17 January 2016


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Tonight's a good night for some moonshine music. Some smart, late-night funky, backyard boogie on the patio music. Tonight that music is played by a band called Charlie Patton's War.

I don't imagine y'all would think of poking around the dark, dank, instrument-strewn basements of Bloomington, Indiana's college party houses searching for clues to what the future of blues-based music sounds like. But maybe you should. 
Now, I'm not talking thee 
future...as in, AllHailTheBeAllEndAlliHaveSeenTheFuture. I'm talking about this post-Black Keys/postWhite Stripes/T-Model Ford/R.L. Burnside Vs. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion world of punk-soiled, blues-begrimed, soul-sodden Now.That's where Charlie Patton's War comes from. This is their modern blues.

Recorded old-school style, live to eight-track, on first listen the album has a tight, raw immediacy, and that sound deepens with each listen. The band recorded the album as a project for the University of Indiana's Recording Arts Program (which happens to be where they met) and as a result of the skills they acquired there the album easily achieves a natural balance between crisp studio sound and dirty ol' blues swang, a good soulfully rocked-out-blues-infected-primitivism. 

Like most young bands, Charlie Patton's War started out playing the college basement party circuit. We've all been there. A trip down creepy blind wooden stairs to a dank and stank room lit by a couple desk lamps and a blue or red overhead bulb, sour beered carpets, and maybe some blinking Xmas tree lights for some real sexy ambiance. Everybody's there. That one drunk guy (or three drunk women) that always want to yell into the mic. The guy that falls on the drums, and over in a corner a girl sits crying in a soiled La-Z-Boy. Later, fists'll fly over something stupid, and the po-po will show up. It's a riot. Eventually, the band moves on to tours of bars and tavs filled to SRO with raging college kids and a few professors. But it's the woodshedding through those foul basement years that the band learns to successfully hone a couple tight sets into these eleven stompin' bluesey-eyed Indiana soul songs

The album starts with Get Gone, a red-line distorted country blues boogie riff that drops down into a chiming, chunky, slinky groove about creepy people. 

Fatties is a B-3 fueled rumpus, and a minimalist exercise in terse, deep pocketed funkiness that goes places you might not expect. 

Say Ya Mine, a tough, swingin' blues boogie founded on a surprising Fender Rhodes piano riff that leg wrestles with a gnarlyass slide guitar. You win.

Highway Blues is a nimble top-down rock-a-billy-train-ridin' number. It's map-snappin' road music, both city and highway miles. It'll getcha' there.

Fancy Things is a lovely live track that I could hear a young (or comeback) Rod Stewart, or a country-souled-out Jerry Lee Lewis cover. Justin Hubler's Charlie Rich-ified piano does the legends proud and the 'Stones/Skynrd-like classic back-up vocals by Ariel Simpson and Sydera Theobald make this one timeless.

You know, not many bands can name a song Barry Sanders and get away with it. This short, tightly-swinging, fuzzed-out rocker acts as a sort of a dividing line for the album. Then things change. 

Black Bell is a heavy, breathy, tension-filled groove, cut hard by Kyle Houpt's fire-starting guitar solo and Aaron Frazier's haunted, soulful vocals ( he sings lead on about three-fourths of the songs.) Frazier's drumming kicks throughout the album but it's here that he stomps hard enough to break the levee. Charlie Patton's War moves through Black Bell like a dark blue monster, lumbering and gliding through the Brown County forest at midnight as Blake Rhein's guitar solo rouses a dusty orange mid-west moon through a green tornado sky. The band's modest use of strings, arranged by keyboardist Justin Hubler, really pays off brilliantly on this song as a fresh, surprising texture to carry the song out. A spot-on piece of work, best played loud.

Track eight, Vincennes, is a Black Key's-ish organ-laden cold burning soul blues that grooves like a slow train hugging the curves of the Wabash river, leaving home for good.  

Call Me Baby is a rocking hybrid of Eddie Cochran's Something Else that starts out like The Jam circa Private Hell or In The City then de/e/volves in to some kind of Jon Spencer hanging with Elvis at Sun blues boogie thrill ride. The Jim Jones Revue would dig this one. 

The second to the last track is Frisco Ride. If Creedence covered a re-mixed R.L. Burnside jam...

The set ends on track 11, with a wonderfully weird and orchestrated country song that sounds like a brilliant home recording. It starts out sounding like a gentle cover of the 'Stones Far Away Eyes complete with steel guitar, then shifts forty-degrees with the addition of a small clutch of harmonizing singers that sound like a sad-hearted family sing along accompanied by Charlie Rich with a touch of countrypolitan strings for texture. It's a surprising and lovely end to a fine collection of songs from a great new band. 

Charlie Patton's War is band that will keep the blues alive by taking it out of its precious antique bell jar and letting it breath, letting it live free. I look forward to hearing more.

15 January 2016

The Soul Blues of Boston's JULiE RHODES

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On Julie Rhodes YouTube channel
she sings a great set of classic-sounding soul blues of her own, plus a couple of covers, backed by her crackerjack band, or sometimes with just a guitarist, but all featuring her pawn shop cornet vocals, sometimes at full-whisper, sometimes at reveille, always with just the right fine grade of grit to grind or polish the song, as need be.

