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, Café 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.

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