South Sound Blues Association March 2019 newsletter - Moe Ribbs at Stockton's 

By Joe Noble 

So I went with friends to Maple Valley last month to dance to some blues at a nice place called Stocktons Restaurant & Spirits. I ran into SSBA President Andy Pasilis and his lovely wife Susan, and we sat down to hear the Moe Ribbs Blues Band. But I wasn’t sitting for long. Right away they started throwing down some fine blues to strum your 12 bar inner strings with.   

Brian Lee was on guitar and harp. He has an awesome band called Brian Lee and the Orbiters, which I saw at Mt. Baker Blues Festival in 2017 and many times after. He shared that stage with Walter Trout and Shane Dwight, to name a few. Not bad at all. Brian played three different guitars, bending notes and playing with precision. He also plays a mean slide guitar.   

I was also pleased to see another harp player, Rich Greenberg. He blew a good ax. Jammed out some solos and filled the gaps nicely. Another guitar player, Wade Hickam, threw out some bars that had us all shaking our booties for sure. Solid work.   

The bass player, Bear Drury, really knew his instrument too. Man, he played that thing above his head while he walked around the dance floor. He also belted out a couple cool songs that everybody really liked. The drummer, Will Bagby, yeah, he knew how to keep that beat going for sure. In all, if you want to dance to some blues, go hear and support these cool cats. You’ll mark the dance floor just like we did. Joe Man the Dancing Fan says go! 

"You Shook Me" - the backstory. 

Here is a really interesting song with an even more interesting back story. Earl Hooker and his band recorded an instrumental that was called "Blue Guitar" in 1961. Actually, the song was a "warm-up" that the Hooker band was doing before starting a recording session. The sound engineer for Chief records recorded it , however, and it was put out as a single. A year later Leonard Chess (Chess records) approached Mel London of Chief about using the instrumental, and subsequently had Willie Dixon write lyrics. Muddy Waters then over-dubbed the vocals (his first time doing this), and "You Shook Me" was born.




Jimmy Reed - harp. 

Most blues fans are familiar with the great Jimmy Reed from classics like Big Boss Man and Bright Lights, Big City, and it's the whole package of what he brought that made him so good - singing, guitar, composing and harp.  But Jimmy was a great harp player in his own right and here is an example.

RIP - James Cotton 

One of the last of the great bluesmen, James Cotton died today, March 16, 2017, of pneumonia. He was 81, and had been a working musician from the age of nine, and a performer for more than six decades.  Tutored by Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson II, Cotton developed his own powerful and distinctive style. Despite being faced with health challenges over the years, including throat cancer in the 90s which forced him to give up singing, he performed well into his 70s, never failing to deliver a high octane thrill to his audience. For more information on this truly great figure in music here is a link to story in the New York Times. Goodbye Mr. Cotton, you will be missed.

And here is a great live performance of his iconic song "The Creeper."

James Cotton 

Most of great blues artists we've featured are no longer with us, but some are still with us.  James Cotton is one of the latter group. Born in Tunica, Mississippi in 1935 (1934 according to some sources), Cotton, despite a number of health issues, still blows a mean harp. He began his blues career in Chicago with the Howlin' Wolf band, and was the harp player for Muddy Waters from 1955-65.  He left Muddy Waters in 1965 and formed the Jimmy Cotton quartet featuring Otis Spahn on piano, and then formed the James Cotton Band in 1967.  Over the years he made numerous recordings, won ten Blues Music Awards, and, in 2006, was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame. Once a powerful singer, Cotton has relied on other singers after a battle with throat cancer in the mid-1990s, but continued to tour and record.  His harmonica style is powerful and evocative with strong use of chords and a soulful feel.  Here is one of his most distinctive songs.

Arthur "Big Boy" Spires 

Another great Chicago bluesman, Spires was born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1912.  By the early 40s he had moved to Chicago and was playing guitar and singing at house parties. Among his accomplishments, he recruited young guitarists David and Louis Myers who went on to form the Aces.  Spires started recording for Chess in the early fifties working with a backing band called the Rocket Four which included Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums and harp and Eddie El on guitar. Although it was not commercially successful, one of the songs that came out of their first session was "Murmur Low," a song done in the style of Tommie Johnson, which became a blues classic.

