Shakin’ with Stevie Ray

I rummaged through a bunch of CDs this morning and found something interesting. It was a disc of random songs I burned at a Borders Books location years ago. (It must have been some time between Napster and iTunes. I don’t think the “Mix & Burn” trend lasted long. Thanks, ASCAP!) I found some interesting songs on there and a Stevie Ray Vaughan cut I repeatedly blasted on my car stereo today.

The song is called “Shake For Me”. Blues guitar phenom SRV didn’t write the song. (For my money, the song’s composer Willie Dixon is the single best blues songwriter of all time: “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “My Babe”, “Back Door Man”, and more, but I digress.) The Stevie Ray version was posthumously released on 1992’s live album “In The Beginning” .

This song grabbed me the first time I heard it on the radio. For me, it was like simultaneously hearing thunder and getting struck by lightning. KABOOM! One time a friend of mine said, “He’s tearing it up!” while we were watching a young guitar player at a blues jam. You could say the same thing about the SRV recording. According to Wikipedia, it was a 1980 show recorded at Steamboat 1874 in Austin, TX and broadcast on KLBJ-FM radio.

I couldn’t understand all of the lyrics in the SRV version outside of something about willow trees and Jell-o so I sought out the Howlin’ Wolf version featuring Hubert Sumlin on guitar.

The Howlin’ Wolf version seems tame in comparison, but give him credit for getting the ball rolling. By the way, did someone actually GET PAID for the album cover featuring the rocking chair and acoustic guitar? I mean, it’s roots music, I get it, but come on! The dude’s stage name was Howlin’ Wolf (aka Chester Burnett). You couldn’t do something a little more exciting with that?

I also discovered a version of “Shake for Me” by a Minneapolis band called The Underbeats.

Their version reminds of The Rolling Stones first album called “England’s Newest Hitmakers”. I wonder if Stevie Ray Vaughan was familiar with their take on it? The SRV version is on my bucket list of songs to learn on guitar among many others. Fantastic guitar tone! By the way, the bass player on the SRV version is Jackie Newhouse, not longtime Double Trouble member Tommy Shannon.

Till next time, Keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

I’ll Change My Style

There are songs and artists which some folks call “Oldies”, and I love a lot of them: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, and many more. I could try to place some of the blame on the 1970s TV show “Happy Days”, but I’ve never gone for what’s musically current and I make no bones about it. Some songs just seem to have an old style or feel to them, regardless of when they were actually recorded, and I gravitate toward them.

One overlooked Oldie in my book is a song recorded by Jimmy Reed called “I’ll Change My Style.”

I’m a big fan of Jimmy Reed and, while this song is a slow one, it’s pretty typical of his style (no pun intended): lazy/loping beat, harmonica solo, and slurred vocals. I read part of a Jimmy Reed bio called “Big Boss Man: The Life and Music of Bluesman Jimmy Reed” by Will Romano. One of the most revealing things I learned from the book, is Reed was an epileptic and apparently drank alcohol because he thought it would stave off seizures. That could explain the “slurred” sound on some of his recordings. (On one album, Reed is heard hilariously saying, “I can’t get let loose if I don’t get my juice”.)

Reed was an enormous influence on countless blues musicians. For example, Jimmie Vaughan (The Fabulous Thunderbirds, SRV’s older brother) and Omar Kent Dykes (Omar and the Howlers) recorded a tribute album called “On The Jimmy Reed Highway.”

It’s worth a listen. Another blues musician Reed influenced was Delaware’s own George Thorogood. In addition to live versions, Thorogood recorded a version of it on his debut album “George Thorogood and The Destroyers.”

Thorogood’s version might have been the first one I heard. Kudos, George! To tie it all together, The Rolling Stones recorded one of Reed’s songs on their first album as well — ironically, Thorogood was the opening act for the Stones on one of their tours.

Unfortunately, I know very little about writers of “I’ll Change My Style”: William Parker and Manuel Villa. Reed released the song in 1962 on Vee-Jay Records. There are other versions out there, but these are some of the ones I’ve encountered.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Blues Outside The Lines

There’s a song/saying that goes “The Blues had a baby and they named it Rock n Roll.” I think Muddy Waters recorded it. For me personally, I discovered blues music through my uncle and some bands I had in my collection like Led Zeppelin . Big blues influence on their first two albums. Same thing with The Rolling Stones. Before they started writing their own songs, they covered lots of great blues artists like Jimmy Reed and many more.

What’s interesting to me is hearing how different musicians can play THEIR OWN version of the blues. You know, the musical progression/chord changes are still the blues, but it comes out differently than say Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. One of those songs is “It’s So Hard” by John Lennon. It was on the Imagine album.

It’s got a great bluesy feel to it, but it also has John Lennon’s stream of consciousness observations on life. My favorite line is, “You gotta be somebody, you gotta shove.” The lyrics aren’t anything fancy, but I think they’re fantastic. “When it’s good, it’s really good.” I take it as him saying life can be hard, but it can also be…well, really good. Plus, King Curtis plays a mean saxophone on it.

Another one of my favorite examples of a straight blues tune with the artist’s unique stamp on it is “Jean Genie” by David Bowie.

I crank the volume on this song every time I listen to it. It’s got a rowdy, raucous feel to it that makes you want to shout “Jean Genie” every time it comes up in the song. I’ve read things about the inspiration and meaning to this song, but it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s a sort of spoken word blues on the verses with the loud chorus of “Jean Genie” along with it. The glam rock get ups may look dated in the video, but the music is just as fresh as when it was recorded. “Jean Genie” is a standard 12 bar blues progression with a great bluesy harmonica sound on it, but it’s Bowie all the way.

