Roadhouse Reminder: The music of Lightnin’ Slim was some of the swamp blues’ finest

It’s time to talk about Otis Verries Hicks.

You may know him better as Lightnin’ Slim, whose laconic vocal and guitar style helped to define the haunting, laid-back rhythms of Louisiana swamp blues in the 1950s. It’s often served with a side of snaky harmonica.

If you know him at all, that is. He’s one of the legions of fine blues players who tends to be largely unknown outside of certain regions, or outside the interests of mainstream blues fans.

Although there is some difference of opinion, Slim seems to have been born Good Pine, La., and moved to Baton Rouge at thirteen. Taught guitar by his older brother Layfield, Slim was playing in bars in Baton Rouge by the late 1940s.

I have to confess that even though I have some of his music in my collection, I hadn’t listened to it for years. And then, while I was listening to some music recently on the radio, as I wrote about a while back — on The Rhythm Revival with the musically precocious and loquacious Rev. Billy C. Wirtz — I heard some Lightnin’ Slim.

So, I dug back into his music. I found a bunch on my streaming service — Amazon Prime Music (no, I don’t get anything for mentioning it!). Slim has a substantial catalogue of his unique music. And it makes it clear that he was one of the best bluesmen of his time — mainly the 1950s, and mainly on the Nashville-based Excello label which specialized in this special, Louisiana-flavored blues.

Slim’s deep rich vocals and hypnotic guitar rhythms are earthy and sinuous, with a sense of urgency driving it all along. He often performed with a harp-playing partner, and one of the most frequent was Moses “Whispering” Smith, another Louisiana-style bluesman.

Slim basically had two careers, one in the 1940s and ’50s, and another in the 1970s, after he was rediscovered in Pontiac, Mich. In the 1950s, he had a number of regional hits, and his “Rooster Blues,” hit the national R&B charts in 1959.

In the ’70s, Slim performed on European tours, in the United Kingdom and at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. He last toured the UK in 1973 with the American Blues Legends package.

If you have never heard him, this might be a good time to grab some of his fine blues. If you have, take a refresher course.

In July 1974, Slim died of stomach cancer in Detroit, Mich. He was 61.


Lightnin’ Slim and Whispering Smith in a 1972 performance:

Roadhouse Album Review: Anthony Geraci creates keyboard magic on “Blues Called My Name”

Anthony Geraci — “Blues Called My Name” — Blue Heart Records

Anthony Geraci has been tickling the ivories since he was about four years old, and we should be tickled blues (not pink) that he is still going strong. (Okay, maybe the tickling metaphor is a bit lame. But there it is.)

With more than 40 years of keyboard performing to his credit, Geraci is an original member of Sugar Ray and the Bluetones and Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. For this outing, he fronts the Boston Blues All-Stars on piano and Hammond, with a bunch of talented guests who help make this a special recording.

The album is a sparkling set of 10 original, self-produced songs, half of them instrumental, but all showcases for Geraci and some talented friends.

The album kicks off with “Old Pine Box,” a whimsical little ditty, with Sugar Ray Norcia easily handling the vocals. This is the same Norcia whose Bluestones once featured Geraci on keyboards.

Next is the title track, one of my favorites here, again featuring Norcia on vocals, adding plaintive guitar by Monster Mike Welch and insistent piano from Geraci. A splendid blend of talents for some straight-ahead blues.

The first instrumentals follow: a jazzy, Latinesque “About Last Night” features Geraci’s impeccable Hammond styling, and “Boston Stomp” does exactly what it says. The torchy “Corner of Heartbreak and Pain” is up next, with a passionate vocal by Erika Van Pelt, embraced by Geraci’s eloquent piano. Geraci adds his own voice to the mix as he romps through the upbeat “I Go Ooh,” with more sturdy keyboards.

Norcia returns for the final vocal number with “I Ain’t Going to Ask” (for your love no more….), with another piano romp driving the proceedings.

The other instrumentals are “Into the Night,” as Walter Trout leads with pleading guitar; “Wading in the Vermillion,” with Anne Harris on violin and finally, “Song for Planet Earth,” an old-fashioned piano solo that allows Geraci to demonstrate his considerable mastery.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable, finely crafted session that moves elegantly through an eclectic set of excellent music.


