Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What Did You Miss This Week? (Week 193 #236)

Papa Lightfoot Encore!!!

Keeping with the Papa Lightfoot theme, Joe's transcription this week was for Lightfoot's tune "Mean Ol' Train". This is a very vocal-friendly song for those of you looking to expand your singing repertoire because he sings a fairly simple melodic line and it is the same every verse. Note also that he sings this through the bullet mic. This may not go over well every song, but doing one tune a night through the bullet mic could add some nice variety to a gig.

As for the structure of the song, it is a jazzy number - note the use of the second scale degree, not something that is in the blues scale. It is also a very 'crooked blues', not following the 12 bar form at all times. Papa Lightfoot drops beats and bars and the band follows him. Appreciate this as a listener, but Joe highly recommends you learn to play this straight first. You will certainly have a better time doing this with an unrehearsed band if you do.

Joe also introduced the idea of 'sound types' and knowing these will be helpful in future conversations:
  • Clean notes
  • Chords and chordal effects
  • Splits
  • Dirty notes and dirty splits
  • Vamping/slapping (percussion)
Amanda's Rollercoaster!!!

The Rhythm Room in Phoenix, AZ played host to a monster four-day blues harp event over the weekend. Here is owner Bob Corritore's description:
Amanda Taylor (the wife of Kim Wilson) has masterminded this amazing blues harmonica happening that features many of the top traditional blues harmonica players around. In addition to the featured players many of the great harp-men that are not on the bill we be in attendance at the event. It is a gathering of like-minded people who love, celebrate, and uphold the value of those cherished blues harmonica sounds. Even the title, named after Little Walter's brilliant instrumental "Roller Coaster", is the kind of thing that those not in the know would not get. In addition to being a great showcase for harmonica performances it will be an amazing opportunity for all of these great players to have a family reunion of sorts. Where can you see three of Muddy Waters' ex-harmonica players hanging out together (James Cotton, Paul Oscher, and Jerry Portnoy). Where else can you see Bharath Rajakumar (the young Canadian Little Walter stylist) playing harmonica behind Johnny Dyer's vocals? Where can you see harmonica master Kim Wilson in many varieties of musical settings? How often does the great Dave Waldman from Chicago do a high profile out of town gig so that the world can see his understated grace on harmonica? Where else can you see Lazy Lester performing "Sugar Coated Love" with the Fabulous Thunderbirds backing him? Where can you see James Cotton playing with Kim Wilson singing? All of this and much more...
YouMissedMonday put the feelers out for a few reviews of the weekend and here are the first two. We hope to have others next week:

Tall Paul Sabin "Well, I missed Thursday's pre-party but arrived on Friday during RJ Mischo's set. As I stood looking around and taking in my new surroundings, I was in awe. Portnoy was holding court outside on the patio. I almost bumped into Lazy Lester who was sipping on something and flirting with the ladies. Paul Oscher, James Harmon, Dave Bernston, Dennis Gruenling, Ronnie Shellist, were all nearby. As the night went on, I had a chance to chat with my buddy Barrelhouse Chuck who was on piano for the weekend. He introduced me to Tommy and Larz of the Swedish blues/rock band Trickbag. I was hearing one great set after another, hearing Jr. Watson live for the first time along with the steady power of Richard Innes on drums, Randy Bermudez and Larry Taylor on bass, and at times the entire Fabulous Thunderbirds lineup. My buddy Billy Flynn from Green Bay was playing guitar much of the night as well.

The big highlight for night one was Billy Boy Arnold's set. He was focused and right on. I've seen him before and this was the first time I've seen him play guitar. He used the guitar to set up the groove just the way he likes, and then would switch to harp. I got a ride back to the hotel with Dave Bernston, RJ, and Billy Boy that night. I wasn't staying at the same hotel as everyone else so I don't have any after-hours stories.

