Tag Archives: blues

Artist Profiles: Robben Ford

Robben Ford

Robben Ford was born on December 16, 1951 in Woodlake, California, U.S.A.

Robben Ford’s earliest musical steps were in the blues playing with his brothers in the Charles Ford band and backing harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite. Robben then joined the legendary Jimmy Witherspoon. But his career took an unexpected turn in 1974 when he was discovered by saxophonist Tom Scott.

Ford began to perform and record with Scott’s jazz-fusion band L.A. Express and joined them in backing songwriter Joni Mitchell for two years. He played on her Court and Spark tour and double album Miles of Isles (1974) as well as contributing his guitar work to The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975).

Based on his live work with Mitchell, Ford was recruited to join George Harrison on what would be the ex-Beatles only solo tour ever. In the program book for the Dark Horse tour it is noted ‘Only once in a blue moon is there an artist so natural to the blues and to jazz as Robben Ford.”

In 1979, Ford released his solo debut album, a fusion-flavored production called The Inside Story. Out of that recording came the legendary group Yellowjackets that would go on to record two albums for Warner Records.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Ford worked with so many different artists that he was labeled a “fusion guitar player.” Robben says “it just wasn’t true. Not in my heart anyway. And it wasn’t until my second album Talk to Your Daughter in 1988 that I got to make my first blues offering.” That album received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Recording.

The promotional tour for Talk to Your Daughter eventually led to the formation of a full time blues-based band called Robben Ford and the Blue Line, with Roscoe Beck on bass and Tom Brechtlein on drums. The trio recorded a series of landmark albums including a self-titled debut in 1992 Robben Ford & the Blue Line, Mystic Mile in 1993 and 1995’s Handful of Blues.

By the second half of the decade Robben was again ready for a change. After a friendly split with the Blue Line he recorded Tiger Walk in 1997, backed by Keith Richards’ rhythm section. “Tiger Walk was an instrumental rock and R&B record which was nothing that my audience expected at the time,” says Robben. “And the next record Supernatural (1999) was an even further departure.” The album Supernatural was well received and “In the Beginning” (from Tiger Walk) was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Instrumental Rock category.

Robben returned to blues with Blue Moon in 2002 and Keep on Running in 2003. Keep on Running includes a core group of first class players: bassist Jimmy Earl and drummers Toss Panos and Steve Potts.

Discography:

Discovering the Blues Live (1972) (Live)
Sunrise (1972)
Jimmy Witherspoon & Robben Ford Live (1976)
Schizophonic (1976)
The Inside Story (Elektra, 1979)
Love’s a Heartache (1983)
Talk to Your Daughter (Warner Bros., 1988)
Words and Music (Warner Bros., 1988)
Robben Ford (Warner Bros., 1988)
A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing (ITM, 1992)
Handful of Blues (Blue Thumb, 1995)
Blues Connotation (1996)
Tiger Walk (1997)
Supernatural (Universal Classics & Jazz, 1999)
Blue Moon (Concord Jazz, 2002)
Keep on Running (Concord Jazz, 2003)
The Color of Things (2005)
City Life (Westwind, 2006)
Truth (Concord, 2007)
Soul on Ten (Concord, 2009)
Bringing It Back Home (Provogue, 2013)
A Day in Nashville (Provogue, 2014)
Live at Rockpalast (Repertoire, 2014)
Into the Sun (Provogue, 2015)
Lost in Paris Blues Band (Ear Music, 2016)
Supremo (2017)

Share

Artist Profiles: Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

Born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi in 1911, Robert Johnson came to prominence in the 1930s, recording his 26-song catalog during two recording sessions in 1936 and 1937. The blues songs Johnson recorded over the course of those sessions went on to influence two generations of blues masters and became the foundation upon which much of rock and roll was built. He passed away in 1938 at the age of 27.

From early blues craftsmen like Muddy Waters and Elmore James to modern blues/rock innovators like Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, no one has escaped the wide-ranging influence of this blues master.