Always sure, always strong and soulful, Rhodes is a stylist who, along with her band, Jonah Tolchin - Guitar, Danny Roaman - Guitar, Matthew Murphy - Bass, Michael Bosco - Drums, and Sonny Jim Clifford on the harmonica, knows how to get down on a song, work it, and make it their/her own.

The story goes that Julie Rhodes had really only been singing for a couple of years when she was heard by singer/songwriter Jonah Tolchin (YepRoc) singing along to a song at a show that he was doing. He was so impressed that he ended up playing on, and co-producing her new album (in Muscle Shoals,) called Bound To Meet The Devil.

You're going to see her name in the future so you might as well get in on the ground floor on this. Here's her first single. I think it's terrific first effort and I look forward to seeing where she goes. Julie Rhodes debut album come out February 26th, 2016. Get it.

18 December 2015

Texas' OLD GRAY MULE :: Live @ Perth Blues Club ::

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CR Humphrey, guitarist, singer, and good ol' mastermind from Texas' Old Gray Mule hooked me up with four free live tracks for you to download from the last night of their recent Australia tour. It's stunning to me that CR goes out as a two-piece team to kill all over Australia a couple times a year, everybody wants to jam with 'em because they're legit...but
hardly none of y'all know who Old Gray Mule is. And they're from Texas! Let's change that. Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention drummer C.W Ayon, a talented singer/songwriter/guitarist/one-man band from New Mexico is on the drums here. His funkiness and commitment is contagious, and he and CR really get down as a result.

Download these four pro-recorded live songs, hell...just download their take on Son House's Don't You Mind to get your head bobbin' hardcore. A lot of people cover this, but you ain't heard it like they're puttin' it down, Jack! It's pretty astounding that this two-piece pulls it off live. But they do indeed
Then you're gonna need the next track, Goin' Down South, which is pure Burnside'ed Texassissippi boogie-rock, and while you're at it you might just as well grab Old Gray Mule's take on Skip James' Rather Be The Devil which gets a super-funky turn, at times grooving about as close to P-funk as a two-piece blues-based outfit can.

The last song in this set is called Zagreb, a tightly funky rockin' north Mississippi-based boogie instro that just straight smokes. Humphrey says about the song, "It's a tune I wrote back in '09 that became the first song on Sound Like Somethin Fell Off The House which was the first OGM album. It's one of my favorite tunes but I hadn't been able to play it live since 2011, so it was great to dust it off and play it on this last tour. I wrote it after discovering a Croation guy on youtube called Bebe Na Vole and being all excited that there were other folks playing the kind of music I wanted to play."

CR tells me about this set, "The tunes were recorded by the sound guy, live at Perth Blues Club on Nov 17, 2015, which was a Tuesday for Christ's sake. Place was packed though, and they were dancing from the first song. We finished up after midnight, went to the hostel to pick up our bags, then scrambled for the airport because we had to be at the airport at 3am to catch our flights home. CW Ayon on drums and vocals, me on guitar and vocals. And oddly enough I think this was the only show of that whole tour where we didn't have anybody sitting in with us, and this was our first ever show in Perth and our first ever trip to Western Australia."

It's a dynamic live set that really show just how killer this band is. Download 'em. They're free.

Don't You Mind download

Goin' Down South download

Rather Be The Devil download

Zagreb download

11 December 2015

ROLLiE TUSSiNG & THE MiDWEST TERRiTORY BAND :: The Great Big Ol' Interview

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Further down this page is my interview with singer / guitarist / family man/ songwriter/national slide guitar champ/ calligrapher/etcetc Rollie Tussing (ain't that a name?)

In the interview Tussing talks about how, among other things, he's always listening for that original fix, that beautiful lightning...that very......well...you know what he's talking about... that.... punctum...that thing that pokes your heart and makes you slump a little, and hold your breath for a second, eyes beginning to well, the song letting you believe for a brief moment that someone out there is like you...and though yes, I digress, I think that that moment is all any musician desires, for you the listener to take a sharp breath, and crane your ear.  Rollie Tussing & the Midwest Territory Band will roll away the years, and swing you into just that condition.

There is a timelessness in Tussing & band's music, and yet the sound is date stamped...just how that stamp reads is hard to say exactly, the old strong slanted cursive on the ancient paper envelope a little smeared, dusty at the edges, but light blue with the foreign words Par Avion in red, crisp, with a dark blue stripe and a tight, cool, still snap at the center. Foxed at the cut, it's opened by somebody trying to dig out the contents, the glue holding to the corners, the ornate border of a well-worn cart-de-visite of musicianers seen within.

Tussing's taut outfit blends a unique balance of country musics- early swing, old-timey and/or/ blues, whatever, and they filter that sound through (early) rock know-how without being rockish, or needlessly punkish. They rock without rocking. They play their own brand of genre-blending semi-early American music, primitive yet dextrous, combining old-timey stylings and forms with mid-century/modern sonics, never at any time sounding retro, delicate, or precious...or particularly modern for that matter. It just fits. They play their music natural, like it's going out of style.

Tussing's gravel and honey timbre is suited to whatever time and place he and the band put him in, from downtown side street to wheat field hoedown bonfire, spirit-ditch or hovel house, to whitehouse and art house. Sometimes at the same time. The drums, thoughtful and correct, bass the same, solid, listening, and joining with Tussing sonically, going anywhere from film soundtrack end roll song to bar brawl tussle boogie, down to saturday night church acoustic early rock action down a gravel road somewheres deep in the gloaming between southern Michigan, and northern South Carolina...it's old-timey music for today. The  music of Rollie Tussing & The Midwest Terrirtory Band music is honest, but it lies about its age. It's old-timey & modern without the historical yoke of either.
But enough jibber-jabber from me. Let's hear what this sounds like!

