Charlie Musselwhite is indeed a Mississippi son. He was born there, but his family took him to Memphis when he was three.
That move put him in just the right place for his teen genes to soak up the hormonal surge of vital American music simmering through Memphis in the ’50s. There was rockabilly, R&B, western swing, blues and the adolescent stirrings of rock ‘n’ roll.
One of the results of that experience was the fine singer, songwriter, harp and guitar player here, who graces this album with his rich blues heritage.
Charlie is back in Mississippi now, having moved from northern California, and he recorded these deep blues sides in Clarksdale. And they feel just like that’s where they belong.
Eight of the 14 acoustic tracks here are original gems that kick off with the smooth, loping “Blues Up the River,” and of course he’s singing about the Mississippi. Musselwhite creates an intimate, back-porch feel with just his smooth vocals, harp and guitar, with a few assists from Ricky “Quicksand” Martin on drums and Barry Bays on standup bass. You can almost feel the big river flow and smell the muddy water.
“In Your Darkest Hour” is a hypnotic little lost-love song filled with poignant lyricism and sweetly melodic harp refrains.
“When The Frisco Left The Shed” is another “daydream put to words,” as Charlie calls it, and it reflects that dreamy quality that underlies all the blues storytelling on this excellent album. “The Dark” is another moody blues from a late-night back-porch setting.
Another standout is the traditional “Crawling King Snake,” which gets Musselwhite’s laconic treatment as well, his finely aged voice crawling with feeling.
Another lyrical standout, “Blues Gave Me A Ride,” adds this fine line to the pantheon of blues lyrics: “Blues tells the truth in a world that’s full of lies….” You could easily make the case for that sentiment being the foundation for every song on this excellent album.
Those are a just a few of my favorite cuts. Musselwhite has pulled all of his deep, rich blues history into this eloquently crafted and elegantly performed collection. Serve it up with some whiskey neat for maximum late-night blues pleasure.
“Blues Gave Me a Ride”
Tracklist with notes from Charlie:
All the tunes I wrote on Mississippi Son are based on things I think about and/or witnessed. They all somehow are extensions of me.
Blues Up the River: Growing up by the Mississippi I spent a lot of time watching that ol’ river flow and thinking.
Hobo Blues & Crawling King Snake: At night on my little clock radio I would listen to WLAC because they played a lot of great blues. Hearing John Lee Hooker with just his foot tapping and guitar and singing Hobo Blues and Crawling King Snake late in the night had this sinister sound that appealed to me so much that I just had to learn those tunes.
In Your Darkest Hour: is an eight-bar blues I just made up one day.
Stingaree: is about a girl I was thinking about.
When The Frisco Left The Shed: I often make up a song based on a vision I have and this is one. Like a daydream put to words.
Remembering Big Joe: I roomed with Big Joe Williams in Chicago; it was only natural that we spent a LOT of time together. Sometimes just talking and other times jamming together, I became fascinated with his stories and the way he played which I picked up from watching him, and that’s where Remembering Big Joe comes from. I played one of his old guitars on this song.
The Dark: I heard Guy Clark do The Dark and loved the words, but he did it in a folk style. I changed it to a blues because that just seemed to make sense to me. I met Guy a couple of times and he was a real likable fellow.
Pea Vine Blues: I had an uncle who worked on the Pea Vine railroad and I remember him talking about it when I was a kid. Once when he’d come up from Clarksdale to Memphis to visit, I played Pea Vine for him on guitar and that’s when he told me he’d worked on that train. I wish I’d written down what he said about the Pea Vine.
Blues Gave Me A Ride: I made this up thinking about how blues can affect people.
My Road Lies In Darkness: This tune is played in an open tuning I call Spanish.
Drifting From Town To Town: Since most of my life I have drifted from town to town, it just makes sense to write about something I know.
Rank Strangers: Besides blues, I’ve always been a fan of all music that seems to me to be “from the heart.” For this reason I’ve long been a fan of The Stanley Brothers. Their version of Rank Strangers resonated with me so much I felt like I had to play it for myself. I love the lyrics. I’ve Blues’d it up for y’all.
A Voice Foretold: I’ve performed A Voice Foretold many times with The Blind Boys of Alabama. This seems like a good place to share that song. I use the same guitar style as with Rank Strangers playing the melody on the bass strings along with the chords. I don’t know where I got this style from and maybe I made it up.
Doug MacLeod is one of those singer/songwriters of the blues who pulls his inspiration from deep within himself and turns it into music that aims deep within you.
And it works.
It especially works in person, where MacLeod’s boyish charm, sly humor and soulful sincerity blend perfectly to produce music that roams from joyous to solemn, from playful to passionate. Music that’s personal to him and becomes personal to you.
But if you can’t find his personal music in person, you can hear all of those qualities on his latest album, “A Soul to Claim.”
The album, an acoustic production that echoes the intimate feel of his shows, runs an emotional gamut from the title track’s theme of “beating addiction and abuse,” as MacLeod describes it, to the salacious whimsy of “Dubb’s Talking Disappointment Blues.” (Just as an interesting sidelight, the title track opens the album, something that’s not too common, but a welcome way to set the tone.)
The second song, “Be What You Is,” is a bit of whimsical advice for those who are having a tough time being themselves, saying that they should follow the rest of the animal kingdom in just accepting “who they is.”
Next is the joyously philosophical “Money Talks,” filled with typical MacLeod wordplay, producing this memorable line “Me and my money jus’ conversated; my money jus’ said goodbye….”
There’s also a tribute to MacLeod’s new home in Memphis, where he moved recently from Los Angeles, a change that seems to have made an impact on his life.
