to replicating the success of their second album. And, based on sampling songs from some of their other records, it wasn’t because of lack of decent music!

Johnny Cash/Give My Love to Rose

Initially, I had planned to feature Johnny Cash’s incredible rendition of John Lennon’s In My Life, one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs from their second 1965 album Rubber Soul. Then I started listening from the beginning of American IV: The Man Comes Around, Cash’s studio record from November 2002, the last released during his lifetime. It was also the fourth in his “American” series, which were produced by Rick Rubin and marked a late-stage career resurgence for “The Man in Black.” When I got to Give My Love to Rose, I simply couldn’t resist picking this powerful tune over In My Life, as much as I love the latter. Written by Cash, the song has incredible story-telling, and it’s a tearjerker. Originally, he had composed and recorded the tune with the Tennessee Two at Sun Records in 1957. It first appeared that same year as the B-side of the single Home of the Blues. Cash’s sparse and vulnerable rendition on American IV won him a Grammy in 2003, just days before his 71st birthday. Cash passed away in September of the same year.

Led Zeppelin/Custard Pie

After this powerful tearjerker, I’d like to finish this post on a kickass ’70s rock note. On we go to Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin’s sixth double-LP studio release from February 1975. It combined eight new songs and some previously unreleased tracks the group had recorded during the sessions for the Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy albums. Here’s the opener Custard Pie, one of the new tunes, credited to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Songfacts notes the song is based on various American blues recordings, including Blind Boy Fuller’s 1939 “I Want Some Of Your Pie” and Brown McGhee’s 1947 “Custard Pie Blues. An influence on this song is “Drop Down Mama,” a 1935 blues song by Sleepy John Estes with Hammie Nixon…[It also] includes a snippet from “Shake ’em On Down” by the blues musician Bukka White. In typical Zep fashion, you wouldn’t know any of this from looking at the credits, and I’m making this remark as a huge Led Zeppelin fan. I just wish they would have given credit to the artists whose work they apparently borrowed. It wouldn’t have diminished this great rocker by one iota, at least not in my eyes. The cool clavinet was played by John Paul Jones, while Plant provided some neat harmonica action. As usual, John Bonham’s drumming is outstanding. Dynamite tune all around!

Not to forget, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above picks:

Sources: Wikipedia; Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio website; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of new music I like

Last week I introduced Best of What’s New, which I intend to make a recurring feature highlighting new music that caught my attention. I’m trying to keep these posts a bit eclectic and at least occasionally venture beyond my core wheelhouse. This second installment includes blues, southern rock, metal rap and alternative pop.

Sass Jordan/One Way Out

From the website of “Canada’s Queen of Rock”, Sass Jordan: Montreal’s burgeoning ’70’s scene included a ‘no holds barred’ approach to glam, punk, blues, prog, metal, country, jazz, folk, with the added attraction of a homegrown sound created by the Quebecois artists of the decade, unique to the landscape and pertinent to the denizens of the period… This was the backdrop that nurtured one of the pioneers of female fronted rock – Sass Jordan…Sass has found herself working with and in the company of many of the people that inspired her to do what she does, amongst them the incomparable Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Steve Miller Band, Van Halen, The Foo Fighters, Cheap Trick, Santana, Joe Cocker, Styx, Rodger Hodgson, April Wine, Jeff Healy, and countless others. She has won various awards, including Juno and Billboard, and has sold over a million records world wide. Two weeks ago on March 13, Jordan released her first blues album Rebel Moon Blues, which is her ninth overall. Here’s the tasty opener and lead single Leaving Trunk, which like most of the tracks on the album is a cover, in this case of a Sleepy John Estes tune. With her raspy voice, I think Jordan is born to sing the blues!

The Outlaws/Southern Rock Will Never Die

With an Allman Brothers Band-like harmony rock guitar intro, it took less than five seconds for me to realize I dig the above tune by The Outlaws, a southern rock band that’s been around for more than 40 years. From their website: Formed in Tampa in 1972, The Outlaws – known for their triple-guitar rock attack and three-part country harmonies – became one of the first acts signed by Clive Davis (at the urging of Ronnie Van Zant) to his then-fledgling Arista Records. The band’s first three albums The Outlaws, Lady In Waiting and Hurry Sundown…would become worldwide gold and platinum landmarks of the Southern Rock era…The Outlaws earned a formidable reputation as an incendiary live act touring with friends The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band and The Charlie Daniels Band as well as The Doobie Brothers, The Who, Eagles and The Rolling Stones. After their first three albums, The Outlaws have seen numerous lineup changes and some downtime. The anthem-like Southern Rock Will Never Die is the opener to Dixie Highway, their 13th studio album that came out on February 28. Sounds like I should also listen to their first three records.

Zombie Drive-In/The Man From Corpus Christi

Not much information out there on Zombie Drive-In. According to their Facebook page, the band includes Owen Davis (drums, vocals), Austin Sizemore (guitar, vocals), Timothy Schmidt (guitar, vocals) and Josh Holden (bass, vocals). They have been around since 2011 and characterize their music as ’70s metal rap rock. I will say this definitely falls outside my core wheelhouse, but there’s just something about it. What initially attracted me to the song was the harmony guitar intro. My streaming music provider lists albums from 2013 and 2014 and The Man From Corpus Christi, a single the band put out on March 4.

Dez Money/Hold On

Dez Money (born Demond Lennon Mahoney) is the son of rock vocalist and songwriter Eddie Money, who sadly passed away in September 2019 at the age of 70 due to complications from esophageal cancer. According to his websiteDez writes all of his own music and serves as a producer as well. Aside from writing and singing the songs Dez plays the piano, guitar, bass, and drums as well in his music. His first album titled “Take Me Down” debuted in 2015. Dez also co-starred in a reality show about his family, Real Money, and opened up and played in the band of his father. Hold On is from Dez’s sophomore album Blue, which appeared on February 14.

Sources: Wikipedia; Sass Jordan website; American Blues Scene; The Outlaws website; Dez Money website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/ Diving Duck Blues

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo‘ perform Diving Duck Blues, a tune from their excellent collaboration album TajMo, which was released on May 5 and is hands-down one of my favorite 2017 records. I previously reviewed it here. Watching these two “old hands” playing together side by side in such a relaxed and joyful manner is just priceless to me and makes me want to grab my acoustic guitar. I’m not saying I could play like this – not even close!

Originally, Diving Duck Blues was written and released by country blues artist Sleepy John Estes – not sure when. The earliest recording reference I could find was a 1962 album called The Legend of Sleepy John Estes. Mahal also included the track on his eponymous debut album from 1968, as did electric blues rock dynamo Johnny Winter on his 1978 release White, Hot and Blue.

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ are currently touring together, and I’m set to see them next Thursday at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.  Can’t wait!

Sources: Wikipedia, Discogs, YouTube