Thursday, November 15, 2007

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

Kurt Crandall and True Story have been playing at the Highway 99 Blues Club on Tuesdays for a couple of months now, mostly to an empty house. I know that getting out during the week is hard, but friends, these guys are worth the trip!

Kurt, a fine harp player and singer, has assembled some real Seattle blues veterans for the True Story band, including Tim Sherman on guitar, Patty May on bass, and the swingmaster David Hudson on drums. The band plays a lot of original tunes, including my favorite, "Pets Ain't People," about nutty pet owners. Check out the cool "Pink Panther" vamp at the end of this song.

I see that the band is going to be playing at forthcoming benefit for the Hudson Blues Band (to help finance their trip to Memphis next year) this month, so some folks will finally get to see them play. Check out their web page for the band's schedule, and then go see 'em. Tell them the Playboy sent ya.

Kurt Crandall and Tim Sherman

Kurt Crandall & True Story - left to right: Tim Sherman, Kurt Crandall, Patty Mey, and David Hudson

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Raven's 7th Annual Jam For Cans

By Phil Chesnut

Last Thursday, Puget Sound's vast list of blues talent again showed their generosity by donating their time and talents to the legendary local blues benefit, Jam For Cans, helping to make it another huge success. Featuring over 30 of the area's top note benders playing to a standing room only crowd, this annual blues marathon demonstrated once more why this event annually wins the WBS Best Event BB Award.

Supported by a blues savvy multitude of fans and their contagious spirit of giving, this year's Jam For Cans certainly surpassed all expectations. Thanks to the hard work of Sheri and Raven Humphres, who annually invest a great deal of time, energy and their own money to ensure a first class show. Naturally Raven's chores for JFC are on the musical end, however the daunting task of promotion and sponsorship is all carried on Sheri's shoulders. A true PR ace, who's promotion skills are easily equal to Raven's sax talent, Sheri's chores begin about 8 months before the next jam. The perfect Yin to the perfect Yang. Thanks to Sheri and Raven, this benefit of the blues has long reached a level that few others will ever approach, because this rare, invitational jam not only celebrates the spirit of the music but the spirit of giving as well and that through our beloved music, we have the opportunity to truly help those that are less fortunate.

Of course an event of this magnitude deserves an equally top-notch host/venue, with Seattle's favorite juke joint, the Highway 99 Blues Club being the perfect fit. The Highway 99's bosses, Ed and Steve have not only been more than eager to help support this worthy cause, they've gone out of their way to accommodate not only the giant list of musicians, but the uncommonly large and thirsty crowd as well. Thanks in large part to the outstanding staff at the Highway 99, every thing seemed to be running smoothly.

Also running smoothly was Raven's stage. Legendary for running the hardest, one day, mainstage of the year, Raven masterfully assembles a half dozen sets and always finding the best players to compliment each other in his notoriously horn fat, instant ensembles. Quickly segueing between various sets and making sure that everyone gets to bust a lick, unlike his incompetent artist, Raven leaves no one out.

Filling all of the other gaps and needs of a major event like this is our own venerable, Washington Blues Society and their fantastic volunteers. A great addition as partner or sponsor for any blues based program, the WBS has long showed it's value and experience at any blues event.

The blues was born a century ago, through a dedication for the music and with a spirit of faith, hope and charity. It's nice to see that this spirit and dedication is still alive and that this essence of the blues, via Jam For Cans, has once more come full circle.

Patty Allen and Raven


Paul Green

Tim Sherman and Mark Dufresne

Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne

Tim Sherman, Nick Vigarino, and NW Harvest rep
Note: All photos in this article were created by Phil Chesnut.
In the Pocket with Mr. Solid

By John Lee

The Top Ten Record Labels of Blues, R&B, and Soul

I have many times thought about which American record labels have had the greatest influence on the Blues, Rhythm and Blues and Soul music of the post World War Two era. I’m going to lay on you my opinion of which labels are the most important, along with some of the dynamic and important artists each one brought to the party!

