A Twist Of Doc: The Dangers Of Writing About Jazz

February 25, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

In my head I can hear Billie Holiday singing “There Is Music Everywhere.” She sang it with such glee as opposed to her better known and more tortured melancholy recordings. And she was right. It’s all around us at any time.

Devon Wendell

Devon Wendell

Since I became a music journalist several years ago, I’ve tried to write about it all, or most of what has surrounded me and crossed my path. Writing about rock n’ roll, folk, blues, and all forms of music that fits into the beloved boom era- nostalgia soundtrack seems to be the safest route when writing about music, especially today, so I’ve learned. I’ve written pieces on Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Richie Havens and everyone rejoiced.

Whenever “Purple Haze,” “Blowin’ In The Wind,” or “Hey Jude” has been mentioned with “positive vibes” or enthusiasm (a better choice of wording), I got a lot of readers and no hate mail.

Jazz, on the other hand is a different story. There’s danger and risk involved in writing about jazz just as there is danger and risk in playing the music.

The jazz community seems to love my jazz pieces, especially the musicians and fellow jazz writers. A lot of them can tell I’m a musician writing from a musician’s perspective.

But for some reason unknown to me, I’ve gotten more than a fair share of bitterness, disdain and even bullying threats from a few writers. It seems to come from those writers obsessed with the “counter culture” rock music of the ‘60s. I’d like to make it crystal clear that I love good rock n’ roll. Ike And Tina Turner, Jackie Breston, early Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Velvet Underground, these artists have been an integral part of my being and musicianship. There have been times in which I’ve criticized the rock ‘n’ roll industry and its dominating power over all genres of music and how dismissive they can be towards jazz and blues unless those genres give into some of the not so clever clichés of rock music to please some of the not so cultured rock fans.

The fact that Led Zeppelin has billions of dollars paid to the band for their versions of songs written by other artists, many of whom died in poverty, also irks me.  But this has more to do with dishonest business practices than the music. And let’s face it, those running The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame could use a few courses in music history. John Coltrane is not rock and Muddy Waters was great in his own right, regardless of who he has influenced in the rock n’ roll world. I don’t subscribe to that precious brand of narcissism.

My criticisms have been misconstrued by a clannish bunch of old hippies who do anything but practice “peace and love.” I didn’t have images of flower children in my head when one of these writers verbally harassed me for not writing the ten thousand and third article on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles arriving in America. This guy couldn’t help but throw how much money he got for his piece and how little I make.

That week I chose to write an educational piece on the jazz tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley instead. I have nothing against the Beatles but I wanted to write about Hank Mobley. Too many have asked “Who is Hank Mobley?” No one has asked me who The Beatles are. They need more publicity like Jay-Z or Beyonce need it. Come on people! The media had already been overly saturated with Beatles articles and memorabilia, making the actual event seem Warholian in its abundance of repetitive images, robbing it of any true meaning and dignity.

After receiving several emails of; “You think you’re so smart don’t you asshole snob?” and “Only a handful of folks give a shit about jazz!” “jazz is dead, long live rock!” and “We changed the world back then man! Write about The Doors!” I knew it was time to break all contact with these psychopaths stuck in a time warp. They’re gone for now and I can breathe easier.

The other danger of jazz writing is a good kind. I remember reviewing Kenny Burrell at Catalina’s in Hollywood. After I wrote my review, the late Mike Melvoin (who was on piano that night) blasted me for not noticing that he had quoted Horace Silver’s “Room 608” during one of his solos. I loved it because although he was a little pissed off, his love of the music came through in his comments. He knew I was younger than a lot of jazz writers and wanted to make sure I really listened to every nuance in a performance. I was upset with myself for missing the damn quote! This also meant he was reading my work and paying attention.

I like that sense of risk which keeps me on my toes. That’s positive criticism, which I can work with. As for the other kind, I’m glad to say it’s quieted down for now and I feel for those rock writers who keep their musical worlds so small and follow the herd for a quick buck. The anger has passed, so there’s been some growth.

So I’ll just keep doing what I do and write not only about jazz, but rock, cumbia, maybe some hip-hop, even klezmer music if the mood should strike me. And I’ll enjoy and learn from the risks. “There Is Music Everywhere.”  Indeed.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

A Twist of Doc – An Appreciation: The 43rd Anniversary Of The Death Of Jimi Hendrix

September 18, 2013

 By Devon Wendell

September 18th, 2013 and all I can think about is Jimi. How his music and legacy has haunted me my entire life. Jimi Hendrix died 43 years ago today, over 5 years before I was even born. Yet every feedback drenched note, cascading soulful ballad, and harrowing wammy-bar dive bomb has almost followed my every move since the age of ten.

It was something I hid and was ashamed of in my formative years because Jimi was associated with and marketed to a rock ‘n’ roll audience which was a no no for a “pure” bluesman like myself. Or so I believed. Although I had known the direct link between Jimi and Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, as well as the deepest of the Delta and Country bluesmen such as Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charlie Patton, when I first heard his music, he was mainly seen as the father of heavy metal.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

He was lumped into the same group of “classic” rockers such as Led-Zeppelin and The Who,which I failed to understand. I hated and still hate heavy metal or most rock music and Jimi’s music is far more profound than any of that stuff and is closer to a Robert Johnson or Miles Davis. I chalked it up to ignorance on the part of everyone who had been brainwashed into thinking all guitar music is “rock n’ roll” and buried this feeling of having an overwhelming link to Jimi until the rest of the world caught on to the depths of his creativity. That finally seems to have happened.

