Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Few More Roots Gems

The last month and a half have been hectic and as a result, I have not been able to post as often as I did in previous months. In the coming months I plan to continue researching roots music and posting with a bit more frequency. As always, there is so much to work with and so little time to really do it justice.

This post offers a few real gems from different genres drawn from our vast repository of roots music. Some of these have been old favorites of mine for many years and others have come to my attention via youtube over the course of the last few months. As always, a couple of the artists here are likely to be projects for further research. Finally, thanks to all that have stopped by to check out what's happening. I appreciate all comments and hope this offering of roots classics elicits a few more.

Jazz: This early bop recording by Illinois Jacquet's band is a flawless example of the evolving bop style in 1947. Appropriately named "Embryo", it features a classic baritone solo by forgotten bari king Leo Parker. Also, Earl Hines offers the classic tune Rosseta by himself from 1939, showcasing his mastery of the stride style that actually goes a bit beyond. Superb. Finally, check out the magic of Lucky Thompson on Anthropology, a bop recording on video from 1959. Great piano work by Bud Powell and a very unique guitar solo by Jimmy Gourley.

R&B: Ivory Joe Hunter's classic 1950 recording of Old Man's Boogie is a hybrid piece, it combines elements of boogie, jump blues while setting oup the basis for rock n' roll. Also, Nappy Brown's very unique "There Come a Day" combines elements of Doo Wop, jump blues and early rock n' roll, on a 1955 recording. Great sax solo. Finally, the incomparable "Leave My Kitten Alone" by Little Willie John from 1959. Covered by the Beatles here in a 1964 recording that remained unreleased until 1995.

Rockabilly: Rusty York's 1957 cut Shake em Up Baby is my favorite York cut, probably influenced at some level by Roy Brown's Hip Shakin Baby.. Also, check out Tommy Blake's Flat Foot Sam shows Blake's talent as a rockabilly arranger, an overlooked talent for sure. His "Folding Money," recorded for Sun is also superb, wonderful guitar tone. Finally, blending nascent rock n' roll within a rockabilly framework is Jimmy Thomason's "Now Hear This," and his orchestra, simply a superb arrangement. Super guitar and sax solos from 1956. Finally, anytime I can find a way to work Grady Martin into the mix, well, check out Wayne Walkers' very unique "All I Can Do is Cry," with great work by Martin. Outstanding.

Western Swing: Hoyle Nix's Real Rockin Daddy is a classic Texas boogie arrangement. Excellent solos all the way around. Also, Curtis Gordon's Rock n' Roll Jump Jive demonstrates the fusion of boogie and western swing as they morph into rockabilly. Excellent cut.

Chicago Blues: Walkin by Myself by Jimmy Rogers from 1956 is an absolute classic of the crafted Chess sound, out of Chicago, mid fifties. Great vocals by Jimmy and an astonishing harp solo by Big Walter Horton. Also check out one of my all time favorites, Little Walter's "Last Night," an all time favorite that is unique among Walter's Chess recordings in that it lacks a harp solo. Louis Myers covers the space in perfect fashion.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guitar Slim and the Origins of Electric Blues Guitar

Sorely missing from a post on New Orleans R&B artists that appeared last summer was the incredible work of Guitar Slim. Although originally from Mississippi, Eddie Jones or "Guitar Slim" made a name for himself in the thriving post WWII club scene in New Orleans in the late 1940's as a flashy onstage performer who used outlandish showmanship. Guitar Slim's early work is contemporaneous with T Bone Walker and Clarence Gatemouth Brown's, both of whom were establishing the groundwork for electric blues guitar in Houston at the Bronze Peacock Club and later recording for Don Robey's magnificent Peacock Records. Also, Johnny Guitar Watson and Lowell Fulson must be mentioned as early contributors to the nascent electric blues guitar sound, Fulson's early recordings on Chess and Watson's on the Keen label are seminal. Both, along with Guitar Slim, Walker and Gatemouth Brown, are the genuine pioneers of the electric blues guitar sound that was forged in the 1950's through these early recordings. I have been wanting to post on Guitar Slim for some time but only recently have his finest recordings, from the 1953-1954 period on the Specialty Label, been put up on youtube. His later recordings with the Atco label are yet to be shared. On these recordings one can appreciate Slim's hauntingly unique electric guitar style that would later inspire Earl Hooker, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins and and New Orleans guitarist Earl King, who also recorded for Specialty during the same time period. Finally, it's noteworthy that Stevie Ray Vaughn covered the Slim's best known recording, "The Things I used to Do," heard here.

