James Goodwin 'History of Blues Piano
"RAGTIME TO ROCK 'n' ROLL: A HISTORY OF BLUES AND BOOGIE WOOGIE PIANO"
The Village Hall
Who would have thought that a moldy fig dissertation on the “History of Blues Piano” would pack the village hall. The gathered audience (many of whom had travelled a considerable distance) came to hear a modest young man recite his unpublished book on the lives of various ‘piano professors of colour’; all of whom were long dead and buried. Switching between conversations with the audience and photographs displayed on a large screen he spoke about the artists that he admired and then played signature pieces that garnered huge ovations.
From stride colossus James P Johnson to Otis Spann James weaved an interesting evenings entertainment throwing in vignettes regarding these early pianists who almost all were self taught. In amongst these stories my favorite was regarding an early hero of mine Cripple Clarence Lofton who apparently wasn’t crippled at all. There were three sets; the first two about the history of blues piano and the third was all about James who gave Shakedown Blues a nod by including pieces by Brother Montgomery, Curtis Jones, Sunnyland Slim, Champion Jack Dupree and Little Willie Littlefield - all of whom gave lessons in blues piano at various Shakedown gigs.
Well done James Goodwin and thank you Shakedown for a great and memorable night.
Maria Muldaur with Alvin Youngblood Hart "We Got To Move"
Maria "Midnight At The Oasis" Muldaur
The Cresset (Fitzwilliam Suite), Bretton, Peterborough PE3 8DX
TUESDAY 19th March 2013 7:30pm
Shakedown Blues in collaboration with The Cresset presented:
& Her American Band
Christopher Burns:Keys (Chris plays the Bass parts with his left hand in the manner traditional to the old Hammond trios.)
Dave Tucker: Drums
Craig Caffall: Guitar
I was surprised to be offered Maria Muldaur for a Shakedown gig at a price that we could afford and immediately said yes. I then realized that the date was a Tuesday - which made life a little difficult, as the Village Hall was booked. Which is why I contacted The Cresset with whom we have an ongoing conversation regarding mutually advantageous bookings.
Maria Muldaur was born in 1943 in Greenwich Village, New York and was in the vanguard of the influential early 60’s ‘village folk boom’ that included Dave Van Ronk, Spider John Koerner, Stefan Grossman, Roy Bookbinder, Rev Gary Davis and a young Bob Dylan. Together with John Sebastian, Grossman and David Grisman she formed The Even Dozen Jug Band. When this band folded she then joined Jim Kweskin & His Jug Band as vocalist and occasional violinist. She eventually married one of the band members, Geoff Muldaur, and they recorded two albums together. Her first solo album “Maria Muldaur” released in 1973 contained her mega worldwide hit “Midnight at The Oasis” which reached No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. She could have retired on the royalties of the record but instead produced forty albums over the intervening years working with like minded musicians and singers straddling various genres i.e jazz/blues/country that make up what is known as ‘Americana’.
For the Shakedown gig she began with samples of her latest CD ‘First Came Memphis Minnie’ and was pleasantly surprised that half of the audience actually knew who Memphis Minnie was and applauded her choice of heroine. After this Maria carried on chatting between songs about her choice of tracks, which included “If You Hadn’t Any Hay”, “I’m A Woman”, “It Ain’t The Meat It’s The Motion” and “We Got To Move”. In the break quite a few CD’s were purchased and autographed including my original first and second album. Her band, throughout, were exemplary and during one of the songs, whose title I have forgotten, had her and band members singing in falsetto - you don't hear that very often!. The song that everyone wanted to hear "Midnight At The Oasis" was supposed to be at the end of the show but Maria was enjoying herself so much that she forgot that she had given me instructions not to over-run and also didn’t want to sing an encore. She did infact over-run and give us an encore.
A week later I received an email from her UK manager saying “Maria & the Band all enjoyed themselves and have expressed a keen interest in returning when they are next in the UK”. We look forward to it.
Claude Bourbon (3)
The Village Hall
Tickets: £15.00 in advance (post) £16.00 PayPal or £17.00 on the door
Medieval & Spanish blues
Guitar & Song
Born in France in the early 60’s, Claude Bourbon grew up in Switzerland, where he was classically trained. This finger picking guitarist has performed and studied all over the world; he has crafted an unbelievable fusion of classical and jazz, with ethereal Eastern influences, Spanish and Latin elements with strains of Western folk.
“…This accomplished artist offers tender, compelling performance through highly developed precision. His sound instantly creates ambience – from haunting Spanish moods to lyrical, romantic jazz, Claude Bourbon provides both a rich evening of music for lovers, and a real treat for music lovers…”, BBC, UK
The Village Hall
Various people in Castor kept talking to me about Sean Taylor who they had seen at one of the summer festivals and I was surprised a year later to be at a concert in Nottingham and to find that the accolades showered upon this young white English guitarist/singer/songwriter were accurate. A year later I bumped into Sean again, this time he was part of the Irish Monoghan Harvest Blues Festival and he was one of the highlights of the weekend. We had a couple of drinks together exchanged addresses and few months later I booked Sean for a Shakedown Blues show.
The show itself started a little tentatively with the audience wondering if this young white Londoner could possibly stand in the shoes of all the Afro-Americans we have listened to on the stage at Castor. But Sean is not trying to be a clone of Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters and does not have many covers of blues songs in his repertoire; which in the main comes from songs that speak of every day occurrences in his hometown. So it’s cheerio Reds Juke Joint in Jackson, Mississippi and hello to Biddy Mulligans on the Kilburn High Street and goodbye Sweet Home Chicago and hello Calcutta Road. All this is infused with a blues feel and a genuine love of the music. He will not be the next big star of the blues, he will leave that to all the pop stars that strut the stage and try to get themselves respect by calling themselves blues musicians. Sean will be there when they have all moved on, just like some of the other relatively unknown artists that trod the stage for Shakedown Blues, and those of you who were there can say ‘I saw him as a young man in Castor’.
Alvin Youngblood Hart
The Village Hall
FRIDAY 31st August 2012
Track taken from show: "Lay Down In The Evening (Just Can't Take My Rest)"
If I was apprehensive about Lazy Lester it was nothing compared with the angst-ridden week before Alvin’s show. I had seen him at the North Sea Jazz Festival and was entranced but I also saw him in Leicester’s Musician Club and he had come with a band of rockers and was subsequently booed off stage. When I booked him I insisted that he played acoustic but this is a live venue and anything can happen. In the event the gig in the village hall was as good as the North Sea Jazz set and then some.
Alvin turned up on time and the sound check was easily run through with snippets of various numbers including ‘Big Mamas House’ which was played in it entirety - which pleased me no end. Two and a half hours later Alvin, with some tweaking of strings beforehand, launched into ‘Mama Don’t Allow’ and my worries dissipated. Classic covers and self-penned songs melded comfortably and effortlessly in his hands. In-between songs he talked to the audience whilst tuning his guitar. For the most part the chat was relevant to the songs but sometimes it seemed a series of random thoughts. But it all added to the wonderful atmosphere of the night. Three sets later he sang ‘Big Mamas House’ and was called back for an encore and he sang Dylan’s ‘Just Like A Woman’. To end the evening with a pretty song showed impeccable taste.
with The Shakedown Blues Band
James Goodwin Piano
Joel Humann Bass
Dave Thomas Guitar
Rick Hudson Drums
The Village Hall
Peterborough PE5 7AX
For the most part the large crowd were looking to meet a blues legend, get their records and cd’s signed and hear that lazy Louisiana sound. On the other hand I was looking forward to meeting and hearing Lester again but was a little apprehensive that the 79-year-old ‘model of the man’ would not be capable of sustaining a evenings worth of entertainment.
The show started a little tentatively with the old man calling numbers to the band that were not on his set list and only settled down after James Goodwin had dug deep with a driving piano boogie that impressed Lester and made him concentrate on his ‘Same Things Happen To You’. This was followed by ‘Ya Ya’ the New Orleans classic that was decent enough but an odd choice, as was the lugubrious “Long Time Since I Seen My Baby’s Face’ which went on well past its sell by date. However, despite having heard Lester destroy a country song in the second set an obviously inebriated member of the audience bizarrely asked him to sing a Hank Williams song. Lazy obliged by singing a whole string of them! - much to the distress of the band members and myself. I had heard that he liked to sing country music these days but did not realize that he actually wanted to morph into a country singer!
I can’t say that I did not enjoy the evening and for many of the audience meeting a ‘blues legend’ and coming away with his autograph was enough. But if we had heard songs that the band had rehearsed it would have been oh so much better.
Doug MacLeod (7)
WEDNESDAY 20th June 2012
Track taken from show: "One Good Woman"
The day after the concert I sat down and wrote a four line piece for Facebook of my thoughts regarding Doug's sixth Shakedown Blues concert. Reading it again I realise there is no more to say so here it is again:
Just getting over the Doug MacLeod concert which had the feel of an intimate soirée with good friends. Doug was, as ever, on song and his version of 'Long Black Train' took me back to the first time I heard it on the Hightone LP 'No Road Back Home'; brilliant song, great guitar and the highlight for me. For those of you who missed the gig he is talking of coming back next year.
Brenda Boykin (2)
with Dave Thomas & The Ma Grinder
Thursday 5th April 2012
Dave Thomas - Lead Guitar
Colin Watling - Tenor Sax
Hugh Birkenhead - Keys
Joe Bernard - Bass Guitar
Rick Hudson - Drums
James Goodwin - Piano (special appearance)
Track: "Fools Blues"
with Johnny Nocture Band
Bullseye Blues CD "Shake 'Em Up"
We could not have put it better ourselves .....
Great gig last night; one of the very best. Brenda has amazing voice and personality and she really had the band cooking' - taking them right out of their comfort zone. But boy, did they enjoy it! Great sax and organ. Highlight for me though was pianist James Goodwin making an impromptu appearance and Brenda singing two numbers with him. He really brings boogie alive! I guess we were all disappointing no CDs to buy, but if anyone's interested Amazon UK have her Chocolate & Chilli album available (£8.99, I think). Long drive home meant I missed the last set, but so glad I made it. Surely she must be due more UK bookings.
Keith Roy Woodcock
The day after the show Dave Thomas, Brenda and myself were chatting about all things musical when I muted the idea of her coming back to Shakedown next year to do an evening of Billie Holiday songs. She answered in the affirmative but then said she would prefer to sing an evenings worth of Ray Charles songs. The idea of jumping gender appealed to her and she sang 'Heartbreaker' and a couple of other numbers as an audition. Absolutely brilliant! I was in heaven and Dave could hardly speak - I guess she has got the gig.
Claude Bourbon (2)
28th January 2012
After Claude Bourbon's shows I always have the feeling that I have spent a few hours in the presence of someone quite extraordinary. His music flows effortlessly and sometimes I can even pick out a tune. Weaving his guitar in several genres at the same time always ends up as a work of shear pleasure. This concert was no different and if I can't tell you what he played I can tell you 'that you had to be there'. He even gave us a lovely version of Gary Davis's 'Hesitation Blues' in the middle of the second set after he had noticed that Gary Davis had come to Peterborough for Shakedown Blues. I look forward to his next show.
Robert Penn (4)
Saturday 10th December 2011
Track Taken from show: "Blues for Jessie"
Robert Penn's fourth appearance at The Village Hall in Castor garnered a sell-out audience. They came to party and as usual were not disappointed. Robert's opener was his heavily grooved "Keep On Steppin'" that took a few moments to settle down before all the members 'locked in' but after that the evening was a breeze. Castor favourites "Pretty Lingerie", "My Place", " 'Round About Midnight" and "Touch Me" were all aired as were various Motown standards and a lovely cheesy version of 'Wonderful World' - after all this was our Christmas bash.
The latest line-up for Dave Thomas's House band was a blast and consisted of Dave Thomas (vocal and guitar), Rod Mason (Sax), John Turville (piano), Hugh Gregory (rhythm guitar), Joe Bernard (bass) and Rick Hudson (drums). They all looked completely spaced out but happy after Robert called time having played three hours plus a brilliant version of Junior Walker's "Shotgun" as a encore.
Dave Thomas & The Ma Grinder
BRENDA WHERE ARE YOU!!
The Dave Thomas Band at Shake Down Blues on Saturday 19th November 2011
I arrived in Castor at 11am on the morning of the Brenda Boykin Shake Down Blues gig – ready for a joint interview with the film crew who were there to record the whole show front stage and back. When I got to Castor Village Hall, our regular home venue for Shake Down Blues, the promoter Gerard Homan came out to greet me with the news that there was a change of plan. The wonderfully talented jazz/blues singer Brenda Boykin would be arriving on a later flight out of Germany/Poland? This would mean that I would have to do the first of the night’s three separate-long hour sets with my band. I was cool with that – no problem. I was fielding my ‘A Team’ line-up who, I knew, would be well on the case – with a good few tunes from Brenda’s highly original and creative “Chocolate and Chilli” album under our belts. The guys were totally familiar with my usual repertoire.
We’d left some time for a proper rehearsal with Brenda and a sound check. Obviously, there would be no rehearsal with her now (she was flying in to Heathrow and there was a fairly long taxi ride to deliver her to the gig). We decided to use the time as productively as we could…running through the instrumental arrangements of her songs with me vamping a few vocals where necessary!
The pizzas arrived and we all stopped to take a break and grab a bite before Showtime. That was when the promoter returned, somewhat ashen-faced, with the latest news: somehow Brenda had managed to miss her flight entirely. I lost my appetite immediately. I never eat before I sing and suddenly I realised that I would have to play and sing through the whole night’s show. The audience were already filtering in to the hall as I was hurriedly trying to listen to the “Chocolate and Chilli” CD and scribble down the song lyrics. As there was no chance to cancel the show at such short notice or pre-warn the arriving audience (some of whom, it emerged, had travelled over 200 miles to see her) the show simply had to go on without the star of the evening…with me and the band having to carry the whole three set show.
The good news was that almost everyone elected to stay, and, from what I heard them say at the end of the night, no-one who did was disappointed. Phew!
The best news is that Brenda Boykin has offered to come over to the UK in March 2012 and do that gig for FREE! Me and the boys will be back on the case too.
with Gregor Hilden & Dave Thomas' Ma Grinder
St Kyneburgha Church, Castor, Peterborough
Saturday 22nd October 2011
Track taken from show: "That Old Time Rock & Roll"
Harriet Lewis was born in Philadelphia to a Jamaican émigré and a God fearing mother from New Orleans. She was taken whilst still in her mother’s arms to the local Baptist Church and began singing in the choir as soon as there was a place for her in the stalls. By the age of 12 she was travelling throughout Pennsylvania as director of their Baptist choir and performed in concerts throughout the Metroplex. She later formed a choir of her own, which performed concerts throughout the eastern coastal region of the US. She then received formal training at the Sherwood Recreation Centre in Philly where she studied dance including ballet, tap and modern jazz.
In 1967 she became involved with the flowering of the Philly sound and became a founder member of the recording group The Forget Me Knots on Philadelphia International Records. It was with this label that she also recorded background vocals for Pattie Labelle, Billy Paul, The OJ’s and the wonderful Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes plus the terrific Donald Byrd etc etc. It was with Donald Byrd that she eventually moved to the famous Blue Note label. She then joined the army and spent a lifetime travelling throughout the world free gratis thanks to Uncle Sam, singing to the troops and occasionally moving to the frontline and doing her bit for democracy and the American way. Eventually she de-mobbed in Germany, which is where we found her and her guitarist.
Harriet was carrying a cold on this November evening and you could hear at times that she was trying not to aggravate her tonsils. She has also learnt throughout her long career the art of entertaining and she works the audience constantly. I doubt that the odd slip would have registered with the audience. I particularly liked ‘Masquerade’ enjoyed ‘That Old Time Rock and Roll’ and loved ‘What a Difference a Day Makes’ which is one of my favorite Esther Philips tracks and as I have never heard it sung ‘live’ before it really did something for me. On the other hand I can imagine that many in the audience would choose ‘Wade in The Water’ as the highlight of the evening – we were, after all, in a church.
Before closing a big cheer for Gregor Hilden who organized her trip and was the guest bandleader for the night. Dave Thomas & The Ma Grinder must also be given their due in print for having worked so hard without a great deal of rehearsal (there was a wedding at 3pm that had to be accommodated) They produced a magnificent evening of jazz, blues, soul and gospel – a great night was had by all and a DVD of the evening will be available through Shakedown Blues shortly.
with Dave Thomas & The Ma Grinder
Saturday 24th September 2011
Track taken from album Kissing The Monkey "I Like Em All"
Howard ‘Sonny’ Robertson was born and raised into a harsh violent project in East St. Louis. His father was a ‘buck dancer’ and his mother was a God fearing matriarch who brought him up in a Baptist Church where singing was obligatory. He had a good voice and at age three joined various church quartets. He was singled out by Gospel legend Willie Mae Ford Smith who afforded him the chance to work on the same bill as Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, James Cleveland etc. He then flipped over to the secular side to join his good school friends in a Doo-Wop group ‘The Tabs’. These had their day in the sun with hit records that took them to the Apollo in New York and The Regal in Chicago where he and fellow Tab, Charles Drain, shared out the favours of the ladies between them. Eventually The Tabs disbanded and Sonny returned to St Louis where he teamed up with Ike Turner and all of The Kings Men working clubs, restaurants and dives in a myriad of different formations. As the music began to change and soul became dominant Sonny, who had picked up guitar whilst being in the Tabs, met Albert King and managed to persuade ‘THE MAN’ to hire him as his guitarist for the famous gig ‘Live at the Filmore’. This then led to work for and with Matt Murphy, Coco Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Buddy Guy and a cast of others too many to mention.
Then the musical boom imploded and Sonny made Akron, Ohio his base working outside of the music business to hold things together. Along the way he met Travis Haddix and recorded a CD ‘Kissing The Monkey’ which took my fancy. Travis recommended him for Shakedown Blues and Sonny was booked. Dave Thomas was commissioned to assemble a suitable line up of The Ma Grinder house band and we waited with high hopes for what we expected to be one of the highlights of the series. Blues, funk and soul – this man had it all.
Unfortunately what makes some ‘live’ music shows transcend expectations also has a habit of turning around and biting you. This can manifest itself with the main artist having a bad cold and incapable of singing or that the backing band has not listened to the music sent to us by the artist to rehearse. This time it was possibly a combination of jetlag, medication whilst flying and anno domini. Couple that with a long interview session in the morning, which tired and confused Sonny into wanting to play the guitar - an instrument that we have been subsequently told he had not played for a while. The band coped extremely well under the circumstances and sections of the audience enjoyed his folksy conversation in between songs. His vocals were strong, expressive, soulful and at times lived in. Undoubtedly he has it in him to give an exceptionable performance and I believe that on another day he would have given us the show that he is capable of – ah well!
The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough
Saturday 21st May 2011
Track taken from show: "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"
Dwight Edwards was born and bred in Indianapolis on November 2nd 1952. His parents lived next door to a tavern and it was from the sounds that emanated from the juke box/live bands that filtered through his front door that he picked up his love of music. Early influences were both Wes Montgomery and gospel diva Marian Montgomery. His mother was a religious lady who encouraged him to sing in the church choir. She was initially opposed to his interest in secular music and particularly his love of the blues - which Dwight blames on seeing one of B B King’s shows. His mother described the genre as ‘suicide music’ and forbade him from playing or singing outside of the church. As this had no effect whatsoever on Dwight she eventually relented and introduced him to Yank Rachell (Sleepy John Estes mandolin playing other half) who took to the boy and with whom he eventually became friends. With Yank’s encouragement he produced his first Vanity CD in 1984, which fell into the hands of Shakedown promoter Gerard Homan who eventually booked him 27 years later into the good ole village hall in Castor.