The place is Mud Island in Memphis, and song is “Mud Island Morning,” and in the liner notes he says of the place: “We live on Mud Island, a sand bar in the Mississippi River. There’s a feeling that rolls along with that river. I’ve tried to capture that feeling the best I could with this song.” Which he does, quite nicely.
Another favorite is the electric rhythm of “Smokey Nights and Faded Blues,” and lyrics by Danny Jesser evoking late-night barroom memories.
There is plenty of great music in between, but he saves the emotional “There Is Always Love” for a closer. It’s an ode to the love inherent in his lonely struggle to understand his son Jesse’s eventually successful battle with cancer. It’s beautifully constructed and eloquently performed. What more can you ask of any song?
MacLeod’s lyrical wordplay is on display throughout; his literate storytelling fills each song. His vocals crackle with humor or simmer with emotion. Musically, his usual impeccable solo acoustic style is enhanced by a trio of unobtrusive backers — Dave Smith on bass, Rick Steff on keyboards and Steve Potts on drums.
Put all of this together and it’s more thoroughly enjoyable music from a true troubadour of the blues.
Here’s the title track, “A Soul to Claim”:
Here’s the track list, with comments by MacLeod:
1. A Soul To Claim This song is about beating addiction and abuse. Those of us who have been abused or have been addicted know that we come from hurt. We have ways of repeating the same mistakes and perpetuating the negative cycle. This song talks about finally stopping that negative cycle.
2. Be What You Is After all my years on this planet I’ve been noticing that many human beings have a hard time being themselves. In fact some are having a hard time finding and accepting who they are. Well, I got to thinking animals don’t have that problem. Animals are happy just being what they is. I see a lesson in that, so I wrote this song.
3. Money Talks It sure does.
4. Where Are You? As you might know I am a veteran, albeit not a combat veteran. But like so many vets I’ve known combat vets. It breaks my heart to see homeless vets begging for their lives while waiting for our government to be there for them like they promised. And it breaks my heart even more when I think of my vet friend who just couldn’t wait any more and left this world on their own. I hope one day we will finally take care of them. They protected us, it’s time for us to protect them.
5. Dodge City Dodge City, Kansas? Nope. Washington DC, or Washington-Dodge City, or Washington D-Ceive if you will. I am fed up with politicians who simply lie to my face with no shame. Politicians who will not give a direct answer to a direct question. They make a flim-flamming used car salesman with one eye not trusting the other look honest.
6. Smokey Nights And Faded Blues Danny Jesser wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music on this one. Danny got the idea for this song back in the early 80’s when my electric band was playing at a club called Ruebens in Redondo Beach where George “Harmonica” Smith and Pee Wee Crayton often dropped by to sit in.
7. Only Porter At The Station Sometimes we can fall in love with a person who comes to us with alot of hurt and pain. A lot of baggage if you will. They arrive at the station with all that baggage. You look around for some help, but you are the only porter at the station. So you help with the bags. Love will make you do that.
8. Mud Island Morning We live on Mud Island, a sand bar in the Mississippi River. There’s a feeling that rolls along with that river. I’ve tried to capture that felling the best I could with this song. A lagniappe for you – some ’Bonus Tones’. You’ll hear the chair creaking and my rear end sliding across it.
9. Dubb’s Talking Disappointment Blues Back in my lady trolling days, I found myself in some rather interesting situations. Now, of course, they weren’t quite as interesting as this song depicts… but I got a feeling you’ll get the point. As George “Harmonica” Smith would say, ”Sometimes things don’t always appear to seem as they might be.”
10. Grease The Wheel This song comes from a simple truth that can take some of us a long time to get a handle on. If you want or need things to change in your life you got to take charge of your life. You got to grease the wheel.
11. Somewhere Down A Mississippi Highway Years ago when I was in the Navy I was stationed in Millington, TN which is just north of Memphis. I couldn’t get the gals in Memphis to go for me so I decided to head down to Mississippi and give that a shot. I had no luck there either. But one night I fell into a place down around Tunica. I had a great time with some good music and good food. Heck I didn’t even miss the gals! In fact I had such a good time I still can’t recall exactly where it was.
12. There Is Always Love After a first battle with cancer, our son Jesse was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. His only hope, and a slim one at that, was a clinical trial in Los Angeles. I was on tour staying with friends in the Philadelphia area. The Sunday night before my wife Patti Joy and Jesse saw the doctor to see if he even had a chance of survival was the toughest night of my life. I couldn’t sleep. My friends lived in the country and there was a deck outside the room where I was staying. I went out to that deck that night and talked to the night. What I learned is in this song. The next day they saw the doctor and the doctor said not only did we have a chance, but a good chance. Now as I’m writing this, nearly two years later, I can tell you he has beaten cancer for the second time. So I want you to know that, no matter how dark things are for you – remember, There Is Always Love.
Credits: Doug MacLeod, guitars, vocals Dave Smith, bass Rick Steff, keyboards Steve Potts, drums Recorded January 13 and 14, 2020, at Bessie Blue Studio, Tennessee, USA Producer and engineer: Jim Gaines
The soulful, bluesy, harp-playing, singer/songwriter dynamo that is John Németh has been one of my favorite performers since I heard his first Blind Pig album, “Magic Touch,” in 2007, interviewed him, and enjoyed his show at the Thunderbird Cafe in Pittsburgh.
I was immediately transfixed by the chops of this young blues dude out of Boise, Idaho, and his ability to sound as though he’d just walked out of a smoky Chicago blues joint.
He was a nice guy, too.
