There have been a number of albums produced over the years which match a legendary figure from blues music with some his admirers in well known contemporary rock or blues bands. Blues and other music critics often lambast these efforts and hold them in utmost contempt. Some of these sessions are truly awful but some come off well, such as “Fathers and Sons” with Muddy Waters and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. “Hooker ‘N’ Heat,” released on Liberty Records in 1970, stands as possibly the best example of generational meeting of the minds. Canned Heat was at the top of their popularity and Hooker was fading from the public eye somewhat. This record helped to revitalize interest in Hooker’s music. Most of Hooker’s best work, out of hundreds of recordings, many under assumed names, is solo, just “The Hook,” his left foot and his guitar. On albums where he recorded with full bands or other accompaniment his rough, often uneven style, with a measure count that often varied, didn’t mesh well with musicians accustomed to playing arrangements or standard blues classics. Sometimes the clash detracted from the product. The band Canned Heat had no such problems. It was obvious that he loved the band and they loved him! Bob “The Bear” Hite, the band leader, who usually provided the gruff vocals on much of the band’s material, was a blues collector and historian and was well acquainted with Hooker’s music and the band itself was rough hewn and unpolished but played with feeling and a respect for the music. Hite is not heard on the album. He wisely stood aside and gave the spotlight to Hooker. No band ever backed the Hook better. This was the last album for ‘Heat member Alan Wilson, who plays harmonica and piano. Wilson would soon after be dead from poisoning and choking on barbituates while on a camping trip. Wilson plays inspired harp on this album and gets special recognition from Hooker for it. Wilson is one of the under rated harmonica players of our time and this stands as his memorial. With the recent passing of John Lee Hooker this album could be considered among his best work as well. —Dick
Formed in 1967, Chicken Shack consisted of Stan Webb on guitar and vocals, Andy Sylvester on bass, Christine Perfect (later known as Christine McVie, as a part of the great Fleetwood Mac), on vocals and keyboards, and Alan Morley on drums.
“40 Blue Fingers” is an excellent example of the booming late 60’s blues scene in & around London. With John Mayall & Alexis Korner creating benchmarks for the British blues scene, Chicken Shack were absolutely in the right place at the right time. Stan Webb is another under-rated guitarist of the late 60’s British Blues Scene along the lines of Paul Kossoff (Free). Christine McVie is a Goddess featuring a very powerful, soul-driven voice that’s very clearly influenced by the great John Mayall.
Chicken Shack made their public debut at the Great Britain’s National Blues & Jazz Festival at Windsor along with Fleetwood Mac on August 13, 1967. “There were two stages at Windsor, the main one an open-air ramshackle structure, the other inside a marquee. Fleetwood Mac had their initiation on the main stage but much was made of Chicken Shack’s tented debut.” All said and done, Christine McVie’s performance and Stan Webb’s charismatic guitar playing make this album a worthy buy. —Warchild786
This may be the most polarizing album ever to come out of the Chess empire (unless that Rotary Connection Christmas album really drives you batty); it’s telling that they chose to release this on the more daring Cadet Concept subsidiary. It’s funny to think that this album was intended to update Muddy Waters’ image to appeal to the younger people and, 42 years on, that’s exactly what it did for me, who currently fits the original demographic they were after: I have no quarrel with traditional blues, I even enjoy it when the mood strikes me, but this is the only Muddy Waters album that I beat the proverbial door down to acquire. And this album is ferocious! There’s no session information given but I would have to imagine that it’s the usual Chess/Cadet session crew backing him up. The bass rumbles along louder than I’ve ever heard John Paul Jones’ or John Entwistle’s. The drums, in particular the bass drum, are louder than those in any psych group I can think of other than maybe the Move. The most surprising aspect may be that, despite the fact that Muddy reportedly hated this album with a passion, his electric guitar playing is phenonmenal. I suppose this is expected from a great bluseman, but he also knows how to use its new-found volume and distortion to great effect. He growls through each monster track, achieving what Jimi Hendrix was ly after in his formative days. As it is a late 60s Cadet Concept album, the ace in the hole is the arrangement, this time from the great Charles Stepney, in the midst of arranging the hell out of those Rotary Connection and Ramsey Lewis albums (the latter along with Richard Evans). Stepney actually displays quite a bit of restraint here, with his patented complex string and brass parts lurking way in the background, the exception being when “She’s Alright” brilliantly morphs it’s coda into the string-laden bridge from “My Girl”.
Most blues purists decry this, which I suppose is understandable, but you have to admit that this is as convincing a psychedelic-blues album as anything Cream or Led Zeppelin could hope to come up with. Still underrated by most critics, this is truly a left-field masterpiece. –Mike
So, after eight years away from the music scene does Peter Green still have it? Of course he did! This album is almost, for me, a testament to the longevity of raw talent. Considering all that Peter Green had been through throughout the decade, it’s quite something that he could come up with something this good (as well as putting out a record better than 1079’s effort from his former bandmates). The only slight downer is the uncertainty over which songs Peter Green actually plays lead on due to his ill-health, but that doesn’t really detract from the quality of these songs. There’s a really laid back feel to the album, like mellow blues. “A Fool No More” was the only song I’d heard prior to purchasing the album and it’s probably this song that sounds most like Green’s Mac efforts (it was originally written for the first Fleetwood Mac album). The guitar playing and vocals are strong, as they are on the other vocal led tracks “In The Skies”, “Seven Stars” and “Just For You”. “In The Skies”, “Tribal Dance” and “Proud Pinto” have Santana-esque rhythm sections and drums, underpinning the laid back mood and displaying Peter Green’s musical influences. “Slabo Day” has a really nice riff and emotive leads (the sleeve notes state that Snowy White plays lead on this track), and “Apostle” is a beautiful closer to the album, displaying the feel and sensitivity of Green’s compositions. As the first of Peter Green’s many comebacks, “In The Skies” is a great effort and a worthy addition to the man’s catalogue. –Tom
Taj Mahal’s debut is a perfect example of how The Blues and Rock are one and the same. It smokes from start to finish, greatly thanks to Ry Cooder’s presence on guitar. There’s a lot of use of the word “baby”, but it seems to mean something deeper than when you hear it today in the latest cancerous pop morsel. I’ve always admired singers who seem to be able to sing right from their gut, like Howlin’ Wolf and Taj Mahal. Of course, no Blues album is complete without a reference to a gypsy woman, which Taj Mahal was aware of. hahaha. –Rob
If I was forced to name a favorite album, then I think I might go for “Then Play On”. I can’t really think of another album I consistently enjoy as much. With Danny Kirwan on board the expectation no longer falls squarely on Peter Green’s shoulders and Kirwan’s arrival had already bore fruit with the preceeding “Albatross” and “Man of the World” singles. There’s a much broader feel on here than the previous Fleetwood Mac albums and “Then Play On” includes everything you could want on an album: soul-searching ballads (“Closing My Eyes”, “Before the Beginning”), raucous rock ‘n’ roll (“Coming Your Way”, “Rattlesnake Shake”, “Oh Well (Part One)”), McCartney-esque pop ditties (“Although the Sun is Shining”, “When You Say”), serene instrumentals (“My Dream”, “Underway”, “Oh Well (Part Two)”) and breathtaking jams (“Looking for Madge”, “Fighting for Madge”). Listening to “Then Play On” is particularly interesting when you consider how troubled the chief song writers would become in the ensuing months, years and decades. You can almost sense something ominous on Peter Green’s horizon when listening to “Closing My Eyes”, “Show-Biz Blues” (which includes the line “and you’re sitting there so green, believe me man I’m just the same as you), the acoustic section of “Oh Well” or “Before the Beginning”. There’s something incredibly sad about Peter Green’s contributions here although he still gets down and dirty for “Rattlesnake Shake”, an ode to masterbation. Danny Kirwan proves himself to be a phenomenal song writer with his delicate, beautiful ballads and his album opener “Coming your Way” has an epic guitar outro. There isn’t one dud to be found here and “Then Play On” is never anything less than an engrossing, moving, imaginative, flawless, impressive album from a band who may not have even hit there peak yet. –Tom