The evening kicked off with a corker of an instrumental that drove along wonderfully and showed off the skills of the latest line-up of the house band ‘Dave Thomas & The Ma Grinder’. The band consisted of Dave Thomas, lead guitar and vocal; Hobee Luv, tenor sax (Dwight’s friend and sax player); Colin Watling, tenor sax; Pete Whittaker, Hammond B3; Louis Thorne, bass; and Rick Hudson, drums. All of whom played magnificently throughout the evening. Dwight couldn’t have wished for a better band. Then the main man was called to the stage and the sound gremlins crept in alongside him. He managed to sing a decent version of ‘Party On The Blues’ and his signature tune ‘So Many Tears’ before strange noises/feedback and at times a deafening cacophony had the intrepid soundman running from monitor to monitor, amp to amp and speaker to speaker. In the end the chaos came down to Dwight’s faulty wireless box that he had strapped to his back. The audience retired to the bar.
A couple of beers later the band struck up again and the sound was sweet. They played a cracking Hammond B3 lead semi instrumental that ended with a surprising little jazz vocal by Dave (is there no end to this mans talent) before he again called Dwight on to the stage. This set included an excellent version of ‘Burning Log’ followed by two of the evenings highlights ‘Don’t Lie’ and a wonderful soul blues ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’. As for the remainder of the evening ‘Sorry’ was another good little soul blues weepy, ‘Dimples’ an amusing ode to cellulite, ‘Jealous Man’ was great for the dancers whilst ‘I Am Going To Have To Stop Loving You’ was possibly the best soul blues number of the evening. The show clocked out at 3 hours 45 minutes and when time was called the revellers howled for more.
In conclusion; Dwight in reality is not a great B B style guitar slinger but he is a very fine entertainer/songster/singer particularly when the songs are in the soul blues vein. If you get a chance to see him don’t hesitate.
By Ian Sheldon
Track taken from show: "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"
Photographs by Duncan Vessey
Saturday evening with Dwight Edwards
by Mike Chapman
What a fantastic night it was, nearly 4 hours of the most entertaining blues music. First set the sound balance was a bit off but was improved by the second set and even better in the last and final set. The whole band and Dwight really was enjoying themselves and seemed to want to keep going.
As an ardent blues music lover for over forty years this was a great blues evening and a credit to ShakeDown. Dave Thomas as always is brilliant on guitar and with back up from Rick on drums and Colin on sax and the bass player and not forgetting the fantastic keyboard player, sorry I cannot remember their names.
With the added bonus of Hobee Love on sax this was a night to remember.
Thanks Gerard for organising this and all the other great evenings we've had at Castor.
Austin 'Walkin Cane'
The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough
Thursday 21st April 2011
Track taken from gig "Early In The Morning Before The Rooster Crow"
I knew nothing about Austin ‘Walkin Cane’ Charanghat until his extremely sparse biography arrived on my doorstep courtesy of Shakedown Blues in late March. As most of the great Shakedown shows that I have attended have been by relatively obscure artists the idea of a total stranger peaked my imagination. I paid my entrance online and was sitting in the front row waiting for the usual prompt 7:30 start. The man sitting next to me seemed a decent fellow so we began a conversation about this young unknown guy with an interesting name and speculated as to whether he would have enough material from the 30’s to fill Gerard’s gruelling three hour schedule – I should have known better.
Kicking off with Muddy’s ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’ and ending three hours later with Buddy Guy’s ‘Oh Wee Baby’ he played throughout the evening the whole gamut of classic acoustic/electric blues together with his self-penned numbers which are always interesting and often quirky e.g. the excellent ‘One Step Ahead of the Landlord’ and the superb ‘Georgia Moon’ wherein he sings ‘lost my heart in a dead mules room’ whilst playing an odd time sequence.
Austin was definitely something else – one minute he was singing a full-on version of Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’ and the next he delivered the ‘Land of Delilah’ with incredible sensitivity. Crudups’ ‘Look Over Yonder Wall’ was played electric and was followed by ‘Muddy Mississippi River Don’t Flow Too Tight’ with its heavy acoustic beat. Louis Jordan’s ‘We’re Gonna Move Baby’ another electric piece served up as a very slow deep nasty blues with Rick Hudson on drums, Rex Gates on bass and Austin very T-Bone-ish on guitar. All this was followed by his own brilliantly sweaty boogie ‘Devil’s Backbone’ that I can’t get out of my mind.
The evenings highlights for me was his ‘Hush Mouth Money’ that had a very nice jazz tone ala Robert Lockwood Jnr and Robert Byrd’s (Professor Longhair) ‘Mardi Gras’ played on the Resonator guitar complete with the whistling segment. You don’t hear that very often! As for not having enough material for three-hour schedules Austin tells me that there are six CD’s out there and another one coming out soon
By Dick Cartmel
28th April 2011
Photographs by Duncan Vessey
Country Pete McGill
Saturday 26th March 2011
Live at The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough
Track taken from gig: Drivin' Wheel
Country Pete Warner McGill Junior was born and raised on a farm in Jasper, Texas 55years ago. As a teenager he worked by day as a logger and became interested in the music of the itinerant blues men and women who passed through his town including Albert Collins, Joe Jonas and Lightnin’ Hopkin. His first instrument was a guitar but he became a bass player when he joined a band that needed a bass player ‘I just wanted to play in a band and was happy to pluck those fat lumperty lump notes all night long’. Similarly his singing career began when the vocalist for the evening didn’t turn up for the gig. Sometime later Pete moved to San Francisco and he is being embroiled in this blues scene ever since. Playing with anybody and everybody in dives, jukes, lounges and festivals, sometimes with his own band, sometimes solo and other times working for bands in need of a bass player. He toured northern Europe and Scandinavia with The Mississippi Delta Blues Band and is currently regularly on tour with Freddie Roulette. Gerard found him playing with Nat Bolan in Lou’s Blues Bar in San Francisco and when the PA blew up he wandered over to the mike with ‘I don’t need no mike my voice is loud enough’ - he took over the proceedings. In the next break they exchanged cards and a year later Pete was in Castor.
For the Village Hall concert the latest house band, ‘Ma Grinder’, consisted of Dave Thomas; guitar, James Goodwin; piano and Rick Hudson; drums - Pete was of course on bass. The band members had all played together before, were comfortable with each other and with the material. Pete slotted in seamlessly. What the band were not ready for was Pete’s regular choice of material outside of that which had been agreed – but then that is the nature of a jam session and apart from one or two awkward starts and finishes the evening was a gas. The bass players usually sit out of sight but Pete was more than happy to clown in front of the band or to wander through the hall serenading the ladies. Resplendent in a red and then a blue suit he was keen to entertain and entertain he certainly did.
The show began with Dave Thomas on slide guitar and hit a high note early on with ‘I’ve Got A Little Bird’ that was almost perfect. The audience was impressed. ‘My Telephone Is Ringing’ and ‘Blues With A Feeling’ probably gave us an inkling of the show that Pete did for The Chicago Blues Festival last year. The second set began with Pete singing accompanied by James Goodwin on piano, Pete announced this segment as ‘a tribute to Pinetop and Memphis Slim’ - he had worked as a duo with both pianists ‘back in the day’. ‘She’s Looking At Me’; ‘I Want To Boogie Woogie’ and ‘Don’t Get Me Talking’ were very well received, even if his impromptu walk about meant that half the time half of the audience couldn’t see him. By the time the third set came along the standing audience began to dance and in the ensuing melee I forgot about what was being sung. Great fun was had by all, which I guess is what it is all about.
Louis Arzo 'Gearshifter' Youngblood (2)
Louis Arzo ‘Gearshifter’ Youngblood
Live @ The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough – Saturday 12th February 2011
Louis Arzo ‘Gearshifter’ Youngblood was born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi in 1956. His grandfather ‘Arzo’ and mother Essie Mae were both taught to play and sing the blues by the legendary Tommy Johnson, who was briefly married to Louis’ Aunt Rosa in the 30’s.
Grandpa Arzo went on to record for Dave Evans in 1966, some of which were released on Matchbox Records in 1980. He had also recorded Isaac Youngblood – a guitarist and piano player - five days previously in Tylertown. One track of which turned up on the Matchbox album, another on a Rounder compilation and possibly a third on a Wolf LP. He must also be a family member but I forgot to confirm this with Louis. Siegfried Christmann and Axel Kusner also recorded Arzo as part of their mammoth excellent L&R Records ‘Living Country Blues Series’. Anyhow enough of family background already.
Three years after his amazing almost five hour marathon gig at The Village Hall, Castor Louis was back with Shakedown Blues. This time around he was billed as ‘The Human Jukebox’ and the description proved to be spot on. The audience threw in £15 worth coins each and Louis searched his memory banks for the right rhythm, clicked into the first song and the music flowed. There was very little chat between songs but the audience was happy just to watch the machinery work out what the next number would be. Blues, Soul, R&B, Funk or Country, ‘you want it, you got it’ - even if your taste was for ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’!!
I noticed that he only sang one Tommy Johnson number ‘Big Road Blues’ and this time around he included two showstoppers from his previous gig ‘One Last Dollar’ and ‘Bang Bang On The Headboard’. As for the rest he chose a completely different repertoire including ‘Beefin’ It Out’, a non PC song about a nagging woman, a lovely ‘Slip Away’, an excellent ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’, a superb mélange of Bobby Rush’s funky ‘Chicken Heads/Bow Legged Woman’, a brilliant ‘I’ve Got Dreams To Remember’ and…… Thirty odd songs later at the end of the evening an early ‘Happy Birthday Louis’ was sung with gusto by the audience ‘who gave him some love’ and he joined in by singing his own hilarious version ‘Happy Birthday To Me’ before The Gearshifter switched off. A wonderful 5* night!
Taken from Blues in Britain # 112
Dave Thomas & The Ma Grinder
Dave Thomas & The Ma Grinder
Saturday 22nd January 2011
The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough
Dave Thomas first took to the village hall stage in 2006 when Wallace Coleman asked him to sing a few Chicago classics while Wallace accompanied him beautifully on harp. Shortly afterwards Dave took up Wallace’s invite to ‘come visit us’ and they ended up recording together Dave’s excellent ‘Repossession Blues’ album. Since then he has been featured regularly, together with his piano playing musical partner James Goodwin, accompanying a multitude of performers ranging from the rural Miss; Hill Country artist Terry Bean, Gospel Preacher Rev. John Wilkins, Jazz flavoured Katherine Davis (his effortless guitar solo on Ellington’s ‘A Train’ was a joyful revelation) to the soulful Keith Little. He has had a life before Shakedown Blues but his unconditional contribution to the series has been enormous. It has been a joy to watch him grow in stature as a blues man over the past five years, from his acoustic set during the first Little Willie Littlefield show in Castor to the confident lead guitarist with the Cheryl Renee Band last December.
This January show might not have been 'as planned' but the decision by promoter Gerard Homan to 'let the band play on' without Marvin Braxton (who was still waiting for a plane in Cleveland) worked out brilliantly. It was good to see James and Dave working their own set and enjoying the limelight for a change. Newcomer Louis Thorne on bass was outstanding and the return of Rick Hudson on drums was very welcome. Colin Watling, on tenor, was as always, remarkably intuitive. The first set included Dave’s excellent self-penned ‘I’m Going To Cleveland Blues’ and ‘Repossession Blues’ together with a magnificent ten-minute version of B.B Kings ‘It’s My Own Fault’. The second set began with James Goodwin playing a fast boogie and a very slow blues on the refurbished village hall piano (sorry don’t know the titles; but both were exceptional) before dueting with Dave on a very good ‘That’s Alright’ that featured some very tasty fills by Colin Watling. There were also a couple more songs penned by Dave with a humorous ‘My Baby Ran Off With A Bus Driver’ and a gorgeous ‘I Had A Silly Quarrel’, which was one of the highlights for me. There was much more, the whole evening felt like a party with friends and the local ale helped with the jollifications. Thanks Dave.
Taken from Blues in Britain # 112
Cheryl Renee ****Christmas Party****
Live at The Village Hall, Castor
Saturday 11th December 2010
Track taken from show: 'Merry Christmas Baby'
Cheryl Renee is the latest in the Shakedown Blues’ ongoing festival of Afro-American blues and once again they have managed to astonish the audience with an ‘unknown’ artist of immense talent.
Born and raised in Cincinnati she grew up in a household that listened to R&B stations. Her mother was crazy about Billie Holiday but Cheryl was knocked out by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. For the most part she taught herself to play the piano and at 17 she was good enough to begin her professional career as a musician and four years later began touring the world with the U.S.O. She subsequently worked with her first husband Randel of the Randel Blues Band in Boston. She then played gigs as Joe Tex’s pianist, married Keith Little in Cincinnati and worked for a while with Big Bill Morganfield. On occasions she has deputised for Anne Rabson in Sapphire Blues Women and has recorded two albums for the little known Chickenbutt Label. It was Shakedown Blues promoter Gerard Homan who heard these that then resulted in her flying over to the UK to woo the audience ‘live’ at the village hall, Castor with her explosive take on Screamin’ Jay’s stage act.
With a crack selection of top flight jazz and blues musicians, consisting of Dave Thomas, guitar; Rod Mason, baritone and alto sax; Colin Watling, tenor; Alex Moore, trumpet; Richard Hammond, bass; and Dave Walsh on drums, she stormed into ‘Downhome Blues’, which morphed into something entirely different. Cheryl was undoubtedly the star, but that did not stop the soloists from strutting into the limelight, much to her delight. The second set started with Cheryl playing and singing a couple of excellent numbers on the old piano before getting down and dirty with the horns and Dave’s guitar. Sipping vodka between songs she stomped, cackled and screamed through a demented ‘Blow Top Blues’ – Jay would have been proud – and swung like crazy through a couple of Rumba’s, one of which ended with her shouting ‘everybody solo’ that made for controlled mayhem New Orleans style – brilliant! Other highlights were an interesting ‘Hound Dog’, and superb ‘Person to Person’ a terrific ‘In My Childish Ways’, a salacious ‘Spoonful/Evil’ and the one that sticks in your brain ‘She Wants to Dance’. Exhausting, crowd pleasing party music for the young and old. Yippee!
Taken from Blues in Britain # 112
Over the years Gerard Homan has brought many artists to a village hall that holds little more than one hundred people at maximum capacity! The hall also contains a beaten but in tune upright acoustic piano with the front board off. The lively acoustics of the hall are such that you get a much more authentic approximation to the sound that must have been produced in the dives and joints where this music was first played.
For Cheryl Renee, who plays great full chord barrelhouse piano, and as it was the Shakedown Christmas Party for 2010 after all, we got Rod Mason on baritone and alto saxes, Colin Watlin on tenor and Alex Moore on trumpet, as well as excellent blues guitar from Dave Thomas. Richard Hammond played straightforward electric bass, which was all that was needed because Cheryl’s left hand is so strong and full. Dave Walsh on drums provided sensitive under-stated rhythm and accents on skins and cymbals.
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Cheryl first hit the road in the early 1970s with local r&b group Mad Dog Fire Department. Since then she has picked up a number of blues awards. She is now billed as ‘The Goddess of the Blues’, song stylist, keyboardist and bandleader. She’s thoroughly confident and accomplished on piano, with lively animated singing that drew us in at Castor. With the opening bars of Chery;s first number, a rollicking rendition of ‘Downhome Blues, I knew I’d come to the right place! The band fell in admirably, and part way through Cheryl called for a baritone solo to heat up the proceedings even more, which it did. Then Cheryl went into Dinah Washington’s ‘Blow Top Blues’, another perfect number for her exuberant and oh so welcome performance style. Imagine Dinah Washington’s knowing nuances, with overtones of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, plus Champion Jack Dupree on piano – well Cheryl was all of them wrapped into one! When Cheryl included a superb ‘Person to Person’, in the third of her three sets that night, I was convinced I’d found a kindred fan of Screamin’ Jay!
Throughout all of her sets Cheryl varied the tempos with songs that kept things interesting and fresh, and ranged across eras from the 1920s onwards. The pick-up band didn’t have any arrangements to work to, so was it a loose jam, with Cheryl calling out the key at the start, showing the changes with her fingers, the band falling in with her intros on piano. The Horns and guitar took individual solos when called upon by Cheryl, who supplied plenty of tasty piano breaks of her own throughout.
She started off both her second and third sets with an unaccompanied number showcasing her piano playing and song-styling to the full. We were treated to a thrilling demonstration of what I would call heritage blues piano playing. The sounds on these solos were so authentic to styles and traditions dating from the 1920s to the early 1960s, which this writer considers the best on the planet. She began the second set with a majestic ‘Drown In My Own Tears’ on which she displayed gospel piano stylings and falsetto whoops just like Esquerita. The third set started with ‘Don’t Advertise Your Man’, which reminded me of Saffire, the Uppity Blues Women. Later in the third set we had ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ in which there was some rare ensemble playing from the saxes and trumpet, to good effect. ‘Watch Yourself’ had great delivery of the lyrics and the best rhythmic and growly tenors sax break of the night. ‘Mojo Mambo’ was introduced as a trip to New Orleans, and was a gumbo flavoured with Professor Longhair rhumba. Cheryl made ‘God Bless The Child’ her own and nothing like the familiar Billie Holliday version. An extended ‘Spoonful’ took us into the Howlin’ Wolf territory but with a later funk added by bass and guitar. I was very glad all the rest of the gig avoided this area of blues however. ‘Got My Mojo Working’ was less funky with more horns, and more to my taste, but based on Muddy rather than Ann Cole. So Cheryl certainly served up a very diverse and satisfying platter of piano-led blues styles on this night.
I suggest you, like me, now need to investigate Cheryl’s recordings and her performance schedule. The best start is to check out Cheryl’s own website www.cherylrenee.com . Thanks to Steve Armitage.
Blues & Rhythm # 257
Doug MacLeod (6)
Track taken from gig: 'One Good Woman'
This was Doug's sixth visit to Shakedown and he had no new CD's to promote. Some people may have stayed away on the basis that they had seen him before and can see him again next time. This would have been a big mistake. It was the first time that this mild mannered genius of the Blues had played in the UK's 'home of the blues' and from the get-up-and-go he was on fire. Chatting, singing, laughing and playing ever more inventive guitar, he held the audience's ear for the 135 minutes of playing time. All the old favourites including 'New Panama Special', 'Doug's Barnyard Blues'and 'That's Alright', were pulled out of his formidable song book and sounded as good as the first time you had heard them. There were a number of new songs that slotted right in, but I am not sure of the titles. The closer was my and the audiences favourite 'Long Black Train'. Simply magnificent! I hope his new record company does right by him.
Little Willie Littlefield (3)
Live @ The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough
Saturday 9th October 2010
Track: "Mellow Cats" available on Modern Recording Ace CD 1022
Recorded in 1949
Gerard Homan's Shakedown series of events at Castor, Near Peterborough have deservedly made an quite an impact on the live scene, not least on account of showcasing some of the lesser-known, but genuine, bluesmen (and women). Little Willie's third gig for Gerard as usual brought out the faithful and a good crowd of well over 100 squeezed into the tiny village hall at Castor for an evening of blues, boogie and ballads from one of the dwindling number of Texan blues piano masters.
At the age of 79, Willie is showing no sign of slowing down. In two 45-minute sets, the effervescent Mr Littlefield entertained the crowd with a mixture of ad-lib, zany stage antics, fine vocals and great piano playing. His repertoire consisted of several blues standards such as 'Sweet Home Chicago', 'Every Day I Have The Blues', 'Going Down Slow', and 'One Scotch, One Bourbon', some of which started out slow and then midway through developed into raucous and infectious boogie workouts. Willie's old tricks of tickling the keys with his shoe in his hand and plucking the strings on the battered old upright that looked nearly as old as the man himself were well received. At times, I wondered whether the old piano would survive this onslaught, but thankfully it did.
