Elvis Costello Curates ‘The Complete Armed Forces’ Time Capsule

Elvis Costello  & The Attractions’ paradigmatic 1979 album, Armed Forces, will be reissued as a comprehensive box set. Personally curated by Elvis CostelloThe Complete Armed Forces is the definitive statement of the songwriter nonpareil’s essential album, featuring the classic hits “Accidents Will Happen,” “Oliver’s Army” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding.”

Armed Forces is explored across nine pieces of vinyl (3 12-inch LPs, 3 10-inch LPs and 3 7-inch singles), including a new 2020 remaster of the album, B-sides, alternate versions and outtakes, demos, and a slew of live recordings – including 23 unreleased live tracks taken from three especially riotous concerts. Sparing no effort or detail, this new super deluxe edition vinyl box set is a thorough excavation of Costello’s vault from his early beginnings to the events that led to the making of the album and his success with The Attractions.

Out November 6 via UMeThe Complete Armed Forces will be available in two vinyl versions: 180-gram black vinyl and limited edition 180-gram multi-color opaque vinyl. It will also be available digitally for streaming and download. This ornate box set calls attention to designer Barney Bubbles’ pop-art packaging, including the paint-splattered cover artwork by Bubbles and Bazooka and features a unique origami cover that folds out to display the bold graphics and the six vinyl LPs, rounded out by three 7-inch reissues of the album’s singles: “Oliver’s Army,” “Accidents Will Happen” and Nick Lowe’s “American Squirm” b/w “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?

“Most of this record was written in hotel rooms or on a tour bus, scribbled in a notebook which rarely left my side or failing this, from fragments and phrases scrawled on paper cocktail napkins or hotel notepaper,” Costello writes in the newly updated liner notes. Seven custom notebooks in this treasure trove contain the liners, facsimiles of first-draft, handwritten lyrics, and examples of his songwriting process — as well as rare photos and concert ephemera.

The Complete Armed Forces also includes a print of the vintage grenade and gun poster and the four original postcards of each band member. Costello commissioned acclaimed artist Todd Alcott to create pulp novel book covers of songs from Armed Forces starring himself as the protagonist in a variety of perilous circumstances.

Armed Forces has been newly remastered by Costello and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig from the original analog tapes to match the sonic fidelity of the initial 1979 UK pressing. Striving for the utmost authenticity, they took care to match the feel and intention of the original mastering.

The evolution of the album is documented on the 10-inch, Sketches For Emotional Fascism A.K.A. Armed Forceswhich assembles together B-sides, demos and alternate versions, making many of these songs available on vinyl for the first time in decades. The band’s live expertise is celebrated with several previously unreleased concert recordings that bookended the recording and release of the album.

Along with selections from the band’s legendary 1978 Hollywood High show, the collection includes highlights from Riot At The Regent – Live In Sydney ’78 and  Christmas In The Dominion – Live 24th December ’78 at London’s Dominion Theatre. “Riot At The Regent is a souvenir from our days Down Under and a second snap-shot of the Attractions in action during six months either side of the recording of Armed Forces,” Costello pens. Continuing, “We played right up to Christmas Eve and certainly sound full of cheery spirit on ‘Christmas In The Dominion,’ playing a version of ‘No Dancing’ in an apparently spontaneous arrangement that sounds as if we had just heard Blondie’s ‘Heart Of Glass’ on the radio and decided to re-work my song with a similar approach before closing the stand with the same song with which we had opened it: ‘Peace Love & Understanding.’”

Costello’s full set at PinkPop in The Netherlands in 1979, titled Europe ’79 – Live At Pinkpop showcases a band at the top of their game, playing songs that would end up on 1980’s Get HappyAll of the unreleased live recordings, taken from the original 2? multitracks, have been remixed by Costello’s longtime producer and mixer Sebastian Krys who recently mixed his forthcoming new album, Hey Clockface, and co-produced his 2018 GRAMMY® Award-winning album, Look Now.

Produced by Nick LoweArmed Forces was Elvis Costello’s third album and his second with The Attractions – Steve Nieve (keyboards), Bruce Thomas (bass) and Pete Thomas (drums). Armed Forces followed on from 1978’s This Year’s Model, an album that completely defied the sophomore slump.

With The Complete Armed Forces, Costello has provided an all-encompassing time capsule that lets us celebrate this timeless album and understand how it came to be. Watch it all get unboxed below.

THE COMPLETE ARMED FORCES TRACKLISTING

Armed Forces 12? LP
SIDE A
1. Accidents Will Happen
2. Senior Service
3. Oliver’s Army
4. Big Boys
5. Green Shirt
6. Party Girl

SIDE B
1. Goon Squad
2. Busy Bodies
3. Sunday’s Best
4. Moods For Moderns
5. Chemistry Class
6. Two Little Hitlers
7. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?

Live at Hollywood High & Elsewhere 1978 12? LP
SIDE A
1. Accidents Will Happen
2. Mystery Dance
3. Goon Squad
4. Party Girl
5. Stranger In The House

SIDE B
1. Alison
2. Lipstick Vogue
3. Watching The Detectives
4. You Belong To Me
5. Chemistry Class (Live at The Warner Theatre, Washington D.C.)

Europe ’79 – Live At Pinkpop 12? LP
SIDE A
1. Goon Squad
2. B-Movie
3. Green Shirt
4. (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea
5. Opportunity
6. So Young
7. High Fidelity

SIDE B
1 Lipstick Vogue
2. Watching The Detectives
3. Big Boys
4. Pump It Up
5. You Belong To Me
6. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?

Sketches for Emotional Fascism 10? LP
SIDE A
1. Clean Money
2. Talking In The Dark
3. Wednesday Week
4. Tiny Steps

SIDE B
1. Crawling To The U.S.A.
2. Big Boys (Alternate Version)
3. Green Shirt (Demo Version)
4. My Funny Valentine

Riot At The Regent – Live In Sydney ’78 10? LP
SIDE A
1. Oliver’s Army
2. Waiting For The End Of The World
3. Big Boys

SIDE B
1. This Year’s Girl
2. You Belong To Me
3. Pump It Up

Christmas In The Dominion – Live 24th December ’78 10? LP
SIDE A
1. (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
2. No Dancing

SIDE B
1. I Stand Accused
2. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?