Every Day I Have the Blues 

One the most well known of blues standards, this song has been recorded by so many of the greats, from Memphis Slim who re-worked an earlier version and sent it on it's way.  Four versions of the song reached the top ten of Billboards R&B Charts, and Count Basie with Big Joe Williams and B. B. King won Grammy's for their versions. (Wikipedia)  Where did this great song come from?  Well, it was written by an early blues pianist, Aaron "Pinetop" Sparks, along with his brother Marion.  A fine boogie-woogie piano player, Pinetop recorded the song in 1935.  Unfortunately, he died that same year at the age of 29 so we have little else from him.  Pinetop's version of the song features his falsetto singing, a style that many bluesmen like Robert Johnson and Tommy Johnson favored in that era.  Memphis Slim's version, first recorded under the name "Nobody Loves Me" in 1949, retained the opening verse of Pinetop's song, but changed the lyrics after that, and he sang the song in a normal vocal range.  Even so, his song retains the lonesome feel of the earlier song. Here are both versions of the song.

A King Among Kings 

Freddie King, aka "The Texas Cannonball," was one of the most influential blues guitarists.  Often referred to as "one of the three kings" along with Albert King and B. B. King, Freddie inspired many blues and rock guitarists, notably Eric Clapton, with powerful vocals and unique guitar style.  He had many hit singles including several that we perform like "Have You Ever Loved A Woman," "San-Ho-Zay, and "Tore Down." Freddie's unique guitar style combined both the raw, open string sound of theTexas blues he had learned growing up and the raw, screaming tones of West Side Chicago blues.  This combination gave him a more contemporary sound than many Chicago blues bands than other blues players in the 60s, and he passed this on to a younger generation of musician coming into the scene (Wikipedia).  He is one of our favorites and truly a giant and king of the blues.  Here is one of his signature hits, "Hideaway."


Maxwell Street (Chicago) and the Blues 

It's not often that a street is influential in the development of a style of music, but Maxwell Street is certainly one instance of that phenomenon.  In the 30s and 40s itinerant musicians from the Delta came North seeking work. In most cases they initially found jobs in the trades and supplemented their income by busking on street corners.  They quickly discovered that, unlike the country settings and small towns of the South where they had played, the hustle and bustle of a big city made it difficult to attract attention with acoustic instruments.  Over time they sought out the new technology of amplifiers and electric guitars, developing a new genre of blues, urban/electrified blues.  Maxwell Street with it's stores and markets was a natural place to attract a crowd, and the merchants often encouraged the musicians as they saw that the music brought them more business.  Just as important, many merchants ran extension cords from their stores out to the street giving the musicians a power supply for their amps. From Big Bill Broonzy to Muddy Waters to Little Walter and many others, Maxwell Street provided a venue to make some money and develop their music, creating what came to be known as Chicago blues. In the 1980s film, "The Blues Brothers," Maxwell Street is featured in a scene showing John Lee Hooker and Big Walter Horton playing Hooker's "Boom, Boom" on the street to a huge crowd. While the scene was set up for the movie, it undoubtedly portrayed something that happened quite frequently.

Are five fingers enough? 

Well, not for Hound Dog "Six Finger" Taylor.  With six fingers on his left hand, he played as dirty sounding bottleneck style guitar as anyone before or after.  Born Theodore Roosevelt Taylor in 1915, his first instrument was the piano, but at age 20 he began playing the guitar.  He moved to Chicago in 1942 and worked as a part-time musician until 1957 when he decided to become a full-time bluesman.  He also changed his style at this time from standard tunings to a bottleneck style heavily influenced by the emergence of Elmore James.  Always a ladies man, he reportedly was given the nickname "Hound Dog" one night as he chased several women around a club.  Known for their raucous style, his band, The Houserockers consisting of Taylor on guitar, Ted Harvey on drums and Brewer Phillips on bass, often sounded like a much bigger group.  Tayor was able to get distortion like no one else, in part due to his cheap amps and guitars. There were some who looked at him as a one-trick pony, but in truth he was a gifted guitarist.  (Wikipedia)

Perhaps his most famous quote was:"When I die, they'll say 'he couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good!".... (Keno's website)

Sure sounds good to me - here is "See Me in the Evening," the Dog at his raunchiest.