Willie Dixon & The Big Three Trio
Big Three Boogie
(Catfish Records - KATCD189 c.2001)
If Willie Dixon's name isn't recognized by all blues fans, it's time for the Remedial Blues Course - 101. As a bass player; the upright, or bull fiddle, his lines are on many Chicago blues classics, and as a producer/songwriter/arranger, his credits may run deeper, as he worked as an A&R man for Chess Records and Eli Toscano's Cobra label, adding his genius to discs by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and many more. "Big Three Boogie" (KATCD189) is a recently released one-hour set that focuses on Dixon's earlier work with the Big Three Trio. Comprised of Dixon on bass, Leonard 'Baby Doo' Caston on piano, and Bernard Dennis on guitar, with all three contributing incredible vocal harmonies, this is some potent listening. Caston and Dennis play sharp tandem lines throughout the opener, "Appetite Blues," and the tripled voices on "If The Sea Was Whiskey" are chilling. The title cut is a storming romp with pounding piano that makes way for a couple of short Dixon spots and a fine chorus by Dennis, while the like-titled "Big Three Stomp," a bristling instrumental, owes a bit to the "Seven Come Eleven" theme. The interest level remains high and expectations are met with incredibly inventive guitar lines that border on refined wildness, fat underpinnings from Dixon's driving bass lines, and Caston's solid piano styling. If that's not enough, the jive vocals and smart lyrics are sure to please. Recommended listening.
(Catfish Records - KATCD190 c.2001)
While Scott Joplin may not play a direct role in the world of blues piano, his influence to ragtime players is unquestionable, and ragtime certainly makes its way into blues from time to time. Born in Texarkana, TX, and later moving to Missouri, Joplin became an early composer and publisher of piano rags and beat around the local saloons and taverns plying his trade. Perhaps best known for his "Maple Leaf Rag" and "The Entertainer," which wound up finding renewed life years later with its inclusion in the Paul Newman film, 'The Sting,' Joplin also wrote many other tunes, which have since become standards. Unfortunately, Joplin never actually recorded, instead playing on a specifically designed keyboard that punched holes in a paper roll, and played back on another instrument called the pianola. There's a lot of fun in the 70 minutes of music here, and occasionally, you can hear small traces of parts that would show up in the boogie woogie and barrelhouse records in the 1920's and 30's.
Jelly Roll Morton
(Catfish Records - KATCD192 c.2001)
Jelly Roll Morton was many things aside from a great pianist, he hustled pool sharks, was said to have been quite a card player, and he pimped prostitutes about New Orleans, and that is just some of what we know. Claiming to have been the man responsible for inventing jazz, refuted by many, among them, W.C. Handy in a heated argument with Morton himself, Jelly Roll certainly added much to an already colorful music style. His piano chops were sometimes relaxed, while at others, completely startling. The 70 minutes here land on many avenues, with piano solos by Morton, band cuts where he is supported by the Stomp Kings, the Red Hot Peppers, the Steamboat Four, and other incarnations of New Orleans talent. "Sidewalk Blues," is alone worth admission, perhaps one of the earliest recordings to feature sound effects that mimic a busy French Quarter neighborhood. "Tricks Ain't Walkin' No More," an ode to one of his traded women, is a beautifully stark track which stands out. Other cuts easily recognized are "Tiger Rag," "Buddy Bolden's Blues," in honor of the New Orleans jazz figurehead, "Honeysuckle Rose," and the brilliant "King Porter Stomp." Strongly suggested.
The Roots of The Grateful Dead
(Catfish Records - KATCD193 c.2001)
Anyone who has ever been to a Grateful Dead show, listened to their records, or the hundreds of traded tapes and CD's of their 'live' shows, realizes the blues background of the band. While they used early blues classics as more of a starting point to jump into extended jams, they always acknowledged their influences to fans and press alike. This 50 minute disc brings those influences into better focus, combining 18 tracks from a variety of early performers, including Son House with "Walkin' Blues," Furry Lewis' fine two-part "Kassie Jones," Mississippi John Hurt's spellbinding "Spike Driver Blues," the Memphis Jug Band adding "On The Road Again," Tampa Red's influential "It Hurts Me Too," Lightnin' Hopkins with his fine "Katie Mae," and others. Sound quality is excellent throughout with more standouts from Jimmie Rodgers, and the Cliff Carlisle gem, "Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad." Essential listening.
When Lights Are Low
(Catfish Records - KATCD196 c.2001)
Here's a disc that belongs in any blues guitar player's library. Charlie Christian turned the jazz and swing world on its collective backsides with his boarding of the Benny Goodman bus in 1939, helped by music impresario and fan, John Hammond, Sr. Hammond first saw Christian in Oklahoma and later invited him to a Benny Goodman session, of which the bandleader stormed from the proceedings having only allowed Charlie some chord work after the tape stopped rolling. Hammond was not to be stood up again. Believing in the guitarist's abilities, he set up Christian's amp and guitar during a break in a 'live' performance the same night, and when he ambled onstage during a tune, Goodman figured the best way to rid himself of this pest was to pick a tune he wouldn't be apt to know. Benny called off "Rose Room," opened a slot for what he thought would be a guitar disaster, and Charlie Christian went on for twenty choruses, absolutely stunning Benny, the rest of his band, and the packed house on hand! Near the forefront of amplified guitar pioneers including Eldon Shamblin, T-Bone Walker, Floyd Smith, and a few others, Christian used electricity to great effect. The ideas were endless, the licks and slurs flowing like 30 weight oil to a supercharged six, and Christian became one of the most influential players in guitar history. The work Charlie Christian left behind is powerful and restrained at the same time. Dead from tuberculosis at 26, his two years of recording and performances are what legends are made of, and rightly so with a listen to the 60 minutes here. "Flying Home," "Seven Come Eleven," "Solo Flight," "Air Mail Special," and 16 more, will prove without a doubt, while T-Bone Walker contributed more to blues guitar than perhaps anyone else, Charlie Christian did the same for jazz guitar. A must.
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This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.