Feb 28, 2009

Electric Blues


Hello everybody!

Looking through some negatives and transparencies, I came across these funny images of my sun Luís. He just had decided to paint his hair blue and I got the chance to invite him to come over in the studio, to make some images to perpetuate such a nice look.

After all, you don't get a blue haired model around the corner each day.

We gotta take our chances!

In those times my studio was still located in Olivais, Lisbon. I didn't like it that much...

The shots were made with a Hasselblad camera and the Zeiss Sonnar 150mm, in the year 1997.

Light, as usual in my studio, was made by Hensel Studiotechnik from Würzburg, Germany.

Looking at these photographs, made me think almost instinctively about another passion of mine: the Blues, electric blues in this particular case...

Watching the name of my blog, you quickly understand that I intended to talk about, or think and share about, some other stuff but only Photography.

At least I would like to relate Photography with some other things I also care about.

If Mother Earth would have given me the gift of some good ears, I probably would not be a photographer. I always had the dream of beeing a musician...
(It seems that I always had some attraction for lost causes...).

As I can't make the distintion between an A and a C, I had to content myself with some visual matter. Hopefully I can be a little better at that...

Nevertheless, I am glad to share with you some of the most important records I listened to, when I was a kid. I think that they were very important in my education has a human beeing.
After all these years, I still listen to and enjoy each and everyone of them.

Great, really great music!
Much better than my Photography...

It is hard to find a blues singer more authentic than the old John Lee Hooker. His music was absolutely unique. He was the Real Thing! Period.

You couldn't mistake his beat, his sound was second to none. Sometimes his music was so intense that I feel that I could cut it with a knife!

Listen to records like "Live at Sugar Hill", and you will effortlessly see my point.

When I bought "Live at Cafe Au Go-Go" after Christmas 1973 (I was eighteen), I already was a deep aficionado of his voice and guitar. On this recordings John Lee was supported by Muddy Waters, Otis Spann and George Smith, among others.

The first LP I ever bought from John Lee Hooker started with an incredible song called "I Need Love So Bad". It took me many years to find a CD showcasing that song.
I found it at last, in a compilation made by Tony McPhee, the guitar player from the british band "The Groundhogs", that have accompanied Mr. Hooker on various UK dates.

I remember having a Groundhogs LP called "Split". Never managed to get it on CD...

The Groundhogs also recorded with other great blues artists, such as Champion Jack Dupree , Eddy Boyd and Big Joe Williams.

In the end of the year 1970 (I was fifteen!), I came across this recordings by B.B. King.
To this day, and after many records I got from B.B. King, this is my best!

Particularly the "Live" performance sounds absolute outstanding, with B.B. mastering his guitar in incredible top form.

All the recording sounds phantastic and the interaction with the audience is awesome.

B.B. King later on started playing more commercial stuff, but this is pure blues at it's best!

In my opinion, this is, together with the "Completely Well" sessions, the best B.B. King you can get!

Another gem in my collection!
Sadly the cover was changed. The old LP had a photograph of Taj Mahal.

I find the music on this recordings to have a very special kind of energy and a certain kind of compactness: each note seems to be in the right place, everything is very tasteful, the voice is strong.

It is a recording that breathes youth. It didn't get dated to my ears, still sounds fresh.

And we can wonder at the great guitar playing of the late Jesse Ed Davis. So good that I can even forget the absence of Ry Cooder...

Al Kooper sits at the piano and the rhythm section doesn't miss a beat.

They don't make records like that anymore!

As Taj sings "You Don't Miss Your Water ('til Your Well Runs Dry)...

I always had deep admiration for John Mayall, the man who, together with Alexis Korner, deserves the title of Father of the British Blues Boom in the 60's.

You can find lots of musicians who served on the several formations of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers who got famous on later years: Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, John Mc Vie, Mick Fleetwood, Andy Fraser, Keef Hartley, etc., etc.
The list could go on and on. As Clapton said, "John Mayall has run an incredibly great school for musicians".

I also very much like the records where John plays in small combos like in the "USA Union" album, featuring Harvey Mandel (gt), Don "Sugarcane" Harris (violin) and Larry Taylor, (b) recorded in 1970.

I prefer instead to show the cover of one of my all time favorites, the album "Bare Wires", from 1968. It features the work of Mick Taylor, Jon Hiseman, Dick Heckstall-Smith, etc., and was a highly successful project.