By the way, Geraci and the Boston Blues All-Stars were a 2021 Blues Music Award nominee in the ‘Band of the Year’ category, while Geraci was nominated for the sixth consecutive time in the ‘Instrumentalist Piano (Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Award) category. That was the year that Geraci finally won that award.


“The Blues Called My Name” video:

Roadhouse Album Review: The Jim Dan Dee band is indeed jim dandy on “Real Blues”

Jim Dan Dee — “Real Blues” — Self-Release

It seems like every time you turn around, there’s some new blues music coming out of Canada.

This time it’s from an unusually named quartet of guys that calls itself Jim Dan Dee.

Why? The band’s bio puts it this way:

The name “Jim Dan Dee” comes from the expression “Everything is just Jim Dandy”, an old cliché often used with expletives inserted. Jim Dan Dee (affectionately known as ‘J.D.D.’ by their fans) is not only a blues band, but also a character; an idea that embodies the spirit of the music and Jim Stefanuk’s frontman persona.

*More on the name later.

For now, let’s just say that the band makes tough blues that is, in fact, just jim dandy. Guitarist/vocalist Stefanuk’s partners in northern blues are drummer Shawn Royal, bassist Dwayne Lau, and saxman Jason Sewerynek (a little unusual for a traditional blues combo, but a honking sax always loves the blues).

The opening track is Guitar Slim’s classic “The Things That I Used To Do,” the album’s only cover, which sets a scorching pace with Stefanuk’s razor-sharp guitar and searing vocals.

The rocking “Weep For Me,” follows, with a great honking sax solo; the title track comes up next, slow and scorching with emotional intensity; “Two Timing Woman” takes on that subject with a deadly groove; “The Doctor” offers up a fierce guitar prescription with vocals to match. Other favorites include the Stones-reminiscent “Bleed Me Dry,” with guitar and sax carnally entwined, and the rousing closer, “Money Don’t Work On The Devil.” There are plenty more in between to keep the blues juices flowing. It’s a well-chosen set of smartly written blues tracks.

All in all, Jim Dan Dee has a swaggering, hard-driving approach with a stripped-down style and rough-around-the-edges vibe. Just right for great roadhouse listening. Mix well with an adult beverage and give them a shot.

*Now, about that band name. It immediately took me back into my dark and distant musical past, and the urgent R&B of the 1956 song “Jim Dandy” by the joyously inimitable LaVern Baker. I’ve added her classic version below, following the Jim Dan Dee video.


TRACK LIST
1.The Things That I Used To Do 3:10
2.Weep For Me 3:02
3.Real Blues 3:44
4.Two Timing Woman 2:22
5.The Doctor 4:29
6.Two Shakes Of A Lamb’s Tail 2:58
7.Bleed Me Dry 2:16
8.Hang’Em High 4:19
9.T For Trouble 3:39
10.Lost In The Dark 2:56
11.Money Don’t Work On The Devil 3:08


“Jim Dandy (to the Rescue”

Advice from the Roadhouse: Listen to really great old music on the radio from the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz

Do you remember the radio?

Real radio.

I’m not talking about satellite radio, Sirius radio, or any such modern wizardry. I’m talking about that magical time when the Lone Ranger, Jack Benny and Boston Blackie came pouring out of that big box in your living room. I’m talking real radio.

With music.

Music came pounding out of the one in my parents’ house, much to their chagrin, as soon as I discovered that the primeval sounds of doo-wop, rhythm & blues, blues and rock ‘n’ roll and my teenage hormones went together, as the Moonglows sing, “like two straws in a Coke.”

That music was irresistible. It shaped my youthful musical tastes, and later my somewhat grownup ones. It was also quite often pressed into service as an aid in very close, very slow dancing, another hormonal force that shaped my early years. But I digress.

As technology moved on, so did I. Soon most of my music came on record (vinyl, if you prefer), first 45s and then LPs. Then cassettes (I never did like eight-tracks), then CDs, and now, digital, when the sounds again flow magically out of the clouds.

But radio never gave up. There is still a lot of music to be found on that dial, but much of it is repetitive and unsatisfying — formatted to a particular genre or style, with little thought to the more interesting aspects of musical enjoyment. I’m talking about its rich history, its broad roots, its interwoven cultural tapestries. Who made it, and when, and how. Especially all that music that was descended from the blues that captured my young imagination.