Since then, John has spent 15 years making fine music, award-winning music, spreading his talents beyond soulful blues to funkified greasy sounds, with side trips as a full-throated big-band singer.
But all that is now at risk.
John has been diagnosed with an ameloblastoma tumor in his jaw, threatening his health and his livelihood. When his health insurance denied him coverage to go out of network for the best possible treatment, John’s wife Jaki set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for this surgical treatment in June, and, as usual, the blues community has stepped up to help.
I thought I should pass this information along in the Roadhouse, just in case word has not gotten far enough around.
This excellent album has been around for about six weeks now, but it’s too good to ignore, even if I am a little late to the party.
Mississippi Heat is a very unique blues band. It’s led by Pierre Lacocque, a blues harpmaster and songwriter with a truly international heritage — born in Israel, then living in Germany and France, then raised in Belgium. (Read more about his fascinating heritage.)
And so, for 30 years now, he has fronted a Chicago blues band (despite the band’s name!), and this is their 13th album.
Maybe it’s unfair to call this just a “band” — with guitarists Michael Dotson and Giles Corey, Chris Cameron on keys, Brian Quinn on bass, Terrence Williams on drums, a horn section with Mark Franklin on trumpet and Kirk Smothers on sax, plus full-throated harp stylings from Lacocque coupled with passionate vocals, the group can sound more orchestral than band-like.
And you can throw in some great guests — Johnny Iguana on keyboards, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums, Ruben Alvarez on percussion, Lurrie Bell and Carl Weathersby on guitar, and, icing on this tasty layer cake, splendid vocals from Inetta Visor, Daneshia Hamilton, Bell, Weathersby and Dotson.
Put all of that together with smart songwriting by Lacocque and Dotson, and you get what the band calls “traditional blues with a unique sound.”
For example, Weathersby takes the tough vocal on the opening track, “Silent Too Long,” while Corey rocks around him with a fiery guitar, Lacocque adds sparkling harp and Cameron scores a walk-off winner on the B-3.
Next, Daneshia Hamilton romps through the uptempo “Batty Crazy,” offering a harp showcase for Lacocque, followed by the Latinesque “Havana En Mi Alma” from Visor. Bell turns up next with piercing guitar runs around his down-home vocals on the Chicago-laced “Uninvited Guest.”
Similar blues times continue throughout, with a heady mix of all this fine talent. The title track is worth special mention — it’s Lacocque’s somber instrumental celebration of the life of his maternal grandmother, Emma Magdalena Van der Linden, a Belgian, for her work during World War II.
Taken altogether, “Madeleine” shines with the multiple personalities at its heart, pulled together by the talents of its multiple performers. Check it out. It’s one of the longest-running Chicago blues bands still cooking.
I couldn’t find a video from this album, but here’s a 2018 Chicago Blues Festival performance:
SILENT TOO LONG 4:45 P. Lacocque, Ransart Music, BMI
BATTY CRAZY 4:35 P. Lacocque, Ransart Music, BMI
HAVANA EN MI ALMA* 4:21 P. Lacocque, Ransart Music, BMI
UNINVITED GUEST 4:53 P. Lacocque, Ransart Music, BMI
NOTHIN’ I CAN DO 3:49 P. Lacocque, Ransart Music, BMI
EMPTY NEST BLUES 4:03 P. Lacocque, Ransart Music, BMI
RIDIN’ ON A HIT 4:06 P. Lacocque, Ransart Music, BMI
EVERYBODY DO SOMETHIN’ 4:35 M. Dotson, Gritty City Music, ASCAP
MADELEINE** 5:24 P. Lacocque, Ransart Music, BMI
AT THE LUCKY STAR 4:39 P. Lacocque, Ransart Music, BMI
TRUTH LIKE RAIN 5:34 M. Dotson, Gritty City Music, ASCAP
TROUBLE 4:49 DeeDee Shonnie Music, BMI Arrangement: M. Dangeroux, DM MUSIC LLC, ASCAP * For Victoria Quero Lacocque ** In Memory of Emma Magdalena Van der Linden
Musicians PIERRE LACOCQUE harmonica, band leader INETTA VISOR vocals (3,6,12) DANESHIA HAMILTON vocals (2,5,7,10) LURRIE BELL vocals (4), guitar (4,5,9) CARL WEATHERSBY vocals (1), lead guitar (3 intro,6,12) MICHAEL DOTSON vocals & lead guitar (8,11), except (1,5,7,9,12) GILES COREY rhythm guitar (all tracks, except 11). lead guitar (1,2) BRIAN QUINN acoustic and electric bass TERRENCE WILLIAMS drums (all tracks except 2,4,9) KENNY SMITH drums (2,4,9) CHRIS “HAMBONE” CAMERON organ (B-3), Wurlitzer, clavinet & piano (all tracks except 2,7,11 where JOHNNY IGUANA appears) MARC FRANKLIN trumpet, horn arrangements (3,6,7,10) KIRK SMOTHERS sax (3,6,7,10) NANETTE FRANK, DIANE MADISON & MAE KOEN (A.K.A.“NADIMA”) Background Vocals & Arrangements (3,6,7,10,12) RUBEN ALVAREZ percussion (3,10)
Delbert McClinton has always been one of my favorite musical artists. And not just because he once gave me a great, almost hour-long phone interview, talking about the music he loves. I’ve enjoyed his concerts, his albums, his style, and most of all, his almost indescribably eclectic music.
For example, he’s won four Grammy awards: One for a 1992 rock performance with Bonnie Raitt for “Good Man, Good Woman”; a 2002 Contemporary Blues Album for “Nothing Personal, a 2006 Best Contemporary Blues Album for “Cost of Living, and a 2020 Best Traditional Blues Album for “Tall Dark and Handsome.”
