Paul K, songwriter and guitarist, RIP

The Blue Sun (remastered) by Paul K & The Weathermen

Paul Kopasz, the Lexington, Kentucky-based songwriter/guitarist best known as the leader of Paul K. and The Weatherman died this week. During the late 1980s and early 1990s in Cincinnati, Ohio, I had the fortune of catching Paul K's inimitable amplified post-punk blues several times and it was always an emotional punch to the gut.

In an obituary in Lexington's Ace Weekly, Kakie Urch writes, "The music, from early days featuring an acoustic guitar with an electric pickup and effects, draws on influences ranging from The Who, The Velvet Underground, Big Star, Gram Parsons, The Kinks and Townes Van Zandt. The 1995 release, Love is a Gas, was produced by Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground. 1997’s A Wilderness of Mirrors is the rock opera released on Alias and the basis of the “documentary/fairytale” movie. Other titles of note include Blues For Charlie Lucky, and the The Blue Sun, and, as the best place to start, the two-disc collection Stolen Gems."

In 1990, the Afghan Whigs released a searing cover of Paul K's "Amphetamines & Coffee" (above) on their first Sub Pop full-length Up In It (1990). Here's their take on it. Upon hearing of Paul K's death, The Whigs' Greg Dulli wrote the following remembrance:

John Curley and I walked into JR’s in Cincinnati one night back in 1986 and watched a gaunt and possessed singer/ guitarist manhandle a beat up acoustic guitar with a pickup and an overdrive pedal whilst leading his power trio thru an absolutely incendiary set that had our jaws on the floor.

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Lead Belly sings about Mr. Hitler (1942)

My favorite blues singer Huddie William Ledbetter (1888-1949), aka Lead Belly, sung about traditional blues topics like relationships, prison, and poverty, but he also wrote about current events and newsmakers of the day, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jean Harlow to the Scottsboro Boys. In 1942, Lead Belly wrote this tune, "Mr. Hitler." Here are the lyrics:

Hiltler started out in 1932 Hiltler started out in 1932 When he started out, he took the homes from the Jews

We're gonna tear Hitler down We're gonna tear Hitler down We're gonna tear Hitler down someday. We're gonna bring him to the ground We're gonna bring him to the ground We're gonna bring him to the ground someday.

When Hitler started out, he took the Jews from their homes When Hitler started out, he took the Jews from their homes That's one thing Mr. Hitler you know you done wrong.

We're gonna tear Hitler down We're gonna tear Hitler down We're gonna tear Hitler down someday. We're gonna bring him to the ground We're gonna bring him to the ground We're gonna bring him to the ground someday.

You ain't no iron, you ain't no solid rock You ain't no iron, you ain't no solid rock but we American people say "Mr. Hitler you is got to stop!"

We're gonna tear Hitler down We're gonna tear Hitler down We're gonna tear Hitler down someday. We're gonna bring him to the ground We're gonna bring him to the ground We're gonna bring him to the ground someday.

Read the rest

Pianist Henry Butler dead at 69

If you love New Orleans-style piano or simply subscribe to joy, the music of Henry Butler would be welcome in your home. Gospel, old school rhythm and blues, Caribbean-tinged jazz and, of course, that signature syncopated New Orleans sound made renowned by musical luminaries like Jellyroll Morton and Professor Longhair--Butler could play it all.

And he did.

His playing challenges the ears, turning well-known standards up on their ends to show listeners what's inside of them. Sadly, we're all given our time to go. There'll be no more Henry Butler for us to enjoy, save what has already been recorded. Butler died in a hospice facility this week, in Brooklyn. He was 69 years old.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Butler commanded the syncopated power and splashy filigree of boogie-woogie and gospel and the rolling polyrhythms of Afro-Caribbean music. He could also summon the elegant delicacy of classical piano or hurtle toward the dissonances and atonal clusters of modern jazz. He could play in convincing vintage styles and sustain multileveled counterpoint, then demolish it all in a whirlwind of genre-smashing virtuosity.