Recommended recordings:

The Complete Recordings (The Centennial Collection)
King of Delta Blues Singers
King of the Delta Blues Singers Vol. 2

Videos:

The Search for Robert Johnson
Can’t You Hear the wind Howl? The Life & Music of Robert Johnson

Share

Boubacar Traoré Meets the South

Boubacar Traoré – Dounia Tabolo (Lusafrica, 2017)

The master of Malian blues Boubacar Traoré connects with three leading African-American blues and roots music musicians, Cedric Watson, Corey Harris and Leyla McCalla, on Dounia Tabolo. He’s also joined by talented French harmonica player Vincent Bucher who sounds more American than French, and percussionist Alassane Samaké.

The final result is a remarkable recording where the sounds of Mali and the music of the southern United States get together, delivering a superb cross-cultural album.

The lineup on the album includes Boubacar Traoré on lead vocals and guitar; Vincent Bucher on harmonica; Alassane Samaké on calabash, shaker and percussion. Guests: Cedric Watson on fiddle and washboard; Corey Harris on guitar and vocals; and Leyla McCalla on cello and vocals.

 

 

Dounia Tabolo is a wonderful mix of Malian rhythms and melodies with the sounds of the Mississippi Delta along with the unexpected sound of Leyla McCalla’s beautiful cello.

Share

Artist Profiles: R.L. Burnside

R.L. Burnside

R.L. Burnside was born in Harmontown (Lafayette County) near Oxford Mississippi in November 21, 1926. He moved around the Holly Springs and Independence area making a living doing farm work. By the 1950s he was singing blues and playing guitar which he learned from older local musicians such as “Mississippi” Fred McDowell and Ranie Burnette. Burnside played solo at juke joints and house parties performing versions of blues hits by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers Elmore James and Howlin’ Wolf, themselves all Mississippi bluesmen. Then, during the 1950s, a restless Burnside spent several years outside of music seeking a better life in Chicago and Memphis.

Around 1959 he returned to Mississippi to again work the farms and raise a family with his wife Alice. He also got back to playing music at night and on weekends.

R.L. Burnside made his first recordings in 1967 with George Mitchell and several of these songs appeared on a compilation on Arhoolie. They were powerful country blues and earned Burnside enough of a reputation to play some festivals and short tours. Burnside’s electric guitar was broken at the time so he recorded on an acoustic. This caused him to be seen as an old-fashioned country blues artist when actually he had been updating and expanding the blues from the time he first began playing.

By the early 1970s, his wife Alice would sing with him on stage and most of their children also began singing or playing instruments. Soon R.L.’s sons, Joseph and Daniel along with brother-in-law Calvin Jackson formed the Sound Machine which became R.L.’s regular backing band. Burnside and his band would hold crowds of young dancers with their grooves including a growing number of local white kids.

Throughout the 1980s R.L. was a major figure in the Mississippi juke joint scene but he was barely known outside of the state. Things started to change for him in 1990, when respected journalist Robert Palmer along with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics journeyed to Holly Springs to film ‘Deep Blues,’ the movie that brought attention to the vibrant but still largely undocumented contemporary blues scene in Mississippi. R.L. was a highlight of the film and his appearance led to his Robert Palmer produced debut on the then fledgling Fat Possum records, Too Bad Jim. Along with Junior Kimbrough’s All Night Long, Too Bad Jim was one of the most important and influential albums of the 1990s. He was playing electric raw north-Mississippi hill country-blues at its finest. No one had recorded music like this before and it quickly met with great acclaim.

The critical success of Too Bad Jim brought R.L. to the attention of post-punk icon Jon Spencer who started taking R.L. out on tour and turning him on to a whole new audience. By this time his band consisted of his grandson Cedric on drums and his “adopted son” Kenny Brown on guitar. They had no bass player but their sound was full and R.L.’s charisma won over young crowds that had never heard blues before. All of this led to the recording of A Ass Pocket of Whiskey, where he was backed by Jon Spencer and his band The Blues Explosion. That album sold well and made R.L. the unlikely hero of the indie-rock world.