A couple of Charles Brown numbers were performed: 'Drifting Blues' and 'Where Can I Find My Baby' on which he slipped right into the club-blues style of his one-time contemporary with ease. One of his own numbers in this style was performed, 'Strikin' On You Baby', then he slipped into one of his favourites, 'Since I Met You Baby', again with a pounding boogie finish. 'Spanish Eyes' a request from the floor, was performed and given the Willie boogie treatment. Another request was 'I Love You Because' which got a slow heartfelt treatment from Willie. 'Georgia On My Mind' was yet again given the split tempo treatment, before going into his famous recordings of 'Happy Pay Day' and, naturally, 'Kansas City'.
No backing band was provided, nor was one needed. Willie's sometimes undisciplined stylings and frequent asides directed at different sections of the audience didn't need any accompaniment. In between Willie's two sets, the audience were treated to an excellent half hour or so of piano/guitar blues from James Goodwin and Dave Thomas in the style of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell and others. But this was Willie's show and the audience lapped him up. I'm sure he'll be back next year. When he does, make sure you go along to see him. Legends like him are becoming scarcer!
Blues & Rhythm # 255
Claude Bourbon (1)
THURSDAY 16th September 2010
St. Kyneburgha Church, Castor, Peterborough
The promotion notes indicated that we were in for an eclectic evening of acoustic guitar playing. In the event most have us had never seen or heard anything quite like it.
Claude’s playing is firmly rooted in classical Spanish guitar and no doubt he could have entertained us with a full repertoire, within this genre, and we would all have gone home happy. What he does though is add elements from a vast array of influences, east and west, ancient and modern.
His fingerpicking is exquisite and if I closed my eyes I could clearly hear two guitars playing. Just when I recongnised a theme he moved on
with a mesmerising cascade of notes which kept on flowing. He added a driving bass, for a version of “She knows how to stretch it”. By the time he sang the first verse he had 'stretched it' from Spain to the Caucuses, and from the concert hall to the bar room. His forte is obviously his wonderful guitar work, but he does occasionally burst into song and what you then get is something between Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens, combined with a French accent! C’est magnifique.
For the technically minded he played a steel strung Gibson acoustic and used no effects - well unless you count behind the nut bends, harmonics, and retuning a string in the middle of a song - without missing a beat! He does play in standard tuning, but there were numerous alternatives as well as slide playing. There’s many a country blues player who would kill for a right thumb like Claude’s. The natural acoustics of the beautiful St Kyneburgha church seemed made for him.
This wasn’t the blues but it was a very enjoyable evening. Thank you Shakedown
The Village Hall, Castor – Thursday 29th April 2010
57-year-old Vernon Harrington came to my attention in an article about his father the Rev H.H. Harrington written by Jim O’Neal for his fledgling ‘Living Blues’ Magazine in 1972. At that time he was playing with the Atomic Souls – a young band playing soul hits in-dispersed with numbers by Magic Sam, Freddy King and Vernon’s idol, Jimmy Dawkins (Shakedown Halcyon, Peterborough 1979) I have a bootleg recording from that time which despite very low-fi manages to demonstrate an enthusiastic band with potential. Since then little has been heard about Eddy Clearwater and Laurie Bell’s cousin until a recent biography by Mike Stephenson in Blues and Rhythm. Judging by the Castor showing this has been a mistake, although the subsequent shows in Stamford and The East Harling Blues Festival gave us an insight into the possible reasons for his relative obscurity.
By the time the tall, rangy Vernon took to the stage in Castor he was bursting to go, having become ever more excited about his UK debut throughout the day. Dressed casually in a jumper and with two hours of rehearsals with Dave Thomas’s Band under his belt, he seamlessly strolled through almost three and three quarter hours of a classic programme of blues that you would expect from a south side Chicago artist with his pedigree. His voice was strong and distinctive - which particularly suited the Magic Sam numbers to a T - and his clear guitar tone was just the ticket. The audience stamped, danced and applauded and when ‘time’ was called in the 3rd set Vernon carried on for a further five numbers before finally stopping when the electricity was switched off - and still there were calls for more! A mention should be made of Dave Thomas’s line-up for the night. Dave, as usual, excelled on second lead; Hugh Gregory did sterling work on rhythm guitar, the always-wonderful James Goodwin on piano, the exceptional Paul Lawson from Cleveland, Ohio, who was guesting on bass and Randy Floyd on drums. Together a formidable unit that easily coped with Vernon’s demands, deferring to the main man, but more than capable of stepping out when asked to do so.
Highlights of the evening included ‘Black Nights’, ‘You Done Me Wrong’, and ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’ from the first set. ‘That’s The Way Love Is’, ‘Ooh Wee’, and ‘Find You A Job’ from the second set and ‘Take A Swing With Me’, the new to me ‘Its Hot In Here, I Believe I Need Some Air’, and ‘All Night Long’ from the third set. A truly amazing show.
The late February concert by the always exciting Robert Penn was always going to be difficult to follow, so Shakedown fell back to what they do best and brought in an obscure Chicago veteran with forty years experience of working weekend jobs in neighbourhood bars with friends like Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Willie Kent, Willie B Moore – oh well you get my drift. This was Vernon Harrington’s first trip to the UK and he was excited about his debut in the Castor village hall and his enthusiasm spilled over into the Dave Thomas Band that included a couple of guests in the line-up with Hugh Gregory on rhythm guitar and Paul Lawson from Cleveland, Ohio on bass.
The evening began with an excellent version of ‘Black Nights’ and ended an astonishing three and three quarter hours later to the delight of the crowd who drank the bar empty and danced the night away. The tight band worked hard keeping up with Vernon’s schedule of classics diffused with the odd self-penned song. His voice is distinctive, his guitar playing rhythmic and the audience loved him. His version of ‘First Time I Met The Blues’ was wonderful with James Goodwin’s piano solo being first class; ‘I’ve Been Down So Long’ was achingly melancholic whilst ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ was for once appropriate. This evening’s music was another triumph for Shakedown and ‘the little village hall that can’!
by D C
Blues in Britain
Robert Penn (3)
Robert Penn Track from concert "I Know Which Side My Bread is Buttered On"
The Village Hall, Castor
27th February 2010
This was Robert Penn's fourth appearance for Shakedown and the word had certainly got around for the place was packed with people expecting, and getting, a very good evening's entertainment. This time around he was backed by Hammond-orientated trio led by Hammond-organist Russell Williams with the really excellent Colin Watling on tenor sax. The sympathetic and intelligent accompaniment allowed Robert to stretch out and offer numbers we had not heard him perform before.
His Fender has now been replaced by the crystal clear tones of a Gibson and when he got into those real deal blues his playing and vocals echoed the influence of his main mentor B.B. King. There were a few popular favourites of course but the majority, and most impressive, were his own compositions which included great versions of 'When You Touch Me', 'More Than I Could Chew' and 'I Know Which Side My Bread Is Buttered On' complete with a salutary spoken introduction. Midway he changed gear nicely with a brief acoustic set which included selections from his solo album including 'Not In A Million Years'. He then returned to the Gibson for a quite wonderful version of 'Pretty Lingerie' then took on a new blue guise which was quite different from his original version. Towards the end he sensed that the crowd, who had drunk the bar dry, were ready to boogie and offered them a robust Motown/Stones workout to send them away wanting more.
His three sets proved yet again that here is a real talent who deserves some investment, and is not just another five-minute flash-in-the-pan.
Juke Blues # 69
Kathleen 'Kat' Pearson-Thomas (2)
With The Dave Thomas Band
The Stamford Arts Centre – 29th January 2010
Track taken from gig: "Start All Over Again"
Kat’s Shakedown Blues show in February 2010 with Dave Thomas’s Band was a resounding success and was based on a series of gospel based soul blues. This time around she arrived clutching a CD of recent recordings and Dave was asked to rehearse these with her the night before the gig. This should have ensured a stress free evening at The Stamford Arts Centre. Unfortunately flu felled the pianist on the Thursday night, on the Friday morning the rhythm guitarist realised that he had double booked and a further mix up resulted in a replacement bass player. To cap it all heavy snow falls made their journey to Stamford slow and hazardous and their late arrival allowed little time for anything but the sound check.
Thankfully the trio were all seasoned blues musicians who had probably been through much worse crisis in their time and as Shakedown’s philosophy is based on Norman Grant’s policy of ‘put a bunch of good artists together and let them get on with it’ then this evening was no different from any other.
Dave’s trio began the evening with a few excellent warm up numbers – sorry I can’t remember their titles except ‘The Postman Song’ and I am not even sure that is correct. Kat came on and sang ‘You Never Said You Loved Me When You Lay Across My Big Brass Bed’ which captivated Dave Popple and inveigles itself into your brain.
Other memorable songs was her version of Jimmy Reed’s ‘Don’t You Wanna Go’ that owed much to Shar-Baby’s recent version at The Village Hall, Castor; her tackling Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightning’ which could have been a disaster except that somehow Kat managed to turn it into an exciting female response to late night creeping; the new to me ‘Letter In The Box’, a fine song of love gone bad and the highlight of the evening was the exciting spontaneity of Dave and Kat’s duet on Hooker’s ‘I’m In The Mood’. Great evening by a sassy lady and a hard working band.
Photographs by Duncan Vessey/Steve Chown
Live at The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough Sat 12th December 2009
Sharon ‘Shar-Baby’ Baylock was born fifty-seven years ago in South Bend, Indiana. Her father was a gospel singer and her mother incessantly played R&B records around the house the sound of which her daughter fell in love with. Whilst in school she learnt guitar and eventually formed a group with her sister gigging around South Bend for over fifteen years. During this time her aunt from Chicago, who was stepping out with Little Walter, turned up for a weekend and started calling her Shar-Baby and the name stuck. She worked for a while with Lonnie Woods and in 1991 she married her second husband and relocated to Pensacola, Florida where she slotted into the local blues scene with ease. Willie King down from Arkansas met Shar at a local joint and the two became the best of friends. He invited her to appear at his blues festival, which led to the Baylocks again moving to Birmingham, Alabama to be closer to their friend. Shar’s discography is lamentably small and poorly produced and belies her forty plus years of performing in clubs and joint jukes and bears no comparison with her live act. This probably explains her obscurity.
Her triumphant show for Shakedown with the magnificent Dave Thomas/West Weston Downhome Blues Band in the famed village hall, Castor is an indication that perhaps her time has come. Strolling on stage resplendent in a red cowgirl outfit and black ten-gallon hat she led the boys into an evening of 50’s and 60’ R&B classics interleaved with the odd self-penned number. Her song choices included the likes of Wilson Pickets ‘634-5789’, Brook Benton’s ‘Hotel Happiness’, Nina’s ‘Gin House Blues’ and Ben E King’s ‘Stand By Me’ – hardly the usual Blues Club Fare. Yet these were all played with a great gusto by this bunch of stone down-home blues musicians. The soloists dug deep and on Wolf’s ‘Spoonful,’ an early evening highlight, James Goodwin was ruminating brilliantly on piano whilst Dave Thomas worked with his usual finesse on guitar and West Weston blew harmonica inventively throughout. There were loads more to excite the audience and Shar’s ’Gips juke joint’ brought the dancers on to the floor. By the time we came to the end of the evening we found that she had left the best until last with K C Douglas’ Mercury Blues’ transformed into a lopping Shar-Baby show stopper.
All that was left to do after that was to help the management sweep up and close the shutters whilst listening to Sharon and the band enjoying themselves singing around the Village Hall piano. If Shar-Baby comes to England again, give this lady a chance.
Juke Blues # 69
Gerard Homan does it again by finding this below the radar, in this case, Alabama blues act and bringing her to the UK for a brief visit. Singer and guitarist Shar Baby has been toiling away in her home state for some years now, and has made a splash at the late Willie King's Freedom Creek Festival over the past years.
Her personal charm and musical skills were perfectly displayed at this three set gig in front of a good audience turn out. She was supported admirably by a small band, including guitarist Dave Thomas and harp player Wes Weston. Shar Baby plays rhythm guitar, not lead, and directed the band on getting those infectious mid to up tempo shuffle rhythms going, once she had established the framework of the song in her strumming.
She stated early on that she is a fan of Howlin' Wolf and that was shown by her cover of 'Sitting On Top Of The World'. She featured some of her own numbers, including 'Mr Gip's Juke House', a real deal juke house in Birmingham, Alabama, where she spends a lot of her time playing, 'Mercury Ford' and 'Alabama', a fine tribute to Willie King.
Other numbers included a rocking version of '6345789' and more rocking stuff such as 'Hound Dog'. It was interesting watching the mainly seated audience bounce along in unison to the rhythms Shar and the band developed. She slowed things down on 'Since I Lost You Baby' and then got us all rocking again on a cracking version of Nina Simone's 'Gin House Blues'. Shar Baby is clearly a talented lady and let's hope this gig helps get her name out there and known beyond her main working environment.
Blues & Rhythm # 246
Photographs by Duncan Vessey
Reverend John Wilkins
Rev John Wilkins
The Village Hall,
Saturday 21st November 2009
The 68-year-old son of the exceptionally talented singer/songwriter Robert Wilkins the 30’s blues singer and recording star turned Baptist preacher. Rev John Wilkins arrived in Castor Village Hall after three years of coaxing by Shakedown promoter Gerard Homan. John’s own career mirrors his fathers and as a young man played as a Stax session guitarist behind numerous blues and soul singers. He also famously played on his friend O V Wrights first secular recording ‘You Make Me Cry’
He is now the pastor of Hunter’s Baptist Chapel in Como, Mississippi where Fred McDowell and Napoleon Strickland worshipped and are buried. Judging by this evening’s performance Sunday meetings at Hunters must be incendiary. These days in Como, Roberts’ repertoire is strictly gospel standards and versions of his father’s religious songbook. In the main that is what we received in Castor except that the evening began with a sky blues ‘In England Y’all Long Way From Home’ before settling down to the religious side of the evening. With ‘Jesus Will Fix It’, ‘When The Saints’, ‘You Gotta Move’ the audience was given a straightforward introduction to John’s Baptist world and opened the door to ‘I’m On The Battlefield’, and ‘I Come Through The Stormy Rain’. A quick mention should be made of the accompanists Dave Thomas and John Montague both on acoustic guitars with James Goodwin playing wonderful gospel on the battered village hall piano.
The second set opened with John playing solo acoustic guitar on four of his father’s songs beginning with his most famous work that The Rolling Stones recorded ‘Prodigal Son’. John’s version was a powerhouse barnstorming showstopper that had Dave Thomas shaking his head with amazement. To follow this the Reverend played ‘Walk Me Lord’, Fred McDowell style, which brought back memories of Fred’s late 60’s Shakedown show. ‘Lord I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down’ and ‘Thank You Sir’ finished this segment of the show.
The third set was more of the same but produced three of the evenings highlights starting with the flag waving, fast rocking, ‘Get Right Church’ with James storming on gospel piano and John’s voice urging the audience to sanctify. A beautiful ‘You Gotta Make Me Cry’ followed this and the last number of the evening hit the spot with the blues section of the audience with a stunning version of ‘Mean Black Spider’.
Blues in Britain # 97
Photographs by Duncan Vessey
Brenda Boykin (1)
Track taken from concert: "Blue Suede Shoes"
Live music at The Village Hall,
Saturday 24th October 2009
Brenda Boykin came to Britain for the first time with a list of varied albums to her credit, but nothing on record could have prepared the audience for what they witnessed on this once-in-a-blue-moon evening. The accompanying drums, organ, trumpet and tenor sax were fronted by jazz guitarist Nick Page but from the opening seconds it was clear that the bandleader for the night was Brenda herself. She directed them throughout in such an expert and irresistible manner they were willing to give their all to please her, and the results were just fabulous.
It is very hard to categorise her. While more of a jazz stylist than soul singer she can belt out traditional or funky R&B and soulful blues to the very highest standards. Her opening stop-time jazz funk version of 'Blue Suede Shoes' induced jaw dropping disbelief and the following blues shuffle version of 'See You Later Alligator' was equally unrecognisable and just as impressive. The lady is blessed with an incredible voice that ranges through octaves as easy as climbing stairs but it is the rhythm, energy and emotion in her performance that transcends everything else. She somehow made 'Eyesight To The Blind' wholly convincing while the band played an approximation of 'Green Onions', yet the proverbial pin would have clattered during 'Sentimental Reasons' with only the guitarist for support and their subsequent duet on 'Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You' was perfection itself. Never letting up she pulverised us with Lloyd Price's 'Where You At' and demanded the band get even funkier on version of 'All Night Long' that James Brown would have been proud of. Then it was back through the gears for a down a dirty 'Brick House In Memphis' and a beautiful version of 'Jole Blon', again with solo guitar. Her vocal dexterity is staggering and backed by just frantic tom-tom drums she wrapped (drop the 'w' if you wish)her vocal chords around 'Crazy Little Mama' that somehow became 'Mystery Train' and in 50 years of listening I have never heard the like before. All three sets were quite magical.
Written description seems totally inadequate and if there were any justice in this world (we know there is precious little) she should already be an established star. A colleague, Ken Major, described her as 'Sarchmo meets Marilyn Monroe, Brook Benton plus Billie Holiday and they all meet James Brown' and that is not the half of it. What a sensational evening.
Photographs by Duncan Vessey
Juke Blues #68
Wonderful Chicago Blues singer whose forte is the classic period of Ma Rainey & Bessie Smith
Friday 25th September 2009
Live at The Stamford Arts Centre
Saturday 26th September
Live at The Village Hall,
Track taken from Village Hall concert: "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out"
Fifty six year old Katherine Davis was born into a Chicago musical family, which included her grandfather Earl Campbell, who worked with Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. Her interest in blues was nurtured by her DJ father whose house party’s were legendary. As she recalls; these evenings would begin with him playing the latest hits for the younger section of the audience. The adults would sit out most of this selection. Then, when the lights became dim, he would start spinning the blues, which immediately energised the elderly who began, dancing, shouting, jumping and generally making fools of themselves – pretty much like a Shakedown Blues night in Castor.
As Katherine grew up she entered the local church, joined the choir, studied gospel music, opera and theatre. Eventually she landed a job playing the parts of both Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey on the Broadway show ‘Heart of the Blues’. Through this production she found work in many of the south sides jazz and blues clubs, joined up with Erwin Helfer, with whom she regularly toured Europe. She then toured and recorded with Mississippi Heat, worked with Billy Branch and befriended Mud Morganfield, who recommended her to promoter Gerard Homan. Gerard was originally in somewhat of a dilemma as to how to present this multi talented lady. The answer in the end was original; the Stamford show would consist of a set of 20’s styled numbers with piano player James Goodwin, followed by a second set together with The Dave Thomas Blues Band. This apparently went extremely well with the Stamford theatre audience loving every minute of it.
Which brings me to her performance live at The Village Hall. Katherine again teamed up with James Goodwin who started the evening playing Lloyd Glen’s ‘After Hours’ on the well worn village piano before calling on Katherine to join him in a selection of songs by Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter and Ma Rainey. When she began to sing there was an amazing transformation with Katherine literally morphing before our eyes from a shy retiring great grandmother into a confident raucous performer. Ever theatrical she milked the lyrics for what they were worth. If you ever wondered why anybody would sing about ‘getting their man to stir the sugar in their sugar bowl’ rather than in a coffee cup then Katherine was ready to oblige with the answer. Highlights from this section included ‘Wild About That Thing’, ‘Backwater Blues’, ‘Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out’, and the crème de la resistance ‘You Can’t Tell The Difference After Dark’.