As The New York Times' obituary of Butler points out, Dr. John once called Butler “the pride of New Orleans and a visionistical down-home cat and a hellified piano plunker to boot.”

Knowing that his playing will inspire generations of musicians in the decades to come feels like cold comfort in the wake of the loss of such a talent.

The older I get, the stranger it feels to watch as the musicians who inspire me fall to the ravages of time. Read the rest

Hazmat Modine's new album is killer but they need your help to finish it

It's hard to sort Hazmat Modine into a neat musical category. They play the blues, but it's not like anything you've likely heard anywhere else. A lot of folks consider the tunes that the New York City musical collective churn out to be "world music." I think that's just a lazy way of saying that they do a little bit of everything. If you've heard the band's music in person or on any their albums, you'll know that they handle their kitchen sink of influences amazingly well: their work incorporates the best elements of African, Eastern European, Caribbean and American musical traditions: blues, reggae, jazz and Mongolian throat singing, they do it all. The result is a wash of emotional, often joyous sound that's hard not to like.

The band's finished work on their fourth album, Box of Breathe. Well, it's mostly finished. The tracks have been recorded (I've heard them and they're fabulous!) but they still need to be mixed. Musicians and production personnel need to be paid. The album, in its physical form, still needs to be pressed. All this is expensive and, as good as Hazmat Modine is, their music isn't the sort of thing that you're likely to hear on top 10 radio these days. As such, the band has turned to crowdfunding in an effort to offset some of the expenses of getting their latest work out to where folks can hear it.

Of course, there are fabulous prizes to be had. You know the game: depending on how much you're willing to throw at the project, you'll be able to enjoy perks like historic post cards picturing old New York City, a copy of their new album, the band's complete catalog, or even a private house concert. Read the rest

Dom Flemons, late of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, plays music that makes me very happy

I was listening to the latest Judge John Hodgman podcast today (as I do every week!) which was performed live in Washington DC; as with every live show, there was a musical guest, and this guest was so completely awesome I made a note to post about him when I got home. Read the rest

American Folk Blues Festival 1962 - 1966: British festivals featured some of the greatest American blues artists of all time

This Metafilter post by Madamjujujive has extensive links and background on The American Folk Blues Festival 1962 - 1966, annual festival that brought some of the greatest blues acts of the USA to British audiences in the UK and put them on stage with British acts like Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. The Youtube clips from the show are spectacular, featuring artists like Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters & Howlin' Wolf. Read the rest

Kurt Cobain's birthday: "Where Did You Sleep Last Night"

Happy birthday, Kurt Cobain.

The (true) legend of Stagolee

The story of a deadly bar fight between a guy named Billy and a guy named Stagolee (or Stack Lee, or Stagger Lee) has worked its way into a broad swath of 20th-century music — from the blues of 1930s Southern prisoners, to Duke Ellington, to James Brown, to the Grateful Dead. At Davey D's Hip Hop History 101, Cecil Brown traces the true story behind the legend back to the red light district of St. Louis in 1895. Read the rest

Lessig Sings the Blues: "Walden Pond Blues"

Here's a great mashup of a Larry Lessig riff on Thoreau and political transparency, mixed with a slow, soulful blues, to excellent effect. "Walden Pond Blues" was mixed by Admiral Bob, who performs the music under a CC-BY license.

Walden Pond Blues

MP3 Link

(Thanks, Blooflame!)