He’s recorded and performed those blues, all right, but he adds country, rock, soul, and rootsy roadhouse sounds from every musical corner, in a style that is uniquely smart enough to just be called “Delbert.”
Now he’s 81, has retired from the roadhouses and the road, and is content to deliver his music long-distance. And for his 27th studio album, “Outdated Emotion,” due May 13, he’s decided to pay tribute to the very roots of his rootsy music.
“I’ve wanted to do this album for a long time,” he writes in the album notes. “I wanted to sing all these songs. I wanted to honor these people who did these songs who made such a great impression on my life and my music.”
And then I ran across this quote from an informative interview that Delbert gave to Steven Ovadia in Blues Blast Magazine. It speaks to the idea that good songwriting requires good listeners:
“And in the world I came from, you’re gonna have songs that aren’t trash, that aren’t silly, that aren’t stupid, that actually say something, and go from one point to another with a legitimacy that’s obvious. But you’ve got to be able to know how to receive that music, and I don’t think a lot of people have been exposed enough to that kind of music. I think it’s going to be real interesting to see what younger people today think of our interpretation of this music. I’m excited about it. I think they’re gonna like it.”
Well, I like it. A lot. It’s extremely listenable, enjoyable music. It’s a great collection of his influences, plus five original creations. There’s pure country, unadulterated rock and roll, and some straight, no-chaser blues. Everyone from Hank Williams to Jimmy Reed to Little Richard. In other words, pure Delbert.
But mostly, it’s just damn fine music.
And now for something completely different.
I’m going to turn the rest of this post over to Delbert, and the excellent descriptions that he wrote for each of the 16 songs in an album booklet. It’s a shameless example of copy and paste, I know, but who better to describe what he felt about each song. And I also have to give a lot of respect to someone who can work in an admiring reference to that great old R&B group, a long-time personal favorite — Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.
Here’s Delbert on Delbert:
I’ve wanted to do this album for a long time. I wanted to sing all these songs. I wanted to honor these people who did these songs who made such a great impression on my life and my music. I never in my life ever thought about having a job for any other reason than a means to an end, which means I wasn’t educated enough to do much more than pour piss out of boots.
But I’d get these jobs where I was a hotshot driver for a brake and clutch warehouse, delivering stuff out to garages and spend my days driving around, listening to the radio, and making up songs. I just always knew that this was going to be what I would do, and I was going to do it well. Music has been there since day one, and it pulled me out of the fire, and saved me a million times.
There’s never been a doubt in my mind that I was going to play music. When I started doing it, I realized that nobody else was doing it the way I was doing it. I was influenced by Hank Williams, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, those World War II songs. You can see their influence in the songs I’ve written and the music I play. I want to give credit, where credit’s due.
1. “Stagger Lee”: Lloyd Price and Harold Logan Every song on this album reminds me of everything good in life. In 1958, I was 18, and rock and roll was still brand new. It was magic. Stagger Lee was a major hit for Lloyd Price, and it was a major hit for me. Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee” hit me like a ton of bricks. It takes me back to a time when the hits came one right after another. And it honestly felt like it was never going to stop. The music was heartfelt and energetic. The future was endless.
2. “Setting the Woods on Fire”: Fred Rose and Ed Nelson (Hank Williams) “Setting the Woods on Fire” just lifts me up. It’s a celebration of life, plain and simple. All that music was so much fun All of these songs made my career what it is. I was 12 years old when “Setting the Woods on Fire” was a hit in 1952. I had so much fun making this record because I’ve wanted to do a Hank Williams record my whole life. I grew up with this music. Hank Williams was one of the songwriters who transformed me into who I am today. Hank Williams was The Guy. Everybody can find their story in a Hank Williams song. And those songs are as good today as they were when he recorded them. And, then rock and roll came along. I have lived through the best music in the world. The guys who played on these Hank songs were so great. When I was talking about recording some Hank Williams songs, everybody in town said you’ve got to get Chris Scruggs and his guys. I didn’t know who they were, but I said okay. I’ll get them. So, we had Chris on steel guitar and guitar, Mark Winchester on upright bass, Jimmy Stewart on flat top acoustic guitar, Wes Langlois on arch top acoustic guitar, and Stuart Duncan on fiddle. Chris asked, “What do you want to do first?” I said, “Setting the Woods on Fire,” and let’s try to do it just the way Hank did it. Bam 1-2-3-4. We had all of those songs down. We did all those Hank Williams songs in less than three hours. And I felt like I’d known those guys forever. I walked out of the studio that day thinking, “What the hell just happened?” And I still feel that way every time I listen to these songs. Because they did it exactly like Hank did. And I did my best to do Hank. I think we did a pretty good job. I love that music so much, I couldn’t lose.