A Ass Pocket of Whiskey was followed by Mr. Wizard which featured his touring band and then in 1998 he released Come On In which pitted his rawness against modern electronica courtesy of producer Tom Rothrock (Beck Elliot Smith). The album was a complete success both critically and commercially. One of its tracks (‘It’s Bad You Know’) was even a respectable radio hit and was featured in the gangster TV show and soundtrack for ‘The Sopranos.

Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down (2000) contains some of Burnside’s best singing ever. At 73 years old his voice had maturity and depth while his phrasing was detailed and emotional.

Despite his advancing age and health problems Burnside toured regularly with a trio that included his grandson Cedric on drums and Kenny Brown on guitar.

He died September 1st 2005 in his hospital room at the St. Francis Hospital in Memphis Tennessee. He was 78.

Discography:

Sound Machine Groove (Vogue, 1981)
Plays and Sings the Mississippi Delta Blues (Swingmaster, 1981)
Mississippi Blues (Arion, 1984)
Hill Country Blues (Swingmaster, 1987)
Skinny Woman (Lollipop, 1989)
Bad Luck City (Fat Possum, 1994)
Too Bad Jim (Fat Possum, 1994)
A Ass Pocket of Whiskey (Fat Possum, 1996)
Mr. Wizard (Fat Possum, 1997)
Come On In (Fat Possum, 1998)
My Black Name a-Ringin’ (Genes, 1999)
Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down (Fat Possum, 2000)
Burnside on Burnside (Fat Possum, 2001)
A Bothered Mind (Fat Possum, 2004)

Share

Artist Profiles: Pinetop Perkins

Pinetop Perkins

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Recipient (2005) Pinetop Perkins was one of the last great Mississippi bluesmen still performing in the 21st century. He made a living playing blues since 1926 and was widely regarded as one of the best blues pianists. He created a style of playing that influenced three generations of piano players and will continue to be the yardstick by which great blues pianists are measured.

His signature sound, the right hand playing horn lines while the left kicked out bass notes and lots of bottom, provided the basic format and ideas from which countless winning bands derived their sound, whole horn sections playing out what Pinetop’s right hand was playing.

Although Pinetop never played swing it was his brand of boogie-woogie that came to structure swing and eventually rock and roll. Pinetop was best known for holding down the piano chair in the great Muddy Waters Band for twelve years during the highest point of Muddy’s career.

Pinetop Perkins celebrated his 95th birthday with his release Pinetop Perkins and Friends (Telarc June 2008). There were very few direct ties left to the golden age of post-World War II American blues, that seminal period in the 1940s and ‘50s, when the acoustic sounds of the Mississippi delta migrated northward and gave way to the more electric groove of northern locales like Chicago and St. Louis.

In 2008 Perkins received a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album for Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas. Perkins continued to win the Blues Music Award for best blues-piano every year until 2003 when he was retired from that award which now bears his name: the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year.

March 21, 2011, Perkins died at his home in Austin, Texas.

Discography:

Boogie Woogie King, recorded 1976, released 1992 (1976)
Hard Again, Muddy Waters (1977)
After Hours (1988)
Pinetop Perkins with the Blue Ice Band (1992)
On Top (1992)
Portrait of a Delta Bluesman (1993)
Live Top, with the Blue Flames (1995)
Eye to Eye, with Ronnie Earl, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Calvin “Fuzz” Jones (1996)
Born in the Delta (1997)
Sweet Black Angel (1998)
Legends, with Hubert Sumlin (1998)
Down in Mississippi (1998)
Live at 85!, with George Kilby Jr (1999)
Back on Top (2000)
Heritage of the Blues (2003)
All Star Blues Jam, with Bob Margolin and others (2003)
8 Hands on 88 Keys (2003)
Ladies Man (2004)
10 Days Out (2007)
Pinetop Perkins & Friends (Telarc, 2008)
Joined at the Hip, with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (Telarc, 2010)
Genuine Blues Legends, Pinetop Perkins and Jimmy Rogers with Little Mike and the Tornadoes (2015)

