John’s Blues Picks
It was a golden age in Toronto blues, when Albert’s Hall was booking touring acts for a week at a time, the Blues Society was just starting up and the Saturday Matinee at the Black Swan on the Danforth was THE gathering place. One of the main reasons it was a gathering place was the band on that stage, led by Gary Kendall on bass and Cash Wall on drums. Everyone sang but Cash sang more and Gary booked the guest of the week as well as the blues on the other evenings, beginning a career path that would lead him to his place of prominence in our scene today. The lineup wasn’t always fixed but Jeff Baker usually played harp and Richard Smythe and/or Teddy Leonard guitar with Martin Alex Aucoin on keys. The band wasn’t as well known as it should have been and recording was an obvious next step. That process was begun, but, as is often the case, the money ran out. It turns out that even though the band wasn’t happy with the sound, a cassette was used for demo purposes and I treasure my copy to this day. Eventually, Cash would return to the US, succumbing to cancer a couple of years ago and the Swan decided they could do without Gary’s booking skills. The Kendall Wall Band receded from memory. Now, 27 years later, Gary has decided to go back to those master tapes and restore the band’s place in our history. We get two more songs and an extended version of its centerpiece, Cash’s “Terrified”. On the cassette, it was faded during Martin Alex Aucoin’s magnificent piano solo and lost Cash’s last verse. Its all here now – an even more convincing portrait of lost love. Other highlights for me this time include the opening song, Ike Turner’s “Just One More Time”, Gary’s “If She Was Mine”, a duet with Jeff Baker and Cash’s “Won’t You Stay”. But the memories of those afternoons came flooding back. I’m sure it’ll be the same for you. You will find, though, that the songs and performances hold up remarkably well 27 years later, a fitting tribute to The Kendall Wall Band, and to Cash Wall. Thanks for doing this, Gary. The web site is www.kendallwallband.com and it’ll tell you that there is a documentary on the band coming this fall.
A Montreal-based quintet of veterans, Blues Delight’s third disc finds them once again with a set of very good songs. Vincent Beaulne is the singer, a veteran of more than 40 years, currently he’s artistic director of Montreal’s International Jazz Festival Blues Camp, guitarist Beaulne leads a band that includes saxophonist Dave Turner, Gilles Schetagne on drums, Marco Desgagné on bass and multi-instrumentalist (and producer) Laurent Trudel, who contributes vocals, harmonica, guitar & violin. Robert Langlois writes lyrics that are delightfully cliché-free for which Beaulne supplies the matching musical settings. The title song opens the program and it’s a radio-friendly rocker in which our narrator tries to justify his life as a blues musician to his girlfriend, a subject that should hit home with any number of listeners but the female chorus is a bit too prominent for my liking. “Let’s Go Downtown” is their solution to a blues-filled day, taking with them a bottle of wine. “B Is For Blues” tells of a chance visit to a club where a bluesman is playing a song that fits his situation perfectly, nicely done. “Ride The Sky” & “Bad Wind” utilize arrangements for slide guitar, harp & tenor sax that make them highlights. Trudel’s violin is featured on “Outlaw”, a country-ish tale of someone who’s been falsely accused. The concluding song is a lovely slide piece entitled “I Will Miss You”. Well worth checking out.
Rita di Ghent is a veteran of our jazz scene today but she has always been equally adept at singing blues and was an early vocalist for the Women’s Blues Revue. David Barnard & Derek Andrews supplied her with ideas for blues material and now, just a few years later, she has taken them up on those suggestions. Rita’s Parlour is an occasional live show that was a vehicle for her blues singing and with a new musical partner, Sam “The Shark” Sharkawy on electric guitar and Rich Brisco on drums behind her piano, we have here a permanent document of one such night. It was held at Hamilton’s intimate Artword Artbar. With the photo of Al Capone on the back of the jacket, I think she wanted to take us back to the era of classic blues singers. (Rita is also from Chicago and maybe she wanted us to give her some of it – or else.) The songs she chose begin with her new version of “Sell My Monkey” with The Shark playing some very nice guitar indeed. Di Ghent sings delightfully, catching the double entendre completely. The title song is by Buddy Moss thereby giving The Shark a good solo. “St. Louis Blues” takes a break from the ribald to straight blues and cleverly breaks into a rhumba rhythm. “Don’t You Feel My Leg” was an obvious choice and she doesn’t disappoint here either. “Short Man Blues” wasn’t on that tape because she wrote it but its collection of traditional lines brought cheers from the audience and another soaring solo from Sam The Shark. “Gluten Free”, as you’ve probably guessed, is not from the tradition but musically it certainly is and the lyrics put it right in the present and generate much applause, the only time that happens on this CD, I guess it was decided to remove it on the other songs. The evening concludes with Ray Charles’ “It’s Alright”, the CD has a couple of extras: a studio version of “It’s Alright” and some between the songs chatter from Rita that you can attach to the relevant song. Everything here is live from the stage, no overdubs or pitch corrections and it sounds gorgeous, the recording handled beautifully by Nick Blagona. It may be a program of classic blues but Rita di Ghent puts her stamp on it in this performance and you’ll love the Shark’s guitar work. He spent some time in a jobbing band in Cairo, Egypt and that might have led to some of his imaginative fills. The CD Release celebration takes place at deSoto’s, 1079 St. Clair West, on Thursday, August 8th from 8:00 to 9:30 (note this is ONE SET, folks, so arrive in good time).
