Remembering Robbie Robertson (1943-2023)

Robbie Robertson on stage in London, UK 1974Looking back on the creative contributions of Robbie Robertson – a true innovator on the six-string. Working with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, later just the Hawks, Bob Dylan (taking part in the memorable boo-filled 1966 tour) and of course The Band, and where he blossomed as a songwriter. His songs captured an American South that transfixed him as a touring teen guitarist with Hawkins. He succeeded in creating an uncanny lyrical atmosphere for Arkansan lead vocalist Levon Helm, the only southerner in The Band with “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Rag Mama Rag” and “The Weight.” Rarely singing, Robertson continued as a solo artist most notably composing numerous soundtracks for film maestro Martin Scorcese.

What better way to celebrate Robbie Robertson the craftsman than with a few blasts from my old guitar teacher -Johnny Harper -excerpted from A Bonanza of Great Guitar Solos which appeared on the site back in 1996.

“Robbie Robertson: Slo Burn (1994? recorded earlier?). Of course Robertson’s widely acclaimed for some of his classic songwriting, and for his songwriter-storyteller role and overall vibe of artistic integrity; and yes, he’s vaguely recognized as a good, tasty lead guitarist too. I’m going to go much further out on a limb in assessing him as a player! It’s my opinion that he stands in a class with Hendrix, and only Hendrix, as the most innovative, diverse, complex, distinctive, and powerful guitar voice of his era. He’s played definitively beautiful solos and color parts in an amazingly wide range of styles and idioms; his timing, as both lead and support player, is fantastic; his uses of open-string and drone techniques, “harmonics” licks, tremolo picking and volume-swell tone effects are utterly personal, imaginative and unique. The different historical periods of his work — with Ronnie Hawkins, with Dylan, several distinct phases with the Band, and his solo and soundtrack work of the last 16 years — are each distinctive and deserve serious examination; yet at this same time his personal voice is unmistakable at every stage. He’s been a rebel and innovator on the instrument right from the start, and continues to break new ground today, as this moody, moaning, instrumental piece from a 1994 film score bears witness. And of course, through all his evolutions and technical innovations, the essence of his playing has always been the pure, searing emotion he wrings from his strings. “Slo Burn,” like all of his best work, fascinates me as a guitarist — but utterly haunts and transports me as a listener.


Robbie Robertson, lead guitar, with The Band: Back to Memphis (1973). It’s become almost a clichÈ of writers discussing the Band, to cite Robertson’s super-spare, dry, crackling solo at the end of the classic “King Harvest” as his all-time guitar masterpiece. Of course I love that solo too, but he’s recorded many equally great ones throughout his career, and I wanted to showcase some other, perhaps less known, sides of his playing, as displayed in this good-time rock’n’roll rave-up number from the Band’s set at Watkins Glen. This song, a 24-bar blues in form, is actually a quite obscure Chuck Berry number, but Robbie plays totally his own bag of tricks here, with very little reference to Chuck’s style. His use of open strings as he moves up the neck (see bars 5-6 of his first chorus; also first 4 bars of chorus 2, etc. etc.) is phenomenal; so is the way he keeps a dramatic high-tonic drone note ringing against his melody line in bars 5-8 of chorus 2; and I laughed out loud at the way he slips that snarly low-string lick (almost a “Suzie Q” quote!) into the final V chord of this break. More on Robertson below.

Blues Rock Hits Soul Country – Now live!

Blues Rock Hits Soul Country primes classic rock and soul fans with a paean to the blues, tapping indie DJ/Filmmaker Ric Stewart’s exclusive roots music oral history archives. Featuring interviews and performances from Jerry Wexler, Allen Toussaint, Earl King, Tony Joe White, John Oates, Joe Louis Walker, Peter Case and many more, this treasure chest was 30 years in the making. So grab some popcorn for the next half hour and enjoy. Exclusive interviews and performances tell the tale and introduce “Soul Country” – a podcast also featured @TheBluesCenter 

Tiger Beats on Soul Country Episode 1

Patrick Sweany and McKinley James of the Tiger Beats on Soul Country Episode 1.

