Monthly Archives: June 2013

Tedeschi Trucks Band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and JJ Grey and Mofro by Geoff Anderson

Tedeschi Trucks Band
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
JJ Grey and Mofro
Red Rocks
June 15, 2013

ImageWhen you walk into the venue and the stage is set up with three Hammond B 3 organs, each with its own Leslie speaker, you know you’re in for something earthy and gritty. And what better place for earthiness and grittiness than Red Rocks Amphitheater, carved out of 60 million year old rock formations? Throw in perfect June weather and three bands that mix various amounts of blues, rock, soul, funk and jazz and it was an evening for the ages; or at least 6 hours.

JJ Grey and Mofro

                JJ Grey had never been to Red Rocks before, and like pretty much every other first timer, he was awe-struck and gushed over the scenery. He pulled himself together enough to put on an hour long blues set with a six piece backing band. He had drums, bass, keyboards (the B 3, ya know), guitar, trumpet and sax. Grey sang and played guitar on about half the tunes. He started with a new, somewhat topical song, “99 Shades of Crazy,” referencing the soft-core porn books aimed at suburban moms.

            Grey came on stage with gray slacks and a navy polo shirt. Together with his short-cropped, thinning gray hair, he appeared fully qualified to man the counter at an auto parts store. But he’s a blues man! He growled through a set of originals in front of his crack blues band with solos throughout the set by most members.

            With three groups on the bill, all of a jammish persuasion, some cross pollination seemed inevitable. Sure enough, during “Ho Cake,” a Grey classic going back to his first album, Kofi Burbidge of the Tedeschi Trucks Band joined Mofro on stage. Burbidge is normally the TTB’s keyboard man, but he showed up with his flute. He borrowed the trumpeter’s mic and threw down an impromptu solo. Why not?

JJ Grey Set List
99 Shades of Crazy
Brighter Days
Your Lady; She’s Shady
Write a Letter
My Eyes are Wide Open
Only the Thrill
Ho Cake, Kofi on flute
Another Country Club

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

             I’ve complained before in this space about Potter’s increasing commercialism. (BTW, Potter turned 30 on June 20: over the hill?) Her latest album, The Lion, The Beast, The Beat, continues the trend. Many of the songs are constructed around sticky, sugary pop hooks. Her set Saturday night was, however, different. Dare I draw a comparison to Clapton? Yes, I dare.

            Back in the 1970s, Eric Clapton began spending a lot of time in the Caribbean. Possibly as a result of that, or possibly as a result of kicking heroin around that time, his studio albums began to take on a laid back, sometimes reggae-inflected flavor. (461 Ocean Boulevard, There’s One in Every Crowd, etc.) His fans from his blues guitar hero days were frustrated and depressed.  However, he continued his blues obsession in concert throughout the era. The album EC Was Here is a small document of this period. A better examination appears on Crossroads II, a four CD set chronicling his heavy blues output during his concerts of that period.

            Potter’s set Saturday night was a somewhat similar contrast to her recent studio work. Her early material was shot through with the blues, subtle funk and more than a little jam band influence. At Red Rocks, the jamming influence rose to the forefront. That sound was evident right out of the box. “Stop the Bus” is a tune from 2007’s This is Somewhere (an older album for her). The band rearranged this one to include a rave-up jam in the middle; deftly designed to rev up the audience. The next song, “Some Kind of Ride,” was from an even earlier album, Nothing But the Water from 2006. That was back when denim and flannel weren’t just her wardrobe, they were a lifestyle. “Never Go Back” was a track from her latest disc, but, for the most part, that one eschews the pop-hook formula.

“Devil’s Train” is where things got real interesting. On this one, the drummer strapped on a single drum and walked down front. All the rest of the band members donned acoustic guitars (even the bass player) and gave a workout to this old Roy Acuff classic. Listen for this one on the soundtrack to movie The Lone Ranger: Wanted. Definitely not a slick pop tune…

While on the Devil theme, and to gain more jam band cred at the same time, the band then went into “Friend of the Devil.” The deepest jam flavor came out toward the end of the show. The “Nothing But The Water Suite” is another tune from 2006. The first part of the studio version has Grace on a cappella, gospel infused vocals, followed by rock-n-roll rave for the second part. Saturday night, Grace was alone on the stage for part one, but this time she was wearing her Flying V guitar. Instead of a cappella vocals, Potter accompanied herself with the guitar. And not any old guitar licks. She played slide and had a nasty distorted sound. These licks could have come off a Chess Records side from the 1950s.