The recently released Live at Legends seems to have been a wonderful stopgap while this magnum opus was being finished. With one disc labeled Rhythm and the other Blues, Buddy Guy has been very busy indeed, as has Tom Hambridge, his producer and main songwriter. Hambridge has perfected his way to turn artist’s recollections into good songs and Buddy has a plenty of history to cover. The package opens with “Best In Town”, built on an exhortation by his father to excel in Chicago. No expense is spared here or throughout the two discs either: the full panoply of basic band, horns and backup singers is deployed. Very nice is “I Go By Feel”, a slower song about what an elder in Mississippi instructed him to do with his music. There are the requisite superstar guests here as well, with Kid Rock not adding much to an otherwise rocking version of Junior Wells’ hit “Messin’ With The Kid”. Keith Urban duets on “One Day Away”, a rather nice, country-ish ballad that leaves most of the musicians idle, to good effect. Buddy, on his own, tackles a major influence in Guitar Slim, whose “I Done Got Over It” benefits from a large horn section, a spot on guitar solo and a masterful vocal. Beth Hart turned a lot of heads channeling Etta James at President Obama’s Blues Night last February (a night held together by Buddy, in my opinion) and she does the same here on “What You Gonna Do About Me”. (Sometimes these guest turns actually work). Buddy gets a co-writer credit on “The Devil’s Daughter”, a low-key grinder that works rather well with the next song, “Whiskey Ghost”, an organ-led song co-written by Hambridge and Gary Nicholson. Neither is derived from interviews, adding something new to the mix. The Blues disc starts off with the lead single, “Meet Me In Chicago”, which should be immediately snapped up by the Chicago Tourist Board. The full complement of musicians is on hand here for a song that is little more than a list of places to visit but then with Buddy singing, you’ll be hearing a lot more of it. A very good new blues, “Evil Twin”, starts with Buddy singing the first verse but then Steve Tyler and other members of Aerosmith join in, Tyler’s affected stylings surely make one hope for the live version the next time Buddy’s in town. “I Could Die Happy” features Buddy singing over acoustic guitar with a relatively subdued electric lead guitar part with piano & brushes, a highlight for sure. The Canadian content is up next, a song David Gogo co-wrote with Hambridge. “Never Gonna Change” even begins with a storming, Gogo-like slide intro. Buddy’s never gonna change and at 76 I don’t think we want him to. “All That Makes Me Happy Is The Blues” is lovely, perhaps the closest Buddy has come to Bobby Bland – great horn charts and a heartfelt vocal. Another interview segment no doubt led to “My Mama Loved Me”, the partner to “Best In Town”, I guess. “The Blues Don’t Care” saves the best guest for last with Gary Clark Jr. adding his high tenor and guitar to this paean to the blues. “Came Up Hard” is another Buddy co-write, more autobiography but set as an effective slow blues. The disc ends with “Poison Ivy” credited to Mel London and harkening back to his early days at Chess. The baritone saxes wail as Buddy thoroughly enjoys himself on this bit of fifties R&B. Hambridge’s knack for creating songs out of Buddy’s history has stood them both well. These songs both celebrate that history and draw your attention to it. Buddy had been doing that long before he met Hambridge so they continue to make for a perfect match. The foremost exponent of Chicago blues has an album worthy of his status.