23 April 2023

Lower the flags. Our ol' friend Chris Johnson has gone to that great juke in the next life.


I first interacted with the great Chris Johnson...it’s been so long ago now I can’t think of what year...via the old Yahoo group Too Bad Jim. Some of my oldest friends, quite I few I’ve still never met, were part of that group, and some of them went on to be kind of a big deal in our little niche world of punk-infected blues music. As a result of that group, I started a webpage that morphed into a blog called Real Deep Blues where I’d spiel (as opposed to review because I’m not qualified to critique plus I only wrote about artists whose music I liked...I couldn’t stand the thought of writing negatively about these barely known bands who were just trying to do their thing....but I guess I digress) about bands/artists I liked and wanted other people to know about. One day Chris Johnson calls me up and tells me he was going to start a fest and wanted to name it The Deep Blues Festival after my Deep Blues blog if I was cool with it. Hell, I stole the name from the book by Robert Palmer and the documentary by Robert Mugge so hell yeah I was cool with it. The Deep Blues Festival will be 16 years old this October.                           

Chris was one of the most generous and authentic guys I’ve ever known.  He was a major fan and follower of The Black Keys (Dan Auerbach had been part of the Too Bad Jim group) and knew I’d never had the chance to see them so last year for my birthday he invited me to Clarksdale, Mississippi to stay at his home away from home The Den and go see the Keys over in Oxford, Mississippi. It was one of the most memorable weekends of my life. Chris knew of my interest in the tragic death of Emmitt Till so he and his son Jack and I drove all over Mississippi visiting all the sites associated with Till’s murder...including driving across a farmers field to get to the barn where it was believed Till had first been taken. We also drove to the Sam Chatmon fest in Hollandale, Mississippi. All things I never would have done on my own. 

Oh, and that first Deep Blues Festival? Chris flew me up to Wisconsin so I could attend. I could go on and on about Chris but I’ll just tell you about this photo. It was taken at the Blues chapel at the Shack Up Inn outside Clarksdale. I finally had the opportunity to thank Chris for all that he’d done to support this alt-Blues, punkass blues, or whatever you want to call it and for just being a quality dude. 

I’m heartbroken for his lovely wife Kristen and their wonderful kids. I know he loved his family so much and was so proud of them. 

I’m sure it will take a few days for the magnitude of the loss of Chris Johnson to kick in.  I will always cherish the memories of Chris and the opportunities he gave me and more importantly the opportunities he gave countless artists to play a really cool festival surrounded by people who loved them. That love is I think what separates the DBF from other fests. The dude standing next to you watching the UKs Mudlow, or Ireland’s Bonnevilles or those Massholes Ten Foot Pole Cats, or Devin Miller, or etc etc etc we’re probably the next band to step on the stage. Everybody is equal at DBF, which is so beautifully punk rock. 

Rest In Peace and Power Chris. You made a mark, and you realized your "artistic vision." You will be missed.

Trigger over at Saving Country Music has written a remembrance.

Chris' lovely wife Kristen has posted an obit:
Chris Ryan Johnson, (60), of Hudson, Wisconsin, suffered a heart attack and passed away on April 19, 2023 at The Den in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Chris was born to Ronald Vern Johnson and Sylvia Joanne Larsen Johnson on February 24, 1963 in Jackson, Minnesota. He attended Jackson High School and graduated from St. Olaf College with degrees in mathematics and economics. Chris went onto work as CFO of Fritzie Fresh Candy Company, manage and promote many bands, establish his own music festival, as well as own and operate his restaurant the Bayport BBQ. In his “retirement” he sorted through his collection of 75,000 records for his online record store. He married his wife, Kristen Pate Johnson, (55), on September 30, 1994, in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is survived by her and their three children, Jack Ryan, (24), Elizabeth Laura, (22), and Sam Pate (20), as well as his mother and four older siblings, Mark Ronald Johnson, (68), Peter Randal Johnson, (66), Lynn Renee Carlson, (64), and Paul Robert Johnson, (61). Chris enjoyed traveling with his family, eating foods from every cuisine, attending concerts and music festivals, and is well known as a champion for the Deep Blues community. He will be remembered for his quiet compassion, his strong sense of justice, his love for his wife, children, and community, and living by his own rules.

A casual memorial service will be held at the Hook and Ladder in Minneapolis on Sunday, April 23 at 6:30pm.