3. “The Sun Is Shining”: Jimmy Reed, Calvin Carter, Abner Ewalt “The Sun is Shining” is a typical Jimmy Reed song. And typical for Jimmy Reed is the pocket that most people are looking for, his style of singing. And on those records, even if he’s not drinking, he slurs, but he slurs it’s all just right. Even when he comes in at the wrong place, it doesn’t matter. Because when they all finally get to the same spot, you can’t crack it. You just can’t crack it. I remember where I was the first time I heard “Honest, I Do” by Jimmie Reed. I was at a stoplight on the south side of Fort Worth on the way to rehearsal, and it blew me away. And that big cymbal just knocked me back in my shoes. That’s the day I quit playing “Dixie” on the harmonica and started learning to play blues harp. There was a big old club in Fort Worth called the Skyliner. It was built in the 20s or 30s as a big ballroom, and the roof rolled back, so it was like dancing under the stars. Me and my band were the only white band that got to play there. This was still during segregation, so Monday nights belonged to the Blacks. The first time I got to hear Jimmy Reed live was at one of those Monday night shows at the Skyliner. I was already a Jimmy Reed fan. There were several artists on the stage – Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, and some others. I heard that harmonica, and I knew he was there. I’m looking everywhere. Where is he? And he came out from behind the sheer curtain, His delivery of the music was genius. If you sit and listen to Jimmy Reed, if you can really understand his lyrics, they are brilliant. Sometimes it’s hard to understand, but I dug in because I wanted to know what he was saying. There was no shucking and jiving. It was no bullshit. Every line of every one of his songs tells the truth. Beginning in about 1952, the music was so phenomenal – and it has stood the test of time. The Midnighters, the Lamplighters, all those Black vocal groups were just outrageous. I can’t say enough about them to make you understand how important all of that was to me. Yesterday, I told my daughter to go listen to “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton. And to listen to how raw the whole thing is. The guitar player never plays a chord in the song. He’s playing riffs all the time – and it works. It’s so basic and you can’t help but get it. That music changed everything. Sometimes it’s so wrong, it’s perfect. Well, not perfect, because anything that’s perfect is not good. Jimmy Reed is the best there ever will be. Nobody was doing what he was doing the way he was doing it.
4. “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer”: Rudy Toombs One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer is one of my favorite songs of my whole life. Amos Milburn had the first hit in 1953. Then John Lee Hooker brought it back in ’66. But the Milburn version – that is the one that has remained a mainstay in what I do. It has been a go-to song my whole life. I can hear that song and just skate my way through life. The whole song. And Kevin McKendree, who plays with me on the record, takes the song to a whole new place. When we went in to record it, and he started playing, I thought, “My God. That’s it.” Not the way Amos did it, or Hooker, but it’s just what I wanted. Kevin is phenomenal, anyway. And so is his son. Yates. We recorded a lot of the songs on this record, just the three of us. Bass, piano and vocal. And that’s all you need. Bass, vocal and piano. We had so much fun making that discovery. I’ve had total access to Kevin and Yates and Kevin’s studio all through COVID, and one day I said, “Let’s record some stuff.” That’s where it all started.
5. “Long Tall Sally”: Robert Blackwell, Enotris Johnson, Richard Penniman I was about 16 the year this song came out. It changed the course of music. Little Richard was crazy. He could do anything. We opened for him at a New Year’s Eve show in Fort Worth a few years later, and he was on fire. It’s fun to sing. Makes you feel like you’re 16 again. We were at a point in recording, and Kevin says, “What will we do next?” I said, “Let’s do ‘Long Tall Sally.’” Of course, I cannot come close to sounding like Little Richard, but I knew the song and I loved the song, and it’s been a part of my life ever since Little Richard came along. We were just laughing and having a good time. But when he and Yates started to play, it’s so real. You can’t get lost when they’re playing because they’re in the deepest old pocket of anybody I’ve ever worked with. You just can’t not be good when they’re playing behind you.
6. “Two Step Too”: Delbert McClinton I wrote this song at least twenty years ago. It’s about a guy trying to meet a woman, just trying to get in the door. I like blues and rock ‘n’ roll, but I like to “Two-Step Too.” I recorded it again for this record because I had all those great Hank Williams players in for the session, and they fit that song perfectly. I like this version a lot better than the original version I recorded (Cost of Living, 2005) It’s a clever song. “A glove box full of coupons good for a drink and a Krystal Cheese….” You have to know that Krystals are these little White Castle-like cheeseburgers. They have stores all over the South. Krystal’s drive-thru is open all night and a box full of Krystals is a good way to end the night after a gig. I’ve done it a million times.
7. “I Want a Little Girl”: Billy Moll, Murray Mencher This is another one of my favorite songs on this record. It’s almost an exact copy of Ray Charles’ version. When I brought that up, Kevin said, “Man, we’re never going to beat that. It’s Ray Charles.” And I said, ‘We won’t beat it, but we won’t embarrass it.” It’s just Kevin and me, and Yates playing bass. And we did a pretty good job of it.
8. “Ain’t That Loving You” – Jimmy Reed Once again, Jimmy Reed set my world on fire. He’s a hero of mine. And “Ain’t That Loving You” is one of my favorite songs. It’s got these cool dead stops in it, which we did on this record. And Yates played drums on it. That song is pumping full-time from the get-go. In the early 50s, you could hear Ernest Tubb and Muddy Waters in the same hour on the radio. It’s not that way anymore. Everything is formatted. Jimmy Reed and all those guys used to be Top 40 artists, Hit Parade people. Music has evolved, and it is more segregated now than it was back then. Sometimes I just need to go back and listen to good music in that mixed up order: Hank Williams, Jimmy Reed, Frank Sinatra, Chuck Berry.