Saturday's highlights for me were definitely seeing Paul Oscher and James Cotton for the first time. I was hanging out with Oscher's Venice Beach neighbor, Rob. He's a woodworker who got into the blues just from getting to know Paul. It was a treat getting to see Paul perform since he doesn't play out that often these days. I got to meet James Cotton and get a blurry photo.

Sunday was a surprise seeing Big Jim and hearing more F-bombs dropped per minute than I think I ever have. He was Maestro Filisko's driver for his brief appearance. Joe started the night with a solo set that I won't soon forget. The part that stood out for me was a no hands solo that incorporated some of Kim Wilson's signature vamping as a respectful nod to a friend. I heard some good players I hadn't heard before including Scott Dirks, Dave Waldman (both from Chicago) and a Canadian named Steve Marriner who not only was a solid harp player but I thought could really sing. The night continued with Lazy Lester singing and playing harp with the Thunderbirds backing and then the night ended with Jerry Portnoy doing a very nice set of blues. Throughout the whole weekend Kim Wilson was heard playing either his own sets or a few tunes to warm up the band before calling up legend after legend. Overall, amazing weekend. Several performers mentioned that the whole thing came about because of a dream that Kim Wilson's wife Amanda had 6 months ago. They all put a lot of work into putting this together and coordinating so many different artist schedules to make it happen.

I don't know that something of this magnitude will ever happen again. If not, here in Chicago we have a nice consolation--the mini-version that Joe puts together every year called the Chicago Blues Harp Bash."

Scott Dirks "Day one: Thursday. Thankfully I was able to change my originally scheduled flight (booked by Kim Wilson, doubling as Amanda’s travel agent) from 6:15am departure, with a layover in Cincinnati, to a 1:25pm departure. So I got a decent night’s sleep – the last I’d get for the next several days as it turned out - and took a cab to the airport at noon.

Thursday evening - arrived at the Rhythm Room early hoping to get a seat, and as soon as I walked in I was introduced to Bill Tarsha, who was hosting the pre-Rollercoaster harp jam part of the night's activities. Bill is a real character and fabulous harp player. He's full of stories about hanging with the old masters, starting in the mid '60s when he was in high school in Toledo and used his fake ID to get into a club to see Little Walter, and ended up playing harp while Walter went out and got drunk.

The music began with an hour long set from The Nighthawks, who put on a tight, powerful rocking blues show led by harpman Mark Wenner. After a break, Bill Tarsha came out and did a short set with his band, which consists of Bill on harp and vocals, his wife Susie playing bass while sitting behind the drums keeping the beat on the bass drum and hi hat, and a guitarist whose name I didn't catch. In his short time onstage, Bill showed his mastery of different approaches to the harp - acoustic, amplified, and chromatic.

Then the jamming began. The Nighthawks band came back and provided backing for the first wave of harp players. Most of the players were given two songs to show what they could do. I hadn't originally planned on playing that night, but Tarsha encouraged me to sign up when I first arrived, and because I'd signed in fairly early, I was called up pretty quickly. I figured it was best to pick songs that didn't have any tricky changes, so I started with Rice Miller's 'Checking On My Baby' in A. Before I left home I'd picked out some newer-looking harps from the pile so I thought I had a good D. Not so - in the opening bars of the song I discovered I had TWO bad notes on my 'good' Marine Band. As I was playing - and trying to navigate around the 2 and 3 draw - I could distinctly hear the words in my head: you should have had a Filisko!

Thankfully I didn't have to follow Dennis Gruenling, who was called up shortly after. Dennis really blew the roof off the place, and showed why he's rightly regarded as one of the best players out there today. I was especially impressed by his unique version of 'Juke', played entirely in third position.

Other players who impressed on Thursday night were my buddy from Chicago Martin Lang, Kim Field in from Seattle, Delta Groove Records chief Randy Chortkoff, who dueted on harp with Rhythm Room proprietor Bob Corritore on one song, and a few others whose names I didn't catch. Unfortunately I had to leave a little before the end, but Bob Corritore told me that Ronnie Shellist from Colorado sounded great too. It seemed to me that a good time was had by all, it was a night of great blues, and of course that was only the appetizer for what was to come.