Both of these songs have great intros that just rock from the get go. I’m assuming John Lennon played lead guitar on his track while the great Mick Ronson played on Bowie’s. I always loved the descending bass line on the intro of “Jean Genie.”

Bob Dylan has at least one song I could have included in this blog entry, but I’ll save it for another time.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Crossroads Mojo

Open a book about rock n roll, and it usually starts with legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson. He’s the guy who allegedly sold his soul to the devil for the ability to be a great guitarist.

Looking back at it now, the 1986 film “Crossroads” was an awakening for me. I didn’t know who Robert Johnson was or anything about blues music. I don’t think I could have named one film director — let alone this film’s — Walter Hill, who would become one of my favorites. This film is also a great introduction to blues music.

It follows the affable, fresh-faced Eugene Martone (played by Ralph Macchio) on his quest to leave classical music behind and follow his heart as a blues guitar player. Along the way he has to break out the crotchety, old harmonica player Willie Brown (played by Joe Seneca) of a correctional facility. (Incidentally, Willie Brown is referenced in the Robert Johnson song “Crossroad Blues”.) The two go on an adventure to the Mississippi Delta filled with not only blues, but brushes with the law, booze, trains, and pawn shops. They also cross paths with a sultry runaway played by a young Jamie Gertz. She eventually leaves and Eugene purges his emotions into a slide guitar masterpiece (“Feeling Bad Blues” by Ry Cooder.)

One part of Crossroads is a coming of age story. Eugene tries to discover who he is, what he wants, and the price he’s willing to pay for it. In addition, the story is an introduction into blues music and blues folklore. The crossroads theme/deals with the devil are a big piece of that. It also delves into things like mojo hands, which are referenced in some seminal blues songs like “Got My Mojo Working” for example. (Since this blog is titled Mojo Horizon, I feel obligated to elaborate. From what I’ve read, a mojo is essentially a “prayer in a bag” associated with hoodoo/voodoo. It’s usually a charm in a flannel bag and may contain a “lucky hand root” favored by gamblers.)

Some fantastic musicians were involved in the film and the soundtrack: Sonny Terry, Jim Keltner, Arlen Roth, Steve Vai, and Ry Cooder. It’s definitely worth a listen. The script was apparently written by John Fusco for his undergraduate thesis. This film tells a great story and does so with some great music.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

It’s all about Jimmy Who?

Elvis, ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, John Hammond, The Steve Miller Band, Neil Young, Van Halen.

Q: Which musician had a big enough impact on these artists THEY ALL recorded his music?

A: Jimmy Reed.

 

Reed is remembered for his recording of  the song “Big Boss Man” (songwriting credits to Luther Dixon and Al Smith), but also for his laid back, if not lazy, sound.   For a beginning guitarist, he was total inspiration  –  and he still is to so many.   Learning the rhythm to a Jimmy Reed song not only sounded like something, but it felt like it, too.  It’s one thing to see/hear someone like Bob Dylan or Neil Young play guitar and then top it off with a harmonica in a neck rack, but they don’t compare to the feeling of Jimmy Reed.

Reed’s music has been covered by famous rock n rollers, country stars, blues artists,    bar bands, and everything in between.   One of my favorite YouTube videos is this version of Jimmy Reed’s somewhat obscure song called “Mr. Luck”.

(The song can be found on the confusingly-titled album Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall.      It doesn’t sound like a live recording because it’s not a live recording.)

Going back to the mainstream, Reed’s song “Bright Lights, Big City” has also been recorded dozens of times and appears in pop culture from time to time.   I remember the song (written by Reed) appeared in the film Backbeat about The Beatles’ early days in Hamburg.   More recently, guitarist Jimmie Vaughan (The Fabulous Thunderbirds/Stevie Ray’s older brother) partnered with Omar Kent Dykes (Omar & The Howlers) for a tribute album called On the Jimmy Reed Highway.

(This will not be my last article about the great, yet still underrated, Jimmy Reed. )

Keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

 

“They call me The Hunter…

…that’s my name.”   These are lyrics from a blues song you should absolutely know!   Does it sound intriguing or even familiar to you?  I don’t know if does, but it should.

My favorite version of this song was recorded by Rock God Paul Rodgers — best known as the lead singer of Bad Company — but, The Hunter was originally recorded by blues guitarist Albert King.

It’s nothing short of ironic Paul Rodgers’ version (my favorite cut on the album) was recorded for his 1993 solo release Muddy Water Blues:  A Tribute to Muddy Waters.  This version also features Guitar God “Slash” playing lead on it as well.   Do you need more reasons why this song is great?   It has braggadocio, swagger, attitude.   The singer casually mentions he “bought me a love gun, just the other day.   And I aim, to aim it your way”.  As fantastic as guitarists like Slash and Albert King are, it’s Paul Rodgers’ voice that convinces me he MEANS it.   “Ain’t no need to hide, ain’t no need to run.  ‘Cause I got you in the sight of my love gun.”  My words don’t do it justice.  You just have to listen to it.

According to allmusic.com and Wikipedia, the song itself was written by Stax Records musicians: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunter_(Albert_King_song).   The Hunter was previously recorded by Paul Rodgers during his days with the band Free.  In addition, it was recorded by Ike and Tina Turner.  If you’re into the blues or just need a reason to take a road trip,   check out the St. Louis, MO Walk of Fame on Delmar Blvd.  You might see all three stars for Ike, Tina, and Albert King.   It’s hard to believe with that much swagger in his voice, but Paul Rodgers is English.

Stay tuned and keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

http://www.stlouiswalkoffame.org/inductees/albert-king.html