Below is my interview with 2001 slide guitar champ and all-around good dude, Rollie Tussing. 

RS (Rick Saunders):: What do you think it is about these old-timey melodies that attracted you, and hooked you so hard?
What's your early history with this stuff...was there one song that just clicked for you, that made you put away the rock and the roll or whatever, or has the older sounds always been it for you?

RT (Rollie Tussing):: I grew up in a very non-musical household. The only time the record player was ever used was around Christmas time. My mom would sit next to the Christmas tree drinking wine and listening to holiday music.
 No other time of the year was there ever any music except what one would hear on TV.

None of the 80s music I heard in popular culture appealed to me when I was young. I was intrigued by some of the music of the 50s and a bit of the big band stuff that my grandfather would talk about.

One day when I was about 14 years old I stumbled upon a Chuck Berry cassette. When I heard those first few notes of Johnny B. Goode it was like someone had flipped a switch. Suddenly a light was turned on in a place that had been stagnant and dark. It was liberating and I had knowledge of something that none of my peers had. Real honest to God Rock & Roll! Nothing I was exposed to up to that point turned me on as much as the music of Chuck Berry because nothing was close to being as good or even good enough. With my new found identity I devoured all of the music I could find quickly discarding the meaningless for the "good stock."

From Chuck Berry, I discovered Memphis Soul, 70s rock of Zeppelin and Bowie... Shortly after graduating high school I found a VHS tape of a Les Blank film called "The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins" and all bets were off. I had never heard such music. Never in my wildest dreams could something so honest and genuine exist.                                                                      
There was a  period of time in the late 80s where if you were to be a
 good guitar player you had to play a lot of notes, very fast over a lot of different chord changes. A ton of teenage male guitar players were trying to be Yngwie or some such thing. That style of playing never appealed to me. Late one night I was listening to Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsys. I was playing "Machine Gun" over and over just amazed by the nuance and character of his phrasing and the way he could effortlessly convey an idea musically when I realized that the song consisted of one chord! "E" just "E" 12 minutes and 33 seconds of "E"! He never repeated himself, the music never became tedious or fatiguing. That realization for me was the antidote to the garbage being forced upon musicians, artists and human beings in western culture. Hearing Lightning Hopkins for the first time was like tasting that antidote in its purest form, distilled to pure truth and beauty.

 To this day I am still looking for that original fix; the first time I heard Chuck Berry, had an epiphany with Hendrix or that 99.9% pure dose of Lightning. It's just right, it's beautiful, honest and makes my heart sing.

RS:: Tell me about the history of this current band, The Midwest Territory Band. The drummer is wicked, you've got a pretty wide palette musically with these guys...geez...is that an accordion?  Is that a banjo? ...tell me about this outfit. They're terrific.

RT:: The core of the band is Jim Carey on percussion and Serge Van Der Voo on bass. We have a couple of guests that perform with us live sometimes (Mary Seelhorst -fiddle and Michael Billmire- organ and accordion).

A few years ago I left my home on the west coast for the mid-west. The culture shock and sadness of that move overtook me to the point of a near nervous breakdown (or whatever they call it now). I didn't think I would ever find like minded musicians of a caliber I was used to or even a venue to play in.

I knew of a band in Michigan called "Orpheum Bell". They had the aesthetic and sound that was right up my alley. At the time, Serge was the bass player. I had communicated with him a couple of times via the internet but had never met him. Anyway, one night Serge and I got together to play some tunes and it clicked instantly. He understood the tunes I was throwing at him in an instinctual way, add to that the fact that he is a phenomenal musician with years of experience, I knew I had met someone special.

 We played a local house concert together as a duo and decided to find a percussionist. I knew a few drummers in town, some were very good at what they did, but I didn't think I would be able to find anyone with the right rhythmic sensibilities. Most of the cats here are rock or pop drummers.

 I had known Jim for almost 20 years. We had previously never played
music together. Through the urging of a couple of friends, I invited him over one night to play some tunes.
I have been collecting vintage/antique percussion for a few years. I have some really wonderful artifacts. I've noticed little to no interest in these items from drummers over the years (1910 Ludwig & Ludwig bass drum, Low-boy, various trap "noise makers", sisal cymbals etc.) . Many drummers that I would show this stuff to would not care or just not know how to use it properly. When Jim came over and saw the trap-set I had he flipped! He went to the car and brought out all this prewar trap stuff like temple blocks and cowbells. We spent the evening playing tunes and talking antique drums... I knew I was with the right guys at that point.

Michael Billmire - Serge had worked with Michael in Orpheum Bell.
When I wanted to add some ambient organ sound to a couple of tunes on the record Serge recommended Michael. On the day of recording, Michael brought in an accordion and a suitcase pump organ.
This portable pump organ was used in children hospitals and orphanages around Detroit. It was abused for years and left for dead. Some of the reeds were badly out of pitch. We tried it on "Elder Green" but it was just too much out of tune. Michael ended up playing accordion on that song. The organ part he worked out was so beautiful that we asked him to record it as a solo. That recording ended up as "Elder Green Reprise" and is my favorite song on the whole record.
He was able to play the pump organ on "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" it was just out of tune enough to add a very deep textured harmony.

