Blues Lyrics of the Week: Never Let the Same Bee Sting You Twice

Regardless of whether it applies to an affair of the heart, state, or some other variety, here’s a helpful bit of wisdom to bear in mind any time an old “friend” comes buzzing back around.

Unfortunately for us all, this was one of only six tracks ever recorded by Lousiana blues guitarist and singer Richard “Rabbit” Brown, all back in March of 1927, including such other gems as “I’m Not Jealous”, “Sinking of the Titanic”, and “James Alley Blues”, the latter of which has since been covered by the likes of Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Philadelphia Jerry Ricks, and David Johansen, among others.

“They sez’ at first, you know, you don’t succeed,
you must always try again.
Oh, but since I took my old girl back,
she almost drove me to the pen.
No matter what I would do or say,
never goes my way.
And I got so disgusted,
believe me I was supposed to say,
I’ll never let the same bee that stung me –
she’ll never sting me twice.
That’s if you want to be happy,
keep up in this kind of life.

When you’re out upon your honeymoon,
and your trouble and your sorrows go in a balloon,
go out with the girls but you must remember your wife –
never let the same bee that stung you, sting you twice.”
– “Never Let the Same Bee Sting You Twice”, Richard “Rabbit” Brown

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Sugar Ray Norcia, Curtis Salgado, and Dave Maxwell among All-Stars playing Open Mic at the Knick

Tucked away in the town of Westerly on the southwest border of Rhode Island, the Knickerbocker Cafe has enjoyed a rich blues history, having served as the site of a regular gig from the hometown Roomful of Blues for a decade and a half in addition to hosting such national artists as Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Big Joe Turner, and Eddie Cleanhead Vinson through the years. In 1980, harp giant Big Walter Horton shared the club’s stage with guitarist Ronnie Earl (who was still going by his given name of Ronnie Horvath), fellow harmonica player and vocalist Sugar Ray Norcia, and other members of Norcia’s band the Bluetones in a performance immortalized on JSP Records’ recently re-released Live at the Knickerbocker, believed by some to be the last recording of Horton before his death the following year.

KnickerbockerAStars (220x200)If all that wasn’t enough to put the Knickerbocker on the map, then a new release celebrating the spirit of the club – as well as quite a few of the voices and musical talents that have played there over the years – surely is. Entitled Open Mic at the Knick (JP Cadillac Records), the recording asembles a stellar lineup of musicians and singers from across New England and around the U.S., collectively dubbed The Knickerbocker All-Stars.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the album has a deep Roomful of Blues flavor, featuring a full horn section that happens to include longtime Roomful alto and tenor sax player Rich Lataille as well as a number of former Roomful personnel in the likes of band co-founder and Westerly native Al Copley on piano and Fran Christina (later of the Fabulous Thunderbirds) on drums, with one-time vocalists/harmonica players Curtis Salgado and Sugar Ray Norcia also each making appearances. Add to that the talents of frequent Roomful guest and native Rhode Islander Johnny Nicholas, Texas blues belters Malford Milligan (Storyville) and Willie Laws, renowned keyboardist David Maxwell, and the members of local blues band Ricky King Russell and the Cadillac Horns, and what you’ve got is a pretty fine-sounding outfit that’s every bit deserving of their “All-Stars” designation, as they prove through this baker’s dozen of blues, R&B, and soul covers.

Sugar Ray Norcia, Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival, Feb. 2014

Sugar Ray Norcia, Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival, Feb. 2014

It all kicks off with a swinging “You Upset Me Baby” (B.B. King) that features some lively horns, rollicking keys from Copley, and impressive guitar from Russell in addition to strong vocals from Norcia, just the type of song that captures Sugar Ray at his finest. Things stay swinging as Milligan takes the mic for a slick and solid take on Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Turn on Your Love Light” before Laws slows it down with a smooth, soulful “Mother-in-Law Blues”.

Milligan takes a grittier approach on vocals his second time around, returning for the funky, horn-soaked “Love Disease”, then handing things off to Nicholas for tough but patient deliveries of both “Jelly Jelly” – featuring some great piano fills and mournful horns to nicely match the mood of such lyrics as “it’s a downright rotten, rotten, rotten, rotten, baby, lowdown dirty shame/ the way you been treatin’ me baby, and I know I’m not all to blame” and “jelly roll killed my papa, and caused my mother to steady cry” – and then the Lowell Fulson classic “Reconsider Baby”.

