Albert Collins Remembered

By Doc Wendell

 

I hate top ten lists or the concept of a “favorite” musician of any kind. It’s lazy and pedantic. With great jazz or blues players, an artist’s style is as unique as their fingerprints so making comparisons is impossible and a waste of time. As a guitarist, many people have asked me who my “favorite” players are. I usually ask, “What genre?”

All I can do is tell you the players that I love and I love Albert Collins. I’ve loved the Iceman for over 30 years now. Before I was even in high school, I found two records that would change my life forever, “Truckin’ with Albert Collins” and “Albert Collins & The Icebreakers-Live in Japan.

Albert Collins

 

Up until that time, most of the guitarists I had heard were either influenced by B.B. King or T-Bone Walker directly. Albert Collins’ style struck me as being avant-garde electric blues. His tone was sharp, piercing and irresistible. He played a Fender Telecaster with a Humbucker pickup, the ashtray cover and he tuned to an F minor chord. On top of that, he used a capo, sometimes as far up the neck of the guitar as the 12th fret, and he used his fingers and not a pick. I was young when I first heard Albert and when you’re young you try to emulate players. I got the tuning down. I turned the treble and reverb all the way up, got a big fat capo and I locked myself in my bedroom for days. I couldn’t get it. 30 years later and I still can’t.  I came to the realization that you could buy Albert’s gear and practice for a hundred years and never sound like him. This is just one of the reasons I love Albert.

Unlike a lot of other blues guitarists, Albert was able to capture his sound on record from the beginning of his career as a sideman with Texas tenor saxophonist Henry Hayes to his funk-filled records for Alligator and Pointblank/Virgin. Albert never made a bad album. There was great humor in his lyrics, often written by his wife Gwendolyn. “Master Card”, “Conversation with Collins”, “Snowed In” and “Too Many Dirty Dishes” are hilarious.  Stylistically, Albert wasn’t like Buddy Guy, Otis Rush or the Chicago players. Rhythmically, his roots came from the Texas Big Band swing blues which incorporated horns instead of harmonica players. Albert loved Hammond B3 organ players like Jack Mcduff and Jimmy McGriff and you can hear that influence in Albert’s rhythm comping. Albert also loved saxophone players like Illinois Jacquet and Big Jay Mcneely.  As far as blues recordings go, “Truckin’ with Albert Collins” (Originally released as “The Cool Sounds Of Albert Collins”) is perhaps the most experimental and original modern electric blues records to come out of the early ’60s. This album would go on to influence Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Robert Cray, Larry Carlton, Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Vaughan and generations of rock, blues and jazz six stringers all over the world. The album swings and is funky and even psychedelic in a way that no one had heard yet.  Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun” and Driving South” are direct tributes to Albert’s “Thaw Out” and “Kool Aide” from those 1962 sessions.

I own every record Albert ever played on including his early work with Henry Hayes in 1958 and his guest appearance with Ike & Tina Turner on The Hunter album from 1969 and everything in between and after. All are essential listening.

In a live setting, Albert was king. He was the ultimate head cutter and he always had an incredible band behind him. I got to see Albert perform in New York at the old Lonestar Roadhouse and Tramp’s.  You never knew what was going to come blaring out of that Telecaster. I recall one gig at The Lonestar . I got there early and along the wall, Branford Marsalis stood casually talking to some friends. At one of the tables near the Stage were members of Metallica and at the bar was just about ever prominent blues musician in New York standing there, anxiously awaiting ‘The Houston Twister.”  The whole damn scene was there. Albert blew everyone away as he walked out of the club with his 500 foot guitar cable in the midst of an ear shattering guitar solo. The rhythm section of Johnny B. Gayden on bass, Debbie Davies on rhythm guitar and Soko Richardson on drums kept that gutbucket Texas shuffle in full force as Albert hammered that one note that took everyone present to heaven.

I was just about to head to work at Donald Fagen’s NYC studio on November 24th, 1993 when a friend told me that Albert had passed away. I called in sick and cried into my pillow thw whole day and through the night. Albert taught me to find my own sound and to “not just copy B.B. and Jimi.” After that sad November day, I would never again try to copy a guitar solo note for note. I found that I had something to say and my own way of saying it, like Albert. That’s the greatest musical lesson of all. I miss you, Albert.

 

 

 

Review: Billy Bates -(a.ka. a.v. slim)

By Doc Wendell

 

Okay, as a blues musician myself, I bitch a lot about the lack of pure blues out today.  The blues market is saturated with hard rock guitar shredders who don’t trust in or understand the subtleties and deep nuances only found in real deep blues.

Bill Bates 2

Bill Bates

Who would think that one of the purest blues artists I’d hear in a long time would come out of Los Angeles? Bill Bates’ music is a breath of fresh air for us true blues lovers.  His self titled debut album “Billy Bates a.ka. a.v. slim” features some superb, deep rooted Chicago-style blues; some of the finest available today. Bates is not new to the blues. He’s played in Cadillac Zack’s band and has backed up such iconic blues idols as Lowell Fulson, Elmore James Jr. and Big Jay McNeely, to name only a few.

On this recording, Bates is backed by Mark Vasapolli on drums, Kenny Huff, bass, Mike Hightower, bass, Mike Simone, rhythm guitar, Rob Stone, harp & vocals, Malcolm Lukens, organ and piano and Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, guitar & vocals.

