Fall Into the Blues
I don't usually devote Cosmik Blues to a new blues release, but this month I'm going to make an exception. I've also got some news about Chicago's Steepwater Band, but more about the Steepwater boys later.
One Juicy Tomato
Tomato Records has released The Great Tomato Blues Package, and this 2-disc set is truly a blues encyclopedia for the ages.
I've got a couple of Essential Blues compilations from House of Blues, and I'm happy to add the Great Tomato Blues Package to my CD shelf. This 45-song set features quite a sampling of the blues, one of American's truly original art forms.
For starters, there's some country blues that document the origins of the blues in old worksongs like Johnny Shines' "Too Wet to Plow," and the searing slide of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "You Got to Move." These are but two of the many, many blues classics that are featured on this outstanding survey of the blues. Champion Jack Dupree's "Shake Baby Shake" is a national treasure, as is Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller)'s "Fattening Frogs For Snakes" as well as the set's closer, "Midnight Special" from Leadbelly.
[Pictured: Koko Taylor]
Post-war blues are very well represented, too. Consider "Little Red Rooster" from Howlin' Wolf, "The Sky is Crying" from Elmore James, "Take Out Some Insurance" from Jimmy Reed, and "Wang Dang Doodle" from Koko Taylor. Chicago blues legend Willie Dixon is well represented as a bass player and a songwriter on many post-war cuts included in this collection, even if he's not included as a front man in this collection.
What surprised me about the Great Tomato Blues Package, though, was how nicely some songs I'd pigeonholed into jazz fit among these blues classics.
Wilbert Harrison's "Kansas City," Bessie Smith's "Alexander's Ragtime Band," Jelly Roll Morton's "Dead Man Blues," and Billie Holiday's "Please Don't Talk to Me When I'm Dead and Gone" all are tunes that I'd relegated to the swing and jazz bins of my mind, but this collection is proof positive that you can swing and have your jazz and blues, too.
[Pictured: Aretha Franklin]
There's a lot of soul on these discs as well. Listen to Percy Sledge sing "When A Man Loves A Woman" or the Queen of Soul herself as she croons "There Is A Fountain." When Percy and Aretha sing, I can clearly see the intersections between the blues and soul, thanks to producers Kevin Eggers and Heiner Stadler's choices of choice cuts.
The Great Tomato Blues Package is a comprehensive blues education in a jewel case. From Delta country blues, Piedmont picking, post-war urban blues to the early hits from Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard, few collections feature as many songs that have defined the blues as we know them.
Blues Update: A Great Time in the Big Time With The Steepwater Band
I wrote about Chicago's Steepwater Band on these screens last year, and I'm pleased to report that the band has returned home from a successful weekend in Madison, WI where they performed at the 2002 Madison Blues Festival at the Triple M Second Stage. They joined the likes of Joe Louis Walker and Sue Foley, among other blues notables, on the festival's second stage. Great blues company in anybody's book, particularly for a band that's been ready for national attention for quite a while now. Main stage headliners at Olin Park included Delbert McClinton, Irma Thomas, Buddy Guy, Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, Popa Chubby, the North Mississippi All Stars, Lucky Peterson, and one of the most underappreciated bluesmen around (in my opinion), Elvin Bishop.
While in town, The Steepwater Band also headlined at Luther's Blues, Mad City's premiere venue for blues and roots rock. They're no strangers to Luther's: earlier this summer, The Steepwater Band warmed up for Taj Mahal. During their performance at Luther's Blues during this year's Madison Blues Festival, legendary bluesman and Muddy Waters' Band pianist Pinetop Perkins joined The Steepwater Band onstage. Pinetop turned 89 last month, and he led the band through about 20 minutes and 3 songs including the Muddy Waters classic "Got My Mojo Working." It was a true honor for the guys in the Steepwater Band. An audio excerpt from the performance will be available in MP3 format at www.steepwater.com later this month.
Check out the band's newest release, Brother to the Snake, as well as some other great releases online. My favorites include an inspired and inspiring 13 minute jam of Robert Johnson's "Steady Rolling Man." This live cut is from their Live... Half in the Bag CD, which captures the band at their best. For more on a two-day blues fest that brings some of the best players around anywhere, go to www.madisonblues.com. Make no mistake, The Steepwater Band is ready for the Big Time.