9. “Jambalaya” – Hank Williams I played this song the way I learned it. And I did the verse that he left out on the record. I don’t even know where the hell I learned it. It’s a fun song. It’s a story about a big family party, a community feeling the same emotions, and everyone’s connected by a common thread. Anybody who was around when Jambalaya came out is still singing it today. It’s infectious. It’s relevant 79 years after it came out, and it’s just hard to beat. Hank’s voice was not loud or boisterous, but he had a way of connecting to people. It’s a big sing-along song. Anytime that song comes on anywhere, everybody sings along on the chorus. It’s all about community. Hank had a band that was incomparable. We did the Hank songs just like he did them. No drums. Just live people sitting there playing. These Hank Williams songs have lived with me since he recorded them. And they are as strong now as they were then. A lot of people say “Hank Williams, yeah, he was that guy…” But they are not familiar with his songs. A lot of people just know that he was a big deal in country music a long time ago. I wanted to play his songs for him again, and to let people hear them for the first time or listen to their old favorites. I just wanted to be a part of it. He had such a big effect on my life. I sang a Hank Williams song for my daughter when she was 30 minutes old. She took to Hank like a duck to water. She is as big a fan as I am now, and that’s a big deal for a young woman her age. We drive around in the car and sing at the top of our voices and have so much fun. When I get in the car, she has it set up and ready to go. Hank Williams’ music has been one of the brightest spots in my life since I can remember.
10. “Connecticut Blues”: Delbert McClinton, Kevin McKendree, Yates McKendree “Connecticut Blues” was just a fun song. The lyrics are so trippy. I was sitting at the piano one day and this line ran through my head. “I put some potatoes in and picked up a couple of real nice steaks, chilling her favorite Chilean wine, everything’s right on time… but she won’t be coming home tonight. They cancelled the flight…” That’s what happens when I get out at Kevin’s cabin. Just being in the room with those guys inspires me to write. We fooled around with what I had, and the last verse just came out: “I’ve got tears running down my face, I got blues all over the place. A good time just won’t let me in. I’ll try over and over again… I’ve got the low-down, snowbound Connecticut Blues,” and it was done.
11. “I Ain’t Got You”: Calvin Carter I did “I Ain’t Got You,” a song written by Calvin Carter and released in the summer of 1960 by Jimmy Reed. As you know I love everything by Jimmy Reed. The simplicity of this song–the whole primitive sound. It starts out and sounds like it’s going to be a train wreck, it starts on the wrong side of the time, and then Jimmy comes in on the vocals at sometimes the wrong place, and then it all jumps together, and it works. I’m going to tell you a story about Jimmy Reed but it’s not for printing. Just put down that I still have a microphone that he sang into when we backed him up at Jack’s Place (Fort Worth).
12. “Move It On Over”: Hank Williams “Move It On Over” was Hank Williams’ first big hit in 1947. I was seven years old when it came out. Every song he recorded is still a big hit with me. He was so good. “Move It On Over” is a rocker. It shows off the musicians well. Hank’s calling himself out on being in deep shit, and not taking anyone’s advice. I snuck a word in the song that’s not in his version. I put “Scooch” in there. “Move it on over, Scooch it on over. “The die-hard Hank fans will know that I added that. It’s just a little fun thing. There is a story that when Hank went to Acuff-Rose to try to get a job as a songwriter, it was lunchtime. Roy Acuff said, “Well, we’re going to lunch. You sit here in the office and write us a new s ong.”And when they got back, Hank had written “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love With You. ”He got the job, and it’s still a great song.
13. “Hard Hearted Hannah”: Jack Yellen, Bob Bigelow, Charles Bates, Milton Age I leaned into the Ray Charles version of “Hard Hearted Hannah.” It’s always been one of my favorite Ray Charles songs, although just about anything he does is my favorite. It’s the bomb as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t get any better than Ray Charles. It’s a playful song and I got to sing, “Brother, She’s the Polar Bear’s Pajamas,” and that was fun. There’s nothing rude about it. Nobody’s losing. It’s just about this devil woman that everybody loves.
14. “Sweet Talkin’ Man”: Delbert McClinton, Sharon Vaughn. Sharon Vaughn and I wrote this one day. She is so special, such a talented singer, writer, and person. Anyway, we wrote this about my best friend, Billy Sanders. He’s been gone for years, but we played together for a long time, and he was one of those guys that when he walked into a room, within five minutes, everybody else is around him listening to his bullshit. The best bullshitter of anybody I’ve ever known in my life. He could wrap a woman around his finger just like that. He played the shit out of a red 335 Gibson. We wrote this song about him and it’s mostly true. “Every time you see him, he’s got a longneck in his hand…wearing two-toned handmade boots, got a big tattoo that says, ‘I never lose,’ (which he didn’t have but it goes good in the song). He’s the number one, top of the line, sweet talking man. Every Daddy’s nightmare and every daughter’s dream…” It’s so easy to write with Sharon. I fell in love with the song – and with her. She sings so well, and so effortlessly. That kind of pisses me off. So effortlessly. And she’s won every kind of award anybody can win just for being so damned good. And she is so easy to write with. You know, they say the mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working before you’re born. It works constantly in your life until you sit down to write a song. She made it easy to write that song that day.
15. “Money Honey”: Delbert McClinton and Gary Nicholson Gary Nicholson is another of my good friends. “Money Honey” came right out of midair. It started out as a rock and roll song. I was going to put some originals on the album while I had those great guys in the studio for the Hank Williams songs. I said, “I think this will work in that Hank style, too.” So, Hank’s inspiration showed up again when we went to record it. That and “Two Step Too.
16. “Call Me A Cab”: Delbert McClinton, Kevin McKendree, Yates McKendree “Call Me A Cab.” A few years ago, we were down in Mexico writing songs, Bob Britt and Kevin McKendree and me. We’d been drinking whiskey and it was getting late at night. I had the whiskey voice going, and I was kind of testifying a little bit. And there was a quiet moment when I said. “Call me a cab, I got to go. I can’t sit and listen to this shit anymore. Call me a cab, hey girl, bring me a check – please.” It felt like a song. We were getting up to go, and while we were waiting on the curb, we recorded it on Kevin’s iPhone. Some years later, we took it into the studio and Yates added some magic to it. The way Yates ends it with that note after “please,” it’s almost like that beatnik thing from late ‘40s, early ‘50s. We didn’t re-record it – just added Yates on bass to the iPhone recording, and a little magic thing happened.