Share

Artist Profiles: Phil Wiggins

Phil Wiggins

Phil Wiggins was born in Washington D.C. in 1954. He began his musical career with some of Washington’s leading blues artists, including Archie Edwards and John Jackson, and attributed his style to his years spent accompanying locally noted slide guitarist and gospel singer Flora Molton.

His harmonica sound developed from listening to piano and horn players, as well as the music of Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter Big Walter and Junior Wells. Phil also apprenticed with Mother Scott (a contemporary of Bessie Smith).

Phil first met John Cephas in 1976 at the Smithsonian National Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. Along with pianist Wilber “Big Chief” Ellis and bassist James Bellamy, John and Phil formed the Barrelhouse Rockers.

A year after Ellis’ death”, the duo of Cephas and Wiggins was born. Besides being a renowned harmonica player, Wiggins is also a gifted songwriter and singer whose material helped define the duo’s sound.

According to Wiggins, “People automatically think of sadness and depression when they think of blues. But the blues of course is uplifting music music to rejuvenate you to nourish the spirit. When you get down the blues will pick you up again.”

The duo ended after John Cephas died in 2009.

Discography

Living Country Blues USA Vol. 1 (L+R, 1981)
Sweet Bitter Blues (L+R, 1984 reissued by Evidence Records in 1994)
Let It Roll: Bowling Green (Marimac, 1985 )
Dog Days of August (Flying Fish, 1986)
Guitar Man (Flying Fish, 1987)
Walking Blues (Marimac, 1988)
Flip, Flop & Fly (Flying Fish, 1992)
Bluesmen (Chesky, 1993)
Cool Down (Alligator, 1996)
Homemade (Alligator, 1999)
Somebody Told the Truth (Alligator, 2002 )
Shoulder to Shoulder (Alligator, 2006)
Richmond Blues (Smithsonian Folkways, 2008)

Share

Sake of the Sound

Front Country – Sake of the Sound

Front Country – Sake of the Sound (Front Country, 2014)

Front Country is an excellent San Francisco Americana band inspired by bluegrass, old time, blues, and classic country music. The band’s sounds is characterized by the passionate voice of Melody Walker, strong vocal harmonies, fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitars. Although the band is rooted in tradition, they incorporate unexpected progressive elements, especially with the fiddle that make their music unique and more attractive.

The lineup includes Adam Roszkiewicz on mandolin; Jacob Groopman on guitar, vocals; Melody Walker on vocals, guitar; Jordan Klein on banjo, vocals; Leif Karlstrom on violin; Zach Sharpe on bass.

Buy Sake of the Sound

Share

Artist Profiles: Little Hatch

Little Hatch likely was the best harmonica player ever to make Kansas City home. He died on January 14, 2003 at 81 years-old.

Little Hatch was born Provine Hatch Jr. in Sledge, Mississippi in 1921. He picked up the blues harp [harmonica] when he was just 8 years-old. By his teens after his family had moved to Helena, Arkansas Hatch was under the direct spell of Sonny Boy Williamson II. The Blues and that harmonica overcame him.

‘I slept with it ate with it and everything else I could do with it ‘ Hatch said of his first harmonica in an APO Records interview.

The obsession turned into a profession for Hatch once he added vocals to his act.

The U.S. Navy drafted Hatch in 1942 and he served in World War II until 1946. On his way home to Arkansas, Hatch stopped in Kansas City. He liked the city’s feel Hatch told his family and after meeting a woman he decided to make his home there.