“Oliver’s Army” 7?
SIDE A
1. Oliver’s Army

Side B
1. Big Boys (Demo)

“Accidents Will Happen” 7?
SIDE A
1. Accidents Will Happen

Side B
1. Busy Bodies (Alternate)

Nick Lowe & His Sound – “American Squirm” 7?
Side A
1. American Squirm

Side B
2. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?



Watch Joe Bonamassa Demo His New Epiphone Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty”

After working together for two years, Joe Bonamassa and Epiphone Guitars introduce the new Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty.” Based on one of the rarest and most coveted guitars in the guitar hero’s collection- a 1958 Gibson Les Paul Custom- it is available now at all Authorized Gibson Dealers and at www.epiphone.com.

Bonamassa purchased the original 1958 Gibson Les Paul Custom in black when he visited Hauer Music in Centerville, Ohio and the guitar became one of his prized possessions.

Watch Joe Bonamassa demo his new Epiphone Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty” here or below.

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Committed to producing affordable instruments for music lovers across the globe, Bonamassa and Epiphone went to work developing the guitar. “We based my new Epiphone signature on this 1958 Gibson Les Paul Custom,” he explains. “I made it a super playable instrument, throaty but clean, and the lead pick up just barks. I fell in love with it, it’s a great Black Beauty and you just play this thing into the ground. Epiphone did an excellent job re-creating this guitar and I’m excited to share it with everyone.”

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty”

Features of this limited-edition creation include a 50’s neck profile for an era-correct feel, LP Custom bound body and neck, non-weight relieved Mahogany body, unique vintage tuners, Orange Drop® capacitors, CTS® potentiometers, two Epiphone ProBucker™ 2 and one ProBucker™ 3 pickups, Switchcraft® output jack, and classic black hardshell case with gold hardware and yellow gold plush lining.

“Working with Joe to recreate his 1958 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty was an incredible journey,” Cesar Gueikian, Chief Merchant Officer, Gibson said in a statement. “Every one of the guitars in Joe’s collection has a story. I encourage everyone to watch ‘The Collection’ with Joe Bonamassa on Gibson TV to learn more about this guitar.”

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Street price is $799. You can find more information here. https://www.epiphone.com/Guitar/EPIFM5161/Joe-Bonamassa-Black-Beauty-Les-Paul-Custom/Ebony



Hear Pearl Jam’s Fiery New Song ‘Get It Back’

Weeks after Pearl Jam gave their new song “Get It Back” exclusively to a one-day-only Bandcamp fundraising compilation, the band has placed the single on all streaming services.

The Matt Cameron-penned “Get It Back,” Pearl Jam’s first new music since their Gigaton arrived earlier this year, first appeared on Good Music To Avert The Collapse Of American Democracy, Volume 2, a collection that raised funds for Voting Rights Lab.

Along with “Get It Back,” Pearl Jam also announced Sunday that on October 22nd — the 30th anniversary of their first-ever concert together at Seattle’s Off-Ramp — the band will livestream the full-album performance of Ten they played live on April 29th, 2016 in Philadelphia; as Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament noted in a New York Times interview, the Philly gig was chosen with Pennsylvania, a pivotal swing state, in mind.

“We will sound the alarm, with their well-being in mind, to put it out there that there’s some bad information being spread out there,” Vedder said. “And it’s turning into chaos and deadly violence and dividing us.”

In September, Pearl Jam established PJ Votes, a massive voting initiative that asks their fans to accept the Take-Three Pledge of “Vote by Mail,” “Recruit Three Friends” and “Don’t Wait.”

“It’s about reminding people that their voice matters and their voice can make a big difference,” Ament told Rolling Stone. “Like a lot of things, if you find out that your good friends are doing something, you become more curious about it and more invested in it. What we found with voting is that when people you’re living with or your family or your best friends are voting, then you tend to vote as well.”



Paying Homage to Blues Royalty – The King Biscuit Blues Festival

Helena, Arkansas and King Biscuit; the names are synonymous. For tens of thousands of music fans, they both mean one of the greatest blues festivals on the planet. However, as Lewis Carroll said, let’s “Begin at the beginning.”

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Helena was founded in 1833 by Nicholas Rightor along the banks of the Mississippi River. As a terminal point on the former Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad beginning in 1906, the town served as a launch point for passengers and freight traveling to Joplin, Missouri. By the mid-1930s Helena was a hotbed for itinerant blues musicians to play the jukes, fish frys and weekend parties of the area. Noted musicologist Robert Palmer later claimed it to be “the blues capital of the Delta,” at that time.

Robert Johnson, Johnny Shines, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Robert Nighthawk, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Memphis Slim and Roosevelt Sykes regularly visited and performed in the area. Blues guitarist CeDell Davis, jazz saxophonist Red Holloway, gospel singer Roberta Johnson, and Country Music Hall of Famer Conway Twitty all hailed for the region.

In November 1941, Helena’s first radio station KFFA went on the air. Station Manager and part owner Sam Anderson offered to sell a block of time to a group of blues musicians on the condition that they obtain a sponsor. Max Moore, owner of Interstate Grocer Company, which distributed King Biscuit Flour, agreed to sponsor the show — thus was born the King Biscuit Entertainers and the beginning of King Biscuit Time, the longest-running daily American radio broadcast in history. The original King Biscuit entertainers were Williamson and Lockwood, followed shortly by Pinetop Perkins, and James “Peck” Curtis.

L-R Joe Willie Wilkins, Joe “Pine Top” Perkins, Sonny Boy Williamson, announcer Hugh Smith, James “Peck” Curtis, and Houston Stackhouse. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives.

