Oct 26 2009
with Marc Reisman, left, Roger Day and Paul Cosentino. (Jim White photo)
I'm not sure how Ernie
Hawkins knew just how much BlueNotes enjoys the clarinet as played by
Paul Cosentino, but it was extremely good of him to to include both in his band
at the grand opening of the Calliope Center Stage Concerts Friday night at
Calliope's new performance space, Simmons Hall, at the Pittsburgh Center
for the Arts.
In fact, Ernie put together a very fine band for the occasion -- "We even
rehearsed," he quipped -- Pittsburgh harp wizard Marc Reisman, tuba-meister
Roger Day, percussionist and washboarder Rich Strong, and Cosentino. Maybe the
only thing missing was some hot honky-tonk piano.
Strong and Cosentino both hail from the Boilermaker Jazz
Band, and the mixture of all these top-flight artists, plus Hawkins'
masterful guitar work, made for a highly entertaining set of old blues mingled
with jazz and other fine old-time music.
The group effortlessly put together a nice mix of the old blues and rags at
which Hawkins excels ("Deep
Ellum Blues"), enhanced by harp, tuba and clarinet, plus a few songs that
you might not normally expect at a Hawkins show ("Blue
Skies"), all stitched seamlessly together .
Ernie opened with "Ragtime Millionaire," and as soon as Cosentino kicked in
with the clarinet, you knew this was gonna be a fun night. The licorice stick
has always been a staple of fine old jazz, but in the right hands, often speaks
well of the blues.
Early on, Hawkins paid tribute to his teacher, legendary guitarist Rev.
Gary Davis, noting that Davis was the most interesting person he'd ever met,
then played what he said was his mother's favorite song, Davis' "Slow Drag."
That's the way the evening went -- a little interesting chatter between
songs, and a lot of interesting songs between the chatter. Songs like "Soul of a
Man," "Diddy Wah Diddy," "Mean Little Poodle," "Glory of Love," "Hello Central,
Give Me Dr. Jazz," "Whatcha Gonna Do," "Basin Street Blues" and "Step It Up and
Go." That's not a complete set list, but hey, BlueNotes had to enjoy the music
as well as take notes. And it should give you a nice flavor of the evening's
While the entire band was sharp and excellent, I really enjoyed the addition
of clarinet to the mix. Cosentino's wailing turned "Basin Street Blues" into a
little gem, and seemed to add just the right notes everywhere. Hawkins also
brought out his ukulele for a duet with the tube that he called "Tubalele."
Never underestimate the power of a good tuba. Apologies to very able
percussionist Strong, for not having a photo that included him. His washboard
solos were inspired, although to call it a "washboard" really understates its
It was an excellent start to the Calliope season in the newly redone Simmons
Hall. The basement room is cozy without being tiny (seating up to 150),
and the new candlelit tables create a club atmosphere instead of the previous
rows of folding chairs. The mirrored walls have been covered with soft, muted
draperies. Yes, there was a bar. Alas, the space was only partially full for
this fine show. A couple of BlueNotes readers have suggested that the dinner
show was too costly, although it was a benefit. Still, BlueNotes understands the
pressure of an empty wallet. Ain't that just like the blues?
Calliope always seems to put on good shows, and this space should make them
even better. Except when they aren't held there. This Friday, Calliope will be
collaborating on a show to be held at the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville,
with another great blues guitarist, Paul Rishell, with Annie Raines. More on
that, including an interview, later this week.
Marc, Ernie and Paul lean
into their music. (Jim White photo)
Oct 24 2009
I just wanted to get on the record how much I enjoyed Ernie Hawkins
and his somewhat unusual band last night at Calliope's Blues & BBQ concert
that also served to open Calliope's cool new performance space in Simmons Hall
at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
Hawkins brought along a tuba, clarinet, harp and percussion player with
washboard, for a set of blues and other old-timey songs like "Diddy Wah Diddy"
and "Glory of Love" that blended nicely into an evening of sparkling music.
But that's just the beginning. I'll have more in the next day or so, with
And just a reminder that tonight is another Blues Night Out for the Blues Society of Western Pa.,
featuring the Jimmy Adler Band, at Dante's on Brownsville Road. The band will
follow the society's membership meeting. Why not go on out and join the society,
help promote the blues in the area, meet some knowledgeable and avid blues fans,
and hear some good music? One of the many good things they do is host these
blues nights, bringing local blues bands to different neighborhoods in
BluesBurgh. After all, you've got to drink somewhere -- might as well be with
some blues in the background.
