Roadhouse album review: “The Montreux Years” a powerful look back at Muddy Waters live

Most people aren’t lucky enough to be in the audience whenever great artists have memorable shows. That’s partly why there is a recording industry. And that’s exactly why there is a new series of excellent live albums from BMG Records and the Montreux Jazz Festival — titled “The Montreux Years” for four artists so far, and presumably much more to come.

Already released this summer at two splendid sets by Nina Simone and Etta James: “Nina Simone – The Montreux Years” and “Etta James – The Montreux Years.” (If you’re a streamer, these can be found on Spotify.)

Coming up Sept. 17 are “Muddy Waters – The Montreux Years” and “Marianne Faithful – The Montreux Years.” (Both are already streaming on Amazon Prime Music and Spotify.)

I want to talk about Muddy’s session in this review, even though you can’t buy the CD or vinyl yet. I’ll get to the rest later.

These are not typical live albums, where a show is recorded and then replayed pretty much as is was performed. These sets consist of powerful performances from multiple festival appearances, arranged in a way that the producers hope will provide great listening.

And it works — splendidly.

What we get from all this is great blues from one of the greatest bluesmen, still powerful in his early 60s. Muddy’s bands, starting with the smaller ’72 combo, right through the nine-piece ’77 band, are razor-sharp on a group of classic Muddy blues.

The songs “Long Distance Call,” “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” “Rosalie,” “County Jail” and “Rock Me Baby” are taken from the 1972 concert, his first at Montreux, with his basic band, the raw, stripped-down unit that represented the kind of tough, terse blues that was Muddy Waters. Just Waters and Louis Myers on guitar, David Myers on bass, Lafayette Leake on Piano, and Freddy Below on drum. Just enough to let the music say what you want, without saying too much.

The songs from the other years are no less formidable, but sound just a little different when guitar-slingers like Buddy Guy, Terry Taylor, Bob Margolin and Luther Johnson, plus harpmen Junior Wells and Jerry Portnoy are thrown into the mix.

This is an excellent selection of songs from the festival. You can probably hear most of them in other places, but the crackling Montreux vibe is clearly present, and everything sounds just right.

I’m sure Muddy and his bands gave great performances everywhere they went, but these live cuts have a joy and intensity kindled in this classic festival that’s hard to match. “I Can’t Be Satisfied” was an early Waters recording, and despite that sentiment, you can be with this outstanding recording.

Here’s the tracklist for Muddy’s album, showing the year of the performance:

Nobody Knows Chicago Like I Do (1977), Mannish Boy (1974), Long Distance Call (1972), Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (1972), County Jail (1972), Got My Mojo Working (1977), I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man (1977), I’m Ready (1974), Still a Fool (1977), Trouble No More (1977), Rosalie (1972), Rock Me Baby (1972), Same Thing (1974), Howlin’ Wolf (1977), Can’t Get No Grindin’ (What’s the Matter With the Meal) (1977), Electric Man (1974)

You can check the impressive Montreux festival concerts database for the complete set list from the show, along with the band members. Here’s the lineup for Muddy’s bands:

1972 — Muddy Waters (g, vocal), Freddy Below (dr), David Myers (b), Louis Myers (g), Lafayette Leake (p)
1974 — Buddy Guy (g), Muddy Waters (g, voc), Junior Wells (hca), Terry Taylor (g), Bill Wyman (b), Dallas Taylor (dr), Pinetop Perkins (p)
1977 — Muddy Waters (g, voc), Bill Wyman (b), Dallas Taylor (dr), Pinetop Perkins (p), Luther Johnson (g, voc), Calvin Jones (b, voc), Robert Margolin (g), Jerry Portnoy (hca), Willie Smith (dr)

“Really the Blues” offers up a vintage blues archive

I thought I should pass along a great website for older blues videos and performances. A lot of you may be familiar with it already, but it’s worth promoting here because it’s such a great resource. With great music.

It’s called Really the Blues, and you can sign up to get some music every day to help fill that hole in your soul.

Here’s how they describe themselves:

“ReallytheBlues.com is an internet archive dedicated entirely to the blues and the men and women who create it.

“This site contains both video and audio performances by legendary figures of the genre, from it’s first appearance on record to the present.

“Inspired by jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzro’s book of the same title, ReallytheBlues.com seemed the perfect name for this all inclusive blues site.

“As always our service is entirely free! Just subscribe and you will start to receive our daily e-mails containing film clips and vintage recordings featuring legendary blues artists.”

Enjoy!