Patrick Sweeney and McKinley James of The Tiger Beats join host Ric Stewart for the first episode of Soul Country. They talk blues, country, The Rolling Stones and pursuing blues purity in Nashville. Catch them every Monday at the 5-Spot in East Nashville.

Soul Country Episode 1

Playlist for Episode 1

Talkin’ bout the Midnight Rambler

The Rolling Stones in Nashville 10/9/21

The Rolling Stones played Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on October 9th with the 2021 version of the No Filter tour. It may truly be the last time as principals Sir Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are now 78 and 77-years old respectively. The show began with a touching video salute to late drummer Charlie Watts. During the strong 2-hour performance, the drummer’s stool was ably manned by Steve Jordan.  

A sidebar on Jordan is much deserved as he had long been first in line to man the traps for the Stones. Having played in Richards’ side project The X-Pensive Winos, Jordan also has worked with the Rolling Stones proper, both playing percussion on the Stones Dirty Work set in 1986 and co-writing “Almost Hear You Sigh” with Keith. The two first joined forces supporting Chuck Berry for his 60th Birthday tribute, Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll.

With Jordan and bassist Darryl Jones manning the rhythm section, the energy of the band was remarkable. There was no let up in through the program of 19 songs. If anything the Stones seemed refreshed as the show progressed through surprises like a Chi-Lites cover, “Trouble’s a Comin,'” 1967’s “Connection” and “19th Nervous Breakdown.”

“Midnight Rambler” – the self-described signature song of the songwriting team of Jagger/Richards – got reworked with Robert Johnson’s “Come On in My Kitchen” dropping into the breakdown. The song hinted at the blues depths the band plumbed on 2016’s Blue and Lonesome. The unfiltered sound of the band doing it the way they wanted was complimented by an impressive fireworks show worked into the ending. A bigger bang indeed!

Just after a rousing extended version of “Satisfaction” sent the revelers into the night figuring on a wind-down of energies, the evening hit an unexpected peak. In the parking lot as the motorcade spirited the band away, Keith rolled down the window of his SUV limo and pumped his skeletal fist skyward to further rev up the nearby fans. It was as if to say “I came, I saw, I rocked!”

Having seen The Rolling Stones over several decades, it remains astonishing how little Sir Mick’s vocals have diminished. The band, perhaps the greatest 6 decade collective art project of all time, fulfilled the blues hero worship of their youth to play music late into retirement age. The message is clear: the Stones are still kicking, catch them while you can!

“Come On in My Kitchen/Midnight Rambler”

Alligator Records Celebrates 50th

Chicago-based Alligator records started operations 50 years ago with a Houndog Taylor release. It was an inauspicious beginning, but with the dedication of Bruce Iglauer, the label prospered with Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks, Professor Longhair, Koko Taylor, Albert Collins and Shemekia Copeland releases marking blues time into the 21st Century. Hats off to Bruce for keeping the music alive and rockin’.

At age 23, Mr. Iglauer…recorded [Houdog] Taylor and company, ran this new label from his apartment, and before long was looking for other Black performers on the scene who could appeal to rock-raised Boomer blues enthusiasts in similar ways. “Genuine Houserockin’ Music” became the official company slogan.

Chicago blues great Koko Taylor

Catch Alligator artist Janiva Magness talking about Alligator in BCI #8

for more from WSJ on Alligator click here

Jimmy Reed Tribute coming from Ron Wood and Friends

Stone Ronnie Wood offers the second chapter of his blues salute albums; Mr. Luck-A Tribute To Jimmy Reed: Live At The Albert Hall, coming out September 2, 2021 on BMG. Here’s a preview with Reed’s all-time classic “Baby What You Want Me To Do.”

 Ronnie shared“Jimmy Reed was one of the premier influences on the Rolling Stones and all the bands that love American blues from that era until the present day. It is my honour to have the opportunity to celebrate his life and legacy with this tribute.”

The album was recorded at Royal Albert Hall in 2013 with Ronnie Wood Band featuring guests Mick Taylor, Bobby Womack, Mick Hucknall and Paul Weller. The concert pays tribute to Mississippi popular blues legend Jimmy Reed.

