Tag Archives: Howlin’ Wolf

T.G.I.F. – Ten Birthdays

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been thirty years since Bon Scott died. For a man who used to mark time based upon how long ago the Kennedy Assassination occurred, imagine how old I felt this morning when I realized that AC/DC has had a new singer for three decades.

So let’s accentuate the positive, shall we? I don’t know what it is about Memorial Day that causes such a spike in famous conceptions – maybe the exuberance of getting out of school – but February 19th has given us a boatload of charismatic, talented artists over the years. Here are ten people born today who bring me great joy, chronologically by birth year:

Louis Calhern, 1895 – You might not recognize his name if you aren’t a film buff, but Calhern was a solid and versatile actor that kept popping up in some of my favorite movies, from James Cagney flicks to Marx Brothers romps (Duck Soup) to classic film noir like his sleazy lawyer crime boss in The Asphalt Jungle.

Lee Marvin, 1924 – A tough guy’s tough guy and one of the best actors of his time. Far too many great movies to list – my favorite remains the lesser rated version of The Killers – but unforgettable in The Dirty Dozen, Cat Ballou and The Professionals as well as hundreds of TV appearances, including his own classic police series M Squad.

* The finale of The Killers – including the greatest last line ever.

John Frankenheimer, 1930 – One of my favorite film makers and one of the best action movie directors (Grand Prix, Ronin) who got his start filming over a hundred live television dramas. Some of his classics include The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz and the political thriller Seven Days in May.

Sam Myers, 1936 – Sam grew up in Chicago and sat in with the cream of the blues legends from Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James; he was an incredible drummer and harp player and vocalist. Perhaps better known more recently as a key member of Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets, one of the best live blues bands around. Sam passed away in 2006.

* Video: Sam Myers

Smokey Robinson, 1940 – The word genius gets passed around far too freely, but Smokey Robinson is a genius. Equally adept as a songwriter and as a sweet soul singer, he helped put Motown (and several of its groups) on the map in the 60’s, and his catalogue of great music is simply staggering. Check out his entry at the All Music Guide where the list of covers of his material is forty-six pages long.

Lou Christie, 1943 – Christie’s trademark was singing the verses in his normal voice and then rocketing to a powerful falsetto voice for the dramatic chorus, and although “Two Faces Have I” was the first hit, it was “Lightning Strikes” that jumped out of that transistor radio for me. He only had  two more hits ( “Rhapsody in the Rain” and “I’m Gonna Make You Mine”) but he remains a favorite of mine to this day.

Tony Iommi, 1948 – Hearing the first Black Sabbath album upon its release was a revelation, and Iommi’s signature guitar sound was the key ingredient in that mix;  some credit him with inventing heavy metal guitar. I was never a big fan of the post-Ozzy group (or Ozzy post-Sabbath, for that matter) but the first four albums were incredible.

Mark Andes, 1948 – Not a household name by any stretch, but any music fan knows Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne and Firefall and Heart; not a bad track record for a wandering bass player. Most recently a member of Ian McLagan’s Bump Band, his first solo album was released last year.

* Listen to “Run Run Run” by Jo Jo Gunne

Ray Winstone, 1957 – For his own generation, a combination of the aforementioned James Cagney and Lee Marvin. Long revered by his homeland, roles in Sexy Beast and The Departed might be more familiar, plus he steals Mel Gibson‘s new film out from under him.

Benicio del Toro, 1967 – Quietly building an incredible resume of performances – although maybe not that quietly based on the award hardware he’s racked up. First saw him as Kevin Spacey‘s assistant in Swimming With Sharks, and he’s made great choices including Traffic, Sin City and The Pledge. Hell, he’s going to play Moe Howard in the upcoming Three Stooges movie! But I’ll always think of him as marble-mouthed Fred Fenster in that perfect film The Usual Suspects. (Check out this amazing Fenster montage someone put up at YouTube).

No slight to Seal, Jon Fishman, Justine Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Merle Oberon, Carson McCullers or even Copernicus, but ten is ten.

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Under The Radar – Howling Diablos

Gonna do me some howlin'...

Gonna do me some howlin'...

If you have heard of The Howling Diablos and have been enjoying their stew of soul, funk, rock and blues, I have one question to ask of you. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?

