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  1. Space

    Punk Purists

    Court Jester, You, sir, are an ass.
  2. Space

    Louie Armstrong

    Trombonist "J.J." (James Louis) Johnson was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1924. His interest in music began in his church where he eventually studied piano with the organist. In high school he started playing the only instrument then available, the baritone saxophone, and soon moved to the trombone. Johnson joined Snookum Russel's band when he was 18. He spent most of the 1940s moving through the ranks of some more notable bands led by Benny Carter, Illinois Jacquet, Count Basie, and Benny Carter. It was with Carter's band that he made his first recorded solo on "Love for Sale." Johnson gained notoriety for his inventive, rapid, and clean style beginning in 1944 with his first concert as part of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic. In 1951, he joined Oscar Pettiford's sextet for a USO tour. Johnson left the music business in 1953 for about a year, playing only occasionally as when he recorded some titles with Miles Davis for Blue Note. He came back, however, as part of the much-acclaimed group, Jay & Kai, which included trombonist Kai Winding. The late 1950s saw Johnson at work as both a composer (Poems for Brass, a piece for brass ensemble and orchestra) and the leader of a sextet that included Cedar Walton, Albert Heath, Clifford Jordan, Freddie Hubbard, and Arthur Harper. The group disbanded in 1960, but Johnson remained active, playing with Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Clark Terry, and others. He also continued to compose for large, classically oriented ensembles. In 1970, J.J. Johnson moved to Los Angeles to work almost exclusively as a composer and arranger of music for TV and films. Among his TV projects were scores for "Mayberry R.F.D.," "The Danny Thomas Show," "That Girl," and "The Mod Squad." His movie credits include Cleopatra Jones and Shaft. Throughout the decade and into the 1980s, he periodically recorded as a jazz trombonist, but rarely played live. Eventually he moved back to Indianapolis. It wasn't until 1988 that he started playing and recording more frequently. J.J. Johnson retired from performing in 1997 and spent the rest of his life in Indianapolis, composing on his Macintosh computer. He died in February of 2001.
  3. The Personal Touch Over the past 15 years, Vancouver-native Renee Rosnes has continued to develop her impressive skills as both a pianist and composer on the international stage. Having moved to New York in the mid-80s, she quickly established herself as a first-call accompanist working in the bands of Joe Henderson and J.J. Johnson while also developing her own units. Now considered one of the leading voices in the current crop of contemporary jazz musicians, Rosnes has recorded with a who's who of the jazz community including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis and Bobby Hutcherson, and has had pieces commissioned by Wynton Marsalis for Jazz At Lincoln Center. She is currently celebrating the release of her latest Blue Note recording, Art & Soul. Bill King: There are musicians whose playing is derivative and those who possess an original voice. You seem to have created a sound and dialect all your own. What flows through your mind when your hands touch the keyboard? Renee Rosnes: When I begin to play, I try to go within myself, relax and let the music come through. I think that when any musician thinks too much, it hinders the music. Whether recording or performing, the main thing for me to do is just let the music happen. B.K.: What I find intriguing about your playing is how selective you are at choosing notes. There are no repetitious scale patterns or gimmicks. Do you purposely avoid cliches? R.R.: Well, I try to, but it doesn't always work. I try to maintain a fresh approach without placing expectations on how a tune is going to go when I begin playing it. That's when I come up with the freshest performance. B.K.: I had a wonderful conversation with Don Thompson the other night about various piano players and the subject of your playing came up. He agreed with me that there is clarity and purpose in everything you play. R.R.: That's a tremendous compliment because that's my goal. To be able to sit down and sound like yourself is every jazz musician's goal. I obviously have a lot of influences and I certainly know in my own playing how they come out from night to night. Hopefully, I've reached a point where I'm not so concerned with trying to sound like anyone but myself. To hear someone say that they hear clarity and a personal touch is great. B.K.: How does one arrive at a sound after years of assimilating all that has come before? R.R.: That's a good question. It's hard to say exactly. For myself, it's been through a lot of practising, making choices of what I like in other people's playing - what I've chosen to incorporate into my own playing and what I've chosen to exclude. We all have our own experiences, musically and otherwise, and that creates the sum of who you are. I've been influenced by a lot of bandstand experience with people like Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter. It's an individual thing from musician to musician. Even when one arrives at that point, it's still an individual process.
