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231. Junior Kimbrough – Sad Days Lonely Nights
Junior Kimbrough is a highly influential Blues artist whose records came out in the 1990s on the wonderful Fat possum label. Fat possum specialised in recording blues from the North of Mississippi which became known as the North Country Blues. They gave it a good solid beat and amplified guitar sound that brought it right up to date.
Howlin’ Wolf came from this region and you can hear the rudiments of the North Country Blues sound in his 1950s recordings – other influences of note were Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Mississippi Fred McDowell.
The North Country Blues sound, as created by Fat Possum, was based around a repetitive guitar line which develops into a hypnotic rhythm. Junior Kimbrough was the leading exponent of this fluent style which had a huge influence on white bands such as The Black Keys. The North Mississippi Allstars originated from this region and grew up with Junior and RL Burnside and their large extended families. Sons of both Junior Kimbrough and RL Burnside often play together and with the North Mississippi Allstars so the legacy continues and hopefully will grow.
This album ‘Sad Days Lonely Nights’ is a great example of North Country Blues. The title track ‘Sad Days Lonely Nights’ opening and closing the album with different versions is the definitive example. The guitar line is augmented with slide guitar and a repetitive vocal that dovetails into the rhythm perfectly. The closing version laments the process of getting old.
Other tracks on the album, including the brilliant ‘Black Mattie’ and ‘Pull your clothes off’ follow the same vein. On live recordings you can hear how these rhythms provide a great basis for dancing.
Junior ran a club called ‘Junior’s Place’ in Chulahoma Mississippi and you can just imagine the place heaving with gyrating bodies in the cool of the Mississippi evenings as they grooved to Junior or RLs rhythms.
I visited the place in 2007 and was dying to get to hear some authentic North Country Blues. Unfortunately the club had burnt down in 2000 and I was seven years too late. Ironically I came back to England and found T-Model Ford playing in York the next week and then Dave ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards playing in Sheffield and then shortly after the North Mississippi Allstars played York. There was more Blues in Northern England than in North Mississippi.
232. RL Burnside – Burnside on Burnside
RL Burnside was a stable mate of Junior Kimbrough and produced an equally exciting style of North Country Blues. He was not so restrained as Kimbrough and had a louder more in-your-face style with strident slide guitar. There was the same repetitive beat though.
Fat Possum applied the same production with a pounding beat and great amplification. You did not groove so much to RL Burnside’s sound as much as jump about. He was more strident and unrestrained.
This is clearly evident on this live recording as RL launches into a pounding version of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s ‘Shake ‘em on down’ and follows that up with ‘Skinny woman’. The pace doesn’t slow until we reach the solo ‘Walking Blues’ on slide guitar.
Kenny Brown was the slide guitarist in the band. He was white and RL always referred to him as ‘my adopted son’.
‘Jumper on the line’ was back to the pounding group sound and ‘Going down South’ was his clearly North Country style of repetitive guitar. The audience weren’t going anywhere. The album ended with ‘Snake drive’ which is a real tour de force.
Later RL Burnside was to team up with the John Spencer Blues Explosion for a punked up sound that can be heard on ‘Ass Pocket of Whiskey’ – another brilliant RL Burnside album.
This is how the blues should sound.
233. Captain Beefheart – Ice Cream for Crow
It is so good that at least Captain Beefheart went out on a high. Like the previous two albums (three if you count the unreleased ‘Bat Chain Puller’ album) this was a return to form and a great purple patch.
All the elements were there. There were the guitar riffs interweaving in intricate patterns, the vocal poetry, rich in imagery and thought provoking phrases, Don’s rich vocals and a batch of highly innovative tracks.
This was the last album. Don Van Vliet would record no more apart from a few poems delivered when he was obviously ill and not functioning well.
There will never be another band quite like this. This album is a fitting epitaph. It was brilliant. Tracks such as ‘Ice Cream for Crow’, ‘The past sure is tense’, ‘Skeleton makes good’, ‘The Witch Doctor life’, ‘The thousandth and tenth day of the Human Totem Pole’, ‘Skeleton makes good’ and ‘The Host, the Ghost, the most Holy-o’ were all classic Beefheart tracks.
I don’t know if it’s my imagination but looking back, and listening intently, it is just possible that I can detect the first signs of his illness. His voice, though just as rich and textured, could just have the first glimmers of a tremor. He was said to have died from complications from Multiple Sclerosis. There was talk of Parkinson’s disease. It was clear from his poetry readings on the DVD ‘Lo Yo-Yo Stuff’ that he was not in good shape. Perhaps he retired suddenly, while obviously still at the peak of his abilities, because he was starting to get symptoms or had received a diagnosis. Or he may have decided that a life as an artist was more lucrative and less demanding? We will never know.
I love his paintings but I sure do miss his music. The world is a lesser place for his passing.
I’ll play this album through again and thank him in my mind. His music brightened up my world.
