Tag Archives: B.B.King

New Album! Steve Cropper

Guitar legend Steve Cropper has followed the recent trend of revisiting old chestnuts with the aid of other musical stars, but his effort is also a tip of the cap to one of his first and biggest musical influences, Lowman “Pete” Pauling of The 5 Royales. For all his contributions to music over the past half century, Cropper is not a household name, nor is the band he honors here. But let’s hope that for those without a proper frame of reference, his decision to include artists like Steve Winwood, B.B. King and Brian May will bring listeners like moths to a flame.

Of course, Cropper needs no help; his tone and feel are seminal and he shines throughout. Never overtly flashy, he’s not all over the songs but inside them like a heartbeat. Soulful, pensive, exciting – he breathes these songs to new life with inspired licks and a palpable sense of joy. And with Jon Tiven at the helm, the entire project shines.

The band is amazing, featuring David Hood and Spooner Oldham, and I was particularly thrilled with the inclusion of Dan Penn. Winwood fits like hand in glove, and I was pleasantly surprised by John Popper’s performance (I can count my favorite Popper songs on no fingers). But if there are star performances on Dedicated – A Salute To The 5 Royales, they belong to the dynamic Sharon Jones, the emotive Lucinda Williams and the electrifying Bettye LaVette.

This album is both fresh and a time trip; it will play with every emotion you own. Get your wallet out now.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

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Twenty Years Without Doc Pomus…

But not without his songs.

Timeless. Classic. Doc died twenty years ago today but his legacy is vibrant.

Still fresh now, and just the quality of the material can lift an average band onto a new level. Hell, just a cursory glance at Wikipedia lists “A Teenager in Love”; “Save The Last Dance For Me”; “Hushabye”; “This Magic Moment”; “Turn Me Loose”; “Sweets For My Sweet”; “Go Jimmy Go”; “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”; “Little Sister”; “Suspicion”; “Surrender”; “Viva Las Vegas”; “(Marie’s the Name of) His Latest Flame”…just a smattering of the hits he wrote with Mort Shuman, Phil Spector and others.

That would have sealed the deal right there. But later in his life he was collaborating with people like Dr. John and Willy DeVille, giving life to stories about people on the fringe – the loners, the night walkers, characters that would fill a film noir casting session.

I love tribute albums and Till The Night Is Gone is one of my favorites. Of course, when your songs are covered by Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Dion, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Solomon Burke, John Hiatt, Shawn Colvin, Aaron Neville, Lou Reed, The Band, B. B. King, Los Lobos and Rosanne Cash…it’s hard to make a bad album.

Doc lives on in my heart and mind. But mostly in my ears.



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And Maybe Rock’n’Roll Began When…

Jackie Brenston recorded “Rocket 88“?

Sixty years  ago todayaccording to Al Gore’s Internet – the first rock’n’roll single was recorded. Cars? Yep. Girls? Yep. Booze? Yep. Hmmm…maybe so.

I dunno, I can’t help but point back at people like Chuck Berry and Little Richard as the true architects, but there are some who will point at this song as the genesis of rock’n’roll. Sam Phillips was able to tout it to such an extent that it financed the beginning of Sun Records, and we know where that went.

Of course, sixty years turns a lot of fable into truth, but I’m more concerned about the survival of the art form that it’s zygote moment. Brenston was dead by age forty-nine, and for a guy serving a tenure with Ike Turner, that’s probably a long life. Maybe he was the guy. Maybe not.

But considering the historic occasion, why not give a listen?

And if you want to start an argument in a bar, research this page first!

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Remembering Link Wray

It was almost five years ago to the day that I finally got a chance to see the late, great Link Wray perform. He blistered a small club in town despite being seventy-six years old, and just six months later he would be gone forever.

Last Sunday would have been his eighty-first birthday, and if you heard thunder from above it was probably Link showing God how to play that barre chord properly. Rumble, baby! I’ll spare  you my summation of the opening act that night, but below are my thoughts on seeing the master five years ago that were etched into the ether that was Cosmik Debris

Link Wray’s “Rumble” ripped through the air in 1958, so my first inclination was to think how fifty years could not have passed by so quickly. One sight of the frail Wray being helped up onto a two-foot stage not only reversed that thought but also made me appreciate the fact that the two of us were there at all. Him to rock me…and me to be rocked.

Once the guitar was draped over his shoulders and that immortal “D” chord was struck, it was a totally different story. Backed by an almost three-piece band (energetic jungle drummer, bass player who needed a much smaller cabinet and a woman – Link’s wife? – playing tambourine), Wray planted himself front and center and let his fingers do the talking. With his leather jacket, wrap around shades and fiery rhythms, he looked like the world’s oldest Ramone.

Nimbly bashing out every surf/punk/rock riff in the book with his textbook swagger and grin, with the occasional shimmy of the hips and/or guitar, it was a textbook lesson in the simple power of rock and roll that is still well-taught by the seventy-six year old legend. Sometimes it was hard to tell where one song ended and another began (my friend Bill quipped that the set list was comprised of two songs; “Rumble” and “not Rumble”) but it was one hell of a ride.

After almost an hour of non-stop tornado activity (the exception being an Elvis cover that featured his surprisingly sweet singing voice), he was helped back off the stage and into the dressing room where I imagine a stiff drink and a towel soaked in Ben Gay was waiting. I was torn between the desire to see more and the realization that I just witnessed a man older than my father kick my musical ass and I should be grateful for what I got. I settled on the latter, an emotion that a lethargic music industry should also sign on to. Here, indeed, is a living legend. Appreciate him before it’s too late.

Of course, it’s too late now…

But apply that same lesson to Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and B.B. King or whatever trailblazing genuine icon crosses your path. Get your ass out to a show. Hell, go see the Stones and Macca and Springsteen. Don’t expect they’ll always be there for you, and be thankful you were fortunate to have shared time with them on this mortal coil.

Link Wray wiki

His bio and discography at AllMusic

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Under The Radar: The Reefermen

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Recorded live at Fifth Avenue Billiards in Royal Oak, Michigan – a stone’s throw from Detroit – this disc captures a superlative group of musicians jamming on some classic rock, funk and blues in majestic fashion. The Reefermen are essentially a power trio plus a harp-wailing front man, and although the material on this live CD are not originals, the songs are “reeferized” for your pleasure. A further blessing is that the tunes are across the board, from B.B.King to The Count Five to Sly Stone to The Doors.

Drummer Jeff Fowlkes and bass player Phil “Greasy” Carlisi create such a thick stew of a bottom end that guitar monster Bobby East is able to fly untethered; when singer James Wallin rips in with harp and percussion it really takes off. East is at once tasty and forceful, equally adept at classic blues, funk and rip-roaring rock. And rock’n’roll doesn’t exist without the roll, kids – and these guys flat out groove.

The band members are all Detroit area veterans with a wealth of experience and are legendary for their lengthy expositions on classic material – Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath medleys are just some of the epic shows heads are still spinning about. (Short excerpts below)

A Night At The Fifth offers ten recognizable blasts from anyone’s past, and while I seem to be getting giddy over a cover band here, consider the pedigree of the players. Carlisi is no longer in the fold, but with Mike B on bass the band still knocks them out in the Michigan clubs and theatres. By all means check them out live, but if you can find this great live document do not hesitate to pick it up.

Reefermen MySpace page.

Reefermen Zep medley February 2009

Reefermen Black Sabbath medley.

Reefermen Beatles medley.

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