Wood began the series of tributes with Mad Lad covering the late Chuck Berry’s fine catalog of tracks as Ronnie Wood & His Wild Five.


1. Essence
2. Good Lover
3. Mr. Luck
4. Let’s Get Together
5. Ain’t That Loving You Baby
6. Honest I Do
7. High & Lonesome
8. Baby What You Want Me To Do 9. Roll and Rhumba
10. You Don’t Have To Go
11. Shame Shame Shame
12. I’m That Man Down There
13. Got No Where To Go
14. Big Boss Man
15. I Ain’t Got You
16. I’m Going Upside Your Head

17. Bright Lights Big City
18. Ghost of a Man

10 Overlooked 70s blues picks

For those still padding their collections, or seeking blues you can use, take a gander at Rolling Stone’s look back at 1970s blues. 

Among my favorites in this list are the now and then reviews of Bobby Rush’s, 1979 masterpiece Rush Hour

“Bobby Rush…took his decades of his experience and his close study of Howlin’ Wolf and made an urban blues album for his times, incorporating touches of Philadelphia soul, street-corner harmonies, and the rhythms of the pulpit….Rush Hour was the first album in a sequence of ever-stranger “folk-funk” explorations.

What We Said Then:Rush Hour …is outrageous and stunning…Rush Hour is a tribute to resilience–a sign that the lessons Howlin’ Wolf and his peers learned and taught have been neither lost nor forgotten. You’re going to need something like this to get you through the Eighties.” — Dave Marsh, RS 305 (November 29th, 1979)

Here he is in BCI #15 talking Chitlin’ Circuit and New Orleans blues.

Black Keys to release blues cover album “Delta Kream”

The Black Keys are set to release an all blues shout-out to their Mississippian inspirations. The Akron, Ohio duo Dan Auerbach (guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums) have made a career out of blues-related rock.

Delta Kream will drop May 14th with the track list below

1 ‘Crawling Kingsnake’ (John Lee Hooker Cover)
2 ‘Louise’ (Mississippi Fred McDowell Cover)
3 ‘Poor Boy A Long Way From Home’ (R. L. Burnside Cover)
4 ‘Stay All Night’ (Junior Kimbrough Cover)
5 ‘Going Down South’ (R. L. Burnside Cover)
6 ‘Coal Black Mattie’ (Ranie Burnette Cover)
7 ‘Do the Romp’ (Junior Kimbrough Cover)
8 ‘Sad Days, Lonely Nights’ (Junior Kimbrough Cover)
9 ‘Walk with Me’ (Junior Kimbrough Cover)
10 ‘Mellow Peaches’ (Big Joe Williams Cover)
11 ‘Come On And Go With Me’ (Junior Kimbrough Cover)

all photos #bcvaults

“The Oldest Story in the World” – Peter Case with Eddie Muñoz

“Lost the keys to paradise, well that’s the oldest story in the world..” Peter Case joined by former Plimsoul Eddie Muñoz on a nifty 2012 version of “The Oldest Story in the World.”

In the early 1980’s the Plimsouls were almost famous. This song appears in Valley Girl, and their biggest hit “Million Miles Away” charted at #11. Peter Case went solo shortly after and has mainly navigated an excellent solo career since. Plimsouls reunions are infrequent but enjoyable.

Get more Peter Case in BCI #9:


House of Blues

Finally Chicago gets a blues museum, at Muddy Waters former home on the Southside. Celebrating the blues by passing down the history and the music with a recording studio and renovation, it aims to engage the next generation of talent.

“It’s our job as blues historians, but as people who love blues or are vying for the blues legacy … it’s our jobs to remind people that the blues is the root of a lot of music,” said Chandra Cooper, Waters’ great-granddaughter.

Waters, born McKinley Morganfield in 1913, moved to Chicago in 1943 to pursue music professionally. He developed an influential electric guitar based blues style that went on to heavily influence the Rolling Stones, Johnny Winter and an entire generation of blues rockers.

Read more about Muddy’s old abode here