Sunday, January 28, 2007

The John Stephan Band

Grinders Hot Sands - January 20, 2007

I drove out to the Shoreline neighborhood to see the John Stephan (left) Band at Grinders Hot Sands last week. Grinders is a restaurant that specializes in sub (or grinder) sandwiches and soups and also serves beer and wine. They feature live music on Saturday nights from 8-10:30 PM ($5.00 cover). The owners are doing something right, because the place was packed both times that I have visited the place to see Stephan. And packed with people that were actually listening to the band - what a concept!

The crowd was digging the band this particular night, for sure. The core players (John Stephan - guitars/vocals, Trev Cutler - drums, and Tom Roesch - bass/backup vocals) were augmented by keyboardist Eric Robert who was coaxing some pretty cool piano and organ sounds out of his electronic keyboards. The band performed original tunes from their 2002 CD "99 Degrees" and the more recent 3J's CD, plus covers like "Call My Job" and the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There" (one of my favorites). John also did several screamin' Elmore James tunes on his well-worn Tiesco slide guitar.

The John Stephan Band at Grinders.

Left to right: Eric Robert, Trev Cutler, John Stephan, and Tom Roesch

Good stuff! If you aren't familiar with the John Stephan Band, go check 'em out. I see that Grinders is continuing to feature blues bands at least a couple of nights a months, so you might want make the trek out to Shoreline check the joint out. Tell Mitch, the owner, that the Playboy sent ya!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In the Pocket with Mr. Solid

By John Lee

Happy new year to everyone! I had a wonderful Christmas that included a visit from my mother, which is always a marvelous gift.

Santa was also very good to me. I received the “Stax/Volt Singles - 1959 to 1968” box set. Ever since my trip to Memphis and visits to Soulsville U.S.A., and the Stax Museum of American Music, I’ve been thinking about picking up this great collection. And what a collection it is! This set has some of the greatest soul/R&B songs ever recorded! There are nine CDs and 244 songs in all. I have some of these songs in different places (the Atlantic R&B box, the Otis Redding box etc.), but now I have them gathered in one place.

All the well known greats are here like Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay” and “Respect," Sam and Dave’s best, including “Soothe Me” and “I Thank You," Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood," Carla Thomas’ “Gee Wiz," Booker T. and the MG's “Green Onions,” and Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog,” to scratch the surface. There are dozens of lesser known songs that I think of as classics like Eddie Floyd’s “Raise Your Hand” and Mable John’s “Your Takin' Up Another Man’s Place”, to name just a few. Mable John is the sister of the late, great Little Willie John, whose version of “Fever” is an R&B classic!

The very cool instrumental “Last Night” by The Mar-Keys is here, and “Soul Finger” by The Bar-Kays. The dynamic gospel inspired ballad “You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell is also included. William Bell is one hell of a singer. This inspiring collection has early Stax recordings of the incredible Johnnie Taylor, before his huge hits “Who’s Makin' Love” and “Cheaper To Keep Her.” Before super stardom, Stax studio musician, and one of the label’s hit song writers, Isaac Hayes, had a recording under the name Sir Isaac and the Do-Dads. Albert King’s killer sides from the legendary “Born Under A Bad Sign” sessions are here. The Staple Singers’ and Isaac Hayes’ mega hits came later than 1968, but this is a must for the R&B/soul fan. The great tunes just keep on coming! I am so glad Santa came by to give me a much needed soul vaccination.

I also received a fantastic book for Christmas, R. Crumb’s “Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country” with an introduction by the filmmaker Terry Zwigoff who directed the award winning documentary “Crumb.” This is a collection in book form of three trading card sets Crumb put out in the 1980’s called “Heroes of the Blues,” “Early Jazz Greats,” and “Pioneers of Country Music.” The color illustrations come with a bio of each musical artist by Stephen Calt, David Jasen and Richard Nevins - 108 illustrations in all. The book also comes with a 21-track CD of tunes by the likes of Skip James, “Dock” Boogs and “King” Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong to name a few. If you are a child of the sixties, a fan of American roots music, or you dig R. Crumb, this book is for you!

In October of 2006 I produced a show I called The West Coast Rhythm and Blues Summit. It featured Johnny Nocturne with Miss Dee and Henry Salvia, The 3J’s, and The Crossroads Band. It was an incredible amount of work, but worth it. I did a lot of the promotion and I played bass on all three sets both days. I am blessed to be associated with such a fine group of friends and talented musicians.

My high school era buddies, John Firmin and John Stephan, and I have a part time group, known as The 3 J’s. John Firmin is one of the finest R&B and jazz tenor saxophonists in the country. John Stephan is a very cool guitar man who leads his own band. He also plays damn fine rhythm. He writes great songs too! I met Henry Salvia and Miss Dee thru John Firmin (aka Johnny Nocturne). Henry Salvia is the keyboard player in the Johnny Nocturne Band. He is one of the best piano guys around. Henry attacks the keys in a style all his own. It’s a pleasure to play shows with this top notch cat. Miss Dee is one fine R&B/blues vocalist. She was the lead singer on The Johnny Nocturne Band CD “Blues Volume” and has worked with the legendary Johnny Otis. She’s a sweetheart and a first rate entertainer. I look forward to the day I can work with her again.

The group I play with on a regular basis, The Crossroads Band, gets it done! The Rev. Deborah Engelhardt of The Washington Blues Society said about Crossroads: “This band could hold its own alongside any band, anywhere.” I agree! The gentleman I boogie with day in and day out - Steve Bailey, Dennis Ellis, Dan Newton, and John Rockwell are consummate musicians and a gas to be around. And what’s up with Dennis Ellis not being on the WBS BB Award ballot for best horn? This I don’t understand. The R&B Summit was a gas. On Saturday night, we were SRO. I am blessed! Thanks to all that came to the show! Also, thanks to Ed Maloney and Steve Sarkowski at the Highway 99 Blues Club for helping to make it happen.

