Tag Archives: blues

Bad Things In Threes, Again

Certainly not comparing it to earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdownbut yeah, famous deaths have a tendency to triangulate. and with Elizabeth Taylor passing today, that’s three in four days, albeit three who outlived their atomic half-life and made tremendous contributions to their art.

Ralph Mooney left us on March 20th. A celebrated musician’s musician, he basically pioneered the steel guitar sound in popular country music and worked with a Who’s Who of famous names. A critical element of the Bakersfield Sound, you can hear that Buck Owens and Merle Haggard influence across the board in Americana and country-rock music. And you rockers, check those Burrito Brothers and Neil Young albums where his sound appears even when his name doesn’t.

Pinetop Perkins walked offstage on Monday the 21st at ninety-seven (!) years old. Last month, he won a Grammy for Joined at the Hip (with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith) so he wasn’t exactly slouching. A bluesman from Mississippi like Muddy Waters, he played in the latter’s band for years and was most famous as a sideman…until he was in his eighties. He won a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and was featured in the Martin Scorsese / Clint Eastwood film Piano Blues. Check his website for much more information on the American treasure.

And Elizabeth Taylor shipped off today, March 23rd

I prefer to remember the younger vibrant actress rather than the perfume-pimping Jacko compadre of later years, although during that period she did yeoman’s work on behalf of AIDS. I’ll forever remember her in Giant with James Dean and Rock Hudson, although she interacted with a tremendous cast including Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper, Earl Holliman and Rod Taylor. It was near the beginning of a great run of movies flanked on both sides by forgettable flicks.

I’ll remember the debacle about Cleopatra and the odd relationship she had with Richard Burton and how my Mom was a dead ringer for her when she was young. I’ll try to forget that she was better known for tabloid fodder than natural talent, but I’ll never forget those violet eyes.

They don’t make movie stars like that anymore.

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Under The Radar: Rainer Ptacek

I can’t say that my friend Bill ever dragged me to a concert, since I trust his musical ear so much I get excited about anyone he insists that I witness. But let’s just say that on this particular Saturday afternoon fifteen years or more ago, I was ambivalent but willing. The artist’s name conjured up jazz or perhaps obtuse folk, and that wasn’t what I was hungry for that day. But it was Bill…so I saddled up without a second thought.

I don’t remember the event itself, but there was some sort of afternoon festival going on in Syracuse where Rainer Ptacek was playing, and I remember being equally bewildered by the booking as I was spellbound by his talent. I got a closer look that night when he played in a tiny club and blew my mind a second time. And after that my immediate mission was to get my hands on anything and everything he had released.

It was as much how he played the blues as what he played – a unique finger-picking, pawing slide attack that wrung tears out of the steel guitar. But the man was quiet and humble, almost deflecting the enthusiastic reception back into the crowd…as if it was all part of the gift that they should take away with them rather than an accolade that he earned and deserved.

Sadly, he was soon diagnosed with a cancerous tumor, and like most musicians, had no health insurance. It came as a surprise to his friends who rallied around him and arranged benefit shos and projects. One result was a tribute album called The Inner Flame, which he participated on alongside several stellar artists. Only a few months later, Rainer passed away.

Here are my words from the magazine TransAction in 1997…

Rainer Ptacek is arguably an acquired taste, but it’s obvious that the music community valued his keen insight and marvelous introspective vision. Master of the steel guitar and dobro, his records with Das Combo are thrilling, and as a live performer he was both generous and unique. Sadly, Rainer could not overcome brain cancer and has left us, but this tribute (recorded before his recent death to help raise funds for his battle) is a great document.

You would expect heartfelt versions from people like Vic Chestnutt and Victoria Williams, two fellow musicians who know about physical suffering, but the surprise of the disc has to be Lemonhead Evan Dando’s “Rudy With A Flashlight”, which might just be the best thing he has ever done. Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris and Rainer’s partner Howe Gelb are among the cross section of first rate contributors.

I don’t know what made me think of this today, but once I did I knew I had to share it. Odds are you haven’t heard the man, and I hope you’ll at least be ambivalent but willing to give him a try.

Rainer Ptacek MySpace site

The Inner Flame available at Amazon

Live album from Rainer

Rainer on Jools Holland performing “Life is Fine”.

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Under The Radar: Charles Caldwell

Charles Caldwell

I will.

Pulled out this gem (Remember Me) today; I don’t know why. But damn, if it isn’t fine. Not a famous guy, but makes you wonder how much great stuff just goes untapped.  Clue yourselves.

Here’s my original take for Bucketfull of Brains from 2004…

The late Charles Caldwell never made any money playing his music, but the liquor flowed fast enough in its place. He squeezed every drop of pain out of a hollow body Gibson that he bought at fourteen and was still playing forty-five years later. Sadly, just when archivists at Fat Possum discovered him and convinced him to record, pancreatic cancer came along and kicked his ass. But somehow he summoned up enough willpower to get into the studio and capture his magic for posterity.

And what a record! More John Lee Hooker than Junior Kimbrough, Caldwell’s country blues is immediately accessible; his stark stomp and strum style only occasionally accompanied by subservient percussion. “I Know I Done You Wrong”. “Hadn’t I Been Good To You”. “I’ll Do Anything You Say”. The man is hurt.

When Keith Richards hears this record, he’ll dig up Brian Jones and start the Rolling Stones all over again.

Listen here.

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Under The Radar: Taildragger

I am not skeptical - this rocks!

I am not skeptical - this rocks!

I’ll admit that you can grab my attention with a witty band name or album title, and Taildragger hit both bulls-eyes with Skeptictank. Even better news? The band flat out smokes.

Taildragger the band (not to be confused with Taildragger the Chicago bluesman or Spokane’s fabulous Too Slim and the Taildraggers ) is a blues rock trio led by guitarist/drummer/vocalist Jon McGee. McGee is also a member of The Mighty Jeremiahs as is Taildragger bassist Mark Hendricks. On this album Rob Hulsman splits drum chores with McGee, and I believe Jon’s sister Sherri even whacks skins with them on occasion. Greg Martin smokes the axe on several tracks as well.

Skeptictank is a tour-de-force of swampy blues, stinging rock and even some countrified soul (think  the fringes of the Flying Burrito Brothers and Byrds, especially on “Mary Virginia” and “Believe”). But the bands that popped into my head most frequently were southern rockers Gov’t Mule and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Texas blues rockers like Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top and even Jo Jo Gunne and Irish legends Thin Lizzy. The latter comparison is likely due to the fluid bass playing (the band has the chops and the stones to cover John Entwistle’s “My Wife”!). I’d be remiss by not complimenting keyboard player Kevin McKendree, whose organ really adds a ton to the sound.

If you like classic 70’s boogie, greasy slide shuffles or high-charged power trio rock, you’ll find a lot to love here. I could drop a million more names from vets like The Rolling Stones to contemporaries like The Muggs, but it’s really this simple – classic American rock and roll played by grade-A musicians. I don’t know how I missed out on Taildragger for four years, but it’s discoveries like this that make me keep digging. I suggest you dive into this Kentucky magic  right away.

Taildragger’s MySpace page.

Hear clips from Skeptictank at CD BABY.

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