234. Slim Harpo – Best of
Slim Harpo was the absolute Star of Louisiana’s Excello Swamp Blues label and the Excello label had gathered together all the Blues talent in the area – including Lightnin’ Slim, Lonesome Sundown and Lazy Lester. They were given a sprinkle of fairy dust in the production by JD Miller who created that renowned sound that set Louisiana apart from the Chicago sound. You could detect the influence of New Orleans.
Starting in 1957 Slim set about producing a string of great singles including ‘I’m a King Bee’, ‘Got Love if you Want It’, ‘Shake your hips’, ‘Scratch my back’ and ‘Raining in my heart’.
Many of these songs became staples of the British Beat groups of the early sixties and were covered by the Rolling Stones, Kinks, Yardbirds, Them and the Who. Though I doubt Slim ever made much money out of it all.
I went to visit his grave in Port Allen near Baton Rouge. He’d died of a heart attack at just forty six. It was tragic. His grave was tucked away in the back and heavily overgrown with great tree roots. Slim, his real name, James Moore should have been an enormous household name.
The Album – The Best of – contains all the important tracks and demonstrates the full scope of his output. It’s a great album.
235. Hank Williams – 40 greatest hits
Rock ‘n’ Roll did not just have its roots in Blues; it also originated from the Mississippi Country Music and Honky Tonk. Hank Williams was a prime force in this. Many people cite ‘Move it on over’ as a proto-rockabilly track.
That’s by the by. What is quite clear is that the man had a huge impact on Country Music, the Grand Old Opry and everything that came after in what was a brief career. He was dead by the age of twenty nine. Bob Dylan cited him as a major influence and his songs have been recorded by countless Rock acts.
A lot of Hank’s early work had a strong religious basis which was not surprising seeing as how this was the ‘Bible belt’ of America. Everything that happened was suffused with religion. Hank was also drinking heavily and rapidly becoming an alcoholic.
Hank’s songs still resonate today ‘(I heard that) Lonesome whistle blow’, ‘Mansion on the hill’, ‘Lost Highway’, ‘You’re gonna change or I’m gonna leave’, ‘I’m so lonesome I could cry,’ ‘Long gone Lonesome Blues’, ‘I’m a long gone daddy’, ‘Lovesick Blues’, ‘Cold, cold heart’, ‘Honky Tonk Blues’, ‘Jambalaya (on the bayou)’, ‘You win again’, ‘Your cheating Heart’, ‘Take these chains from my heart’, ‘Dear John’, ‘Hey good looking’, ‘I just don’t like this kind of living’ and a host of others set a standard for Country music and paved the way for Rockabilly.
Towards the end of his life Hank’s drinking had got out of hand and he’d become unreliable. He was found dead in the back of the car being driven to a concert. The autopsy showed bleeding in the heart and neck and that he had recently been severely beaten up. The official verdict was heart failure. Ironically his last release was ‘I’ll never get out of this world alive’.
236. Coasters – The Coasters
The Coasters evolved out of the Robins. They were an R&B Vocal group that was not really Doo-wop although there were many components of the style incorporated into their act.
They teamed up with the song-writers Leiber and Stoller, who were the big names in Rock ‘n’ Roll, to produce a string of great singles. Their speciality was to tell a little story in song. These included ‘Riot in cell block No. 9’ and ‘Smokey Joe’s café’.
Their most popular tracks were numbers like ‘Charlie Brown’ and ‘Yakety Yak’ but I much preferred their tougher sounding tracks with that great guitar sound that was picked up by a lot of the early Merseybeat and Beat groups including the Beatles. These included ‘Young blood’, ‘Searchin’’, ‘Poison Ivy’, ‘Gee Golly’, ‘I’m a hog for you baby’, ‘Three cool cats’, and ‘Little Egypt’.
The Coasters were covered by such luminaries as the Downliners Sect, Screaming Lord Sutch, the Hollies, Elvis Presley and Leon Russell.
237. Larry Williams – At his finest
Larry Williams was a hard living R&B singer who signed to Specialty label. In the wake of Little Richard’s sudden departure due to religion Larry was given the treatment and provided with the backing band and production with which to do the job – and do the job he did. Few people get close to Little Richard during his early period at Specialty but Esquirita and Larry Williams came mighty close.
Larry produced a string of great sounding Rock ‘n’ Roll classics including ‘Slow down’, ‘Bony Moronie’, ‘Short fat fanny’, ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzie’ ‘Bad boy’, ‘You bug me, baby’, ‘She said Yeah’ and ‘Good morning little schoolgirl’.
They were covered by the Beatles, Animals, Rolling Stones and John Lennon and just about every Mersey Band who ever performed.
Larry made a comeback in the seventies as a Funk singer with Johnny Guitar Watson in his band. They put on quite a show. However Larry’s lifestyle of drugs, booze, girls and gangsters caught up with him and he was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head at the age of forty four. I guess he just never learnt how to slow down!
