Friday, September 28, 2012

T-Bone Shuffle -- Buddy Guy

I was a Mass Communications major back in college so I took a lot of fun TV and radio production classes.  In one of these classes was this girl teaching assistant.  It wasn’t like she was older or anything.  She was my age but had already taken the class so therefore was a teaching assistant.  She was kind of nerdy but she was pretty pleasing to the eyes.  Her long flowing brown hair sort of did it for me. 

Her and I got along really well during class but there wasn’t any mojo going on between us that I could tell.  She was kind of a square so that may have put a damper on it for me.    

Anyway, on the last day of class, a bunch of us went to a bar and celebrated.  The teaching assistant got pretty lubed up and so did everyone else.  We all had one more for the road and then parted ways.  This girl and I walked back to campus together.  We were both pretty wasted.  We had some laughs and started to flirt with one another.  We got back to campus and found a hidden little spot and started making out.

Needless to say we set a date to see one another again.

This girl seemed kind of sheltered and it was soon confirmed when I called her and found out that she still lived in the suburbs with her mom and dad.  Not only that, she still didn’t have a driver’s license yet.  This meant that I had to drive way out to this Suburb of Minneapolis called Maple Grove.  It didn’t really bother me that much at first.

This girl had spent most of her bar time in college bars or at the Maple Grove TGIF.  I was about to rock her world when I decided to bring her to the Buddy Guy show at this biker bar called The Cabooze (or so I fantasized).

At one point in the show Buddy and his band just cut loose into a groovy jam.  I could tell this girl was liking it.  We had a really good time but unfortunately, I had to have her back home at a “reasonable time.”  We smooched again in the car out in front of her house.  

On the long road trip back to campus from the suburbs, I did some thinking.  I started to rack up all those miles back and forth between campus and Maple Grove in my mind.  Not only that, she was kind of nerdy and definitely sheltered.  I figured it wasn’t a very good match.  Like a jerk, I just stopped calling her.

Flash forward a year or two.  I’m hanging at this place called Whiskey Junction listening to The Minnesota Barking Ducks.  My buddy Bob and I were being mellow and feeling fine.  As I sipped my beer, I noticed what appeared to be a pretty foxy mama over at the bar hanging all over this biker guy.  It was pretty unusual to see a woman that hot hanging out at a blues show in Whiskey Junction.  A beautiful woman in Whiskey Junction was something akin to a Bigfoot sighting--extremely rare and you’re not sure you can believe what you saw.

She had beautiful flowing brown hair and her ass fit perfectly into her tight jeans.  She was ahead of her time donning a sexy wife beater that exposed her luscious, slender shoulders.  Her flowing brown mane flopped over towards Bob and I as we observed from a safe distance.  Her eyes met mine.

It was that teaching assistant.  

I wasn’t sure it was her at first.  I was struck with stunned silence.  I think she recognized me to, but we both just stood there occasionally glancing at each other trying to confirm in our minds that we were actually seeing who we thought we were seeing.  Of course, it wasn’t long before it occurred to me that “She could have been mine.”  But how could I have known that she would have morphed into the sweetback standing before me?

Anyway, in honor of Buddy Guy I offer this finger-snapping track "T-Bone Shuffle" from an awesome album called "Buddy Guy & Jr. Wells Play The Blues."  It is a stellar sampling of early 70's blues scene where Rock N' Rollers and master bluesmen like Buddy Guy were collaborating.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

You Need Meat -- The Doors

I can’t help it but popular music has never been my thing.  For some reason I have always been attracted to the obscure.  It may have had something to do with a family that moved up the street from me when I was an elementary school kid.  This family was out of the ordinary.  Unlike the wholesome conservative suburban family life of the early 70’s, this family was a little more progressive.  There were four boys in the family, at least two of which were teenagers in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  My older brother became friends with the younger boys and I hung out with them on occasion too.

This family of five boys influenced my brother who in turn influenced me when it came to music.  While all of my classmates in elementary school were listening to The Grass Roots and the Bay City Rollers, I was being introduced to The Doors, Jethro Tull, Blind Faith, Humble Pie and The Allman Brothers.

My brother borrowed several of their albums and I listened to them myself.  As I was listening, I would read the album liner notes and song credits.  I kept seeing the name “W. Dixon” on several of the songs.  There was “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and “You Shook Me” by Led Zepplin, there was “Spoonful” by Cream, then there was “Back Door Man” and “You Need Meat” by The Doors.     

I soon began to see other initials on rock song credits like “E. McDaniel” (aka Bo Diddley), “J. Wells” (aka Junior Wells), “R. King” (aka B.B. King), "R. Penniman" (aka Little Richard) and the list went on.  It was these anonymous people in the credits that ultimately piqued my interest in The Blues.  