Oct 23 2009
We've got another recent CD to
talk about today, by another artist who's new to BlueNotes, and probably some of
you as well. His name is Dave
Keyes, and he's been playing piano and singing along in the New York City
area for a decade or so. He writes music, produces music, and thankfully,
records some of it.
"Roots in the Blues" is Keyes' fourth solo CD, and judging from this one, the
others must have been pretty tasty. Keyes, along with a tight band and some
nifty arrangements, offers up a bunch of originals, plus a pair of unusual
gospel covers, all with some pretty fine and bluesy chops. He's worked with many
performers over the years, and also conducted for the Broadway hit, "Smokey Joe's
Cafe," featuring the wonderful R&B music of Jerry Leiber and Mike
But credentials aside, you've got to make good music, and and Keyes does
that. He gets some able assistance here from the take-no-prisoners blues-rock
guy Popa Chubby.
on three songs, all of which scorch nicely, especially "All Black and Blue."
Keyes and Chubby often perform together, and if these songs are any indication,
they should put on a powerful show.
I mentioned gospel covers, and Keyes takes solo piano turns on a rollicking
"Didn't It Rain," credited here to Marie Knight and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The
other gospel track, "Angels Keep Watching Over Me," by Thomas A. Dorsey, usually
known as the father of gospel music, but before that was the great blues piano
player, Georgia Tom (that's a very interesting tale of a strange twist on the
devil's music, if you have a chance to look it up sometime.
Keyes does all these styles, including a zydeco turn on the accordion,
considerable justice, with potent piano and passionate vocals. Since I can't
find any videos of Keyes online, here are a few samples from the CD to give you
a taste. He's worth a listen.
"Blues Bearing Down," with Popa Chubby on guitar:
"Lovin' All the Time":
"Angels Keep Watching Over Me":
Just a reminder: Masterful Pittsburgh guitarist Ernie Hawkins is at
the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside tonight. (See the previous
post). And thanks to Bluzer for baring his bluesy soul in a comment on that
Oct 22 2009
Ernie Hawkins is one
of just a handful of musicians playing acoustic blues today with direct links
back to the roots of country blues -- players like the Rev. Gary Davis, from
whom Hawkins learned the music that's such a driving force in his
Since he met and studied with Davis in 1969, Hawkins has become
more than just an excellent blues player -- as if that wasn't enough -- he's
become a teacher and a torchbearer, carrying on not just his own life, but the
life of a music that's somewhere near the endangered species
Hawkins shows up in the Burgh far too seldom, but he is busy
spreading the music at shows and festivals around the world. And the bio on his web
site suggests that like the bluesmen whose music he's inherited, he's been
around a lot himself.
But he will be performing here tomorrow night
(10/23), with his band, at the first of this season's Calliope Center
Stage Concerts at the Pittsburgh
Center for the Arts. It will be the debut of Calliope's new performance
space Simmons Hall at the center, for their Blues & BBQ night.
Calliope,of course is the Pittsburgh Folk Music Society, and the group brings a
lot of good music to town.
Hawkins and the Center for the Arts have a
long history as well. In the mid-1960s, he presented a series of folk concerts
called Shady Grove at the center when he was still in high school, and before he
left to seek the mastery of the Rev. Davis. So you can see how everything seems
to have a way of working its way back to its own beginning -- something Hawkins
should appreciate, having received a philosophy degree at the University of
Here are a couple of videos:
The Rev. Gary Davis:
Oct 21 2009
Coco Montoya is a blues
player who's has been around for a while, from his inspiration when he first
King play the blues, to his role as a drummer with Albert
Collins, where he made the transformation to a blues guitar man under
Collins' expert tutelage.
Over the years he's turned into a man with an axe with a fine edge for the
blues, both from his sharp guitar and bluesy vocals. And now his label, Blind
Pig, gives you a chance to sample some of the last decade or so of his work on
that fine little blues label.
The new CD that does that, "The Essential Coco Montoya" comes off sounding
just like its title -- a look at the essential blues of Montoya, and how he's
worked his guitar magic over the years. For a man with a rep as wielding a fiery
guitar, the music here is almost subdued -- with emphasis on "almost." The
guitar work moves from torchy to stinging, and always seems to be sensitive to
the essence of the music.
I suppose he might be considered a blues-rocker in many circles, and while
his music does have that edge, I think his debt to King and Collins keeps him a
little more on the bluesy side. The cuts on this album, which Montoya selected,
show off a sturdy blues groove and vocals that work in harmony with the tough
guitar. They track his move toward stardom as his own guitarist, moving out of
the shadow of the giants he followed, including John Mayall.
