We are definitely in the dog days of summer. Here in the Mid-Atlantic it has been so hot and humid (typical, I know), that even our dog Hubert has been pretty lethargic. Five days at the beach last week wasn’t nearly enough of a break, but I’ll take what I can get.
As Labor Day approaches, I have begun thinking about a big cookout. One of the things I’m craving is ribs; my husband has a few rubs and marinades he developed, so two or three varieties of ribs are put onto the grill. That means we will be outside for hours with music going the whole time.
I am a big advocate for independent or non-mainstream musicians—particularly the blues—so I decided to put together a playlist of music and artists that should last about an hour’s worth of slow-grilling time. Kick back, pop a few cold ones, and check out my recommendations.
These are in no particular order, and I’ve tried to include a link to each artist’s website for you to explore them further.
Richard Johnston, “Do the Romp”
I first saw (and heard) Richard perform at the Memphis in May Music Festival in 2006 and was hooked. He had invited legendary north Mississippi hill country musician Jessie Mae Hemphill to perform with him that day—then two months later she passed away. A whole lotta sound comes out of one man, and he really immersed himself into creating his version of the hypnotic north Mississippi hill country style of music. This was the first time I really saw what someone could do with a 2-string cigar box guitar. This tune is one of my favorites and is a cover of Junior Kimbrough’s.
Danielle Nicole, “You Only Need me When You’re Down”
This is a single off her solo album, Wolf Den. She has already built a following as bassist and lead vocals in the band Trampled Under Foot (which was comprised of Nicole and her two brothers), but they dissolved late in 2014. Nicole’s voice is killer. I hope to check out her band in person.
Popa Chubby, “Catfish Blues”
To be honest, I haven’t explored a lot of Popa Chubby. But every time I hear him on XM radio, I turn it up and tell myself I need to get some of his music! Plan to do that shortly. Bronx, NY native Ted Horowitz (aka Popa Chubby) has been playing and recording since the ’90s. The website bearing his name is no longer in service, but I found another link with some info and songs. In the meantime, here’s something to keep you going. It’s a classic old tune from Robert Petway that’s been done by everyone from Muddy Waters to Jimi Hendrix and most recently by Gary Clark, Jr. (another favorite of mine).
Alabama Shakes, “Hold On”
One of my guitarists turned me on to this band a few years ago; their cover of Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times” is incredible. For the most part the band got together when they were in their late teens. They’ve been at it since 2009 and in 2013 they were nominated for three Grammy awards. Brittany, who is lead vocals and one of the guitarists, has one of the most expressive voices out there today…particularly for someone so young (I think she’s about 24). This song has a rather mellow rhythm, but as it progresses it’s dynamic.
Moreland & Arbuckle, “White Lightnin'”
I love this band. Not stalker kind of love, but man do they rock! I have seen them perform at least three times and always leave wanting to hear more. A lot of depth coming out of three guys. This song is about running moonshine and is one I am covering with one of my bands; it has a fast, steady beat. I can’t listen to this and not tap my foot. (I realize this is a studio song with more than one guitar…just wanted to clarify) And naturally I’m partial to cigar box guitars….
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, “Looking Back”
Kenny is another artist I saw perform one year at the Memphis in May Music Festival. He’s a dynamic guitarist who has had a career for the past 20 years or so…and he isn’t even 40 yet. This is another song that has been on rotation on XM’s Bluesville and whenever I hear it, I have to turn it up. Clever lyrics, too (I was looking back to see if she was looking back to see if I was looking back at her….). He’s touring with Van Halen right now. Unfortunately I have a gig the night he’ll be less than ten miles from my house. Damn.
Beth Hart, “Broken and Ugly”
Beth Hart actually got her first taste of what was to come when she won top Female Vocalist during the 1993 season of Star Search. By the release of her second album in 1999, she had a number one hit in New Zealand, was topping the charts here in the U.S. and thus began the rise to an impressive career as singer-songwriter-musician. Most recently she has been collaborating and touring with Joe Bonamassa. She caught my attention years ago when I heard her rendition of two songs made famous by other favorites of mine: Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” (which she sang at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors). This is a live, acoustic version of “Broken and Ugly”.
Albert Collins, “Honey Hush”
Even though he passed in 1993, I think the style of his music is timeless. The way he attacked the strings is nothing short of amazing, since he used a capo and typically worked the bottom half of the fretboard. Amazing. It’s hard for me to pick just one song of his, so this one has good tempo, but in typical Albert Collins fashion, the lyrics are priceless. “Keep on lippin’, baby….” In a documentary we have, Clifford Antone talks so fondly about what a great person Collins was, also. (I have a link and description of the video, Antone’s, Home of the Blues, in a previous post here.)
Gov’t Mule, “Bad Little Doggie”
Originally started as a side project in 1994 by Allman Brothers Bandmates Warren Haynes and Allen Woody, they have been touring and producing albums pretty much every year since the inception of the band. I have always liked the grittiness of Haynes’ voice, and his slide capabilities are legendary (my husband actually has one of his instructional videos). This is another band I have not caught live yet, but plan to put them on my radar. From what I understand, every show is different, as they call on special guests to share the stage at every venue.
Hubert Sumlin, “I’m Ready”
Last, but certainly not least, is the guitarist Howlin’ Wolf relied upon for more than two decades: Hubert Sumlin. I have a soft spot for this man, as we met him a couple of times. The first time was after a show (on a weeknight) and he sat and chatted with my husband and I for more than 40 minutes, even following us outside as the staff was ready to close the venue. He was such an inspiration for so many guitarists, yet was an extremely humble man and so genuine towards us. I’ve always loved the music of Howlin’ Wolf, but after meeting Sumlin I felt like I needed to listen again…to the guitar riffs. This tune is one from a compilation album Sumlin released in 2003, About Them Shoes, which has appearances by Eric Clapton—who sings “I’m Ready”, Keith Richards, Bob Margolin and a few others I sadly am not as familiar with….yet. The link I have provided leads to an interview with Sumlin done in 1997 by Jason Gross (Sumlin passed in 2011, shortly after his 80th birthday and I couldn’t really find a comprehensive website with his bio and music). If you’re interested, it provides a glimpse into the guitar legend in his own words.