Continuing to Innovate….Dennis Johnson finds the Rhythm!

Dennis Johnson

Guitars have been widely available in America since back in 1894 when Sears & Roebuck began to sell them in their catalogs.  For $4 to $26 dollars, you could live on a remote ranch in Wyoming or in a shotgun shack in the Mississippi delta, and Sears would mail you an instrument to while the nights…and the blues away.  Certainly the most famous practitioner of the blues on guitar back in the early days of recorded music was Robert Johnson.  Playing throughout the twenties in the deep American south and finally recording in the mid 1930’s, he was an innovator on the guitar blending rhythm and slide phrases that are still marveled at by the likes of Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy. 

Today, we also have blues innovators on the guitar and one of them is Dennis Johnson from San Francisco. The sounds he produces playing slide are a joy to listen to. And on his third studio album, Rhythmland, he continues to explore new and interesting ways to deliver the blues.  The first cut of the album, Walkin Blues, is his interpretation of a classic blues tune that was first recorded by Son House and then adapted by Robert Johnson. Dennis has the perfect voice for this song and uses a 12 string dobro with a tone that leaps out at you as it begins….it is simply bad ass upbeat contemporary blues based on a song that is almost 90 years old!!!

Accompanied by his band the Mississippi Ramblers that consists of Tim Metz (drums), Jonathan Stoyanoff (bass) and Craig Long (keyboards and backing vocals), Dennis delivers a number of other great songs (all originals) that will make my DJ playlists and be featured on my 24 hour blues stream, Ben Vee Roadhouse Blues.  I particularly enjoyed Valley of Love for the slide work and High Heel Shoes and Fillmore Street are great upbeat dancin’ blues tunes.  The recreation of the sounds of a moving train on an acoustic guitar are just part of delightful song, Southbound Train, that always features some nice keyboard work.  The most interesting cut was Timbale featuring a latin cascara beat and some more innovative slide work that I just know my blues listeners and readers will love.

Blues folks all owe a debt to Sears & Roebuck for the innovation of the “home shopping” catalog way back in the day and our grateful thanks to blues slide guitar innovators like Dennis Johnson for his continuing and entertaining pursuit of the best possible contemporary blues while never losing sight of the debt we owe to the early blues men and women.  Download and listen to this CD……you will enjoy it!

Dennis Johnson & the Mississippi Ramblers – Root Tone Records 2017

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Eric Clapton – The Cream Always Rises to the Top

In late 1963, Eric Clapton joined the Yardbirds and began a career that few will ever surpass as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter.  He is a three time member of the Rock & Roll hall of fame (solo, Yardbirds, Cream) as well as a member of the Blues and the Songwriters halls.  Often referred to as a guitar god during his youth, Eric has experienced all the highs that fame and fortune can bring to an artist as well as the lows …..drug dependency….and grief at the loss of his 4 year old son, Conor, and his good friend Stevie Ray Vaughan on a fateful helicopter ride from a concert where they had both performed that night.

Eric ClaptonMy lovely wife, Annette, and I finally got to see him on Sunday, March 19th at Madison Square Garden. It was just days before he celebrated his 72nd birthday and frankly, I figured he would be good but……. .    Well, was I ever wrong!  He was absolutely in top form on stage in terms of his voice as well as guitar playing.

 

Starting and ending the concert with Cream tunes, he spent two hours on an impressive foray through a number of his hits.  At times acoustic and others electric, Eric sounded and played as well as he comes across on his studio albums.  He was not particularly talkative but you could tell by his facial expressions as the full house sang along to his songs that he was enjoying himself.  He played rock songs, pretty songs, tunes from his Tulsa period, and of course lot of blues music.  His encore song was “Before You Accuse Me”, a blues standard, and featured both Jimmy Vaughan (brother of Stevie and a great artist in his own right) and Gary Clark Jr. who performed earlier in the night.

To say that we enjoyed ourselves would be an understatement.  It was the most money I have ever paid for a pair of tickets to a concert and it was worth every dime.  He will be returning to the United States for a limited tour in the fall of 2017.  If he is on your bucket list, as he was mine, then check your listings and go see him!