Al Kooper defined them as a cross between Howlin’ Wolf, Captain Beefheart and Canned Heat, and that’s a damned accurate description, although I’d add a healthy dash of Sly Stone and P-Funk to the mix. Tino Gross’ guttural growls spearhead their powerful sound, with the whipcrack rhythm of Mo Hollis on bass and the legendary Johnny “Bee” Badanjek on drums acting as a thundering pulse. The flavor is peppered by guitarist Erik Gustafson and harp/sax player Johnny Evans. It’s a gritty, urban street sound, tangents of Delta blues, hip-hop and even classic jazz brass bubbling up and popping for a sensual mix.

But yeah, baby, they do rock. How about “Gloria“?

The Howling Diablos have a handful of releases available (I can’t find their early release Beatnick Mambo): Car Wash, Live, Green Bottle, Christmas In Jail and this latest gumbo crockpot, Divine Trash Highway. Featuring guest spots from  Calvin Cooke (sweet sacred steel highlights the opener “If You Love Someone”), Vinnie Dombrowski, keyboardist Jimmy Bones and a host of Detroit luminaries (Bobby East!), this is an album that just oozes groove. “Check It Out” is a perfect example of soul/funk hybrid that makes it impossible to sit still, although it’s the kickin’ cut “Josephine” that really has me bobbing my head like a park pigeon

“Dodge Main” rocks as does the blues blower “Leaving In The Morning”, and even a fairly reverent cover of Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not To Come” succeeds. I’m not as high on “Mom” and “Hobo Jungle”, but I will admit that the latter sounds like mid-period Jeff Beck crossed swords with Sun Ra. “Junkyard Jesus” sounds like the missing sibling of Marah’s brilliant track “Catfisherman” (really – play the two songs back to back – that’s a compliment to both tunes). And if you’re not skanking to the title track…well, there’s something wrong with you.

In addition, they’re included on the Sun Records tribute Good Rockin Tonight (the Diablos cut “Wine Spo Dee O Dee” with a guest appearance from Kid Rock) which led to a film for the American Masters series on PBS that includes a performance by the band. (Reportedly Kid Rock – then Robert Ritchie – was a band member in the embryonic days when the nucleus of the band got together to jam and back up other artists).

Tino Gross also produces records for Fat Possumis that enough cred for you? But as much as their albums are rump-quaking, ass-shaking, rocking good times, like most bands they turn it up several notches when they hit the stage. They’ve toured with and opened for a ton of bands, and although I have yet to sweat in the same room with these guys – and I will – there are visual testaments out there thanks to Al Gore’s invention. All it will take is one song to convince you…check out this video for the song Car Wash. Folks, this is greasy.

Start howlin’!

Howling Diablos on MySpace.

Howling Diablos website.

Criminal Mind” video, from 2009 gig opening for J Geils.

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Under The Radar: South Filthy

For this cover, no caption will do

For this cover, no caption will do

 

Eugene Chadborne and Jack Yarber in the same space and time? Covers of Howlin’ Wolf, Ian Hunter, Warren Zevon and The Zeroes? Someone is reading my thoughts again. But what at first looks to be a raw, bluesy coalition scraping through swamp rock and jukebox leftovers quickly turns as fascinating and odd as the list of musicians. When most people hear “supergroup” they think Blind Faith or CSN or some other A-list combination of name artists. South Filthy is also a supergroup, but their ranks are filled with battle-tested, alcohol-soaked barrroom warriors from groups like Compuslive Gamblers and Tearjerkers along with the pen and sword of the uber-prolific Monsieur Jeffrey Evans.

Their 2006 album Crackin’ Up isn’t for everyone; might not even be for most. But liquor up and listen

I’m not certain how much permanence there is in the Memphis-Texas coalition or just how far their tongues are stuck up their collective cheeks (the inebriated waltz of Tom T. Hall’s “I Like Beer” bats in the 3-hole here). But if you think of this as Karaoke Night gone horribly awry – with instruments – it’s like listening to a group of off-center musician pals taking the stage and daring each other to get weirder song by song. And yes, some of the tracks are as sloppy live as they are in studio. Last man standing, indeed.

Their take on “C’mon Let’s Monkey” sounds like the theme from “Happy Days” performed by a shopping cart of winos. “Flaming Star” is somewhere between fragile and sloppy, reminiscent of a late 80s Alex Chilton b-side (and wouldn’t he have fit right in here!). But the closer to the blues they get (Wolf’s “You Can’t Put Me Out”), the stronger and more sincere they sound. Yeah, there’s the occasional bad Bob Dylan impression and someone will come in a fraction behind the beat time to time, but so what? Lots of bright spots to enjoy, and the title track is a killer. Loosen up, willya?

All you need is a twenty and an alibi.

All you need is a twenty and an alibi.

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