 My first week after moving back to Michigan I was at a house party and Mary Seelhorst happened to be there too. I have known Mary for years and have always respected her playing. We decided to play some music together that night. We went into the 100-year-old barn and started to play. The sound of her fiddle was intoxicating. I wrote "Sisters Waltz" and "Michigan Stomp" later that week strictly with Mary in mind. Mary is definitely the 4th member of the band. I hope to record with her more in the future.

RS:: You mentioned your vintage drums, which I would have gone nuts for btw, what else you got, and when people ask what kind of music you play, what do you tell them?

RT:: Serge plays an early '60s German upright bass and my main guitar banjo, uke, and various other instruments.
is a 1952 Gibson ES-125. We are starting to stretch our palette with some different instrumentation. The next recording will have

The question of what kind of music we play has been a tough one. It's something we talk about at length and cannot come to any consensus. I was calling it "jug band jazz" but the guys in the band hated that. They hated "ragged folk" too (I liked that one.) In the midwest when you say anything is folk it means that you strum a Taylor guitar and sing songs out of a journal that you keep.
We have been described as bluegrass and rockabilly but those two things are the furthest from what I think we do. I have been telling folks that I collect 78s and all the music we play is heavily influenced by my record collection. Anything from turn of the century parlor music, pop tunes of the 20s, blues, Albanian sacred music, polish fiddle tunes, hot-jazz, and rural country, right on up to early rock & roll.
We have not come up with a brief "elevator talk" description yet.
When we get in the studio again the music that we will record will hopefully be even harder to categorize/label.

RS:: Well played. As it should be. There's a real fine jazz DJ in Jacksonville who calls jazz "the music of surprise." And for me that's what all music I love is about. I may have an idea of what's going to happen in a song I'm listening to, but if done well I hear something new each time I listen. That's something I get from your stuff, a good element of surprise yet a good sense of familiarity. I think that kind of balance comes from immersion in music. If I came over to your house and I asked you to play me five songs that turned your head, that influenced you, what would we listen to? Also, who of the moderns do you like? 16 Horsepower/ Wovenhand? Gun Club?

RT:: You are too kind.  I may steal the "music of surprise" for future use.

5 songs?
 I have 3 different top 5 lists running in my head at all times (of course). One is, the stepping stone stuff. Artists and songs that have sent me in a different direction/on a different path like Chuck Berry, Lightning Hopkins, John Fahey, Dexter Gordon, Benny Moten, RL Burnside, etc. The tunes I would select from those artists might be kind of boring, passe or too well known to be interesting.

The second list is the 5 songs that I am thankful  they were recorded and that  "we" get to hear the greatness that was captured again and again.

The third is stuff I have found in my own collection of 78s/LPs. This is esoteric stuff that for the most  is not available anywhere else except my basement, or if it is available on CD/LP it is pretty unknown. This is the stuff that makes me cry and writhe (in an uncomfortable with the beauty I am experiencing way) on the floor when I hear it.

List #1: "The Mundane" (In no particular order).
1. Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry
2. The Entertainer - Scott Joplin (from the movie "The Sting" as played by Marvin Hamlisch.)
3. Machine Gun _ Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsys
4. In Christ There Is no East or West - John Fahey
5. Alan Lomax -Any of his field recordings. It is better than food.

List #2: "The Great Recordings" (In no particular order.)
1. Insane Asylum - Willie Dixon & Koko Taylor
2. Diga Diga Doo - Oscar Aleman
3. No Woman, No Cry - Bob Marley & The Wailers (Live)
4. Rumba Negro - Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra
5. Sing, Sing, Sing - Benny Goodman (Live at Carnegie Hall)
(5.5 Good Morning Blues - Lightnin' Hopkins)
(5.5 & 1/2. Playin' With The Strings - Lonnie Johnson & Eddie Lang)

List #3 "The Game Changers/Esoteric Weird shit" (in no particular order)
1. There are several Kabuki recordings in my 78 collection. I have no idea of the artist, or anything else. They hurt every time I hear them.
2. Pearly Dew - Lena Hughes
3. Moses Williams - Which Way Did My Baby Go (He's from Florida!)
4. Harry Partch  - And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell In Petaluma
5. Nick Lucas - Side By Side

I could go on and on...

As far as moderns?
Man, I am kind of embarrassed. I had a 16 horsepower CD a long time ago. I have no idea about Wovenhand (I will be youtubing shortly), and a boss of mine was really into Gun Club.

I blame my ignorance on the fact that I do not get out much, and when I do it is to play a gig or to convince my wife that I need to go see a show. I pretty much keep up with the bands that I know are playing a lot and the bands they play with. Living on the West coast was so much fun. I got to meet so many bands and musicians that I still follow today. My favorite was the Dickel Brothers.( I have no idea what happened to them but they were fantastic.) McDougal, Sassparilla and Hillstomp are the bands I keep up on. Here in the midwest there are a few folks that I follow religiously,  Todd Albright, Dooley Wilson, John Roundcity, The Potions ... I've been playing some shows with Lac La Belle and the Detroit Pleasure Society. Love those guys! Great Stuff! Not sure any of them would show up in a Google search.

RS:: I'm not sure where you live in the great mid-west but I'm wondering
what your local music scene is like. Is it growing? Stagnant? Do you have many places to play?

