Tony Joe White has parlayed his songwriting talent into a modestly successful country and rock career in Europe as well as America. Born July 23, 1943, in Goodwill, Louisiana, White was born into a part-Cherokee family. He began working clubs in Texas during the mid-’60s and moved to Nashville by 1968. White’s 1969 debut album for Monument, Black and White, featured his Top Ten pop hit “Polk Salad Annie” and another charting single, “Roosevelt and Ira Lee (Night of the Moccasin).” That same year, Dusty Springfield reached the charts with White’s “Willie and Laura Mae Jones.” Brook Benton recorded a version of White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” that hit number four early in 1970; the song has since become a near-standard with more than 100 credits. White’s own “Groupie Girl” began his European success with a short stay on the British charts in 1970.
“Buried Alive in the Blues” is certainly one of the best live Blues albums of all times. Those who had and will have a chance to see the Chicago Blues Reunion onstage may proudly say: “I’ve seen the Blues history in the making!” It’s not a nostalgy album, it’s a strongest proof of an everlasting freshness and youth of the Chicago Blues. All those who took part in the album recording, production, design and marketing have done a great job, and the result may already be considered as a treasure of not just American but the World music culture.
The roots of American music, including the blues, R&B, and Cajun music, gave Willy DeVille’s (born William Borsey) late-’70s punk band, Mink DeVille, its unique flavor. A quarter of a century later, DeVille continued to blend musical traditions and postmodern intensity. A self-taught guitarist, DeVille found his early inspiration in the blues of John Hammond Jr., Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. Determined to become a musician, he moved to London in 1971, hoping to latch on with a British band. Frustrated by his lack of success, he returned to the United States. Temporarily settling in San Francisco, he spent most of 1972 developing his stage persona in Bay Area clubs. Returning to New York, DeVille was in the right place at the right time. Forming a band, Dilly DeSade & the Marquis, later renamed Mink DeVille, with bassist Ruben Siguenza and drummer T.R. “Manfred” Allen Jr., he found his roots-oriented rock welcome in the city’s burgeoning punk scene. When the independent Omfug label included three of their songs on the multi-artist compilation Live at CBGB’s, recorded at the influential New York punk club, their punk connection was assured. With Atlantic acquiring national distribution rights to the album, Mink DeVille became one of the country’s top punk bands.
Rendezvous With the Blues marks another step in the normalization of Melvin Taylor. With Lucky Peterson on keyboards, Taylor is much more the featured lead guitarist in a straight-band context that too often finds him fighting for room to move in the full arrangements. He takes a jazzy lead on the opening “Coming Home Baby,” but that runs counter to the measured, mid-tempo groove that dominates the first three tracks and seems like a move to court the contemporary rock-blues audience. So does some of the material — no originals, with ZZ Top, Stephen Stills, and Carlos Santana’s tribute to John Lee Hooker in the songwriter credits on one side and Charles Singleton and Prince for contemporary black funk/rock relevance on the other. Horns kick in to punctuate the slinky, clavinet-anchored funk on “I’m the Man Down There,” but Taylor’s solo gets cluttered up by a duel with Peterson (on guitar here). Taylor is better-served when he escapes the rock beat straitjacket on “Tribute to John Lee Hooker” — the Latin-tinged rhythms give his guitar more freedom to float and sting. ZZ Top’s slow “Blue Jean Blues” definitely picks things up with blitz distortion solos and nice dynamics, but “Help Me” leaves behind Sonny Boy Williamson’s haunted train groove for a plodding mid-tempo blues that winds up anonymous. Eric Gales’ instrumental “Eclipse” goes so far down the Wes Montgomery mellow jazz blues instrumental route it could almost be a quiet storm/fuzak format candidate. And Prince’s “Five Women” sounds like disjointed parts with a group that never really coheres, while Stills’ “Black Queen” is transformed into a rhythmic stomp that goes nowhere. Almost all the songs have moments, but Rendezvous With the Blues is spotty, mostly because Taylor seems to be struggling to force his way through busy arrangements and a less-than-inspired choice of songs. The disc wants to have it both ways — to distinguish Melvin Taylor as a more versatile and contemporary bluesman, but then saddles him with a regulation-issue sound that reins in the freewheeling guitar solos that are his greatest asset.