In place of flowers, an angel fund has been created for Clarksdale, a community Chris held close to his heart, and donations can be made through Heaven’s to Betsy via this link:

20 February 2022

CROSSCUT SORES & MARCO BUTCHER - I Hate The Way You Sing The Blues


Crosscut Sores (ex-Jooks of Kent) & the great Marco Butcher (Chicken Snake, Jam Messengers) just laid down a thick ingot of grindy gooey stickum that is awfully fresh and delightfully neu-abrasive. A rusty, lead-filled gauntlet has been slo-tossed thru our cellar window. Embroidered on the thin cracked thick leather wrist writ large in a golden thread it reads "I Hate The Way You Sing The Blues."

15 September 2021


to the terrific new 10" 45 by Red Mouth.

(Almost) All I can say is Wow! The quote from Scott Lesley on the hype sticker (below) nails it much harder than I could but I'll give it a shot:

Whispers of Bowie, Iggy, Beefheart, Love, Johnny Dowd, maybe Jim White and so much more but filtered thru the night air of Alabama, but really it's all straight-up Red Mouth and his band doing their thing better than always.

At 5 songs (shhh! Actually 6!) It's just the right length because I'm left wanting so much more. And I can't wait. Till then I'll be satisfied flipping this record over and over and over...

10 August 2021

Memphis '69: The 1969 Memphis Country Blues Festival: NOW STREAMiNG + Available on DVD via @FatPossum!

"Fat Possum Records has released the Memphis ’69 documentary film, capturing three days and two nights of the sweltering, interracial 1969 Memphis Country Blues Festival, held within weeks of a KKK rally at the same location. Full song performances include a number of iconic Blues Hall of Famers such as Rufus Thomas & The Bar-Kays; slide guitar great Booker “Bukka” White; Sleepy John Estes with Yank Rachel; Texas’ Johnny Winter; Memphisown Furry Lewis, Beale Street sweeper who opened for the Rolling Stones; and North Mississippi bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell. There are no talking heads, just the unfiltered shots of the concert and its surroundings from the time." Also appearing in this film: John Fahey, Nathan Beauregard, Jo Ann Kelly, Son Thomas, Lum Guffin, Reverend Robert Wilkins & Family, Sid Selvidge, Moloch, John D. Loudermilk, Piano Red, Jefferson Street Jug Band with Robert Palmer and John Fahey, Insect Trust, and The Salem Harmonizers.

Memphis '69 - feature concert documentary trailer:

Spotlight on Memphis '69- "A year after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, a group of blues legends came together to celebrate the 150 year anniversary of Memphis, TN. This concert documentary, shot over 3 days in June of 1969, celebrates an American art form that unites us all. Interview with Director Joe LaMattina, Producer Lisa LaMattina and Bruce Watson of Fat Possum Records at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival."

Memphis '69 - Sundance 2019: Meghan Burk chats with filmmakers Joe LaMattina, Lisa LaMattina and Bruce Watson about their Sundance film, Memphis '69.

13 July 2021

Bruce Watson Presents 83 Year Old MS Delta-Born Elder Jack Ward Follow-Up To 1964 Hit w/ Solo LP Debut Of Memphis Sacred Soul

Elder Jack Ward could’ve gone either way. He grew up in the Mississippi Delta, listening to Elmore James and Howlin’ Wolf and singing the blues himself. Living in Itta Bena, MS (also home to B.B. King), Ward made himself a promise that when he turned eighteen, he would move up to Memphis, leave behind the cotton fields and mules with which he worked, and make a hit record—and he did. He anticipated singing blues or rock & roll once he got to the city but he joined with the Christian Harmonizers, and their recording of 1964’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” with Isaac Hayes on piano came out on Chalice, a STAX imprint, charting for two years. The first single "Already Made," comes out tomorrow.

Fifty-seven years later, Ward entered Bruce Watson’s Delta Sonic Studio in Memphis, TN to record his solo debut Already Made, co-produced by Watson with guitarist extraordinaire Will Sexton. Watson was transferring Shipp’s tape archive for an ambitious D-Vine Spirituals reissue project when he asked Shipp how many of the artists from his old label were still active, with the nationally acclaimed Elizabeth King album and Ward’s new work emerging from that conversation. Watson says, “Elder Ward has a notebook that contains somewhere around one hundred self-penned songs. We spent several days going through all of them. Let me tell you, we had a tough time narrowing the list down to ten songs. Ward has an otherwordly gift. The sessions always started with Ward humming and singing the songs to the Sacred Soul Sound Section; usually within an hour we had a good basic track. There was such a positive energy in the studio, it felt like we were creating something special.”