RT:: I am in Ann Arbor, Michigan which is about an hour outside of Detroit. I can't compare the scene to that of Portland because they are so different and the SE Michigan scene would be non-existent in a comparison. There are some great venues and musicians in this part of the country, though, and for the most part, they are ferociously loyal to each other. Detroit has some wonderful things happening.

The main thing that I look forward to is the happenings at Lo & Behold Records in Hamtramck (Polish ghetto inside of Detroit) This kid named Richie owns this joint and he hosts some of the most amazing events at his store. It's not Greenwich Village of the '60s but it is a place that like-minded people are drawn to. Richie really attracts some great artists and musicians from all over the area. His monthly "Folk and Blues Night" has become legendary.

The town that I live in (Ann Arbor) is a small college town that used to be cool and filled with hippies before I was born. Now, it's filled with luxury condos and chain restaurants. There are only a couple of venues and one does not get to play them very often. If I am not gigging I busk as much as possible and it's a great town for that.

Then there is the winter... nothing, the gigs just dry up for 2-3 months. Feb and March are so very tough gig wise.
In spite of that, I do believe the scene is slowly growing. For 20+ years people have been leaving this area. I have seen that in the past couple of years people moving here or deciding to stay because there is a lot of potential. Outside of Ann Arbor property is cheap. I notice more and more folks buying houses or land here because it is cheap, centrally located and has some of the infrastructure needed to live a creative life.

RS:: I'm interested in your design sense. It's striking...your calligraphic skills, and the like. Who does your art, is it all you?

RT:: I do 90% of the art/design. The last record was under the art direction of a Detroit guy named Geog Innis. He took a photograph that I took, had a line drawing made, then he did a lino cut and had my friend Tony Berci print out all of the album art on these 90 year old printing presses. It was a pretty satisfying process to witness.

As far as the penmanship? That grew out of a desire to teach my children how to write in cursive. I had always admired the hand writing of my older relatives. Even before I could read I would stare at letters, lists and notes that they had written. It was beautiful and foreign. It wasn't until I had children and heard that the school system was getting rid of the penmanship curriculum that I taught myself penmanship. My own handwriting was horrible but I wanted to teach my kids to write. I went to the library and checked out as many books on penmanship as I could. Every chance I had I would write and study various letters and what drew me to them.
It was very important to me from the beginning of the endeavor to  not seek out any "calligraphy" resources. I wanted to learn functional penmanship from that was taught in public schools from about 1880 to 1950. Folk art!
... I just wrote a couple of paragraphs concerning my "aesthetic" and deleted them in favor of a quote. A while back (a year, 2?) you posted a link to my time-line of a film called "When the Song Dies" and it was a pretty damn profound movie for me. There was a couple of quotes buried in there by the folks in the film that I have written out and posted on the wall of my "parlor":

"What draws me back is intonations of mortality. I get comfort from these old, old things, because they (for a short while at least) they removed me from the futility of existence - if you like...It's not all lament. I hope to think there is fight in there. I think there is optimism in there"

Earlier today, while my 9-year old daughter had her swim lesson. I Started to re-read "Shane". They made us read it in 8th grade or something but I don't remember liking it. Anyway, within the first couple of pages is a quote that mildly echoes the previous:

"All trace of newness was long since gone from these things. The dust of distance was beaten into them. They were worn and stained and several neat patches showed on the shirt. Yet a kind of magnificence remained and with it a hint of men and manners alien to my limited boy"s experience." 

RS:: So what's coming up in the next year or two? More recording? Touring? Any big gigs? What do we need to know about?

RT:: I am in the process of writing /collecting songs for a couple of new
recordings. I hope to do a solo parlor guitar record. I have been wanting to do that for a long time. The band is actively looking for a 4th member,  a horn player would be ideal. A clarinet or trumpet to take us in another direction.  Regardless we are going to record another record late this winter. Most of the songs have been written.  Our goal in the next two years is to have a body of recorded works. Branch out to the south and east coast for a couple of short tours and get to Europe.  Europe is definitely on our band bucket list.

RS:: Thanks so much for your time, Rollie. It's been a pleasure to get to know you! Last question:: You could jam with and do a show with any three people living or dead- who do you choose, and why?

RT:: Thanks a lot Rick. This has been a lot of fun and I really do appreciate you taking the time and energy. Thanks for wading through my self-indulging answers too.

This is the hardest question yet. It's hard to only pick 3!

The first dude that I would love to jam with would be Charlie Patton! I have a hard time creating a mental image of this cat in action. There is a lot of talk about what he looked like (a couple of pics) but I can't really get a picture of him performing. There seems to be  alot of mystery and discussion about the way he actually played certain songs (guitar on his lap, bottle neck or pocket knife), how he held the guitar, what some of the lyrics actually are etc. I know a few folks that have spent a lot of time trying to learn his guitar parts. Out of those few the ones that sound the closest to me are the ones that admit that they are not sure. The ones that are positive they know... they just don't sound right. I woulds love to sit down with Patton and soak it all in.

Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers:
Mainly I would want to see these guys perform in their time and place. The legendary broken furniture, fires, drinking and fights must have been a magical thing to witness. My fantasy would be to take the place of guitarist Norman Woodlief just for one gig early in the Ramblers career.
Harry Partch: I hope there is enough time in this life where I can say what I want to say musically. Blues, jazz, country, rock, jigs, reels, foxtrots, ethnic folk musics and more are all languages I want to explore and use as a tool to express myself. One could spend a lifetime exploring and immersing themselves into a sub-genre of a genre and still not fully master it.