These broadcasts, at 12:15 PM each day and heard in the hometowns of Nighthawk, Lockwood, and Sonny Boy, were a draw to young southern blues artists who came to Helena to hang around and learn. Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter, later central to the sound of the Muddy Waters band, were among them. Levon Helm, drummer and vocalist for Ronnie Hawkins and The Band, grew up outside Helena in Turkey Scratch. He frequently went into town to watch as the show was broadcast. Other musicians including B.B. King, James Cotton, and Ike Turner were also inspired by the KFFA broadcasts.

According to Jim O’Neal, founding editor of Living Blues magazine and an authority on blues history, “The King Biscuit Time was the thing that really crystallized blues music in this area. Muddy Waters and B.B. King would come home from working in the fields every day just to listen to it.”

“Sunshine” Sonny Payne, who started out at KFFA as a janitor, took over announcing for King Biscuit Time in 1951 and continued until his death in 2018.

“Sunshine” Sonny Payne on the air December 2007.
Courtesy of Jack Myers/Delta Cultural Center Programming Coordinator

By the mid-1980s, Helena, like many American towns of the time, was failing in the areas of industry, and population. Something needed to be done to bring this once popular blues haven back to life. The Main Street America program with a goal of revitalizing older and historic commercial districts guided the local Main Street Helena organization in that goal. A group of blues devotees formed as the Sonny Boy Blues Society, and they became the core of the first King Biscuit Blues Festival planning committee. Helena’s musical heritage was largely unknown even to blues fans, and the festival was an effort to establish Helena’s rightful place in the Delta’s musical history.

Among the artists to play the first festival were West Helena native bluesman, Lonnie Shields, Robert Lockwood Jr., Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton, Frank Frost, Jack Johnson, Sam Carr, Willie Foster, T-Model Ford and CeDell Davis. It was one day festival in the beginning and the artists were chosen because of their contribution to blues and their ties to Helena, rather than if they could draw a large audience.

Since then King Biscuit has been going “great guns,” as my grandmother would say. For nearly two decades of the festival’s existence, Munnie Jordan has been the committee’s Executive Director.

Actually what draws me back is this little town that we live in needs the King Biscuit Blues Festival. It’s just a must for us to keep it going here in the Delta. It’s our heritage. It’s our culture, and we want to celebrate it. This is where the blues started, up and down this Delta region on the Mississippi River. Memphis, Helena, Clarksdale, that’s where it all started. Our stage is right on the Mississippi River. It’s a permanent stage and the people sit up on the levee bank. I think they love that. It just feels good. Plus the town is small, and people like it. They just feel good when they’re here. – Munnie Jordan

With a population of just 12,000, Helena grows in size to nearly 35,000 during the course of the four-day festival. The main stage on the levee, is the only stage that is ticketed and therefor the only one where an accurate count can be made. That stage area holds 8,000 people at any one time, but it’s far from being the only show in town. There’s also the Bit-O-Blues Stage (children up to age 18) on the North end of town, and following South are the Gospel Stage (in the Malco Theater), Lockwood Stackhouse Stage, CeDell Davis Stage (formerly known as the Rising Biscuit Stage and Doctor Ross Stage), Front Porch Stage, and a one-block strip of Cherry Street known as Busker’s Row.

King Biscuit Blues Festival 2012

Although the performances are the highlights of the festival, other blues-centric events take place as well. There are songwriter workshops, jam sessions, VIP parties, a 5K run, bike ride, blues symposiums, Kansas City sanctioned BBQ competitions, food vendors, merch tables, beverage tents, camping and more. There’s really no way that anyone can take part in everything that goes on during any given festival.

There have been some hiccups along they way. For a few years, the festival lost the right to use the words King Biscuit. However, the trademark owner has now allowed for the use of the name for a minimum of 99 years for free! The celebration when that announcement was made in 2010, just before B.B. King took to the stage, is one of Jordan’s favorite memories of her years with the Biscuit.

Then comes this year. 2020 has been nothing short of a conflagration, quite literally burning down the house in the field of music. Venues, including the King Biscuit Blues Festival were forced to postpone, or cancel due to COVID restrictions. For the first time since its inception King Biscuit was a much scaled-down, virtual event. But the show DID go on, and plans for the 2021 fest, October 6-9, have been made. Headliners for 2021 include Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues with special guest Bobby Rush, Mavis Staples, Allman Betts Band, Thornetta Davis, Paul Thorn, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and more! Check out the full lineup here.

We look forward with great anticipation to the opening of venues across the globe, and festivals, particularly King Biscuit, to once again celebrate the blues.

What began in 1986 as a way to revive Helena has turned into one of the largest festivals in the South. It is one of the few major festivals that is still free. But what makes King Biscuit special is the sense of place: This is a festival tied literally and figuratively to its roots. Take the blues festivals out of Chicago and San Francisco, and these cities would hardly notice. Take King Biscuit out of Helena, and you have struck at the city’s identity and wounded its pride. – Nadine Cohodas



Talking ‘100 Years of Blues’ With Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite

The early 1960s Chicago blues scene was surprisingly large. So big, that two young white kids from the South —  harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite, out of Memphis, and guitarist Elvin Bishop, raised in Oklahoma — didn’t know each other.

(L-R) Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite Photo by Steve Jennings.

“It all depended on the exact people you hung out with and which clubs you got in the habit of going to,” Bishop recalls. “[Charlie and I] were on a different circuit. We were kind of acquainted and we liked each other. And I liked his music always, but our paths didn’t cross that much.”

The two would eventually strike up a friendship, though, and finally, in 2017, they cut a track together: 2017’s “100 Years of Blues” for Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio. “We were on a package tour with our own bands, but part of the show was me and Elvin just sitting down together and doing a few tunes, just the two of us,” Musselwhite says. “And it went over really well. I don’t remember who thought of it first, but somebody said, we ought to have a CD for sale out there in the lobby.”

That led the two into the studio where they cut 100 Years of Blues, which is the two blues legends joined by pianist/guitarist Bob Welsh (from Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio), on a relaxed set of songs that makes you feel like you’re hanging out at a late night/early morning jam session in someone’s living room. Not many artists could pull off that kind of stripped down album, recorded live, like a show, leaving little for anyone to hide behind.