  4. Diana Krall's emergence as a popular jazz artist didn't occur overnight. Year's of study and terminally long engagements helped shape her sound. Recently, she collected her first Grammy award for Best Jazz Vocalist and two Jazz Report Awards; Female Vocalist of the Year and Musician of the Year. Her current recording When I Look In Your Eyes has passed double platinum sales in Canada and moving quickly towards Gold status in the United States. Bill King: Can you pinpoint the moment when everything just seemed to fall in place for you? Diana Krall: It was when I realized I had the creative freedom to be the artist I really wanted to be without worrying about compromising what I had to do. I worked really hard commuting to a gig in Boston while living in New York for about four years. Even with a recording out, I was still doing it. As a new artist, I was struggling to make a living, but it was an opportunity to keep learning and playing especially since it was a seven-hour gig per night. It was hard schlepping through the snow and the long train rides, but I wanted to stay in New York. I was talking with someone the other night who was congratulating me on my success. I told them one of the most important things about success is that it allows you to be a creative artist and to grow faster. B.K: Like so many Canadian musicians, you suffered through weekend gigs like Meyer's Deli, in Yorkville, where orders for corned beef sandwiches and Hockey night In Canada drowned out the music at the other end of the room. Soon you were able to move downtown to the Underground Railroad where you attracted a listening audience. Did these experiences help clarify the need to bypass gigs that didn't advance your career? D.K: The Underground Railroad was about two people. John Henry and his wife. They believed in what I wanted to do and gave me an opportunity. I was talking with John Clayton about this at the International Association of Jazz Educators' conference. We were discussing the importance of recognizing an individual's ability and giving them a good environment in which to grow. I look at the situation at the Underground Railroad like that. John and his wife were kind of like a mom and dad to me. I wasn't thinking about career advancement at the time. I'm never one to put down any genre of music because I listen to all kinds. I realize that many other people are just as serious about their music as I am about mine. Just because you are playing in a band in a hotel lobby doesn't mean you are not serious about your music. I also believe you should want to make people happy with what you are doing. Rather than bypass certain gigs, I created the kind of work that would help me grow as an artist even though at times I was compelled to eat in a cafeteria and not fraternize with the guests. I was directed to go downstairs and drink my cup of coffee with the hired help. That wasn't respectful to me as an artists, but I've always decided to make each place my own and hire the best musicians possible. B.K: Canadian women have had an unprecedented impact on the international music scene. There's Anne Murray, K.D. Lang, Shania Twain, Cleine Dion, Sarah McLachlin, Amanda Marshall, Jann Arden, Renee Rosnes, Jane Bunnett, Ingrid Jensen and yourself. Why do you think the masses find these artists so alluring? D.K: I don't know. I've been reading Karen Kain's autobiography, which is completely inspiring to me. I look at her as a woman who went through similar experiences to me, but in a totally different art form. I'm inspired by Joni Mitchell and many other Canadian women who I see as my mentors. Besides Karen Kain, there's Renee Rosnes. She moved to New York and was just fine. It's like the comedians. Why are there so many great Canadian comedians. I don't know the answer to that. B.K: What was your first entry point to the United States? Early on, I was able to study with Jimmy Rowles and Ray Brown for three years in Los Angeles. That was a goal I had to apply for. I had to plan out my project and submit to Canada Council. In the end they came through. It would have been very difficult with a Canada Council grant.
  5. Interview with Dave Brubeck Pianist-composer Dave Brubeck is one of a very few jazz musicians to be recognized more for his compositional skill than his playing ability. A product of the '50s when the lightning fast fingers of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and Bud Powell ruled the keyboard, Brubeck followed a different path. Instead of playing long linear melodic lines, he used rhythmic interplay and polytonality as his tools. Brubeck studied modern compositional harmony and explored the music of various world regions. Incorporating these influences, his career blossomed throughout the '50s and '60s with huge hits including Take Five and In Your Own Sweet Way. Over the years, he has led numerous influential units including those featuring his sons. They join him again on his latest Telarc recording, In Their On Sweet Way. Bill King: In Their Own Sweet Way must have been one of the greatest Christmas gifts a father could hope for. Dave Brubeck: It sure was. All of the kids were home for the holidays when a snowstorm warning was issued. Telarc was planning to record a piano concerto with a symphony at a college in Westchester, but the bad weather forced the event to be canceled. With all of their gear intact, Telarc called and asked if I wanted to record something because I live in nearby Connecticut. As I mentioned it just so happened that the entire Brubeck clan was home for Christmas at the time, so the rest of it just fell into place. B.K.: Was it a communal decision with record to selecting the material? D.B.: Everybody contributed their own ideas. By the end of that process, we had more than enough material. The CD ended up being 70 minutes long, but we had enough for two complete recordings. B.K.: You have managed to develop a great relationship with Telarc after so many fruitful years with Columbia. D.B.: Yes, that's true. I'm still one of Columbia's top-selling artist, especially in Europe. I sell more there than any other Columbia artist. Miles still outsells me in the U.S., but not by much. B.K.: On In Their Own Sweet Way, you appear in a duo piano setting with your son Darius. Two pianists can pose both musical and technical problems. Were you able to address potential conflicts before the sessions? D.B.: No, we just played. There was no rehearsal. We just sat down and let things happen. B.K.: What do you think of the evolution of your four sons playing? D.B.: I think each in their own way are saying and doing so much. Over the years, I've had the greatest drummers in the world in my bands. Danny learned from all of them when he was a kid. By the time he was eight or nine years old, he was listening to Joe Morello. Then he studied with Alan Dawson. Those influences come through in his playing. Now, I truly think he is one of the most exciting drummers I have ever worked with. by Bill King
  6. Check out this cool jazz site: http://www.nojazzfest.com/
  7. Space

    What Is Jazz?

    Jazz is America's classical music. In a four part ARTSEDGE lecture series, recorded live at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Dr. Billy Taylor, noted jazz pianist, historian, and educator, shares glimpses of his extensive knowledge of jazz music from its roots in the African-American slavery experience, through the early days of ragtime, and onward through swing, bop, and progressive jazz. Dr. Taylor combines academic research with a wealth of personal knowledge of the music and shares many fascinating anecdotes about the great artists of jazz. He cautions, however, that four hours is only long enough to scratch the surface. For an in depth look at jazz history, get a copy of "Jazz Piano, A Jazz History." To hear Dr. Taylor's presentations in their original order, attend a lecture. Or, if you're interested in a particular artist, genre or other aspect of the history of jazz, follow up a topic thread. You'll find out what Billy Taylor said about that subject, and you'll also find links to photos, discographies, articles and audio files at IMS and at many other sites across the web.
  8. Space

    Rick Brau--esperanto

    T.S. Monk returns with the release of his first new album in four years entitled Higher Ground. While it might seem as if the venerable drummer has been missing from the jazz scene for far too long, he's actually been hard at work on a variety of projects that includes developing and launching his own record company, Thelonious Records. The release of Higher Ground will mark the label's national debut. ""It's not often that one gets the opportunity to fulfill a dream for both yourself and that of your father. Thelonious Records is that opportunity for me. My dad dreamed of one day owning his records, and that is what Thelonious Records is all about-family. It begins with Monk and Monk, and one day it will be, Monk and Monk and friends," states T.S. If the title Higher Ground evokes a sense of confidence and self-fulfillment, it's not without good reason. With his new record, T.S. Monk has settled into his sound, and is finally making the type of records that reflect his own sensibilities as an artist who's spanned a wide spectrum of styles over his career-from R&B to funk to traditional jazz. "On 'Higher Ground' is where I want to be-where the free thinkers of jazz reside close to the people," declares Monk. "For me that place is somewhere between Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and tomorrow's sound. It's really smooth, and it's really jazz." T.S. Monk will hit the road in support of Higher Ground with dates planned across the country for the remainder of summer and fall. With a new album, his own record label, a national tour and his ongoing work as Chairman of the Board for The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, T.S. Monk is back in full swing, and indeed, hitting Higher Ground.
  9. Space