Curtis Salgado, Pittsburgh, Aug. 2012

Curtis Salgado, Pittsburgh, Aug. 2012

Norcia returns to the mic for a boogie-woogeying “It’s Later Than You Think”, before fellow former Roomful vocalist Salgado steps up and knocks one out of the park with a rousing “Ain’t That Lovin’ You” that serves as one of the finest examples of the band’s abilities, with Salgado’s powerful vocals and some punchy horns helping to build to an impressive crescendo and then abruptly giving way to a quiet, jazzy sway.

Laws provides some Salgado-like soulfulness on Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years”, also including a terrific guitar solo from Russell, with deep-voiced J.P. Sheerar taking the lead on a creeping, horns- and keys-filled version of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Somebody’s Got to Go”. Bostonian Brian Templeton‘s full-out vocals on the stinging “I’m Tore Down” that follows could easily be mistaken for those of the Phantom Blues Band’s Mike Finnigan, but that’s just really one of many good reasons to check out this track, along with its exquisite horn stops and superb guitar.

David Maxwell, Project Blues Review, Aug. 2014

David Maxwell, Project Blues Review, Aug. 2014

Nicholas is back for one more, a growling, Duke Robillard-style take on Eddie Jones’ “Along About Midnight”, before the band lets loose with a rocking “Going Down”, a tune on which Fran Christina (who shares drumming duties in the All-Stars with his brother Bob) played with Freddie King during the blues guitarist’s appearance at the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. Recalling Boston musician David Maxwell as the piano player on that live set, the band invited Maxwell to also join them on their recording of the song, making for both a nice historical touch as well as some fine listening.

We can’t say enough good things about Open Mic at the Knick, a remarkably strong, diverse, and solid offering from what might be considered the east coast’s equivalent to the California-based blues supergroup The Mannish Boys. The liner notes describe the album as “a composite of some of the best blues, R&B and jump blues songs ever recorded” but here’s hoping the All-Stars can come up with more of the same for at least one or two follow-up recordings.

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Blues Lyrics of the Week: Keep on Playin’ the Blues

It’s been just over two and a half years now since blues guitarist, harmonica player, and singer Louisiana Red passed away, but our friends at Wolf Records are helping to ensure that Red’s legacy continues to live on with The Sky is Crying, a new release of live material compiled from shows Red performed throughout Greece during the decade prior to his death.

Louisiana_Red_Sky_is_CryingIn addition to covers of classic blues tunes such as the Elmore James title track, Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer” and “What is That She Got”, the standard “Early in the Morning”, and Willie Dixon’s “Same Thing”, the album also includes plenty of great original tracks, from the solo “Too Poor to Die” with its quiet “Hoochie Coochie Man”-style riffs on electric guitar to the shuffling closer “I Done Woke Up” that finds Red joined by the Backbone Blues Band as well as Johnny Nicholas on piano as Red wails away on Mississippi saxophone in homage to harp mentors Big Walter Horton and Little Walter, and this track, a slow country blues number that features some fine playing from Red alongside fellow National steel guitarists Bob Brozman and George Pilali, making these lyrics just one of the factors that help to establish this song as such a gem.

“When you’re lonely,
Lord, and blue –
and you ain’t got nobody
care about you –
you just keep on playin’,
keep on playin’ the blues.

You know sometimes,
I get to thinkin’,
thinkin’ ’bout how
trouble’s been
And I grab my old National steel and I
start to playin’ the blues again…

Sometime I get so,
Bob, I get so disgusted,
how them record companies
ripped me off.
That’s when I got to go get that old
1926 National
and play the blues once more.”
– “Keep on Playin’ the Blues”, Louisiana Red

Related posts:
Blues Lyrics of the Week: Pittsburgh Blues
Louisiana Red gets Memphis Mojo working on latest CD
Blues Lyrics of the Week: September 11th Blues
Louisiana’s Pittsburgh roots

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Blues-rocker Joanne Shaw Taylor reveals The Dirty Truth on indie label debut

JST_The_Dirty_Truth (220x220)After three acclaimed studio albums as well as last fall’s live Songs from the Road CD/DVD set – all on the German Ruf Records label – UK-born, now U.S.-based, blues-rocker Joanne Shaw Taylor has stepped out on her own with a new release on her independent Axehouse Music label.

Truth be told, there really isn’t a whole lot drastically different or new about the sound of this one, entitled The Dirty Truth, from what we’ve heard from Taylor before. Which isn’t a bad thing in any sense, with Taylor delivering the same solid mix of smoky vocals, tight guitar and no-nonsense gusto here as we’ve grown to admire from her through the past five years.