Late 2006, we lost two icons of American music: Ruth Brown and James Brown. At one time R&B meant Ruth Brown. A recording career that began in 1949 with five number one R&B hits from 1950 to 1954 including the pop chart entry, “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” John Stephan and Miss Dee have worked with her and both said she was the greatest on all accounts. Ruth Brown was 78. R.I.P.

James Brown’s nicknames “The Godfather of Soul” and “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” I think sum him up. He was an innovator of R&B, Soul and Funk. James Brown was one hell of a dancer too. They aren’t making anymore James Browns. He died on Christmas day 2006. He was 73. R.I.P.

Quote of the Month:

The sax player, Jr. Walker, who’s first hit was the great dance tune “Shotgun” said, “I travel. I blow some. People dance. And I like it!”

Electric bassist John "Mr. Solid" Lee was born in Alaska and has been active in the Seattle blues scene for about 30 years. He currently plays with the Crossroads Band. Photo by Mike Coyote.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Guitar Slim rides again!

New Orleans Creole Restaurant - December 30, 2006

I caught Pat "Guitar Slim" Chase (left) backed by a hybrid version of the Crossroads Band at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant just before New Year's Eve. What a fun show! Pat was in town visiting family, and had played several dates in Tacoma before a final two-night stand at the New Orleans. I hear that the Tacoma band Loose Gravel & the Quarry backed Pat up on New Year's Eve. Yikes! I wonder how that show went?

Pat played in Seattle for years before splitting for the Southwest, and he currently lives in El Paso, TX (click here to see Mark Dalton's blog about Guitar Slim's days in Seattle). Like I said, Pat's backup band this evening consisted of past and current members of Seattle's Crossroads Band: Kirk Tuttle (drums), Mark Dalton (bass), Dennis Ellis (tenor sax/flute/vocals), and Steve Bailey (harp/guitar/slide guitar/vocals). These guys did a great job backing up Pat, who played both lead and slide guitar and sang for the assembled blues fans.
I've gotta mention here that Pat looked resplendent in a glittering blue suit with matching blue and white Stacy Adams shoes, while Dennis Ellis looked pretty sharp himself in a cool black and gold jacket with matching gold slacks. Excellentness!

The band - left to right: Kirk Tuttle, Dennis Ellis, Mark Dalton, and Steve Bailey

Good Rockin' Tonight!

Both Pat and Dennis used wireless setups for their instruments, so they both occasionally took a stroll out on the dance floor, something we don't see here in the Jet City too often. I'll bet these guys had a hundred cell phone photos taken of them while they were wandering around.

The club was pretty full for the show, including lots of Pat's fans from his tenure in Seattle. I ran into quite a few people that I haven't seen for quite some time.

Penny, Katha, and Susan

Dave and Pam

Pat and the band played a wide selection of blues tunes, a couple of country tunes, and I think I heard at least one Southern rock song thrown in there too - in other words, a pretty typical Guitar Slim gig. Pat even had yours truely and harp blower Jeff Herzog sit in with the band for a few numbers. A memorable gig - I'm glad I was there.

Last call for alcohol - see you next time, Pat!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

You should go and see these guys...really, you should.

Paul Green & Straight Shot - December 29, 2006

Paul Green & Straight Shot

Left to right: Al Kaatz, Paul Green, Les Merrihew, and Howard Hooper

I was fortunate to see the last set of Paul Green & Straight Shot's gig at the Highway 99 Blues Club on December 29th. This was the "rehearsed" version of Paul's band - by this I mean that there were no pickup players on the gig, so the band was able to play both the blues and the soul-blues tunes (think "Body And Fender Man") that Paul sings so well. Besides Paul on harp and vocals, the band included the fine guitarist Al Kaatz, drummer Les Merrihew, and bassist Howard Hooper. This is a great rhythm section, kids!

All the tunes I heard sounded terrific, especially (the Meters'?) "Just Kissed My Baby," which featured Kaatz's soulful and funky wah-wah guitar. Note to gearheads - Paul is one of the few harp players that I've seen blowing through a Peavey amp, and it sounded just fine, thank you very much. I was sorry at the end of the night that I didn't show up at the club earlier. You can bet that I will next time. I recommend checking these guys out - you can sign up to get on their e-mail list here.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Harmonica Playboy & the Midnight Movers' Final Gig

New Orleans Creole Restaurant - December 23, 2006

The Harmonica Playboy & the Midnight Movers' final gig happened at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant on Saturday, December 23rd. This was a "stealth" gig - that is, the club had us booked on their calendar, but the gig wasn't on our calendar. We scrambled to do the gig, but a couple of our regular players players (drummer Kirk Tuttle and guitarist Tim Sherman) couldn't make it. So, I hired a couple of worthy replacements - drummer "Sweet" Billy Spaulding and keyboard expert Steve Flynn.

Billy and Steve fit right in, and man, we had a ball that Saturday night. Some of our friends showed up to sit in, too, including bassist Mark Dalton, harp blowers Dave Prez and John Deely, and vocalist Dana Luppinacci. Billy Spaulding also sang a couple of tunes, and did a great job. The sparse crowd got to hear some fine music from a damn fine Seattle Blues band.

My thanks to our friends that showed up for the gig and to the regular members of the Midnight Movers. It was a gas, guys!

Left to right: Mike Lynch, Patty Mey, and Steve Yonck

Steve Flynn and "Sweet" Billy Spaulding

Left to right: John Deely, Patty Mey, and Steve Yonck

Left to right: Dave Prez, Dana Luppinacci, and Steve Yonck