1. Chess Records - This Chicago label is possibly the most important of them all. Two artists that made their greatest sides for Chess, and helped influence American music to a very large degree are Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. Chess was also home to many of the finest blues and R&B recording artists of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Etta James, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter Jacobs, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), and Bo Diddley all made their finest recordings for Chess Records. Buddy Guy, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, and many others made excellent records for Chess. For a great overview of the blues and rhythm and blues sides check out the "Chess Blues" and the "Chess Rhythm and Roll" box sets. They both are a stone groove!

2. Atlantic Records in New York City launched into stardom two of the greatest artists of R&B and Soul, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. They also had a roster of music giants like Ruth Brown, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, The Coasters, Ben E. King, The Clovers, Joe Tex and Solomon Burke to name just some of the greats in the east coast labels stable. Check out the "Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974" box set. There are eight CD’s, and 203 selections in all. It’s a weekend dance party for sure!

3. Stax Records in Memphis , Tennessee is celebrating 50 years in 2007. With a roster that includes Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Booker T. and the MG’s, Sam and Dave, Albert King and the superstar Issac Hayes. This southern soul label helped change pop music for the best. With a great group of in house studio musicians, Booker T. and the MG’s ( Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson), along with the Memphis Horns and great songwriters like David Porter, Issac Hayes, and William Bell, Stax produced some of the finest music America had to offer in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Check out the Stax box sets or the two CD 50th anniversary set. You will dig them for sure. Stax has resurrected the label with the great Issac Hayes as the first artist on the “new school” version of Stax.

4. Motown Records brought black soul music deep into the American mainstream and made superstars out of Diana Ross and The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, and Marvin Gaye to name some of the biggest stars. John Lennon of The Beatles called Smokey Robinson America’s greatest poet. This Detroit record company changed pop music in the U.S. for sure. Check out "Hitsville USA -The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971" box set for 104 of Motown’s greatest sides!

5. King Records, located in Cincinnati , Ohio . One name tells of this record company’s importance: James Brown! Besides the Godfather of Soul, King had Roy Brown, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Little Willie John, Wynonie Harris, and Freddie King to name a few. This label started out in the late 1940’s as a country label, but soon became a top flight purveyor of hard edged R&B. Do your self a favor and pick-up "The King R&B Box Set." It’s a mighty good time. I know you’ll dig it!

6. Specialty Records based in Los Angeles . This great R&B label produced Little Richard's best recordings that were made in New Orleans , with some of the finest musicians of the 1950’s (like drummer Earl Palmer). The record company also made top-notch recordings with Larry Williams, whose songs "Slow Down," "Bad Boy," and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" were covered by the Beatles. Specialty’s roster also included dynamic recordings by Jimmy Liggins, Joe Liggins, Roy Milton, Don and Dewey, and the master blues lyricist, Percy Mayfield, to name a few. Sam Cooke did his first recordings on Specialty with the gospel group, The Soul Stirrers. Lou Rawls was also featured on the label with the Chosen Gospel Singers. Before the Meters and the Neville Brothers, Art Neville did some fine tunes for Specialty. Check out the five disk boxed set, "The Specialty Story." It is a must for the honkin’ R&B fan.

7. Sun Records out of Memphis, Tennessee. Before Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, owner Sam Phillips recorded the likes of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Milton, James Cotton, Junior Parker, Rufus Thomas, and Ike Turner. Many of these artists were recorded at Sun Studios, but the recordings were leased to other labels. "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and the His Delta Cats (essentially Ike Turner’s group) was turned over to Chess records. Many consider Rocket 88 to be the first Rock and Roll song. After many of the Sun Studio recordings became solid sellers for other labels, Sam Phillips began to press records on his own Sun Records label, sold Elvis’s contract, and then he pushed along the career of Jerry Lee Lewis. The Sun Studio is still active today, with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Ringo Starr and the Stray Cats recording tunes there recently. Check out the three disc box set of classic Sun studio material titled "The Sun Records Collection."