Here is one of those songs introduced to me by the family up the street, Willie Dixon’s “You Need Meat” by The Doors.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Good 'Un -- John Lee Hooker

If you recall, my last post was about this big record collection in my son’s grandma’s garage.  I found a good 20 or so cool albums among the 200 or so that were in the collection.  The rest were, how should I put it, really white and really boring.  It was really safe old fashioned music with little or no soul.  However, many of them had really cool album covers.  I took some of those and framed them.  They make great office decorations and the frames are only about $10 at Target in case you’re interested.

But I digress.

Shortly after I sifted through my mother-in-law’s albums, I stumbled upon this place in San Diego called The Thrift Trader.  Thrift Trader is not your ordinary thrift store.  They specialize in selling vintage clothes, used CDs and used DVDs and they even sell old stereo equipment.  The thing that makes this place unique is that they accept trades.  You bring something in and can take something out in return.  It’s a very communal bohemian thing and it works great.

One thing seemed apparent about The Thrift Trader.  They appear to accept just about any album someone brings in.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Iron Butterfly or Julie Andrews, they will take it.  I decided to take advantage of this and hauled the whole mess of crappy old albums I just inherited down to the Thrift Trader.

They offered me one album for every ten I brought in.  Now since I had almost 200, that meant I had to find 20 albums.  Seems easy, right?  Not in Thrift Trader.  This place has, by far, the most colossal album collection in the history of mankind.  You walk in the place and they have shelf after rickety shelf stacked with albums.  They have box after box of albums lining the floor.  They have so many boxes they had to stack them one on top of the other about three rows high and then make a sort of maze out of the them.  I walked up and down the aisle of album boxes fingering through a few as I went by.

I headed back toward the front counter and I noticed this framed picture of Robin Trower with text over it saying, “Ask about our secret record room.”  Secret record room?  Is this guy kidding?  I would have had to go to this store 7 days a week for 10 hours a day for a month before I could sift through all the albums that were within my eyesight.  Regardless, I had to ask about the secret record room.

The owner lead me to the back of the store past all the racks of thrift clothing to this big black sheet tacked up against the wall.  He pulled the curtain aside and led me into the secret record room.

Let me tell you, it was not a secret record room at all.  It was a labyrinth of secret record roomS.  The back hallway went to left about 15 yards to a dead end.  To the right it was another 15 yards.  But it didn’t end there.  The hallway turned right again and then looped around in a giant square.    On one side of each hallway were album boxes stacked three rows high.  They went all the way to the left and all the way to right and around the loop.  Going in either direction were several rooms.  Those rooms were stacked to the ceiling with album boxes.  In one of the larger rooms, this guy had set up a smaller version of the album box maze.

It was rather intimidating, let me tell ya.

I had to go back to the place three times before I finally found 20 albums.  The fact was that most of albums he had stacked all through this building were crap.  But like a good miner searching for golden nuggets, I pressed on.  I found this really funny Woody Allen double album of his standup material.  I found a copy of the Peter Gunn TV soundtrack and the More Peter Gunn soundtrack.  Both had cool album covers and also had some great Jazz by Henri Mancini.  I also found several K-Tel and Ronco compilations.  When I saw the one I owned as a child, “22 Explosive Hits” with the 70’s electronic pop hit, “Popcorn”, I snapped that sucker up.

However, of all the items found in this vein of gold, was an album by John Lee Hooker called “Endless Boogie.”  Back in the early 70’s John Lee made a little comeback with the help of the San Francisco hippie scene.  These hippie musicians, all influenced by The Blues, paid their homage to Hooker on a couple of albums.  These albums had featured guests, Steven Miller, Carl Radle (drummer for Derek and The Dominoes) and Mark Naftalin, a keyboardist who started with Paul Butterfield and went on to jam with all kinds of the artists.

This album is rocks out a little harder than John Lee’s original material and I like that.  This double album was basically recording a jam session and putting it on wax.   Here’s a song off that album, “A Good ‘Un.” 

The whole album is great.  It has a great version of "House Rent Boogie" and great cautionary song as a tribute to the drug overdoses of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.  You can buy the whole album or just this song.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Beale Street Twist - Lynn Vernon

This is the story of Grandma’s Garage.  For a short while, my wife and son and I lived with my in-laws in the San Diego area.  My in-laws are pack rats bordering on hoarders.  They save just about everything.  While living there I noticed two huge boxes of old albums sitting on a shelf in their garage.  A couple years later after my family and I had moved out, I asked my in-laws about them. They said I could have them if I wanted them.  They were going to throw them out, which seemed odd for people who didn’t seem to throw anything away.  

Anyway, this was like a small fantasy.  As you know, I love fingering through old albums.  It is like fingering through an old art gallery.  It’s like fingering through little time capsules from the not too distant past.  My hopes were not too high about finding many hidden gems.  Most of the records came from my mother-in-law’s mother and her 90-year old 7th husband.