He was the only famous artist that I could relate to on a musical and personal level, though everything I had learned about Jimi was speculation from books and articles. And some of the famous artists with whom I got to come across who actually knew Jimi personally – like Jack Bruce and Buddy Miles – told me that there wasn’t a way of “Really knowing Jimi.”

I grabbed onto those second hand scraps of images with all of my might. Jimi’s shyness, insecurity, frustration, self-destruction, and the playboy image made my youthful self-loathing somewhat less painful. Plus I had a guitar which was little more than a blank canvas before my teens.  

Now I’m an adult and know the dangers of associating my self with anyone else’s image, true or false but at times when I’m playing my guitar, my way, to the best of my ability, I feel Jimi there with me. Sometimes he likes what I’m doing and sometimes I see him in my mind’s eye wincing at a missed note or chord gone horribly wrong. Because I had some of the same chemically induced demons as Jimi, I try not to take these feelings too seriously anymore. I nearly followed Jimi and Robert Johnson into an early grave but somehow I miraculously survived.

I try my best to shake Jimi’s influence on my playing now the same way a young, ambitious saxophonist may struggle with all of his might to shake the influence of Lester Young or John Coltrane but it’s not that easy because his music is everywhere, in every genre now. Jimi’s music is sacred and shouldn’t be mocked.

September 18th, 1970 marked the passing of contemporary music’s last true virtuoso. There certainly hasn’t been anyone as influential on a single instrument since his death.

We’re all still waiting for the next one to come from somewhere and the longer it takes, the more we must pause to give thanks for his life and music. Rest in peace Jimi.  

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

CD Review: “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” (Purple Box Set)

August 20, 2013

 The Wind Cries Jimi

The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Purple Box Set) (Legacy Records)

By Brian Arsenault

The four disc Jimi Hendrix Experience “purple box set” is being released today for the first time in over a decade, with some previously unreleased tunes as well. If you’ve any room on your credit card or have some cash stuck in a drawer, make sure to get it. Not cheap no doubt but a value beyond rubies.

 “Be a magic boy, be a voodoo child.”

Jimi Hendrix

The thing about Jimi is that he could hear everybody — Dylan, the Beatles, Chuck Berry, the old blues guys.  I don’t think anybody can really play unless they can really hear.  And, oh, could Jimi hear. 

How else can you explain “Like a Rolling Stone” on Disc One. After several listenings I still can’t quite grasp how he so thoroughly makes it his at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 while maintaining the integrity of Dylan‘s composition.

This brilliant Dylan cover is but one of a number of concert recordings which, in and of themselves, would make one bitchin live album.

There’s the marvelous Royal Albert Hall performance recording of “Little Wing” with “a thousand smiles she gives to me free.” Was there ever a finer rock lyric, a finer song?

From the same show there’s a dazzling “Voodoo Child.” Is there anyone since Beethoven who could do openings like Jimi?

There are fine studio recordings too. The intro chords on “Foxy Lady” on Disc One could hurt you. And a fine “Purple Haze” of course leads us in.

But those concert recordings:

The show at the Olympia Theater in Paris in 1966 must surely echo through eternity. Just the cuts here — including “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Catfish Blues” and “Killing Floor” as well as the maybe best ever “Hey Joe” recording are as close to perfection as you’ll see this side of a sunset.

The “Hey Joe” is ominous, brooding, building like a storm. “The Wind Cries Mary” delicate and poetic. “Catfish Blues” is true to John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters just done “our own way,” as you hear Jimi say. He can do such different stuff and still be him.

Great musicians not only hear everything, they like everything. Or at least everything good.

There was a time before people retreated into their own little corners of pop and rap and country and so on, a time when the same guy would like psychedelic and soul, folk and jazz, rock ‘n roll and the blues from which it sprang. Certainly there are “purists” in every era who think there’s only one kind of music, but there once was a time of wider ranging tastes.

There was also a different spirit on the part of the artists. Instead of some silly kid telling you to respect him as an artist, Jimi would apologize as he does several times here for having to stop to tune up or warn you that he’s about to play a long tune. He wanted the music to be perfect, not his tweets (anachronism, I know).

Journey with Jimi to an astonishing version of “Johnny B. Goode,” wherein the true founder of rock, Chuck Berry, is played through the Hendrix prism. Hear the Carl Perkins/Presley “Blue Suede Shows” picked up from a sound check. And smile through the Jimi Hendrix Experience delighting in the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

I could go on and on but the purple box is yours to hear and treasure and it’s not to be missed. I have noted in the past the weakness of a Hendrix reissue which might include two or three gems and a bunch of inferior outtakes. But not here. There’s hardly a clunker.

I also found Mitch Mitchell’s drumming on the concert cuts everywhere — keeping up with Jimi’s ripping guitar on “Johnny B. Goode” for example — much better than I ever considered his studio work.