But not many musicians have their pedigree. Bishop was a founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues
Band, with a long solo career that even saw him land a song, the gentle “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” off of 1975’s Struttin’ My Stuff, in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. And Grammy Award-winning harmonica legend Musselwhite, while less connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was discovered by none other than Muddy Waters in Chicago.

“I had already met [Waters] once in Memphis when I lived there,” Musselwhite recalls. “And then when I was in Chicago, I was going to his home club, Pepper’s Lounge. When he wasn’t on the road, he would be playing at Pepper’s Lounge and he lived just around the corner. And so I hung out there a lot. And he thought of me as a fan, because I’d request tunes and talk to him, but I wasn’t going around telling people that I played harmonica and wanting to sit in or anything. I was just happy to be there and listen to them: my heroes.”

Musselwhite’s story could have ended there, except that a waitress told Waters about Charlie’s harmonica playing. Waters called him up to the stage one night and made Musselwhite’s career. “All these other musicians heard me and man, they started offering me gigs and gosh, that sure got me attention,” he says. “And that was a big turning point right there.”

Musselwhite credits his and Bishop’s southern roots with their acceptance into the Chicago scene. “One thing about Elvin and I being in Chicago is we were from down home, in their eyes,” Musselwhite says. “I was from Mississippi  and Elvin was from Oklahoma. And I noticed that when these guys would introduce us to other people, to friends of theirs, they’d always say, you know, ‘Charlie, he’s from down home.’ And that meant something. I wasn’t a local white Yankee guy,” Musselwhite laughs. “There was a difference.”

Now Bishop and Musselwhite are the experienced blues artists, with 100 Years of Blues showing that while there’s over a century of playing between the two of them, they still have new things to say.

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Steven Ovadia for American Blues Scene:

What do you like about playing with Charlie?

Elvin Bishop:

Well, he’s one of the few guys that really understands the real deal blues and how to go about it. And I like him because he’s one of the few guys our age that’s still progressing and trying to work out new stuff [laughs]. Most harmonica players, what you get when you play with them is recycled Little Walter licks they learned off records and there ain’t none of that with Charlie.

Do you think it’s different with guitarists?

Elvin:

It’s a matter of the individual. You hear some guys that’ll stick pretty close to Albert or B.B. King, or play real recognizable licks and everything. And then guys who come up with their own stuff. So it just varies with whoever you talking about, you know?

How would you compare playing with Charlie to playing with Paul Butterfield?

Elvin:

They’re both one-of-a-kind dudes. And they’re just totally different individuals. In my opinion, Butterfield was at his best when he had the 12-bar blues framework to work inside of. And then he kind of got interested in doing all kinds of other stuff. And it sort of spread out all over the place and I think his strongest, most direct impact was playing 12-bar blues. And he had a good knack, like Charlie, of playing something genuine and strong, but not other people’s licks.

What do you like about playing with Elvin?

Charlie Musselwhite:

We have the same influences. We love music the same way. And we probably knew all of the same blues guys that were so encouraging to us and welcoming, and flattered that we knew who they were and would go to these rough little clubs to see them. So we have a lot in common and playing together is just so effortless. It’s like we’re of the same mind. So we’re kindred souls.

He’s an old friend. We’ve known each other since we were kids practically. In our 20s or maybe even as teenagers; I’m not sure when we first met. I know I got to Chicago when I was 18. And I think Elvin was already there, like another year or so before me. And we both love blues in the same way and feel the same way about it and had many the same friends and listened to the same music and went to a lot of the same clubs. Even though we didn’t live near each other or see each other all that much in Chicago, our paths did cross.

And so we were in that scene, we were a part of it. Only difference was we were young white guys, and other black guys our age didn’t want anything to do with blues. You know, I tell black guys my age about Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf, and they say ‘What’s wrong with you? You’re crazy. That’s old folks’ music.’ I say ‘I like Sonny Boy Williamson’ and they say ‘Sonny Boy Williamson! Man, that’s my parents’ music.’ The blues was just adult music. You didn’t see people our age, black or white, really, in the clubs.

What would you say makes like for a great guitar lick?

Elvin:

I like to hear people being themselves. And somebody that has an identifiable personality. You spend a lot of your time when you’re learning your basics and getting your tools together when you’re younger, imitating other people, to be honest. Most people. Just learning the vocabulary and all that. And I think the great majority of players never get past this stage.

When you think of like a blues guitar personality, who do you think of? Who’s got like a distinct voice?

Elvin:

You’ve got to start with B.B. Definitely he came up with some highly original stuff that really, really worked. And Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker. Guys like that who are just totally different from anybody else. I mean, you’ve got to admire those guys. I remember I’d go in Pepper’s Lounge to hear Muddy Waters and those guys. And on the jukebox, they’d have ‘Mojo Hand’ by Lightnin’ Hopkins and that’s one guy with a guitar. And this is way back in the 60s, but still getting played on the jukebox. I said, ‘Now that guy. He’s got something that people like, you know? He’s the original thing.’

What do you think goes into like a great harmonica line, Charlie?

Charlie:

Well, there’s different ways of thinking about it. Some players, and it’s not just a harmonica, it’s all instruments, they seem to think the faster you can play somehow proves something. I don’t know what that’s about [laughs]. They treat it as a sport or something. Or sometimes, I wonder, are they in a hurry to get to the end of the tune? They play all these notes and all this technique and it makes me think of somebody that has a huge vocabulary, but really nothing to say.

So for me technique is important, of course, but it’s not what comes first. You use technique to support the music. For me, the music comes first. I love melody; a line that just speaks to you on a level beyond language. And sometimes when I’m playing, I have the feeling that I’m singing without words. So it’s like a language. And different people have different ways of expressing themselves with that language.

Do you always have a harmonica on you?

Charlie:

No. I have some on my desk. That’s where I keep them [laughs].

Charlie, you played slide guitar on “Good Times.” I was a little surprised. Have you played guitar on record before?