Delbert talks about Yates McKendree: Yates McKendree is a freak of nature. So is his daddy. Kevin. They are two of the most talented, innovative artists I’ve ever had the good fortune to make music with. I’ve got a picture of Yates when he was about three years old. We were all at a Christmas party at Gary Nicholson’s house. In the living room, Gary has an old upright piano. I looked over and saw Yates in there standing at that piano and he had one finger up. He was so short. The keyboard was at eye level. He was studying it. And then he started playing with one finger. Bin, bin, bin. Bom, bom, bom. Bin. Bom. I took a picture of him. And from the day of that picture, he just started learning everything so fast. He is talented beyond anything I will ever be able to fully comprehend. They’ve got it all in their heads, he, and his daddy both. Yates is somebody people are going to hear a lot more of. He’s 20, and right now and he can smoke anybody on the guitar, just blow them away. Bam. One thing that was so notable about Yates was that when he was still learning to play guitar, his hands weren’t big enough, so he was playing all this complicated stuff with his thumb. Just his thumb. Playing Freddie King instrumentals with just his thumb. Finally, he started using his whole hand. I have a video of him playing “Hideaway,” Freddie King’s big hit instrumental. Yates and Kevin are two of the most important people I’ve ever gotten to work with. They are both phenomenal. And they bring out the best in me just by being in the room. It’s some kind of magic. Yates was born in Nashville and raised in a recording studio. By age 8, he was sitting in with the Mike Henderson Band at the Bluebird Café on Monday nights. He played the International Blues Competition at age 11, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest at age 13, and as a supporting act at the Ryman auditorium at age 16. While in high school he played on and engineered many recording projects, most notably for Delbert McClinton and John Hiatt, who told Rolling Stone Magazine “Yates was our secret ingredient.” 2020 started with Yates winning a Grammy for engineering and playing on Delbert’s Tall, Dark & Handsome. He is currently finishing his first solo album.
Here are the nominees and winners of the 2022 Blues Music Awards, held at the Renasant Convention Center in Memphis, May 5, sponsored by the Blues Foundation.
B.B. King Entertainer of the Year WINNER: Tommy Castro Eric Gales Mr. Sipp (Castro Coleman) J.P. Soars Sugaray Rayford
Album of the Year Holler If You Hear Me, Altered Five Blues Band Not In My Lifetime, Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra Pinky’s Blues, Sue Foley Raisin’ Cain, Chris Cain WINNER: Tommy Castro Presents a Bluesman Came to Town, Tommy Castro
Band of the Year Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra J.P. Soars and the Red Hots Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials Sugaray Rayford Band WINNER: Tommy Castro & The Painkillers
Song of the Year “Fragile Peace and Certain War”, written by Dave Alvin (performed by Carolyn Wonderland) “Holler If You Hear Me”, written by Jeff Schroedl & Mark Solveson (performed by Altered Five Blues Band) WINNER: “I’d Climb Mountains,” written & performed by Selwyn Birchwood “Real Good Lie”, written by Christine Vitale, Larry Batiste, Anthony Paule (performed by Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra) “Somewhere”, written by Tommy Castro & Tom Hambridge (performed by Tommy Castro & The Painkillers)
Best Emerging Artist Album GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It… You Might Like It!, GA-20 Just Say The Word, Gabe Stillman WINNER: Live on Beale Street: A Tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland, Rodd Bland and the Members Only Band Welcome To The Land, Memphissippi Sounds You Ain’t Unlucky, Veronica Lewis
Acoustic Blues Album WINNER: Dear America, Eric Bibb Land of the Sky, Catfish Keith Let’s Get Happy Together, Maria Muldaur Let Loose These Chains, Hector Anchondo The Trio Sessions, EG Kight
Blues Rock Album Alafia Moon, Damon Fowler Dance Songs For Hard Times, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band WINNER: Resurrection, Mike Zito Tinfoil Hat, Popa Chubby Unemployed Highly Annoyed, Jeremiah Johnson
Contemporary Blues Album WINNER: 662, Kingfish Damage Control, Curtis Salgado Holler If You Hear Me, Altered Five Blues Band Raisin’ Cain, Chris Cain Tommy Castro Presents A Bluesman Came To Town, Tommy Castro
Soul Blues Album Let’s Have A Party, Gerald McClendon WINNER: Long As I Got My Guitar, Zac Harmon Not In My Lifetime, Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra You Get What You Give: Duets, Dave Keller You Gotta Have It, Tia Carroll
Traditional Blues Album Be Ready When I Call You, Guy Davis Bob Corritore & Friends: Spider In My Stew, Bob Corritore Boogie w/ R.L. Boyce (Live), R.L. Boyce Little Black Flies, Eddie 9V WINNER: Pinky’s Blues, Sue Foley
Acoustic Blues Artist Eric Bibb Kevin Burt Guy Davis Doug MacLeod WINNER: Keb’ Mo’
Blues Rock Artist WINNER: Albert Castiglia Tommy Castro Tinsley Ellis Ana Popovic Joanne Shaw Taylor
Contemporary Blues Female Artist WINNER: Vanessa Collier Thornetta Davis Ruthie Foster Danielle Nicole Carolyn Wonderland