If you're a fan, this is a nice compilation of some of his early work. If
you're not familiar with his music, this might serve as an excellent
Here's a video of Montoya at work:
And here's a video of one of the masters, Albert Collins:
And by the way, BlueNotes was lucky to be at a number of Albert
Collins' shows around 1980 or so, when he kept turning up at Mancini's in McKees
Rock. It wasn't hard to be dazzled by the Iceman's axe. Back in the day when
musicians still had cords on their guitars, Collins would prowl the floor and
the sidewalk outside while he worked his magic.
It's been a while sinceBeerNotes had much to say, but he did notice
this little item on a newsletter he gets -- the Belgian Shop Newsletter --
from a spot that deals in delicious Belgian beer and related items (think
chocolate fantasies). Just something to think about while you enjoy one:
Fermented beverages brewed from
grains such as rice or wheat have been used in East Asia for thousands of years
and played an important role in the early religious life of China. The use of
alcohol in moderation was believed to be prescribed by heaven.
If that isn't drinkable with the devil's music, I don't know what is.
Oct 20 2009
Another old-time bluesman has gone -- Johnny Jones, 73, a Nashville legend
for his guitar stylings, died Friday. Here's the item from Phoenix bluesman Bob
Corritore's newsletter that alerted me:
Nashville blues and soul singer/guitarist Johnny
Jones passed away on Friday Oct 16th. He was 73. Born in Edes, Tennessee
and raised in a gospel oriented family, Jones became influenced by the blues of
Memphis and Chicago and picked up guitar along the way. He moved to Chicago in
the 1950s and worked gigs with Junior
Wells and Freddie
King. He moved to Nashville in the 60s
and worked as a session guitarist and cut a few singles under his own name. He
appeared on the Beat TV show as a second guitarist in Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's Band. In later years Jones owned and operated a Soul Food
restaurant but was rediscoved through the efforts of Fred James and
European festival bookers. This led to festival appearances, a new
European interest in this seasoned veteran, and some CDs. A wonderful
guitarist with a warm and passionate voice, Johnny Jones will
be remembered as a great blues artist to those lucky enough to have known
him. Please note that this artist should not
be confused with the blues artist of same name, who was famous for his
piano work with Elmore James.
And according to what I've read, he didn't just play with Junior Wells, Wells
got him started in Chicago. And he was also known as a mentor to Jimi Hendrix,
and won a now-legendary cutting contest with Hendrix in Nashville in the
Here's an article on Jones' death from the Nashville Tennessean.
Here's a video of Jones talking about his guitar style:
And here's a video of Jones talking about Hendrix:
Shows this week: I already mentioned that Ernie Hawkins will be
playing at Calliope's Blues at the Crossroads show Friday night, but I forgot to
mention a show Thursday night at Club Cafe, where Candye Kane will be appearing,
with the local Ian Arthurs Band also on the bill. More later.
Correction: Candye Kane is next Thursday, Oct. 29.
Oct 16 2009
BlueNotes is happy to report
that he's been listening to another CD from one of those fine little regional
bands that comes along, sneaking their music under the radar, and probably not
well-known here in BluesBurgh.
The band is Victor
Wainwright and the Wildroots, out of Savannah, GA, and the CD is "Beale
Street to the Bayou," a fine mix of rootsy rock, bluesy blues and a little bit
of lots of other music -- some sensitive, some raucous, all lots of fun.
Most of the music is written by Wainwright and the band's guitarist and
prodcucer, Stephen Dees, formerly of Hall and Oates, Todd Rundgren, Foghat and
others. The thrust of the music comes from Wainwright on keyboards, harp and
Together, and with a tight band that sounds pleasantly loose, plus some
horns, they whip out a bunch of songs that range from almost soft pop ("Square")
to tough acoustic blues ("Sold Down River"). "Blues in the Rain" is a nice slow,
soulful cut featuring Victor and his piano.
Wainwright is referred to as a 20-something guy, but his vocals are filled
with a smooth grit that belies his age. You can hear it all on the band's
swinging cover of Ray Charles' classic "What''s I Say." It's the only cover
here, and while it won't make you forget The Genius, it holds its own.