(Image: Lawrence Lessig, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from joi's photostream & Skip James, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from pappipearse's photostream)) Read the rest

Tuba Skinny: Old timey blues and jazz street act from New Orleans

Last week, I caught Tuba Skinny opening for the Dresden Dolls in New Orleans -- Amanda Palmer heard them busking in the French Quarter and invited them out to the show. I got both of their CDs and have been enjoying the hell out of them ever since: this is old timey blues and jazz with an emphasis on standards, arranged with a prominent horn section (as the name implies) and mostly sung by Erika Lewis, who belts it out like Mae West. The band was adorable -- extras from The Little Rascals, and they were as fine to hear live as they are on their CDs, Six Feet Down and Tuba Skinny. The former contains an original track, also called "Six Feet Down," credited to Erika Lewis, that is a really fine song that sounds as good as any of the tried-and-true standards like "At the Jazz Band Ball" and "Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jelly Roll" that fill out the rest of the disc.

Tuba Skinny

  Dr. John's weird New Orleans psych music - Boing Boing Best of BBtv: Hot 8 Brass Band of New Orleans (music) - Boing Boing New Orleans jazz trumpet icon Kermit Ruffins on barbecuing Boing Boing Russell Porter: Hot 8 Brass Band of New Orleans (music) - Boing ... Gutterpunk bluegrass buskers in the French Quarter - Boing Boing Read the rest

Uptempo boogie-woogie blues that will get you moving: The Phantoms "Alive at the Diamond"

I just disappeared into a sweet and fully rocking memory for 45 minutes, and I'm still bopping. I recently discovered that Jerome Godboo, former frontman for 1980s Canadian blues/rock band The Phantoms has put much of his back catalog online as free MP3 downloads (and as commercial CDs that he'll ship to your front door). The album I disappeared into was Alive at the Diamond, the first album released by The Phantoms, pieced together from live shows at the Diamond club in Toronto. I've seen the Phantoms play live many times, and they never failed to get me out of my seat and lost in the music; I wore out three copies of the Alive at the Diamond cassette in various Walkmans, and when my last copy disintegrated, I thought the music was gone forever.

So I've spent the past 45 minutes with the biggest goddamned grin on my face, bopping so hard in my seat that I could barely type, getting reacquainted with one of my favorite albums of all time. The Phantoms played hard-driving modern blues with an emphasis on Godboo's insane, James-Cotton-grade harmonica virtuosity. The lyrics were good -- though never outstanding -- but the arrangements and performances and the vocals were so goddamned rocking that they made the Phantoms into a band I could never forget.

Start with the opening track, Everything is Changing, then move onto the instrumental boogie-woogie baddassery of The Skull (I defy you to stay seated for this track), and then check out their one-of-a-kind cover of Ain't Too Proud to Beg. Read the rest

Youthful harmonica prodigies have the blues

Murray sez, "I recently launched a podcast at the UK-based harmonica website The episode here features five young players aged 14-18 (with one 22-year-old to mess up our average) who are playing WAY beyond their years... and in some cases, pushing harmonica-playing into dark scary places where it was never meant to go.

The podcast is a little ragged but the playing is great. I thought it pertinent to send this through after Roger Daltrey's shabby harp solo at last night's Super Bowl show. Any one of these kids could destroy Roger Daltrey with a single fog-horn like blast from their instrument. All he'd leave behind is a smoking pair of hush puppies."

Damn skippy: these kids are honkin' and smokin'.

Harmonica Podcast: The Kids Are Alright

Alternative link

MP3 link

(Thanks, Murray!) Read the rest

Skip James plays "Crow Jane" in 1967

Skip James plays "Crow Jane" in 1967. (After watching this video, I had to go back and watch one of my favorite YouTube videos ever, "Inflatable tube man dances to Cream's 'Glad.'") (Via Tinselman) Read the rest

Count Basie Paints A Picture Of The Birth Of The Blues

It's strange how simple, off-the-cuff stuff can be so beautiful, it makes you cry.

Here's Count Basie on the Jazz Casual TV program from 1968. Basie paints a picture of Kansas City and Harlem in the golden age, then dispels it with a laugh like the smoke from his cigarette. "So, uh... Where were we?"

I live for glimpses like this of the wonderful times before I was born. "That's The Lion's ending..." Read the rest