Thursday, May 28, 2015

Make No Mistake, Price and Clay Put the Music World on Notice With “This Time For Real”

About every five years or so a Soul album comes out that is so good, so right, that you are scared your turntable’s stylus will melt down.  I think of Eddie Floyd’s, William Bell’s and Otis Reddings great records on Stax in the 1960s, Al Green and the Hi Rhythm sections records produced by Willie Mitchell in the 70’s, out on the West Coast it was  Charles Wright and the Watts  103rd Street Rhythm Band.  You can’t forget Tyrone Davis, ZZ Hill,  Syl Johnson or Mr. Bobby Bland down South. Back East you had Gene Chandler and Curtis Mayfield in fact sometimes it was hard to tell them apart.  Down in New Orleans there was Eddie Bo, Willie Tee, the Meters and later the Nevilles.  God I love sweet soul music.  I sure wish they still made music like that... 
Well my Christmas wish came early this year or more precisely on May 19, 2015 because that is the day that two of my favorite soul singers still fighting the good fight, Otis Clay and Billy Price joined forces and released their absolutely wonderful new album, “This Time for Real”.
I know coming from me, you’re thinking “For Real?”  No Really, it is that good.  From the opening strains of “Somebody Changing My Sweet Baby’s Mind” you are transported to that musical Loveland where songs like Davis’ “Can I change My Mind”” and Floyd’s “I Never Found A Girl” serve as sweet inspiration, all the way through to the albums last track, an inspired version of “You Got Me Hummin’” that finds Clay and Price channeling Sam and Dave so authentically it is downright spooky.  Along the way the former Hi Records stable mate to Al Green and the Hodges and Billy Price aka William Pollak of Roy Buchannan and the Keystone Rhythm Band fame prove.
Everything works on this disc, ably produced by Duke Robillard a man who knows just a little about working with great horn sections.  Robillard, a cofounder of Roomful of Blues,  tapped two of the current members of Roomful, Doug Woolverton on trumpet and Mark Earley on Saxes , to round out his current band of Mark Teixiera on drums, Brad Hallen on bass, Bruce Bears on keys and of course Duke handling all guitars.  Add the excellent backup vocals trio of Theresa Davis, Dianne Madison, Diana Simon and the result is a band that will have you doing double takes to the liner notes (for which I thank you Bill and Mark!).  
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Mr. Earley arranged all the horns on this record.  Just listen to the horns on tracks like "All Because of Your Love" and "Too Many Hands" and you will agree that the arrangements and execution are top notch.  Woolverton and Earley deserve a big share of the credit for giving this record its timeless, authentic feel and tone.
Besides the above mentioned tracks, highlights for me include something funky, Syl Johnson’s “Goin to the Shack” which is perfect pacing in follow up to the sugar rush from the opening track and the slow burn of "I'm Afraid of Losing You" which follows.  The previously mentioned “All Because of Your Love”  is so good I am without words …You get the picture.   For the romantically inclined listen how Clay and Price handle "Love Don't Love Nobody".  The two singers voices compliment each other very nicely and the phrasing throughout the album is impeccable.   For Americana and country fans there is a great version of Book of Memories complete with Bruce Bears' honky tonk piano and Duke adding some Nashville inspired licks on guitar.
I also just love the selection of Los Lobos “Tears of God” which brings to mind Ruthie Foster’s cd “Let it Burn” from a few years back.  Like "This Time For Real" Ruthie did an album of mostly covers for "Let It Burn" but the arrangements were so fresh and the performances so killer, you did not care.  Like Price and Clay she also covered a Los Lobos track, "This Time" and made it her own.
No detail was overlooked in this labor of love with beautiful art and design by MaryBianchi and Hyla Willis.  Add David Aschkenas very cool photography and the end result is a gorgeous product that must be owned in its tangible form.  

Let's hope that Clay, Price and Robillard as well as the the Roomful horn players can coordinate their schedules this summer and Fall  to do some live performances showcasing this material.  If you do get out to see Mr  Clay and/or Mr. Price buy the cd directly from them at their show or, if like me, you can’t wait, it can be purchased at

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Riley Ben "Blues Boy" B.B. King: September 26, 1925 - May 14, 2015

When I learned of the death of Riley Ben "B.B." King my first thoughts went to my old friend and former client Ron Levy.  Ron was blessed to be the keyboard player in the B.B. King Band from 1969 to 1976.  Due to the number of condolences he received, Ron prepared the most beautiful tribute to Mr. King I have come  across to date.  With Mr. Levy's express permission I republish the following tribute:

"My B.B. King” by Ron Levy

I was privileged to have the unique and special honor of working with one of the greatest American artists of all time, B.B. King. A great man known and loved around the world for his grace, soulful musical genius and genuine humility. Mr. King is not just ‘King of the Blues’ but a beloved man whose personal qualities and examples of leadership earned the love and respect of every one of us that worked for and knew him.