8. Hi Records, in Memphis again! Producer Willie Mitchell brought the world great soul and rhythm and blues recordings from the likes of Al Green, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson and Otis Clay. Al Green had hit after hit for the label. Hi began with Bill Black’s Combo and saxman Ace Cannon instrumentals. Hi Records then moved into the realm of deep R&B and Soul. Very similar in its structure as its Memphis brother, Stax, with a great studio nucleus comprised of Teenie Hodges on guitar, brother Charles on organ, and brother bassist LeRoy and drummer Howard Grimes simply called Hi Rhythm. This stuff is sweet soul music at its best! Check out the three disc set Hi Times, "The Hi Records R&B Years." This set is a great overview of the Hi Records story.

9. Vee Jay Records in Chicago. Jimmy Reed had numerous hits on Vee Jay. John Lee Hooker recorded some very influential sides here. The Spaniels, Jerry Butler, early Gladys Knight and the Pips, Gene Chandler, and Elmore James are just some of the great R&B artists that graced this Midwest label. Check out the three disc boxed set, "Vee Jay 40 Years of Classis Hits 1953- 1993!"

Jimmy Reed

10. Swing Time Records, based in Los Angeles is the dark horse on my list. This fine, but short-lived label was the first record home for Ray Charles in 1950. Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Big Joe Turner, Charles Brown, and others made great sides for Swing Time. Check out the two disc boxed set, "The Swing Time Records Story: R&B, Blues & Gospel 1946-1952. "

There were other important record labels that helped spread the R&B gospel, like Mercury and Okeh to name two. The order I listed the record companies is in no way meant to make one labels significance more important than another. This list is most definitely one person’s opinion and should not to be etched in stone, but blues, R&B, and soul are all meat from the same bone!

At a later date I’ll talk about early blues music and the labels that were the most important and influential. Until then, keep the faith and always stay on the good foot!

"Dreams to Remember- The Legacy Of Otis Redding" DVD

John Firman (aka Johnny Nocturne) sent me a very cool DVD about the life and music of the late, great Otis Redding. John Firman, my cohort in the group The 3J’s, sent this nice film along to me because he knows how much I dig Otis Redding! Interspersed with interviews and performance film clips, the DVD gives a great insight into what made up Otis Redding the artist and Otis Redding, the man.

The film has extensive interviews with Otis’ wife, Zelma Redding (who also produced the DVD), Stax records founder Jim Stewart, daughter Korla Redding Andrews, Memphis Horns trumpet player Wayne Jackson, and long time collaborator and guitarist Steve Cropper. These interviews really convey Otis Redding’s great humanity, drive, energy, and artistry. There are forty minutes of interviews in all. A few interviews with Otis himself are also included, one being conducted by Dick Clark on American Bandstand.

The DVD also includes sixteen performances throughout Europe and America . Some of the performance clips are on television shows like Where the Action Is, Hollywood A Go-Go, and The Beat. These clips use lip-synch, and Otis doesn’t appear to be very comfortable with this TV approach. The live clips in Europe and at the Monterey Pop Festival with The Stax/Volt Review show him with microphone in hand and at his soulful best.

It has been forty years since Otis Redding’s death in an airplane crash at the young age of 26. He was just reaching his creative peak when he was taken from us. I am sure he would have gotten better had he been given “Just One More Day.” I know you will dig "Dreams to Remember- The Legacy of Otis Redding."

Quote of the Month

R&B stands for Rhythm and Blues. When John Firmin (Johnny Nocturne), saxophonist and leader of The Johnny Nocturne Band, and also a member of The David Bromberg Band and the 3J’s refers to the category known as modern R&B, he says “ I understand the rhythm part, but were in the hell is the blues?” Amen brother!

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.