Monday, March 31, 2008

In the Pocket with Mr. Solid

By John Lee

"Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens, The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans" – 4 CD Boxed Set

It seems that every Christmas, I receive a number of cool music related gifts. Christmas 2007 was no exception. First off, I picked up a boxed set by way of a gift certificate - “Doctors, Professors, Kings, & Queens , The Big Ol’ Box Of New Orleans” is a very good overview of the many genres that make up the sounds of the Big Easy.

Many of the legends are represented like Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Doctor John, The Neville Brothers, The Meters, and Irma Thomas. The brass bands, like The Dirty Dozen Brass Band are here, plus Cajun, Zydeco, Dixieland, Mardi Gras Indians and a good amount of classic New Orleans R&B, including Earl King, Aaron Neville, Ernie K. Doe, Huey “Piano” Smith, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, and Johnny Adams. Songs like “Sea Cruise” and “Tell It Like It Is” are included in this fine set. Allen Toussaint, probably New Orleans’ greatest songwriter of R&B, does his classic, “Southern Nights.” The newer generation is also represented, like Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Jon Cleary and his Absolute Monster Gentleman, Galactic, and The Radiators. This is a great introduction to the soulful gumbo of sounds that make up the influential music of New Orleans. There are 85 songs in all. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Almost as cool as the music included in “The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans” is the 88 page booklet that comes with it. Great photos of musicians, the French Quarter, CafĂ© Du Monde, and sections of The Big Easy, before the devastating affects of Hurricane Katrina are also included. Each of the eighty-five songs on this great set is given complete credits and a list of players and what recording it is taken from.

Things are improving in New Orleans , and this year’s Jazz and Heritage Festival is, from what I understand, up to eleven music stages for 2008. That is the number of stages before the devastating storm of August 2005. My great hope is The Big Easy will mostly recover and continue to give America and the world that great music, tasty food and incredible architecture that make it one of the most culturally important and soulful places anywhere on our planet. “Laissez les bon temp roulez” - Let the good times roll!!!!

“The Encyclopedia Of JAZZ & BLUES- Celebrating the lives of the greatest artists in jazz and blues history” - by Keith Shadwick

The other nice music related gift I received this holiday season was The “Encyclopedia of JAZZ & BLUES” by Keith Shadwick. The first section is Jazz and the second section is the blues. The giants of each style like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King and a host of others are given a two page spread with a picture, bio, and comments about styles and contributions, major records and vital info like what instrument and birth date, and, if it applies, date of death. All the other jazz and blues artists are given a half of a page with the same information but slightly more condensed. All bios include a portrait of each artist.

I disagree with some of Mister Shadwick’s categories. For instance, John Hammond, the contemporary country blues musician, is listed as a blues composer. Mr. Hammond is a great interrupter of Delta style blues, but I’m sure he’s written very few songs. Modern harmonica man James Harmon is listed, but The Fabulous Thunderbird’s Kim Wilson is not. Maybe the T-Birds’ flirtations with the pop charts leaves Mr. Wilson off the list? There might a few more glitches, but this is still a very cool and informative book. It’s very enjoyable to just reacquaint yourself with many of the great musicians you’ve been aware of for so many years. I would like to thank my extended family, Rolin and Norma Rapp in Aurora, Illinois for the encyclopedia, my best to both of them and their tribe.

There are hundreds of Jazz and Blues legends in this 448 page coffee table paperback (an Oceana book by Quantum Publishing Ltd. London, England Copyright 2001, revised & updated edition printed 2007). Check it out!

Francis Clay is dead.

The blues world lost a truly fine drummer recently who might have been over looked by the causal observer.

Francis Clay passed away January 23, 2008. Mister Clay was a consummate blues drummer who played with dozens of legendary musicians including George “Harmonica” Smith, organist “Brother” Jack McDuff, Sunnyland Slim, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Jimmy Reed to name a few.

That’s Francis Clay on the highly acclaimed Muddy Waters’ album “Live at Newport.” When I saw Mr. Clay with the James Cotton Band (James Cotton-vocals and harp, Luther Tucker-guitar, Alberto Giaquinto-piano, Bobby Anderson-bass, and Francis Clay-drums) in 1967, it was the finest blues band I had ever seen at the time, and it still ranks right at the top of my list. Francis Clay was the main reason why that band cooked so hard. He was one hell of a drummer and the blues world has lost one of its great sidemen. Rest in Peace Francis Clay.