Near the end of the fourth and final disc there’s a recording of “All Along the Watchtower” played at the Isle of Wight before more than a half million people in 1970. Among the many reasons I wish Jimi could have lived a lot longer is so he could have covered even more of the Dylan songbook, two artists who most of us would have considered so different before Jimi’s versions.

But it was late summer of 1970 and the hour was getting late. Jimi was the most brilliant in an array of shooting stars in that era soon to be gone. You know their names if you know the era.

Even in a wider sense: like Shelly and Keats writing poetry of which we would never again see its like; like Charlie Parker playing alto sax as if he came from a more perfect world of music.

Gone too soon but not too soon to leave us their music sound poetry to last the ages.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

CD Review: Quinn Sullivan: “Getting There” (SuperStar Records)

July 26, 2013

  By Devon Wendell

Blues master Buddy Guy encountered the now 14 year old Quinn Sullivan six years ago after Guy invited the young Sullivan to sit in with him. And he’s mentored this budding electric six stringer ever since.

Sullivan’s sophomore CD Getting There is an appropriate title for Sullivan’s blistering blues oriented rock-pop.

There’s no doubt that Sullivan is wise beyond his years in his skills as a blues/rock guitarist, but the overproduction on this release often distracts from the first half of the album.

Tracks like “Checkin’ Out,”, “Catch A Groove” and the schmaltzy ballad “World In Change” are marred with cliched psychedelic rock vocal effects, hooks and overindulgent guitar pyrotechnics that have little to do with real blues and more to do with baby- boom era, blues-inspired “classic” rock.  The exceptions are the title track “Getting There” and portions of “Mr. Gloom,” in which Sullivan delivers some no nonsense, Buddy Guy inspired blues playing. With that being said, there is an unmistaken sense of rollicking fun on the album. “Rock Hard” is a good example of this. Sullivan (with help from producer Tom Hambridge) doesn’t sound like he takes himself too seriously, which is a plus.

Quinn Sullivan

Quinn Sullivan

It may serve Sullivan better that he hasn’t tried to make a pure blues album with all of the false posturing and fake vocal affectations that someone like Eric Clapton (more than 4 times Sullivan’s age) has been doing for almost half a century. The music on Getting There is more age and culturally appropriate for Sullivan than trying to come off sounding like Muddy Waters or B.B. King.

Sullivan’s high, prepubescent vocals don’t match the maturity of his wailing Strat guitar runs (which may be off-putting at first listen) but the command and confidence of his vocal delivery makes up for that.

“Like Your Love” and “End Of The Day” are Sullivan’s finest vocal performances on the album. There’s a fun, mid-60s Beatles feel to these tracks.

The surfer-esque rock instrumental “Cyclone” is the highlight of the album with brilliant piano work by Jefferson Jarvis. Here, Sullivan sticks to the song’s motif and thematic qualities without playing one or two bars and then diving into an endless solo that goes nowhere. This instrumental brings to mind the late great Texas guitar master Danny Gatton.

Sullivan tells his story as a young guitar phenom who’s already experienced more than the average Joe on the Southern rocker “Things I Won’t Forget.” There’s a youthful sweetness to Sullivan’s early felt nostalgia on this song.

QuiThe album closes with a bonus track of Sullivan performing Eric Clapton’s “Got To Get Better In A Little While” live at Buddy Guy’s “Legends” club in Chicago with Buddy’s band (Marty Sammons, keys and backing vocals, Orlando Wright,bass and Rick Hall, guitar) with the addition of Tom Hambridge on drums.

Sullivan sounds frighteningly close to Clapton in tone but he has a rawness and technique that Clapton’s never had.

Although Getting There isn’t for the blues purist, it shows the world this young man’s amazing talents as a fiery blues tinged guitarist and singer who can successfully incorporate blues and rock into a fun-filled pop idiom. Quinn Sullivan is definitely someone to keep your eyes and ears on.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Live Music: Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers at Royce Hall

February 27, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

Last weekend at Royce Hall, CAP UCLA presented another intriguing show, as Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers delivered a unique clinic on how to make a musical point with a steel guitar.   I’m not sure how many of us knew that the Slide Brothers use four or five non-identical steel guitars to build a marvelously layered sound.  But to watch as the four stations were set up across the stage you could feel the anticipation build.  What would this sound like?  And, how cool to get four of these contraptions firing at once in any room, be it a church or Royce Hall.  Bring it on!

The development of the Slide Brothers began in several Pentecostal churches back in the 1930’s.  In this Sacred Steel Style an amplified steel guitar, played sitting and tabled with a knife or a metal slide, is used to drive the melodic turns of a piece of music like a banshee.  It is a lightning bolt of sound that cuts through just about anything.

Robert Randolph

Robert Randolph

As a child, Robert Randolph was born into the House of God church in Orange, New Jersey and became fascinated with the Sacred Steel he heard in services.  He followed the pull of the steel guitar to become a monster player himself.  His heroes included pioneers of the style: Aubrey Ghent, Henry Nelson, and Chuck and Darick Campbell. The Slide Brothers lineup is basically Randolph playing onstage with several of the people from whom he learned the most about the style.

While the Sacred Steel music was confined under church roofs, Randolph didn’t listen to much else as a teen.  In the last ten years or so, he has become increasingly aware of and connected with secular blues music like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane Allman, and Jimi Hendrix.   Randolph has brought the Sacred Steel out of the church, fitted it to some popular secular styles, and teamed up with his mentors to let the glory of the instrument speak for itself.