Live at the Alamo Theater marks Eddie Cotton’s triumphant arrival on the blues scene. It is not everyday that blues fans can celebrate the discovery of a young player hailing from a traditional background. Eddie Cotton found inspiration in traditional blues masters like Little Milton, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters as well as soul singers like O.V. Wright, Little Willie John and Otis Redding. Hot on the heels of his 1999 Grammy Award nominated album, “Welcome to Little Milton”, producer Greg Preston was quick to realize Eddie’s tremendous potential and embraced this project with his usual professionalism and drive. The historic Alamo Theater on Farish Street in downtown Jackson, MS where so many blues luminaries have performed over the years was the perfect venue for Eddie’s recording debut. Eddie Cotton’s impassioned, soulful vocals and fluid, biting guitar combined with his youthful enthusiasm and powerful stage presence stormed the Alamo and took no prisoners. Preston teamed up again with ace engineer Kent Bruce to superbly capture the energy and excitement of that memorable night.
One of the great rock vocalists of the 1960s, Tim Buckley drew from folk, psychedelic rock, and progressive jazz to create a considerable body of adventurous work in his brief lifetime. His multi-octave range was capable of not just astonishing power, but great emotional expressiveness, swooping from sorrowful tenderness to anguished wailing. His restless quest for new territory worked against him commercially: By the time his fans had hooked into his latest album, he was onto something else entirely, both live and in the studio. In this sense he recalled artists such as Miles Davis and David Bowie, who were so eager to look forward and change that they confused and even angered listeners who wanted more stylistic consistency. However, his eclecticism has also ensured a durable fascination with his work that has engendered a growing posthumous cult for his music, often with listeners who were too young (or not around) to appreciate his music while he was active.
Although largely ignored today except by astute guitar students, the late Gabor Szabo left behind a large body of work that is still very much misunderstood. A descendent of Hungarian gypsies, Szabo’s guitar style was very much in line in with his heritage, full of dark and mysterious textures that were the antithesis of the modern jazz guitar sound of the ’50s and ’60s. For this out-of-print LP, not only does he play guitar, but he overdubbed sitar on all but one of the numbers. With originals that include “Mizrab,” “Search for Nirvana,” “Krishna,” and “Ravi,” the influence of Indian music is quite strong, and this must be the only album to have versions of both “Caravan” and The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Szabo, who is joined by bassist Johnny Gregg, drummer Bernard Purdie and sometimes guitarist Bob Bushnell, emphasizes trance-like songs, but despite (or maybe because of) his attempts to be “with it,” the music is somewhat dated today.
Although Curtis Mayfield’s album sales had decreased significantly by the late ’70s, the smooth Chicago soul veteran remained a popular live attraction well into the ’80s. Audiences still longed to hear both gems from his years with the influential Impressions and his early solo hits, and he gives them exactly what they want on this album (released as both a single CD and a two-CD set). Mayfield reminds us just how great the Impressions were on heartfelt versions of such ’60s classics as “Gypsy Woman” (which greatly influenced the Isley Brothers), “It’s Alright” and the inspirational “People Get Ready,” and is equally captivating on incisive, early-’70s sociopolitical hits like “Pusherman,” “Freddie’s Dead,” and “If There’s a Hell Below.” Live in Europe’s main flaw isn’t Mayfield’s performances, but a band that, although decent, just doesn’t go that extra mile or do this superb material justice. Horns, a main ingredient of many of his hits, are sorely missed — especially on “Move on Up” — and Buzz Amato’s keyboards simply can’t take their place.
Nature of the Beast” shows Spady’s potential. This is more of an R&B album, more than it is a blues album, as seen with tunes like “Baby Baby Baby”, “A Good Fool is Hard to Find”, and “Bad Axe”. Spady takes some good solos in this album, but his rhythms really make the album, along with some great help from the band. Unlike many other blues musicians, Clarence uses many influences in his playing. He has bits of every type of good black music in his playing, from traditional blues, to jazz, to funk, to gospel, to R&B. Clarence is so good that he never gives it 100% when he’s being recorded because he doesn’t want anyone copying his licks. One must take that into consideration when listening to this album. All in all, this is a wonderful album and is enough to give me my Spady fix while I’m away from home. If you’re in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area of PA, be sure to see if he’s playing. A live experience will send you to heaven, and you’ll leave knowing exactly what I mean when I say that his album really is nothing compared to him live. Even in light of the fact that he gigs as a three-piece now, with Bob O’Connel on keys and Sharon Smith on drums, he always pulls it off better than the album, no easy task. And lets’s hold on to some hope that maybe, just maybe he’ll change his way of living and record another album and follow up on it this time. There’s no doubt in my mind that if he wanted it, Clarence would be the next big thing, the next SRV, the next Robben Ford, the next guitar hero.