Francis Clay - 1923 to 2008. R.I.P

Quote of the Month

The legendary jazz orchestra leader, Count Basie said, “Of course there are a lot of ways you can treat the blues, but it will still be the blues.”

Check ya on the rebound!

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.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Weird Gigs No. 5,6, & 7

When I heard recently that some musician friends were stiffed out of part of their pay by a Seattle club, it got me to thinking about similar (though not always money-related) situations that I have experienced. The very stuff that Weird Gigs are made of!

Read ‘em and weep…

Weird Gig No. 5 – Welcome back, boys!

The Cozy Corner was a tavern located in Clinton, Washington at the south end of Whidbey Island. I had booked back-to-back weekends there for my band Nitelife. After the first Saturday we left a good portion of our equipment at the club, include the PA system, drums, and a Hammond organ, so that we wouldn’t have to load the stuff in the following weekend.

I recall that it was pouring rain when the band boarded the Mukelteo ferry the next week for the brief trip to Whidbey Island. When we pulled into the empty Cozy Corner parking lot, we looked at a totally dark club – it didn’t look like anyone was expecting us. Sure enough, there was a large padlock chained to the front doors, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. We drove up to the next bar and made several calls to the owner (now that I think of it, that number was probably ringing inside the empty Cozy Corner), but couldn’t reach him. So, we headed back to the mainland with no gig and hoping that our equipment was still in the club.

I don’t recall exactly what the problem was, but I think that the owner either hadn’t been paying his taxes or rent. Maybe both. Anyway, he finally called me and we had to make one other final trip to the forlorn Cozy Corner the next week to retrieve our equipment. Actually, I guess this story has sort of a happy ending – at least our equipment was still there!

Weird Gig No. 6 – No, you do the math…

Nitelife and another Seattle band were hired to play for five nights at the Hibble & Hyde’s nightclub club in Pioneer Square sometime in the mid ‘80s. Located just down the sidewalk from Doc Maynard’s, Hibble & Hyde’s was unique because the bands played until 4:00 AM there. This particular gig was "special" because it was a lead up to a new Blue Monday jam that was supposed to begin the following Monday night. The two bands alternated sets during the week, and we were supposed to split the cover charge receipts. If I recall correctly, the cover charge was around $5.00 a person that week.

The gig was a raucous success, with full houses several nights. We knew something was up when the manager couldn’t be found on Saturday night and we were told that he would pay us before the gig on Monday. Both bands showed up on Monday and waited for the manager to make his appearance. Nitelife was scheduled to host the Blue Monday that night, but we left our equipment in the cars just in case we decided to make an early departure. This turned out to be an excellent idea, because the ten musicians that had played five nights from 9:30 PM to 4:00 AM finally received…drum roll, please…$75 each! Say, that’s what, $150 a night! Needless to say, Nitelife did not play the Blue Monday gig, nor did we ever play Hibble & Hyde’s again. The manager went on to have quite a long and checkered career running clubs in Pioneer Square and Ballard. Go figure.

Weird Gig No. 7 – No barbeque for you!

In the late ‘80s, my band, the Bluestars, was hired to play this barbeque joint in Spokane, Washington just before Christmas. This was quite the road trip for us, so we rented a trailer and roared over to Eastern Washington in the guitar player’s Buick Skylark.

By the time we reached Spokane a snowstorm had started and continued through the weekend. This had the usual effect on attendance at the club that weekend, but I wasn’t worried, we were getting a guarantee – no more door gigs for me. After the gig on Saturday night, we loaded up our stuff in about 18 inches of snow, and I went back to the club to get our money. But guess what? No one could find the manager, of course. So I had it out with the bartender, and he reluctantly gave me enough money to pay three of the four band members in full. Fortunately, we had a room for the night, and we sulked back to Seattle the next day.

Two weeks later the club owner called me and said that he felt bad about the gig, freakin’ snowstorm, crappy attendance, blah blah blah, and that he wanted to make it up to me. Not by sending me money, of course, but by booking us another gig at his club! Oh, what an excellent idea. We then booked a date that I didn’t bother to put on my calendar. On the day of that new gig, the nitwit called me at home at 9:00 PM, wondering where the hell the band was. “Honestly,” I told him, I guess it just slipped my mind.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

The 2008 Jet City Blues Outstanding Artists Awards

I was leaning, styling, relaxing, and reading good books at the tastefully appointed World Headquarters of the Jet City Blues Blog the other day when it dawned on me - 'tis is the season for awards to be dispensed by blues societies nationwide (just in time for the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, of course), so why not bestow our own awards on some of the local talent?