B.B. often called me his “son” on and off stage and treated me like one he truly loved. The feeling was mutual and always will be. As a personal and musical role model, I never saw him fail to take the high road, or give less than 100% of himself.

I described and detailed many specific examples of this in my book, “Tales of A Road Dog” (published by devoting five chapters to Mr. King and the B.B. King musical family I grew up with on the road performing on every continent short of Antarctica. A family that B.B. nurtured and a family whose devotion and familial bonds are still strong today. Every musician who played for Mr. King either before or since my tenure (1969-76), shares this same fraternal kinship and always will, as well as our mutual friends.

Lately, many have wondered, “Why is B.B. still working despite his advanced age and declining health?” The answer is simple. Mr. King has always felt an unwavering responsibility for “his” people, the musicians whose livelihoods and families depended on him. He also felt a great responsibility and love towards his unwavering fans. I never saw him leave a venue until he had signed autographs, posed for photos and spoke or listened to every single fan that came to him. He was always a true gentleman. So many times over the years he would remember the names of these fans, and their children and relatives. Some of whom he might not have seen in decades. He loved all people with a king sized heart and was giving of himself to a fault, pained if he felt he ever let anyone down.
B.B. has given me many fond memories. I still cherish his hearty laugh and broad smile when remembering his response to one of my crazy stories or jokes, youthful naivetĂ© or something I played well he liked. Sometimes he’d grimace when I played, said or did something back-asswards too! Yet he was just as gentle at those times; setting me straight and making sure ‘I got it’. Combining the patience of Job with the wisdom of Solomon and his Delta country parables, he won my total respect and admiration. His wholehearted paternal pride inspired me to work harder to do my very best, just like him.

I was only sixteen years old when I first met Mr. King in 1967 as a fan. Now in my sixties and 23 years older than B.B. was when we first met, I know it still amuses him to regard me as a grown man. During our reunion after a concert last year, we were able to share things with each other man to man, that grew quite personal and emotional. Unspoken, we both realized this could be our very last time together. He graciously asked me to play on his next album even though we both knew it would never be. Eventually he tired and we bade each other our fond farewells, and hugged goodbye. We had reached deeply inside each other’s hearts and souls once again.
And, it was very good and complete.

Ron Levy

For more on Mr. Levy's life and times, not only the B.B. King Band but in Albert King's Band as well an incredible life in music, order his wonderful book "Tales of a Road Dog:  The Lowdown along the Blues Highway" at  and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much, while so many have so little.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Alejandro Escovedo Brings His Sensitive Boys Back to the Dakota Jazz Club

Fresh off successful gigs in my two favorite cities on earth, New Orleans and Memphis, Alejandro Escovedo brings his Sensitive Boys back to the
head waters of the Mississippi this Thursday May 7, 2015 to a room which defies its name, the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. 

Despite the name, the Dakota and its mercurial owner Lowell Pickett has been quietly booking some of the better Americana, Roots and Blues acts to his first rate restaurant and music club located on the first floor of an office tower at the corner of Tenth Street and Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis for years now.  

While to some the idea of bĂ©arnaise and the blues may seem as out of place as, say, escargot and Escovedo, the naysayers couldn’t be more wrong.  And if you think that the club formerly associated with the white hair, white shoes and white belt crowd might even subconsciously effect the type of show that Americana and Roots fans favorites like Dave Alvin and Escovedo perform when at the Dakota, just check out my past reviews.
At one recent Dakota show witnessed by yours truly, Escovedo even took perverse pleasure in breaking down the staid stereotype of the home of jazz denizens by mockingly apologizing for the volume level of his performance just before turning it up another notch ala Dylan gone electric.

So if you have not yet o.d.’d on boxing analogies in the aftermath of the “fight of the century”, if you are within driving distance of the Twin Cities this Thursday do not miss a chance to see the True Believer son of a prizefighter, the “Man of the world” who openly boasts “I can take a punch, I can take a swing” and unlike the suckers who paid too much for a mediocre fight on pay per view, you won’t be disappointed.