Reuniting Taylor with debut (White Sugar) and sophomore (Diamonds in the Dirt) album producer Jim Gaines, one of the goals of the new album was to try to revisit the same sound and feeling that the pair captured on that 2009 debut. In the end, The Dirty Truth marks another stellar outing for the singer/guitarist both musically and vocally, featuring plenty of catchy grooves punctuated with some superb guitar solos.

Pittsburgh, June 2014

Pittsburgh, June 2014

The catchiest of those grooves can be heard on such songs as the album’s shuffling title track, a breezy “Fool in Love”, and the closing “Feels Like Home” with its Jimi Hendrix-style licks, originally recorded for White Sugar but ultimately shelved from that project in favor of the inclusion of a similar sounding “Kiss the Ground Goodbye”.

In between is an assortment of other great tracks ranging from simmering rockers like “Wicked Soul” and a “Shiver & Sigh” co-written with Kevin Bowe more than a decade ago to a driving, fuzz-filled blues shuffle in “Outlaw Angel” and the heavy riffs of “Struck Down” to the slow, delicate soul ballad “Tried, Tested and True”, one of several tunes buoyed by some rich organ.

Taylor continues to develop lyrically as well, as evidenced on such tracks as the gritty, Stevie Ray Vaughan-like opener “Mud, Honey” (“runnin’ around town waving that blood money/ your name is already mud, honey”) and slightly funky rocker “Wrecking Ball” (“‘cuz he tore up the script and blew up the walls, he came crashing in like a wrecking ball/ you know enough to know you never know, just how the future’s gonna’ go / but I cross my heart and I hope to die, that I never ever have to fall from the sky”).

As usual with Taylor, the end result is both interesting and charming – in her own gritty, blues-rocking kind of way – making The Dirty Truth a perfect appetizer to her upcoming two-week tour with special guest guitarist Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake) for our friends fortunate enough to be in Taylor’s native UK.

Related posts:
Joanne Shaw Taylor show in photos
Joanne Shaw Taylor brings songs from the road to Pittsburgh
Joanne Shaw Taylor lets it burn on Songs from the Road live CD/DVD set
With new Almost Always Never, Joanne Shaw Taylor almost never fails to delight
With Diamonds, another fine gem from Joanne Shaw Taylor

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Blues Lyrics of the Week: I Gave Up Everything for You, ‘cept the Blues

Here’s one we mentioned in last week’s review of blues-rocker Joe Bonamassa‘s latest release Different Shades of Blue, a down-and-dirty shuffle featuring doo-wop background vocals as well as some nice work on horns and keyboard – the latter courtesy of Reese Wynans (Double Trouble) – in addition to a bit of scorching guitar from Bonamassa.

“Put down that two-pack habit yesterday,
threw that shot glass just to watch it break.
My whiskey bottle turned upside down in the drain,
Those wild women, that’s a whole ‘nother thing.
I gave up everything, babe,
I gave up everything for you.
I got nothin’ left to lose,
I gave up everything for you,
‘cept the blues.

Went on a diet, yea, I’m eatin’ good.
Gave up the things you said I should.
Fit as a fiddle, girl, I lost ten pounds.
So why am I so damn down?
Gave up everything now,
I gave up everything for you.
I got nothin’ left to lose,
I gave up everything for you,
‘cept the blues.

Put out the reefer, no more gettin’ stoned.
Traded my fast car for a motor home.
Took all my demons, put ‘em in a sack.
How come I still feel there’s a monkey on my back?
I gave up everything, babe,
I gave up everything for you.
I got nothin’ left to lose,
I gave up everything for you,
‘cept the blues.”
– “I Gave Up Everything for You, ‘cept the Blues,” Joe Bonamassa, Jerry Flowers & Jeffrey Steele

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Gary Clark Jr. back and blu on new Live double CD/vinyl

Gary Clark Jr. Live (250x250)Anyone who thought that Gary Clark Jr.‘s smash debut on Warner Brothers Records, Blak and Blu, might not have been, well, bluesy enough probably isn’t likely to have the same view of the rising guitarist’s new live album, out today, compiled from Clark’s performances in clubs, theaters, arenas, and festivals throughout the world during the past year and a half. Not only does the double-disc set kick off with a biting, slow stumbling cover of the Robert Petway classic “Catfish Blues” (which you may recall Clark also having performed at the Red, White & Blues celebration that took place at the White House in early 2012) followed by Clark’s own driving “Next Door Neighbor Blues”, but it also features a number of other great blues tunes delivered in the key of Gary, including some superb slow blues takes on Lowell Fulson’s “Three O’Clock Blues”, Albert Collins’ “If Trouble was Money”, and the closing “When the Sun Goes Down” (Leroy Carr), as well as a ten-and-a-half minute Jimi Hendrix/Albert Collins medley of “Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say” that stretches from funky to downright smoking.