My original hormonal source is long gone — the golden oldies and dusty discs of Porky Chedwick, the Platter Pushin’ Poppa, the Daddio of the Raddio, Pork the Tork, at a tiny Pittsburgh, Pa., radio station, where he began spinning those sounds in 1948. It’s where I began to absorb and unwrap the mysteries of all this classic American music that seemed to be waiting just for me.

The Rev. Billy C. Wirtz.

All of that is just a long-winded way of saying that these days I listen to a radio program that gives me what I used to get, many years ago. I guess if you live long enough, your life comes around again. Or something.

My hormonal uptake station now is mainlined through WMNF public radio in Tampa, Fla. My main squeeze there (although there’s loads of fine programming) is The Rhythm Revival from 3-6 p.m. Fridays, hosted by the inimitable, irrepressible and extremely musically knowledgeable Rev. Billy C. Wirtz and his equally inimitable musical partner, Marvelous Marvin Boone.

Together they spin out a musical history that includes gospel, blues, R&B, country, rock ‘n’ roll, and just about anything that feels right to them.

They talk about how all this music fits together, tell tales about the performers, relive their own experiences (Wirtz seems to have had multitudinous exotic experiences of his own) in the musical world, and just generally seem to enjoy themselves, playing music they love. Often, it’s obscure music from their own collections. And quite often, it’s music on a record. Yes!

Billy and Marvin, lifted from Facebook.

As they’re fond of saying, you will not likely hear much of this music anywhere else. That’s kind of sad, but true.

And, as it happens, it’s also music that I love. So my teen genes are happy again, despite having aged considerably. Music like this is better than the Fountain of Youth (especially since the music actually exists).

Now, however, because the pipes of the internet run far and wide, you are no longer required to move to the Tampa Bay area to hear this great music. And you can pump it through whatever speaker system you’ve built to produce the sparkling sound it deserves.

So how do you find this great stuff, no matter where you are?

WMNF public radio (that means no advertising!) is found here on your internet dial. If you can’t make it during the broadcast (yes, they’re live), there’s an online archive you where you can play the show for the week after. Here’s the schedule of all the station’s shows. And, yes, there’s a Facebook page, and it has a playlist from each show. Check Wirtz’s own page for other personal gigs.

Also, if you ever sail on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, you’re very likely to find him holding forth in the piano bar.

But now it’s time to turn on the radio.

And here’s a video/audio of The Rev at work:

Roadhouse Album Review: “Carry Me Home” is a joyous musical celebration from Mavis Staples and Levon Helm

Mavis Staples and Levon Helm — “Carry Me Home” — Anti Records

Every once in a while, an album comes along so filled with such wonderful music-making that it’s difficult finding the words to do it justice.

“Carry Me Home” by Levon Helm and Mavis Staples is one of those albums.

It’s a joyously live album, released on May 20, and recorded in the summer of 2011 at one of Helm’s live shows dubbed the Midnight Rambles, held at his home in Woodstock, N.Y. Sadly, less than a year later, in April 2012, Helm succumbed to the throat cancer he had battled since 1998.

Staples is the sole survivor of the Staples Singers; drummer/vocalist Helm was a staple in creating the timeless music of The Band. They became friends during the production of “The Last Waltz,” The Band’s glorious farewell concert in 1976 (still one of the best music concert films, ever, by the way).

Both represent heartfelt musical excellence in their not-so-disparate styles — Helm brought a driving sense of rootsy Americana tinged with Southern soul; Staples lifted gospel music beyond its sanctified limits into soulful secular territory. Both infuse their music with a sense of contagious joy that lifts every song beyond the ordinary. With band members from both camps, including a well-polished horn section, plus backup singers whose voices seem to pull everything together.

From the opening of the first track, Curtis Mayfield’s classic anthem, “This Is My Country,” the music feels loose and easy, even with the most serious of subjects, and you get the immediate sense of great music being committed. They update this 1968 musical statement with some 2011 political sentiments.

“Trouble In My Mind” follows, a 1924 standard that dates to the origins of recorded blues, a song that despite its title, promises hope and optimism: “Trouble in mind, I’m blue; But I won’t be blue always; ‘Cause I know the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday.” This celebratory arrangement has Helm loping along on drums, pushing horns, guitar and keys that feel almost Dixieland, while Staples rides its crest with a tough vocal turn.

Levon and Mavis at the Ramble.
Photo Credit: Greg McKean

“Farther Along” is an a cappella version of an old gospel sung, beautifully done with backup harmonies from backup singers that include Amy Helm, Levon’s daughter.