I started a fire in our fireplace, poured myself some Jack and Coke then one by one went through the records.  I listened to track after track.  It must have taken me a week to go through the whole collection.  Most of it was crappy show tunes soundtracks or obnoxious Christmas collections, but one out of every fifteen records or so wasn’t too bad.  A lot of of it different too.  I had to open my mind a bit and step out of my comfort zone.   I ventured into the past to find something new.

I found some gems by Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Lloyd Price.  There was a neat old country album buy Webb Pierce.  There was a Vegas lounge act called the Mary Kay Trio.  There was some swinging action numbers by the Ray Martin Orchestra.  They even had a mint condition Elvis movie soundtrack from the flick “Harem Scarem.”  God that was some baaaaaaad Elvis music.  

Of course, there had to be at least one awesome blues gem in the pack, right?  Otherwise, why am I writing this silly blog post.

This was one of the blues gems mixed in that old album collection.  It's by this obscure fellow named Lynn Vernon and this is his song, “The Beale Street Twist.”  It starts off kinda hokey, but it starts to swing pretty quick.

Amazingly enough, they this track on if you feel so inclined.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pride and Joy -- Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials

I moved to San Diego in November 1992.  Having lived in Minnesota for all my life at that point, I really had no idea what to expect.  It seemed like a cultured place and I figured it would have a similar social scene as Minneapolis.  I was wrong in regards to one thing.  San Diego did not have a great blues scene.   Little did I know how well I had it back in the Midwest.

First off, it was hard to find a blues band at all.  There were a couple places downtown, but the talent level wasn’t quite the same.  I had been spoiled.  Chicago blues greats from the Alligator label would come up to Minneapolis all the time.  Albert Collins, James Cotton, Junior Wells, Willie Dixon and so on.  A lot of that blues culture from Chicago rubbed off on the rest of the Midwest.  The Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Fargo and Omaha all developed great blues scenes.

So anyway, in San Diego I was left yearning for the way things used to be.  Then one day I saw that Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials were coming to town.  Color me there!  I’m going even if I have to go by myself.  

And that’s exactly what happened.  My two new So Cal roommates weren’t aware of the blues music genre at all, so they weren’t very willing companions on that night.  Since I didn’t know anyone else, I had no choice but to go alone.  

It struck me as odd for some reason that the bar was in the middle of a strip mall.  That threw me off right away.   Regardless, I went inside and there was no energy in the place at all.  It was strangely quiet.  People were sitting in folding chairs right in front of the stage.  They all sat there motionless observing Lil’ Ed as though he was some anthropological case study.

Another thing seemed wrong.  I stopped the waitress and asked, “Is this a non-smoking establishment?”  She proudly smiled and said, “Yes.”  Now understand that this was before the Clean Indoor Air Act.  You could still smoke in bars and you could expect a lot of smoking at the blues shows where I came from.  Worse of all, it appeared as though I might have been the only person drinking in the place.

I was very disappointed.  I came to see Lil’ Ed rock the house.  I expected to see some cool people getting a buzz on and having some fun.  It was the furthest thing from that.  I decided to leave.

Now let’s go back in time to another Lil’ Ed event back home in Minneapolis.

It was in the middle of winter.  It was an unusually cold day even for Minneapolis.  It was at least 20 below zero.  I had just come back from Williams Arena having watched my beloved Minnesota Gopher basketball team lose at home to the hated Bobby Knight and Indiana.  They spanked us and the vibe leaving the game was bad.  

“Something needs to break our way” was what my friend Jerry and I were thinking.  It so happened that Lil’ Ed was playing at The Fine Line, a club in downtown Minneapolis.  The routine when bar hopping on a 20-below day was to, believe it or not, leave the coats in the car.  You didn’t want to go into a crowded bar with a coat on because then you would get hotter than hell.  So we left the coats and sprinted a couple blocks from the car to the bar before the sub-zero temperatures turned our blood into slush.

My buddy Jerry and I flew through the door and into the nice warm club.  The crowd was still a little small but building up.  Lil’ Ed started off mellow and built up momentum.  Jerry and I bumped into a couple of friends of his, Jack and Mike.  They were totally into the blues and into drinking too so we hit it off right away.

Before long, the frigid Minnesota night turned into a house rockin’ furnace.  Lil’ Ed and the band cut loose.  People were wasted, dancing and puffing on cigarettes.  Lil’ Ed connected a long guitar chord and roamed out into the crowd wailing on his slide guitar.   He came right over to our fearsome foursome, got down on is knees, laid back and started wailing away while we screamed “Yeah!!”  in his face.  It was a jam that totally brought the house down.

So you tell me.  Which show do you think was better?

Here’s a nugget from Lil’ Ed himself--playing it the Blues the way it was meant to be played.