When the Slide Brothers came on we had the legendary Chuck Campbell and Randolph on pedal steel guitars, at opposite ends of the stage.  This, alone, represented 25 strings worth of harmonic possibilities.  In the middle were Aubrey Ghent and Calvin Cooke, and on the backline we had the booming rhythm section of Ray Holloman on bass and big Carlton Campbell (Chuck’s nephew) on drums.

Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers

Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers

The music was tremendous, with the pulsating beat you would expect from Gospel music and the nuanced tones you would want from blues and even rock music. The Slide Brothers have just released a new album, Robert Randolph Presents The Slide Brothers, which features several familiar secular songs including, “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, and the Tampa Red standard, “It Hurts Me Too.” Songs like “The Sky Is Crying,” made popular by Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” put a galvanizing perspective on the sound of this style. Hearing a familiar song done in a new style usually reveals a bit about the song and the players, too.  This was surely the case on Saturday.  On “Voodoo Child,” nobody sang the dark set of lyrics to the song.  But, they put the pedal to the metal instrumentally.

The sound was louder than usual for Royce and steel guitars do very well with a little extra lift.  Time after time, the Slide Brothers would pull the elements that make an electric steel guitar sound as big as a herd of elephants.   It was the nuances that made you take notice.   Slurred power chords and especially the sweet spot in the decay of a note feeding back.   The percussive chunk-a-chunk that pervades great rhythm guitar playing was also there, as was the wailing, writhing high notes.   Beyond that, organ voicings were also easy for the guys to reach on the pedal steels.  So, there were many options for which register they might choose — below the melody lines.   In the tradition of big amplified sound, the steels were sent through delay and distortion effects, and even wah-wah pedals.

Robert Randolph can flat out fly on a steel guitar.   He peeled off several stunning pentatonic runs that evoked and perhaps eclipsed a standard electric guitar.  Impressive, as there are no frets on a pedal steel guitar.  But then he would delve into the steel’s harmonic voicings for striking contrast.   His foil on stage right was Chuck Campbell, a big presence on a bench behind his steel.  His style leaned more towards composed, swirling chordal movement.   Together they covered some wide and serious tonal ground, while balancing each other’s sound.

To be sure, most of us had never seen anything like this and probably won’t until we go see them live again.  Not a lot of people do what Randolph and the Slide Brothers are doing.   It should be delightful to see where they turn for material in the future and how they arrange it when they get there.

Otis Taylor and his band from Boulder opened the show with an impressive set of songs that were rooted in blues but branched out in funkier directions to come across as some intriguing rock music.   Taylor’s band featured the animated performance of Anne Harris on violin and the very hot licks of Shawn Starski on lead guitar.  Taylor himself had a warm way about him and the set’s energy got the audience primed for the treat awaiting them with the Slide Brothers.

To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE

CD Review: Bob Dylan’s “Tempest”

September 15, 2012

Tempest (Columbia)

By Devon Wendell

Savage imagery of Hell on earth, twisted ultra violence, sinking ships, whores, and  dying villains mixed with the language and rhythms of true American blues, country, Celtic traditions, and R&B  make Bob Dylan’s Tempest a sinister yet melancholy masterpiece.

In the rollicking jump blues of the opening track, “Duquesne Whistle,” Dylan takes us right to the heart of the obsession with trains and getting out of town before it’s too late that’s always been a part of blues history. There are intentional similarities to the Memphis Jug Band belting out “I thought I heard That KC When She Blows” from 1925. Tony Garnier’s walking bass line drives the superb multi-layered guitar harmonies carefully crafted by Donnie Herron, Charlie Sexton, Stu Kimball, and David Hidalgo.

The slow R&B flavored ballad “Soon After Midnight” is an anticipation of an after hours romance, while declaring a man’s vitality from a life lived to the bone, and  the many women who’ve come and gone.  Dylan’s sense of urgency –

“It’s now or never more than ever,

when I met you I didn’t think you would do”

– makes it feel as if he is coming to terms with his own mortality, chasing down an old love which has been a common theme of all Dylan’s recent recordings, starting with 1997’s Time Out Of Mind.

“Narrow Way” directly borrows some verses from the Mississippi Sheiks 1934 “Work Down To Me Someday.” This is a classic “You’ll be sorry someday” blues warning of a bitter and scorned lover.  Dylan covers jealousy, anger, fear, and regret in every verse, as the band cooks up a loud electric Delta blues groove.

“Long And Wasted Years” is a sad and remorseful plea to a long lost lover. Dylan sings of an all encompassing romance that made the world disappear and family forgotten.

“I think when my back was turned the whole world burned.

It’s been a while since we walked down that long, long aisle.”

Dylan sings about the double-edged sword of a co-dependent relationship.

In ”Pay in Blood,” Dylan paints a clear picture of a character who’s lived a life of bloody brutality.

I can stone you to death for the wrongs that you’ve done”

Dylan warns politicians, respected leaders, and good time harlots that he’s no man to mess with. The arrangement on this number is reminiscent of late ’70’s Rolling Stones slick rock n’ roll.