The following two sets were sung with a modern jazz quartet consisting of Jo Fooks on saxophone; Ted Beamont on piano; Alan Morgan on bass and guitarist Dave Thomas this collective worked like a dream. Their set began with an excellent instrumental before Jo called on Katherine to join them. Thankfully they somehow managed to make the hoary old number ‘Saints Go Marching In’ acceptable. But it was when Dave Thomas and Jo Fooks attacked that old mainstay ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ that Katherine and the band really gelled. With ‘In The Dark’ the band hit a high showing us that they could support Katherine with finesse and style. Jo’s solo was beautifully constructed and Ted Beamont’s superb contribution had Katherine calling for an ‘Oh Yeah’ from the audience. The third set was more of the same with highlights being a wonderful ‘All Of Me’ an interesting ‘Don’t Make Your Move Too Soon’, and a magnificent ‘Fever’, with Alan Morgan and Dave Thomas’s duet was just the ticket.
I had never heard of Katherine Davis before this evening and was intent on going to Stamford because Castor’s show had the jazz tag and the 20’s slant. Thank heaven that I had a prior appointment for Friday and made the last minute decision to give Castor a chance. The coupling of diverse styles was inspirational; I might even give a jazz club a visit!
By Yvonne Smith
Blues in Britain #95
Keith ‘Bluesman’ Little
Saturday 20th June 2009
Track taken from concert: "A Mother's Love"
Keith Little was the latest of a long line of Afro-American artists that have flown in from the States to play in Shakedown’s ongoing ‘live @ The Village Hall, Castor’ series of concerts. As usual the audience was drawn from committed blues aficianoes from far afield together with locals who were intrigued by promoter Gerard Homan’s enthusiastic endorsement of this songwriter with a rich baritone voice at Doug Macleod’s recent Shakedown concert in the village.
Keith, born in the city of Cincinnati, was raised in Georgiana, Alabama and weaned on gospel music in the local Baptist church and it was here that his father led the church quartet. On the sidelines his uncle, the famous pianist Big Joe Duskin readily took Keith down the path that led into the world of the blues. For most of his life Keith has switched regularly between playing and singing with gospel and blues bands, recording a number of CD’s in both traditions. On the Gospel side he famously replaced Bootsy Collins in the original Christianaires and he was taught to play the blues by the elders on the local scene, befriending and performing with Albert Washington, H Bomb Ferguson, Big Ed Thomas, Roosevelt Lee and Pigmeat Jarrett.
Dave Thomas (who played out of his mind during the whole evening) and his band had gigged with Keith the night before in Suffolk and were by now reasonably comfortable with Keith’s repertoire of mainly autobiographical songs. Brilliant smooth soulful ballads were peppered with groove heavy dance numbers together with the odd cover, all chosen to keep the atmosphere electric to the delight of the audience. This was soul blues at its finest.
Highlights of evening included ‘Copper Tops’, a sly salacious ballad; ‘Day Ain’t Over Yet’, with the tremendous lyrics and a great Hooker-ish groove that the band locked into; ‘You Left Me On The Highway’, which had a perfectly crafted piano solo by James Goodwin and the brilliant ‘I Think You Lost Me’, where everything came together.
A quick mention for the other members of the band who made the evening so enjoyable - Nick Mallet on bass and Rusty Floyd on drums.
Blues in Britain # 92
Photographs by Duncan Vessey
Doug MacLeod (5)
Video: My Good Girl Blues
Track: "I Sure Know The Blues"
Live at St. Kyneburgha Church,
Thursday 11th June 2009
Doug, as ever, was wonderfully relaxed as he mingled with the Shakedown audience before the concert in the beautiful St. Kyneburgha Church in Castor. The evening was warm and sunny and began with the light streaming through the stain glass windows giving the evening a magical feel.
This was his fifth visit to Shakedown and for once, he had no new songs to sing and no CD’s to sell. This gave him the freedom to give us a wonderful overview of his career so far and to come up with new anecdotes from the early days – the one from his days playing bass with Big Mama Thornton was particularly entertaining and enlightening. His musical repertoire ranged from his first recording ‘Long Black Train’ through to ‘I Respectfully Decline’ from his last album, all played with the finesse and panache that we have come to expect from him. The church acoustics add that certain something to the experience and the beautiful surroundings always bring the best out of the Shakedown artists that have appeared here.
The finest performance of the evening has to be ‘This Old River’. This was a song that many in the audience could empathise with. As the piece came to a close, with its heartbreakingly slow shimmering slide guitar, it was so full of sadness that there was hardly a dry eye in the house. This is what Shakedown is all about.
Live at The Village Hall,
Saturday 23rd May 2009
Live at Grantham Arts Centre
Friday 22nd May 2009
Track taken from concert: "Hideaway"
Johnny Jones was born in Backward Eaves in Tennessee and lived through the harsh and infamous Jim Crow Era of sharecropping during his early life. He heard his first blues in the Club Handy on Beale Street and when he moved to Chicago he met, played with, and was influenced by Freddie King, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers and more particularly Fenton Robinson whose understated style can be heard in Johnny’s playing today. Returning south to Nashville he became a musical director of Gatemouth Brown’s Band on the TV series ‘The Beat’ and also worked on ‘Night Train’ the other Nashville TV series. This then led him to Jeff Beck’s Band, which worked for Ted Garrett’s Record Empire, and later spent a number of years on the road with Bobby Bland.
I had heard and collected his singles and CD’s but had never seen him live and had been told that he no longer wished to fly. Thankfully his young friend Doc Blakey persuaded Johnny that flying to England and appearing at the village hall in Castor for Shakedown was an experience not to be missed and suddenly here he was.
The hot Saturday night gig started with Harry Lamb’s aggregate warming up with a couple of jump numbers that impressed. After an animated ‘Nadine’ Johnny strode on to the stage wearing a smart suit and hat, strapped on his big red guitar and drove into an incendiary version of ‘Hideaway’, which was a textbook example of how to play Freddie King without playing like Freddie. This lit the fire that cooked the musical tapas that was served up during the evening. From his own ‘Blues in the House’ to the Beatles ‘Come Together’ he constantly surprised with his choice of numbers and his guitar work was always rhythmic, inventive and relevant. Quite a few of the numbers were prefaced by intros that were spellbinding as he appeared to search for inspiration hunched over his guitar, grunting, clicking his tongue or talking to himself whilst ‘taking his time’ before counting the band in with a ‘one, two, three’. The band had played with Johnny a few years ago in Paris and it showed.
Harry and the band had no trouble following Johnny and particular mention should be made of Al ‘Voodoo’ Chapin for his piano solos.
Because of the extremely high standard of the evening it is hard to pick out highlights, but if I had to choose then the perfect, ‘Chip Off The Old Block’ with its brilliant intro, the autobiographical ‘I Was Raised On The Blues’, the strange ‘Shave That Monkey Clean’ and absolutely perfect ‘Gipsy Woman Told Me’ – all from the third set - were 7* performances
Blues in Britain #92
Louisiana Red and Michael Messer
Thursday 30th April 2009
Track taken from gig: "Mother Spivey"
A good crowd came to The Village Hall Castor to hear the 72 year old Louisiana Red and his ‘side-kick for the tour’ Michael Messer ruminating musically about Red’s life. Red’s vocals are still strong and if he is not quite the force guitar wise as he once was then Michael’s contribution more that made up for this.
The repertoire ranged from Red’s early Chess recordings through to his latest CD. There was a preponderance of early material, which was just fine for the knowledgeable beer drinking Shakedown crowd. However, two of the highlights of the evening were ‘new to me’ songs ‘Build Me A Leaky Old Canoe’ and ‘At The Zanzibar’ that were played with great verve and panache.
Michael opened up the proceedings with an excellent ‘Rollin & Tumblin’ and then introduced Red who received a warm welcome from the crowd. Red began his set with his big 1962 hit record on Roulette ‘Red’s Dream’ which sounds fine but needs updating. During the remainder of the first half we were served up with amongst others ‘I’ve Been Locked Up So Long’ which was dedicated to Johnny Shines, ‘Can’t Be Satisfied’ with lovely slide guitar and more than a nod to Muddy and a beautiful introspective tribute to Victoria ‘Mother Spivey’, who treated Red as her own son, which was first recorded in 1980 by L&R Records in Germany.
The second set began with an excellent version of ‘Stella’ from the 1982 Earwig CD and just seemed to get better and better so that by the time he hit the Chess 1952 recording ‘Funeral Hearse At My Door’ the two of them seemed to have moved into top gear with Red insisting on giving us the ending that Chess missed due to the tape running out! ‘Devils Daughter’, first heard on the Polish Polton CD, followed with great interplay between the two artists and the evening hit the top spot with the last number ‘It Hurts Me Too’ with Red’s heartfelt vocals and superb slide by Michael on Elmore’s classic – What a great way to end the show
by Dr R.C Blues in Britain #92
Photographs by Duncan Vessay
Ken Major summed up the evening in a ‘round robin’ email by saying that ‘When a pin was dropped, six rows behind me, a man, six rows ahead, said Hush!’ I couldn’t put it better myself.
Mud Morganfield aka Muddy Waters Jnr (2)
Saturday 21st March 2009
Track from concert: "Young Fashioned Ways"
What a difference sixteen months and a name change makes. Out goes the jovial chuckling Muddy Waters Jnr and in comes Mud Morganfield a swaggering confident and sometime menacing top-drawer vocalist with a theatrical bend. Songs that have become hackneyed by over use in his hands, revert back into exciting and emotional powerhouses.
The repertoire is still based on that of his old man, but Mud is writing his own material, which is thankfully stuck in the 60’s groove. This time around Shakedown did allow Big Joe to organise a mini tour around their nights so by the time that Mud appeared in Castor the band needed no rehearsal time and were as tight as the proverbial duck.
Proceedings began fairly promptly at the new 7:30pm starting time and after a couple of numbers Mud looking snappy in one of his many travelling suits drove into’ I’m Ready’ to the delight of the audience. ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ followed and preceded one of the shows highlights ‘Honeybee’ - an excellent, sad slow song about the end of an affair. The remainder of the night Mud’s huge presence filled the stage with his voice coaxing the emotional content out of each set of lyrics whilst the audience gazed on in wonder - a truly outstanding performance. Other highlights peppered the show, during the three hours of playing, time included Mud’s savage autobiographical tale of false love ‘Satisfied’, the upbeat swing of ‘Corinna, Corinna’, the brilliant lazily sexual ‘King Bee’, the terrifying machismo of ‘Mannish Boy’ and the exuberant almost violent ‘Mo-Jo Working’ - that reminded me of the first time I heard the song 46 years ago!
Throughout the evening Big Joe and his Blues Kings played brilliantly. Soloist Wes Weston on harmonica amazes every time I hear him, always inventive and never getting in the way whilst Shakedown newcomer pianist Eric Ranzoni rumbled and boogied all night and with him the Castor audience’s predilection towards pianists was abundantly satisfied. The power house of Peter Greatorex and Matt Radford was exemplary as ever with Peter perhaps more animated than usual and Matt never missing a note whilst ‘sleeping on the job’. As for Joe, when Mud is on the stand he remains in the background, tastefully playing just enough to drive the grooves on without ever being invasive. I suspect that the evening would have been considerably poorer without him
Village Hall, Castor, 21st March
From the outside, the hall in this village near Peterborough doesn’t look anything out of the ordinary. But step inside and on the walls you’ll see, instead of the expected council notices and old pictures of the Women’s Institute, massively blown –up colour photos of blues singers and musicians.
Promoter Gerard Homan has performed a near-miracle in turning this unassuming Victorian building into the epicenter of live blues in Britain. Some of the artists whom he has presented have been totally obscure, others have been well known; tonight’s star was well known by association.
The man born Larry Williams is one of Muddy Waters’ less official offspring; he has performed as ‘Muddy Waters Jr’ but for some reason, possibly connected with an American law firm, he appears these days as Mud Morganfield.
After a brief warm-up set by the stalwart Big Joe Louis Band, highlighted by ‘Saddle My Pony’ played like ‘Mystery Train’, the burly Mud strode onstage and proceeded to justify Gerard’s claim that he looks and sounds like his father. Appropriately he kicked off with ‘I’m Ready’ followed by a stomping ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ and a deep-down ‘Honey Bee’ in which Big Joe took a typically telling solo.
The pattern for the three-set show was established: Mud, leaning on rather than sitting on a stool, didn’t move around much, but nevertheless exuded a commanding stage presence (ah, it runs in the family, then) as he went through his fathers songbook interspersed with the occasional original composition.
His rich voice was especially effective on the slower blues numbers, notably a heavy version of ’40 Days 40 Nights’, though he tore aggressively through more up-tempo tunes, notably the rocking shuffle ‘Caldonia’ which ended the second set; at least its chorus did, as Mud did not know the verses and relied on the Italian pianist (who became steadily more dynamic after a shaky start to the evening) to fill in.
The third set followed a similar pattern, with a succession of well-loved songs well performed. There was a momentary disruption during ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ during which, despite having taken only soft drinks all evening, Mud almost fell off his stool, but by the time he reached his finale with the inevitable and loudly-acclaimed ‘Got My Mojo Working’ the capacity audience had enjoyed a highly satisfying evening.
Mud Morganfield is far more than just a tribute act as this writer, who saw Muddy Waters on stage a couple of times, can attest, he evokes the spirit of the great man quite uncannily.
Blues & Rhythm Magazine
Kathleen 'Kat' Pearson-Thomas (1)
Saturday 28th February 2009
Track taken from show: "Why Did You Have To Say You Loved Me"
Kathleen 'Kat' Pearson-Thomas was born some 40 years ago in Longbeach, California and sang with the local church choir by the time she could stand. Her parents had a liking for gospel music, blues, soul and parties. Kat soon became the house DJ spinning the latest records for family and neighbours to dance to.
She moved to London in her twenties where she slotted easily into the rock scene with ‘Black Girl Rock’ who appeared on The Word, recorded a single on D-Ream and toured the UK, Belgium, Russia and Italy before disbanding. She then joined Comanchee Park and after a hit single and two years touring ended up at the Montreux Jazz Festival before they also disbanded.
Unfazed this ‘can do’ woman became a successful photo model, actress, dancer and bass player – appearing in these various guises on Top of The Pops, TFI Friday, The Jonathan Ross Show etc etc. Eventually she re-located to Spain hooked up with a Spanish blues band and washed up with them at the Mijas Blues Festival last year. Shakedown’s blues promoter happened to be in the audience and heard Kat struggle through her set with a band and material that was going nowhere. As Gerard related to the audience in Castor ‘the next act Peaches Staton suffered a similar fate but ended her set with a Bettye Wright number during which she called Kat to help out. Half way through the two ladies went back to church with a call and response segment that was riveting’. He picked up a business card and asked Kat if she would like to perform an evening of gospel based soul blues at the Village Hall in Castor and ‘Can do’ was the reply. Dave Thomas was then invited to put together a band for an evening of music, which was somewhat out of his comfort zone. Dave ‘can-do-too’ Thomas agreed.
Six months and two rehearsals later it was interesting to hear Kathleen and the band ease themselves into the ‘still getting to know you’ first set with a slinky swing number, ‘You Never Said You Loved Me (When You Lay Across my Big Brass Bed) into ‘Ray’s ‘Lonely Avenue’ through Bettye Wrights ‘Clean-up Woman’ and humorously managing to ‘wing’ the beautiful ‘Start All Over Again’ before their collective nerves allowed them to tackle Etta’s ‘Damn Your Eyes’ with Kathleen spitting nails at whoever had taken her breath away.
When Kathleen came to the stage for the second set the band was tight, cooking and brimming with confidence and the evening exploded with a superb take on Aretha’s version of ‘The Weight’ and from then on there was no stopping Kathleen or the band. Highlights of the evening included a vicious ‘Breaking Up Someone’s Home’ a spine tingling ‘I’ll Take Care of You’ and two phenomenally angry guitar solos by Dave in ‘The Thrill is Gone’.
Kathleen is a beautiful woman with a sweet temperament and a lovely voice eminently suitable to singing gospel based soul-blues music. She was visibly moved by the audience’s enthusiastic response and shed a tear when the flowers appeared. Gerard promised to bring her back soon.
Dr R C (Juke Blues Magazine#67)
Photographs by Duncan Vessey/Doreen Aitken
Terry 'Harmonica' Bean (2)
Friday 30th January 2009
Live at St Kyneburgha Church
Saturday 31st January 2009
Track "Peeping and Hiding" taken live from The Stamford Arts Centre gig
A decent crowd braved the coldest night of the winter to hear Terry play in this beautiful Saxon Church, which lies fifteen minutes away from Peterborough. This was his second visit to Shakedown but his first as a ‘one-man band’ performer. He possesses an excellent voice, plays superb harmonica and is no slouch as a highly rhythmic guitar player. When he plays both instruments together – harp fixed on a rack around his neck – the sound is something to hear and behold.
The evening began with recollections of his father, Eddie Bean’s legendary weekend blues parties. How neighbours would gather to play craps, drink his grandfather Rush Bean’s moonshine and dance to the Bean family, (including grandfather Rossetta Johnson), playing the ‘hits of the day’ hill country style. Terry having soaked up this tradition unconsciously in his youth, treated us with superb driving ‘hill’ versions of ‘I’m a Blues Man’, ‘Catfish’, ‘I’m Ready’, and ‘Boogie Children’ often stamping his feet Hooker style for that extra push.
Guitarist Dave Thomas, whose band had so ably backed Terry in an evening of brilliant electric harmonica blues the night before at The Stamford Arts Centre, was called out of the audience by Terry to play acoustic and fill out ‘the band’. This he did with great style and panache slotting right in from the ‘get up and go’, never getting in the way and enjoying the ride almost as much as the audience did.
Unfortunately St Kyneburgha’s heating crashed halfway through the second set and the third bonus set was abandoned before frostbite set in. Thankfully, this concert, the Stamford gig and a couple of hours worth of studio recordings were all in the can - all of which will be released eventually; so we all have something to look forward to.
Highlights of this evening included a lovely ‘Whose Gonna Be Your Sweet Man’ an excellent ‘Kind Hearted Woman’ a storming ‘Back Door Man’ and a brilliant ‘Rock Me Baby’, which somehow morphed into ‘King Bee’. The audience did all leave St. Kyneburgha’s with smiles on their faces and memories of a wonderful evening.
Dr R C (Juke Blues #67)
Live at The Village Hall,
Saturday 13th December 2008
Track taken from concert: "Let It Rain & Then Some"
I have long been an admirer of the music of David Dee Eckford, and the opportunity to see him in the UK in Gerard Homan’s lovely intimate setting was too good to miss. Little did I know just how memorable this gig was going to be.
David Dee is now 70 years old, but when he steps on stage the years fall away. Welding a Flying-V equipped with a radio mic., he struts the stage with the energy of a young man, dipping and thrusting his guitar, walking the crowd, and even taking a seat in the front row whilst continuing to play. What is most striking, however, is the sheer emotional outpouring in his voice, reflected in agonising facial contortions, a sense of a man living out every lyric.
He performed three sets (totalling just short of three hours!), and exhibited three changes of stage clothes. The Elmore-like ‘Blues Jam’ got things under way and Dee mixed his own songs (‘Just The Two Of Us’, ‘Working Man Blues ‘the inevitable ‘Goin’ Fishing’) with a range of covers of blues and soul classics. He has a knack of switching songs midway, keeping his audience alert to the subtle changes. ‘How Blue Can You Get’ segued neatly into ‘Its My Own Fault’ and then surprisingly, into ‘The Sky Is Crying’. Similarly, ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ became almost imperceptibly, Clarence Carter’s ‘Slip Away’. Clearly Sam Cooke is a favourite of his and amongst the many Cooke songs delivered, his version of ‘Bring It On Home’ was particularly pleasing. As the evening wore on, the covers became more familiar to the uninitiated, culminating in a sing-along version of Dobie Gray’s ‘Drift Away’.
