The ‘King of the Chitlin Circuit’ holds forth on chitlins, playing 100 shows with Howlin’ Wolf, his grammy winning album Porcupine Meat and abundance of energy in BCI #15. When the topic turns to Jimmy Reed, it gets too hot for host Ric Stewart to stay out of the jam. A meeting of country funk strings ensues. Mind blowing tales of the Chicago blues scene of the 1950s with Freddie King, Elmore James and Luther Allison in Bobby’s bands and a few good jams from Bobby at Helena, AR’s King Biscuit Blues Festival salt the mix.
Buddy Guy won this year’s Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for 2018’s The Blues Is Alive And Well, featuring the Muscle Shoals Horns, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and James Bay. Buddy Guy has won 7 Grammy awards in his illustrious career.
In the speech Guy mentions the importance of recognizing blues heroes. “Every time I accept an award like this, I do it for some of my friends who maybe didn’t get ’em years ago, especially black people…the late Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Arthur Crudup…they’re still in my heart, and every time I look up, it’s like they’re looking down on me.”
Since not forgetting the greats is the name of the game at the Blues Center enjoy a #bcvaults T-Bone Walker story coming up next…
On July 20, 1942, in a Hollywood recording session for Freddie Slack’s big band, Aaron Thibeault “T-Bone” Walker, who was present mainly as rhythm guitarist on the date, got a chance to take the spotlight for two blues numbers, and in a few brief minutes redefined the sound of the blues for all time. The two tunes he cut that day — the brilliant “Got A Break Baby” and the classic “Mean Old World” — showcased T-Bone’s new, and already fully developed, style, in which he answered his smoky, soulful vocal phrases with deft, stinging, jazz-inflected lead lines on his electric guitar.
These were the first important blues recordings on the electric guitar, and as T-Bone followed them up, later in the ’40s, with dozens of other now-classic sides, he became a huge influence on countless bluesmen after him — and through them, of course, on the development of rock & roll. It was T-Bone who created the role of the blues singer who is also his own electric lead guitarist, and who also defined much of the power of his instrument, with classic licks and techniques that today, fifty years later, are still essential elements of lead guitar vocabulary. His ground-breaking music was a principal model and inspiration for the work of such later blues masters as B.B. King, Albert King, Gatemouth Brown, Guitar Slim, Freddie King, Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, and also for today’s most popular blues performers from Eric Clapton to Robert Cray. It is impossible, once you know T-Bone’s music, to listen to any of these artists without hearing how much their styles owe to his. He was also an enormous influence on Chuck Berry, and on Elvis’ lead guitarist Scotty Moore — and thus on the shape and nature of rock & roll itself. And as we will see, his guitar style also helped shape the musical vocabulary of funk in the mid-’60s. His ’40s recordings literally changed the world of American popular music.
This is T-Bone at the absolute height of his powers, making his breakthrough and defining the sound of modern blues. He would continue to do superb work through the mid-’50s on other labels (more on these later), but these ’40s sides are, if you had to choose, his liveliest, freshest sounding, most exciting work. This set is a cornerstone of blues recording, endlessly fun and fascinating, absolutely essential for anyone who cares about the blues.
Among the guitar techniques he pioneers here is his trademark use of 9th-chord (and 9th-add-6th) voicings, and his style of “walking” those 9ths into the chord change through half-steps above or below; this would lead directly to Jimmy Nolen’s use of the same techniques to define funk rhythm guitar in James Brown’s band 20 years later (and in fact, early, pre-James, Nolen recordings show him as a blues player doing letter-perfect renditions of T-Bone’s style). These sides also display T-Bone as the source of a number of guitar moves that would become later become signature licks of Chuck Berry’s playing: his uses of bent-note double-stops; the classic trick of sliding or bending to the 5th of the scale on the G string, and then immediately playing the same note unslurred on the B; and the way he cycles repeats of the same figure against different parts of the beat to build rhythmic tension and excitement. (Check out the first chorus of his great solo on the driving uptempo “That’s Better for Me” — it could almost be Chuck playing.) There are occasional, perfectly executed uses of sweet tremolo-picked parallel thirds, and of surprising jazzy dissonances — dig that edgy, almost Monk-ish, raised-tonic lick he hits in “I Know Your Wig Is Gone”!