A Blues Primer for Electric Blues and Blues Rock Artists

What is the blues? I get asked that question a lot and it is not as easy to answer as it might sound. The blues covers a lot of territory from its roots in the African culture and rhythms of the American Deep South to the latest music from Buddy Guy and Joe Bonamassa. There is the delta blues of the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s personified in the music of Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Skip James, Son House, and Sonny Boy Williamson to name just a few. There is the electric blues (and soul blues) of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Elmore James, Albert King, Freddie King, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, and Howlin’ Wolf that emigrated from the American south to the cities of the northern United States during the 40’s and 50’s , primarily to Chicago. Both the delta and Chicago blues were reinterpreted by a bunch of young urban kids in bands like the Rolling Stones, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Jimi Hendrix, and many others to create the blues rock genre. There are country blues, jazz blues, soul blues, jump blues, Kansas City Blues, St. Louis blues, New Orleans blues, gospel blues, swamp blues, and the West Coast blues. There are female blues (and jazz) from the likes of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Etta James, Janis Joplin, Janiva Magness, Koko Taylor, and Beth Hart. The blues is a broad diversified music genre that has expanded from the Mississippi Delta and is now enjoyed all over the world.

So for me, the blues is about the music. It has no color, though we all pay our deep respects to the early black blues men and women artists who worked the fields, the juke joints, and battled the menace of segregation. The blues is definitely not politically correct, and it is not confined to one type of lyric composition or music style. It is the music of the soul battling the everyday demons that haunt us all. The stories it tells in the music often don’t have happy ending and deal with jealousy, lust, drinking, anger, remorse, and sadness. But they also address joy, faith, and profound love. The blues instrument of choice for me is the electric guitar but the acoustic guitar, the bass, drums, the Hammond organ, the harmonica, the piano and electric keyboards, and a variety of horns populate the music of the blues.

So if you’d like to learn more about the blues, listen to the music! Download some to support the artists, checkout out Spotify on the internet, visit my stream at http://s1.nexuscast.com:8043 , and most importantly, go see them LIVE! Blues artists almost to a person are accessible at their shows. They are you and me…real down to earth people. And they love their blues. They have to….. since most can’t make a living solely from the blues unless they stay on the road paying their dues. Below is a list of artists that I enjoy from the electric blues and blues rock genres; many have passed on but there are plenty that are out there touring regularly. It is not an all inclusive list but it will get you started! Enjoy the artists and the tunes!

Electric and Soul Blues Artists

B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Etta James, Eric Clapton, Luther Allison, Janiva Magness, Koko Taylor, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Little Walter, Hubert Sumlin, Albert Collins, AC Reed, Chris Thomas King, Curtis Salgado, Deborah Coleman, Dion, Boz Scaggs, Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James, Willie Dixon, Ian Siegal, Irma Thomas, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Joe Lewis Walker, Johnny Copeland, Shemika Copeland, Junior Wells, Keb Mo, Tab Benoit, Kim Wilson, Lonnie Brooks, Lonnie Mack, Magic Sam, Magic Slim, Marcia Ball, Maria Muldaur, Mary Bridget Davies, Mavis Staples, Melody Gardot, Mississippi Fred McDowell, RL Burnside, Nina Simone, Otis Rush, Robert Cray, Robert Johnson, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Ruthie Foster, Seasick Steve, Taj Mahal, and T-Bone Walker.

Blues Rock Artists

Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, Albert Cummings, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Vaughan, 24 Pesos, The Black Keys, the Rolling Stones, Cream, Alvin Lee, Robin Trower, Albert Castiglia, Damon Fowler, Ana Popovic, Meena, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Bonnie Raitt, Bryce Janey, Jack White, Julian Sass, Coco Montoya, Colin James, Dave Hole, David Gogo, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Eric Gales, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Steve Miller Band, Johnny Winter, Elvin Bishop, Eric Sardinas, the Allman Brothers, Gary Clark Jr, Gary Moore, Jeff Healey, George Thorogood, Gov’t Mule, Greg Allman, Devon Allman, The Royal Southern Brotherhood, Trampled Under Foot, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Thackery, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Jonny Lang, Joss Stone, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Leslie West, Mike Zito, Nick Moss, Ollie Brown, Omar and the Howlers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Pat Travers, Chuck Berry, Fleetwood Mac, Rory Gallagher, Samantha Fish, Sena Ehrhardt, Sonny Landreth, Stacy Mitchart, JJ Grey & Mofro, The Blues Brothers, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Peter Green, Tinsley Ellis, Tommy Castro, Grand Funk Railroad, Joe Cocker, Tony Jo White, Ty Curtis Band, ZZ Ward, Walter Trout, and Warren Haynes.