Cannonball's "Blues Across America -- The Detroit Scene" was a solid taster of what goes on in the Motor City, but it obviously wasn't the be-all of Detroit samplers. The best source for the local scene are the local labels. No Cover Productions has just re-released the definitive Detroit samplers of the 1990s. Toledo's Blue Suit Records released a pair of superb samplers of the deep city blues last year, and local community college station WHFR put out their second collection of "Uncut Blues" in 1999. Detroit has one of the
most vibrant blues scenes in America. These samplers offer a sample of what makes it one of the most important musical cities in the world.
"Detroit Blues Live At Lou's"
"Blues From The Heart -- Detroit Blues Artists Live 12-11-94 "
"Blues From The Heart Vol. II -- Detroit Blues Artists Live 3-17-96"
"Blues From The Heart Vol. III - Detroit Blues Artists Live 4/1,4/2/97"
These collections were originally released independently as fund-raisers for the Wayne County Autism Society. Partial proceeds from these re-releases will do the same. The first in the series, featuring acts who performed at Mr. Lou's Rhythm & Blues, an east-side club that folded shortly after the disc came out, was the first significant sampler of Detroit blues artists released in years. It was a revelation. Even though the recordings were made in studio after the fact, the energy level remained ferocious. The opening cut, featuring vocalist Nikki James joined by acoustic guitar phenomenon Robert Jones and harper Darrien James, on Nikki's "Phone Call," is a favorite. What follows is classic Detroit blues, 1990s style. Notable are the Garfield Blues Band's take on Little Walter's "High Temperature," Steve Gornall's "Turnpikin'," Thornetta Davis and the Chisel Brothers gorgeous version of Aretha's "Yesterday I Sang A Love Song, Today I Sing The Blues," The
Square Business Blue’s Band's cover of "I Wish You Would", and the Alligator' "Two Fingered Handshake." Rounded out by Jeff Grand, James Glass, the Motor City Bluez Project, City Limits Blues Band, James Cloyd and the Sharecroppers of Soul, 3 of Us, and the Howling Diablos great "Nobody In Detroit," this was just the beginning.
The "Blues From The Heart" collections were recorded live at Detroit's historic Soup Kitchen Saloon, a river district club that had been showcasing the blues for a quarter century. The club was recently shut-down to make way for a casino. Such is the march of progress. In 1994, it was all about pianist Uncle Jesse White, one of the last of the old-guard Detroit bluesmen, singing "She Stays Out Every Day And Night," and a packed house of blues lovers knowing they were seeing and hearing history. Doug Deming and the Blue Suit Blues Band ("Lucky Man"), the Garfield Blues Band (tearing it up on "Hold It Right There"), Mimi Harris & The Snakes ("Snake Blues"), Johnnie Bassett & The Blues Insurgents ("Mean Feelin'"), the Alligators ("Saved"), the Detroit Blues Band ("Hello Little Girl"), and Thornetta Davis and the Chisel Brothers ("You Can Have My Husband") were the highlights here. Mimi Harris, one of the great singers in town for decades, broke up her band and is now semi-retired.!
The Detroit Blues Band is history, too. The 1996 show featured Willie D. Warren doing a wonderful "Reconsider Baby," with Chicago Pete in his band. Willie died in December and was feted at the most impressive memorial show in recent Detroit history on February 11, 2001. It all comes around. Big Jack Johnson and Lonnie Shields were so impressed with the concept that they stopped in for sets. Big Jack's chilling "Stop The Killing" and Shield's "Fistful of Dollars" are included here. Big Dave & The Ultrasonics were "this far" away from being internationally huge when they split up in 1999. Their set included the jumping "If I Don't Jump." Robert Jones ("Don't It Make You Feel"), Mudpuppy ("Lovin' Machine"), Steve Nardella ("Uranium Rock"), George Bedard & The Kingpins (with a supercharged "Justine"), Peter 'Madcat' Ruth and Shari Kane ("Act Like You Love Me"), Uncle Jesse White ("When You Kiss Me"), and Albert Collins protégé Robert Noll (closing the night with a gorgeous "Blues From The Heart") made this night amazing!
The last of the recorded benefits took place in 1997. This was even more amazing. Willie D. Warren ("Things I Used To Do"), Chicago Pete (joined by the Chisel Brothers on "A Woman Loves A Loser"), Alberta Adams with Johnnie Bassett & The Blues Insurgents ("Messin' Around With The Blues"), Etta James guitarist Bobby Murray's Band ("It's Still Called The Blues"), and the Butler Twins (with Kenny Parker on "Alabama Boogie") offered the big excitement. Jim McCarty and his son Dylan (as the Father & Son Blues Band), The Franklin Street (the street the Soup Kitchen was on) Blues Band, The Hastings Street Blues Band, Motor City Josh & The Big 3, the Detroit Blues Band, Randy Volin & The Sonic Blues, Blue Spirit Tribe, and Mimi Harris with the Chisel Brothers round out this final superb collection of Detroit blues artists. All
four of these, particularly the live Soup Kitchen sets, are flat out amazing. Blues lovers everywhere need to have these wonderful recordings in their collections.