Still not finished with the Anti-Pop-Potter, the next tune was a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” This one has been known to show up on the jam band scene, including renditions by Gov’t. Mule who’s known to play this one semi-regularly. Potter has been known to consort with the Mule and its leader Warren Haynes, so why not?

Flying V tangent: (“Hi, I’m Grace Potter. I don’t always play guitar, but when I do, it’s always a Flying V.”) Ever since the dawn of rock-n-roll, the guitar has been a ubiquitous and effective phallic symbol. But a chick playing the guitar? Well, simple, just choose a Flying V. After all, “V” is for……

Grace Potter Set List
Stop the Bus
Some Kind of Ride
Goodbye Kiss
Low Road
Never Go Back
Big White Gate
Devil’s Train
Friend of the Devil
Medicine
Paris
Stars
The Divide
Water Suite Grace on slide
War Pigs
The Lion, The Beast, The Beat

Tedeschi Trucks Band 

            The Tedeschi Trucks Band has to be one of the top touring bands in the country right now. The amount of talent in this single band is unparalleled. Three years ago, the band started as an 11 piece ensemble. They’ve been touring ever since and they’ve maintained the original instrumentation despite the obvious challenge of payroll that size.

            As has been their practice throughout their three year existence, the band played a combination of original tunes and covers. Keeping with their sound and musical influences, the covers were generally from the 1970s and before. The first tune, for example, was George Harrison’s “Wah Wah,” one that seems to be rarely heard but, that of course, is part of the fun of pulling out one like this. The band paid homage to its blues roots with Elmore James’ “The Sky is Crying.”

            A real highlight in the cover category was John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.” Bonnie Raitt had a hit with this one and hers may be the definitive version. Saturday night’s performance will give Raitt’s a run for the money. This one came during the encore and featured Potter on vocals, trading back and forth with Tedeschi. These singers are two of the most powerful vocalists out there and to hear them tenderly work their way through the beautiful melody was a rare treat. As if that weren’t enough, Tedeschi threw in a couple verses from the Dead’s “Sugaree” for good measure.

            An 11 piece band allows for a broad sonic diversity. Besides Trucks on guitar and Tedeschi on vocals and guitar up front, the band includes two drummers, keyboards, bass, two backing vocalists and three horn players. While Trucks gets plenty of solos, most everyone else gets a chance to step up too. Tedeschi played several guitar solos and sounded good; even next to her husband who is widely regarded as one of the top blues-rock players on the scene. All the horns got more than one solo slot, Burbidge played several keyboard solos and got his flute out again, the vocalists came down front for lead roles and the drummers had a brief spotlight.

            The bass player warrants special mention. The original bass player in the band was Otiel Burbidge, brother of Kofi and the bassist for the Allman Brothers. Otiel has left the band and TTB has had a few different bass players over the past few months, including George Porter, Jr. of the Meters. Saturday night’s bass player was Eric Krasno, who’s actually a guitar player by trade. He has two bands of his own: Soulive and Lettuce, both funk-rock-jam outfits. It’s obvious what happens when you put a bass in the hands of an accomplished guitarist: no mere timekeeping, but rather continuous countermelodies and a steady intricate undercurrent. Toward the end of the set, the band brought on Todd Smally, bass player for the now disbanded Derek Trucks Band. That allowed Krasno to get back behind a guitar and fire off some tasty solos. His turn out front on Clapton’s “Any Day” was especially exciting.

Tedeschi Trucks Band Set List
Wah Wah
Don’t Let Me Slide
Made Up Mind
It’s So Heavy
Misunderstood
Bound for Glory
That Did It
I Wanna Know How it Feels. Backing vocalist out front
Midnight in Harlem
Nobody’s Free
Sky is Crying
Old Time Lovin’
Get What You Deserve.
Instrumental.
Any Day. Krasno guitar solo
Encore
Angel from Montgomery/Sugaree (with Grace Potter)
Set Me Free
Whiskey Legs

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Chicago Blues Festival—Days 2 and 3 by Peter Furlong

Day 2. There are five stages in Grant Park for this Fest celebrating the unique American art  form, Blues music.  Being that the theme for the Fest this year is “Rollin’ Up the River” and there are far more legendary Blues musicians from the State of Mississippi than any other state, I am choosing to position myself in front of the Mississippi Juke Joint stage more than any other.  Each day a one-hour panel discussion occurs at 11:30 AM on this stage.  Today, Saturday and day 2 of the Festival, the topic is Pinetop Perkins.