Crossroads 2013

Crossroads 2013

The set of course includes many other songs off Blak and Blu, from the story of a brush with the local law in the rocking “Travis County” and a grungy “Bright Lights” that had to come close to blowing the roof off of whatever venue it was recorded to the quiet, falsetto vocals of “Please Come Home” (for which Clark earlier this year earned a Grammy Award for best traditional R&B performance) and a flowing “Things are Changin'” that incorporates a bit more of an R&B groove than usual in addition to serving as a particularly fine example of the smoothness and range of Clark’s voice, also evidenced on songs like the aforementioned “When the Sun Goes Down” – featuring Clark on both guitar and harmonica – and a slightly faster-and-grittier-than-studio version of “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round”.

Crossroads 2013

Crossroads 2013

Indeed, no one can ever accuse Clark of playing his songs just the same live as does on his recordings. Here, that also includes such touches as the addition of a few Mississippi Delta-style licks before the band tears into the fuzz-filled hypnotic rhythm of “Numb”, some nice pedal effects on the shuffling “Don’t Owe You a Thang”, and an especially intense guitar solo during the steely, creeping “When My Train Pulls In”. As you might expect, the solos – including quite a few from second guitarist King Zapata – are aplenty, often fiery, but always unique, and it’s terrific to hear the crowd’s reactions to Gary’s songs and how he and his band respond to that energy, with many of the tracks clocking in over six minutes and plenty of “whoo!”s from Clark throughout the set.

As truly remarkable as Blak and Blu was, it isn’t until you add in both the bluesier and live sides of Clark that you get a complete picture of the talents of this up-and-coming artist, making Gary Clark Jr. – Live hands down the best we’ve heard from him yet.

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Blues-rock artist Joe Bonamassa unveils another masterpiece in Different Shades of Blue

As a father, I’m frequently reminding my children to take the time to cherish the moment they’re in rather than always looking ahead to what might be coming next. I’ve had to take that same advice myself recently when it comes to blues-rocker Joe Bonamassa, who in late August played to his largest audience ever during a Red Rocks tribute to blues greats Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf – dubbed by Bonamassa as the Muddy Wolf concert – taped for spring 2015 release on CD and DVD.

Bonamassa_Different-shades-of-blue (300x300)As a fan of both the traditional Chicago blues of Waters and Wolf as well as Bonamassa’s modern blues-rock (and having seen several videos from the event, including this recap from Bonamassa’s crew themselves), we think it’s fair to say that this historic recording is easily one of the most intriguing projects coming down the pike, the anticipation of which hasn’t exactly made it easy to focus on the impending release of Bonamassa’s newest album, Different Shades of Blue, out next week on his J&R Adventures label. Fortunately, Bonamassa has provided plenty to help hold us over – through next spring and far beyond – in Different Shades of Blue, an album that deserves to be savored in its own right.

The first Bonamassa album to feature only original material, Different Shades of Blue was again produced by Kevin Shirley, the same man who has occupied the producer’s chair on the vast majority of Bonamassa’s last 15 solo and joint (Beth Hart, Black Country Communion) projects, with Shirley identifying this most recent album as his favorite Bonamassa record to date. He also notes that this is one best enjoyed as a complete work of art: “It’s an album that deserves to be listened to in its entirety. Luckily Joe’s fan base really seems to appreciate a body of work and not just songs.”

Pittsburgh, 2011

Pittsburgh, 2011

We can certainly see where he’s coming from: from the haunting a cappella vocals and what Bonamassa himself in a recent interview with a BBC radio show called the “heavy, unapologetic blues-rock” riffs of the opening “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)”/”Oh Beautiful!” to the slow, Ray Charles-inspired blues of “So, What Would I Do” that closes the album, this is one solid and immensely entertaining project from Bonamassa, backed by a talented band of Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble) on organ and piano, Carmine Rojas and Michael Rhodes on bass, Anton Fig on drums and percussion, Lenny Castro on percussion, Ron Dziubla on saxophone, Lee Thornburg on trumpet and trombone, the Bovaland Orchestra on strings, and Doug Henthorn and Melanie Williams on background vocals (a good number of whom will also be featured on that upcoming Muddy Wolf release, having accompanied Joe at his recent show at Red Rocks).