Special mention must go to the Dave Thomas Band, who provided admirable support, a difficult task, as Dee’s material certainly doesn’t conform to a standard 12-bar format. The presence of Dee’s guitarist and musical director, the flamboyant John Higgerson, was a contributing factor in helping the music flow flawlessly.
To sum up, this was a wonderful, rewarding evening, in the presence of a master craftsman, which left us emotionally drained and on a high that only an exquisite live performance can achieve.
Taken from Juke Blues Issue No. 67
By Alan Empson (with shouts of encouragement from Tony Collins, Richard Tapp and Dave Williams)
Elmore James Jnr with The Big Joe Louis Band
Live at The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough – Sat 29th November 2008
Dust My Broom
Track taken from concert: "Please Set A Date"
Elmore James Jnr is a fine laid-back down-home bluesman steeped in the tradition of an earlier generation. He was superbly accompanied at both gigs by The Big Joe Louis Band who appear to eat and drink this music on a daily basis. Elmore, for his part, possesses a wonderfully expressive voice and plays a simplistic slide guitar style that is the antithesis of today’s ‘in your face’ rock blues guitarists. The respect and empathy between Elmore and the band was obvious and immediate as was confirmed by the Friday night five-minute standing ovation half way through the first set – despite having no more than forty minutes of rehearsal time.
The format for each set was similar and consisted of Joe taking the first couple of numbers. He then handed over the mike to Elmore who then sang three or four songs before strapping on his guitar and ‘sliding’ gently for the rest of the set. His repertoire was made up of some originals, a number of his daddy’s hits, plus a few choice down-home classics. The form was always 12bar, the key was generally the same and the tempo seldom moved faster than a slow trot. Joe Louis on guitar, Wes Weston on harmonica and James Goodwin on piano revelled in the freedom that this formula gave. On numerous occasions over the two nights the fills, solos and ensemble work were truly inspirational. These were indeed master classes in understated down-home blues.
Highlights in Stamford included the excellent ‘Greenwood Mississippi Line’, a lovely ‘Dust My Broom’ a brilliant personalised version of Jimmy Rodgers song of lost love ‘That’s All Right’ and Wes Weston’s fantastic chromatic harmonica solo that brought the house down. (Sorry I can’t remember the song). Castor’s highlights were Joe’s excellent rocking ‘She Said Yes, I Said No’, James Goodwin’s boogie with the band, ‘Cummins Prison Farm’, Junior’s own ‘Ida Mae’ and a cracking version of ‘Steppin' With Elmore’
These were two delightful evenings of no-frills down-home blues. I am currently listening to the Castor tapes for the third time and I am still surprised by just how magnificent the interplay between Elmore and the band was.
Tommy 'Weepin & Cryin' Brown & The Catfish Kings
Friday 24th October 2008
Live at The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough
Saturday 25th October 2008
Video: Honky Tonk
Video: Remember Me
Video: Love Of Mine
Track taken from gig "Remember Me/Night and Day"
Harry Lang’s Mo’ Indigo have accompanied many visiting American rhythm and blues artists over the years but the band has recently undergone a change in both name and personnel. The have opted to perform a somewhat earlier form of the music but they still remain a very professional good-time outfit. At Stamford they were joined by a sax due to provide support for the wonderful Tommy Brown.
The man is now 77 years of age but still dances like a youngster with a voice to match. His two sets included plenty of his well known jump blues classics such as ‘Women and Cadillac’s’ and ‘Atlanta Boogie’ plus a New Orleans-tinged ‘Tra La La’ but his slow numbers were just as good. He sang a fine version of ‘Chains of Love’ with strong support from the band and his terrific ‘Blues At Midnight’ was particularly impressive. He reminded us of his days with Bill Doggett with a vocal version of ‘Honky Tonk’ and sprinkled some successful jokes between numbers. He even included his famous one-legged golfer tumble.
By the time he reached his ‘Weepin’ and Cryin’ finale the audience were his to hold and they certainly showed their appreciation. Younger aspirants could watch and learn a lot from this artist for he is a class act indeed.
Juke Blues # 66
Live at The Village Hall, Castor
Saturday 25th October 2008
78 year old Tommy Brown from Atlanta, Georgia, with two 50’s billboard hits under his belt and a 72 year professional history as a dancer, singer, drummer and comedian performing in The Village Hall at Castor! You wouldn’t have believed it in your wildest dreams – yet here he was singing, dancing, prat-falling and telling jokes whilst cajoling the Catfish Kings to wail and blast behind him. The band were more that happy to oblige with pianist Big Al stomping ‘Atlanta Boogie’, ‘House By The Railroad Tracks’, and numerous high energy tracks almost to death whilst tenor player Geoff Hearne and baritone player Small Sarah roared behind him. The remainder of this excellent band consisted of Dick Middleton, guitar; Kingsnake Roberts. Bass; Tony Gill, drums; and bandleader Harry Lang on rhythm guitar who all worked their socks off. Tommy sang mainly his own back catalogue but ‘Chains of Love’ was an exception and a beautiful version of the old Joe Turner hit. ‘Weepin & Cryin’ ended the night on a high note and the exhausted audience wended their way back home with a smile on their face. Three hours of heavenly bliss.
Travis Haddix (3)
Live at The Village Hall, Castor
Saturday 27th September 2008
Video: Chicago Blues Festival 2009
Track taken from gig "Word of a Lie"
It was a real pleasure to see this Ohio based singer and guitarist in the UK with the added bonus of his full five piece horn heavy band. Thanks go to Gerard Homan for bringing this crew to the country, and I expect that Travis and Gerard must have been very pleased by the capacity crowd turnout.
It is quite remarkable that over the past few years Gerard has turned this village hall into a hotbed of a venue where you can hear and see some of the finest, in the main African/American, blues acts on the modern regional blues scene. This during a period when you are hard pressed to find quality USA blues acts in any venues in the UK.
From the outset it was clear that this was going to be a great evening’s worth of music, with Travis and band on top form throughout their three sets. Travis is a truly gifted guitar player of the mellow kind. Having his band with him, who know his every move and who can build a number to the max with pinpoint precision and with the two horn players adding to the dynamics of each song, made the whole evening a consummate blues experience.
The only remaining question is why is this artist, who is also a gifted songwriter, is not better know that he is? Stage choreography from Travis and band, and them wearing matching suits etc, all added to the atmosphere.
Pretty much all-original material from the crew was also an added bonus as was Travis’ long time musical director, trumpet player and song arranger Jeff Hager’s flamboyant stage presence. When Travis gets into those beautifully executed slow soulful blues numbers, where the brass do all the things they should do, he is at his best. There were lots of such numbers during the evening, including ‘Winners Never Quit’, ‘I’ve Got A Secret’, Latimore’s classic ‘Let’s Straighten It Out’, ‘Backwood Baby’ and Staghorn Street’.
He finished off each set with ‘Two Heads Are Better Than One’, which became more risqué as the evening progressed. For variety, funk was also heard at times during the sets.
Special mention should be made of the subtle frills during the numbers from piano player Gill Zachary who took some walloping solos of his own. Great evening, great venue, great music, great organisation and come back soon Travis. And it was good to see some young faces in the audience who were clearly enthralled by the music.
By Mike Stephenson
Blues & Rhythm
George 'Mo-Jo' Buford
Track: 'MoJo Woman'
Live at The Village Hall,
Friday 25th April 2008
Mo Jo Buford has long been a favourite of mine and his recording on ‘Oddball’ labels in Minneapolis are a delight for the collector. So when I was offered George by the tireless Pete Evans of Hooker Blues fame there seemed to be no reason to say no. The band line-up for the night consisted of the very pleasant manager Doug McMinn from the States, on drums, the affable Chris Lomas, on bass with Tommy Allen, from the rock group Traffiker, as bandleader and guitarist.
Tommy and the band kicked of the gig with a warm up set that pinned back our ears. A couple of numbers later we began to realise that we were possibly listening to the next great British blues guitarist. Announcing the 80 year old to the audience with a ‘boys and girls let’s bring on the stage …’ he launched Mo Jo into a set of Muddy Waters’ numbers that throughout the following two and a half hours featured numerous lengthy guitar solos in an amazing array of styles. Some, like the first version of ‘Mo Jo Workin’ played T-Bone Walker style, did make me wonder ‘why’ but hey if we couldn’t hear the old mans harmonica I guess a bit of inventive guitar playing is better than nothing. Tommy ever considerate of George’s age stepped forward to sing-a-long with the second version of Mo Jo Workin’ towards the end of the evening.
As for Mo Jo, he did play harmonica, he did sing and he did sign our CD’s and records. Perhaps that was enough for him. For the rest of us it would have been nice to have heard him play and sing some of his own back catalogue.
Doug MacLeod (4)
Saturday 12th April 2008
Track: "Still Some Smoke"
Taken from CD Stomp Records 9004440
Doug as always put his heart and soul into the performance and engaged the audience with his easy almost folksy manner. Tales of the road were blended with his totally self-penned repertoire and are integral to the performance. This time around he brought with him his latest album ‘The Utrecht Sessions’ on Black & Tan. Its content is far more introverted than usual and as he had built the evening around the album the atmosphere at times held a melancholy air. Highlights were ‘This Ole River’ which is about the death of a friend ended with Doug and many in the audience in tears and ‘I Respectfully Decline’ had me shed a tear without having the faintest clue what it was about. Thankfully the evening ended with Doug’s ‘Barnyard Blues’, which sent us all home with a smile on our faces. Doug sold a truckload of his latest CD. A masterful performance.
Boo Boo Davis
Live at The Village Hall,
Saturday 15th March 2008
Track "Who Stole The Booty" Black & Tan Records
A brief UK tour saw Boo Boo Davis make a stop at Castor’s Village Hall, for a Shakedown gig. The diminutive harmonica player is a seasoned performer with a pleasing personality but he spent the majority of the evening sitting on an amplified case to one side of the stage. So despite wearing a purple suit and white bowler hat he was only partly visible to a portion of the audience, which did not overly help his cause. Neither did the absence of a bass player in the ‘band’. Crossroads boss Jan Mittendorp is a very good accompanying guitarist but only having a drummer to provide the rhythm the spectrum of his playing was severely limited. So much so he only took one solo in the first two sets and left all the instrumental work to Davis.
Boo Boo’s vocals, which are sometimes rendered in the adopted manner of Howlin’ Wolf, are not very clear at the best of times and with them often obscured by the bass-orientated guitar amplification (some of the time linked into the PA system) it was impossible to pick up any of the lyrics. This was a real pity for Davis performs a high proportion of original songs, albeit in a somewhat derivative mode, and the only number I could readily identify was ‘Headache’ which proved to be somewhat ironic. Despite this there were many present who were happy enough to forego what his blues might have had to say. They just enjoyed the ‘sound’ and feel of the music and clearly had a terrific time for it was all solid juke joint fare rendered and received with much enthusiasm. Personally I was disappointed as his recordings had led me to hope for something more. However, I understand that the third and final set was ‘great head banging blues’ but unfortunately by then my head had been banged enough.
Juke Blues # 65
Track: "Bend A Little My Way Baby"
Live at The Village Hall,
Saturday 16th February 2008
Shorty Billups is justly proud of the fact that he has never had to work outside of the music business since he was 16. His first record was a regional hit in New York and boasted King Curtis, Eric Bibb and Don Garner as the backing band. From the mid ‘50’s he and his brother Eddie, a keyboard player and songwriter, ran a band with Shorty holding down the singing and drum roles. During this period he recorded and released a dozen singles, which neatly reflect the changing tastes in African American music. When times were slow he easily found work drumming for likes of Rufus & Carla Thomas, Erma and Carolyn Franklin, Little Richard, Freddie Scott, Bill Doggett and Z.Z. Hill.
In the 70’s he came over to England as Oscar Toney’s drummer, but this night was his first time in the UK as a’ headliner’ and he chose to concentrate on singing and not to play drums. A play list was put together by Shorty to try to do justice to his 50-odd years in show business and it ranged from crowd-pleasing versions of his late friend Larry Williams’ R&R hit ‘Hoochie Coo’ to a fine rendition of the ‘80’s soul-blues classic ‘Steppin Out’. Throughout the three sets Shorty strutted his stuff on stage, clowning, dancing and engaging with the audience in a manner reminiscent of his old boss Rufus Thomas. Meanwhile, Dave Thomas’s Band had obviously done their homework and coped marvellously with the various changes in style and sudden deviations from the original play list.
We were treated to a fine version of Shorty’s original ‘Bend A Little’ – a ‘Kiddio’ derivative – and, surprisingly, an excellent take on Eddie Boyd’s ‘Five Long Years’. Our hearts sank when Shorty called for ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ but Dave’s lovely slide guitar, Jamie Goodwin’s outstanding piano and Laurie A’ Court’s sax managed to resuscitate this mouldy old corpse. Highlights of the evening were ‘Heavy Women Excite Me’, ‘Making A Fool’ and Johnny Copeland’s ‘Rain’.
During the rehearsal Shorty spent 30 minutes working the band into ‘Drown In My Own Tears’ and delighted us with tremendously exciting sanctified singing before unfortunately abandoning the song due to lack of rehearsal time. If this had been on the original play list it would undoubtedly have brought the house down. Maybe next time.
The JB Team
Juke Blues # 65
Shorty Billups with The Dave Thomas Band
Shakedown Blues Live @ The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough
Saturday 16th February 2008
Shor’ty Billups was born in, Mass; February 1st 1941. In the late 50’s he cut his first record ‘Boss Chick’ for Fine Records when he handled piano and vocals alongside an all-star line-up including King Curtis, Eric Gayles and Don Garner. After this he switched instruments and quickly became very proficient as a drummer and toured with many R&B artists including Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Etta James, Wilson Pickett and Bill Doggett.
Gerard Homan, the fanatical blues promoter behind Shakedown Blues, managed to persuade Shor’ty to fly to the UK for this one off gig. The Dave Thomas Band was given the job of backing Shorty after Gerard had heard them with Joe Jonas at Joe’s Shakedown gig last October. At this point it is worth noting that visitors to Shakedown’s live blues sessions, at The Village Hall in Castor, are usually presented with nights that have an inbuilt tension due to the lack of rehearsal time. The band and the headliners will have only met just hours beforehand and sometimes even the band members have never met before. This has the effect of all the musicians on stage working constantly on the edge; which creates a very exciting nervous energy that spills over into the audience. This manic formula should be a recipe for disaster but only adds spice to the evenings. This concert was no exception.
Dave Thomas opened up the first set in fine style, singing a clutch of Otis Spann numbers with the supremely talented James Goodwin on upright piano. There followed an equally excellent full band jazzy version of the sophisticated ‘Direct South’ with Thomas strapping on the Fender and Goodwin switching to electric piano.
Then, with an instrumental build up, Shorty Billups took to the stage to sing ‘Funky Broadway’ resplendent in sharp suit, white homburg and snakeskin shoes. From then on the evening was his. Possessing a great voice, a huge personality and natural showmanship he worked the audience in true Southern Chitlin Circuit style. He launched into a melange of songs from his own back catalogue and a rocking selection of familiar favourites. When Shorty sang ‘Heavy Women’ in a rolling groove he had the audience in the palm of his hand as he expounded his theory that heavy women give you shade in the summer and retained more heat in the winter! Later Shorty sang a wonderful version of Eddie Boyd’s ‘Five Long Years’ and you could sense his disbelief that any woman would ‘have the nerve to throw Shorty out’. Johnny Copeland’s ‘Rain’ was a superb soul blues rendition and Larry William’s ‘Hootchie Coo’ is the best version, bar none, that I have ever heard.
There was much more but the beer and the excitement began to diminish my retentive powers. I do, however, remember Dave Thomas’s haunting slide guitar on Elmore’s ‘Sky Is Crying’, Shorty’s risqué dance lesson to ‘Walking The Dog’ and his many changes of costume. The band were magnificent throughout and coped famously with the odd additions to the programme with James Goodwin on piano, Stewart Aitken’s bass and crazed Argentinean drummer Carlos Parlato anchoring the band with a rock solid rhythm section whilst Dave Thomas on guitar and Laurie A’Court’s blistering tenor sax added the frills.
Another great night in Castor.
Emanuel Young and Howard Glazer
Track taken from gig: "Why You treat Me Like You Do"
Live at The Stamford Arts Centre,
Friday 18th January 2008
Opening the show Howard Glazer looked and sounded like a longhaired Dylanesque white blues approximation left over from the ‘60’s. He accompanied himself on amplified acoustic guitar for half a dozen self-composed numbers that were generously received by the capacity audience seated in the theatre. He eventually joined the excellent locally assembled five-piece band (which included two horns) and on came the main attraction Emanuel Young who immediately lifted the proceedings to a different level.
The 70-year-old Young was described as Detroit’s ‘best kept secret’ and the billing seemed most appropriate as he skilfully rendered a succession of well-known songs in a manner perfected by years of professional experience. His singing, like his beautifully clean and sparse guitar work, was immaculately timed for maximum impact and the excellent sound quality suited him perfectly. Although the impressive instrumental ‘Ride That Train’ was his only original number some of his very personal arrangements and unique renditions made familiar numbers like ‘I’m In The Mood’, ‘Back Door Man’ and the very funky reading of ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ seem completely fresh and new. ‘Steal Away’ was cleverly melded into ‘Sneakin’ Around’ and the injection of a verse of James Brown’s ‘Think’ into a great version of the McCracklin song of the same title was masterful. Everyone on stage clearly enjoyed themselves and it was a rare treat to witness a British audience actually enjoying the lyrics to the songs rather that just the instrumentation.
It was always going to be a very hard task for Shakedown to follow that sensational Mud Morganfield gig but Young and Co managed to fill that difficult slot in a more than satisfactory manner.
Juke Blues # 65
Live at The Village Hall,
Saturday 19th January 2008
The following night was more of the same with Howard starting the proceedings with a brilliant acoustic version of his self-penned ‘Broken Down Hotel Blues’ he then joined Tim Newcomb’s excellent version of Ma Grinders Blues Mission to back Emanuel on a string of covers that sounded as fresh as the day they had been written.
Throughout both Howard and Emanuel looked as though they were thoroughly enjoying themselves and the band meshed with them so tightly that you would have sworn that they had been playing together for years. Highlights included a raucous ‘Hound Dog’ an excellent ‘Back Door Man’ ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’ for the dancers and a medium tempo ‘… that Woman Don’t Want Me No More’. Great night from an unknown gem.
Mud Morganfield aka Muddy Waters Jnr (1)
Video: Walking Through The Park@Shakedown
Track taken from show: "I'm Ready"
Muddy Water’s Jr
The Village Hall, Castor, 8th December 2007
To an absolutely packed hall, Muddy Water’s Jnr backed by the Big Joe Louis Blues Band augmented by Pete Wingfield on piano, put on a tremendous performance. The man looks like the ‘main man’, his mannerisms mimic Muddy Sr and what’s more he sounds just like his daddy.
However, Larry Williams, to give him his real name, is more than a mere pastiche but a genuine artist who just happens to sound like the greatest bluesman in the world (probably). Some may take the view that this is pure opportunism but by all accounts he didn’t get much paternal support as a child so why shouldn’t he get his due while he can and entertain a whole lot of people along the way. In fact, as junior’s profile has risen, Muddy’s old management have stopped him using the Muddy Water’s Jr. moniker and henceforth Larry Williams is ‘Mud Morganfield’.
Except for three self-penned songs, all of the music in the three sets was from Muddy Waters’ songbook, mainly the middle to end period when Muddy would just sing and let the band guitarists take the strain. Mud does this also, although he does play bass but not on this night. The best of his original compositions was ‘Sugar Babe’ which had a distinct Excello feel to it. Another composition called ‘Satisfied’ was, Mud said, in answer to ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’ and ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’!