No Cover Productions. P.O. Box 187, Clawson, MI 48017-1040
"Hastings Street Grease, Vol. I -- Detroit Blues Is Alive, Vol. I"
"Hastings Street Grease, Vol. II -- Detroit Blues Is Alive, Vol. II"
These are two exquisite glimpses into the heart and soul of the Detroit blues scene. Representing the African American blues community, some of the players here were around when Hastings Street, the main Black artery of the city destroyed by I-75 in the early 1960s, was at it's peak. Piano Fats and Willie D. Warren are no longer with us, Eddie Kirkland moved to the East Coast years ago, and Eddie Burns rarely plays anymore -- not because he can't cut a bucket full of heads, but because the blues scene is too littered with imposters. Many of the artists whose historic recordings are assembled here were past their prime in body, but certainly not in spirit. Detroit Piano Fats and Harmonica Shah reminisce about the days on "Hastings Street Revisited, Part I" (Volume I) and Fats takes it solo on "Strolling Through Paradise Valley" (Volume II). On both cuts the scene is vividly painted. Eddie Burns boogies through "Dixie Boogie" and "Stop Lying" on the first set, and turns in a rollicking "When I Get Drunk" on the second volume. Willie D. Warren, who worked with Otis Rush and others in Chicago prior to moving to Detroit in the 1970s, is well represented covering Wolf's "Killing Floor" on Volume I and doing a fine version of the done-to-death "Every Day I Have The Blues" on the second volume. On both he is joined by Harmonica Shah and Piano Fats. Eddie Kirkland takes no prisoners with his "You Ain't Foolin' Me Baby" and "Something's Going Wrong" on the first and "Going Back To The Backwoods" and "There's Got To Be Some Changes Made" on Volume 2. You get the picture. Howard Armstrong, Emmanuel Young, Leon Horner, Harmonica Shah, Uncle Jesse White, and Toledo's fantastic Griswold brothers, Art & Roman, round out the roster on these vital collections.
Blue Suit Records, PO Box 352707, Toledo, OH 43635
"Uncut Detroit II"
Henry Ford Community College, an otherwise nondescript campus in Dearborn, boasts one of the most popular radio shows in the area. JoAnn Korczynska has hosted "Highway 61" for most of the past decade. It didn't take a lot of coaxing for her to persuade local blues players to come together for this 1999 live station fundraiser on the school's campus. Blasting out of the shoot with a pair from Priscilla Price and the Kenny Miller Band, this one doesn't let up until guitarist/vocalist extraordinaire Jim McCarty (ex-Mitch Ryder, Cactus, Rockets, Detroit Blues Band, etc.) takes it out with a killer version of Sonny Boy II's "Help Me." That he's joined by Kenny Welk, the premier harmonica player in Detroit, makes it an ideal closer. Nothing could follow it. In between the bookends is a slew of great music. The Alligators prove why they're one of the most popular bands in town with their covers (a rarity for a band with a deep songbook of originals) of Wolf's "Cryin' For My Baby" and James Harman's "My Little Girl," representing major influences for vocalist Dave Krammer and harper "Wailin' Dale' Blankenship, respectively. Steve Schwartz's slide work is unparalleled on the latter. The pair (you'll begin to notice the trend here) from Johnnie Bassett's keyboard man Al Hill and his Love Butlers are equally marvelous. The original "Nothing I Can Do," sounding straight out of the Excello catalog, is every bit as exciting as the band's take on Jimmy Liggins' classic "Cadillac Boogie." When Alberta Adams takes the stage with drummer R.J. Spangler's Blues Crew (Al Hill, guitar sizzler Doug Deming, bassist Tim Marks and saxophonist Keith Kaminski), the energy level is powerful. Splitting their pair between Ma Rainey's great "He May Be Your Man," and Alberta's "Remember Me," Detroit's reigning Queen of the Blues is in delightful form and completely slays those in attendance. Alberta's been hailed far and wide over the past few years, but she's held court locally for 50 years, or so. She sure does like to give it back to the home crowd. Curtis and Clarence, the Butler Twins have seen a good bit of fame over the past decade, as well. The finest practitioners of juke joint city blues on the planet, they're at the top of their form here -- not that they're ever otherwise. Billy Ferris' lead work is slicing, but Curtis's rhythm guitar is the calling card. The twins used to both play harp when they came to Detroit in the 1960s. Now Clarence's harp and vocals are up front and he's saying more in his subtle way than a car load of mic-swallowing harpers. Their JSP discs were wonderful; their latest, "The Butler's Boogie" is amazing. "Hey Baby Don't You Know Your Daddy Loves You So" and "I Ain't Got Nobody To Tell My Troubles To," both from Clarence's pen, are nothing less than spectacular. Jim McCarty's take on "As The Year's Go Passing By" is a keeper, too. This gets better with every listen.
Venture Records, 23814 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, MI 48124
This review is copyright © 2001 by Mark E. Gallo, 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.
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