Panel Discussion commemorating Pinetop Perkins 100th B-day.   Panelists include Pat Morgan, a long-time business manager of Pinetop, Barrelhouse Chuck, and Kenny “Beedyeyes” Smith.  Pinetop died in 2011 at the age of 97.  He won three Grammies including the 2011 release “Joined at the Hip” that included the work of Perkins, panel member and drummer Smith, and the father of Smith, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.  Pinetop was born in Belzoni, Mississippi in 1913 and played, recorded, and toured throughout Northwest Mississippi and Arkansas regions before beginning a long stint as the piano player in the Muddy Waters band and later forming his own bands.  Regarded as maybe the top boogie woogie piano player in his day, he only took up the instrument in his 30’s after an injury ended his guitar-playing days.  Panelist Morgan cleared the air by saying that Pinetop was wrongly cut by a woman who had been locked in a bathroom by a man who Pinetop was later mistaken for; Perkins incurred the wrath of the woman seeking revenge on her perpetrator.

I was a bit late for the panel presentation, but was there for this tale of how Pinetop was to begin a 60-year career at the piano.  And, I was not so late that I missed out on a piece of Pinetop’s 100th birthday cake.  He would have been a centenarian on July 7, 2013.  Thirty minutes following the discussion, the live music began.

The Peterson Brothers.  This is a good-time band from Bastrop, Texas that likes to play around; stands to reason since they’re only teenagers.  The leader of this 3-piece band is guitarist and primary vocalist Glenn, Jr., age 16.  His younger brother, bass man Alex, is only 14; but, in size, the larger brother.  They play blues classics, but are also working on a family songbook, including this composition “Tell Me Everything.”

Tell me everything,

Don’t tell me what I want to hear.

I want to know everything.

Then they went into a 10-minute version of Albert King’s “Don’t Lie to Me”:

Don’t you lie to me,

Don’t you lie to me;

Cause it makes me mad,

I get evil as a man can be.

Another classic:

Shes gone, I don’t worry,

Cuz I’m sittin’ on top of the world.”

And a tune from a great Chicago blues guitarist and songwriter, Albert Collins:

If you love me like you say,

Why you treat me this-a-way;

Well, I’m no fool;

I’m cool, I know the rules.

The brothers like to have fun. Leader Glenn tried to stare me down on my perch in row three, while playing something slow and funky.  I only stared back and he moved on, finding a less serious audience participant.  That may have been one of his musician parents in the crowd.  The older also played at cueing his younger brother how to position himself and where to stand; actually we observed two brothers having a good time on stage, and no doubt the younger doesn’t need to be shown how to play the bass.  Both the intense blues play and cuttin’ up antics worked well on an appreciative audience.

I gotta go; I gotta go; I gotta go baby;

You just don’t treat me the same.

The brothers finished with a Muddy Waters’ number:

Got my mojo working,

But it sure don’t work on you.

Eddie Taylor, Jr.  Eddie, Jr. plays Chicago blues music of the 1950s popularized by his father and others.  Today at this large festival he opened with familiar numbers, Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw”, “Sweet Home Chicago”, and Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.”  And, these lyrics to another song:

You went away baby,

Came back a little too late.

Eddie vocalizes and plays electric guitar; he sits to the side on a high stool and shares the front line with fellow blues guitarist Lurrie Bell and his harmonica player.  Both of these sidemen soloed often and took full lead and vocal responsibilities for one tune each.  The Lurrie Bell lead number includes the following lyric from the Albert King tune:

There are two kinds of people I can’t stand,

That’s a lying woman, and a cheatin’ man;

Don’t you lie to me.

Taylor ended his one-hour set with: “Wish you the best in wealth and health.”

The last performance of day 2 at the Mississippi Juke Joint stage was a tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, another Chicago-area Blues vocalist and guitarist with roots in Mississippi (b. 1910 in White Station, MS).  Wolf performed the songs of Willie Dixon for Chess Records in the early 1960’s: “The Red Rooster,” “Shake for Me,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” and “Spoonful” to name just a few.  His own compositions from the 1960’s include “Killing Floor.”  Eddie Shaw hosted this Festival tribute that consisted of a number of musicians, including saxophonist Shaw, stepping to the fore to play numbers associated with Wolf.  Playing the music is the means to keep the memories alive.

