Jim White blogs about the blues and related music.

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BlueNotes' Stuff

BlueNotes Motto:
Doin' the lord's work for the devil's music

Blues on YouTube

Favorite photo:

Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks at the Palisades Ballroom in McKeesport.  (Jim White photo)

Blues quote:
"She's got a big Oldsmobile, she's got a dog that don't bite.
She's got a heart I can steal, just like a thief in the night."  -- Delbert McClinton,  "Everytime I Roll the Dice"

BlueNotes photo gallery
Pittsburgh Blues Festival '08

Ernie Hawkins & Band sparkle at Calliope

Ernie Hawkins 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.

Ernie Hawkins (Jim White photo)

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 music.

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 contribution.

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 Reisman, Ernie Hawkins and Paul Cosentino. (Jim White photo)
Marc, Ernie and Paul lean into their music. (Jim White photo)

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Ernie Hawkins and his good-time band; Blues Night Out

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 some photos.

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.


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Pianoman Dave Keyes has "Roots in the Blues"

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 Stoller.

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 post.

Pittsburgh's Ernie Hawkins keeping a tradition alive

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 life.

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 list.

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 Pittsburgh.

Here are a couple of videos:

Ernie Hawkins:

The Rev. Gary Davis:

"The Essential Coco Montoya" is just that

Coco Montoya is a blues player who's has been around for a while, from his inspiration when he first heard Albert 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 introduction.

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.

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Nashville blues singer/guitarist Johnny Jones dies

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 1960s.

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.

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Rootsy music from Victor Wainwright - "Beale Street to the Bayou"

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 vocals.

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 Southern roots.

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 you one.

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.

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Bobby Rush, Bobby Dylan

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.


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The blues from Hindustan

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 clips.

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 Day.

Corey Harris tours the world in ""

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, "" (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.

"" 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 Moondog's.

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