Here is a nice sampling of of Guitar Slim's work from the early 1950's, almost all from the Specialty Label.

1) Twenty Five Lies- Wonderful full band New Orleans sound with hot tenor solo and great lyrics by Slim. Has a Jump Blues feel.

2) Quicksand - Great shuffle blues with fine sax solo followed by great guitar solo by Slim.

3) Somethin to Remember Me By - Classic slower blues with that distinct West Coast blues flaver. Outstanding vocals that anticipate soul that emerges in the early 1960s'. Very strong guitar solo.

4) Trouble Don't Last - Another slower blues with a tight orchestral accompaniment. UNique guitar solo with early use of amplified sound distortion, years before it became commonplace.

5) The Things I Used to Do - Wonderfully conceived recording with excellent horn section and a nice guitar lead. New Orleans style R&B with great vocals by Slim.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Echale Salsita: Cuba and the Roots of Salsa

While the 1920's saw the consolidation of jazz as a true American art form, the musical effervescence of Cuba gave rise to another lasting musical art form that endures today as an internationally recognized genre. Although the roots of "salsa" are difficult to pinpoint and speak to the complex interplay of African and Iberian musical forms, its initial recordings can be traced directly back to the decade of the twenties, a period characterized by active cultural interchange between the United States and Cuba. While Cuban music enriched the cultural landscape of the U. S., American influence allows for sugar monopolies and the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado in a climate of generalized corruption in Cuba, at the same time giving the island the sport of baseball, still venerated by most Cubans.

Most musicologists trace the origins of salsa to the Cuban Son, an African based music form that appears on the island in the nineteenth century. Perhaps the first exponent of salsa is the Afro Cuban bass player Ignacio Pineiro, who formed the famous Septeto Nacional in 1927 and performed with the group at the Apollo Theater and the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. It has been reported that he also recorded for Columbia Studios in the late 1920's, original recordings from the period are at a collector's premium. Noteworthy is that the origin of the name salsa - which now encompasses are rather wide range of styles from the Spanish speaking Caribbean - can be traced to the Pineiro composition "Echale Salsita, " roughly translated "spice it up." For a taste of the piquant sound, give a listen to this composition of the same song which appears to capture the spirit of the original sound. While the rhythms and percussion are identical to the more contemporary salsa sound, absent is the full orchestra sound that salsa incorporates as exchanges between American jazz musicians and Cuban musicians became more pronounced during the mambo craze of the 1950's. A more contemporary rendition of "Echale Salsita" can be heard here.

The explosion and popularity of salsa throughout the Caribbean and on the American music scene during the 1960's and 70's continues today and undoubtedly qualify it as form of American roots music of Cuban origins. Some have suggested that the term "salsa" actually speaks to the amalgam of Caribbean musical styles that coalesce in New York City after the great Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican immigration waves of the 1960's and seventies. Many great salsa artists have taken up residence in New York and performed in the flourishing dance scene in the city over the last few decades.

With the election of Obama, cultural exchanges between Cuba and the United States have been resumed to the levels they were enjoying during the Clinton years, a time that saw famous Cuban groups such as Los Van Van and Orquesta Aragon come to the U. S. to perform. This year, in memory of the legacy of Ignacio Pineiro and his marvelous Cuban roots music, the Septeto Nacional, which has not performed in the United States since the presidency of FDR, has been invited to return. The group is currently doing a tour of the U.S. and has performed in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago. Eugenio Rodriguez, the groups leader, is proud to be a part of the Pineiro legacy and bring it to U.S. audiences, a little "salsa" that has been lacking on the scene for too many years.