Well why not, indeed?! I figure we can get it just as right (or wrong) as the Washington Blues Society (WBS) does. Plus, we don't have to poll anyone to determine who the most popular musicians (or bands) are, so we can celebrate some of the excellent players that haven't appeared on the radar screen of the WBS voting membership over the years. It's all good!

All of the Outstanding Artists will receive a really cool looking certificate (suitable for framing!) from Jet City Blues thanking them for their contributions to the local music scene.

The envelopes, please!!

Outstanding Vocalist - Ron "Sweet Talkin' Jones" Ussery

I have had the pleasure of playing with Ron Ussery several times over the past couple of years with the KT's Kicks Band. Of course, he also fronted the Sweet Talkin' Jones Band during the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Ron is double trouble - a terrific tenor sax player, and a friggin' great singer! He's a real blue-eyed soul singer, which is sort of a rarity her in the Jet City. Ron currently appears accasionally with the KT's Kicks Band and with Sweet Talkin' Jones & the Muscletones. (Photo by Dennis Dudley)

Outstanding Electric Guitarist - Chris Stevens

Chris Stevens is a very classy guitarist, who gets a beautiful sound out of his signature Gibson ES-175 guitar. How to describe his sound? Try this: Kenny Burrell + Freddy King + T-Bone Walker = Chris Stevens. Chris started playing on the Seattle blues scene around 1985, and over the years has worked with Steve Bailey's Blue Flames, the Screamin' Bluejays (with vocalist Mark Dufresne), and fronted his own bands, including the King-A-Lings, the Chris Stevens Band, and his current project, The Surf Monkeys. Believe it or not, Chris has never even been nominated for a WBS electric blues guitar award. (Photo by Ronda Lee)

Outstanding Electric Slide Guitarist - John Stephan

A native of Palmer, Alaska, John Stephan has been active on the Seattle blues scene since 1974. He played in my band Nitelife back in the day and worked for many years in the Isaac Scott Band. He also worked in the popular Afro-pop band Jeka Jo and in the Matinee Idols. He has been fronting the John Stephan Band for many years now, and plays wicked slide on his $40 Japanese electric guitar.

Outstanding Bass Guitarist - John "Mr. Solid" Lee

John Lee Began his music career as a rhythm guitarist in Alaska in 1965. He soon switched to the electric bass and was performing on tours with John Lee Hooker and Charlie Musslewhite by 1973. He started working on the Seattle blues scene in 1976, and since then has worked with Nitelife, Isaac Scott, the Slamhound Hunters, Stevie & the Blue Flames, his own bands King Strut, The Jive Bombers, and Smokestack Lightnin', and is currently holding down the bass and vocals duties in the smokin' Crossroads Band. John was nominated by the WBS for a best bass award during the organization's first year, but Kathy Hart's band mysteriously won almost all of the awards that year. (Photo by Zab)

Outstanding Drummer - David Hudson

David Hudson is Seattle's version of Fred Below. He swings like a sumbitch and it's always a pleasure to play with him. David was the engine that propelled the late, great Hudson Blues Band for years and is now playing with the Crossroads Band.

Outstanding Horn Player - Dennis Ellis

Dennis Ellis started playing blues with the Chris Cain Band in the '70s, then moved to Seattle where he played Pat "Guitar Slim" Chase's band for years. After Pat left town for El paso, Texas, his band recreated itself as the Crossroads Band, and Dennis has continued to perform with the various versions of the group over the years. He's a fine tenor sax and flute player, and can lay down some mighty convincing Kansas City-style vocals too! Dennis has also never been nominated for any WBS awards - and you know that ain't right. (Photo by Zab)

Outstanding Harmonica Player - Kurt Crandall

I have tried to get you people to go see Kurt Crandall, but you wouldn't listen. You could hear the frickin' crickets chirping between songs at their Tuesday night gigs at the Highway 99 Blues Club last year, for cryin' out loud! No matter - Kurt is a very good harp player (and singer) that recently moved to Seattle from Chicago, and he can play both the diatonic and the more difficult chromatic harps with equal facility and great tone. He has a new CD coming out shortly. Go see him play, I'm beggin' ya!! (Photo by Dennis Dudley)

Outstanding Keyboardist - Steve Flynn

Steve Flynn has been the go-to keyboardist guy around Seattle for as long as I can remember. A long-time member of Seattle's Jr. Cadillac, he has also done memorable work in the past with Nitelife, and the Brian Butler Band. He currently works and records with Alice Stuart & the Formerlys, and is also doing sideman work with the John Stephan Band and Jeff & the Jet City Fliers.