Joyous music resumes with “Hand Writing On The Wall” and continues throughout, and that uplifting tone keeps the faith with the spirit of this music.

Each bluesy, gospel, soulful song that follows is a gem: A strong version of Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free;” the traditional gospel of “This May Be The Last Time;” two Helm favorites, “When I Go Away” and “Wide River To Cross,” and the soulful gospel of “You Got To Move.”

The final two songs are worth special mention. Staples adds her own take to Bob Dylan’s “You Got To Serve Somebody,” giving it perhaps the majestic vocals it needs to interpret Dylan’s vibrant lyricism.

The closer is fittingly Helm’s only real vocal turn, The Band’s evergreen “The Weight,” joining Staples as they did in “The Last Waltz, except here, Staples yields the main vocals to Helm. His world-weary voice, scarred by his battles with throat cancer, sounds entirely appropriate. It’s such a bittersweet conclusion when you realize that Levon was less than a year away from his own final curtain.

I realize that I may be overusing a few words here, such as joyful, glorious, celebratory — but the sheer exuberance of this powerful music and the people making it, is hard to overstate. “Carry Me Home” is a profoundly gorgeous work of musical art.


I found two videos made from this concert and both are below to help give you a better feeling for the vibrancy of the music and musicians in these sessions.

Here’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”

Here’s “You Got to Move”

Tracklist:

  1. This Is My Country
  2. Trouble In My Mind
  3. Farther Along
  4. Hand Writing On The Wall
  5. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
  6. Move Along Train
  7. This May Be The Last Time
  8. When I Go Away
  9. Wide River To Cross
  10. You Got To Move
  11. You Got To Serve Somebody
  12. The Weight

Roadhouse Album Review: Diunna Greenleaf’s powerful vocals highlight “I Ain’t Playin’ “

Diunna Greenleaf — “I Ain’t Playin’ ” — Little Village

You can tell as soon as you see the album cover photo and read the title, that Diunna Greenleaf means what she says. She ain’t playin’.

But when you actually hear her powerful voice and feel her commanding presence as the first song, “Never Trust a Man,” opens with: “Mama told me, girl don’t ever trust no man….,” you know that you’re listening to the real deal. And she ain’t playin’. (Just a sidelight, that song was a fine Koko Taylor staple.)

This is another in a series of fine recordings produced at Christoffer “Kid” Andersen’s Greaseland studio, where he seems to bring out the artist’s best.

Of this session, and Greenleaf, Andersen says: “Her voice tells you she is free to be herself,” Andersen says. “You just don’t find many voices like that. I think that’s something people will discover just listening to her album for the first time.”

Greenleaf’s voice is indeed the star here. This only the fifth album for the veteran Houston blues singer. But it’s been 11 years since her last, and this session will make you wonder why she waited so long. Her seemingly effortless vocals are deep and rich with the emotional content of the songs, all smartly chosen covers or originals.

There’s the rhythmic original “Running With the Red Cross;” there’s a full-throated, soaring take on The Staples Singers gospel classic, “I Know I’ve Been Changed;” a passionate working of Nina Simone’s version of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free;” there’s even a plaintive version of Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name,” a rousing duet with Alabama Mike; there’s Greenleaf’s own snappy “Back Door Man;” a scorching take on Johnny Clyde Copeland’s “Let Me Cry,” and it’s all wrapped up with the prescient “My Turn, My Time.” And much, much more.

But that final cut sums up this sparkling renewal of Greenleaf’s recording career — it’s her turn, her time again, and she’s making the most of it with this excellent album.

A word about Little Village, from the Little Village people:

Since 2015, the non-profit Little Village record label has been ferreting out the sounds
of American roots music from communities throughout the nation. It produces albums in a
wide swath of styles, believing that the music can speak to other cultures far from the small
communities where it resides. It has produced four-dozen collections of gospel, blues,
mariachi, cowboy, spoken-word, Mississippi Hill Country, steel-guitar workouts and soul music
to introduce to new audiences.

And not incidentally, Jim Pugh, the main man at Little Village, contributes great keyboard throughout.


Recording “Never Trust A Man” in the Greaseland studios. That’s Greaseland’s Kid Andersen on guitar:

Here’s the tracklist from the album cover:

Here’s the full cast, from the album cover: