Pops Staples | Nobody’s Fault But Mine

25 01 2011

Here is Pops Staples (as in The Staples Singers & Mavis’ dad) doing an old blues tune called “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” on the Bobby Jones Gospel Hour. Everybody knows that Pops is a mean soul singer but he is one hell of a guitarist too. It’s really cool to see him digging into this solo gospel version of the Blind Willie Johnson classic. I love to hear him all by himself with just a Telecaster guitar and that soulful voice.

You know what they say, you can take the boy out of Mississippi but you can’t take Mississippi out of the boy. Pops truly is a delta legend and one that I have a real soft spot for. Although, the Staple Singers haven’t gotten much love here on The GG, they are a certainly favorite of mine. With that said, you can expect a few  pieces featuring Mavis and the family in the near future. Now check out the video below to see what old Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples was getting into during the latter part of his career. It’s pretty awesome.

There is an additional interview on the end of this video. It’s not really that interesting but if you’re into vintage politics alongside your vintage music, you may dig it.

The Black Keys | Brothers

8 06 2010

A week or two ago I picked up the latest Black Keys album Brothers. For those not familiar with the band, they’re a blues-rock duo consisting of vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer/producer Patrick Carney. Formed in 2001, they have 7 full length albums to their credit plus some EPs and collaborations. At this stage in their career I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. In recent years they have become wildly popular, receiving accolades as one of a hand full of true rock bands on the scene. In the last 5 years their music has even been used in movie soundtracks, on TV and in video games. Such success can often be a double-edged sword. On one hand, this means access to some better industry resources, including studio collaborators like high profile producers or guest artists. But on the other hand, such widespread acclaim and reverence can also heavily dilute the music.

After numerous listens (I always give it the proper due diligence), I’m a afraid I must give Brothers mixed reviews. I’m really glad to see the guys have moved on from the same old sound of their first few albums. I really appreciate that raw, simplicity-is-key, blues-based aesthetic but have thought that most of their past material sounds very much the same. So much so that if you were to put all their songs on a playlist and hit shuffle, it would be hard for anyone who’s not a fan to tell if they’ve heard a song twice. However, Brothers is a venture that showcases their ability to create something a little different. There is no absence of the root of their sound but it is now developed just a bit further. Some songs are simply embellished with bigger multi-track arrangements while others feature a more complex structure at the core. Not all are winners but it’s refreshing to hear a more distinct progression in their music. On all of their albums The Black Keys always seem to produce at least one standout that shines a bit brighter than the rest. Brothers is no exception. “Tighten Up”, which is the albums single, is without a doubt the best song. It’s a fantastic tune that is still very rough around the edges and yet is very catchy featuring a great hook and syncopated beat. The B Side to the “Tighten Up” single is “Howlin’ For You”, which is also very catchy but I have a hard time really getting in to it. If I had to pick a few other songs that rise to the top, I would definitely select “I’m Not The One”. It’s a very cool tune that sounds a bit like an updated Traffic song. Digging deeper into the cuts, I would go with “Ten Cent Pistol” and “Never Gonna Give You Up”. The former is a blues soaked beauty, while the latter takes it’s musical cues from the world of late 60’s soul. Both are refreshing takes on the status quo.

Below is the video for “Tighten Up”. It will likely be on every playlist I create this summer… and perhaps beyond. They did a great job with this video too. The music is very fitting for what transpires…

Here is “Ten Cent Pistol”. It’s no fancy high quality/high priced, studio produced video like “Tighten Up” but at least you can get a taste of the song.


The Black Keys Official Site

The Black Keys YouTube Channel

More info on The Black Keys

More info on Dan Auerbach

More info on Patrick Carney

Purchase Online:

Buy Brothers on Amazon

Buy Brothers on iTunes

NEW! On The Turntable

23 04 2010

I have been very delinquent with my updates to the On The Turntable page. So much so that I completely missed March. So, in order to keep a clean house and have everything in order I have updated for both April and March. April is up on the current page, featuring Herbie Hancock’s incredible album Fat Albert Rotunda. While March is in the archive on the side bar. Unfortunately, March never got a fair shot but you can still enjoy it. It features one of my favorite short lived bands Blind Faith and their self titled album. Take a look at both, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them. For those desk jockey’s out there, these make for some great listening while hard at work in your cubicle. You can locate these links on the top navigation bar and the side bar archive… or you can just click the album covers below to listen to these albums in their entirety. Enjoy!

Blind Faith                                              Fat Albert Rotunda

As a little extra fanfare, there are few videos to get you in the mood. The first is Blind Faith live at Hyde Park in 1969. They do an awesome version of The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb”. Now, perhaps it’s just because I am a huge fan of young Steve Winwood but I think this rivals the original… Sorry Mic.

The next is the opening theme to Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert cartoon. For those not familiar with the Herbie’s Fat Albert Rotunda, it was inspired by the work he did for this show.  To be clear Herbie did not write this theme but he did some work for the show as he was friendly with Cosby. That said, the album is FAR superior to anything ever featured on the show but this will likely get you in the mood and perhaps even trigger some nostalgia.

The Amazing Nina Simone

8 03 2010

After seeing this first old video of Nina doing “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, I wanted to listen to more but my LPs are all packed up. Left wanting more, I turned to YouTube to see how much else was out there… it turns out there is a lot of cool stuff.

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was also played by The Animals. The Animals did this next one too, “House Of The Rising Sun”. This video is from The Bitter End (Greenwich Village, NYC) circa 1968. It’s actually 2 songs, the second being “Go To Hell”. A lot of Nina’s songs had larger arrangements behind them on the albums, which makes these live versions really cool. It’s great to hear the tunes stripped down a bit. They sound more authentic and sincere. Sincerity was always Nina’s strength so to say that humility is enhanced here is really testimony to how amazing she was live. She was serious when she sung and you can hear it in every lyric.

“House Of The Rising Sun” + “Go To Hell”

Through all the searching I found a really old and rare video of “I Loves You, Porgy”. Originally, from 1935 George Gershwin opera Porgy & Bess, it was one of Nina’s more popular tunes. I have to be honest, it’s a little boring but interesting to see nevertheless. It’s her playing solo in  1960 to what appears to be an all white audience. I only point that out because Nina was a well know activist for the Civil Rights Movement. There’s a story about how during her first public recital her mother was asked to move to the back of the room in order to give her front row seat to a white individual. Supposedly, it was that moment that ignited the fire that you hear in all her original material, as opposed to songs like this old standard show tune.

“I Loves You Porgy”

That fire I spoke of can be heard on such songs like “Sinnerman” and “I Ain’t Got No… I Got Life”. The former one you may recognize from various film soundtracks, most notably The Thomas Crown Affair. The later is a great song that is considered by many to be one of her best.


The video posted below is from the early 60’s and is a lot slower than the way she plays it later in her career. Everything about this video is of it’s time… the sound of the music, the look of the band, the quality of the footage itself. The other element that is a reflection of the era is the mostly white audience. The link just below the old video will show you how she played the same song later that decade, just a little over a year after Martin Luther King was shot. It’s from Harlem Fest 1969. It’s a whole different feel (in so many ways). To help put it into perspective, The Harlem Cultural Festival was also called the “Black Woodstock”.

I Ain’t Got No… I Got Life

Nina Simone @ The Harlem Cultural Festival 1969

Nina Simone or should I say Eunice Wayman, as was her given name, had a incredible life. For more, reference the links below:

Nina Simone Official Site

Nina Simone on All About Jazz

Nina Simone on Wiki

NPR piece on Nina’s Biography

Buy The Amazing Nina Simone

Son House

2 03 2010

Eddie “Son” House Jr. is perhaps the father of the Delta Blues. Many say that it was Robert Johnson but in reality even Johnson was influenced by his predecessor, Son House. He even owes House for some of the folk lore and mystique that surrounds his legacy because it was House who spread the idea to young blues admirers that Robert Johnson had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical prowess. The bottom line is, without Son House, there would likely be no Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson. The combination of House’s voice and guitar made his music unbelievably raw, sincere and just plain fascinating. It’s incredible… as is the back story behind the man himself.

House was born in 1902 on a plantation on the Mississippi River Delta. Before the Civil War, Delta plantation owners had been major purchasers of human labor. After being liberated in 1865, the displaced former slaves maintained their musical and storytelling traditions, spirituality, endurance, and humor… all of which had a indisputable voice through the blues.

Still, the music that emerged from these common beginnings was not embraced by all. The Delta blues belonged to only the poorest and most illiterate of folks. It only grew to “sophistication” on street corners and in the rowdy and often dangerous drinking places called juke joints. The performers were usually drifters who could find work anywhere during harvest time. But the most popular became local stars and often infamous as in House’s case. It was once said that the “Blues was so disreputable that even its staunchest devotees frequently found it prudent to disown it”. The church and the blues were not supposed to mix. This was an ethical dilemma that haunted Son House all of his life as he was a churchgoing man since a young boy. By the age of 15 House was giving sermons. By 20, he was the pastor of a Baptist church.  Although he was passionate about his religion, House never committed to a career in the church. He rambled from job to job, picking cotton, gathering tree moss, always looking for “easy street”. Despite the fact that his father and his uncles had their own horn band, Son House never viewed music as a way to make a living.

By 1926, after chasing a girl to Louisiana, House had returned home and was considering going back to the church. Around that time, while doing some rambling and drinking, House had seen a local bluesman named Willie Wilson play bottleneck guitar. He was dazzled. “This boy,” House remembered, “had a thing on his finger like a small medicine bottle, and he was zinging it, you know.” He recalled, “’Sounds good!’ I said. ‘Jesus, I like that! I believe I want to play one of them things.’” With just a buck and a half House went out and bought himself a battered old guitar. Wilson taught him how to tune by ear, another player, James McCoy, gave him lessons, and the rest he picked up on his own.

But House’s distinctive style was not simply a product of his early influences like McCoy or blues great Charley Patton. His history with the church had a hand in it too. Blues Historian, Robert Palmer, noted that, “[House’s] instrument became a congregation, responding to his gravelly exhortation with clipped, percussive bass rhythms and the ecstatic whine of the slider in the treble…. It was stark, gripping, kinetic music that demanded to be danced to and would have left few listeners unmoved.” Son House was preaching the blues.

In those days the Delta was Mississippi’s wild side, a blend of hard times, heavy drinking, and a gun in the possession of almost every man. In 1928, House was sent to a state penal farm for shooting and killing a man at a drunken house party near his home. House had pleaded self-defense as he was merely retaliating after the man opened fire in the confined space (hitting House in the leg). After serving two years, he was released and ordered not to return to the area ever again. And with that, he headed north.

In Lula, Mississippi, he met his hero, Charley Patton, and the two became as close as brothers. House, Patton, and a lesser-known local bluesman named Willie Brown teamed up for gigs and enjoyed some small-time success. In 1930, representatives of Paramount Records ventured to Lula to invite Patton to Wisconsin for a recording session. Patton brought along Son House, Willie Brown, and blues singer and piano player Louise Johnson. The resultant recordings have become classics, and Son House’s “My Black Mama” and “Preachin’ the Blues” are considered masterpieces of Delta blues singing.

Patton died in 1933. House married, earned a meager living driving a tractor, and continued playing with Brown. Along the way, House taught his classic “My Black Mama” riff to future blues titans Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. In 1942, House recorded “Walking Blues,” “Special Rider Blues,” “The Pony Blues,” and “The Jinx Blues” for the Library of Congress in the legendary “Field Recordings of 1941 – 1942″. Then, in 1943, he left the Delta for good.

Unlike Muddy Waters, who made his way to Chicago in search of fame and fortune, House’s chief motivation in leaving the Delta was to escape the hardships of life in Mississippi. Alone again, he took the train to Rochester, NY, and landed himself a job with the train line. When Willie Brown died in 1952, House said “Well, sir, all my boys are gone.” and stopped playing altogether. He later said, “I don’t even know what I did with my guitar.” House abandoned the blues and joined the Amen Baptist Church.

About a decade later, he was located by a pair of blues devotees and they coaxed him out of retirement in 1964. House signed with Columbia Records and resurrected his signature tunes. He performed at blues festivals, colleges, and other concerts which took him all the way to Europe. Through all the acclaim, he remained a soft-spoken, modest man who depended on the bottle to calm his nerves. By 1976, deteriorating health forced his ultimate retirement. Son House moved to Detroit to be with family and died in his sleep on October, 19, 1988. With his passing went the last of the great original Mississippi Delta blues singers.Truly a remarkable story about the birth of a legend and the Delta Blues.

This is House’s acapella classic “Grinnin’ In Your Face”. It embodies everything that is Son House and there isn’t even any guitar. For that matter, it embodies everything that is soul music as we know it. There are numerous imperfections, including some off beat clapping, but you can feel the passion in every lyric.

This is a really cool old live performance captured in his later years of another classic, “Death Letter”.

Finally, here is a live duet form 1968 with a very young Buddy Guy. They are playing one of House’s most famous tunes, “My Black Mama”.

Coming from where we are today, Son House’s playing technique and overall approach to the instrument was very unique. Son played various steel bodied Dobro-style guitars, playing slide with just an old piece of copper tube on his third finger. By using his third finger, Son was able to dampen behind the slide and still use his pinky for fretting. The copper tube adds a really gritty sound, which works great with his steel bodied guitar. What is especially odd about his approach is that he used “Spanish” tuning or Open G, tuned as DGDGBD. It’s pretty uncommon these days and would vastly change the way one plays.

As I mentioned, there are numerous artists influenced by House. Jack White is one of the most popular in this day and age. Here is Jack and Meg (The White Stripes) playing a live medley of “Death Letter” & “Grinnin’ In Your Face”. Jack has gone on record saying that “Grinnin’ In Your Face” is his favorite and perhaps most influential song he’s ever heard.

Here is Warren Haynes with Gov’t Mule also doing Grinnin‘.

Andrew Bird with his version of Grinnin‘.

House himself doing “Preachin’ Blues”

Source Links:

Full Son House Bio

Son House on Wiki

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