Day 3. Sunday at the Mississippi Juke Joint stage began with a panel discussion commemorating the 60th anniversary of Chicago’s Delmark Records.  The chief presenter was 80-year-old Bob Koestler, the founder of this independent record label.  The musicians who recorded blues music with Delmark include Junior Wells, Big Joe Williams, and Magic Sam; jazz artists with Delmark credits include AACM, Donald Byrd, Ira Sullivan, and Sun Ra; and more recently, Fred Anderson, and Ken Vandermar.  There are many more jazz and blues musician recordings not mentioned here.  Maybe the best place to browse for their music is at Delmark’s legendary shop, the Jazz Record Mart, on Grand near State Street.

Lurrie Bell 182Lurrie Bell’s Chicago Blues Band.  After the Delmark recollections, I drifted away from the Mississippi Juke Joint stage to hear Lurrie Bell’s band.  This necessitated a walk around the longest line of porta-potties at the Fest and a pleasant stroll through rows of pine trees into a grassy clearing dotted with picnic tables.  Thanks to the Chicago Park District grounds crew for creating this pastoral effect despite the presence of Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive and potties on the perimeter.  The stage we faced is aptly named the Front Porch (corporate sponsor name excluded).

Bell had four successive and successful recordings for Delmark Records; that was followed by a recording with his father for Alligator Records and a recent CD on his own label Aria BG.  His latest is entitled “Blues In My Soul.”  Writings about Bell vaguely speak of difficult personal times he has faced.  The following song lyrics voiced today that appear on his latest CD may reflect difficult times overcome:

I like what I’m doin’ today,

I feel the blues all the way down in my soul.

I guess I’ll always feel this way,

about my journey through life and times.

You know, the way I feel right now,

I guess everything will be alright.

Bell seems to enjoy mixing classics with his own compositions.  His band performed a stirring rendition of “Hoochie Coochie Man” (Willie Dixon), a song popularized by Muddy Waters.  He then performed his own composition, “Let’s Talk About Love”:

I wanna talk about love,

I feel so good when I talk about love.

The band closed with “Got My Mojo Working’” and the Junior Wells tune, “Messin’ With the Kid.”  Bell was joined today by Matthew Skoller on harmonica, a major player on the Chicago blues scene since 1987 and producer of the Lurrie Bell CD, “Let’s Talk About Love.”

I witnessed so many great musicians and sets played these past three days I could name an all-star team without even considering the headline nighttime acts.  That is what keeps me coming back—the great music played in the daytime by experienced and passionate blues musicians.  Thanks to them, the City of Chicago, and the audience of knowledgeable and dedicated Blues followers I met at the Chicago Blues Festival 2013.

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Reporting from the Chicago Blues Festival by Peter Furlong

Mississippi Blues Trail 250Thursday, June 6.  This year the Blues Fest aims to pay homage to the roots of a distinctly American phenomenon—the Blues music of the South.  We will begin the weekend’s festivities by attending to the music at the Mississippi Juke Joint stage and the panel discussions that will take place there.  On Friday the panel discussion is about the Mississippi Blues Trail.  The panelists at that time will be Alex Thomas, Jim O’ Neal, and Scott Baretta.

The State of Mississippi has given us more Blues musicians of note than all of the other Southern states combined–so it is claimed.  In recognition, the Mississippi Blues Commission has established markers at over 100 sites commemorating the birthplace and haunts of the musicians, supporting roadhouses, record stations, recording companies, and the rivers and highways that mark their road-trip routes.  See the complete list and the marker locations here:  http://www.msbluestrail.org/blues_marker_list

Denver has its own markers, actually plaques, on buildings of historic note in the neighborhood known as Five Points.  These building plaques tell the story of the history of jazz in Denver.

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Chicago Blues Festival 2013—Day 1 by Peter Furlong

Terry "Harmonica" Bean

Terry “Harmonica” Bean

The headliners of this huge free festival come out at night.  By then, I need a respite from seven hours of mostly standing and listening to the daytime blues performers; and, I want to be fresh tomorrow for more of the same.  In Chicago the nights have been cool and still cooler at the Fest with the off-the-lake effect created by breezy conditions.  Today, the day hours were beautiful and sunny; the breeze was welcomed by the daytime festival-goers.  Starting at 11AM, I got in seven hours of live music and conversation­­–a solid day’s work.  The day began with the Mississippi Blues Trail panel at a table on the Mississippi Juke Joint stage—one of five stages at the Festival.