You’ll find those horns and background vocals in full swing on songs such as the funky, driving “Love Ain’t a Love Song” and blues-soaked “Trouble Town”, as well as a showstopping, doo-wop-laced “I Gave Up Everything for You, ‘cept the Blues” with its tough-as-nails vocals and urgent Elmore James style riffs, with horns also nicely complementing the hushed vocals and shuffling grooves of “Living on the Moon” and the slinking “Heartache Follows Wherever I Go”, the latter featuring some superb wah pedal effects from Bonamassa.

The title track is a soft rock number employing a bit of a country chorus, while the bleeding blues power-ballad “Never Give All Your Heart” may be the closest you’ll ever hear Bonamassa sounding to blues-rock contemporary Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s band, with the dark grooves of a percussion-filled “Get Back My Tomorrow” helping to round out the album’s 11 tracks.

In the end, we have to agree with Shirley: this could very likely be Bonamassa’s best record so far. At least, that is, until next time.

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Three cheers (on 20 years) for the Music Makers!

Few organizations have assisted as many blues men and women in need over the past two decades as the Music Maker Relief Foundation (MMRF), a North Carolina-based non-profit record label focused on supporting struggling traditional southern musicians by providing everything from instruments to performing and recording opportunities to day-to-day essentials like medications and heating oil, often serving individuals whose names most of us unfortunately have never heard.

Take, for example, bluesman Adolphus Bell, who MMRF helped build a career and find housing after discovering him living out of his van for 15 years. Or Willa Mae Buckner, for whom the group made posible her lifelong dream of performing at Carnegie Hall. Or Major Handy, who the MMRF helped re-establish a musical career in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.

And then there are folks like George Herbert Moore and Dr. Burt, who MMRF assisted in beginning to perform or record in their 70s. For some, it has meant the opportunity to play with such legends of the blues as longtime MMRF supporter Taj Mahal, while for others like Cootie Stark and Essie Mae Brooks, it has allowed them to tour Europe for the first time. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how the organization has also helped to reinvigorate the careers of such artists as Etta Baker, Jerry “Boogie” McCain, and former James Brown and Percy Sledge band guitarist Robert Lee Coleman.

we_are_the_music_makers (300x279)Having originally dedicated themselves to locating undiscovered blues artists living in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina, MMRF founder Tim Duffy and his wife Denise have scoured the south seeking out some of the blues genre’s least-known and most needy musicians, having – albeit somewhat quietly – now assisted more than 300 individuals from across the Carolinas and Georgia, as well as from Alabama, Virginia, Texas, and elsewhere. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of their non-profit endeavor, the Duffys have released not only a wonderful book of photographs they have collected through the years featuring many the artists with whom they have worked, but also a quite nice companion two-CD set documenting those musicians, both titled We are the Music Makers!: Preserving the Soul of America’s Music.

Through pictures and short vignettes, the book tells the story of each of the artists, from those noted above to other MMRF recipients including Othar Turner, Ironing Board Sam, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Little Freddie King, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Precious Bryant, Captain Luke, Cool John Ferguson, and of course, Guitar Gabriel, the musician who inspired the creation of the MMRF in the early 90s. As splendid as it is to be able to read about and see those artists in print, it’s the 44 tracks on the CDs that really help bring these artists to life, from Captain Luke’s solo excursion on Jew’s harp on the instrumental “Freight Train Boogie” that opens the set to the low-country blues strains of John Lee Ziegler‘s “Going Away” and such other diverse instrumentals as the marching, Hill Country-style guitar and drums of James Davis‘ “Fred, You Ought to Be Dead” and Benton Flippen‘s lively, fiddle and banjo-driven “Benton’s Dream” to variations on such classics as “Amazing Grace” (Cora Fluker), “Route 66″ (Eddie Tigner), “Shortnin’ Bread” (Neal Pattman), and “Home on the Range” (W.C. Minger IV), as well as a monologue describing the blues from none other than Guitar Gabriel.

