Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Albert Collins Loud" - Eh? Speak up, I can't hear you!

In a recent post here on the Jet City Blues blog, David Brewer mentioned that the blues fans in Finland were digging his "Albert Collins loud" guitar playing. I know just what David's talking about, but if you never saw the "Master of the Telecaster" live, you might be in the dark about David's comment.

Originally from Texas, Albert Collins (left) was quite the road warrior and used to play in the Seattle area quite a bit. He was a great guitarist with a unique style, and was quite an influence on both David Brewer and the late Isaac Scott.

Albert played a Fender Telecaster guitar with a humbucker pickup in the neck position. His amp of choice was the deadly Fender Quad Reverb, which was a 100-watt Twin Reverb amp enclosed in a cabinet with four 12-inch speakers. The only larger combo amp that Fender ever built was the Quad Reverb's big brother, the Super-Six Reverb (the same amp, but with six ten-inch speakers). The Super-Six was large enough that Fender didn't bother installing a handle on the top of the cabinet - it had two handles on one side and wheels on the other.

The times I saw Albert, he always had all of the volume, tone, and reverb controls dimed on his Quad Reverb (left), controlling the volume at his guitar. I guess I saw him at at least three old Seattle clubs, including the District Tavern, the Pipeline, and Hibble & Hyde's. He also played several times at the Jolly Roger Roadhouse in Lake City. But the first time I saw him live was at this small C & W tavern in Freeland, Washington. Now, Freeland is a tiny town on Whidbey Island, and this bar was a place where country bands played quiet background music for the local hippies while they shot pool and brawled in the parking lot.

How Albert Collins got a booking in this joint is a mystery, but my roommates and I showed showed up to see that band which included second guitarist David Brewer and another guy that blew some rudimentary blues harp. Being blues fans, we figured we'd better get there early so that we could get seats right next to the bandstand. This was a large mistake. That was absolutely the loudest band I'd ever heard at that point in my blues listening career. You could hear them just fine out in the parking lot, and I mean inside the car with the windows rolled up. The other 20 or so thrill seekers that showed up pretty much fled by the end of the first set. Our group hung around and heard some great music, but our ears were ringing for several days afterwards.

I was hired years later to do sound for Albert at Hibble & Hyde's, this time with the Isaac Scott Band backing him up. Albert insisted that I mic his amp, something that was totally unnecessary in that small club. I did so, but turned that mic off during the set. I had to turn it back on during the breaks because Albert would inspect the mixing board to make sure that his amp mic was on - I guess that he was worried that he might not be loud enough, even though his amp was configured for the STUN setting, as usual. I had wised up and was wearing earplugs at that gig, but I kept having to explain to other deafened listeners that the guitar volume wasn't my fault.

Oh well, as Mr. Brewer says, "If it's too loud, you're too young!" Albert Collins passed away in 1993, and I'm glad that I got to see him rockin' the joint.

Note: The Albert Collins photo that appears in this article is from the Alligator Records web page. The photographer was uncredited.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sam Myers - Gone but not forgotten (1936-2006).

By Phil Chesnut

Sam Myers, one of the true gentlemen of the blues, unexpectedly passed away at his home in Dallas, after recently recovering from throat cancer surgery. Sam was born in Laurel, Mississippi in 1936. In the early 50s, Myers moved to Chicago on a music scholarship, where he abandoned the classics for the blues...and the rest is musical history.

Fronting Anson Funderburg's band since 1986, Sam is well known for his brilliant harmonica and unmistakable vocals. Originally a drummer on Chicago's south side, Myers sat in with such legends as Howlin' Wolf, Robert Lockwood, and Muddy Waters. It is Sam's beat that is heard on those classic Elmore James recordings.

I was very proud to call Sam Myers my friend. I enjoyed many enlightening conversations with this articulate, scholarly man, whether at a blues venue or when I'd call him at his home in Dallas. The blues world will miss Sam Myers for what he gave. I will miss him because he was my friend.

Phil Chesnut is an award winning photographer and keen observer of the Northwest blues scene. All of the photographs that appear in this article were created by Phil.

The Snoqualmie Blues Festival '06

By Phil Chesnut

This August 5th and 6th the blues will again ring out in the foothills of the Cascades with the 6th Annual Snoqualmie Blues Festival. Located in the historic logging hamlet of Snoqualmie, which is just a half hour drive from Seattle, the blues is the featured sound of the long running Snoqualmie Railroad Days. Now in it's 68th year, Railroad Days has many crowd pleasing features unique to this amazing summer celebration. Besides two days of great blues, Railroad Days also offers a giant classic car show, chainsaw art display and auction, and Snoqualmie's own Thunder in the Valley, a top notch classic motorcycle show. Other crowd favorites of the '06 Railroad Days include the annual Grand Parade along with many interesting arts & crafts booths and a good selection of food vendors. Of course there is a beer garden too, located next to the Blues Stage.

This year's location of the Blues Stage is a bit different from years past, now located closer to the street (Railroad Ave). With room for the audience on a paved street, rather than the former gravel surface, this year's show will now be conducive to a real street dance too.

As the founder and music director of the Sno-Blues-Fest part of Railroad Days, I have continually tried to offer the finest blues talent in the region. Always conscious of the fan's opinions, much of the featured talent are current nominees and winners of the Washington Blues Society's annual BB Awards (Best of Blues). Compared to some of the other area blues fests, Sno-Blues is small in size but makes up for it as the only blues fest that features true blues and only blues.

This year's all blues format is no exception. Opening the '06 Sno-Blues-Fest on Sat. Aug 5th at 2pm will be Chicago-style harmonica master, Dave Prez & Combo Nation, featuring vintage blues guitarist Jack Cook. Next up on stage will be the Hudson Blues Band, a longtime Seattle favorite, who are well known in the Snoqualmie Valley as well. Drummer, David Hudson has compiled a true crowd pleasing combo which is fronted on vocals and harp by Michael Wilde.