Charlie:

Oh, yeah, many times. I even put out a whole album of guitar music. It’s on my own label: Henrietta Records. And I have one in the can that’s all guitar, with a drummer. I recorded that in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

What makes you decide to pick up a guitar versus harmonica?

Charlie:

I’ve always loved both and I started playing both around the same time, when I was about 13 or so. When I got to Chicago, there were tons of guitar players and not that many harmonica players, so that’s why it was easier to take the harmonica route for me. But I kept on playing for my own satisfaction. The truth is if I had never had a career in music, if that waitress had never told Muddy that I played, I’d still be playing. It’s just something I do. I was just fortunate that I was able to have a career doing that.

Your guitar playing is bluesy, but also very atmospheric.

Charlie:

My style of playing is more of a country blues. It’s more down home, because after my career started going, I really devoted my attention to harmonica more. And my guitar playing sort of leveled off in a sense there. So I’m still in that down home mode [laughs]. I used to play with a guy named Robert Nighthawk. He was a slide guitar player, and watching him, I just figured out the patterns he was using. And it was easy for me to pick up his style, which is the same Earl Hooker later on used too, for slide playing.

How would you rate Charlie’s guitar playing, Elvin?

Elvin:

He played some hell of a slide. At times I felt like the third best guitarist on that album, because, oh that was beautiful what he played on that tune. And Bob Welsh, the guy who was on the album with me and Charlie, playing piano and guitar, is just a hell of a musician. He’s really great. And he contributed a lot to how solid the whole thing was. And I like the album because it reminds me of how blues was before even Chicago blues. It’s like down South when they they hadn’t even added drums and the bass to the thing. Just guitars and harmonica.

The blues is so structured. So how do you find something new to say?

Elvin:

I’m the type of guy who’s never been able to sit down and write a song. It just happens when it happens. And it’s when strong feelings about something sort of squeeze one out of me. That’s just what it amounts to. And you can put any words to the structure. And blues is actually a real good thing to have at your disposal in times like these because it was invented by and for people who lived in relatively impossible circumstances. It’s a way of helping you survive and get some fun out of life during real rough times.

Charlie:

Actually, it’s just endless. You can say, ‘Well it’s just three chords, and the blue scale.’ But John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk recorded tunes that were just three chord changes, but boy did they find some new ways to go! And I think people that consider it simple or something are missing the point. You listen to a guy like Jimmy Reed and that sounds like so simple. But boy, show me somebody that can do that. Nobody can. You can say you’re doing it, but it doesn’t sound the same. It just doesn’t get there. You can play all the notes and make all the chord changes you want to, but if you don’t have the feeling, if you can’t put the grease in it, or if you don’t even know what that is, it’s just not going to happen.

Are you writing a lot now? Given the moments that we’re in?

Elvin:

You would think that I would be but relatively little is coming to me right now. So I’m just hitting the guitar a couple of hours every day in my studio and seeing what I can come up with and just hoping and trusting that the improvement will show up later, in some kind of way. I did one video, though.

What’s your writing process, Charlie? Do you think in terms of harmonica lines?

Charlie:

No. Mostly I’ll think of lyrics. An idea. A feeling. I describe that feeling or that idea and try to make it rhyme and make it…I hate to use the word catchy, but appealing [laughs]. I want to get your attention. And I want to have feeling and depth to it. Substance. The harmonica playing comes with the recording. After I get the tune down, then it just seems natural as to how to begin it or play it and how to play around with it. But sometimes I think of melodies that I would like to play, like as an instrumental or something.

I keep notes. Like I have piles of napkins and matchbook covers and pieces [of paper]. Garbage bags of something I wrote on when I didn’t have a suitable piece of paper. Just a little sentence or something that I’ve thought of or I heard somebody say something that made me think of something. And when I’m writing, and I’ll have a couple of lines, I’ll pull out those little pieces of paper and start looking through them. And often I’ll find things in there that fit perfectly with what I’ve already got. So that’s why it’s a good reason to keep all those little pieces of paper.

*Photos courtesy of Alligator Records



Duke Robillard & Friends Throw a ‘Blues Bash’ on Stony Plain Records

Stony Plain Records announces a November 20 release date for Blues Bash with Duke Robillard & Friends, the new album from two-time Grammy nominee and multiple Blues Music Award-winning guitarist Duke Robillard.

Robillard, himself, declares Blues Bash to be “packed with plenty of bright sounding Fender guitar a la Ike Turner, Lefty Bates, etc. Just a good listening or dancing record like the blues records I bought when I was a kid. It was pretty much a reunion of sorts and I wanted the material to be simple, straight-ahead ‘50s style blues and R&B. Basically it’s a blues party album and that feeling is what I wanted to convey.”

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While Duke has admitted that his concept for Blues Bash was to make a straight vintage-style blues album with rhythmic grooves and no hook-laden songs, as always, the music is impeccable, classy and powerful. Two stellar horn sections (including one that reunites him with many members of the original Roomful of Blues horns), searing guitar and organ solos, boogie-woogie piano and guest vocalists Chris Cote and Michelle Willson help to propel the groove. Duke is in his element here, displaying his authority, versatility, passion and virtuosity. Not only is Blues Bash the kind of album that made so many blues fans fall in love with Duke’s music, it’s a career highlight from one of the world’s best.

Robillard has been defined as not merely a great artist, but also a true historian, scholar and curator who is adept at electric and acoustic blues, jazz, jump, swing, ballads and standards. Grammy-nominated and a five-time winner of the Blues Music Award as best guitarist, over his 50 plus year career Duke has been a prolific songwriter and is considered a blues guitar master. Duke continues to be a sought after side-man and featured guest.

“Considering Duke Robillard’s illustrious and prolific musical contributions over the years (with many of the highlights on Stony Plain), and with such straight-ahead fare, Blues Bash with Duke Robillard & Friends shouldn’t require much exposition,” writes esteemed blues writer/historian Dick Shurman in the album’s liner notes. “But this writer always jumps at any opportunity to extol the many joys of Duke and his music, so we’ll lay out the basics about this bash and throw in a few well-earned superlatives.

“The collective roster spans the full chronicle of Duke’s recording career. Of the two stellar three-horn sections, the all-saxophone Rich Lataille-Greg Piccolo-Doug James lineup present on most songs here takes us back to the early Roomful years; on another song, James, Al Basile and Sax Gordon ably keep the party live and more. Both sections keep their collective foot south of Duke’s shirttail and acquit themselves with their long established distinction when called upon to solo. The rhythm sections also consist of familiar stalwarts: bassists Jesse Williams and Marty Ballou, drummer Mark Teixeira (and Marty Richards on one track), and keyboard player Bruce Bears, who gets a nice organ showcase on the closing ‘Just Chillin’.’Among the other guests, harp player Mark Hummel and pianist Bob Welsh (who has a great feel for gritty Chicago blues) go with Duke toward Jimmy Rogers territory on a remake of Duke’s ‘No Time.’”

“Guest vocalist Chris Cote from Boston works in several bands and can sing anything,” enthuses Duke. “He has a real love for the blues and all his vocals here are live in the studio. Female guest vocalist Michelle ‘Evil Gal’ Willson sings live also and tears up Helen Humes’ ‘You Played On My Piano.’ Boogie pianist deluxe Mark ‘Mr. B.’ Braun is the backbone from start to finish on Smiley Lewis’ ‘Ain’t Gonna Do It.’”

“Saying Duke’s broadly and deeply informed music reflects careful and diligent study is stating the obvious,” adds Shurman. “But in some cases, like this album, not a lot of analysis and reflection are called for. After all these years and accomplishments, he and his cohorts have given us a wonderful reiteration of the continuing greatness of the jumping, swinging jazz-infused blues that brought him and Roomful to prominence. Frankly, this isn’t an album to read liner notes by. It’s far more suited to moving and grooving, sweating or at least toe tapping, signifying and getting happy – all with appropriate facial coverings and social distancing, of course.”

Since starting his musical career in 1967 by founding and fronting Roomful of Blues, Duke Robillard has been at the forefront of Blues, Swing and classic R&B/Jump blues for over 50 years, earning him his legendary status while influencing and inspiring countless legions of musicians and fans worldwide. Leading his own group, Duke has toured non-stop for the past 40-some years, recording more than 30 critically acclaimed CDs under his own name. He has toured as a guitarist with Tom Waits and the Fabulous Thunderbirds and recorded with the likes of Bob Dylan, Ruth Brown, Jay McShann, Pinetop Perkins, Kim Wilson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Rosco Gordon, Maria Muldaur and many more.

*Feature image credit: David Lee Black



‘Charles Brown’s Cool Christmas Blues’ Coming to Vinyl Via Craft Recordings

Craft Recordings announces the reissue of Charles Brown’s Cool Christmas Blues on vinyl. Due out November 13th and available to pre-order now, this pressing marks the very first vinyl release for the blues titan’s 1994 Christmas album. In addition to the wide release, Craft’s online store will offer an exclusive white and blue marble vinyl variant, limited to 350 copies worldwide. Lacquers were cut by George Horn and Anne-Marie Suenram at Fantasy Studios, while the vinyl was pressed at Noiseland Industries.

Nominated for Best Traditional Blues Album at the 1995 GRAMMY® Awards, Charles Brown’s Cool Christmas Blues offers a warm, laid-back set of primarily original material—including Brown’s modern yuletide classics “Please Come Home for Christmas” and the U.S. Billboard R&B chart Top 10 hit “Merry Christmas Baby.” The artist also performs lesser-known gems like “Santa’s Blues” and “To Someone That I Love,” while he puts his own stellar twist on “Silent Night.”

Recorded in San Francisco, the session features Brown on vocals, piano and celeste, with Clifford Solomon on tenor saxophone, Dannon Caron on guitar, Ruth Davies on acoustic bass and Gaylord Birch on drums. BB King’s longtime sideman Bobby Forte also makes a special appearance on tenor saxophone, while the “Godfather of Rhythm and Blues” Johnny Otis jumps in on the vibes.

Brown also revisits two of his most famous songs, including “Merry Christmas Baby.” While the tune is credited to Lou Baxter and Brown’s bandmate, Johnny Moore, it has long been noted that Brown was instrumental in co-writing the classic track. Although the true story behind the composition has never been confirmed, it was Brown, unmistakably, who made the song a hit when he recorded it alongside Moore with the Three Blazers in 1947. Released in November, “Merry Christmas Baby” added a wink and a romantic twist to the standard holiday fare—and America loved it. That season, the song went to No.3 on the Billboard R&B Juke Box chart, while it would become a holiday cannon over the decades. It has since been covered by many of music’s greats, including Elvis Presley, Bonnie Raitt, John Legend and, perhaps most famously, Otis Redding.

The artist followed with “Please Come Home for Christmas” in 1960. The song, written and recorded by Brown, reentered the charts year-over-year—for nine seasons total—eventually hitting the top of Billboard’s Christmas Singles in 1972. Like its predecessor, the tune has become a holiday staple. It was notably covered by the Eagles in 1978 (their version hit the Top 20—a rare occurrence for a holiday track at that time) and by Bon Jovi in 1992. The song has also been popularly covered by the likes of Willie Nelson, Martina McBride and Kelly Clarkson, among many others.

West Coast blues pioneer Charles Brown (1922–1999) was an influential singer, songwriter and pianist, known for his soft, laid-back stylings. The classically trained, Texas-born artist relocated to Los Angeles in the early ’40s, where he soon found success as the singer and pianist in Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers. The group, which followed the popular jazz-influenced blues-club style of the time, scored their first R&B hit with “Drifting Blues.” The trio continued to chart throughout the decade, with songs like “Sunny Road,” “So Long,” “New Orleans Blues” and, of course, “Merry Christmas Baby.”

Brown embarked on a prolific solo career in 1949, leading his own band and releasing a steady stream of R&B hits throughout the ’50s, including “Get Yourself Another Fool,” “Trouble Blues,” “Black Night” and “Please Come Home for Christmas.”

While his career slowed in the ’70s, Brown enjoyed a major career resurgence in the ’80s and ’90s, gaining a new generation of fans. In his mid-60s, he embarked on the road with Bonnie Raitt and released a slew of new albums, including One More for the Road (1986), as well as the GRAMMY®-nominated titles All My Life (1990) and Someone to Love (1992). His later work was also widely recognized by his peers, garnering him three Blues Music Awards and 17 nominations. Brown’s body of work and artistic impact was celebrated throughout his final decade. The artist, who influenced many of the biggest names in R&B and blues—including Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke and Chuck Berry—was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996 and, just months after his passing, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Perhaps his crowning achievement, however, was becoming a recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship in 1997. Presented by the National Endowment for the Arts, the fellowship marks the highest honor that can be bestowed upon traditional and folk artists in the U.S.

While his career slowed in the ’70s, Brown enjoyed a major career resurgence in the ’80s and ’90s, gaining a new generation of fans. In his mid-60s, he embarked on the road with Bonnie Raitt and released a slew of new albums, including One More for the Road (1986), as well as the GRAMMY®-nominated titles All My Life (1990) and Someone to Love (1992). His later work was also widely recognized by his peers, garnering him three Blues Music Awards and 17 nominations. Brown’s body of work and artistic impact was celebrated throughout his final decade. The artist, who influenced many of the biggest names in R&B and blues—including Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke and Chuck Berry—was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996 and, just months after his passing, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Perhaps his crowning achievement, however, was becoming a recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship in 1997. Presented by the National Endowment for the Arts, the fellowship marks the highest honor that can be bestowed upon traditional and folk artists in the U.S.



‘No Business: The PPX Sessions Vol. 2’ Showcases Early Development of Jimi Hendrix

Dagger Records will release No Business: The PPX Sessions Volume 2 by Curtis Knight & The Squires on CD October 23. The album is a follow-up to Experience Hendrix/Legacy Recordings’ 2015 collection You Can’t Use My Name. The forthcoming release includes October 1965 demo recordings made by the then-unknown Jimi Hendrix, as well as 1967 studio recordings with Hendrix when he was in the midst of his meteoric ascent to stardom. Dagger was founded by Experience Hendrix L.L.C. over two decades ago as an official ‘bootleg’ label to provide Hendrix fans throughout the world with additional live performances, home demos and studio recordings.

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Jimi Hendrix was based in Harlem in 1965, working intermittently as an itinerant sideman when he met Curtis Knight in a hotel lobby. Knight invited Hendrix to record with him, booking time at Studio 76, a Manhattan facility run by producer Ed Chalpin. Hendrix joined Knight to record nine demos (tracks 11-19) on or about October 15, 1965.   These demos provide a window into the formation of Hendrix’s creative evolution.  “Two Little Birds” and “Suddenly” presage his playing on future classics, such as  “Little Wing” and “Castles Made of Sand,” while “Working All Day” and “Taking Care Of No Business,” hold the distinction of being the first known recorded Jimi Hendrix compositions.

After the conclusion of this initial demo session, Hendrix was approached by Chalpin to sign what the guitarist thought was a release for his participation. What Chalpin actually had Hendrix unknowingly sign was a contract with his own PPX Enterprises Inc. for $1 and a 1% royalty rate. Hendrix had previously signed an agreement with the Harlem based Sue Records [home to such acts as Ike & Tina Turner) in July 1965 and was unaware that this too was a recording agreement and not a release for a session fee.  Chalpin filed away the agreement and Hendrix continued to lend his guitar to sessions on Knight’s behalf in 1965 and the first half of 1966.   ,

After moving to England in September 1966 and forming the Jimi Hendrix Experience under the management of Animals bassist Chas Chandler, Hendrix’s sudden popularity in Britain and Europe caught Chalpin’s attention.  As Hendrix prepared for his return to the US via the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, Chalpin initiated legal proceedings based upon his one page, October 1965 agreement. Worse still, now that Hendrix was a known commercial commodity, Chalpin was releasing material Hendrix had recorded with Curtis Knight and passing it off as solo material by Jimi. In a failed attempt to placate Chalpin, Hendrix returned to Studio 76 in July and August of 1967 and recorded more music with Curtis Knight with the hopes of being released from his onerous contract. From a business perspective, his plan backfired, but more unique music was created as a result.

In addition to 1966 studio recordings such as “Hornet’s Nest” and “UFO,” No Business also features highlights from the July and August 1967 sessions.  Hendrix’s wah-wah guitar can be heard on “Hush Now” and “Love, Love” while also adding a Hagstrom 8-string bass part on an updated version of “Taking Care Of No Business” and “My Best Friend.”

When Jimi inexplicably appeared at Studio 76 on July 17, 1967, Chalpin was stunned by his good fortune.  In addition to the handful of Curtis Knight recordings featuring the guitarist, he now had Jimi Hendrix music made after his groundbreaking debut album Are You Experienced. Chalpin next scrambled to see what else he could pull together from his stockpiled archive to create a contrived Knight/Hendrix album.  The following day, he dusted off the 1966 master of “How Would You Feel” and had Knight compose new lyrics and add a new vocal.  This alternate version is included here.    He crafted mixes of Ricky Mason’s interpretation of “I Need You Everyday [Sick & Tired]” on which Hendrix had originally appeared the previous year.

On July 31, 1967, Chalpin created an unusual recording drawn from “Suey,” an odd 1966 session in which Jimi had participated.  Chalpin combined some of the on air patter radio disc jockey Douglas “Jocko” Henderson was known for, and intercut this with a recording he had produced with film star Jayne Mansfield.

The need by Chalpin to scrape together existing PPX material for a potential Curtis Knight/Jimi Hendrix album was made considerably easier when Hendrix returned on August 8, 1967.  The highlight of that session was Knight’s “Gloomy Monday”. Jimi provided the song’s propulsive rhythm guitar before he departed.   Needing a solo, Chalpin overdubbed two guitars and even a sitar to try and capitalize on Hendrix’s participation.   On the first volume of these PPX recordings , Hendrix can be clearly heard instructing Chalpin not to use his name on these recordings prior to a take of the song.  The producer disregarded Hendrix’s request and soon thereafter issued Get That Feeling via Capitol Records.  The album featured a cover image of Jimi Hendrix from the recent Monterey Pop Festival and no image of Knight.  The move both embarrassed and infuriated Hendrix.

Since acquiring the rights to all Jimi Hendrix recordings from Chalpin in 2014, Experience Hendrix has made it a mission to release these Curtis Knight & The Squires sessions tastefully, providing proper historic context, free of misleading packaging and without posthumous overdubs. No Business: The PPX Sessions Volume 2 accomplishes this while helping map out the evolution of Jimi Hendrix as a musician and songwriter.

Curtis Knight & The Squires No Business: The PPX Sessions Volume 2

 THE STUDIO SESSIONS: 

  1. UFO
  2. No Business
  3. Hush Now
  4. Gloomy Monday [Alternate]
  5. How Would You Feel [Alternate]
  6. Love Love
  7.   My Best Friend [Takes 3/4/5]
  8. Hornet’s Nest [Alternate]
  9. I Need You Every Day [Sick & Tired]
  10. Suey

     THE DEMO RECORDINGS: 

  1. Taking Care Of No Business
  2. Working All Day
  3. Two Little Birds
  4. Suddenly
  5. UFO
  6. Better Times Ahead
  7. Everybody Knew But Me
  8. If You Gonna Make A Fool Of Somebody
  9. My Best Friend


Stevie Nicks Asks Spirits for Guidance on Powerful New Song ‘Show Them the Way’

Stevie Nicks has released the powerful rock ballad “Show Them the Way.” This is Nicks’ first new solo song since releasing her 2014 LP 24 Karat Gold.

Greg Kurstin produced the anthemic new track. Two official versions have been released: an acoustic, piano-only take and a full-band recording that features Dave Stewart on guitar and Dave Grohl on drums. Citing Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and John F. Kennedy, Nicks looks for guidance from great leaders while looking to the future. The song is inspired by a real dream Nicks had where she was playing a benefit in the Hamptons, preparing herself to sing for the likes of MLK Jr., Lewis and the Kennedys. “Someone said, ‘Sing us a song, there’s a piano’/And handed me a drink/The room was full of hope/A song would set them free,” she delivers on the vivid tune.

In an interview arriving at a later date, Nicks revealed to Rolling Stone that she had originally penned the song in 2008. She was in St. Charles, Illinois editing a concert film at the time and returned to the house she was staying in to flip through the TV channels. Over the course of the two months that she lived there, she ended up watching several historical documentaries about the same figures that inspired “Show Them the Way.” 

“I watched it all,” she tells RS. “Then, what happened was, one night I went to bed and I had this dream. I dream a lot, but I almost never remember the dreams. I’ll wake up and I’ll go, ‘I remember a train with some people smiling and waving at me that went by really fast,’ and that’s it. This dream was so really real that there was a little bit of me, for a minute, when I sat up was like, ‘Did that just really happen?’ So I wrote it down just in prose. I didn’t write it down in a seven verse poem. I wrote down what had happened.”

Towards the end of “Show Them the Way,” Nicks meets a shadow who represents her mom, who worked at a prisoner of war base outside of Phoenix. The figure reminds her: “Don’t forget what we were fighting for,” a quote the singer’s mother had repeated throughout her life. 

She considered putting “Show Them the Way” on her 2011 album In Your Dreams, but had presented it to her collaborators at the time too late. “I said, ‘Okay, I totally get it, and it really doesn’t go with the rest of these songs, it would be an outlier on this,’” she explains, adding that she wanted it to feel like the right time for the song to be out in the world. “I think the world is calling for it right now.”

Later this month, Nicks’ 24 Karat Gold concert film will screen at select cinemas and drive-ins for two nights only. 

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Sammy Hagar And Michael Anthony Share Video Reflecting On Eddie Van Halen’s Passing

The reality of Eddie Van Halen’s passing is still reeling in the minds of his legions of fans, with tributes, recollections and memories flooding social media. And today, his former band members Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony shared an emotional “We Love You Eddie” video, taped following a rehearsal for Hagar’s upcoming annual birthday bash.

“We’ll never play with Eddie. But thank God for this,” Hagar said, referring to the music the late guitarist created over a 40-year career. “The music will live forever.”  Fighting back his emotions, bassist Anthony added “it’s very surreal right now and it hasn’t sunk in.”

Both Hagar and Anthony still perform together in Sammy Hagar and the Circle, running through classic rock standards and tunes from Hagar’s catalog, including Montrose, his solo career and, of course, Van Halen favorites.

Van Halen’s passing is “like getting hit by a Mack truck, Hagar said, with Anthony reinforcing the sentiment. “We have the music. We love you Eddie.”

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Hagar’s birthday celebration typically occurs at his Cabo Wabo Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and is always a fun-filled, loose party for fans, with guest rockers sitting in with his band. This year’s show was announced prior to Van Halen’s passing as a pay-per-view event in partnership with nugs.tv. It will take place on Catalina Island, southwest of Los Angeles, with social distancing rules enforced.

Van Halen’s passing makes the upcoming October 17 event “very bittersweet,” Anthony said. Hagar noted how difficult it was rehearsing their classic 1991 hit “Right Now,” with its lyrical emphasis on living in the moment. “I’m kinda devastated… A Van Halen song never felt so hard to sing and play in my life.”

The two-and-a-half-minute video clip ends with footage of the band, which includes guitarist Vic Johnson and drummer Jason Bonham, holding a moment of silence before launching into “Right Now.”

Alex Van Halen also shared a toddler picture of the two brothers and a short post today that simply said, “Hey Ed. Love you. See you on the other side. Your brother, Al.”



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