On the haunting minor key “Scarlet Town,” Dylan hits us with images of a hometown plagued with death, beggars, a “flat chested junkie whore” and terror, making his 1965 classic “Desolation Row” feel like a peppy walk through Disneyland.

Some of the images here bring to mind the absurdist hell of Samuel Beckett’s Watt mixed with the no-holds barred language of a Nelson Algren novel.

Over the past few albums, Dylan has used classic Chess records blues arrangements, as is the case on “Early Roman Kings,” which is a tale of greed, immorality, and male machismo set to Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy.”

But at this point, the violent boasting starts to feel redundant, and as great as the band is, it would be more interesting if Dylan and company had come up with their own arrangements. But Dylan’s hoarse, strained vocals often bare a frightening resemblance to Howlin’ Wolf towards the end of his life, especially with the backdrop of these Chicago blues rhythms. David Hidalgo’s accordion work brilliantly mimics every nuance of Little Walter’s harmonica phrasing.

More images of a bleak apocalyptic world continue throughout “Tin Angel,” in which Dylan’s narrative is of three traveling characters involved in a murder-suicide. Donnie Herron’s mandolin colorfully laces each one of Dylan’s verses perfectly.

The title track “Tempest,’” with its Celtic rhythms, is about the sinking of the Titanic. Although each verse delivers clear and powerful images of dead bodies floating in water as the ship goes down, 14 minutes is too long to have to endure all of this, and you’d think Dylan could do a little better than making direct references to the Titanic motion picture. Even with that said, Dylan’s detailed snapshots make you feel as if he were there during this historical disaster.

The closing number “Roll On John” is a haunting, mournful ballad, reliving the assassination of John Lennon.  This is the most moving track on the album because you can feel Dylan’s personal connection and love for Lennon, with references to some of Lennon’s lyrics. Dylan sounds vulnerable, as if he is about to burst into tears. He also sounds as though he feels left behind by Lennon.

Many fans may try to decode Dylan’s lyrics on Tempest to find personal, sociological, and political parallels to today’s world. But it’s clear that part of the man’s brilliance is creating well defined characters and telling clear and concise stories – qualities which are too often sadly missing in music today. On Tempest (as on most of Dylan’s past work), he has created a whole album meant to be listened to from start to finish, no matter how far down those dark roads he takes us. And no matter how much we try to decipher what every verse means, only Dylan knows for sure.  So we’ll just have to misinterpret these songs to fit our own lives as we’ve had to do since his very first album, which is fine for Dylan and for all his dedicated fans.

To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Live Blues: B.B. King And The Tedeschi Trucks Band At The Hollywood Bowl,

September 6, 2012

By Devon Wendell

What was designated as “Blues Night” at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night turned out to be what must have been one of the strangest evenings the Bowl has seen in a long time, due to a rather sloppy, chaotic set from B.B. King.

But let’s first talk about the Tedeschi Trucks band, who opened the show with a stellar set of their unique blend of Southern-fried country blues rock.

DSerek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi

Susan Tedeschi’s Bonnie Raitt-style singing and Derek Trucks screaming lead slide guitar playing (reminiscent of the late Duane Allman) were complimented by well punctuated horn hooks (from Kebbi Williams: sax, Maurice Brown: trumpet, and Saunders Sermons on trombone) on material from their 2011 debut album Revelator (Sony Masterworks).  Selections included “Don’t Let Me Slide” (which opened the show), “Midnight In Harlem”, and  “Love Has Something Else To Say.”

The vocal harmonies between Tedeschi, Mike Mattison, and Mark Rivers, gave the band a more gospel feel, creating a much larger and more powerful sound.

The most powerful moments of the set were the covers. Tedeschi and Trucks swapped solos on their interpretation of the Elmore James version of the Muddy Waters classic “Rollin’ And Tumblin.”  Tedeshi’s melodic Chicago blues style leads were the perfect counterpoint to Truck’s thunderous, wailing slide work. Another fascinating cover was the group’s tribute to the late Levon Helm (who passed away on April 19th, 2012) on The Band’s classic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” with David Ryan Harris guesting on vocals and guitar. The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s relaxed Southern style made this an ideal number to cover. Harris shared the lead vocal spot with Tedeschi.

On a swampy, New Orleans funk rendition of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “That Did It”, Tedeschi’s voice had a raspiness to it that brought to mind Janis Joplin’s whiskey soaked vocals.

The band closed with their own “Bound For Glory” which at times sounded a little too much like a lot of their other originals but was saved by a dynamic and masterful Hammond B3 organ solo by Kofi Burbridge.

After a rather long intermission, The B.B. King Blues Band took the stage, playing a few intro instrumental Memphis blues shuffles. This was set up to show off the skills of each band member, especially the horn section (Melvin Jackson: sax, Walter King: sax, and Stanley Abernathy: trumpet).  Eventually, Melvin Jackson introduced B.B. King.

Sitting down at his chair, King played some of his signature string bends and vibrato along with a fast gospel instrumental laid down by the band. After that, things went downhill very quickly.