Outstanding Acoustic Guitarist - Mick Knight

Singer/guitarist Mick Knight is a native of the UK, and moved to Seattle in 2000, after a detour of a few years in New Zealand. He's an excellent country blues picker, knowledgable in many different styles, including bottleneck guitar.

Outstanding Blues Band - Chris Stevens' Surf Monkeys

Chris Stevens' Surf Monkeys play it all - surf, swinging T-Bone Walker tunes, Freddie King instrumentals, James Bond movie themes, and Chris' own originals. Depending on the venue, the band may appear as a duo up to a five-piece group, including two tenor saxes. These guys have got it goin' on! (Photo by Ronda Lee)

Outstanding New Blues Band - Kim Field & the Mighty Titans of Tone

So what's not to like? Long time Seattle harp blower/singer Kim field has put together a heavy hitting group with three lead singers, harmony backup vocals, and a rehearsed show that is pretty impressive. The Titans just released a new CD recorded live at the Highway 99 Blues Club. Check 'em out!

Outstanding Songwriter - Charlene Grant

OK, one last Alaska native! Bassist/singer/songwriter Charlene Grant has been playing in Seattle since 1993. She has worked with many Seattle blues bands since then, including a four year gig with the late, great Isaac Scott. We think that she should have won a WBS songwriter award for her all original CD titled "That Would Be Me" that was released in 2004. Charlene has been playing with the Brian Butler Band lately and with The Robbie Laws Bigger Blues Band. (Photo by Tom Hunnewell)

Outstanding Nightclub - Grinders Hot Sands

Located in Shoreline, Grinders Hot Sands is a NY style hot sandwich (or grinder) joint that features live music, including blues, on the weekends. There's no dance floor, and the place is usually jammed with music fans that have come to listen to the music. What a concept! Bands love playing at this place.

Outstanding Music Writer - Mark Dalton

Mark has been playing bass with everybody who's anybody in Seattle since the early '70s. He has been a keen observer of the local blues scene, and has written several articles for the WBS newsletter and for Jet City Blues. Mark currently plays with Chris Stevens' Surf Monkeys. Thanks, Mark! (Photo by Phil Chesnut)

That's all for this year, folks! Outstanding Artists, we salute you!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Oh, what a night!

By John Stephan

This just in:

Mike, I wish I'd sent this to you sooner, as tomorrow, March 10th is Washington State Ventures' Day. However, the story is as much about Don Wilson's 75th Birthday celebration. Here it is:

I received an invitation to the Venture's Don Wilson's 75th birthday party and a celebration of The Ventures' induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Sunday, February 10th, at the Liberty Theatre in Puyallup. The musical line up was a who's-who of first generation NW rock and pop groups, including The Fabulous Wailers, featuring original members Buck Ormsby and Kent Morel. They've still got the sound which defined them nearly 50 years ago. Next up were The Fleetwoods, another group which has retained their original sound. Don Wilson spoke to the audience, told a few Sven and Ollie jokes, honored his mother, who recently passed away, and credited her for much of the group's success. Don is a friendly guy, and spent much of the evening talking to fans and friends.

The Washington Lt. Governor spoke about how he lobbied for a few years to persuade the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to induct the group, and to establish March 10th as Washington State Ventures Day. Randy Hansen performed next, playing the Hendrix material he's known for, some "Bolero", and a cool vocal version of "Walk, Don't Run", the Venture's first hit from 1961. This recording was a great influence for me, as to much of my generation of young guitar players.

The Ventures found a formula in adapting instrumental versions of popular tunes. "Walk, Don't Run " was written by jazz great, Johnny Smith. They tapped into, and then partially defined the Surf sound, with their great musicianship, and up-beat attitude. In the late '60s, their instrumental sound, without a language barrier, hit it big in Japan. Fast forward to the "Pulp Fiction"soundtrack of a few years ago, and you're pretty much up to date with a group which has managed to stay around in the big time for 50 years.

How did I fit into this gala evening? I got up there with Randy and played and sang "Happy Birthday" to Don with my $40 slide guitar, Elmore-rhumba style, accompanied by an Elvis guy, and Shelly's vocal group. Don and the rest of the crowd loved it!

Thanks to David Harris for providing great sound, as usual. I recommend the Liberty Theatre for any music function- nice acoustics and ambiance. Oh, What a night!

"Wipeout" by the Ventures - dig the matching blonde Fender amps!