The next featured band comes from Ballard, the heart of the Seattle blues scene. Harmonica Playboy & the Midnight Movers have long been acclaimed as one of Western Washington's top blues bands, with the Harmonica Playboy, Mike Lynch, and his true blue, fat tone harp along with his encyclopedic list of blues tunes and the superb guitar of Tim Sherman. This solid, genuine blues band promise to be a highlight of the show.

The next set features the multiple award winning Becki Sue & Her Big Rockin' Daddies. As the '06 BB Award winner for Best Band, these hugely talented musicians will set the mood with their high energy performance that have made them one of the Northwest's most sought after blues bands. This year, the BRDs not only took home the BB for Best Band, they were also recognized for their individual talents. Known for decades as one of the state's top note benders, Tom "T-Boy" Boyle was voted Best Electric Guitar, while Les "Wild Child" White took the BB for Best Bass, doing things with an upright bass that are truly remarkable. Drummer and blues pilgrim, Jeff Hayes received the well deserved Keeping the Blues Alive Award. Finally, the multi-talented Jim King was nominated for both Best Vocals and Best Harp, taking the Best Horn award for his outstanding tenor sax. Of course the band's namesake, Becki Sue will certainly punctuate the band's set with her own powerful vocal presentation.

Closing Saturday's blues celebration is this year's headliner, the world renowned Paul deLay Band. Long recognized as one of the pre-emenent blues ensembles in the country, headlining festivals throughout North America and Europe. The Sno-Blues Fest is honored to have this important figure of modern blues grace this year's stage. With his brilliant vocals and harmonica stylings that are simply remarkable, Paul deLay stands alone in the blues world. His extraordinary diatonic harp reaches far beyond the understanding of even the best players, with his unique phrasing and dynamics, often in a minor key. Then there is deLay's mighty chromatic Harmonica which is unequaled, for the huge tone and phrasing style that is embraced by many but re-created by none. If deLay's powerful vocals and harmonica weren't enough, it's also important to note that Paul is an amazing songwriter as well. Turning out tunes in rhythms far beyond your basic shuffle and with always clever lyrics, deLay is truly one best storytellers in today's music business. This multiple award winning blues giant is backed by an amazingly talented band that features Louis Pain on the Hammond B-3, Dan Fincher on tenor sax and Peter Dammann on guitar. Peter is also the award winning boss of the second largest blues fest in the country, Portland's Waterfront Blues Festival.

On Sunday, Aug 6th, the blues will continue with Seattle's favorite eclectic party band, Jeff & the Jet City Fliers. Frontman Jeff Herzog will set the days tone with his masterful harmonica and great original songs with a statement. After a break for the Chainsaw show & auction, there will be just enough room left for one more set of blues with the Chris Stevens Band. Long recognized as one of the area's top guitar slingers, Stevens and his veteran band will show yet another spin on the blues. A perfect ending to another fantastic Snoqualmie Blues Festival.

Phil Chesnut is an award winning photographer and keen observer of the Northwest blues scene. All of the photographs that appear in this article were created by Phil.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

And now, a word from Mr. Brewer.

By David Brewer (below, somewhere in Finland)

Hey Kids,

I just got back from my gig in Finland, and now it's on to Paris for 15 days then Norway, Sweden, Amsterdam, and Berlin. I'll be back in Seattle in October to do Tim Sherman's "Northwest Guitar Monsters" show at the Highway 99 Blues club.

I hope everybody's OK with me representing Seattle blues, me not being a WBS Hall of Famer and all, but deal with it, cause this will be my fouth time in Europe as Seattle's Blues Ambassador. They like the big Indian from the USA - whiskey by the pint, Albert Collins loud, irreverent attitude and all. I'll try and do a travelogue when I return if anyone want's to read it. I'm always on the lookout for Rick Steves when I'm over there 'cause I hear he's always got some good bud, but as of yet I haven't been able to find him.

I did run into John Lee yesterday in the same place I always run into him - on the mean streets of Greenwood, my home town. We had a nice grumble session on the side of the road as we watched several local business owners washing and painting this week's mass of graffiti off their establishments. He said come on down to the Highway 99 and eat some of his pub grub...or else!!

More later - remember it's "better to be hated for who you are, than to be loved for who you're not..."

And oblige, Brewer.

Note: Rumor has it that David is working on a deal to release some live recordings of his band playing at the Owl Cafe in the '80s, including some other live stuff with the late great Albert Collins.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Blues in Alaska.

Here's a couple of cool (but fuzzy) photos of John Lee Hooker playing at a fairgrounds facility in Fairbanks, AK in 1973. I discovered these photos on the wall of Jet City Blues contributor John Lee's secret headquarters in North Seattle.

Left to right: John Lee Hooker, Lindy Raines, and Gary Sloan

Left to right: Lindy Raines, John Lee Hooker, and John Lee

The backup band here was the Anchorage band Proof, which consisted of guitarist Lindy Raines, bassist John Lee, harp player Gary Sloan, and drummer Gordy Burlingham. Proof toured all of the hotspots in Alaska with the Hook in 1973 and again in 1975. This band also toured Alaska with blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite in the fall of 1973.

I met John Lee in Seattle around 1976-77, I guess. By 1979, we had organized a new version of my band Nitelife and soon we were headed for (where else?) Ketchikan, AK. Check out the ancient promo photo for that band below.

Nitelife in 1979. Left to right: John Lee, Mike Lynch, Lindy Raines, and Jim Becker

Note: The photos of John Lee Hooker and Proof were created by Al Monsma.