Going off the rails here...
Rollie Tussing's calligraphic skills. 
I guess what I am trying to say is that I wish/hope that at some point in
my life I can take all of my influences (musicians I have met and played with, My record collection, artists, authors, nature, my family...) and combine them into something beautiful. Some way of musically expressing the joy and melancholy that I experience from all of these things.

The free nature of expression and the relief of suffering is the ultimate goal.  I believe Harry Partch was able to do this in his life.
I like to create in a medium that has constraints and certain rules need to be followed or intentionally broken (like blues or haiku). So, whatever my ultimate expression could be would probably be very different from Mr. Partch.
To have Harry Partch compose a piece of music with me in mind and conduct the performance while I played the piece. That would be an unbelievable experience.
Unfortunately, he died a long time ago. I am thankful and in awe that such an artist existed and had some level of notoriety and respect.
Thank you again, Rick!

RS:: There you have it. I coulda asked a dozen more questions, easy.
Go buy the album. Just do it. Best twenty bucks you'll spend on vinyl all year. Cheers!

14 October 2015

The indomitable Soul of iRONiNG BOARD SAM's Super Spirit!

fb // big legal mess records //
// music maker relief fund //

But first a commercial break ::

I have evidently lived a sheltered life. I've heard the name Ironing Board Sam here and there, but somehow I'd never actually heard him. Bruce Watson's Big Legal Mess Records is changing all that with a new release called Super Spirit, produced by Bruce Watson and the Rev. Sir Dr. Jimbo Mathus.

Do you remember how much you liked those old Fat Possum releases by Super Chikan, Asie Payton, Charles Caldwell, or that kind of weird for Fat Possum Solomon Burke album? Ironing Board Sam's Super Spirit is like those. It's just a treat to listen to.

There's so much going on in each song, from the proto-African underpinnings of Baby You Got It, to the pleading, slow-burn soul of I Still Love You (which reminds me of something off that Solomon Burke album,) the Velvets/Stones-as-soul-rock of I Can't Take It, the garage gospel raver I Want To Be There, or the slow Chicago blues heartache of I'm Looking For A Woman, it's really a classic album in the good ol' Fat Possum Records vein.

It's well-worn and silk shirted southern soul without a whiff of the stink of retro, it's super rock without losing its groove, it's funky and adventurous in silk socks and muddy alligator shoes. But best of all it's the blues, baby. Sweet Bobby Bland/ZZ Hill-grooved blues...of today!
All y'all need this. Get you some Super Spirit!

Here's a brand new track from an album on where else but Big Legal Mess ::

Here's a short documentary on the man, the myth, etc...

Ironing Board Sam's Return (short documentary) from Tom Ciaburri on Vimeo.

09 October 2015

The Southern Australian Hill Country Blues of THE NEW SAVAGES - In My Time Of Dying

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These fellows from Melbourne, Australia contacted me and wanted me to listen to their new ep. Why not? I'll try anything ... twice.

Then I look at the song list, and I think, WTF? Are these all covers? Why? Why would you do covers?

As it turns out, The New Savages don't actually play covers. They play a sort of original...cover...hybrid with fragments, elements, grooves, and textures of the original combined with ghosts of other songs that is then stretched a little, molded, and finessed into some rare memory, some blues song that your blood knows, and your body reacts to knowing.

The New Savages seem to like playing with your sense of the familiar. Musically, their songs are akin to the original but more suggestive of, than overtly so. For example, in the case of the song Smokestack Lightning, constructing a song that is at once cover, still seemingly (and yet) Howlin' Wolf's Smokestack Lightning and at the same time an original work. The New Savages take the song and deconstruct it down to drones, spank it with drums and guitar, then sing whole and fragmented found lyrics through the middle including the Wolf's legendary... smokestack liiiiightning...ahhhooooow!!! as a partial medley of new original lyrics, but utilizing suggestions of other old blues standards ...maybe a line from Who Do You Love or some such, turning the song into something you could swear you've heard before ...somewhere ....a soundtrack, a late night drive, flippin' the dial 'til you find some far off blues station playing something that fades in and out a little, it's almost that one song...but... it's...different...it's droning, dream-like, yet solid punching dirty blues, or maybe dirty dreams of blues music. As the man said, "you can call it what you want to." It's their blues, their new savage blues.

Here's my track by track run-down :: 

In My Time Of Dying is a well-picked guitar string strung along a north Mississippi river bend, and thrummed into a rambling Australian drone death boogie.

I'm A Kingbee
could be a leftover Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or 20Miles track. But it's not. It's better.

Smokestack Lightning
suits singer/guitarist Milan Milutinovic's dispassionate ghost of Morrison vocal stylings, his guitar at once Junior Kimbrough-like by way of Kenny Brown via Andy King and onward ...slashing, driving, smoking on down the line. Drummer Nathan is a powerhouse and a hard-listening foil for the guitarist.

My Babe
 is a high-steppin', tambo-slappin' boogie down Main Street Melbourne.

For You I'm No Good
is a haunted, post-apocalyptic field holler, and

Crawling King Snake
is done in a trancey big city basement club heavy-weight Junior Kimbrough-style...it lurches, swaggers and staggers like a zombie of love, careening, careering, 'til exhausted it passes out under the Mississippi stars that hang over Australia.

