A very merry, bluesy holiday (of your choice) from the Roadhouse

It’s time once again to stop and wish everyone a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or a good day of your choice, whatever it may be.

That means I get to share my favorite Christmas song, a YouTube version, which features special animation just for this occasion.

And I also get to offer some holiday libation advice.

I always recommend leaving a little something out for Santa. I find that milk and cookies do little to lift the holiday spirits, so I heartily recommend some bourbon and brownies. And I also recommend not leaving much of them for Santa, if he ever does show up. I’m still waiting.

But maybe you’re a beer person. In that case, I recommend one of the many beers produced specifically with the Christmas season in mind. And since I’m kind of a beer snob, that means a Belgian ale, where they take some of the world’s best beers and offer special holiday versions.

Since one of my favorite Belgians is the darkly delicious St. Bernardus Abt 12, and once again this year I’ve made the brewery’s Christmas Ale my holiday choice. It’s slightly more sprightly than the Abt 12, but still with enough warmth and cheer to accompany some fine seasonal blues.

None of this, of course, means that you are somehow obligated to celebrate the actual Christmas. Enjoy whatever holiday, or day, that you like — enjoy being the key word.

So, a very merry, happy, peaceful version of whatever you want to celebrate.

And here is my favorite Christmas song, “White Christmas,” by the great Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, with special animation.

Roadhouse Album Review: “The Legendary Typewriter Tape” a magical session between Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen — 58 years in the making

Janis Joplin & Jorma Kaukonen — “The Legendary Typewriter Tape” — Omnivore Recordings

The complete title, which wouldn’t fit in that line above, because my design standards, is more explanatory: “The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House.”

It’s a very personal look at two artists in the making. Joplin would soon join Big Brother & the Holding Company and go on to be — Janis Joplin.

Kaukonen would go on to join the Jefferson Airplane and then Hot Tuna bands.

This all-too-brief album was the result of the taping by Kaukonen of a rehearsal session between himself and Joplin at his house on Fremont Street in Santa Clara, Calif. — more than half a century ago.

They were both young: Joplin 21; Kaukonen 23. They were in process of becoming the stars they would become in just a few years.

Janis was fascinated by the early women blues singers, and that’s what comes through in the raw, honest simplicity of this music. Even though she didn’t really perform this kind of music later, you can feel how she had already absorbed the blues into her persona.

The songs are a handful of classic, traditional blues: “Trouble in Mind,” “Long Black Train,” “Kansas City Blues,” “Hesitation Blues,” “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” and “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” There’s a little bit of chatter here and there as they discuss what to play. And the tapping heard occasionally in the background — Kaukonen’s wife Margareta typing a letter — is what gives this session its name, the typewriter tape.

Despite its lack of polish and production, this is the best kind of music. It’s two young performers exploring their possibilities. It’s plain and simple acoustic music, but filled with the complexities of the songs, and you can hear Janis testing her ability to convey their passion. You can hear the formative notes of her later, powerful style.

It’s also the kind of music you should hear even if it comes 58 years too late.


Jorma Kaukonen 2016 interview on the “Typewriter Tape” from KQED.


“Hesitation Blues” from the album:

Track list:

  1. “ARE WE TAPING NOW?” (dialog)
  2. TROUBLE IN MIND
  3. LONG BLACK TRAIN
  4. KANSAS CITY BLUES
  5. HESITATION BLUES
  6. NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT
  7. “HOW ‘BOUT THIS?” (dialog)
  8. DADDY, DADDY, DADDY

Roadhouse Album Review: The Hungry Williams band swings with abandon on joyous “Let’s Go!”

The Hungry Williams — “Let’s Go” — Rochelle Records

This swinging little album has been around since September, and every time I’ve played the music, I’ve reminded myself that I needed to write about it.

Obviously, I did not.

But now I am.

Charles “Hungry” Williams was a great New Orleans drummer, and John Carr is a fine Milwaukee drummer. Their two worlds collided in 1995 when Carr heard some old ’50s R&B and got an itch to make some of that music himself.