Friday - the roller coaster ride officially begins. I arrived at the club early again to stake out a seat. A young harp player, named Vincent Bury who is apparently a good friend of Amanda and Kim Wilson, started the show. Good stage presence, strong singer, and talented harp player – a young man to watch out for. The great RJ Mischo followed, and kicked his set off with a low key Rice Miller-type groove. He really sounded great, totally commanded the stage, leading the house band of Richard Innes on drums, Larry Taylor alternating between stand up and electric bass, and Junior Watson and our friend Billy Flynn on guitars, with Barrelhouse Chuck on piano – this is basically the lineup of the Kim Wilson Blues Band. Jumping Johnny Sansone’s high energy set followed; especially cool was his command of the chromatic. James Harmon and Billy Boy Arnold both put in great performances backed by the house band. Billy arrived looking dapper, and did a set of all originals from various stages of his career, from his Vee Jay days in the ‘50s through his recent releases. Especially exciting was a version of one of his early records, “Kissing At Midnight” – Billy Boy sang and played great, and achieved a real hypnotic groove with the great band backing him. Finally Kim Wilson took the stage to close out the night, and played tons of his trademark amazing harp. Maybe I was imagining things, but he seemed to have turned up the intensity a notch for the sake of all the harp freaks in attendance.

A word on Kim’s rig: I’ve seen him many times over the past 25 years or so, and this was the most elaborate set up I’ve ever seen him use. He used his standard Astatic JT-30 mic, which was plugged into a tiny outboard tube preamp. Apparently the preamp pumped up the signal and split it into two outputs. One output led to the phono input on a modified Masco PA head that looked to be from around 1949 or ’50. The speaker output from the Masco was then split to feed two different cabinets: a Victoria Amps cabinet with one 15” speaker, and an old raggedy original Fender Bassman used only as a speaker cab. The other output from the outboard preamp went to the instrument input on a blackface Fender amp (possibly a Fender Pro?), which was then controlled separately with its own volume, tone, and etc. I assume this provided a slightly cleaner sound than the funky Masco. All three cabinets were mic’d and put through the house PA. The sound was truly awe inspiring, and Kim generously let all the harp players who cared to use it do so. The interesting thing of course is that Kim sounded exactly like Kim, but none of the other players did – maybe that was his point?

Saturday - a blur. Early in the day, my friend (and former drummer in my band) Frank Rossi, who moved to Phoenix a couple of years ago and was hosting me for the weekend, had a get together at his house with tons of great food and many musicians in attendance, including harp players Bill Tarsha, Dave Waldman, Kim Field, John Tanner, and a good local harp player named Sam. We had a harp heavy jam for a few hours, with lots of good blues stories being passed around by the veteran players.

We left Frank’s house for the club, and unfortunately got there just as Paul Oscher was finishing his set, which opened the show that night. Everyone was raving about Paul’s performance, and judging by the clips of it that have already shown up on YouTube, we missed something very special. As I said, Saturday was kind of a blur, with so much great music and so many friendly encounters jammed into such a short amount of time, but I’m pretty sure Chef Denis’s set was that night. He’s not just a ‘good player for a chef’ (he’s a gourmet chef at a fancy hotel in California, and has enough sway there to get many of his favorite blues people booked there), he’s a damn fine harp player. One of the (many) special moments of the weekend for me was when James Harman got up and sang with Denis blowing harp – James was testifying, the band was rocking, and for my money it was some of the deepest blues of the weekend. Also that night was Bob Corritore and his frequent partner guitarist Dave Riley, playing some rockin’, downhome juke joint music – really good stuff and a perfect change of pace. Bharath Rajkumar proved he’s a lot more than ‘the Little Walter guy’ – he sang from the heart, played some excellent harp, and did a thoroughly enjoyable set (Bharath also played some solid Chicago-style guitar backing, I think, Chef Denis.) California bluesman Johnny Dyer is an outstanding harp player, but rarely plays harp these days due to health problems, so he sang some classic Chicago blues while Kim Wilson (and I think Bharath on a number or two) backed him on harp – another high point among way too many to keep track of.