It's a blues sound filtered down the muddy Mississippi, and across the radio waves to Melbourne, A.u. It sounds at times like it could be some lost sixties, seventies blues/hardrock mashup but thankfully lacking any sort of kitch blues wink, like a fringed leather vest, or platform shoes. Rather, it's just good old-fashioned, semi-raw, modern trance blues done with its own style and flavour.

Look, these dudes aren't exactly inventing a new wheel here, but what they are doing is keeping this music alive by challenging it, by inverting the wheel, so to speak. By making these southern Australian juke grooves, these drone blues hybrid covers, they arent just pokin' the blues dog with a stick, they make that dog get up and run.

The two make a tough team, Milan Milutinovic - vocals guitar, and Nathan Power on the traps. It takes a special drummer to lock deep into that Junior Kimbrough-esque groove and to subtly work with the guitarist to enable him to do his thing, to decipher the tranced-out hill-country blues grooves that Junior left here for us to learn. They support each other well. You'll find an interview below, but right now lets' get taste of what they're about ::

I talked with Milan, the guitarist and singer, and Nathan, the drummer for Melbourne, Australia duo The New Savages::

RS:: So I gotta know...why covers? Not that there's anything wrong with covers, and you do a really cool almost reimagining of each original. Blues history is built on covers. Whats the story? 

Milan: Most of the music I write starts with a cover actually, that gets transformed into something else. I think blues is a really interesting genre because to me the concept of originals vs covers in blues is kind of a spectrum, rather than an either/or. What I really find fascinating about the blues is that it has this great sense of tradition because artists are constantly borrowing heavily from one another. On one hand I would like to take a great pride in calling myself a songwriter, but at the same time I wouldn’t call blues artists songwriters. A good blues to me almost has this unwritten quality about it, almost like its just the essence of a feeling rather than a structured idea/story. Junior Kimbrough is particularly good at that. 

Rs:: Milan, you aren't suggesting that there aren't any blues songwriters, because Willy Dixon and countless others might like to have a word. But rather perhaps that Blues as a culture and style has an incestuous relationship with itself, that it often feeds on itself for themes, lyrics, etc?

Milan:: Great question Rick, hope this answer sheds some light. You are right in me saying that there are no blues songwriters was a bit much - I definitely wouldn’t deny that Willie Dixon was a great songwriter, and there are many others. But I do think there is a strain of blues that I would say is almost not written, it just is. But I say this only in the highest praise - whenever I work on my own music I’m trying my best to be as unconscious of the creative process as possible.

RS:: Tell me about Nathan, your drummer. How'd you two get together? I'm betting it took no time to figure out you were a good match. Nathan has the kind of controlled looseness that you might find in a jazz outfit. Does he come from a jazz background? What is it about him and the way he plays that works for you?

Milan:: We actually met after I posted an ad online looking for a
drummer. The first few seconds of the first jam we had left a pretty profound effect on my memory - I told him to follow me and I started playing In My Time of Dyin’ and he just played it like we’d rehearsed it 20 times before, and he played it exactly as I’d been imagining it in my mind ever since I first did that number. I’d played with so many drummers before - some of whom were really good too but they never quite had the magic combination of the light touch and loose groove that Nathan has. 

He comes from a jazz background with a wealth of listening and playing experience that I don’t have, and really adds so much perspective to the way we think about our music. He is a proper learned musician whereas I can barely hear a chord change half the time. 

We also work really well together because we are both very like minded people. We are both very creatively focused people with a willingness to tackle the very much entrepreneurial challenges of playing in a successful independent band. Nathan is the kind of guy who will call up a booker 5 times in a week just to finally get him on the phone to have a chat about putting us on for a night - that’s the kind of asset you really do need to have to build a career for yourself in the 2015 music industry.

RS:: That's a fact. As with all things it's a matter of balance. One the mover, one the shaker.
How long have you been playing? What got you started? Did you like the blues right off, or did you have to search for That Sound that worked for you?

Milan:: I was a bit of a late starter actually, I think I was 17 or so, during the school holidays right before my final high school year I started playing. I remember a good friend of mine, playing guitar to me, he was playing Midnight Rambler by the Stones and I was just struck real hard - I thought wow that sounded great and I just thought wow I could do that. 

It was just one of those moments you have in life where everything seems to make sense, and I was just thrust by self belief for some reason into dedicating all my time and focus to music. I’m 23 now and looking back 6 years ago I honestly don’t know how I just decided to drop everything else - my parents went crazy.

The first kinds of blues I heard were british blues - like Cream and Led Zeppelin. It’s pretty funny, but I used to think blues was white people’s music until I heard about Howlin’ Wolf and then it started to click for me. The deeper I dug I found about hill country stuff like Jessie Mae Hemphill and it just blew me away. I think as an artist you are always searching for ‘That Sound’ and trying to bring something new to your friends and the community around you.

RS:: That's a trip to most people i'd imagine, to think of the blues as white people's music, but then country music was/can be blues, too.

I'm hearing tones of The Gun Club in your stuff. Are they an
influence, too? Anybody else in modern day alt-blues or whatever, or any other brand of music that you are digging? Are you a reader? If so, what are you reading these days..and are there any books on the blues you recommend?