And when he finally scratched that itch, somewhere around 2015, he had the name ready — The Hungry Williams.

They put together their first album, “Brand New Thing,” in 2019, but Carr still wasn’t satisfied — he still wasn’t hearing that sound on record that he had in his head.

Until he heard a song by the California Honeydrops, with just the right sense of warmth and presence that he wanted. Carr lured the engineer of that sound, Jacob LaCally, to help create what would become the relaxed, swinging and spontaneous vibe of the music on “Let’s Go.”

For the session, Carr assembled a cast of veteran players designed to produce that sound: bassist Mike Sieger, lead vocalist Kelli Gonzalez, former bandmates guitarist/vocalist Joe Vent and keyboardist Jack Stewart. For this album, Carr added Jason Goldsmith on tenor and Casimir Riley on baritone sax.

All of that led to this sprightly album of New Orleans-tinged music that slings around some R&B, a little Latin feel, and best of all, a lot of fun.

It all kicks off with “Mardi Gras Day,” an original by Carr and Gonzalez (released earlier this year in time for that celebration), with a joyous romp featuring a Gonzalez vocal and a terrific second-line trumpet solo by Lech Wierzynski of the Honeydrops.

Stewart wrote the next cut, “Movin’ On,” as tribute to Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. And most of the band joins Gonzalez on LaVern Baker’s “You’d Better Find Yourself Another Fool.” Then something that harks back to Big Maybelle, “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.” “Gee Baby” is a New Orleans chestnut originally recorded by the duo Joe & Ann.

“Boss Man” is another NOLA rhythmic Carr/Gonzalez original, horn-laced, with a nod to the other big boss man Jimmy Reed, followed by “Big Mouth Betty,” a Gonzalez original with a light R&B flavor. Then it’s “Oooh Wow” another NOLA classic by Domino’s guitarist, Roy Montrell. Guitarist Joe Vent gives the vocals his touch with some more great horns (they’re actually everywhere on the album – one of its brightest spots).

Gonzalez follows with “Then I’ll Believe” a rousing gospel-flavored song from Martha Carter. Then a strong secular finale from Carr and Gonzalez again, “669 (Across the Street from the Beast),” with the appropriate shoutout to Old Scratch himself, who may well be the man on the sax.

One of the best things I can say about this fine album is that it’s just a hell of a lot of fun. The band snaps, the vocals crackle, and the whole thing just joyously pops. Everything just fits, which is a tribute to Carr’s vision of gathering the cast together in a room and making great for you to enjoy. Which you definitely should.

“Movin’ On,” from the album:

About the songs:

“Mardi Gras Day” A Carr/Gonzalez original
that was originally was released in February,
2022, for the holiday. At the session, Carr
realized the track really needed a trumpet
solo. LaCally knew Lech Wierzynski from the
California Honeydrops. And again, thanks to
the internet, Lech added just the right flavor
of a second line marching down the street.

“Movin’ On” This is a Stewart original that
features the classic strolling Fats Domino
rhythm of countless rock ’n’ roll singles.
Stewart says, “‘Movin’ On’ is my tribute to Fats
and Dave Bartholomew. The band and Jacob
capture that spirit.”

“You’d Better Find Yourself Another Fool”
The Hungries love to sing, and you’ll hear that
in this Lavern Baker number.

“One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” Who
doesn’t love Big Maybelle? The Hungry
Williams REALLY do. This is one of three songs
of hers in the repertoire.

“Gee Baby” A classic NOLA single, it’s been in
the Hungries’ library since the beginning.

“Boss Man” A Carr/Gonzalez original. Carr
says, “This song came to me in a matter of
minutes. Half an hour later I had a demo to
share with everyone. That never happened to
me before.”

“Big Mouth Betty” A Gonzalez original, she
says, “It isn’t really about any person and
it’s not autobiographical, despite popular
opinion. I just thought it would be fun to tell
a little story.”