Contemporary Blues Male Artist Selwyn Birchwood Chris Cain WINNER: Christone “Kingfish” Ingram Kenny Neal Mr. Sipp (Castro Coleman)
Soul Blues Female Artist WINNER: Annika Chambers Trudy Lynn Terrie Odabi Kat Riggins Vaneese Thomas
Soul Blues Male Artist William Bell Don Bryant John Nemeth Johnny Rawls WINNER: Curtis Salgado
Traditional Blues Female Artist (Koko Taylor Award) Rory Block WINNER: Sue Foley Rhiannon Giddens Diunna Greenleaf EG Kight
Traditional Blues Male Artist Cedric Burnside Super Chikan WINNER: Taj Mahal Sugar Ray Norcia Jontavious Willis
Instrumentalist – Bass Willie J. Campbell Larry Fulcher Jerry Jemmott Scot Sutherland WINNER: Danielle Nicole
Instrumentalist – Drums Danny Banks June Core WINNER: Tom Hambridge Derrick D’Mar Martin Chris Peet
Instrumentalist – Guitar Christoffer “Kid” Andersen Chris Cain Laura Chavez Anson Funderburgh WINNER: Eric Gales J.P. Soars
Instrumentalist – Harmonica Billy Branch Bob Corritore WINNER: Jason Ricci Brandon Santini Kim Wilson
Instrumentalist – Horn Mindi Abair WINNER: Jimmy Carpenter Marc Franklin Regi Oliver Nancy Wright
Instrumentalist – Piano (Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Award) Eden Brent WINNER: Mike Finnigan Dave Keyes Veronica Lewis Jim Pugh
Instrumentalist – Vocals Thornetta Davis Ruthie Foster WINNER: John Nemeth Sugaray Rayford Curtis Salgado
On his 28th album in his 45-year career, Ronnie Earl shows that his impeccable guitar talents only seem to have gotten better.
Earl’s touch and tone are minimalist but eloquent, each note virtually its own musical statement, combining for a magical depth of feeling and soulfulness
Earl also makes creative use of instrumentals — there are seven here. You don’t usually find that many on a single album, and you especially don’t find many as elegant as the second track, “Alabama,” Earl’s cover of and tribute to the legendary saxophonist/composer, John Coltrane.
The album opener, “Blow Wind Blow,” is exactly the opposite — a bluesy, rousing version of the Muddy Waters song, featuring the Broadcasters’ fine vocalist, Diane Blue. That’s the kind of mood shift that the Broadcasters handle with ease. The band sounds equally at home in a tough blues cover or a stylish interpretation of a great jazz tune.
There are also a couple more “tribute” songs, both instrumental originals by Earl: “Blues for Duke Robillard” and the acoustic departure of “Blues for Ruthie Foster,” a guitar duet with guest Peter Ward. Both are overflowing with Earl’s liquid guitar, taking its time to make certain that every note is the only one to express that feeling.
Another great cover is a beautifully extended 11-minute version of Percy Mayfield’s classic “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” with a sweet-toned guitar counterpoint for Diane Blue’s sultry vocals, and some tasty guitar, sax and B3 solos loitering in the background. It’s gorgeous.
“Coal Train Blues” is fine little blues instrumental; a Ronnie Earl master class in tasteful, understated blues that manages to speak volumes more than the sum of its notes, and shifts into an even lower, gear about halfway through.
Another favorite is “Only You Know and I Know,” the Dave Mason song that became a rocking staple for Delanie and Bonnie, again with Diane Blue bringing it home.
The album was titled “Mercy Me” “as I was thinking about all the things going on in the world,” Earl says about his inspiration. “We need to have more mercy for the world, for other people and for ourselves. I love playing the blues, and the session was so enjoyable. The band was focused, and we came together as one.” And Earl produced the effort himself.
So, mercy me, there’s a lot of excellent music here to absorb and enjoy.
Historical Note: The band was named after one of the first Fender guitars, distributed in 1950, which originally had been labeled The Broadcaster. The first group of Broadcasters included Darrell Nulisch (vocalist), Jerry Portnoy (harmonica), Steve Gomes (bass), and Per Hanson (drums).
Here’s some more music from the album:
1. Blow Wind Blow, McKinley Morganfield, Diane Blue vocal 6:57 2. Alabama ,John Coltrane 5:08 3. Blues for Ruthie Foster, Ronnie Earl 5.23 4. Soul Searching Ronnie Earl, Kaz Kazanoff 4:35 5. Blues for Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl 7:41 6. Only You Know and I Know, Dave Mason, Diane Blue vocal 7:03 7. A Prayer for Tomorrow, Anthony Geraci, Ronnie Earl 6:00 8. Dave’s Groove, Ronnie Earl, Dave Limina, Forrest Padgett 6:51 9. Please Send Me Someone to Love, Percy Mayfield, Diane Blue vocal 10:46 10. Coal Train Blues, Ronnie Earl 5:02 11. The Sun Shines Brightly, Ronnie Earl & Diane Blue, Diane Blue vocal 8:33 12. (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, Carl Smith, Gary Jackson; Diane Blue vocal 5:55
Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters
Ronnie Earl – Guitar, Dave Limina – Piano and Hammond B3, Diane Blue – Vocals, Forrest Padgett – Drums, Paul Kochanski – Electric and Upright Bass
Anthony Geraci – Piano Mark Earley – Baritone Sax Mario Perrett – Tenor Sax Peter Ward, Guitar Tess Ferraiolo – Vocals
Anthony Geraci 1, 7, 10, 11 Peter Ward 1, 3, 7, 10, 11 Mario Perrett 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12 Mark Earley 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12 Tess Ferraiolo 12 Paul Kochanski vocals and bass on 6