This isn't exactly a classic blues album, but it's a very good album full of
tasty original music from some excellent musicians who clearly feel their
Here's a video of them at work:
Announcements: Listen up
The Blues Society of
Western Pa. has just put out its latest newsletter, and BlueNotes is
happy and excited and otherwise pleased to have been included in that
newsletter, both with one of those sexy articles that you're so used to reading
here. And they kindly included his photo on another page (can you find it?) I
assume it was kindly, and not meant to reveal his otherwise secret identity. Can
you find it? It's worth a bee of you can -- and if you can find BlueNotes to buy
Look forward to some good blues shows the end of this month --
Including Ernie Hawkins, Keb Mo and Paul Rishell and Annie Raines. All here in
the Burgh. I'll have more later, including an interview with Paul and Annie,
whose music I've enjoyed for a long time.
Oct 13 2009
Bobby Rush and
friends at the Wheeling blues festival in August. (Jim White photo)
Bobby Rush is
one of those veteran blues and soul guys who doesn't get a lot of attention
outside the Southern soul circuit. That's too bad. He does a lot of sexual
schtick in his shows, but he's still a fine singer and harp player, as the album
"Raw" showed a few years ago. He was one of the headliners at the Wheeling
Heritage Music Bluesfest in August. Here's a nice interview with him from the Louisiana Times.
It's apparently not too soon for a new Christmas album, and there's a
new one on the shelves from Bob
Dylan, who never got around to clelebrating the holiday with an album until
now. It's called "Christmas in the Heart," and he's donating the profits to some
charities. Nice touch. (No, Bob isn't exactly a bluesman, but his albums lately
have taken some fine bluesy turns, and of course, the blues seem to be part of
his Minnesota roots. And BlueNotes is a fan.) Here's a nice
review, and a not-so-nice review.
Oct 12 2009
Every once in a while, something comes up to remind us of the worldwide
appeal of blues music. We all pretty much know that blues have been popular in
Europe for years, as well as in Japan. It's interesting, since these cultures
are pretty much lacking in the historical aspects of the music that America
owns. i'd like to think that this popularity comes from the basic emotional
content of the blues. It's almost an appeal to some primeval human condition
that we can all touch.
Whatever. This feeling was reinforced over the weekend when I ran across a
blog post that digs into American blues. Nothing too unusual about that, except
that the blog -- Download Central -- can be found on the Web site of the Hindustan Times, in India. This particular post, titled
"The Blues Revisited," looks at the writer's (Sanjoy Naraya)
tastes for old Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf music -- complete with video
The item also notes a couple of other Web spots to find blues, especially
music clips. They look interesting enough to repeat here -- The Roadhouse and Bandana Blues.
Just goes to show that blues power is everywhere. And also goes to show just
how good we have it here, in the land where the blues began.
And just for fun, here's a video of a blues band from Bangalore, India,
called the Barracuda Blues Band, playing a blues tune that some of you
may have heard:
To those of you who still believe that Christopher
Columbus "discovered" America, happy Columbus
Oct 09 2009
Corey Harris is an
unusual bluesman -- mainly because he's not really a bluesman the way most of us
think of blues musicians. So writing about his latest CD, "blu.black" (Telarc)
is a little out of BlueNotes' league.
Harris, much like other great musicians who use the blues as a starting point
-- Taj Mahal and Otis Taylor come to mind -- stretches the music toward
seemingly boundless horizons. He explores what is often called roots music, but
which generally defies categorization. On this new CD, Harris uses a small,
tight band of mostly sax, keyboards, bass and rums, to explore reggae themes
with his own unique songwriting perspective. He gets a big assist here from
Chris "Peanut" Whitley on keyboards and on songwriting duties.
"blu.black" favors reggae, but incorporates layers of world music into the
kind of songs that Harris seems to favor -- songs that tell stories, and don't
always shy way from tough themes and imagery. "Pimps and Thieves," for example,
is his take on the seedy underside of the entertainment business, sounding more
like something from a Caribbean version of Randy Newman.
It's impressive how he works with very simple arrangements and creates music
with layers of sound and feeling.
Harris really does have a very deep blues heritage, and it's obvious on the
closer,, simply titled "Blues," a gorgeously simple and elegant blues -- "I hate
to see that evening sun go down ... makes me feel like I'm on my last go round."
And it bears its own grim message about death by electric chair, but I won't
spoil the ending here. I know that he doesn't want to be confined to the form,
but for a pure blues lover, this one song is worth the price of admission.
Here are a couple of videos to give you a sample.
From his last album, "Zion Crossroads"
A traditional "Sweet Home Chicago" with Keb Mo
And you blues rocking fans, don't forget Tinsley Ellis tonight at