Hatch worked as a trash-hauler owning his own truck and accumulating 65 stops. He worked for Hallmark Cards for 32 years as a security guard and as a mailman earning a pension. But the Kansas City Mayor’s Office declared his birthday October 25th Little Hatch Day because of his Blues.

For more than 40 years Hatch was a Kansas City star. However Hatch’s fame and most of his gigs were limited to Kansas City. APO Records owner Chad Kassem couldn’t believe that Little Hatch wasn’t a recording star when he first saw him perform in the early 1980s. By the late 1990s Kassem had established Blue Heaven Studios and the Blues label APO in Salina, Kansas. He of course remembered Hatch and the two formed a relationship that produced 1998’s Goin Back (APO, 2007) and Rock With Me Baby.

Little Hatch died of natural causes at his home in El Dorado Springs, Missouri. He was 81 years old.

Share

Artist Profiles: John Cephas

John Cephas – Photo by Tom Radcliffe

John Cephas was born in Washington D.C. in 1930 into a deeply religious family and raised in Bowling Green, Virginia. His first taste of music was gospel but blues soon became his calling (as he described in his song “I Was Determined”). After learning to play the alternating thumb and fingerpicking guitar style that defines Piedmont blues, John began emulating the records he heard by Blind Boy Fuller Blind Blake, Gary Davis and other early Piedmont artists.

Aside from playing blues, John worked early on as a professional gospel singer, carpenter and Atlantic fisherman. By the 1960s he was starting to make a living from his music. John joined pianist Wilber “Big Chief” Ellis’ band and worked with him until Ellis’ death in 1977.

Among his many endeavors, John served on the Executive Committee of the National Council for the Traditional Arts and testified before congressional committees. He was also a founder of the Washington D.C. Blues Society. “More than anything else,” said John “I would like to see a revival of country blues by more young people. More people going to concerts learning to play the music. That’s why I stay in the field of traditional music. I don’t want it to die.”

He was a member of the renowned Cephas and Wiggins duo. John Cephas died March 4 of 2009 of natural causes. He was 78.

Share

Artist Profiles: Joe Louis Walker

Joe Louis Walker

Guitarist and vocalist Joe Louis Walker was born December 25, 1949 in San Francisco, California. Today, Joe Louis Walker is a leading blues figure.

Walker uses electric and slide guitar to deliver his music, rooted in blues, soul, gospel and R&B.

I never was one of those guys to sit down and try to copy B.B. King note for note, or Albert King, or Freddy King. I enjoy the hell out of ’em but I figure if I’m gonna do this here I might as well do it and put my own stamp on it,” said Joe Louis Walker.

In 2013, Joe Louis Walker was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame.

Discography

Cold Is The Night (Hightone 1986)

The Gift (Hightone 1988)

Blue Soul (Hightone 1989)

Live At Slim’s Volume One (Hightone 1991)

Live At Slim’s Volume Two (Hightone 1992)

Blues Survivor (Polydor/Polygram 1993)

JLW (Polydor/Polygram 1994)

Blues Of The Month Club (Polydor/Polygram 1995)

Great Guitars (Polydor/Polygram 1997)

Preacher And The President (Polydor/Polygram 1998)

Silvertone Blues (Polydor/Polygram 1999)

In the Morning (Telarc 2002)

Pasa Tiempo (Evidence Music 2002)

Guitar Brothers (JSP Records 2002)

She’s My Money Maker (JSP 2002/3)

Ridin’ High (Hightone 2003)

New Direction (Provogue 2004)

Playin’ Dirty (JSP 2006)

Witness To The Blues (Stony Plain Music 2008)

Between A Rock And The Blues (Stony Plain Music 2009)

Blues Conspiracy: Live on The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise (Stony Plain Music 2009)

Hellfire (Alligator Records 2012)

Hornet’s Nest (Alligator Records 2014)

Everybody Wants a Piece (Provogue, 2015)

website: www.joelouiswalker.com

Share