B.B. King

King rushed through some of his most well known material –  “I Need You So,” Everyday I Have The Blues” (in which he didn’t slow down enough to sing the song’s chorus), his version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s stark plea of death “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” as well as “When Love Comes To Town,” and “The Thrill Is Gone.” Not only did King rush these numbers, he also seemed to be struggling with playing his guitar. In all fairness, King will turn 87 years young on September16th, but one moment he seemed to be fighting to get what used to come naturally and then suddenly it was if he became disconnected from the music.  It seemed as though King was very tired or out of it, which weighed down his performance the longer it went on.

King then invited Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks back on stage to join him and everything began to fall apart. First, Tedeschi was seated next to King but not given a guitar as Trucks stood over them with his axe ready to go.

King was slurring his words by this point and talking way too much. Eventually, Trucks sat on the other side of King who announced special guest John Mayer. Mayer took a seat next to Trucks. Mayer had also not been given a guitar. King started to tease Mayer about “being tired from kissing all morning” and even made a few jokes about Mayer’s recent throat cancer surgery, but no one seemed offended.  Then King and his band went right into the melancholy “Guess Who.”

After what seemed like an eternity, both Tedeschi and Mayer were finally handed their guitars from a stage hand but neither one of them got to play more than 12 bars each, as King rambled on nonsensically. Trucks interrupted with a few loud solos as what appeared to be a means of distracting the audience from all the chaos.

Tedeschi played a few bars very sloppily, as if nervous from this strange spectacle.  The more King talked, the more out of it he sounded. Mayer finally got in a brief but amazing solo, playing some of King’s trademark licks lovingly along with the chord changes. The band remained steady and tight throughout all of this.

After thanking the audience several times, King announced that their time was up and that was it. Everyone but King quickly exited the stage. King sat there in his chair waving at the crowd with a big grin.

On this evening of blues, the Tedeschi Trucks Band played a set that was focused, soulful, and energetic. Both Susan Tedeschi and her husband Derek Trucks got to show off their virtuosity to the Bowl audience. But, whether it was due to poor health, age, or other reasons, B.B. King’s set was off.  And, instead of curing the Bowl crowd of the blues as he’s done countless times before, he gave us far less than we’d hoped for, especially the musicians – like myself — who’ve loved and learned so much from King all our lives.

Hopefully this was just an off night for The King Of The Blues

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

A Twist of Doc: Sex And The Blues

July 12, 2012

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

I can still see and feel it as if it were yesterday. Lost in a daydream in the final stages of some pre-pubescent heaven or hell was this long, slender goddess walking past me as I sat on a stoop on Henry Street in Brooklyn. She wore a tan short skirt and high heels. Her hips moved from left to right in a rhythmic pattern that I would be lost in for the rest of my life. And there it was, the sound that went with it. Muddy Waters belting out “Just To Be With You” that I had recorded off a radio show broadcast out of Newark, N.J. at 3:00am a month earlier.

Muddy Waters

The tempo, the bass thumping, the screaming harmonica, the languid but blistering guitar lines and Muddy’s voice all felt as if he were right there next to me, watching her every move in front of that old brown stone.  If I could only speak to her or sing like Muddy with that sense of pleading, desperation, experience, and power, she might look back and smile. Of course, there was more than a desire for just a smile, but I had to be realistic.

Before I knew it, she had turned a corner and was gone forever, the start of a frustrating pattern for me — but that music stuck around.  It stayed through all of the missed opportunities for dates due to a crippling shyness, through all of the stacks of nudie magazines and viewings of Charlie’s Angels, through my first break up to my last. The blues was there.

I knew from the affect it had on me — that this was not kiddy music.

From that time — when I was about eleven years old, gawking at that beauty of Brooklyn — to the present age of 37, the blues, for me, has always been synonymous with sex.  Rock n’ roll tried too hard. Mick Jagger prancing around onstage, trying to sound American was so forced, and that rhythm wasn’t there.  Mick acted like he knew and labored to prove to everyone that he did.

But it didn’t feel the same as it did with a true bluesman. It didn’t seem as though they had to put that much effort into it. If anything, they had to struggle to tame the flames as they rose to their heights, to control the powerful, commanding force that has taken down empires.  It’s all right there. Howlin’ Wolf’s ethereal moans on “Moanin’ At Midnight,” with its one hypnotic chord, felt sweaty, giving me a delightful anxiousness, along with flashes of the girls who attended Catholic School with me, and the parts of their bodies not hidden beneath their drab uniforms (as close as I would ever get).  It happened instantaneously when I’d hear that sound.

Ray Charles

It still does. I could just look at footage of Muddy Waters or Ray Charles, at their facial expression and body language, and I knew that they understood something so sweet that I didn’t fully at eleven.  I would get it later on in high school and when I did, it felt as if I finally got something right about the world.

During my initial carnal baptisms, I would often get hit with quick images of Ray Charles smiling and singing “My Bonnie,” which I had seen when I was seven or eight on a PBS fundraiser. That smile spoke volumes.  Even before those written clichés about the forbidden relationship between gospel, blues, and rock n’ roll, it was clear that Ray’s higher power wasn’t always God.

B.B. King painted the picture with his guitar Lucille (aptly named after a woman). His big thick bright tone, string bending (sometimes fast, sometimes slow) and his vocal-like phrasing were this wonderful assault on the libido. He knew to take his time so you’d get the full picture undistorted.  B.B.’s steady vibrato mimicked a woman’s voice crying out in sheer pleasure.