The "Bare Wires - Suite", that made the entire A Side of the original LP, is just unbelievable!

The existence of people like John Mayall is a blessing for the world!

Talking about Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel, I must talk about another important white blues band of the 60's and 70's: Canned Heat.

Both musicians are in top form through the entire recording made live in Europe. Bob Hite also showcases a great voice and the whole atmosphere is relaxed and loaded with energy. Even on some slow numbers sang by Alan Wilson, you can feel the vibe and intensity of the moment.

If you close your eyes and let go, you can easily feel like beeing in the first row.

Closing a little more, you even can ear Bob "The Bear" Hite shouting "don't forget to boogie!".

(As I write these lines. I read that Tony de la Barreda, former bass player for Canned Heat, passed away February 19th, 2009, of a heart attack. May he rest in peace...).

The voice and piano playing of Sunnyland Slim are accompanied by loads of good musicians on this one.
Not the kind of nice sweet duets you see nowadays en vogue, but real musicians doing real blues.

This recording is the proof, if that needed to be, that the blues has nothing to do with the colour of your skin.

The blues is a feeling!

Recorded in 1968, this LP delivers great guitar work by Mick Taylor, Luther Allison, Henry Vestine, Alan Wilson and Randy Fullerton.
Harmonica blowing by George Smith. Bass by Larry Taylor. Drums by Paul Lagos and Francis Clay...

The list is not complete.

You even got Big Mama Thornton guesting in one track.

No, she doesn't sing, she plays the drums...

Another wonderful voice and piano playing of top quality, paired with european white musicians.

It is amazing, how many great black musicians had to come to Europe to get the recognition they long deserved!

Memphis Slim was one of them, and I remember seeing him performing in a Jazz-Club in Heidelberg (or was it in the Stadthalle?), together with a french drummer.

I remember shooting some black & white photographs of that session. It was actually one of the first rolls that I developed myself. I must look for it, and I will post some images when I find it.

I wish to point out the guitar playing of Peter Green on this record. Superb as usual!

Oh, don't you agree that that blue chicken looks appetitive?

Nice cover shot!

You couldn't find a better name for this record...

Yes, it is a Colossus!

Everything! The voice and piano playing of Otis Spann, the back up of Fleetwood Mac, the drums of S.P. Leary, the production of Mike Vernon!

Peter Green plays some of the best blues guitar solos I ever heard. Period!

According to Mike Vernon, the whole album was recorded in a day - no overdubs and straight to two track stereo: January 9th, 1969. Tempo Sound Studios, New York.

Can you believe it?

Yes, those were the days... They don't make them like that no more!

Like Mike states:"Truly a blues summit to savour".

Another great name for another great record of a great harmonica player!

Yes, George Smith has no time for jive on this one, and the whole band is exceptional too.

Even the double exposure on the cover shot looks good.

One more extraordinary Blue Horizon production by Mike Vernon, recorded at The Eldorado Studios, LA, 17th/18th November, 1969 (Two days!).

Phenomenal guitar interplay by Buddy Reed, Greg Schaefer, Marschall Hooks and Pee Wee Crayton.

I find the slow tempo tunes absolutely delightful.

The last tune, "No Time For Jive", couldn't be better!

(This LP was originally bought by my close friend António Relvas Pires, who also owned Canned Heat - Live In Europe.
I only got my copy some years later.
In those times you couldn't just go out and buy a record. You had to look for it, suffer for it, struggle for it. And when you were lucky and finally got it, you would treasure it. More on that later...).

I very much like Arhoolie Records, but this isn't the original presentation.

With the advent of the CD, many recording companies reissued their back catalogue taking the chance of exploring the longer playing times that the CD allows. So here you have, so to say, two records in one. So far so fine!

What I dislike is that Arhoolie, and others, don't publish the original covers of the time. They usually were much nicer, showing nice 60's type of black & white images.

This particular one is not that bad, but some records just look awful!

I am thinking about some stuff by Fred McDowell and some recordings by Earl Hooker, where Arhoolie just destroyed some great covers.
Don't they wish to sell records?

It also makes very hard for long time fans to find out what is what, when we want to update our collection to CD.
Having played in miserable record players, some of my LP's are no more audible...
Some I had the chance of finding a second time as LP, and now a third time as CD...

I guess that I am a lucky man sometimes!

