Thursday December 12, 2013
Bluesman Robert "Chick" Willis passed away on Saturday, December 7, 2013 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Willis was 79 years old.
Willis was born in 1934 in Cabiness, Georgia, moving with his family to Atlanta when he was six years old. Willis taught himself guitar at a young age, and developed his rich singing voice singing with a gospel group with his brothers and cousins. Influenced by bluesmen like Lightnin' Hopkins, Guitar Slim, and T-Bone Walker, Willis began working professionally as a teenager, backing up stars like Sam Cooke, Jimmy Reed, Big Joe Turner, and Ray Charles when they performed at Atlanta area clubs like the Royal Peacock, the Apollo Theater, and the Magnolia Ballroom.
Willis began working with his cousin Chuck Willis, an R&B singer known as the "King of Stroll," during the 1950s until Chuck's death in 1958, and he worked briefly as a sideman with blues legend Elmore James. Influenced by his cousin, Willis developed his own raucous stage show, and he fronted his own bands and toured consistently since the early 1960s. In 1972 Willis would record the song that would become his trademark tune, the bawdy "Stoop Down Baby" earning him the nickname "The Stoop Down Man." Although the sexually-charged song received little or no radio airplay, it was a jukebox favorite and would be a staple of Willis's live set for decades.
Willis recorded prolifically through the years, with almost two-dozen albums to his credit, the most recent being 2011's Let The Blues Speak For Itself. While Willis's sound was straight-up traditional Chicago blues and rowdy R&B, his raw and often raunchy lyrics kept him from achieving radio airplay, relegating him to underground cult artist status. Still, Willis toured consistently, and was a favored performer for blues festivals and at clubs on the Chitlin' Circuit, his soulful vocals matched by his underrated, fiery guitar playing.
Photo courtesy Chick Willis
Wednesday December 11, 2013
Who needs the Grammy® Awards? Certainly not The Blues Foundation, which announced the nominees for the organization's 35th annual Blues Music Awards yesterday, their list honoring four of the five Grammy nominees and a lot more. The non-profit organization also confirmed that the Blues Music Awards ceremony will be held on Thursday, May 8th, 2014 at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. Voting for the awards is open to all Blues Foundation members and kicks off on Monday, December 16th, 2013.
Chicago blues legend Lurrie Bell was one of three esteemed bluesmen to garner the most Blues Music Award nominations this year, joining fellow legends Charlie Musselwhite and James Cotton with five nominations. Another bona fide blues legend, guitarist Buddy Guy, earned four BMA nominations while Bobby Rush, Rick Estrin, and Doug MacLeod were all honored with three nominations. We have the complete list of Blues Music Award nominees, and we'll see come May who walks off with the trophies.
Lurrie Bell photo courtesy Delmark Records
Tuesday December 10, 2013
It's the holiday blues again on the blues chart for the week ending December 14, 2013 as the best sellers sell the best and the usual suspects dominate the top of the chart. Gary Clark, Jr. and the Tedeschi Trucks Band keep their stranglehold on the number one and two positions, but the minor surprise this week is the slow march towards the top spot by Joe Bonamassa's Vienna set. The album re-emerged on the chart a few weeks ago, and jumps three spots this week to number four...a respectable position, indeed, for an album that's been on the shelves for nine months.
Leslie West re-enters the chart at number eight with his Still Climbing, while veteran roots 'n' blues artist Tony Joe White re-enters at number ten with his Hoodoo album. There are no new CD releases this week but British blues-rock legends Foghat are releasing their Live In St. Pete, an hour-long, ten-track DVD on their own independent Foghat Records label.
Here are this week's Billboard Top Ten blues albums, ranked by sales:
10. Tony Joe White - Hoodoo (Yep Roc Records)
9. North Mississippi Allstars - World Boogie Is Coming (Songs of the South Records)
8. Leslie West - Still Climbing (Provogue Records)
7. The Rides - Can't Get Enough (429 Records)
6. Hugh Laurie - Didn't It Rain (Warner Brothers)
5. Jonny Lang - Fight For My Soul (Concord Records)
4. Joe Bonamassa - An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House (J&R Adventures)
3. Buddy Guy - Rhythm & Blues (Silvertone Records)
2. Tedeschi Trucks Band - Made Up Mind (Sony Masterworks)
1. Gary Clark, Jr. - Blak and Blu (Warner Brothers)
Photo of Tony Joe White's Hoodoo courtesy Yep Roc Records
Monday December 9, 2013
Well, friends, followers, and fellow blues fans, it's time for the Reverend's annual Grammy® Awards rant about the absurdity of The Recording Academy's yearly snub of blues as the single American musical art form which nearly everything else follows. Rock 'n' roll, of course, was directly inspired by the blues, as was jazz music, while soul and rhythm & blues pretty much speak for themselves. Even country music has incorporated a large amount of blues influence through the decades, and yet a few years ago blues music was demoted from a whopping two annual nominations ("traditional" and "contemporary" albums) to a single "Best Blues Album" award hidden in between folk, bluegrass, and Americana in the catch-all "American Roots" category.
Yeah, as I've said before, the snubbing of the blues is unfair, a badly-made, demographic-driven decision that really makes no sense considering not only the influence of the blues on other genres but also its growing popularity with mainstream audiences. It's not like they broadcast any blues performers on the annual TV awards ceremony anyway, so why not hand out awards in both the previous categories as well as, maybe, "Best Traditional Blues Artist" and "Best Contemporary Blues Artist"? That way they could properly honor the artists who make the blues what it is...
The Recording Academy announced nominees for the 56th Annual Grammy Awards last Friday night with a gala primetime TV special featuring the shiniest pop stars the network could present on the broadcast. Five worthy recordings were nominated in the "Best Blues Album" category: James Cotton's Cotton Mouth Man; Bobby Rush's Down In Louisiana; Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa's Seesaw; Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite's Get Up!; and Blind Pig Records' tribute compilation, Remembering Little Walter, which features talented harp players Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Boy Arnold, Mark Hummel, James Harmon, and Sugar Ray Norcia.
While all of these albums should be honored (well, I might have chosen Bonamassa's An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House instead of Seesaw), only one will get the award, so vote for your favorite below. I'll go on record now as predicting that Harper and Musselwhite's Get Up! will take the award, but all are good choices (although more choices would be better!). Nominations in other categories also went to several other blues and blues-rock favorites: the Alabama Shakes and Jack White both received nominations for "Best Rock Performance" and Gary Clark, Jr. was nominated in the "Best Rock Song" category. The 56th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday night, January 26th, 2014 but you won't see any blues artists, so tune in here on Monday morning for the winner. In the meantime, we'll all just wait for the Blues Music Awards in May...
Photo courtesy Stax Records