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Guitarismo!

By Benson Knickerbocker

Are you fan of the guitar? Here are some releases that bring out the best in blues, jazz and rock axe work.

Son Seals

The Arkansas born Son Seals, may have hailed from the Little Rock area but he sounds like he was born and bred in Chicago. In 1971, Seals moved to Chicago where he jammed with an illustrious group including Junior Wells, Hound Dog Taylor, James Cotton and Buddy Guy. Since his arrival, Seals has been playing the blues with energy abound. On his web site, Seals is quoted as saying "If you really want to do something that's worth something, you've got to give it your all. I try to do that every time I play." Well after nine exceptional albums, Seals is still giving it his all with Lettin’ Go (Telarc Jazz, 2000).

The album covers many of the blues styles that Seals played over the years. "Osceola Rock", which is a tribute to Seal’s birthplace, is a take on Elvis’ "Hound Dog Rock" and is a good old rock and roll piece with Seals taking Chuck Berry licks. The beautiful "Dear Son" starts off sounding like a "road weary blues" number with the lyrics "I have been out on the road a mighty long time." The song quickly turns into a semi-autobiographical story about being dumped. As David Bromberg said, "you have to suffer to sing the blues." The upbeat rocker "I Got Some of My Money" features the stellar Hammond B-3 playing of Al Kooper, who left his mark on albums by everyone from Bob Dylan to Blood, Sweat and Tears. "Rockin’ and Rollin’ Tonight" is a good old country-blues rocker while "bad Luck Child" is some of the slow moving creeping blues that one would expect from a Chicago player.

Seals has received quite of great press thanks to Phish these days. On of Seal’s many blues numbers is "Funky Bitch". This song first made it to a Seal’s album on his appropriately titled 1978 live album, Live & Burning. The song has been a part of the Vermont band’s repertoire since their earliest days and the song is one of the many highlighted cover tunes on Phish 6 CD set "Hampton Comes Alive". During the summer of 1998, Seals joined Phish on stage for "Funky Bitch" as well as "On My Knees". The latter song was another popular Seals’ song that first appeared on his 1976 album, Midnight Son. The Phish/Seals collaboration has reached its pinnacle as Trey Anastasio sits in on Lettin Go’s final track, the first studio recording of "Funky Bitch" ever.

Charlie Hunter

Eight-string guitar maestro, Charlie Hunter is never afraid to tinker with musical styles. During the first half of the 1990s, his work in the band T.J. Kirk somehow combined the music works by Thelonious Monk, James Brown and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Through his solo albums, he has covered the work of Bob Marley (Natty Dread), performed duets with percussionist Leon Parker (Duos) and made ethereal jazz excursions with a vibist (Return of the Candyman). Outside of the studio, Hunter has been busy playing at every festival, jazz house and nightclub across the country. For his newest eponymous album (Blue Note Records, 2000), Hunter brought in old friend Leon Parker as well as saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum. Parker is one of the most talented and spiritual drummers playing today (Check out his 1998 album Awakening) while Apfelbaum has been keeping the spirit of Sun Ra alive and well on the west coat for the last twenty-three years with the Hieroglyphics Ensemble. The album represents many of the different phases that Hunter went through leading up to this recording. The opening "Rendezvous Avec La Verite" and "Two for Bleu" have Hunter and band moving between jazz and funk in the same spirit of the T.J. Kirk albums. The song highlights Hunter with three-part percussion team of Parker, Stephen Chopek and Robert Perkins. The tunes "Al Green", "Epistrophy" and " Dersu (a slight return)" reunite Parker and Hunter in the duet format once again while his version of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We’ll All Be Free" is Hunter all alone on his unorthodox guitar. Like any of his previous albums, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by Hunter’s two-handed style. He is able to play an incredible groove and guide the rhythm for the rest of the band. Hunter has far surpassed being any kind of novelty or gimmick – his guitar playing style forges forward in new directions that can only leave the listener flabbergasted and brimming with appreciation.

 

Kipori "Baby Wolf" Woods

New Orleans is now home to two guitar playing wolves. Walter "Wolfman" Washington’s rhythmic funk has made him a veritable legend in the Crescent City. The newest addition is Kipori "Baby Wolf" Woods. Like most New Orleans protégés, Woods grew up in a musical culture. His father was "Luscious" Lloyd Lambert who played bass with Ray Charles and Doc Cheatham and Wood’s most recent mentor was the great Ellis Marsalis. Big Black Cadillac (Louisiana Red Hot Records, 2000) is Wood’s second album and his carries on the tradition of the Wolfman – check out the second line rhythms of "I Had a Dream" which pay respect to the Wolf man’s quick fingering funk. The tune "You Like Crabs In A Bucket" carries on the long New Orleans tradition of combining funk music with culinary desires. You need to look no further than the Meters and Kermit Ruffins to find similar tributes to food. With songs like "Missy Prissy Lady" and "The Day I Started Playing the Blues", Woods pays tribute to the likes of BB King and Albert King. The song combines Wood’s story telling with his superb soloing shows why Woods has quickly gained a reputation for providing stellar live show. Woods can tell a story with both his vocal chords and quick fingers, which will make any blues Den come alive with excitement.

 

David "Honeyboy" Edwards

Besides being the masters of re-releasing of classic jazz recordings by Roland Kirk, Pat Martino, Sonny Stitt and Woody Shaw, the folks at 32 Records also know how to sink their paws into some memorable blues recordings. This is mainly accomplished through the re-release of album recorded with the Chicago based Trix label and one of their best releases was the 1978 gem by David "Honeyboy" Edwards. Edwards was a longtime member of the down home dirty Chicago blues scene but his recordings were limited. I’ve Been Around (32 Blues, 1974.1977,2000) was recorded sporadically over a three year period in which Edwards took the acoustic guitar for the Delta blues of Son House’s "Pony Blues" and Rube Lacey’s "Hambone Blues" as well as plugging in for his own "Sad and Lonesome" and Chester Burnett’s "Ride Me Tonight." Throughout the album, one can imagine the great Delta-blues singers like Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. In the liner notes written by Amy O’Neal of Living Blues magazine, an old conversation with Edwards is recalled: "I make up some of my own – take a verse out of somebody’s song over here, and one out of somebody else’ song, and when I get through I got five verses, six verses and I got my record… Well, I got some numbers I can imitate Muddy and them, and then I got some of my own. And I can play anybody’ style, but I can turn it around." That pretty much describes this album. The down home roots are definitely presence but through Edward’s guitar, harmonica and voicing, the sound is far from ersatz.

T-Bone Walker

When looking for the roots of modern guitar playing, look no further than T-Bone Walker. This Texas born bluesman started to amplify his guitar back in the 1940s and the rest is history. Stylistically, players like BB King, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Clarence Gatemouth Brown hold a debt of gratitude to Walker’s pioneering guitar playing. Over the years, Walker wrote songs such as "Mean Old World Blues" , How Long Blues" and "Stormy Monday" which were all popularized by rock and rollers like the Allman Brothers and Hot Tuna. All of those songs, plus many, many more can be found on Blues Masters: The Very Best of T-Bone Walker (Rhino Records, 2000). Many of the songs, such as "I’m Still In Love With You" and "Bobby Sox Blues", date to T-Bone’s early works with full jazz orchestras in the 1940s while "Hypin’ Women Blues" is classic barrelhouse blues. The collection is an excellent overview of the Walker’s career and considering its is real easy to pick up some inferior quality blues recordings in the bargain bin, this professionally remastered collection is the way to go.