A Panel Presentation  Jim, Allison, and Scott made up the panel—a researcher/author, tourism and development manager, and educator/author, respectively.  Both Jim and Scott have made significant contributions to Living Blues magazine; Allison has radio experience.  Scott served as leader.  Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and others have made funds relatively easy to acquire in order to commence the Trail marker project and keep it going.  Starting out with 3 markers in 2005/2006 and quickly expanding to 10, the number of historical markers is now over 200 per one estimate.  The first three were in the towns of Holly Ridge, Greenville, and Greenwood, MS.  There are approximately 50 in the Delta region in northwest Mississippi and 9 in Clarksdale, MS, the birthplace and home to many blues musicians.  Markers have expanded beyond the Delta to Arkansas, Chicago, Florida, Maine, and Norway to commemorate some relevant historical Blues aspect.

Allison cited three “standpoints” to explain the Blues Trail success: an economic perspective has been advanced given the embracing of tourism by the State in the 1990s; secondly, the Blues defines the cultural heritage of the State; and third, there has been increased interest in preserving the Blues culture for future generations.

After one hour of presentation, discussion, and audience questioning, this panel was applauded for their work and the musicians took over the Mississippi Juke Joint stage.  Here are reviews of a few acts:

Terry “Harmonica” Bean.  A solo performer from Pontotoc, Mississippi, excelling with electric guitar and harmonica playing.  He has “no blues band” and began his set with a version of “I’m a Man”, a song that has had parts credited to Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters.  Next was “Sweet Home Chicago”, a tune played by at least one other performer today.  Harmonica enjoyed talking to his audience.

“Everyone havin’ a good time?  I’m Harmonica Bean, ladies and gentlemen.”

“You all doing alright?”

Some of his song lyrics you may have heard:

I don’t want you to be true,

I just want to make love to you, love to you.

And, from a John Lee Hooker song,
I’m in the mood; I’m in the mood for love.

One of his songs speaks of a snake in the lake and a frog on a log having a dialog.  Folk music.   A nice size crowd was listening, but he reminded us of why we were here when he uttered this remark:

“Everyone seems to be home with their wives today. I got me one too, but she’s on to someone else, but I’m going to get her back.”  A tribute to the blues; and, these song lyrics followed:

Baby, what you want the man to do.  You got me where you want me.

In concluding his set, Harmonica expressed what he is all about:

“Playing the blues by myself…harmonica…on the back porch.”

Lightnin’ Malcolm   A second rather solitary blues musician from Mississippi hill country; sometimes he has a trio, but today it is only Lightnin’ and a drummer.  Lightnin’ acknowledged his drummer often—I believe has name is Marvin; just the two of them really working hard and getting a great response. His fingers were just flying over both the bass and lead high registers.  Lightnin’ could work solo in a joint and get everyone dancing; he is a very skilled and experienced musician, having begun touring in his teens.

At one point he spoke of the t-shirt he was wearing— blue with a white image of Willie Dixon displayed; a gift from the widow of Dixon.  It appeared to be topped by a gold necklace medallion in the shape of an “M”; a proud statement of State loyalty one would think.  He said he had to be in Gulfport, MS, Saturday night, but he played a full set plus extra time today.

John Primer and the Real Deal Blues Band.  John Primer is a Muddy Waters protégé who played extensively throughout the South Side of Chicago in places like Theresa’s Lounge and the Checkerboard Lounge.  Late in Waters’ career Primer served as the band leader.  One would expect a healthy serving of Waters’ tunes and he served them up to a very receptive crowd in the late afternoon sun.  Today he was accompanied by three musicians—a soloing and accompanying harmonica player, bass player, and drummer.  Primer plays lead guitar and slide guitar.

Other musicians to perform on the daytime bill of the Mississippi Juke Joint stage included Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry and the Kenny “Beedyeyes” Smith blues jam.  The headliners of the Festival on the big Petrillo Stage this Friday night included Ernest “Guitar” Roy, Irma Thomas, and Bobby Rush and his Blues Band.

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