A few of the songs T-Bone recorded in this period have gone on to become much-covered blues standards — “T-Bone Shuffle,” “Mean Old World,” and of course his all-time classic “Call It Stormy Monday,” heard here in its very first performances. But all of the songs — some of them penned by Walker himself, others by sidemen and musical colleagues, including many fine lyrics by John “Shifty” Henry who also wrote for Louis Jordan — are excellent, filled with memorable, punchy lines and solid, concise songwriting craft. The lighter tunes are packed with down-home, common-speech wit and humor; all of the songs, funny or sad, ring true to life. Some are particularly creative in their lyric structure, with intriguing, subtle narrative development built into unusual songs like the spare, cinematic “You’re My Best Poker Hand” and the ingenious “Long Skirt Baby Blues”. Song after song yields up those pithy blues aphorisms that are a T-Bone trademark: “Have fun while you can, ’cause Fate’s an awful thing,” he cautions us in his hard-partyin’ “T-Bone Shuffle.” And I love the down-to-earth poetry in his words, as he tries to shore up a failing relationship in “Description Blues”: “I’m on the side that’s doing the building,” he reminds his woman, “not on the wrecking crew.”
T-Bone was by all accounts a wild, flamboyant entertainer whose razor-sharp appearance and onstage performance tricks (doing splits on stage, playing behind his head, etc.) prefigured the later styles of blues and R&B; showmen as diverse as Chuck Berry, James Brown, and even Jimi Hendrix. It’s a great loss that his live performances of those early years have not been preserved on film; but with a little imagination we can almost believe we are seeing him strut his stuff in those jumping Central Avenue clubs, when we hear his music brought to life in these wonderful, high-spirited, and deeply soulful recordings. — Johnny Harper 1996
This article originally appeared in 1996 on there1.com and is an excerpted with permission.
Soul drumming legend James Gadson graces the Blues Center Interview series with recollections of Ray Charles, The Temptations, Beck and more. He also chimes in on the blues, New Orleans central role in the music and Aaron Neville.
Barry Goldberg in BCI #13 talks about his great fortune playing with Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels on “Good Golly Miss Molly/Devil With The Blue Dress” on his first session, going electric with Bob Dylan, The Electric Flag, Michael Bloomfield, Jimi Hendrix (then Jimmy James), his band with Steve Miller and how he got turned on to the blues in Chicago during the 1950’s. His blues apprenticeship with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf paved the way. Now he’s in The Rides with Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Some tasty piano licks fill in the gaps.
Jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd and Louisianan folk-rocker Lucinda Charles have combined for a blues drenched summit, Vanished Gardens. Both artists paid their blues dues. Lucinda began her career playing deep cuts from Robert Johnson and Memphis Minnie, while Lloyd blew in Howlin’ Wolf’s band. Throw in Americana, rock, country, and shake it up to create this sonic landscape. The Marvels consist of Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar and dobro, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. Vanished Gardens was produced by Lloyd, Dorothy Darr, and Don Was.
Williams moaning vocals showcase her poetic gifts and the Lloyd’s soaring sax make this one of the year’s better releases.
Williams’s moaning vocals lend language to the instrumentalists’ improvisations, and their musical inventions trace the implications of her literary forays. A landmark achievement.
Here is a taste of the Jazz Fest 2018 performance on “Dust”
It’s always heartening to see a new face in the historic genre of blues. One such newcomer is 19-year-old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. A contemporary of BCI #1’s Jontavious Willis, Kingfish brings an old school blues feel to the material. Heres’ looking forward to seeing his career evolve. In the meantime Rolling Stone profiled the Clarksdale, MS native’s rise…
Here is Kingfish playing “Hey Joe”
Otis Rush, one of Chicago blues’ leading lights, passed away on September 29th this year. His playing lives on in landmark recordings such as “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” impressed Eric Clapton, John Mayall and Jimmy Page – meaning that his sound became part of the tool box for blues rock heroes to come.
In the late 50s and early 60s he was one of Chicago’s brightest rising stars, tagged with Magic Sam and Buddy Guy as a creator of the spiky new West Side sound, but after his first record label, Cobra, went out of business he was signed by Chess, which did little for him, and Duke, which did less. “I started lagging with recordings,” he said later, “and it seemed like all I was meeting up with was crooks.”
Read the Guardian’s full story here:
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Oates talks and plays the blues in this recap of his Arkansas album and his dedication to roots music. Find out how the riff for “Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” came together at Electric Lady Studios in NYC. John plays “Stack O’ Lee” (Mississippi John Hut) and “That’ll Never Happen No More” (Blind Blake) showing off the bumble bee pick. John gives a shout out to Arif Mardin for inspiring his producing style. Subscribe to catch the series.
Will Bernard in BCI #11 details his collaborations with Charlie Hunter, Stanton Moore, John Medeski and Peter Apfelbaum in this jazzy, funky story with a few twists. Indian guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt provided a stimulus for Will’s singular slide guitar sound.
Will has played guitar on 43 albums as a guest artist! Compelling clips from Raw Music and Ric’s 1998 interview provide an exclusive 3 decade window into the work of a string master. Country Funk gets a mention, it’s Ric’s weekly radio show 10-noon fridays on WTUL 91.5 FM.