However, all the familiar songs – ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, ‘I’m Ready’, ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’, ‘Young Fashioned Ways’, - were aired along with some less familiar Muddy fare like –Corrina Corrina’ and ‘Caldonia’.
Of course, Big Joe’s Band, as always, were exceptionally good with Pete Wingfield playing the Spann/Pinetop part perfectly, Steve ‘Wes’ Weston, in brilliant Little Walter mode, Matt Radford, doing his Dixon best and Pete Greatorex perming any three Muddy drummers from the last fifty years. Joe himself played the Muddy/Jimmy Roger licks with consummate ease and also sang a couple of his own songs including the excellent ‘Big Fat Woman’.
Good as the band was, however, it was Mud’s singing that floored me and quite a few others judging from the rousing reception he got. The exclamatory opening line of ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights’ was uncanny; if I was ever to believe in reincarnation, tonight would be the night. Mud tore the place up with ‘Mannish Boy’ and had the whole crowd whoopin’ and hollerin’ in the right places. On ‘Same Thing’ and ‘Walkin’ Thru The Park’ he got Muddy’s original vocal tone and phrasing perfectly. ‘Honey Bee’ came complete with Big Joe’s buzzing slide, more in a smooth Robert Nighthawk fashion than Muddy’s starker style. Of course, Mud closed with the inevitable crowd-pleasing ‘Got My Mojo Working’ – what else could he do?
Mud Morganfield is a natural performer, at ease and full of fun with an infectious laugh and he seemed genuinely moved by the reception he got in this tiny village hall in the middle of England, far more he said, than he gets in the US. I hope he makes it back over here to be witnessed by much bigger audiences in the future. He deserves it.
Blues & Rhythm # 226
Louis Arzo 'Gearshifter' Youngblood (1)
3rd November 2007
Track taken from gig: "Bangin' On The Headboard"
This event was put on by Gerard Homan who is bringing US blues artists to the UK who are not well known and who are in need of greater recognition for their talents.
This time around Gerard excelled himself with the tremendous talent of singer/guitarist ‘Gearshifter’ Youngblood from Jackson, Mississippi, who offered the audience three long sets of solo acoustic blues music of the highest order.
Youngblood is not mired in the past although he does do some old time blues. He is a human jukebox, with an endless repertoire of songs, which he blends to create his own, very personal, musical sounds and direction. He mixes and matches his musical sources, a little bit of country, a little bit of rag, and a big slab of modern soul/blues music, all of which are transformed, and given a down home blues feel, by his unique acoustic style.
Possessing a powerful, emotional sounding and soulful voice and being a super guitarist add to his musical merits. The audience lapped up his music which included ‘Last Two Dollars’ and ‘Stop Dogging Me Around’, both big hits from the late Johnnie Taylor; Tyrone Davis’ ‘Banging The Headboard’; Little Milton’s ‘My Old Lady and His Lady Are The Same Lady’ and a stunning original ‘Soul Heaven’.
More conventional blues heard were ‘She’s Fine’, ‘Two Trains Running’, ‘Help Me’, ‘Dimples’ and ‘Sloppy Drunk’ where he made the strings on his guitar hum and resonate with his powerful playing.
The audience would not let him go. Now come on you European festival organisers – if you want to help the blues move on and offer your audience a startling solo act, look no further than this man.
Blues and Rhythm # 225
Lou Pride (2)
Live at The Stamford Arts Centre
Saturday 26th October 2007
Track: "You Were Never Mine"
I was away for Lou’s return visit but David Popple informed me that it was a similar set to his last visit which I guess means that it must have been a wonderful night.
Joe Jonas and The Whalers
Video: In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down
Live at The Village Hall,
Track: "Love Of Mine"
Taken from concert 'Live'
Saturday 6th October 2007
Terrific is the only way to describe this gig. Gerard Homan started his winter program in winning style with Joe Jonas, a wonderful harmonica-playing singer from Dallas. The Dave Thomas band with the excellent Jamie Goodwin on keyboards were brought in from East Anglia to play the part of Joe’s Whalers and they fulfilled the role with great taste and skill.
Joe played fine robust harmonica, chosen from the many in his monogrammed belt around his waist, on approximately half his numbers but it was his singing that impressed most of all. He has a wonderfully rich voice and really knows how to sell a song. His diverse repertoire included well-known uptempo standards such as ‘Yonders Wall’ through to his own first recording ‘Hustler’. He certainly wowed the audience with a beautiful version of ‘Members Only’ but he was at his very best when he delivered strong story line slow blues. His passionate version of ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business’ was matched by an outstanding rendition of ‘Open House At My House’, which drew a well-deserved ovation. The man has a huge stage presence and considerable credit must go to the band who provided the perfect support for this artist.
When considering the evening for this brief review I concluded that I had been fortunate to witness something rather special. The vast majority of the other lucky people attending appeared to be locals and I wondered where all the blues fans who bemoan the lack of visiting artists had got to? I would urge you all to view Joe’s YouTube Hustler video clip, which will show you what you missed and just how good he really is. I also thought that he and the band made an absolute mockery of what passes for main acts at so-called blues festivals in Britain where apparently money and ignorance must surely rule.
Juke Blues # 64
Live at The Stamford Arts Centre
Wednesday 12th September 2007
Track : "Rag Mama Rag"
Last featured by Shakedown in The Halcyon Peterborough on 31st March 1972. New York born and Florida based Roy Bookbinder’s show seems not to have changed one jot through the intervening years. His sly humour and story telling about figures like of Rev Gary Davis and Little Pink Anderson together with his tales of encounters whilst living on the road are woven into the songs that he sings. His repertoire still reflects a fascination of the blues of yesteryear e.g. ‘Rag Mama Rag’, ‘Candy Man’, and other Carolina classics. He writes in the same style as his beautiful ode to Gary Davis ‘Preacher Picked the Guitar’ attests. Other highlights included ‘Can’t Do That No More’, ‘Travelling Man’, and ‘Anywhere You Go’. One of a kind.
Rick Franklin and Michael Baytop
Track taken from gig: "Maggie Cambell Blues"
St Kyneburgha Church, Castor
8th August 2007
The beautiful backdrop of St Kyneburgha Church was perfect for this gentle concert of Carolina Blues. Rick and Michael had flown in from Washington for Michael Roach’s blues weekend and I booked them at the last minute after listening again to Ricks home made CD which was issued in 2006.
The evening began with ‘Baby Do You Think That’s Right’ and eventually worked through Carolina staples like ‘That Will Never Happen No More’, ‘Champagne Charlie’, ‘Police Came With A Ball and Chain’, ‘Travelin’ Man’, ‘Jailhouse Blues’, and then did a lovely version of Tommy Johnson’s ‘Maggie Cambell Blues’ and a fine ‘Rock Island Line’. Both artists played guitar with Michael also playing the ‘bones’ whilst they both took a share of the vocals.
If these artists come your way they are well worth a visit.
Big George Brock
The Stamford Arts Centre
23rd June 2007
Track: "No No Baby You Don't Need Your Husband Now" 'live'
Big George Brock
George Brock became high on my list of ‘must get over here’ ever since I was reminded of his excellent Vanity Label album when it was re-released on Willie Richardson’s ‘Tee Ti Label’. Unfortunately when I ‘phoned him I received the same negative response from George that Chess Records received in the ‘50’s when they wanted to record him ‘I’m too busy makin’ money down south’. Turning Chess down was truly a glaring mistake and I like to believe that if he had said yes to Shakedown we would have put together a more sympathetic band for his UK debut. On the other hand I suspect that George’s erratic timing probably needs a rehearsal time of a year or two to make the band ‘jump time’ at the same time as he does.
The evening started off with Bill Able showing us what he can do on a one string guitar which was entertaining but I did wonder why you would bother if you had a decent multiple stringed instrument. As for George he is a good singer and a limited harp player. He is big and flamboyant, noted for his colourful dress sense and a strange ‘witches covenant’ segment where he and the guitarist’s for some reason hunkered down whilst they carried on playing.
Now all this might seem a little down beat, but in reality I did enjoy the show which was based around his recent two excellent Cat Head CD’s. His own ‘Hard Times’ sticks in my mind as being poignant and effective, whilst Wolf’s ‘How Long’ and Little Walter's 'My Babe' rocked hypnotically.
To summarise this was an evening of down home blues by a practitioner of the old school and as such it was successful. I shall cherish my autographed CD’s and vinyl.
Little Willie Littlefield (2)
The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough
Saturday May 26th 2007
Track: "Its Midnight (No Place To Go)" available on Modern Recordings Ace 736
Recorded in 1949
Castor is a lovely village just outside of Peterborough and Gerard Homan has been hosting music nights there for quite a while. The village hall is decorated with posters of the many events he has put on. The side room has a barrel of local beer and there are bottles of wine and various Alco pops for sale. The air of expectation suggests that the audience is pretty used to the musical fare that is to come.
Willie Littlefield takes the stage at 8:15pm, looking good in a flash. He bounds up to the upright piano and attacks ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’ in honky-tonk style, with a rumbling bass from his left hand. He has that smoky style of singing voice that comes from Texas via many bars and dives. He is the real deal.
Off comes the jacket and one of his sharp, studded shoes. Keeping the rhythm going with his thumping, unshod foot, in contrast to his left hand tinkling the high notes, Willie breaks into ‘Sweet Home Chicago’. The set works through ‘Going Down Slow’, ‘C.C. Rider’, ‘Since I Met You Baby’, a Hank Williams number and a medley which runs from ‘The Blue Danube’ into boogie woogie, on to ‘Here Comes The Bride’, and finishes on ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ and back into boogie woogie. When Gerard steps forward to tell him it is time for a break, Willie introduces him as his son. A physical resemblance is slight but the emotional connection is there. A short burst of ‘Rocking Till The Break Of Day’, at a rollicking tempo, ends the set.
After a lengthy break, Dave Thomas took the stage. He picks up his acoustic Epiphone, with a pick-up on it, and tells of how he met harmonica player Wallace Coleman at a gig here in Castor. Wallace took to Dave and invited him to the States where they made an album together. While he was there, Dave met Robert Junior Lockwood, just before he died and attended the funeral and played at the wake.
Dave played and sang his way through a set of twelve numbers, starting with Lightning Hopkins’ ‘Hello Central’ and ending with ‘Talk To Your Daughter’. This included at least one original number called something like ‘All Loved Up’ and a variety of titles which showed Dave’s guitar skills and vocal talent.
After another interval, Willie stepped back up, starting with ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’ at a dancing pace. Off came the jacket again and he followed this up with slower number ‘Farewell’ and then a vigorous ‘Chicken Shack Boogie’, during which he thumped the keyboards with his arm, laughing his characteristic infectious laugh.
His version of ‘Georgia On My Mind’ has throwaway vocals and a showboating finish. Keeping up the mood, his ‘China Man Blues’ had Willie scatting rather than singing, whipping up a frantic boogie, then strumming the piano wires and picking at them pizzicato. He was laughing with pleasure.
Changes of pace came fast and furious; ‘You Look So Fine’ was fast, ‘Spanish Eyes’, which no one in the audience was brave enough to sing a long to, was sung Italian crooner style. His ‘Stormy Monday’ was very busy. ‘Blueberry Hill’ and Willie’s signature tune ‘Kansas City’ (‘KC Loving’), during which he used the toe of his shoe to tap the keyboard, finished the set.
Gerard stood up to announce the end of the evening, telling us a tale of Willie’s desire to fish. This lead to Willie’s playing ‘Going Fishing’, a chaotic boogie, to end the set.
Dave Thomas tells me that after everyone else had gone; Willie entertained the Shakedown staff to an extra set.
Blues in Britain.
Eddie Taylor Jnr
The Village Hall, Castor – 28th April 2007
Track: "I'm Wild About You Woman"
You might think that there is no reason to have the blues in these high tech days where all our creature comforts are supposedly taken care of. Well, consider for a moment Eddie Taylor Jr who flew from Chicago for two Shakedown gigs in Lincolnshire. His plane was delayed and he missed his transatlantic connection and eventually arrived in Birmingham several hours late and minus all his luggage, CDs and his reverend father’s precious guitar. (We are pleased to report that the guitar was found eventually and safely returned to Eddie).
Nevertheless, Eddie dressed in the casual clothes he travelled in and with a borrowed guitar, performed a masterclass of classic Chicago blues. He was backed by the very best musicians that Britain could provide for this kind of music. Namely the Big Joe Louis Trio with the brilliant Matt Empson (piano) and Wes Weston (harp) and the clock was turned back to the days when the Windy City Blues were at their peak. We were treated to three wonderful sets that were packed with classic songs rendered in a subtle, understated manner that we are now so seldom witness. Eddie has a delightfully laid back but crystal clear style of singing and playing which mirrors his famous father perfectly and among the treats was beautiful versions of ‘Big Town Playboy’ and ‘Looking For Trouble’. He did throw in a few less well known numbers such as Magic Sam’s ‘I Found A New Love’ and Hound Dog Taylor’s ‘Sadie’ but overall it was just a perfect illustration of what we all would hope traditional Chicago blues would sound like.
Doug MacLeod (3)
4th March 2007
Track: "My Black Pony"
Back to Stamford with Doug for an afternoon session in the grungy atmosphere of a venue usually associated with underage drinking, dancing and fornication. Thankfully our audience is still young enough to remember similar activities in this building but in a different bygone era when the twist was in its heyday. Ahh, memories are made of this.
Meanwhile, Doug is on stage dredging up his own memories of lost times, friends gone and the ladies of the night drifting through. He allowed his mind to wonder and took us on a journey to that other world of juke joints, whorehouses and sweaty climes and to a harsh time when blues was king and its mood cathartic. His stories drifted into songs and his guitar was always there to give them structure. The audience loved it all, smirked at ‘Still Some Smoke in this Old Stack’ and Eleanor was happy with her ‘Happy Birthday’. The rest of us can’t wait until next year.
10th February 2007
Track taken from concert: "Been Mistreated"
It’s an interesting thing that a small village hall in a nice little town has become one of the UK’s major blues venues. The efforts of promoter Gerard Homan and his Shakedown Blues company have succeeded in bringing in some very fine but little known blues artists over the past couple of years and this event drew a good crowd of over one hundred to make the gig a success for a bright young name on the blues scene, guitarist and singer Doc Blakey, out of Nashville.
Backed by a local six-piece band with brass, Blakey showed what a fine guitarist and singer he is. His guitar playing is economical and can be very intense at times, and his voice has a nice soulful rasp to it.
His lone CD release on Theodis Ealey’s Ifgam Records titled ‘The Blues Never Hurt So Good’ displayed a fine talent, which he confirmed on the night of the show. It took a couple of numbers into the first of three sets for Doc and the band to settle in but once they had, they took us on a voyage of some funky shuffles and some searing soulful mellow blues numbers, the likes of which Fenton Robinson would have been proud of.
We heard ‘Crosscut Saw’, ‘Don’t You Lie To Me’, ‘Let Me Love You Baby’, and ‘Blues Had A Baby’. It was on those slow mellow blues where Doc really got it going, exploring his fret board and displaying a restraint and subtleness in his playing which marks him out as a name for the future.
The crowd really appreciated the effort that Doc put into his playing and they gave him lots of encouragement, which clearly spurred him on. As his confidence grew he was off the stage and roaming around the audience while playing his guitar to the delight of us all. Watch out for his new CD on Ifgam and let’s hope his musical career turns upwards.
The blues world is in need of such excellent artists as Mr. Blakey. Great show and good venue, and within easy travelling distance for many, including those from London.
Blues & Rhythm # 218
Artie 'Blues Boy' White with Travis Haddix
WHEN JAZZ AND BLUES COLLIDE PART 1
Track "Sad Situation"
Live unissued track
Live at Longthorpe Memorial Hall, Peterborough
Saturday 13th January 2007
By Saturday many of the wrinkles of the Friday night had been ironed out. The band was more comfortable with the material and Travis was visibly more relaxed. As on Friday, he confined himself to 12-bar blues, but they were so varied and so well performed that the self-imposed limitation hardly mattered. ‘(Let The) Rough Side Drag’ and ‘I Can’t Do Wrong Right’ were solid up-tempo tunes but the highlights were the slow blues, ‘Nobody Wants You When You’re Old And Grey’ and ‘New View’. He even performed a number that wasn’t his own, a pleasant version of ‘T-Bone Shuffle’. Artie, this time in a pink jumpsuit, was on much better form. He frequently stretched 12-bar blues to 14 or 15 bars and beyond, thereby confusing the band (so that Mike Carr resorted to playing only the bass pedals of his Hammond B3), but his voice, despite recent health problems, was still strong.
All in all it was an excellent weekend’s entertainment. Travis Haddix deserves to be much better known that he is. He’s still in his prime and would be a worthy addition to any blues festival.
Juke Blues # 63
Travis Haddix with Artie 'Blues Boy' White (2)
Live at The Stamford Arts Centre
Friday 12th January 2007
Track taken from gig: "I've Got A Secret"
It’s difficult to dislike Travis ‘Moonchild’ Haddix. After the Mike Carr Trio, featuring the leader’s splendidly battered vintage Hammond organ, had warmed themselves and us up with the Jack McDuff swinger ‘Lou’s Place’, Haddix strode onstage with a beaming smile and a cheery wave. He got a warm round of applause from the near sell-out crowd at this comfortable, acoustically limpid venue before playing a note.
His music didn’t disappoint either. Launching into Louis Jordan’s ‘Let The Good Times Roll’, he displayed a warmly soulful voice and a sharp, clean guitar attack, which he maintained throughout the evening. His songs were notable for their fresh interesting lyrics, and songs such as the slow blues ‘Cracking Up Over You’ and the loping shuffle ‘Sugarlump’ showed his capabilities both as a performer and composer. His lively onstage manner suggested a man in his forties who’d looked after himself well – can the 1938 birth date in his biography be correct and, if so, can I have some of what he’s on!
Artie ‘Blues Boy’ White, though only a couple of years older, hasn’t fared so well. This was his first visit to England and he came onstage painfully slowly (this reviewer learned later that he’d suffered a stroke last year, and jetlag wasn’t helping him), sang a snappy ‘Jody’ followed by a string of hilarious and adults-only-jokes, but had to sit down for the rest of his first set which included the cheatin’ blues ‘Outside Help’. One could not help but feel for the man: he looked disorientated and needed much musical moral support from Travis Haddix.
In the second half, a now orange-clad Haddix treated us to more rousing singing and playing on songs such as the slow ‘Not A Cloud In The Sky’ and the rocking ‘Let The Rough Side Drag’. A similarly resplendent Artie White seemed a little recovered on ‘When The Weather Gets Cloudy’ and finally, on Elmore James’ ‘Woke Up This Morning’, he found some of the power and feeling which has made him a favourite of this writer since his days at Ichiban Records. But all too soon the show was over.
Apparently at the following evening’s gig at a local village hall, a de-jetlagged Artie sang out loud and clear. I wish I’d been there to witness him.
Promoter Gerard Homan is the only guy in the UK bringing non-stadium blues artists over here on a regular basis and he deserves every success.
Blues & Rhythm # 217
Robert 'Wolfman' Belfour
Stamford Arts Centre - 15th December 2006
Track taken from gig: "Evil"
Video: Done Got Old
The visit of Robert Belfour to Stamford Arts Centre on 15 November 2006 provided an opportunity to view the artist in very different circumstances from those described in JB 62. Gone were the drinkers, dancers, drummers and his solid bodied electric axe. Here we found him alone centre-stage with an amplified hollow bodied acoustic guitar. Nevertheless, these changes had little or no influence on his music. This is not a man who respectfully recreates a host of post-war Delta picking styles with studied skills. In his local environment Robert predominantly plays for an audience that like to dance and as a consequence he must have one of the strongest thumbs in the business, for his top strings rhythm was relentless and unerring with the tempo never abating to a traditional slow blues. His vocal delivery is strangled and accented to such a degree one would need to be very familiar with the songs in order to recognise them.
