Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chicago Blues Festival: 365 Days a Year


Since 1984, the Chicago Blues Festival has been a landmark event among blues lovers as the largest free blues festival in existence.
But many would argue that Chicago is a constant blues festival. I saw what those folks were talking about a couple of weekends ago when I headed out to the Windy City.
My favorite hang-out by far was Kingston Mines. Located on the North Side, the club has two stages, meaning that two bands can play one right after the other, with no breaks in the music. The club also has a special late night liquor license, allowing it to stay open to 4 a.m. on weekdays and 5 a.m. on Saturday. In Chicago, clubs with an ordinary license can remain open only until 2 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on Saturdays(I know all of you folks who live in Chicago know all this; this is for folks like me who don't).
While at Kingston Mines I caught a performance by Joanna Connor, a blues guitarist who has been part of the city’s music scene since arriving there from Massachusetts in the mid-80’s. Connor, who has recorded for Blind Pig Records and has shared the stage with Buddy Guy and saxophonist A.C. Reed, started off with this acoustic set:

She later joined her band for a set that included this very electric version of “Dr. Feelgood:”

I then had a chance for a few words with her:
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Next up, Carl Weathersby, a former Army veteran and prison guard known for—in addition to his own work—his collaborations with Albert King and harmonica player Billy Branch. Here is Mr. Weathersby playing the blues. Make no mistake, he has formidable skill on guitar:

Mr. Weatherby wanted to talk, and when I thought we had run out of things to talk about, he proved me wrong. We kind of had two separate conversations after someone interrupted us. Here is the first part, where he talks about the Chicago Blues scene, among other things:

He then talked about his relatives, some of them prominent in the music scene. Aside from the interesting things he said about music, check out the way he handled this fellow who interrupted the interview and became belligerent with him while asking about an address:

Kingston Mines is down the street and about a block away from another nightclub called B.L.U.E.S., where guitarist Lurrie Bell was giving a show:

I have always wondered how Lurrie Bell can play like he does with all he's been through. Bell lost Susan Greenberg, his companion and the mother of his child, in January 2007. A few months later, He lost his father, renouned harmonica player Carey Bell. He also suffers from schizophrenia. I asked him about all of this in a quick conversation I had with him:
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Well, hope you enjoyed this trip as much as I did....


Next Edition: Songs sent in by readers.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chicago By Way of DC: Ronnie Baker Brooks comes to Washington


Two days after an earthquake hit the city, another force had D.C. residents rocking: Ronnie Baker Brooks.
Brooks, of the famed Chicago blues family that also includes father Lonnie and brother Wayne, played two sets at Surf Club Live in Hyattsville, MD for the D.C. Blues Society on Thursday. Brooks entertained the audience for three hours in songs that ranged from Muddy Waters to hip-hop, at one point jumping behind the bar where he poured and downed a drink--all while playing his guitar.
The concert culminated in a playfully risque duet between Brooks and D.C. area singer Stacy Brooks.

Afterwards, Beldon's Blues Point talked to Brooks about his involvement in the then upcoming "Bluestock" concert on Hunter Mountain, NY and his views on the relationship between hip-hop and blues:


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Straight Out of Memphis: Bluesman Preston Shannon



While he was growing up, Preston Shannon frequently heard from his devoutly Pentecostal parents that his interest in blues would send him to the devil. But the Mississippi-born, Memphis-reared guitarist/singer would not be turned from his chosen path. Shannon, 63, became a prominent and respected bluesman, making a name for himself first along Memphis’ famous Beale Street corridor and then the world.
On Saturday, Sept 3, Shannon will perform at the D.C. Blues Society’s 23rd Annual D.C. Blues Festival at Carter Barron Amphitheatre, headlining a bill that also will feature harmonica player Anthony “Swamp Dog” Clark and the Blues Allstars, singer Nadine Rae and the Allstars and harmonica player and singer Grady Champion. Later that evening, Shannon will play the afterparty at Silver Spring American Legion Post 41, 905 Sligo Avenue, Silver Spring.

Born in Olive Branch, Mississippi, Shannon came to the Memphis area when he was about eight. Despite his parents, he grew up with an interest in the blues, eventually cutting his teeth as a musician with a succession of Memphis groups starting with the Memphians, a rhythm-and-blues, horns-and-keyboards band he joined when he was 18. He went on to play for the popular Memphis-area bar band Amnesty before joining a group headed by R&B singer Shirley Brown.
But he didn’t launch himself completely into a career as a touring/recording blues artist until later in life. He was 40 when he became a full-time musician in 1988, 43 when he formed and led his own band for the first time and 46 when he recorded his first album, Break the Ice, which was released by Rounder Records in 1994.
But after Break the Ice, Shannon began recording in earnest. He made two more discs for Rounder, 1996’s Midnight in Memphis and 1999’s All in Time, before turning to Title Tunes for 2006’s Be With Me Tonight, re-released earlier this year under the title Goin’ Back To Memphis by Continental Blue Heaven Records, a label based in Amsterdam.
Beldon’s Blues Point talked to Shannon in two separate phone interviews, the first of which was cut short by the East Coast earthquake! We thought we had struck gold with the first half, but the second half was even better! See for yourself…
BBP : I know that you’re from Memphis, and one thing I’m curious about is, how is the Memphis sound of blues different from other sounds, like Chicago? What makes the Memphis sound unique?
Shannon: Because here, it’s the original. I think that’s what’s different. Here in the south is where it all started. And it migrated to the north. So I think that’s why it’s different. Texas blues even sounds different than southern blues. Texas blues even sounds different than Chicago. But they all sound different from southern blues. And I think southern blues is the best. That’s just my opinion. Most of your original artists started in Mississippi. B.B. (King) started in Mississippi. He’s the King of the Blues. Albert King started in the south. Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. Those are the original guys, you know.
BBP: But what specific about the sound makes southern blues what it is?
Shannon: It might be the style, and it might just be something that you can’t teach. It might just be the feel, I don’t know. I couldn’t explain that. But all I can tell you is that, it is different. And what I go by is the sound.
BBP: Okay. One thing I found is that your parents really didn’t approve of what you were doing because they were of the Pentecostal faith?
Shannon: Pentecostal….
BBP: …Tell me a little about that.
Shannon: They felt that that was the Devil’s music. Because it wasn’t of the church. And they were all about the church. So that’s why they didn’t approve of it.
BBP: Okay. How did you convince them otherwise? How did you convince them to be more accepting of what you wanted to do?
Shannon: I didn’t. When I became of age, they just accepted that, “he’s grown up now, so he can do what he wants to do.” So that’s basically how that was. When I first started playing R&B and blues, I got with a band. I had to—well I won’t say I had to—but I did, just slip out from home, just leave home, and got picked up around the corner so they wouldn’t know I was going to play the blues.
BBP: But who would come to pick you up? A band you were playing with?
Shannon: Yeah, the band I was playing with. And they were all older guys.
BBP: Okay….
Shannon: They were all older guys. The first band that I was a member of were guys that had been teaching school for six or seven years. So they were considered old to me at that time. Well I wouldn’t say “old” but “older.” Cause they were like 35, 36 and I was 18, so…
BBP: Okay. Who were they? What were their names? What was the name of the band?
Shannon: Oh, the band was The Memphians. They were the first band that I was a part of..
BBP: And what kind of music did you play? Blues?
Shannon: We played R&B. R&B and blues.
BBP: Okay…
Shannon: What’s so amazing, what’s so amazing back in those days, in the 60’s, you didn’t have a hundred categories of music. Music was either gospel, R&B or blues, or country and western, you know. Basically that was it. But now you have so many categories. A lot of times when I watch the Grammies I think that some of the artists out there are “pop.” Then it comes out, they’re R&B. Then on the other hand, they might win “pop….” So it’s kind of hard to distinguish between it.
BBP: Do you think that’s a bad thing, or a good thing….
Shannon: It’s a bad thing if it comes to an individual being, say for instance, nominated for something, and somebody that perhaps is pop wins their award for R&B or Blues (chuckles). That’s the only time you get to think it’s bad. For instance, if I were to look for a blues award, and somebody comes along in the R&B category and wins the award, I would think bad of it.
BBP: Meaning that you’re playing the category of music that you normally play, and somebody from another category comes and takes the award…
Shannon: Yeah, uh-huh. And if they take my award, then I’ll be pissed (laughs).
BBP: If somebody were to ask you what type of music you play right now, what would you say?
Shannon: I’m a bluesman. You know, I do some R&B on my CD’s, on all of my CD’s, I record some R&B, but you know, the thing about it is, there hasn’t been a blues hit record to my knowledge since 1968, and that was B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone.” So the reason that I put R&B on my CD’s is because it’s so hard for blues to get airplay now. Blues don’t get airplay except a certain time of the week, same time of the week, same day of the week, so if you can get a good R&B hit, you know you have the chances of it getting played all the time, on any radio station. But not the blues.
BBP: I got you. Have you had the experience of having an R&B hit…
Shannon: No I haven’t. I’m still looking (laughs). Now I know this too. The best song hasn’t been sung yet. The best lyrics haven’t been written yet. So I’m looking toward having a good—even a hit—blues song. It’s not impossible. Time changes. Music changes. Everything changes. I won’t say hip-hop is going out, I won’t say rap is going out. But R&B and real music is coming back, I think, and it’s time. I’m not saying that rap is not real music, but you know, what can I say? It’s not the kind of music that will last forever. You’ve got music that’s still being played now, that was recorded in the fifties. And maybe some older. But that’s real music, you know. It will be around forever. When I’m gone it will still be around. When you’re gone it will still be around. Because that’s the kind of music that lasts forever.
BBP: And blues is that type of music?
Shannon: Yeah. Blues will last forever.
BBP: One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the blues songs, a lot of the rock songs that people do are basically blues songs played a different way.
Shannon: Yeah. Rock’s been around a long time too. It’s going to be around.
BBP: Right. Do you think that’s a good thing that they’re kind of co-opting the blues music into rock or is that something you’d prefer not to see?
Shannon: It kind of intertwines. I hear a lot of blues guitar players playing rock so it’s kind of intertwined you know.
BBP: Right.
Shannon: I try to stay with the blues though, you know.
BBP: Right. I got you. Let me ask you a little more about your background. About your parents. So your parents never really accepted that you were playing blues. They just figured that once you grew up, there was nothing they could do about it.
Shannon: Yeah, yeah, they accepted it, you know. They would always tell me how wrong it was, and I was doing it for the Devil and I was going to Hell, but once you become of age you have to make up your own mind about what you want to do, because you are responsible for yourself.
BBP: Do they still tell you those things?
Shannon: They’re both deceased now. But they did that while they were here (chuckles).
BBP: Oh…Wow. Wow. Was that something that kind of..I don’t know…dampened your spirits about what you were doing?
Shannon: No. Once I became of age they didn’t force it down my throat. But they would mention it every now and then.
BBP: Wow, that must have been kind of hard to live with…
Shannon: …But once you leave home you don’t have to deal with it. If you’re still at home, yeah, you got to deal with it, but if you’re not at home you don’t have to deal with it.
BBP: How long were the Memphians together? Did you guys tour?
Shannon: Well, we played locally for about eight years.
BBP: And tell me a little bit about the band. Was it a four-piece band, five-piece band?
Shannon: It was a six-piece band. Actually it was a seven-piece band, because we had a rhythm section, two horns and a lead singer.
BBP: So in all that would be…
Shannon: Guitar; bass; drums; keyboard; two horns, saxophone and trumpet,
BBP: And did the Stax sound kind of influence what you were doing? I mean that’s based in Memphis.
Shannon: No I never did get the opportunity to do anything with Stax.
BBP: But, was what they were doing, did that influence you? I mean the type of music they were playing? You were right there in Memphis…
Shannon: Oh yeah, Stax had a lot of artists that I admire. Yeah, because Albert King was recording at Stax, and he’s one of my favorites blues singers.
BBP: And I understand you were in a band called Amnesty.
Shannon: That was the last band that I was in before I went on the road with Shirley Brown for three years.
BBP: You guys were playing the bar scene in Memphis?
Shannon: Yeah, we did the club scene. We did the club scene for a number of years.
BBP: And was that a different kind of sound than..
Shannon: It was R&B and blues.
BBP: Ok. So it was similar to what the Memphians were doing.
Shannon: Yeah. Right. Uh-huh.
BBP: And tell me about playing with Shirley Brown. How did you get connected with her?
Shannon: I got with her because she was looking for someone. She had recorded a song with an artist by the name of Bobby Womack. She was looking for someone to go on the road with her so she could sing that song. Her road manager came to the club and heard me sing, and at the time I was doing quite a bit of Bobby Womack’s material. And he offered me the job through her. And so I auditioned for it and she hired me. And I was with her for about three years.
BBP: So Bobby Womack is one of your influences?
Shannon: Not really. He was a good artist but he wasn’t really an influence, you know. I did a lot of his material because a lot of people thought I sounded a lot like him.
BBP: Okay. So tell me about—what were you doing with Shirley Brown. Were you touring outside of Memphis?
Shannon: Oh yeah. I toured all over the country with Shirley Brown. For three years. Then I decided to get my own group.
BBP: Was Shirley Brown the first time you played extensively outside of Memphis?
Shannon: No. I’d been on the road for a while with an artist by the name of Syl Johnson. He was based out of Chicago. I toured with him when I was with the Memphians. The Memphians and I toured with him. The entire band, yeah.
BBP: And that was throughout the entire years you were with them?
Shannon: I guess that lasted for maybe about three years.
BBP: Sort of later in the Memphians’ history?
Shannon: Yeah.
BBP: So you were touring with Shirley Brown and, was what she was doing different than what you had done before?
Shannon: Well she’s an R&B singer. She is strictly R&B: soulful, churchy. Real church. But she’s good at what she does. I would say one of the best at what she does.
BBP: Tell me a little bit how you got your own band together. What made you decide to want to do that, to go out on your own?
Shannon: Well, I know I wanted to be a blues singer so I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to do more blues than I had been playing. The opportunity had presented itself to me to do a blues show at a local club in Memphis on Beale Street. So that is what motivated me to put my own band together. One of the club owners had approached me and said “I want to do a blues show, and I want to have a blues night at the club. And I want you to do it.” That’s why I put my own band together.
BBP: This was around 1991 maybe?
Shannon: Yeah, something like that. Yeah. Exactly.
BBP: Has this band stayed together since then? Or have you changed?
Shannon: Oh, no, no, no. I’ve been through several bands since then. Musicians move on, do different things and whatever, you know.
BBP: Okay. So the band you’re playing with now, what is it like? What’s it made up of, now?
Shannon: Right now I’m just using a bass player, a bass player, guitar and drums. When the money gets bigger, I’ll add (laughs).
BBP: Yeah, that makes sense. So it’s a four-piece band basically, two guitars, bass and drums.
Shannon: Yeah.
BBP: Okay. Is what you’re playing different now than what you did…
Shannon: I’m doing more of my own material now.
BBP: You were discovered by Ron Levy (of Rounder Records). What happened?
Shannon: He just came in one of the clubs I was playing on Beale Street and heard me and was interested in recording me. And that’s how it happened. I did four albums since then. I did three on Rounder and one on Title Tunes. That’s a new label out of New Lisbon, Wisconsin.
(Shannon had to stop then and we picked up the interview the next day)
BBP: When we left off yesterday we were talking about the four albums that you had out. The first one came out—Break the Ice—right in 1994. Tell me a little about that?
Shannon: Ron Levy, who was the A&R (artists and repertoire, the division of a record company responsible for finding new talent) man and the husband of the owner of Rounder Records. He was in town, and he heard me play. I was playing at a club on Beale Street called the Rum Boogie, and he heard me, and he said “Man, you sound really good. I think you got something to offer. I’d like to record you.” Well naturally I didn’t believe that, I’d heard it so much. But who knows? Within the next, I guess, three or four weeks he came back and told me he was ready to record, was I ready. So we were fortunate enough to get the Memphis horns to do the horns on it. Wayne BBP and Andrew Love.
BBP: Let me ask you, how old are you n.ow?
Shannon: I’m 63.
BBP: Okay. So this first album was in 1994, which would have made you about…
Shannon: 43 or 44. Something like that.
BBP: Were you getting discouraged at that point?
Shannon: I started late. And I never knew, I never knew I would be doing this for a living. But I had been trying with the other groups I had been playing with. I did some recording with the Memphians. Matter of fact, I did an album—at that time it was called an album—with the Memphians, but it never did take off, never did catch onto anything. And then for a while I went with a local group called Amnesty—we did very little recording. But I never was discouraged because first of all, I had a job. I had a job, and it’s a whole different outlook when you’re doing music part-time and you’re depending on something else for a living. When I decided that I was going to go one hundred percent music in 1988 after I’d been on my last job for 19 years, that was an obstacle that I really had to think about. I’d been on the job 19 years and doing music on the side. So music was my side money. But I decided that I’m going music 100 percent because I cannot continue to do music and work a job. And actually music is a job. So I decided that, instead of doing two jobs, and I’m getting older, I’m going to do one. I’m going to make music my job. And it was a task for a while.
BBP: Is it still a task?
Shannon: No it’s enjoyable now. It’s still work, but it’s enjoyable.
BBP: And it pays the bills?
Shannon: Yeah.
BBP: And what kind of job did you have when you finally decided to…
Shannon: I was a warehouse supervisor in a place called Orgill Brothers. They dealt in parts and everything else for homes and farms and that type of thing.
BBP: You mean for machinery.
Shannon: Yeah.
BBP: Okay. What were you finding, that the job was interfering with the music or the music was interfering with the job.
Shannon: The job was interfering with the music. So it had got to the point whereas I would begin to reject my job because I loved music. That’s basically how it came about.
BBP: I see. And was that your first job?
Shannon: No. No.No. No. No. I had several jobs before that.
BBP: And you had these jobs while you were doing the music part time?
Shannon: Oh yeah. Music always had been part-time since I started. Up until 1988. I worked at a place called Hunter Fan. They built fans for homes and offices and everything else. I worked there for about four or five years.
BBP: That was your first job?
Shannon: That was my first job. My first real job.
BBP: And what were some of the other jobs you had…
Shannon: When I was going through high school I worked in a grocery store. And before the grocery store I worked on a farm, because my parents were sharecroppers. My chores started in the field at 11 years old. I had to go to the field, pick cotton, chop cotton. That’s how I know what the blues is all about. I’m not saying you have to do that to know what the blues is all about; in my case, that’s what happened (chuckles).
BBP: Wow. Yeah I guess that was a good teacher. Your parents were sharecroppers, meaning that they worked the land but somebody else owned it?
Shannon: Exactly. Exactly.
BBP: Okay. When you made the jump to full-time professional did you find that it opened doors?
Shannon: Well, yeah it did open doors because that put me in the process of going and looking for work. I put myself on the forefront as far as going to look for work, going to clubs, and asking, inquiring, “You need a band?” “I can do this.” “I can do that.” And some of them came through, you know. Like Rum Boogie. The first club I played at on Beale Street was a club called Club Royale. That was on—I would say—the east end of Beale Street.
BBP: When you were working the clubs on Beale Street did you run into other musicians, I mean a lot of famous musicians?
Shannon: Yeah. I ran into quite a few famous musicians. Even now, I play B.B. Kings club on Tuesday. Today is Tuesday. I play every Tuesday unless I’m on the road or playing somewhere because I would like to keep something going for myself and my band. So I play B.B. King every Tuesday night and you have people who come to—important people that actually come through town right now and most of the time they’re going to go by B.B. King’s if they have time. Because a lot of people go to B.B. King’s looking for B.B. Of course B.B. won’t be there, but that doesn’t mean they won’t go looking for him. And a lot of them come just to see the club.
BBP: And you’re playing there tonight actually. You have a gig tonight.
Shannon: Yeah. Tonight. Uh-huh.
BBP: What time do you usually start playing? 8:30.
Shannon: Uh-huh.
BBP: That’s incredible.
Shannon: When I first started really as regular at B.B. Kings it was like 1993. I was playing there four nights a week.
BBP: Why did you cut back?
Shannon: Well, they fired me. And they hired me back.
BBP: Really?
Shannon: Actually I played B.B.’s for, I would say, about six or seven years and I left there and signed a contract with the Isaac Hayes club. That was a brand new club that opened in 2001 at the Hotel Peabody. And I was under contract there. There was two Isaac Hayes clubs, one was in Memphis and the other was in Chicago and I was under contract to play both clubs. So I left B.B. King’s…
BBP: …So you would have to play Isaac Hayes’ club in Memphis and then you would travel to Chicago to play…
Shannon: Right. My thing was, I would do Chicago one weekend a month. And the rest of the time I was in four nights at Isaac Hayes here in Memphis.
BBP: So the decision to leave B.B. Kings’ was yours…
Shannon: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. At that time.
BBP: But before they had fired you in…
Shannon: No, afterwards. Afterwards…..
BBP: …..Oh, okay….
Shannon: ….I went back…Matter of fact, we did it on the business level. When I left B.B. Kings and went to Isaac Hayes, I sat down with the club owners and told them: “Look, they are giving me this offer. I can’t turn it down and this that and the other, we’re dealing as business people.” They understood. So they told me, they said “Well if you ever need me, let me know, call me back.” So when Isaac Hayes (club) came to the realization “Hey man, we’re paying Preston all of this money, we can get some other bands in here for much less.” So they decided to let me go. So when they let me go, I called B.B. Kings’ back. They hired me back.
BBP: When did Isaac Hayes let you go?
Shannon: When? Around 2003. I was there for close to two years.
BBP: Okay. Did you ever interact with Isaac Hayes?
Shannon: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Isaac was a regular there. Not necessarily playing, but you know he would always come by.
BBP: Did Isaac hear you?
Shannon: All the time.
BBP: What did he say to you?
Shannon: He told me I had a hit record. On my second CD, which was called Midnight in Memphis, I have a song on there called “The Clock.” And he predicted it was going to be a hit record. But naturally, you know, records don’t become hits unless they get airplay. So it lacked airplay. So he could understand—he did understand—why it didn’t become a hit. But it’s a hit record. Even today it’s a hit record.

BBP: Wow. And did you ever meet B.B.?
Shannon: Oh yeah. I’ve been on a show with B.B.
BBP: Okay…
Shannon: I’ve done several shows with B.B. I’ve played on stage with him.
BBP: What’s it like to play with him. He’s always first guitar when he plays, right?
Shannon: Well at the time I had the opportunity to play with him he gave me his guitar.
BBP: Oh…
Shannon: (Chuckles) Yeah.
BBP: He gave you Lucille?
Shannon: Uh-huh. I have pictures of it.
BBP: Was he playing at all?
Shannon: Yeah, he was playing. He and his orchestra was playing. I opened the show. My band and I opened the show and at the climax he recognized that I was in the house and called me up to sit in with the band and he gave me Lucille.
BBP: Really! How did you feel?
Shannon: It was wonderful. It was a wonderful feeling, given that Lucille belongs to the King of the Blues.
BBP: Yeah. That’s sort of like a samurai warrior giving you his sword.
Shannon: Right. Yeah. Right.
BBP: And what year was this?
Shannon: This was…it had to be…2005. 2006.
BBP: And B.B. was playing on stage with you when you sat in with the band?
Shannon: Yeah. You see B.B. played at his club here in Memphis once or twice a year….
BBP: But what was B.B. playing? Was he playing another guitar?
Shannon: No, he was just singing at the time.
BBP: Oh. He wasn’t playing. You were playing for him.
Shannon: Uh-huh. Yeah.
BBP: Oh wow. What an experience that was! You were the guitar-man for B.B. King when he was doing the vocals?
Shannon: Right.
BBP: Did he say anything to you afterwards about how you did?
Shannon: Oh yeah. I always talk to B.B. We always have conversations, you know. He always invites people on his bus and sits down and talks to them. I’ve had several conversations with B.B.
BBP: How’s he doing physically though? I notice he doesn’t stand up and play anymore. He sits down.
Shannon: He sits down and plays now. Because he’s still suffering with the diabetes and then on top of that, he’s 85 years old.
BBP: Is he your favorite performer?
Shannon: He’s one of them. As guitars and singers go, yeah, he’s one of them.
BBP: You said you were fired from his club at some point?
Shannon: Oh yeah, I was fired from his club. The club owner fired me because he got upset with me because I accepted an engagement that he didn’t feel I should have accepted.
BBP: Oh. You accepted it for a time that he wanted you to play for him?
Shannon: Right. Uh-huh. There was something special going on at the B.B. King club and he wanted me to play, but I had obligated myself somewhere else. It’s not that I did it and wasn’t supposed to do it. That was our agreement. We had an agreement. If I get another engagement, I give you a notice. If you get someone that’s coming here and I don’t play, you give me a notice. And all that was done like it was supposed to. But he still got upset because I accepted another engagement.
BBP: You had already accepted the other engagement when you found out he wanted you to play this special event?
Shannon: Well I thought the special event was coming up, but he couldn’t match it about the money.
BBP: Oh, I got you. (Both laugh). Well, that’s the way it is. When was this?
Shannon: This was back after he…maybe 2007, something like that.
BBP: Okay. But you’ve mended fences since then and you’re working at the club again.
Shannon: Oh I’m back. You got to get me back, man. I’m what he needs. I’m a bluesman…
BBP: Tell me also about these albums.
Shannon: Well actually I’ve got a brand-new CD just released, re-released in Europe this year called Going Back to Memphis. It’s a re-release of my 2006 CD. That CD was called Be with Me Tonight. Continental Records in Europe fell in love with the CD, they wanted to re-release it. So they re-released it about, oh, two or three months ago.
BBP: It’s the same songs, but they changed the name?
Shannon: Yeah. The picture, the package, everything was changed. The music wasn’t changed. (The 2006 version) was my first record with Title Tunes. And my last.
BBP: Why..well first of all why did you leave Rounder? You did three records with them.
Shannon: Rounder just gave me my release in 1999 because they wasn’t promoting me. They just—you know how record companies will do, a lot of them just sign you up and write you off for the income tax .
BBP: Right.
Shannon: It takes money to promote. If you’re not going to promote—regardless of how good your record is, if it’s not promoted—it’s the same as—what city do you live in?
BBP: Washington, D.C.
Shannon: If B.B. came to Washington, D.C. to the theatre and they didn’t advertise it, wouldn’t be nobody there, okay? Records are the same way. You record a record, it could be the best record that you ever heard, and your friends ever heard, and your family ever heard. But if the public don’t hear it, what does it mean? It’s got to be promoted.
BBP: So Rounder wasn’t promoting your material?
Shannon: Naw they weren’t promoting it. I appreciate what they did, but I bet they could have done more. ‘Cause I think I had really something to offer. Good material. A lot of my material was written by Willie Mitchell. You know who Willie Mitchell is?
BBP: Actually, I have to say I don’t.
Shannon: Willie Mitchell is the man who discovered Al Green. He and Al Green wrote “Tired of Being Alone,” not “Take Me to the River” but several songs, hit songs that Al Green recorded were written by Al Green and Willie Mitchell. Mitchell was the engineer and the producer and the writer.
BBP: Wow. Okay. And you have a relationship with him?
Shannon: Oh yeah. He produced two of my CD’s with Rounder.
BBP: So with that kind of creative power behind you, you felt they should have done more to promote you.
Shannon: Yes.
BBP: Wow, that’s incredible. You said he did the first two…
Shannon: No, he did the second two. He did my Midnight in Memphis CD, and my CD called All in Time. The last one came out in ’99 with Rounder.
BBP: That’s amazing. How did you hook up with Willie Mitchell?
Shannon: Willie Mitchell had at one time in 1994 opened a club on Beale Street. And I was fortunate enough to—well I already knew of him, and he lived here in Memphis. And I went by and met him and he hired me to play at his club.
BBP: So he liked what he heard and decided to work with you...
Shannon: Yeah.
BBP:Tell me about Title Tunes. How come that didn’t work out? You only did one album with them.
BBP:Shannon: We’re still friends. This was just a case whereas a gentleman was at one time a musician, got out of it, but he had always loved music. And he has always recorded music. He’s a good writer, and he would write music and go to Nashville to record it. And when he heard me, he just said “hey man, I would like to produce you.”
BBP: So, are you thinking about doing a new album, and if you did, would it be with Title Tunes?
Shannon: No I probably would do it with the new company, Continental Records, in Europe.
BBP: Have they asked you about that?
Shannon: Not as of right now, no. And then I’m thinking about doing my own thing. I might just do my own CD and promote it myself. I’m thinking about that also. But I’ll talk to Continental Records first.
BBP: One other thing I wanted to ask you about. I’m surfing the web the other day and I found some of your songs on Youtube. And you do this version of “Purple Rain.” What attracted you to that song? It’s not really what I would call a blues song.