238. Esquerita – Believe me when I say Rock ‘n’ Roll is here to stay
Eskew Reeder was a wild piano playing R&B singer from the early fifties. He started off as a gospel singer and moved into R&B where he produced the stage personality of Esquerita which involved heavy make-up, wigs and a huge piled up pompadour. He specialised in pounding piano and whooping vocals to great upbeat numbers.
It was said that Little Richard ripped off his style, looks and act. That is hard to assess because Esquerita was only brought in to record following Little Richard’s conversion and departure. At the time everyone thought that Esquirita’s style was based on Little Richard.
Whatever the truth of that there is no denying that Esquirita created a number of rockin’ tracks in a similar style to Little Richard including ‘I’m getting plenty loving’, ‘Golly Golly, Annie Mae’, ‘Rockin’ the joint’, ‘I’m Battie over Hattie’, ‘Hey Miss Lucy’ and ‘Oh baby’. They had Little Richard’s characteristic whoops, copied by the Beatles, and the gospel tinged raucous vocals, pounding piano and wailing sax.
Unfortunately Esqurerita never rose to great recognition and declined into obscurity as a car-park attendant before dying of AIDS in 1986.
239. Joan Baez – Farewell Angelina
Joan Baez always was a bit of an activist even causing a few rebellious moments in High School. She started into Folk Singing in the late 50s and released her first album in 1960.
Her early albums were all traditional folk songs and she rapidly rose to prominence as the first lady of Folk because of her crystal clear vocals. She was political back then but hadn’t yet found a way to express it. That came when she met the ragamuffin Bob Dylan fresh from his adventures ion the streets and in the coffee houses of New York. Joan was knocked out by the quality of his songs and took to promoting him, getting him to come up on stage and introducing him to a wider audience. She also took to doing covers of his songs and extolling their virtues. Joan’s music and level of activism leapt forward.
Joan performed with Bob at the great civil rights march on Washington when Martin Luther King gave his wondrous speech. She went on numerous other civil rights marches and meetings and became involved in the anti-war movement and environmental issues and human rights. She always wore her heart on her sleeve and incorporated the politics into her songs and stage act. There was no doubting where Joan stood on all those issues. She was a voice of humanity, liberty, freedom and the voice of reason and intelligence. Where-ever there is injustice in the world Joan has been willing to put her time, money and voice to opposing it. If only we had a million more Joan’s we would not have such a selfish, greedy, cruel, warmongering world!
It’s hard choosing a best Joan Baez album. Her early albums were a little lightweight, her success, like ‘The Night they drove old Dixie down’ are not her best and some of her albums are a bit patchy. My favourite songs are ‘Diamonds and Rust’ and the Phil Och’s cover ‘There but for fortune’ but in the end I plumped for the album ‘Farewell Angelina’.
I think Joan was always brilliant at interpreting Bob Dylan numbers and this was one of her early albums which featured a lot of Dylan, with a Guthrie, Donovan and Seeger as well as some traditional songs. Not only that but two of the Dylan songs ‘Farewell Angelina’ and ‘Daddy you been on my mind’ had not been released by Dylan. They really shone.
The album was well produced with Joan’s guitar and voice prominent and the lyrics shining through. The passion is there and the versions of ‘A Hard Rain’s a gonna fall’ and ‘It’s all over now baby blue’ are great. It was wonderful to hear the Woody Guthrie classic ‘Ranger’s command’ and the Pete Seeger anti-war song ‘Where have all the flowers gone’ (in German).
Oh how we need that voice of sanity now as the environment is being eaten by the machine, the animals murdered, the forests cut down and the wind and waters tainted! 56% of all our wild mammals destroyed in forty years! Sing up Joan!
240. Don & Dewey – Jungle hop
Still in the wake of Little Richard the Specialty label were hunting around for an act to fill the gap and Don & Dewey flew in from nowhere. They were a versatile powerhouse of a Rock/R&B duo who created a dynamic sound and yet were also capable of more delicate numbers like ‘Pink Champagne’ and ‘I’m leaving it all up to you’.
Their act was reminiscent of the later Soul combo Sam and Dave. I’m sure Sam & Dave were more than a little influenced by the sound and act created by Don and Dewey. It is certain that Don and Dewey were certainly Soul precursors. The idea of a dual vocal attack was quite revolutionary.
Specialty gave them a hard hitting Rock backing on numbers like ‘Justine’, ‘Jungle hop’, ‘Koko Jo’, ‘Mammer Jammer’, ‘Little Sally Walker’, ‘Just a little loving’ and ‘Miss Sue’. My one concern of the numbers they chose to produce was this emphasis on jungles and monkeys. It came over to me as a slightly racist stereotype and I wondered where that had come from.
They were never very successful despite the quality and originality of their act but a few of their numbers were successfully covered. The most notable of these was ‘Farmer John’ which was a big hit for the Premiers and was covered by the Searchers and Neil Young.