 The title track sets the uplifting mood with Ward’s daughters providing background harmony and — along with Bible and Tire label mates the Sensational Barnes Brothers. While the album has its share of pile-driving uptempo numbers, its slow-burning ballads are particularly moving, and a bridge seems crossed once Ward breaks into his quiet falsetto midway through “Someone Who Is Greater Than Me” and continuing through the album-closing, redemptively autobiographical “I Feel Better Since I Prayed.” Ward is also joined by the Sacred Soul Sound Section: guitarists Will Sexton (Luther Dickinson, The Greyhounds, Alejandro Escovedo, Dedicated Men of Zion, and his brother Charlie Sexton) and the GRAMMY-winnning Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, Al Green, John Prine, Margo Price), bassist Mark Edgar Stuart (Alvin Youngblood Hart, Dedicated Men of Zion), drummer George Sluppick (Albert King, JJ Grey & Mofro, Rufus Thomas, Ruthie Foster, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, the City Champs). Also on the album are keyboard player Alex Greene (Reigning Sound), and vocals by the Sensational Barnes Brothers Chris and Courtney; and Elizabeth King, also Bible & Tire artists in their own right.

 Watson feels that Already Made is one of the best albums he’s ever produced, and after genre-defining albums by R.L Burnside and Junior Kimbrough for Fat Possum Records, that’s saying quite a bit. Ward might have been right there with them were it not for that trip to Memphis back in the late 1950s, saying, “I can just about sing anything anyone else sings. I never bragged on myself but this was a gift from God and the Bible says, ‘A gift comes without repentance.’ In other words, you don’t have to be a Christian to be able to sing. If you’ve got that God-given gift you can do it — your choice if you want to sing rock’n’ roll, blues, gospel — but I choose the right side.” After Ward’s arrival in Memphis, he briefly replaced soul sensation O.V. Wright in the Sunset Travelers during one of Wright’s secular sabbaticals. He went on to record sought-after 45s “Another Day’s Journey” and “God’s Going To Blow Out The Sun” on Peacock Records’ Song Bird imprint, later forming the Gospel Four and recording that group’s “The Last Road” and “A Change Is Gonna Come” on D-Vine, Shipp’s label.

09 June 2021


Did you know that noted Bostonian Michael Tarbox of Tarbox Ramblers fame has two terrific new songs out? Yup. Both recorded live and with & without his Ramblers at the Beachland Tavern in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio, by somebody in the audience.

 And did you know he did a beautiful album of covers in 2020 called Paler Suns?
I didn't. It follows eight after 2013's Work and Days. I guess I need to get out more or something. The songs on Paler Suns vary from William Blake's poem Ah! Sunflower which he set to music, Hendrix's Room Full of Mirrors on which Tarbox accompanies himself on harmonium - a bellows-powered organ - to haunting effect. This is followed by an acoustic cover of Mississippi Sheiks' World Gone Wrong. Talk about deep blues! Whew! Little Moses was first recorded by The Carter Family in 1929 and Tarbox does a lovely rendition here some 90 years later. Blind Lemon Jefferson popularized the song Jack of Diamonds via his 1926 recording. According to Wikipedia (because I do love some research) Jack of Diamonds "...was sung from the point of view of a railroad man who had lost money playing conquian" Also called "Coon Can, or Colonel" it's a rummy-style card game requiring close attention and a good memory to play. The song Jack of Diamonds is also called Drunken Hiccups as well as Rye Whiskey and A Corn Licker Still in Georgia. The alternate titles are all popular fiddle tunes and Tarbox is accompanied here by fiddle player Alan Kaufman. 
Now, I've skipped a couple songs because what's the point of not being surprised? But the last song, Jerry Garcia's Mountains of The Moon is one that Michael Tarbox has had on his mind...well...I should let Mr. Tarbox tell you about it: 

I came away from learning this song with an even greater love for, and fascination with, the otherworldly version that's on AOXOMOXOA, which I believe is the Dead's second album. I've always been a sucker for they way Jerry Garcia uses minor chords, and I think this song may be the best example of the master at work. That, combined with Garcia's fragile singing and Robert Hunter's great lyric, has kept this on my mind since I first heard it when I was twelve."

As an album, Paler Suns, as Garcia said about his song Mountains of The Moon, "...came off like a little gem."  It's a wonderfully varied work, artistic, and well-played (as you would expect coming from Tarbox) featuring Michael Tarbox's rough-hewn voice that feels like a well-worn and comfortable dress shoe. Yes, there's similarities in voice and sound but to tell you the truth I've never heard a Tarbox album that wasnt as if not more solid that anything Bob and Neil have put out in the last twenty-five years. Fight me. I'll be over here listening to some new to me Michael Tarbox recordings.