Thursday, May 29, 2008

In the Pocket with Mr. Solid

By John Lee

“Honeydripper” – a film by John Sayles

I recently had the pleasure of viewing John Sayles’ latest work, a blues fable titled “Honeydripper,” starring Danny Glover, Charles Dutton, and Lisa Gay Hamilton. Mister Sayles wrote, directed, and even has a small role in this very heartfelt film. “Honeydripper” ran for only one week at Seattle’s Uptown Theater.

John Sayles and his partner, Maggie Renzi, who is listed as producer, financed and did the distribution of the film themselves. If someone of John Sayles talent has trouble getting financing, you know the film industry is in trouble!

Tyrone “Pinetop” Purvis (Danny Glover) is a piano player and proprietor of The Honeydripper, a 1950 juke joint located in Harmony, Alabama. Tyrone has financial troubles and has decided to let go the classic blues singer, Bertha Mae (Mable John) who has been playing the Honeydripper for awhile. The landlord sends a pair of hard-asses to put pressure on Tyrone to pay back rent payments or vacate the premises. Tyrone makes arrangements to book the blues star “Guitar Sam” on an up and coming Saturday night to help him pay his bills and save the Honeydripper.

A drifter with a homemade electric guitar (played by Austin, Texas guitar player Gary Clark Jr.) shows up and asks Tyrone for a gig at the Honeydripper. Tyrone turns him down and the young man goes away and is soon arrested by the bigoted, redneck local sheriff played by Stacy Keech for “…gawkery with the intent to mope.” Tyrone goes to the train station to pick-up Guitar Sam for the big Saturday night and finds the blues star is in the hospital. Out of options, Tyrone is forced to make a deal with the sheriff and bail out the guitar playing drifter. This is a contentious situation, not knowing the young guitar players ability and also because the sheriff has a thing for Tyrone’s wife and her fried chicken sandwiches!

The musicians used in the film are tremendous. Sax player Eddie Shaw, leader for many years of Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang, named from his many years with the legendary Howlin’ Wolf, is superb in the big show back-up group. Mr. Shaw also has played with the likes of Muddy Waters and Freddie King in the real blues world. Arthur Lee Williams is a harp player from Tunica, Mississippi, and, besides leading his own group based out of St. Louis , Missouri, Mr. Williams has also played with the legendary Delta players Frank Frost and Sam Carr. His superb blues harp playing lends an authentic deep-south feel to the production.

Mabel John is excellent as the Ida Cox/Bessie Smith styled singer, Bertha Mae. Mabel John has had a incredible career as a recording artist for both the Motown and Stax labels. She was a Raelette back-up singer for Ray Charles twice. Mabel John at this time is a minister and gospel record producer in Los Angeles, California . She is the sister of the late, great Little Willie John. The part of Bertha Mae was to be played by the late, great Ruth Brown. Mabel John really does the part justice, and her old friend Ruth Brown would be proud! Keb Mo’ has a very cool part as a street musician who is blind, but sees the events taking place around him very clearly. The soundtrack is cool too.

“Honeydripper” won this year’s NAACP Image Award for best independent film, which it richly deserves. It will come to DVD June 24th 2008. Do yourself a favor and check out this soulful and heartfelt film. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed! For a more in depth look at John Sayles latest film go to:

“The Chess Rhythm & Roll” 4 CD Boxed Set
I recently picked up a CD boxed set that I thought was out of print. “The Chess Rhythm & Roll” boxed set concentrates on the R&B and Rock and Roll from the great record label, Chess Records’ prime years of 1947 to 1967. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Etta James are some of the well known artists on this excellent 99 song set! Many of the classic tunes are here, like Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88,” Dale Hawkin’s “Suzie Q,” “Ain’t Got No Home” by Clarence “Frogman” Henry, “See You Later Alligator” by Bobby Charles, and “High Heel Sneakers” by Tommy Tucker. Little Milton is here (he also recorded at Sun, Stax and Malaco. What output!), as well as Earl Hooker, Rosco Gordon, Jimmy Nelson, Jody Williams, T.V. Slim, Willie Mabon, Eddie Bo, and Clifton Chenier. The Four Tops are included, recording with Chess before super stardom on Motown Records. I found this boxed set at my favorite online record store, Blue Beat Music out of Santa Cruz California. “The Chess Rhythm & Roll” CD Boxed Set would be a great addition to anyone’s music collection. I know you’ll dig it.

Joe Turner 1944- 2008

Bassist Joe Turner passed away January 31st, 2008. A large man, who was known as Big Joe Turner, was a consummate bass man who played with some of the greats: B.B. King for five years, Albert King for seven years and Little Milton for four years. Mr. Turner also played with Gatemouth Brown, Issac Hayes, and Al Green. For many years Big Joe Turner led his own group, The Memphis Blues Caravan, touring Europe extensively. The big man always seemed to play the right parts for ever tune. He will be missed. “One of the greatest bass players I have had the pleasure to work with” said B.B. King. R.I.P., Joe Turner.

Left to right: Hi Tide Harris, BB King, Albert King, and Joe Turner. Kyoto (Japan) Blues Festival -1978.

Quote of the Month

” I never wanted to be famous, I just wanted to be great”- Ray Charles

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.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

This and that...

I noticed the other day that the ye olde digital camera was filling up with photos, so it's time to publish a few, I reckon. Check these out:

Andrew Lynch and Ron Ussery. My son Andrew was having problems playing this one certain note on his alto sax a while back, and it was really freaking him out. So, I called Ron Ussery up and he was kind enough to have us come over to see if there was something wrong with Andew's axe. After evaluating the horn and Andrew's technique, Ron suggested switching to a lighter reed, and waddya know, that fixed the problem - thanks Ron!

Kurt Crandall & True Story at the Blarney Stone Pub in downtown Seattle. Left to right: Kurt Crandall, Patty Mey, and Tim Sherman. That's David Hudson back there on the drums.

Kurt Crandall and fans

Bubba McCoy at the Salmon Bay Eagles, filling in for me for a few songs. I was very sick that night and probably shouldn't have even showed up for this gig. You The Man, Bubba!

Brian Butler and Chris Leighton at the Salmon Bay Eagles.

Left to right: Jimie Jean, Eddie, and singer Blackie Jo James at Brian Butler's gig at the Salmon Bay Eagles. Blackie Jo promised to sit in at my next gig -you better be there girl!

These photos were created at the legendary DJ Early Byrd's birthday party hosted by the John Stephan Band at the Salmon Bay Eagles Club in April. Early Byrd split split shortly after the first set, so I didn't get a photo of him. Lots of great musicians jammed during this show.

Left to right: Brother Maynard, Trev Cutler, and Tom Roesch

Roger Lindgren and guitarist Bill Lovey.

Rhea, bassist Charlene Grant, Penny, and Jill

The Blues Boss, guitarist Mike Edwards, and singer Dana Lupinacci.

Left to right: Unknown, guitarists Jack Cook and Daddy Treetops, and bassist John Lee.

Eric "Two Scoops" Moore

Marcia the Kitchen Wench

Left to right: Daddy Treetops, Jeff Herzog, John Stephan, Trev Cutler, and Tom Roesch

Speaking of the Salmon Bay Eagles, here's another video created by John Gulla at the club during their 18th anniversary party on 1/17/08. That's Brian Lee on slide guitar and vocals, Kirk Tuttle on drums, Mark Dalton on bass, and Brian Butler on guitar.