Bates demonstrates some tasty yet masterful blues guitar leads like on the instrumental “Lucky You“, and “Tanya” and he also shows that he understands Chicago blues rhythm and  harmony in the styles of the late Eddie Taylor and Jimmy Rogers. Bates includes two of Rogers’ compositions, “You Don’t Know” and “Left Me With A Broken Heart.” Bates’ harp playing, blues crooning partner in crime Rob Stone adds some soulful vocals and fantastic harmonica to both Rogers’ songs as well as T-Bone Walker’s “Mean Old World“, Doc Clayton’s “I’ve Got To Find My Baby” and Bates’ own “It’s The Evening Blues.”  Bates sings with a pained and  powerful original vocal style. His vocal performances on “Good Things” and “Left Me With A Broken Heart will give you chills indeed. This is the real thing. Bates’ lead guitar style on “Lucky You”,Tanya”, and Jimmy Dawkins’ “Hippies Playground” is slightly reminiscent of Earl Hooker, Otis Rush and Dawkins himself, but there’s a unique and deeply personal quality to everything Bates plays.

His slide work on Elmore James’ “Slim’s Contribution To Jazz” burns and is true to the original. It’s obvious that Bates has done his homework.  Rockin’ Johnny Burgin adds some fine vocals to the T-Bone Walkers’ classics “Mean Old World”  and “Party Girl.” The version of “Mean Old World” is closer to Little Walters’ than Walkers’.

The music on this album transports you to Theresa’s Lounge on The South Side Of Chicago at 2:00am. You can even smell the rot- gut whiskey and jar of pickled pigs feet in he air. All blues aficionados as well as newcomers to the music should get a copy of this album immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Dave Jordan & The NIA -“No Losers Tonight”

By Doc Wendell

 

There’s no mistaking pure, untampered New Orleans music, whether it be jazz, blues, country, Zydeco, rock n’ roll and everything in between.  Musicians from other places may try their asses off to get that feeling but there’s nothing like the real thing.  Dave Jordan & The NIA ( The Neighborhood Improvement Association) serve up a heathy dose of no-nonsense blues, rock and country soul with their album “No Losers Tonight” which takes the listener straight to the heart of The Crescent City.

The Neighborhood Improvement Association is comprised of Dave Jordan, lead vocals, acoustic guitar, Mike Doussan, Electric and acoustic guitars, background vocals, Will Repholz, bass, Andre Bohren, drums, percussion and backing vocals, Chris Plyant, drums and Harry Hardin, violin with special guests Bill Malchow, piano, organ, Wurlizer, Joe Armitage, electric guitar, backing vocals, Gregory “Wolf” Hodges, electric guitar, Rurik Nunan, violin and Jake Eckert, Electric guitar, tambourine.

DAVE JORDAN

 

The album kicks off with a hard, rollicking up-tempo blues rocker “Southern Girl” as well as the Southern- fried title track “No Losers Tonight” and “Smoke.”  Jordan’s rough, whiskey soaked vocals evoke emotions of both joy and sorrow and sets the tone for this album immediately.  Mike Doussan’s guitar leads are stinging and masterful. Harry Hardin’s violin screams out passionately and doubles up the carefully crafted melody lines along with the guitars. Bill Malchow adds some tasty Wurlizer comping to “Southern Girl” and “Smoke.”  The Rhythm section is tight and soulful.

“Come A Little Closer Babe” is one of the most sincerely beautiful ballads to surface in any genre of music in a long time. This is without a doubt a true album highlight.  Jordan’s vocal performance will bring tears to your eyes and the band compliments his every nuance with a wonderful thematic sensibility. Bill Malchow’s piano dances lovingly around the hypnotic melody line.

Pontchartrain” is a stellar blues ballad. Mike Doussan’s lead guitar is reminiscent of Carlos Santana and Eddie Hazel at their best. This is mournful music wrapped in love. Dave Jordan’s lyrics are poignant and poetic. He paints a vivid picture of time fading into the midst on Louisiana’s mighty Lake Pontchartrain. This song will get you missing Pontchartrain even if you’ve never been there. This is a majestic piece of Louisiana soul.

“This Time Around” and “Boot To Your Neck” kick down the door and rock hard. You can smell the stale beer and marijuana burning in the moist New Orleans air. “Once I Had A Lover” is a ballad that deals with pain, loss and self exploration. The song was written by Dave Jordan and Mike Doussan. Harry Hardin’s violin work fits the song like a glove.

Dave Jordan’s ballads just don’t let up. They tug at your heart and stay with you instantly and forever. “Baby I’m Gone” is no exception. Jordan isn’t afraid to take a hard look inward and show his vulnerability.  Jordan’s and Doussan’s guitar work is tender and sublimely melodic as is Bill Malchow’s piano stylings.

The album closes with the haunting “Dreams So Real”, a blues-based minor key dirge that conjures up the mood of a long New Orleans daydream that you just can’t shake off easily.

Dave Jordan & The NIA’s – “No Losers Tonight” is New Orleans. This is “roots music” or “Americana” ( as they call it in the Northern cities) at its very best.  I listen to so many artists release overproduced records trying to capture a sound that come to Dave Jordan & The NIA naturally. Jeff Watkins’ production is genuine and loving.  Do not let this one pass you by.