On this reissue, I prefer our "original" LP, starting on track 13 on the CD.

It showcases the harmonica playing of Walter Horton, the piano of Lafayette Leake and the solo guitar of Jimmy Dawkins.

The voice of Johnny Young is sometimes so sad that it really hurts: "Sometimes I cry and I cry darling, tears keep on rolling from my eyes...".
I am not listening, I am remembering, so please allow me a possible mistake...

Produced by Chris Strachwitz & Willie Dixon, it was also recorded in one day, on November 27, 1967, at Stereosonic Studios in Chicago.

I just can't talk about electric blues without mentioning T-Bone Walker!

Walker was one of the first guitarists to use electrical amplification, and was in the possession of a distintive voice and great technique, as well as a great flair for showmanship.

On this session, recorded in LA, 1967, he is backed up by another great guitar man, by the name of Mel Brown. Production is by veteran Bob Thiele.
The horns sound a little Motown style, but the music and sound quality are very good.

These are relatively "up-to-date" recordings of T-Bone Walker, considered by many to be the father of the modern blues.

Mr. Walker died on March 15, 1975.

I decided to finish for today with the record of Muddy Waters that I like the most in my collection.
It was also the first Muddy Waters record I ever bought!

Maybe the reason why I like it so much? Who knows and who cares?

It is one of these live recordings full of that special energy that fills up a room and bounces back and forth between the audience and the performers.

The band is in top condition, and Muddy himself isn't shy of showing his slide skills.
Pinetop Perkins masters the piano, Calvin Jones is on bass, Willie Smith on drums.
Pee Wee Madison and Sam Lawhorn share guitar duties, while Paul Osher blows the harmonica.

On three numbers the group is joined by harmonica player James Cotton.

I think Muddy must have felt at home.

After all it was in Chicago that he built his reputation!



  1. Mick Taylor: noted twice by the blogger and not lauded over once. That's two missed opportunities to rave about the finest in guitar players.

  2. Yes, I guess that you are right!

    I had thought about praising about him in Bare Wires, and somehow I forgot about doing it...

    Mea culpa...

    I agree with you. He is one of the finest!

    Well, next time I talk about the Blues, I will try to correct it.

    I apologise.


  3. Your Muddy Waters record is in my top ten blues albums of all time. This record got me interested in playing harmonica. Muddy Waters makes plenty of room for the harp players to shine but when he does lay it down on this record he is really on song. Great choice and thanks for the other recommendations I will definately check them out!

  4. Thank you Simon,
    If you are interested on harmonica, I think that you shouldn't miss George Smith! I rate it absolute top, on this record! His singing is great too, as are the guitars...
    Alan Wilson does some good harp on Canned Heat "Live in Europe", as usually, and I would not underrate Taj Mahal on this record (definitely more bluesy than on later records. The first one I knew from him, still my favorite!). Big Walter is also very good with Johnny Young...
    Hope you like it! Let me know...
    P.S.: Maybe you saw that George Smith plays on "Live at Mr. Kelly's. On the original record he does it under Joe Denim, because of contractual reasons. I agree with you, my best Muddy Waters record, from far!

  5. I agree, Taj Mahal is probably a much better harp player than a guitarist. His band on the first two albums were absolutely blistering.

    I have ordered a few of your recommendations on vinyl and would love to get my hands on the George Smith album...it must be quite rare because the prices vendors are asking are US$100.00 plus...you have expensive taste!

    I had read somewhere that 'Joe Denim' was actually James Cotton playing under alias for the same contractual reasons?

  6. Hi Simon,
    You are right, I have confused things: it was Jammes Cotton... Sorry!
    About Taj: I specially love his voice on that record, and Jesse Ed Davis guitar. I prefer "The Natch'l Blues" to the prior record (or records?) with Ry Cooder... Although I like very much Cooder's guitar playing!
    About George Smith: I guess that you are right,that record might be difficult to find, it took me some years to find it on CD (I don't believe vinyl to be easier these days...).
    If you wish to have a taste and have a CD player, use my email to send me your adress...
    Yes, some tastes can get expensive...

  7. Hi Rui,

    I am able to download the George Smith album for free so may do this...it is just nice to have the object of the record in your hands.

    Please check-out my blog about blues music...there are some songs to listen to and also playlist every month; www.chicagobluesharp.blogspot.com