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New CD, star-studded Chicago benefit to honor memory of late bluesman Sean Costello

It’s been just over six years now since the blues world lost singer, guitarist, and rising star Sean Costello. In that time, we’ve seen several new CDs of Costello material – including a good number of previously unreleased tracks on 2009’s Sean’s Blues: A Memorial Retrospective and 2011’s At His Best – Live, both from Landslide Records – with another collection of as yet unheard tracks currently seeking funding; here’s how you can help.

Costello_tribute_poster (226x350)As much as we’d like to be able to remember Costello solely for his musical talents, it’s difficult to separate his work as an artist from the tragedy of Sean’s death on the eve of his 29th birthday, soon after which it was revealed that Costello had been battling bipolar disorder. Sean’s friends and family quickly rallied to establish The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research, an organization dedicated to keeping Costello’s personal and musical spirit alive and translating the human side of his suffering into action that will help in research education, outreach and treatment efforts for bipolar disorder. For many, Sean’s death has helped to put a face on the condition of bipolar disorder, and Costello’s friends and family in turn have helped to ensure that the bluesman isn’t soon forgotten, not only through the release of those new albums and the establishment of the fund but also through events in remembrance of Costello such as the one taking place at the famed Rosa’s Lounge in Chicago this coming weekend.

Featuring Tom Holland & the Shuffle Kings with special guests that include Billy Boy Arnold, Jody Williams, Long Tall Deb & Colin John, Kate Moss, Richard Rosenblatt, and others, this Saturday night show will both celebrate Sean’s life and help support the fund that bears his name. If you’re anywhere near Chicago or looking for an excuse to make a last-minute visit to the Windy City, this is sure to be a great night of performances for a very worthy cause.

For those unable to make it to Chicago, you can catch a free stream of the event online at Gigity.TV.

In the meantime, here’s a nice video on Sean’s life and career that also includes more information on the Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research:

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35 years on, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones still playing the blues, Living Tear to Tear; plus an exclusive interview with Bluetones bassist Mudcat Ward

We’ve all heard the adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same”, and perhaps no blues band today more resembles that comment than the storied Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, who have certainly seen their share of change in the now three and a half decades since their formation. Among those changes of course have been numerous shufflings in personnel, with the Bluetones’ founding guitarist – a fellow by the name of Ronnie Earl – leaving the band relatively early in its history to replace Duke Robillard in another New England-based outfit, Roomful of Blues, and original drummer Neil Gouvin making a similarly hasty exit, going on to record with the likes of Luther Allison, Otis Grand, Debbie Davies, and former bandmate Earl. And even bandleader, vocalist and harmonica player Sugar Ray Norcia spent some time with another band during the 1990s when he served as lead singer for Roomful of Blues (with former bandmate Earl having already set off on his own by Norcia’s arrival).

Sugar_Ray_Bluetones_Living_Tear_to_Tear (240x240)So it’s pretty amazing really that four of the five musicians who play on the Bluetones’ new album Living Tear to Tear (Severn Records) also happen to be four of the band’s original members – finding Norcia on vocals and harmonica, Michael “Mudcat” Ward on bass, Anthony Geraci on keyboards, and Gouvin back on drums, all of whom celebrate their 60th birthdays in 2014 – with Earl’s spot on guitar having been filled by a series of other faces through the years until the band brought on its current guitarist in 2001, a brilliant young player in Monster Mike Welch.

As you might expect from a band that’s played together for so long (even the “new” member Welch has been with them now for more than a decade), the Bluetones are about as tight a band musically as you could ask for, both live (as we had the chance to observe when we caught them this winter during the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival, where we shot these pics) as well as in the studio, as Living Tear to Tear once again proves. Whether you attribute it to their many years of experience playing together, the professionalism of its individual members, or both, the band is also one of the best we’ve seen or heard at being able to grab a listener’s attention and maintain it, tearing from one great song to the next with ease.

Sugar Ray Norcia & Monster Mike Welch

Sugar Ray Norcia & Monster Mike Welch

Take, for example, this latest CD: it all kicks off with the raucous roadhouse swing of “Rat Trap”, followed by the swaying, soulful Mike Welch-penned “Here We Go”, and then on to the gritty midtempo cooker “Things Could Be Worse”, which really helps put things into perspective with its chorus of “you should quit your complainin’, and be thankful first/ because for every bad, I know there’s a worse”.

From there, they move to the shuffling, steady groove of the album’s title track, while perhaps no tune better says the blues than the tough sounds, vocals and lyrics of the slow, simmering “Misery”, which, clocking in at just over eight minutes, ensures that listeners get their money’s worth in every way.

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