Shannon: No it’s not, but I’m a blues player. I heard someone else do it and it was a hit song. And I said “Man, I’m going to do that song.” So I’ve been doing it for a long time and I always get everything positive when I do it. It really is a blues song. It’s got blues changes, and the way I play it, I play it as a blues. That’s what makes it so different from Prince. I play it as a blues. And I include the blues feel in it, because that’s the way I play. And that’s what people can relate to.
BBP: Do you like the way that Prince did it?
Shannon: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Prince is one of my favorite artists.
BBP: And what is it specifically that you like about Prince?
Shannon: He’s a super-talented individual, that’s what I like about him. Not only does he play guitar, and he’s good…he’s an awesome vocalist. He also plays every other instrument.
BBP: Now a lot of your original material, how would you describe yourself as a writer?
Shannon: I don’t do a lot of writing, I’m not gifted to write. I wrote a couple of songs—co-wrote a couple of songs on my last CD with a friend, but I don’t consider myself a writer. I need a little more experience first before I can consider myself a writer.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

D.C. BLUES SOCIETY!

Here in D.C., those of us who know Dr. S.O. Feelgood know he can put on a great show. And he was in rare form at the last D.C. Blues Society Jam, held at the American Legion Hall in Silver Spring, Maryland on Sunday, August 7. If you don't believe me, check this out:



Here are some other highlights of the jam:









See you at the next jam. And keep those songs coming. Best place to send them: beldonsbluespoint@YAHOO.COM

And don't forget singer Stacy Brooks birthday party, scheduled for 7-10 p.m. Wednesday, August 17 at the Proud Mary Restaurant, 13600 King Charles Terrace, Ft. Washington, MD.





Friday, August 12, 2011

In Philly with Hezekiah Walker, Richard Smallwood, Karen Clark Sheard and E.C. Scott

A trip to Philly last weekend gave me a chance to hear—and talk to—some pretty prominent folks in the gospel world.
I was in town for the annual convention held by the National Association of Black Journalists, a group I have belonged to since my newspaper days. One of the convention traditions is the “Gospel Brunch,” where members eat breakfast while listening to gospel performers, many of them well-known.
Featured this year were Pastor Grammy-Award winning Gospel Artist Hezekiah Walker; Grammy-nominated group leader and keyboardist Richard Smallwood; and singer Karen Clark Sheard, known for both her solo work and that with the legendary group the Clark Sisters.
Though I think it is great music, I am not as knowledgeable of gospel as I am of other forms. But I had been hearing about Walker, Pastor and Bishop of the Love Fellowship Tabernacle, for years. Rappers have reportedly called Walker “The Pastor of Hip-Hop” because of his work in gritty sections of Brooklyn turning young people from drugs and crime. Somewhere in the following interview, I asked him how he felt about Christian hip-hop, which a few months ago I had written an article about:



Like me, Smallwood has roots in D.C., where in the eighth grade he had singer Roberta Flack as a music teacher. A founding member of Howard University’s First Gospel Choir, he was also a featured member of a gospel group called the Celestial Singers, where he took the place of keyboardist Donnie Hathaway.
I met the artists on August 7, when Smallwood was about two weeks out from releasing, Promises, his latest CD. He spoke to me about the album—and Christian hip-hop—in this interview:



Sheard, who is said to have influenced Mariah Carey, Faith Evans, Fantasia and Missy Elliott, talked about playing one of her own role models—Aretha Franklin-- in an upcoming biopic:



I also visited Warmdaddy’s, the Philadelphia night club that specializes in blues acts, where I caught a performance by singer E.C. Scott. I had fond memories of going there once in a while for Tuesday night jams—as well as the shows--when I lived in Allentown. E.C. Scott reminded me of why I like that place, which, when no one is on stage, has the best collection of blues videos I have ever seen. Here she is with her band Smoke:



Later, I had a chance to talk to her:








Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mr. Neal Returns to Washington

I doubt anyone at Surf Club Live outside D.C. was thinking of the debt ceiling last Thursday when the D.C. Blues Society brought bluesman Kenny Neal back for an encore performance. Neal, who played Surf Club Live last August, played to a full house. In between sets, he talked to Beldon's Blues Point about, among other things, his latest album "Hooked on Your Love" and that little trick he does where he simultaneously plays guitar and harmonica:



In the audience was bluesman Memphis Gold who lives in the D.C. area and who in June debuted at the Chicago Blues Festival, one of the most popular festivals in the world. Memphis also talked about a series of benefit shows he and Neal are planning for Jim O'Neal,founder of Memphis' current label, Stackhouse Records. A noted blues historian, he also co-founded Living Blues magazine. Memphis said O'Neal has cancer:



Memphis told me after this interview that he and Neal will perform at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago in October.

I managed to record three songs before my I-phone ran out of juice. This one is a jam!



If you follow this next one to the end, you will be as surprised as Kenny was when a female fan showed her appreciation by hanging her--well, you'll see--across his guitar neck...



And this last one gave us a preview of what we'll see at Buddy Guy's this October:



Hope you all got a sense from those videos as to how much fun that show was. Don't forget to keep sending those songs to beldonsbluespoint@yahoo.com. We are preparing to feature stuff from readers in an upcoming post.