Mark Naftalin is probably best known as keyboardist for the original 1960's version of the Butterfield Blues Band. Since then he's maintained a career as a solo performer and blues entrepreneur. Two of these videos were shot at the weekly R&B dance -- shows he held at San Francisco Bay area clubs over 4 years in the early eighties. (In 1982-83, an hour of the show was carried each week live on FM radio, and became a staple part of the West Coast blues scene.) All three were previously issued by another company and were long out of print until Naftalin was able to recently re-release them under his own aegis.
VOLUME I (from July 1981) features two main artists -- singer-guitarist Lowell Fulson and writer-singer Percy Mayfield, both backed by a five piece house band, led by Naftalin on piano. After Naftalin's opening theme, Fulson does "Thing," a brief energetic instrumental, then sings "You're Gonna Miss Me." Fulson's spare but driving guitar work is well displayed. Next he's joined by singer Esther Jones who duets on Ray Charles "Night Time Is The Right Time," aided by Dr. Wild Willie Moore on honking sax.
Mayfield is up next and he turns out laconically hip and effective performances of three of his classic numbers: "Strange Things Is Happening," "Please Send Me Someone To Love" and "Life Is Suicide." Mayfield has an insinuating vocal style that wraps his poignant lyrics with a sophisticated and mellow malaise. Another guitar shuffle by Fulson closes the program.
VOLUME II (taped a few days later the same week) focuses also on a couple performers; harpist Charlie Musselwhite, and the boogie-man, John Lee Hooker. The house band (with the addition of Little Walter alumni, guitarist Luther Tucker) backs Musselwhite on a couple of rather average workouts. The first is a largely instrumental version of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me," while "Night Club" is a up-tempo piece, working off the "Got My Mojo Working" riff that Muddy Waters made a standard.
With the addition of long-time Waters drummer Francis Clay, the full band backs up John Lee Hooker on 3 pieces. "So Cold In Chicago" was originally a Bobby Bland tune, while "Worried Life" is the old standby number. On both Hooker plays a bit more guitar than he did in recent years, passing solos all around during "Life". His closer, "Voo Doo Woman" is yet another excursion on his endless-boogie highway. The set is a pleasant if not essential addition to other period footage of the Hook.
POET LAUREATE OF THE BLUES is a musical profile, predominantly based around a visit to Mayfield's home in December of 1982. Naftalin interviews him and plays piano as Mayfield sings snippets and complete songs from his rather remarkable catalogue. Mayfield was known as "the pretty boy of the blues" prior to a devastating 1950's auto accident which caved in his forehead, leaving a noticeable cavity. Though he continued performing for a while, he later concentrated mostly on writing, and was in Ray Charles stable for several years, turning out such hits for him as "Danger Zone" and "Hit The Road Jack."
The video opens with a brief biographical narrative, which includes praise from Charles and B.B. King, then alternates interview questions with relaxed performances from Mayfield, including pieces of favorites like "Louisiana," "Rivers Invitation" and "Never Say No." There's a nice syncopated swing to this at-home version of "Hit The Road Jack" -- during the piano break mid-tune Mayfield saunters to the kitchen to refill his drink, sips and comes back in right on time. The piece is filled out with the same three club performances included on Volume I. Though not particularly revealing, the video is a pleasant afternoon visit with one of the great writers of classic jazz/blues ballads.
Most of the featured performers have passed by now, and these sets have some rare and worthwhile footage of their work. Unfortunately however, these are rather high-ticket items. Each was timed for half-hour broadcast slots and so clocks in at around 25 minutes, the $20 each price tag will seem high to some.
Credit card orders: 1-800-411-WINNER, or
Winner Producing Co.
P O Box 151095
San Rafael CA 94915-1095
This review is copyright © 1999 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.