“Oooh Wow” A NOLA R&B classic by Fats’s
guitarist, Roy Montrell. This features lead
vocals by Vent.

“Then I’ll Believe” Gospel tinged song from
classic NOLA label Ron Records, this has been
in the book from the very beginning.

“669 (Across the Street from the Beast)”
This was a joint effort from Carr, Gonzalez, and
Vent. At the studio, the plan was to record
long enough for a fade, but once the band got
going, it was too much fun to stop. So, what’s
it like having Satan for a neighbor? You’ll have
to listen to find out

Roadhouse Album Review: Yates McKendree debut sparkles with a drive along “Buchanan Lane”

Yates McKendree — “Buchanan Lane — Qualified Records

It’s always a pleasure to find new talent to write about and recommend for your listening pleasure.

The trouble with describing 21-year-old Yates McKendree as new talent, however, is that he has more than 10 years of professional experience under his belt (or wherever one keeps such experience).

While still in high school, Yates worked as both a player and engineer on projects that included Delbert McClinton and John Hiatt. In January 2020, Yates earned a Grammy for his role as an engineer and a musician on McClinton’s “Tall Dark & Handsome” album.

And before that, he was something of a child prodigy, picking out melodies on piano and organ at home with his father, the very notable, award-winning producer, engineer, and piano man, Kevin McKendree. Eventually, he grew into the piano, organ, drums, guitar and bass. Not to mention singing and songwriting.

We didn’t get to hear most of those musical growth spurts when they happened, but with this fine debut album, we get to discover the range of his talents in one sparkling session.

The session kicks off with the lighthearted, jazzy “Out Crowd,” a Kevin and Yates original instrumental keyboard duet tribute to the Ramsey Lewis hit, “The In Crowd.”

That’s followed by a quickstep toward the blues, with Yates on a sprightly cover of an old B.B. King cut, the Latinesque “Ruby Lee,” with Yates’ stinging guitar. Next, a pair of originals written with Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Gary Nicholson: “Wise” and “No Justice,” a pair of slow and torchy blues that explore various sides of lost love, especially when it involves fiery guitar solos.

The next batch of songs are classy covers of some classic blues and R&B material: “Brand New Neighborhood” (Fletcher Smith), “Always a First Time” (Earl King), “Papa Ain’t Salty” (T-Bone Walker), “No Reason” (Carmen Davis), “Qualified” (Dr. John), “It Hurts to Love Someone,” with more feisty guitar (Guitar Slim), then back with some elegant keyboard for “Wine, Wine, Wine” (Jimmy Binkley), and “Please Mr. Doctor” (Tampa Red). A swinging original instrumental, the B3-haunted “Voodoo,” tormented by an evil guitar, is the closer.

The excellent musical cast assembled here allows the entire project to float along effortlessly behind Yates’s accomplished vocals, swinging or stinging as needed. That includes Steve Mackey, upright bass; Big Joe Maher, drums; Jim Hoke, sax; Andrew Carney, trumpet; Roland Barber, trombone. Those horns, by the way, add just the right punch, and the appropriate B3 summons up deep, rolling emotions. The McCrary Sisters provide background vocals. Kevin McKendree doubles as engineer and keyboard maestro.

The album title, Buchanan Lane, is the street on which the McKendrees live and learn their art.

Buchanan Lane is also a first-rate first album, filled with the fresh music of an outstanding new talent (if you don’t count his last 15 years or so).

Here’s “No Justice’:

Tracklist:

1. Out Crowd (2:45)
2. Ruby Lee (3:45)
3. Wise (3:29)
4. No Justice (4:27)
5. Brand New Neighborhood (2:28)
6. Always A First Time (3:58)
7. Papa Ain’t Salty (2:52)
8. No Reason (2:46)
9. Qualified (4:46)
10. It Hurts To Love Someone Else (3:18)
11. Wine, Wine, Wine (2:49)
12. Please Mr. Doctor (3:56)
13. Voodoo (3:11)