Dressed as usual in a smart suit he started with a selection from his Fat Possum repertoire but soon slipped into a succession of modern juke joint favourites including amazing interpretations of ‘What’d I Say’, ‘Down Home Blues’ and even a version of Junior Walker’s ‘Cleo’s Back’, a perennial dance floor favourite. Each song was drastically adapted to his unique style and all appeared to be in exactly the same key. He only changed tuning for his last two numbers which were stunning version of ‘Black Mattie’ and ‘Boogie Chillun’.
Understandably some listeners who have been weaned on six string conservation academics might regard his performance as monotonous and limited but, for others like myself and many in the audience, it was all very individual and utterly hypnotic.
Lou Pride with Mo Indigo (1)
24th November 2006
Track taken from gig: "I'm Going Home In The Morning"
I had seen Lou Pride before in Utrecht at the famed Estafette and had been fascinated by this rather large over weight man, who danced like a ballerina, with the voice of an angel. So when Harry Lang of Mo Indigo phoned to sell Lou to me he found an open door, I just couldn’t believe our luck!
Since Utrecht Lou has had some serious health problems and on the night I found Lou much reduced in size but thankfully his voice was still loud and clear and he could still trip around the stage on his toes. Mo Indigo grooved and wailed behind Lou effortlessly as they worked through the great man’s song book, ‘I Can’t Hold Out Much Longer’, I Can’t See Eye To Eye’ and ‘Words Of Caution’ from his Severn CD’s were excellent and my own favourites ‘Twistin The Knife’, and ‘You Were Never Mine’ were magnificent. The latter is definitely one to weep with. His classic ‘I’m Goin Home In The Morning’ ended the show to the delight of the Northern Soul contingency – nights don’t get better than this.
Track taken from gig: "Rooster On A Hen"
The Stamford Arts Centre – 20th October 2006
The Village Hall, Castor – 21st October 2006
Unless you witnessed his performance in the small hall at Utrecht in 1999, Gilbert will not be a name that is familiar to very many of you for his recorded output is scant and obscure. Such matters are seldom of concern to Shakedown who continue to present interesting and diverse artists. They also have the wit and wisdom to think seriously about accompanying musicians and here the backing trio was Big Joe Louis and his Blues Kings who are surely some of Britain’s finest exponents of this kind of music.
Millage has a rich voice and sings very well and although his guitar work was a little less impressive it was admirably devoid of any flashy excesses. In the main what we got was a steady stream of real deal blues favourites but not always the obvious ones and it was particularly pleasing to hear version of ‘Hootchie Momma’, Worsome Baby’, ‘Waiting On You Like A Rooster For A Hen’, and a stirring rendition of ‘Forty Four’. He did perform a few of his originals but arguably his most appealing numbers were when he played harmonica in a modest but effective manner. He worked particularly hard on Little Walter’s ‘You’re So Fine’, with Big Joe enjoying the chance to embellish in classic style.
It may not have been anything that one would shout about from the roof tops but it was a very entertaining evening of no frills, straight-ahead blues and it certainly found favour with the full house that applauded generously and left well satisfied.
Juke Blues (Review The Stamford Arts Centre – 20th Oct 2006)
Robert Penn (2)
The Village Hall, Castor - 23rd September 2006
The Water Rats Theatre, Kings Cross, London - 24th September 2006
Track taken from show "Inflation Blues"
Detroit bluesman Robert Penn was making a welcome return to the UK having appeared at The Shakedown Blues series of gigs in February 2005. On that occasion he played with a full band but was persuaded by Shakedown founder Gerard Homan to perform an additional solo event on this visit, with the band performance the following evening at Castor Village Hall.
His CV showed that he has acted as musical director for David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and B.B. King and has appeared with Aretha Franklin, Bobby Bland and Ray Charles and it was this musical diversity that showed throughout his set.
With an engaging relaxed manner he opened up with Jimmy Reed’s ‘Baby What You Want me To Do’ on a borrowed Martin acoustic guitar and followed with Otis Redding’s ‘Sittin On The Dock Of The Bay’ and Bobby Bland’s ‘If You Gonna Walk On My Love’. He then moved on to a Stratocaster and demonstrated his fluid jazz influences with an instrumental version of Errol Garner’s ‘Misty’ and Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Georgia’. His Detroit influences then showed with a medley of Four Tops hits and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Lets Get It On’, the first set concluding with a long, drawn out, highly amusing version of John Lee Hooker’s ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’.
The second set maintained the pattern of the first with Penn moving between guitars and opening with Muddy Water’s ‘I’m A Man’ and next was a lovely version of Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’. Whilst most of the set was made up of covers there were a number of excellent self-penned tracks, the best of which was ‘You Told Me You Loved Me’.
Blues & Rhythm # 214
Robert Penn and The Blues Crusaders
Castor & London:
The Castor Saturday nighter turned out to be one of the most unusual Shakedown gigs we have yet attended. The village hall was packed to absolute capacity with ale flowing like a Thames Water leak for the return visit of Robert Penn with a hastily assembled six-piece band in support.
With only a brief pre-show rehearsal the opening set was rather nerve wracking. Straight ahead blues fared well enough alongside a good rendition of ‘Love Of Mine’ but a version of ‘Let’s Get It On’ complete with a real chitlin circuit intro was clearly too ambitious for the circumstances. Increased familiarity and perhaps a couple more drinks provide a more relaxed atmosphere for the second set, which took off with excellent selections from his ‘Live & Mighty’ CD. ‘If You’re Gonna Walk On My Love’ was particularly impressive but Penn is anything but predictable and after a well received soul oldies medley he immediately cut to a solo Otis Redding-styled treatment of ‘What A Wonderful World’. We were still wondering how he had got away with it when he broke into a staggering version of ‘Shaft’, which incredibly the band managed to follow. It was a tremendous guitar virtuoso piece that had the crowd in raptures. When he commenced his third and best set it was very late in the evening and it was blues all the way. Those who had left missed among others a spirited ‘Honky Tonk’, a fine version of B.B.’s ‘Sneaking Around’ and quite superb rendition of his own ‘Let Me Love You’.
The London gig the enterprising Keith Woods promoted the following night. It’s a funky little venue, and here the Blues Crusaders were trimmed to a four-piece band – the horn section having fallen by the wayside. Time restraints restricted Penn to two sets but he packed everything into these – delivering his material with verve and passion. The only disappointment was the attendance which was passable, but surely more people should have been there. It’s not everyday that we get to see a ‘new’ blues act in London – so what has happened to the capital’s audience? It’s no good people moaning about the lack of gigs if those that are staged are poorly supported.
We already knew that Penn was a good musician and possessed a strong voice but we were unprepared for the quality of his performance. This guy can really communicate and sell a song. A successful solo gig on the Friday evening at Stamford just confirmed that this is a hugely talented artist who deserves far greater recognition.
Dave Williams & Richard Tapp
Juke Blues # 62
Ethel Caffie-Austin with Delnora Roberts
The Village Hall, Castor – 10th August 2006
Track taken from gig: "Motherless Child"
On the evening of 10th August Gerard brought us gospel divas Ethel-Caffie Austin and Delnora Roberts, live at St Kyneburgha Church in Castor for two hours of gospel styles and their history.
Both women hail from West Virginia and have been singing gospel since they were children in the 1950’s. Ethel and Delnora’s voices compliment each other beautifully and each performed solo, accompanied by Ethel’s sturdy rocking piano, with Delnora providing tambourine and other percussion on some numbers.
Together they covered everything from the coded messages in spirituals such as ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’, ‘Steal Away’ and ‘Gospel Train’, through to gospel stylings from the 1970’s and 1980’s, via tributes to Mahalia Jackson with ‘Move On Up’ and Sister Rosetta Tharpe with a rousing finale on ‘Up Above My Head’.
Other highlights from the two sets with a short intermission were ‘I’m Out On The Battlefield’ in which Ethel sounded just like Wynona Carr in vocals and piano and a powerfully moving medley entitled ‘Portrait Of My People’ which included ‘Motherless Chile’ and ‘Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen’. They closed the first set with ‘Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho’ in which they invited and got full audience participation from the packed church, and were called back enthusiastically for an encore on ‘I Am Determined’. This closed a magical and quite surreal evening in the eight hundred-year-old parish church.
Blues & Rhythm # 213
Little Willie Littlefield (1)
Track taken from show: "Willies Boogie Woogie"
Fifteen to twenty years ago, Little Willie Littlefield saw his career take on a new lease of life after years of obscurity (at least to us in Europe). His festival and club appearance were a delight, showing he was just as excellent as he must have in his heyday, the early 1950’s. Then in the early 1990’s, Willie went into ‘retirement’ and, as the years passed, was given up on as far as live performances were concerned. Then suddenly, twenty years on, here he is again, as large as life (not too large!), looking and sounding as good as ever.
Gerard Homan’s series of ‘Shakedowns’ at the unlikely venue of Castor Village Hall (deep in rural Cambridgeshire), have proved very successful, drawing healthy crowds, both from the local area and further afield.
Willie, looking as sprightly as ever, and showing he had lost none of his natural exuberance, launched straight into the blues, with fine treatments of ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’ and ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ (during which he removed one of his shoes and pounded the floor with his foot). Announcing ‘this is a slow boogie’ to the standing-room only crowd, he launched into a fast and furious boogie pounder that contained snatches of ‘The Wedding March’ and ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ amongst others.
Slowing things down for ‘Stormy Weather’, sung in his usual unpredictable manner, but with tremendous piano, he then launched into the blues again with fine versions of ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ and ‘Low Down Dog’, before exiting the stage for a well earned break.
After the interval, Willie pounded straight into a powerhouse ‘Chicken Shack Boogie’, then a number from his new CD, ‘It’s Over’ (?), before performing, with typical humour, a rather chaotic, ‘Chinatown Boogie’. He then even turned ‘Going Down Slow’ into a frantic boogie number, before slowing right down for ‘I Love You Because’, complete with lovely swampy piano.
After a request from one of our team, Willie did ‘Happy Pay Day’ just like so many times before, before launching into his signature tune, ‘Kansas City’, complete with Willie playing the piano with his shoe! Charles Brown’s ‘Drifting Blues’ was followed by ‘Blueberry Hill’, before Willie left the stage, only to be coaxed back for an encore, which sounded something like ‘Boogie Down The Lonesome Trail’
Willie, after nearly two hours playing, really didn’t seem to want to finish, but Gerard had to call time sometime. A great night. If you’re anywhere near the Peterborough area, be sure to check out Gerard’s future gigs. Look out for announcements in B&R. As for Willie, we’ll catch him again at the Rhythm Riot in November, see you there!
Blues & Rhythm # 211
Doug MacLeod (2)
23rd April 2006
Track: "She Didn't Teach Me How To Care"
A year later, a full house, a different venue and carrying his new CD ‘Where I Been’ Doug enchanted the Lakeside audience with old favourites including ‘Long Black Train’, and ‘New Panama Ltd’. We were also introduced to the humorous ‘Turkey Leg Woman’ and the excellent ‘A Broken Dream In A Broken Room’ from his latest album. The remainder of the songs were introduced by rambling tales of the incidents that had inspired them. All in all this was another fascinating encounter with this truly amazing singer, songwriter, guitarist and raconteur. This time around Doug managed to sell seventy-five CD’s – what will he do next year?
Wallace Coleman and The Blues Crusaders
Track: "She's Pretty All Over"
Taken from show
The Stamford Arts Centre – 17th March 2006
The Village Hall, Castor - 18th March 2006
Cleveland based Wallace Coleman played two dates in the UK courtesy of Gerard Homan’s Shakedown promotions. On Friday 17th, he played Stamford Arts Centre and I caught him on Saturday at Castor Village Hall.
Imagine Little Walter backed by B.B. King, traditional meets modern and never the twain… well, not quite because despite the mismatch of Coleman and the band, somehow they pulled it off thanks to Wallace’s superb harp playing, blown through a traditional Green Bullet microphone. Close your eyes and one minute you could be listening to Little Walter’s fat resonant tones and the next, Papa Lightfoot’s rasping sounds. Add to this, confident and relaxed vocals and you have an old school bluesman of considerable stature.
With little time to rehearse with the band, which consisted of just bass, guitar and drums, Wallace stuck mainly to well known songs with Little Walter’s songbook featured extensively. Starting with a relaxed ‘Juke’, during the course of three sets he included ‘Dead Presidents’, ‘Everything Gonna Be Alright’, ‘Last Night’, (guest singer Dave Thomas on this), ‘Key To The Highway’ and a fast take of ‘I Had My Fun’ (Going Down Slow) as Little Walter cut it. However, Wallace isn’t a Walter clone; he possesses the ability to invoke all the 1950’s harp giants whilst retaining his own musical integrity.
Coleman spent ten years in Robert Lockwood’s band and paid tribute to his mentor by way of ‘Take A Little Walk With Me’ and ‘Mean Red Spider’. He switched to chromatic for ‘Crazy For My Baby’ and ‘Blue Mist’ – his own composition sounding very Walterish. His vocal skills were exercised on Jimmy Rogers’ tongue twisting ‘My Last Meal’ and ‘Bring It On Home’ came complete with the insinuating tones of Sonny Boy Williamson. On ‘Mean Black Spider’, Junior Wells came to mind while on Ella and Buddy Johnson’s ‘Baby I’m Just Your Fool’, the mood almost became modern.
Between the standards Wallace featured his own songs, notably ‘Pretty All Over’ and the stop time ‘Big Dog Blues’ proving he is no copyist but his own man. It was a real pleasure and surprise to hear traditional 1950’s blues from an African-American in 2006, and I would strongly recommend lovers of the genre not to pass up on Wallace Coleman.
Blues & Rhythm # 209
Frank Ace and The Blues Crusaders
Live at The Stamford Arts Centre
Saturday 18th February 2006
Track taken from gig: "Members Only"
Phoenix, Arizona based bluesman Frank Ace flew into the UK on the morning of the 17th and on the evening of the same day played a Shakedown gig with the Blues Crusaders at Castor Village Hall. This was his first ever visit to these shores and Frank was excitedly looking forward to his first ‘formal’ appearance before a British audience at Stamford Arts Centre.
Considering he had only met The Blues Crusaders the previous evening, Frank immediately had a rapport with the guys, which was obvious in the way they quickly meshed and it certainly sounded like they had been together for years. For this gig the four-piece Crusaders were augmented with an alto sax player and a trumpet player.
Kicking off the first set with the Robert Cray number ‘Playing With My Friends’, Frank then drew on his own repertoire for the next four songs, including the funky ‘I Got Love’, his showcase number ‘Get On Line Baby’ and ‘Gas Pump Blues’. The set concluded with Little Milton’s crowd pleaser ‘Hey Hey The Blues Is Alright’.
After an intermission, where Frank had to forsake a breather to attend to the punters who queued up to purchase a signed CD, the second set kicked off with a number by the Blues Crusaders. I must make mention here of the fine playing of the Crusaders’ Jeremy Watson on guitar and bass player Bruno (didn’t get your second name partner!)
Frank reappeared and immediately launched into a medley of the mid-tempo groove ‘Mind Your Own Business’ and ‘Locked Out Of Love’. An unscheduled stage appearance by a member of the B&R review team who happened to be wearing his Frank Ace ‘Bury The Bone’ T-shirt preceded the Guitar Slim style number of the same name from the ‘Get On Line’ album! A couple of requests followed in the form of ‘I’ll Play The Blues For You’ (warmly received by the audience) and the slowie ‘Members Only’.
Riding to the gig, I asked Frank to do ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’, however he confessed that it was so long since he had sung it that he was a little rusty on the words, but he must have been thinking about it as he and the Crusaders performed it without hesitation, truly the mark of a real pro!
‘The Thrill Is Gone’ closed the set, then as the audience stomped and hollered their appreciation Frank encored with ‘Sex Machine’, which ended the night perfectly and sent the audience on their way on a high after a superb evening of blues and R&B.
It’s hard to believe that this is the first time for Frank Ace on these shores, the 64-year old is a seasoned pro with an impressive track record, he is a fine singer (with a little hint at times of B B King in his delivery), impressive guitar player and has a bunch of excellent original material. UK festival bookers should be looking at this guy and getting him over again.
Promoter Gerard Homan has been putting on a fine series of gigs in this area and forthcoming events include Cleveland based harp man Wallace Coleman, Little Willie Littlefield and Mem Shannon. Get along and support live blues in the UK, it’s all too rare these days.
Blues & Rhythm # 208
Reverend Robert B Jones
Live @ St. Kyneburgha Church, Castor - 20th January 2006
Video: Rev Robert B Jones
Track taken from Concert: "The Darkness of Blackness"
A quest for an elusive cassette by a little-known Baptist preacher and bluesman led to a truly memorable concert in one of the area’s most beautiful churches.
St. Kyneburgha’s Church in Castor was packed with music lovers on Friday night to hear The Rev Robert Jones on his first visit to England.On first glance you might have thought the candle-lit stone nave, chilled January air and aged oak pews would have given the performance a sombre tone. But the charismatic reverend bluesman changed all that – playing a happy mix of spiritual and secular tunes, both self-penned and standards.
Between songs he talked at length about the origins of spiritual and gospel music, his first visit to England and new love of fish pie, and brief tongue-in-cheek biographies of some of the bluesmen whose songs he covered. There was even a brief moment of hip-hop, courtesy of a sped-up Son House song. Robert was solo onstage for most of the night with just his guitar, banjo, harmonica or quills for company, although his wife Bernice, whose amazing voice really did not need to be magnified by the microphone, joined him for a couple of spirituals. His amazing playing filled the empty spaces, making it feel like there were at least two guitarists performing.
The 48-year old Detroit resident also offered plenty of chances for the audience to join in on songs such as ‘May The Circle Be Unbroken’ and provide axe-strokes for an old workman’s spiritual song played on the quills – the Afro-American version of the panpipes. But the highlights of the evening had to be two self-penned talking blues numbers, which showcased his great sense of humour, as he talked about why he picked up the guitar originally, his rivalry with BB King and about the old storefront churches of his youth.
The concert was the latest in the series of Shakedown Blues nights organised by Gerard Homan, who opened the second half with his story of how the quest for an elusive cassette by Robert let to his invitation to play. Sadly, by the end of the concert Gerard was still without the tape – as he loudly reminded his guest – but the audience had seen something they would not forget for some time.
Peterborough Evening Telegraph
Live @ Stamford Arts Centre - 21st January 2006
Another in the amazingly original series of 'Shakedown' gigs at Stamford Arts Centre presented the Rev. Robert B Jones from Detroit. The 49 year old minister is a self-taught musician who learnt the blues in his teenage years despite being in a devoutly religious environment. Knowing that he had performed at nearby St. Kyneburgha Church the previous evening we expected and got a predominantly secular set. He started by acknowledging the influence of Blind Gary Davis (to whom he was likened for comparison purposes) and he continued with an accomplished array of acoustic homages that encompassed the likes of Son House, Skip James, and someone called Johnson. He sang confidently throughout, and being a lecturer and a preacher, he charmed the audience effortlessly between numbers.
He produced a five-string African instrument for a brief roots journey, a flute for a whistle-and-stamp-along work song and a harmonica for a virtuoso rendition of 'Fox Chase' a la Sonny Terry. His racked harmonica pastiche of Jimmy Reed seemed less successful but Jones was very entertaining and clearly talented. However, he really impressed when he performed his own very personal compositions and religious songs. His wife Bernice joined him briefly on stage and performed a couple of gospel numbers in a classic manner. His finale was 'Going to Church', his own 15-minute guide to black store front church life. This is a remarkable observation piece, laced with warm humour and was a real tour de force.