Later James Cotton came out and blew the roof off the place – a rich deep tone and many of his classic tunes, with Kim on vocals. Hubert Sumlin joined them for a few numbers to a rapturous reception from the audience. I know it’s heretical to say, but I think he gets over these days mainly on who he is rather than what he does; he seemed to be having a great time, but his presence added more to the good vibes than the quality of the music. The T-Birds (a completely different line up from Kim’s blues band / house band, with the exception of Barrelhouse Chuck sitting in on piano) wrapped up the show with a set drawing from the bluesiest corner of the T-Birds catalog, as always led by Kim’s powerful vocals and stunning harp.

Sunday was in some ways the Chicago day. Joe Filisko opened things up with a solo harp clinic on the great pre-war players, and had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the first note. (Great job Joe!) A hard act to follow, but I had my turn at the mic next, and did a few numbers backed by Billy Flynn, Richard Innes and Larry Taylor. I was given 15 minutes (my 15 minutes of fame are now used up) and figured I’d do 3 songs, but there was a little time left at the end so I improvised an instrumental based on a lick I’d heard on a Mojo Buford song that came up in rotation on my MP3 player earlier in the weekend. The crowd responded well, and I was very honored and flattered to have been included in such a stellar lineup. Dave Waldman followed, and played as great as he always does; after a couple of very cool instrumentals, Kim Wilson joined him on vocals for the rest of his set. Dave’s unique style has a lot of subtle things going on and I’m not sure they’re all immediately evident to casual listeners, but I think he really took a lot of harp players to school. Jerry Portnoy rounded out the ‘Chicago’ homeboys, and sounded as great as always. Especially notable was his lengthy segment walking the crowd and playing acoustically using a toilet paper roll as a combination megaphone and mute. He was also joined by Kim on vocals at one point, and if I remember correctly (no guarantees!) they traded off some harp licks as well. The great Al Blake was up next, and he brings such a beautifully relaxed and swinging vibe that it’s impossible to not enjoy his blues.

Another highlight for me was Lazy Lester’s set, backed by the T-Birds. He’d been in attendance for the entire weekend, holding court on the patio outside the club and reveling anyone who would listen with great stories and plenty of jokes. His performance was a revelation for me – I’d expected him to do his Louisiana swamp-pop standards, and he did, but when he picked up the harp mic and blew, it was almost pure Chicago, and a really cool take on it at that. He’s a guy I’ve been familiar with for a long time, but I think he merits some renewed study. Kim and his blues band wrapped things up. Not much can really be added to that – they’re great, and to end the event with anything else would have been anti-climactic.

I’m absolutely certain I’m forgetting and confusing some details and probably some important people too, and I apologize to anyone who I left out or miscredited. It was a long, exciting, jam-packed weekend, and I wasn’t taking any notes at the time, so if I slighted anyone, it wasn’t on purpose – blame it on my faulty memory and a sensory overload.

I wonder if Amanda is up for a “2nd Annual Rollercoaster”? If so, I’m in!"

Howlin' Wolf on NPR!!!

Howlin' Wolf was featured Monday on NPR's program All Things Considered. They list him in their "50 Great Voices" series and the interviews about him include musicians Billy Boy Arnold and Jody Williams. Check out the story here: Wolf.

Class Notes
  • Recital date announced: Friday, December 10 at the Harlem Avenue Lounge. As always, all Joe's group and private students are encouraged to perform. Due to travel schedules this fall, it is important for Joe to have your recital sign-up sheet much earlier than usual. Fill it out for him, whether you're playing or not, by October 18!
  • Shoji has a My Babe practice track available here.
  • YouMissedMonday missed Tuesday! Sorry the newsletter didn't get out the door yesterday, but the editorial staff was swamped! Hope you can enjoy it on Wednesday.
- Grant Kessler, B1 Blues Crew

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