Here’s a recent video they offer of Jesse Mae Hemphill, a guitarist in the Mississippi hill country tradition.

And here’s that video on YouTube:

Roadhouse news: Blues Blast Music Award winners

Here are the winners of the 2021 Blues Blast Music Awards. It’s the 14th annual readers’ poll conducted by Blues Blast Magazine. They report that more than 10,000 readers voted in the 2021 awards.

14th Annual Blues Blast Music Award Winners

Contemporary Blues Album

Shemekia Copeland – Uncivil War

Traditional Blues Album

Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite – 100 Years Of Blues

Soul Blues Album

Curtis Salgado – Damage Control

Rock Blues Album

Walter Trout – Ordinary Madness

Acoustic Blues Album

Catfish Keith – Blues at Midnight

Live Blues Album

Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Straight To You: Live

Historical Or Vintage Recording

Little Richard – Southern Child

New Artist Debut Album

Veronica Lewis – You Ain’t Unlucky

Blues Band

Sugar Ray & the Bluetones

Male Blues Artist

Bobby Rush

Female Blues Artist

Shemekia Copeland

Sean Costello Rising Star Award

Veronica Lewis

From the Roadhouse: Mara Kaye sings the great American (blues) songbook

It’s always great musical fun to hear an artist for the first time, and then not be able to get enough.

That’s what happened a while back when I got an email from Bigtone Records, promoting a single from an upcoming album by singer Mara Kaye and pianist Carl Sonny Leyland.

The song, the classic “It Had To Be You,” is the title track from the as-yet-unreleased album. Kaye and Leyland do a superb job of offering a bright new version of this old standard, first published in 1924, written by Isham Jones, with lyrics by Gus Kahn.

I’m familiar with Leyland’s stellar keyboard work, but Mara Kaye’s name was new to me. Fortunately, Bigtone was kind enough to release an audio version of this splendid track (listen below), and that sent me hustling to find more of Ms. Kaye.

I haven’t found a lot of biographical information, except that she was born in Brooklyn (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). There are, however, a number of clips on YouTube that focus on her interpretation of old blues and jazz songs. Which, after all, is the most important.

Ms. Kaye is, in a word, terrific.

She breathes new life into old music, and does it with tremendous talent and obviously, a lot of respect for the genre. By dipping in to this somewhat esoteric old songbook, she’s giving us another look at some great music.

I’m hoping the new album isn’t too far behind.

Here’s a great article about Mara Kaye from the San Diego Troubadour.

Here’s Ms. Kaye with pianist Clinton Davis in an extended set of great blues: “Going Crazy with the Blues” (J.C. Johnson & Andy Razaf) “New York Blues” (Victoria Spivey) “Dystopian Blues” (Alfred Howard) “Stop Lyin’ on Me” (Memphis Minnie) and “Ain’t No Tellin'” (Mississippi John Hurt)

Here’s “It Had To Be You”:

Roadhouse album review: Johnny Tucker’s soul thrives on “75 and Alive”

Johnny Tucker — “75 and Alive” (Blue Heart Records and HighJohn Records, Aug. 20)
Featuring Kid Ramos and the Allstars

Nothing makes me happier (well, to be honest, there may be a few other things) than when new blues music turns up sounding like old blues music. Or, the way I think blues music should sound.

Now, I realize this has a lot to do with the ear of the beholder. But my ears tell me that there’s real-deal, old-school blues in the latest album from soulful veteran singer (and songwriter) Johnny Tucker (he’s the “75 and alive” part), with a razor-sharp band passionately fronted by L.A.’s David “Kid” Ramos.

Tucker has one of those powerful, gritty voices that defines soulful blues. His vocals are deep and gravelly, polished by the river of blues that rolls them along. He often composes his songs as he records them, creating them in the moment. The results speak eloquently of a powerful old blues style that gets harder and harder to find in contemporary performances.

There’s a fine blend of styles on the album — some sparkling West Coast swing, some tough down-home blues, some torchy soul, and a touch of funk.

The album kicks off with a swinging groove on “All Night Long, All Night Wrong,” a classic jump blues; then softens into the torchy ballad, “There’s A Time For Love,” then continues the passion with “If You Ever Love Me,” with Bob Corritore’s harp and Carl Sonny Leyland’s piano driving the music.

“Can’t You See” chugs along with a wicked rhythm, “What’s The Matter” adds a Latin flair, and “Treat Me Good” is filled with sinuous guitar lines. “Snowplow” and “Hookline” are two jumping instrumentals, separated by “What’s On My Mind,” with some boogie-inspired piano.