Milan:: Never heard of them actually. There’s a great guy over in America called Mississippi Gabe Carter who I dig and count as an influence on our style. He’s about as blues as they come but he’s definitely got his own style and is very modern. 

I do like to read a lot, mostly 20th century history. Dictators, communism and two world wars, what a century! Blows my mind sometimes that Alan Lomax naively wanted to move to the USSR around the same time of Stalin’s purges, to live in a socialist paradise. Good thing he stayed in America and discovered Muddy Waters instead.

There’s a great biography on Son House which I have a hard copy of called Preachin’ The Blues by Daniel Beaumont, which I would recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the blues, especially when it was just beginning to be recorded. The book gives a good insight on the recorded music industry just as it was in its infancy and the life of Son House, it also concentrates a lot on his good friend Charley Patton. 

The Part Of The Spiel In Which We Give The Drummer Some:: 

RS:: Talking with Nathan Power (drummer in The New Savages):: Tell me about playing with Milan. How'd you get together and what was your first jam like?

Nathan -NP:: - Haha. We actually met online! I answered an ad for a two piece blues band and met up with Milan for a sneaky beer. Went back to his for a jam and wasn't really sure what to expect, but when I heard his voice I was sold. 

I've tried playing a bunch of different things with him but he always tells me I gotta keep that shuffle beat for every song. 

Every time he rocks up with some new songs to rehearse I try and play something else, but he won't let me. Gotta keep that shuffle! 

Rs:: The tool! Doesn't he know the drummer is boss? I play drums in a country band, and more often than not I'm limited to shuffles. However, I love shuffles. The challenge of making something fresh and boogie out of something fairly constrained is a fun challenge. Were you a fan of blues music and Junior Kimbrough in particular before playing with Milan?

NP:: Haha it's true! To be completely honest, I wasn't into the kind of blues Milan was in to. I dig a lot of Rolling Stones/Clapton etc and their precursors, but Milan is into the oooooold stuff. Which is refreshing, cause every gig we go to, he's playing me some old shit that I've never heard before!

RS:: What kind of set do you usually play? It looks interesting. How's the suitcase-bass drum thing working out?

NP:: Haha. My main kit is an 80s Gretsch Broadkaster kit. Beautiful vintage tones. For smaller gigs I've got my suitcase kit. The whole thing fits inside the suitcase (which works as a bass drum), it means I can catch the tram to gigs or go busking pretty comfortably! And also drink beer. 

RS:: Getting back to Milan, how long have you been playing? What got you started? Did you like the blues right off, or did you have to search for That Sound that worked for you?

Milan:: I was a bit of a late starter actually, I think I was 17 or so, during the school holidays right before my final high school year I started playing. I remember a good friend of mine, playing guitar to me, he was playing Midnight Rambler by the Stones and I was just struck real hard - I thought wow that sounded great and I just thought wow I could do that. 

It was just one of those moments you have in life where everything seems to make sense, and I was just thrust by self-belief for some reason into dedicating all my time and focus to music. I’m 23 now and looking back 6 years ago I honestly don’t know how I just decided to drop everything else - my parents went crazy.

The first kinds of blues I heard were British blues - like Cream and Led Zeppelin. It’s pretty funny, but I used to think blues was white people’s music until I heard about Howlin’ Wolf and then it started to click for me. The deeper I dug I found about hill country stuff like Jessie Mae Hemphill and it just blew me away. I think as an artist you are always searching for ‘That Sound’ and trying to bring something new to your friends and the community around you.

RS:: Since I talked to Nathan about his drums and suitcase bass drum, tell me about your equipment.

Milan:: I have two guitars I play with on stage, a Gibson Les Paul 60’s studio classic and a John Lennon epiphone. The Gibson is tuned to open G and I knock off the lowest string, so it only has 5 strings. Keith Richards used to do the same thing I think from around Beggar’s Banquet or so. He banged on so hard about it in his book, and one day my low string broke and I never looked back. The epiphone is in D and has all 6 strings.

RS:: Australia has always had a cool roots music scene, and it seems like the place is rife with great alt-blues, alt-country, alt-whatever bands these days. Hows the scene? Who should we know about besides y'all?

Milan: Its really great, I’m a big fan of two local guys. Chris Russell’s Chicken Walk and Mick Dog’s Boneyard. Both of them are similar to us as a guitar/drums duo. I love being able to go down and have a beer and watch a show. It kind of feels like we’ve got a little mississippi blues of our own here sometimes.

RS:: Last couple questions for drummer Nathan Power- Milan says you're the guy that gets things done in the band. What's up for you guys in the coming year?

NP:: We just released the video! (Which is gorgeous, btw. -RS)
You can see it HERE.
And we're doing an Australian Tour over November/December, it's around 12 dates mostly up the East Coast of Australia. We'd love to get out to the US at some point, probably not till 2017 though as we gotta save up some cash!

Drummer gets the last word. What's it like playing the music you guys play? It sounds like you're having a ball.

Nathan:: This music is great fun for a drummer! All about laying down swinging grooves for Milan to play over! Gotta keep it simple but there's a lot of scope to play loud if the venue suits it.

RS:: How's the Melbourne scene?

There's a great live music scene in Melbourne,  particularly around the music we play. A bunch of dudes in a similar vein are TK Reeve,  Tom Dockray and Mick Dog's Boneyard.

Rick Saunders:: Thanks, guys! Good luck!