B.B. King

At the time I first discovered B.B.’s sound, the popular guitarists of the day played a million notes at once and with a thin, shrill tone.  Those heavy metal shredders played like they had never seen or touched a good (or bad) woman in their lives.  It wasn’t even “quickie” music with its fast tempos.

B.B.’s band would lock into that gutbucket slow soul and, mixed with what he was (and wasn’t) playing on Lucille, it was all over for me.  I could see Parades of Playboy bunnies dancing around my unmade bed while I sat there with a pair of earphones plugged into my cheap cassette player.

Also in my teens, I remember watching a film of the late great Freddie King in 1966 when he appeared on a television show called The Beat.  A friend inquired “Why is he sweating and why are his eyes closed so tight?” and I felt sorry for my pal. He didn’t have access to the key to that kingdom. It was so obvious that Freddie had been there and back and would die right there on stage for it while singing “I Love The Woman” with every ounce of energy, ecstasy, sorrow, and regret — and he made it all seem worth it.

I knew if I could summon that kind of power, I could enter the kingdom and be a part of this exclusive club of mighty misogynists (which only seemed cool in my twisted youth).  And that became my primary focus. Once I had my first guitar, as often as I constantly practiced along with records by Muddy, B.B., Albert King, Son House, and Lightnin’ Hopkins, I also worked on the attitude. That “Come here, baby, and sit on daddy’s knee” swagger gave me the much needed confidence that finally demolished all shyness.

John Lee Hooker

During my senior year in high school, I was lucky enough to meet the late John Lee Hooker at The Beacon Theater in NYC after his performance. He spoke freely of women and the blues. He also called me “Doc” a few times and I would rename myself that to go with this new sense of self.  Devon wasn’t really a cool blues name and everything had to fit or I might end up looking as foolish as Mick Jagger.

I was also hearing the mythical stories of Robert Johnson and how he had women all over the Mississippi Delta, cooking for him, giving him their bodies, money, places to stay, words of encouragement, and anything he desired.  I failed to look at where his confidence and behavior would ultimately lead him after he was supposedly given some poisoned whiskey by a jealous man after having a tryst with the wrong woman. Those kinds of consequences meant nothing to me as a teen, for I had no prior experiences with making such bad decisions, but they frighten me to the core today.

Today you can hear Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’” on a commercial for Viagra. Sure, the message is less than subtle, but that image of sexual potency in the blues still lives on. I can’t help but think Viagra would not be needed if a steady dose of Muddy’s and Wolf’s music were initially part of the diet, but some of us learn later than others.  I’m glad I got a head start.

CD Review/Rock: Ten Years After – “A Space in Time” (Remastered)

June 17, 2012

Ten Years After

 A Space In Time (Remastered) (Capitol)

By Brian Arsenault

Boy that boy could play.  I mean I know he’s still out there and he probably still can.  I haven’t heard him lately.  But Alvin Lee in 1971 on A Space In Time — however uneven the album is — was the equal or better of any of his contemporaries. Page, Clapton, Townshend, any of that magnificent array of British rock guitarists of the era.

Alvin Lee

He was also admirable for writing in the electric blues form of American artists of the 50s: Muddy, Howlin Wolf, John Lee.  He didn’t just borrow it like most British and American rockers of the time, he got right down into it.  Listen to the lead track “One of These Days” and tell me it wouldn’t be fine done by the Billy Boy Arnold Band.

The problem is the album moves off into a variety of stuff. There’s a sort of Traffic sounding angst poetry song and there are little pointless electronic effects that seem quaint now but were probably meant to be psychedlic, and maybe even a touch of the Kinks on “Over the Hill” (more about this tune later). “Who is (or was) this guy?” I found myself saying.

Depending upon your level of generosity, Alvin and the band were broadening their musical style, trying to finally get a hit record, or leaving the blues for pop.  Many thought that “progression” depressed Alvin but didn’t he have the industry muscle to stop it?

Ten Years After did get their one giant hit record off this album, by the way — the hippie (I guess) anthem “I’d Love to Change the World.” Last I knew, the track was still getting FM “Classic Rock” play. I for one  won’t patronize the song with Lee’s rippling, screaming guitar work wonderfully underlaid by Ric Lee’s ferocious drumming. Boy that boy could play.

Getting back to “Over the Hill,” this is where Lee mournfully predicts “think I’ll leave the blues over the hill.”  Still he also intones that “this stuff is killing me.”

And jumps right into “Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock ‘N Roll You,” pure hard driving rockabilly, which is only electric blues with a little white country on it.

Boy that boy could play. And he did move off in other directions from what TYA had become. Still, someone should have come in and said, hey, all the songs are going to be like “Hard Monkeys,” get it?

“Hard Monkeys” (draw your own conclusions) is so good, so true to the form, but somebody tell me what “Here They Come” is. It’s a perplexing album that way throughout but don’t miss it.

This remastered, reissued wonderfully vinyl album is worth finding your old turntable or hitting that good downtown music store (which is still there, at least online) and buying one.  Maybe even a couple of giant speakers.

The whole world isn’t programmed music on an iPad, you know. And even if it is, this record in its best parts is as good a rocker as there is. Or was.