The set closes out with three tough sounds: “Dance Like I Should” is a fiercely guitar-driven blues, “Have A Good Time Tonight – Play Your Soul, Johnny” and “Gotta Do It One Time” are more soul-drenched tracks, with the latter driven hard by kick-ass horns.

Besides Ramos and Corritore, the Allstars include John Bazz on electric and standup bass, drummer Jason Lozano and saxman Ron Dziubla.

The blues glue that holds all of this together, is of course, Tucker’s passionate vocals. He pleads, he begs, he swoops and swings; his voice simmering with the pleasure and pain of his music, delivered with a heartful of soul. This is the good old days, in blues.

Here’s a video of the song “Have A Good Time Tonight – Play Your Soul, Johnny”

Track Listing:
All Night Long, All Night Wrong
There’s A Time For Love
If You Ever Love Me
Can’t You See
What’s The Matter
Treat Me Good
Snowplow
What’s On My Mind
Hookline
Dance Like I Should
Have A Good Time Tonight – Play Your Soul, Johnny
Gotta Do It One Time

Roadhouse album review: Blind Lemon Pledge polishes off “A Satchel Full of Blues”

Blind Lemon Pledge“A Satchel Full of Blues” (OFEH Records, July 26)

When James Byfield decided to give up his day job to march to a real drummer in 2008, he thought it would be fun to create an album of blues designed to be shared with family and friends. To increase the fun, he created a performance character he thought would be in keeping with his love of old-time blues.

That was the birth of Blind Lemon Pledge.

Here’s how Byfield/Pledge (should I call him Mr. Pledge?) explained that fortuitous creation as part of an extensive interview with Michael Limnios last year:

“I invented the persona of an old bluesman, patterned after the greats like Son House, Skip James, Bukka White, and of course Blind Lemon Jefferson. I thought the character was somebody I could “inhabit” to create a setting for doing the old style blues I love so much.

“When I was thinking what to name this character I remembered a routine by the comedian Martin Mull who invented the character Blind Lemon Pledge (a pun on Blind Lemon Jefferson) who was specifically a white bluesman. It was both and homage and a satire on bluesmen, which fit my music perfectly. So for the project, which I originally conceived as a “one-off”, I adopted the name and invented a whole back story with I included on the album and on the website I created.”

Now, 13 years and nine albums later, the prolific San Francisco Bay-area singer/songwriter and roots-music maestro offers up “A Satchel Full of Blues,” a delightful set of eleven originals and one old-gold standard (“Alberta”), all filled with the spirit of great old blues, and all delivered by the now 13-year-old prodigy, Blind Lemon Pledge. (I have to assume that in blues years, Pledge is actually much, much older.)

But the main thing here is not the character, but the music — which has plenty of character. It’s kind of a laid-back session, not entirely acoustic, but with a similar feel. Byfield’s vocal style tends toward the soft-spoken, as in the two opening tracks — “Wrong Side of the Blues” and “If Beale Street Was a Woman” (which is where you’ll find the line that became the album title — “a satchel full of blues.”) But if you listen to the lyrical content, you’ll find that his words carry their own intensity, a nice counterpoint to his deceptively soft voice.

“Heart So Cruel,” “Teacher, Teacher” and “Detour Blues” lope along with a rhythmic, meet-me-on-the-highway feel, each with its own story to tell.

“Black-Eyed Susie” turns up the musical intensity a level or two with some crackling interplay between slide and harp, and slightly salacious wordplay about Susie herself.

“I Killed the King of the Blues” is a novel exploration of the stories surrounding the death of the legendary Robert Johnson.

The hoarsely whispered, starkly styled closer, “Death Don’t Ask Permission,” is a slide-driven ode that echoes Son House but with Byfield’s own fatalism at its dark heart. Its grimly drawn sentiment demands the burn of some 100 proof whiskey, neat, because “death don’t come convenient when he comes….”

There’s much more fine music than that, of course. Listen to it all. Then go back into Byfield’s catalog and check out some of his uniquely styled earlier music. It’s well worth the journey. Blind Lemon Pledge is more than a cute nom de blues.


Leftover thoughts:

In the album notes, Byfield thanks an intriguing shortlist of songwriters he admires. Imagine the variety of inspiration they offered: Gene Autry, Willie Dixon, Randy Newman, Mose Allison and Hoagy Carmichael.

My apologies for the headline pun. I’m sure it’s not all that original, but I was completely unable to resist. It’s the exact opposite of writer’s block.

Here’s a live video of one of the more unusual tracks, “I Killed the King of the Blues”:

Tracklist: