Where does the time go?
Another year is coming to a close. Perhaps it’s a time for reflection, where we take a look at the last 364 days, and gaze forward to 1999, wondering what new experiences it may bring.
Nah. There’s too much going on in December in New Orleans, let alone running around and trying to get presents for family and friends.
Even though he moved back to New Orleans a year ago, Spencer Bohren has maintained his busy playing schedule, and hasn’t been playing in town much. But Bohren will be playing a special Christmas show at Snug Harbor on December 17, and featuring some special guests to help spread the holiday cheer. In addition to his old buddies Dave Malone and Reggie Scanlan of the Radiators, duets are planned with pianist Scott Kirby, gospel vocalist Barbara Shorts, cowboy poet Tom Perlman, and Bohren’s son Andre, a talented pianist and percussionist.
Louisiana is losing another blues landmark in early 1999, as Baton Rouge bluesman Tabby Thomas’ club Tabby’s Blues Box is officially being demolished by the city. (Who thinks up these brilliant ideas?) But before the club closes its doors for the last time, Thomas and his son Chris are aiming for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records, by hosting the world’s longest blues jam. Plans call for the marathon jam session to take place in late January or early February, with 72 continuous hours of music. All musicians interested in participating can e-mail Chris Thomas King at email@example.com.
Two new clubs that promise regular bookings of local and national blues artists are opening their doors this month. In what’s being called a “sneak peek,” Southport Hall (located at 200 Monticello, just off River Road over the Orleans/Jefferson Parish line), welcomes former Roomful of Blues sax man Greg Piccolo and his band Heavy Juice on December 9. Southport Hall is still under construction and slated to open in February 1998, but the cocktail lounge is now open nightly. Levon Helm’s Classic American Café (see Backtalk, p. 89), at 300 Decatur St., welcomes James Cotton on Dec. 26 & 27 as part of the grand opening festivities, and Brint Anderson and Luther Kent will also be appearing regularly at the venue. December 12 at Vic’s Kangaroo Café, Texas guitarist Mark May makes a rare stop in New Orleans. On New Year’s Eve, at the Howlin’ Wolf, Superfly Productions presents the second installment of their “Superjam” series, and it’s another doozy: Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Jon Cleary, Tony Hall and Zigaboo Modeliste will join forces for the first time. After the superjam, Washington and his band the Roadmasters will play a late-night set.
If you’re stumped on what to get your favorite blues lover for the holiday season, there are hosts of worthy CDs that have hit the stores in recent months. In the box set category, Taj Mahal’s three-CD In Progress and In Motion (Sony/Legacy) collects the cream of Taj’s early acoustic work for Columbia, including sides featuring the tuba support of Howard Frazier, and backup vocals from the pre-“I’m So Excited” Pointer Sisters. Fans of Taj’s ‘90s work may be disappointed at the skimpy selection from his recent Private Music albums, which drew heavily on New Orleans inspirations. Booker T. and the MGs, Memphis’ version of the Meters, have finally gotten their due with Time is Tight (Fantasy), a three-CD collection of their vintage instrumental sides, previously unreleased live cuts backing Albert King, Boz Scaggs and Neil Young, and other gems culled from radio broadcasts and the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary tribute concert at Madison Square Garden. The incendiary live performance of “Hang ‘Em High,” with its slow-simmering groove building to a breathless conclusion, is worth the price of this set alone.
Other CDs to keep an eye out for include the Derek Trucks Band’s new CD, which features ex-Allmans guitarist and vocalist Warren Haynes alongside slide whiz Trucks; the band does a slamming version of the Meters’ “Look-a-Py-Py” on the disc. Delmark’s terrific ongoing reissue series includes legendary Chicago guitarist Robert Nighthawk’s Bricks in My Pillow and boogie-woogie piano master Albert Ammons’ Boogie Woogie Stomp. Blues piano buffs will also find plenty to enjoy in Fred Kaplan’s Signifyin’ (Blue Collar Records), a solo piano CD from the Fabulous Thunderbirds keyboardist. Tuff City Records has compiled The Best of Scram Records, which features one of Walter “Wolfman” Washington’s ‘60s tracks, “Mary Jane.”
The late Luther Allison is further immortalized by Ruf Records with Hand Me Down My Moonshine, a compelling acoustic CD. Duke Robillard fans won’t want to miss Stretchin’ Out (Stony Plain), a live album featuring Duke’s supremely tasteful guitar playing tackling every blues-guitar style under the sun, to typically stunning effect. Ex-Anson Funderburgh and Ronnie Earl vocalist Darrell Nulisch (who was here at JazzFest ‘98 with James Cotton) has just released one of the best blues/soul CDs of the year, The Whole Truth, on Severn Records. And, John Lee Hooker’s The Best of Friends, compiles the cream of his Pointblank recordings.
So what’s around the corner for 1999? We should be hearing new albums from Mem Shannon (who was recording at American Sector Recording Studios last month); Jon Cleary (yes, his Pointblank debut is finished); another New Orleans R&B-flavored effort from Ruth Brown; Anders Osborne; Stavin’ Chain; the Wild Magnolias; and the Neville Brothers. On the wish list, it sure would be nice to hear new CDs from Earl King, Snooks Eaglin, Tommy Ridgley, Irma Thomas, Lazy Lester (his Antone’s debut is temporarily postponed), Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Sonny Landreth, Allen Toussaint (with a long-rumored solo piano CD), John Mooney, Marva Wright, Chuck Carbo, Roland Stone, Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone, Rockie Charles, J. Monque’ D, Wallace Johnson, Guitar Slim Jr., Eddie Bo, Augie Jr., and Marcia Ball, for starters.