To read more reviews and posts by Brian Arsenault click HERE

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“November and Other Tales” by Brian Arsenault



Brian Arsenault’s November and Other Tales is a collection of short stories exploring the way cold comes by degrees in winter and in the human heart.  To check it out, click HERE.

Op-Ed: Bob Dylan’s Appeal From One Generation To Another.

June 4, 2012

Times Have Changed

By Devon Wendell

On Tuesday, May 29th, President Obama presented Bob Dylan with the Medal Of Freedom — designated as the nation’s highest civilian honor — at the White House.   Obama’s comments at the ceremony about Dylan’s influence on his life and American culture were the typical “Voice of a generation” spiel that Dylan himself has rejected throughout his 50-year career. This got me thinking about the vast differences between Dylan’s appeal to the baby-boom generation who witnessed him first (like President Obama) and my generation, which followed.

I’m 37, and I recall viewing Dylan first on the “We Are The World” video. His phrasing was off, his tone nasal, and I thought it was the worst sound I had ever heard. My Mom drilled into me that this man “changed the world for us.” But I shrugged it off, and that was it until high school.

I attended a Quaker school in Brooklyn which was run by some aging hippies who were downright obsessed with the ‘60s culture they grew up in. The school’s Principal even had Allen Ginsberg come and read “Howl” on two separate occasions in front of the entire staff and student body.

I was already a stubborn purist who had discovered blues and jazz at the age of ten and looked down on rock and folk music. At that time, I didn’t even like The Beatles or The Stones. For me it was all about Muddy Waters, Son House and Albert King, as well as Miles, Bird, Monk, Coltrane, Ellington, and Rollins. I also liked Motown, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix, whom I’ve never considered to be a Rock n’ Roller.

I was a young, budding musician and believed rock and folk lacked originality and richness and was geared towards teeny-boppers and the pop-charts.  There was nothing remotely interesting about The Byrds or Peter, Paul and Mary to me.

The few friends I was able to collect shared my musical views and taste.

We also had resentments towards our parents and teachers. (The irony is not lost here.)

One summer afternoon, a few friends dropped by my house to hear me practice my electric guitar, listen to records, and sneak some wine.  One of them had brought a tape compilation of Bob Dylan songs.

I was weary because this kid also liked punk, which I found boring and stupid.  He knew I had a chip on my shoulder and liked the sound of rage or just being fed-up.  Howlin’ Wolf singing “I’m Gonna Leave You Woman Before I Commit A Crime” — that was real to me. When I saw the kid had a Dylan tape, I instantly thought of whining hippies in the mud, flowers, and unicorns.

After some arguing, I finally let him play the tape and I couldn’t believe what I heard.  The music was fantastically snarling and evil. “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend,”  “You’re an idiot babe. It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe,”  “How does it feel to be on your own?” “Forget the debt you left, they will not follow you,” etc.  Most of the music was set to Chicago blues or music I could relate to, so that got me too. It was clear that Dylan loved and understood American roots music and was proud of it at a time when it was being co-opted by The British Invasion.

I loved everything I heard. This wasn’t the “Times They Are a-Changin’” Dylan that my teachers and my mother spoke of.  This was a big middle finger to the world.

My friend proceeded to show me bootleg videos of Dylan’s press conferences from 1965 following the release of “Highway 61 Revisited,” in which Dylan was chain smoking, dismissive to the press, and seemed emotionally disengaged.  My pal also told me the story of how Dylan had stood up in front of  The Emergency Civil Liberties Union in 1963, a month after the assassination of JFK and declared, “There is no difference between the left and right anymore,” and that he wouldn’t be some musical puppet for anyone’s political agendas.

Suddenly Dylan seemed as rebellious and complex to me as Charles Mingus. I started really listening to Blood On The Tracks, Blonde On Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited, and Oh Mercy. I identified with the way he viewed the world as being hideously absurd, rejecting old notions of how to live and think, and most importantly the way he viciously struck back at heartbreak. With pen and tongue he relentlessly did it in a way that was both harsh and beautiful.

I felt the pain and necessity in that brutality that stemmed from his sorrows. At the same time, where you had the viciousness of “Idiot Wind,” “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” you also had “If You See Her, Say Hello,” “A Simple Twist Of Fate” and “Ramona,” in which Dylan wasn’t afraid to show his vulnerability.

That dichotomy of the pissed off nerd poet (Boy, could I really relate to that), who even said “Fuck you” to the Pete Seegers and the growing “counter culture” of his day, and the forlorn poet, whose pained verses reflected his struggles to maintain a healthy/long lasting romance, seemed more universal than the “Blowin’ In The Wind” Dylan. Wars pass, and so do trends, but the Dylan loved by my generation tapped into the same themes as did Shakespeare, Yeats, Thomas, and Rimbaud.

This being the case, I was a little disappointed that Dylan didn’t unleash the beast at The White House when receiving the medal, voicing his disgust towards such trite ceremonies and the current political climate.  To me, his lifeless stare as the President rambled on spoke volumes – he didn’t act like someone who was completely grateful for the award. But who knows how he really feels, and does it matter?

What matters is his music, and that’s something all generations can appreciate.   Wait, that sounds too corny.  Dylan would hate it.  Ultimately the great thing about Bob Dylan is that you can’t sum him up.

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To read more posts by Devon Wendell click HERE


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