The prolonged ovation he received was well deserved and judging by the audience reaction one can only wonder why he is not better known.
11th December 2005
Track taken from CD Stella 003 "Shotgun Stalker"
I was away on holiday in Thailand and missed Michael’s concert but David Popple reports an engaging afternoon session. His concerts are always worthwhile and his CD’s are gentle and soothe the mind. What more do you need?
3rd December 2005
Track taken from gig: "I'm Being Watched"
Willies’ concert for Shakedown was the result of a phone call to Ti Tee Records in St Louis whilst I was in search of Big George Brock. I was informed by the labels secretary that George was no longer booked by them and was given his home number. I was then informed that the label owners and the secretary’s sixty nine-year-old boyfriend was available to travel. George passed up our offer and on a whim I asked Willie to come and he accepted. A few months later he was winging his way over the Atlantic to join The Blues Crusaders live on stage in Castor.
The Crusaders took the stage at the allotted hour and warmed up the audience with three numbers including a very nice instrumental ‘Crusader Shuffle’ written by band leader Jeremy Watson. Willie Richardson then took the stage looking a little gaunt but happy, strapped on his guitar and jumped into another instrumental ‘Jamming With Willie’ that they made up on the spot. This sported an excellent solo by Hammond organ player James Goodwin. Then with a ‘good evening everybody’ they all settled into a lovely relaxed version of ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’ that featured a rough edged solo by sax player Ben Sommers. From then on the evening developed into a pattern of covers and the odd original in what is probably for the most part Willies usual set list at his regular Saturday night residency at Gino’s Lounge in St Louis. ‘Stormy Monday’ with lovely string bending from Willie contrasting neatly with Jeremy’s more jazz sounds. ‘Kansas City’ kept the ‘easy rocking going’ with more sax wailing and a ‘chug chug’ rhythm that was held down by bassist…. and drummer Rex Gates. Jeremy and Willie traded solos and then we were into Willies original ‘I.m Being Watched’ that I enjoyed so much on his otherwise dreadful CD. This number built and built in a fine knock about way with roaring sax and guitar solos. The audience approval rating shot up with this magnificent first set closer.
After the break the music rolled on and eventually ended with what for me was the highlight of the evening ‘Sky Is Crying’ with Willies guitar solo bending, bending and then bending again. You had to be born on a Mississippi plantation to get away with this. In the third set things began to get ‘ragged but real’ with Jimmy Reed, Freddy King, Lowell Fulson and ended with another Willie song ‘My Girl Is A Little Country Girl’ wherein Willie became over emotional and burst into tears as the band played on. What a way to end an evening!
Saturday 20th November 2005
Track: "Hey Joe" 'Live'
I saw Otis Taylor for the first time in a basement space under the Congress Building, which housed the North Sea Jazz Festival circa 1999. His set attracted a crowd of one thousand most of whom, like me, had never seen him before live. Ten minutes into the first number his trance like blues had blown most of us away and the dancing began. Fifty minutes after that it was all over and the sweat sodden crowd moved onto another show not quite believing what they had seen and heard.
A few years and a few albums later I was offered Otis for this Sunday night gig in Castor Village Hall and I jumped at the chance. I knew it was the Sabbath but he was with his American band, the price seemed inexpensive and the Guardian ran a long enthusiastic endorsement of his shows – what could go wrong?
Well musically absolutely nothing. Otis did turn up late, decided to go for a meal, forgot his PA system and did not wish to stay where cats or moles resided! When he eventually returned to the hall the band began to set up and then almost an hour after the official start time Otis shocked the unsuspecting crowd with a couple of hours of brilliant trance blues. We were all transfixed – wonderful guitar, great songs and wild rhythms. Highlights included his superb tribute to the lady who lit the flame of the civil rights movement ‘Rosa Parks’; the excellent re-working of Joe William’s ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’; the Caribbean sounding ‘Please Come Home Before It Rains’; and a mesmerising number that was probably ‘Black Betty’ which would have been wonderful to dance to – shame about the knee!
Oh yes ‘and what could go wrong? Well, most of the people that I anticipated would fill the village hall to capacity decided to stay at home for a ‘night in front of the telly’. Including the soundman, doorman and myself the audience consisted of about twenty-five to thirty bodies. In intimate surroundings these extremely lucky people heard world-class music from a trio at the top of its tree and have been given a night to remember. For myself I shall remember the music long after the pain of paying for it will be forgotten. I am sure that those who chose telly could not recall what they had watched two days later.
13th November 2005
Track: "Sweet Taste"
Taken from CD Label Records "Sweet Taste"
Harrison is big, hairy, comes from Canada and had a pop hit with the ‘Chairman of the Board’ ‘Give It To Me One More Time’. Not a great blues CV but his recent CD on Black & Tan is exceptional with a slew of almost entirely self-composed blues influenced material which was basically the song list for the afternoon. The gig started well with the excellent blues stomp ‘Bad Luck and Troubles’ which showed off his vocal dexterity. This was followed by, amongst others, a lovely rendition of the stone blues ‘Bad Attitude’, an outstanding ‘Too Far To Fall’ the exquisite Accapella ‘Bob Lo Island’ and the brilliant show stopping ‘Forty Acres and a Mule’ all of which kept the audiences attention until the inevitable closer ‘Gimme Just’… which included Martin Chillcot trilling in the background.
p.s. Buy the album ‘Bad Luck and Troubles’ and you won’t be disappointed.
Mississippi T W Harmonica Bean (1)
8th October 2005
The Stamford Arts Centre
9th October 2005
Track recorded by Lee Odlin @ Musicshed Studios in Glinton "Gonna Murder My Baby"
Terry Bean is a chair maker from Pontotoc, Mississippi who played a mean game of professional football until a car crash laid him up in hospital and messed up his body. Playing guitar, harmonica and singing the blues helped his recovery. After leaving hospital he found work at the chair factory and a weekend local audience gigging in bars and juke joints around town. Thankfully he also had the nous to record himself in a homemade recording studio and to press a couple of raggedy CD’s. These were for sale at his gigs and both were also flown over to Castor - hence his first trip abroad to headline a couple of Shakedown shows.
The Saturday concert consisted of Terry singing and playing harmonica with the Big Blue House Band led by Al Dean who had excelled behind James Wheeler a few weeks ago. Their young, good-looking guitarist from Liverpool was everything that you could wish for and tastefully underpinned Terry’s Walterish harmonica. The band members had obviously listened to the CD’s and were primed as to which numbers they might be expected to play. With a minimum of rehearsal time Terry relayed that he was happy with the band and the show began with his self-penned ‘Rocking In The Dirty South’ an exceptional muddy sounding intro to his musical Southern world. He then hit ‘Rock Me Baby’ did a nice take on Wolf’s ‘How Many More Years’ before announcing his visiting card ‘They Call Me Terry’. By the time the evening came to a halt the band was rightly pleased with themselves with having performed interesting versions of Reed’s ‘Bright Lights Big City’ (and how did they do that!), ‘Part-time Love’ and Terry’s own ‘Jus Messin’ Round’.
The following day in Stamford Terry was alone with his guitar and harmonica. He worked his way through a similar programme that included an excellent ‘Why You Love Me Like You Do’ and the highlight of both evenings a seven minute hypnotic ride with a hill country blast from T-Model Fords songbook whose title I can’t remember. Terry sold loads of CD’s.
Texas Johnny Brown
16th September 2005
Track: "Just Can't Do It"
Taken from CD Choctaw Creek Records 10002 "Blues Defender"
One of the most unexpected and unusual concerts I have ever attended took place in early September in rural Lincolnshire.
The venue was the Stamford Arts Centre and as the building’s impressive stone exteriors were recently used for scenes in the new Hollywood blockbuster movie version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, we should not have been too surprised to find that the gig was taking place in the ballroom complete with its ornate mirror and glass chandeliers. The featured performer was the legendary guitarist Texas Johnny Brown who recorded with the likes of Amos Milburn and Bobby Bland and was extensively covered in Juke Blues 41.
This was his first ever visit to Britain for a special one-off performance organised by local promoter and JB subscriber Gerard Homan.
Although Brown had only one hour to rehearse with the accompanying band, Ma Grinders Blues Mission II, the three experienced musicians, Rex Bates on drums, Jeremy Watson on bass and Jamie Goodwin on Hammond, did a fine job with the often demanding material. For a man of 77 summers Johnny’s voice was in excellent shape and his rendition of his hauntingly melodic ballad ‘Tender Age, Gentle Woman’ seemed even better that the studio recorded version. It must be said that the hard surfaces and the high ceiling did not provide ideal acoustics and the uptempo numbers did rather reverberate around the old ballroom, which had clearly not been built for music like this. However, here was a very sophisticated performer and when the mood turned mellow, the immaculate tones of Browns vintage Les Paul Gibson were a treat for the ears. His instrumental versions of Aretha’s hit ‘Ain’t No Way’ and ‘Just My Imagination’ had the seated audience captivated.
After more than two hours of selections from his two Choctaw Creek albums the band were at last struggling to find familiar ground and so the man undertook a solo medley of hometown Houston blues favourites including Lightnin’ Hopkins ‘Short Haired Woman’.
Overall it was a truly remarkable evening that seemed to sometime border on the surreal. Clearly Stamford is the place to be if you want to find some high quality blues that isn’t just ‘easy option’ run-of-the-mill.
The Stamford Arts Centre
6th September 2005
Track: "My Key Won't Fit My Lock No More"
James Wheeler was born in Albany, Georgia on 28th August 1937 and moved to Chicago in 1956 to live with his brother, the harmonica player, Big Golden Wheeler. Here, in his mid teens, he was introduced to Freddy King and was so impressed that he decided to emulate Freddy as a guitar player. He was a quick learner, soon to be found gigging in Chicago nightclubs with anybody who would allow him on the stand and two years later he turned pro and was in high demand as a lead or rhythm guitarist by the multitude of bands who were fighting to get heard on the burgeoning blues scene.
However, it was the mid 90’s before he stepped into the limelight with Mississippi Heat, which eventually led to his Delmark album ‘Ready’, this in turn led to his first tour of England with Big House Blues and a Paul Jones radio session. The Shakedown gig was part of his second tour with the band with Al Dean, bass, James Harrison, guitar and Padraig Tansy, drums.
The Stamford gig was a powerhouse of Chicago blues with wonderful take on ‘My Key Won’t Fit That Lock Anymore’, a superb ‘Cold Hearted Woman’ and ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ - that was brilliantly sung over Howling Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightning’ riff! Wheeler is a consummate guitarist particularly when he is playing rhythm and the young British guitarist who received regular applause for his solos benefited greatly by James’s generous underpinning. We must bring James Wheeler back
Little Pink Anderson
Live at The Village Hall, Castor, Peterborough
Saturday 18th June 2005
Track: "Rainy Night In Georgia"
Taken From Music Maker Cd "Sittin Here Singin The Blues"
Alvin ‘Little Pink’ Anderson was a talented youngster who began life travelling the south with his father as a novelty act in Chief Thunderclouds Medicine Show. When he was 13 he was given an electric guitar and took to the road with Clarence Carter, Willie Hightower, Archie Bell and Albert Collins. Three alcohol and drug abuse years later a brilliant ‘get rich quick’ idea ended with him being sentenced to 15 years for armed robbery, which ended up with an extra six or seven added to his sentence. In 1966 he turned his nightmare existence around and when we were offered him for a Shakedown booking by Tim Duffy from the Music Maker charity he had produced his first full CD, which I found very enjoyable and Alvin was booked into The Stamford Arts Centre for a Sunday lunch gig. A last minute comment by Tim in a conversation about his flight dates that Alvin was also a very fine electric guitarist in the Albert King mode made me decide to book Ma Grinders Blues Mission for a Saturday night gig in Castor.
The Castor show was truly brilliant with Alvin choosing a selection of covers from the Albert Collins/Albert King songbooks together with 60’s soul fare that rocked the house. The highlight however, was one of his own compositions the title of which escapes me but left the audience entranced. The following day he put down the electric guitar and serenaded the Cellar Bar audience with ‘Betty and Dupree’, ‘I Got Mine’, ‘Travelling Man’, and other Carolina staples in a gentle set that left us wanting more. He managed to sell fifty CD’s before flying home. I do hope he comes back again.
Doug MacLeod (1)
22nd May 2005
Track: "Midnight In Memphis"
Doug MacLeod has long been a favourite of mine since purchasing his inaugural Hightone LP in 1985. Listening to ‘Long Black Train’ for the first time sent shivers down my spine in my book Doug was ‘white but all right’ and I bought his subsequent CD’s as a matter of course and have never been disappointed. This was my first chance to see him in the flesh and judging by the lamentably small audience it was probably due to being an ‘unknown’ in the UK.
He kicked off the lunchtime session with a brilliant version of the above mentioned ‘Long Black Train’ that he had not played in many a year. He then chatted, reminisced, sang and played his way through two hours worth of material taken mainly from his recent Black & Tan album ‘Dubb’. That he managed to sell twenty-eight CD’s to an audience of thirty is testimony to both the artistry and the charm of this wonderful singer songwriter who is undoubtedly destined for greatness. Let’s hope we can get him back next year.
J C Billy Davis
Track: 'I've Tried'
Taken from No Cover CD PO64 "Coming For You"
The Village Hall, Castor
7th May 2005
The original write-up for Billy’s show was lost in the ether when we ‘vamped up’ the website so this is how I recall the evening:
Robert Penn had recommended Billy to me and by the time we booked him he had released his first album in his own name on No Cover CD called ‘Blue Teardrops’. He arrived carrying his sole belongings in a small suitcase, which included four changes of clothes and $34 in his pocket. However, having worked with Hank Ballard he did bring with him plenty of blues credibility and having been a good friend of Hendrix also did him no harm.
The rehearsal with Ma Grinders Blues Mission II went down pretty well and on the night the band warmed up the audience with a couple of numbers before Billy resplendent in a gold top and blue Mexican hat launched into ‘Murder In The First Degree’ a fine lugubrious blues. Throughout the rest of the evening he cherry picked his album and managed to add selective numbers by the numerous artists for whom he had played both on stage and on record. I can’t remember individual numbers except his own ‘Blue Teardrops’ and ‘Cupid Don’t’ both from the album. However, I do remember his as a consummate showman – changing outfits three times, jumping off the stage while playing guitar etc; etc; The audience loved him and I still get people cornering me I asking me to bring him back.
20th April 2005
Track: "Nothing Wrong With Texas....."
Taken from Black & Tan 019 "Coercion Street"
Ernie’s album on Black & Tan has been touted by Andy Kershaw as one of the best new blues recordings and his arrival on the scene is being likened to that of Ted Hawkin’s. His excellent Stamford show was based around this album and was indeed a breath of fresh air. However, Mr Payne is not strictly a blues singer but rather a singer songwriter who is influenced by the blues. This gentle lilting Sunday lunchtime gig however belied the savage bleakness of his words, although the title of the album ‘Coercion Street’ should have given us a clue. In the bleak ‘Pissing In The Wind’ he sings “Me I pray I could shed my skin and flush it down the drain” whilst in ‘The Curse of Ham’ he sings … “We can free them but what’s the point”. The wonderful longing in the line from ‘One More Night’ is more easily accessible …”Is it too much to ask for one more night to get it right” and the highlight of the afternoon has to be the magnificent ‘Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With Texas That Leaving Won’t Fix’ that is as close to R&B as Ernie gets.
Thirty odd people turned up for this gig and twenty of them bought CD’s. If you weren’t there and read this write up buy his CD and listen to his genius yourself.
24th March 2005
Track: "Walk On Baby Don't Let That Door Hit Your Big Behind"
I don’t believe Shakedown will be able to better this evening’s jam session. Johnnie Bassett is one of Detroit’s true jazz giants and has played with a multitude of artists both on stage and on record throughout his career and tonight his artistry was on display in an extraordinary laidback fashion. Unassuming almost to a fault he effortlessly worked the band consisting, of Jeremy Watson on bass, Rex Gates on drums and James Godson on Hammond. The band through numbers from his various albums including ‘I Love A Good Woman (But I Like A Bad One Too)’, ‘Drink Muddy Waters’, ‘Doghouse Is My Home’, and the show stopper ‘Cadillac Blues’.
There is really nothing more to say about this almost perfect concert except that when it was finished the collective of local blues musicians which included two veterans who had not played in public for six years before the Robert Penn concert now decided that they would practice on a regular basis and work as a band.
Robert Penn (1)
Live @ The Village Hall, Castor
19th February 2005
Track: "Heed My Warning"
Taken from Venture CD HFC 32203 "Uncut Detroit III"
Blues fans packed into Castor Village Hall on Saturday for the second Shakedown night of the 21st century and Detroit guitarist Robert Penn, showed why it was such a good idea. All seats were taken for the gig, with music-lovers perching themselves wherever they could watch the charismatic singer and guitarist marshal a five-piece band drawn from the local area.
From the moment he stepped on stage the former musical director for David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and BB King demanded the attention of the crowd joking with them, taking the occasional sips of Guinness from the dancers at the front of the stage and finding room for the occasional duck walk. He pushed the Blues Crusaders hard but was extremely generous to the members of the band allowing them ample solo time and was the first to lead the applause once they had finished. Throughout, his massive smile that never seemed to leave his face.
The material ranged from instrumental classics such as Freddie King’s ‘Hideaway’ and Junior Walker’s ‘Shotgun’ to Albert King’s ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ and BB’s ‘Paying The Cost To Be The Boss’ and Chuck Berry’s ‘Schooldays’, which drove the audience into hysteria. But the highlights were undoubtedly the ones Robert had recorded himself including ‘Love Of Mine’, ‘Touch Me’ and ‘If You’re Gonna Walk Over Our Love Take Off Your Shoes’.
By the time his very physical three-hour performance was over he was drenched in sweat and almost completely drained of energy and called for a stool for the last couple of numbers ‘Walking The Dog/Mustang Sally’ and ‘Need Your Lovin’.
In the mid-set break he took time to talk to the crowd and sign numerous copies of his CD’s, which he was selling from the bandstand. This was indeed a wonderful evening, which inspired his fellow musicians, with little rehearsal, to play to great heights.
Peterborough Evening Telegraph
Travis Haddix (1)
Live @ Quayhole Kates, Stamford
6th January 2005
Track: "Blues From Staghorn Street"
Taken from Wann-Sonn CD WSR 000018 "Blues From Staghorn Street"
‘Blues Shakedown an ‘awesome’ show’
The first Shakedown night for more than 30 years saw a Mississippi-born blues legend lock axes with a homegrown hero for three blistering sets.
January’s Shakedown night saw Travis ‘Moonchild’ Haddix travel across the Atlantic to play at Stamford’s Quayhole Kates club opposite Lloyd Watson and his band, featuring guest saxophonist Laurie Jacobs.
Among the tracks the band launched into were ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, ‘Hey Hey The Blues Is Alright’, ‘Andy’s’, ‘Acute Blues Syndrome’, ‘Bad News’, and 'Rough Side Drag’, with the whole gig finally ending at 1am.
Blues fan Dick Cartmel described the night as totally and utterly awesome. He said: “It was one of those nights where you have got people who have never met but have got to go onstage and jam – and it worked. It was a very mellow and nice way to sit and enjoy it. We had teenagers dancing as well as the older crowd. For a chap who must be 65, Travis was outrageously young looking. I came away thinking I would be heading down to a few more of those!”
Now the second Shakedown night is being planned, in a different venue with a slightly different band, and several more are being pencilled in for the rest of the year.
Peterborough Evening Telegraph