    Rick Brau--esperanto

    Do not attempt to adjust your sound system. Nicholas Payton and his freshly reconfigured band have fattened the bass, tweaked the treble and phase-shifted the balance for an unforgettable aural experience... one that goes beyond the realm of jazz as this world class trumpeter/composer has presented it in the past. Utilizing groove and hip-hop, electric keyboards, upright bass, drums, percussion and a mystical bag of special effects for trumpet, Payton & Co. plunge listeners into an underworld of intoxicating self-discovery and hedonism. This pulsing new soundscape was designed to send imaginations on a liberating journey. Think of it as 68 minutes of a sublimely musical mind-altering substance which Payton has dubbed...Sonic Trance. Sonic Trance is Nicholas Payton's seventh album and first for Warner Bros. Records. It features Payton along with two members from his previous quintet: Tim Warfield on tenor and soprano saxophones, and Adonis Rose on drums. Payton then recruited Kevin Hays on electric keyboards and piano, Vicente Archer on upright bass, Daniel Sadownick on percussion and Karriem Riggins on sampler and synthesizer. They played live between September and December of 2002, then recorded over five heady days in January. Some may see it as a bold and bracing departure, but for the nearly 30 year-old artist who has risen to the top ranks of jazz trumpet, the project is a natural progression and a timely reflection on life in the modern world. In a sense, Sonic Trance is like a trippy art house film, only played in 18 musical variations that usher the listener from the Harpo Marxian sunshine to the Akira Kurosawan shadows of our existence. "I approached this album like cinema," Payton states. "Certain recurring melodies are like characters that appear and reappear in different incarnations...one minute wholesome, the next evil. Some things just appear out of the blue like the Jamaican rap ("Shabba Unranked"), then phase into something subtle ["Seance (Romantic Reprise)"]. We go from rap to a tone poem on this album because that's how life can be. One minute we're involved in the most buffoonish of escapades and the next, something beautiful." The philosophical concept lurking within the psychedelic strains of Sonic Trance hinges on self realization, which can theoretically lead to a universal order. "Everyone has a voice," Payton states. "I believe there is a way we can all co-exist--truly be who we are--without stepping on each other, though with the current state of affairs, it plays better in theory than in execution. In that way, I feel this record is very timely. All of the musicians come from different racial, cultural and spiritual backgrounds, yet we were able to create a unified body of work. We need more of that in the world right now."
  10. Space

    Rick Brau--esperanto

    As Kurt Elling knows, being a jazz singer in the truest sense requires skill at any number of interrelated roles. Not only does it take vocal mastery in musically swinging terms, but stretching beyond into the realms of bandleading, composing, arranging, and writing poetry. To this list, he has also added the role of musical matchmaker. For Man in the Air, Elling’s sixth release for Blue Note Records, the 35-year-old Chicagoan has created original lyrics for compositions by such giants as saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist Pat Metheny and others close to his heart. By putting pen to paper, taking to the studio, and incorporating these works in his riveting live performances, Elling hopes that audiences will fall in love with music that he himself adores, or will rediscover some compositions they have loved and overlooked for a time. The album provides a rare showcase for his lyric writing, featured on ten of the album’s twelve tracks. A six-time Grammy nominee, Elling has already earned a reputation as the contemporary writer of vocalese, the art of setting words to instrumental solos. As early as his debut recording Close Your Eyes (1995), these texts had assumed epic proportions. It was unavoidable: Elling ambitiously applied his literary talents to the music of hard-hitting, monster improvisers like saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Dexter Gordon, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. By comparison, the challenges of the repertory on Man in the Air are subtler. Rather than pyrotechnics, the success of these pieces tends to hinge on vocal control, sonic atmosphere, and use of space. Their lyrics follow suit. Elling wrestles with themes of love, life, loss, and the indefatigable human spirit in all of their
  11. Space

    Rick Brau--esperanto

    Following her Grammy-winning orchestral album "The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan," jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves wished to return to a simpler, all-acoustic setting. So in December 2002, Reeves entered Right Track studios in New York City with legendary producer Arif Mardin (Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones) to record A Little Moonlight, an intimate collection of ten tunes featuring her touring trio: pianist Peter Martin , bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchinson . “Most of the songs are about the moment you’re ready to fall in love, and the record features one of my loves, my trio—up-close and personal,” says Reeves. “I’ve had great groups over the years, but there is really something special playing with Peter, Reuben and Greg. We’ve worked together for so long that sometimes all it takes is a look to make the music come alive—and this record captures the magic between us.” Besides the inspired trio, the album also features appearances by trumpeter Nicholas Payton and guitarist Romero Lubambo .
  12. Space

    Rick Brau--esperanto

    Michael Brecker is the most celebrated tenor saxophonist of his generation. His astonishing technical prowess and imaginative command of his instrument, and chameleon-like facility in any musical setting have given him uncommon scope. For the past 30 years a sought-after session player who has appeared on over 800 jazz, pop, and rock albums, he has also, simultaneously, become one of the most daring, impassioned solo artists in jazz, a peerless improviser and restlessly inventive composer. A nine-time Grammy award winner, Brecker’s previous recordings have all been muscular, highly-praised small-group outings dominated by his own compositions. Wide Angles is a suite of compositions arranged for an ensemble of 15 players (a quindectet) that proves Brecker to be one of the foremost composers in jazz as well as a genius of his instrument. In these performances Brecker achieves an inspired fusion of virtuosity and lyricism, power blowing and evocative story-telling, edgy explorations and grooving earthiness, make Wide Angles Michael Brecker’s most ambitious and personal work to date.
  13. Space

    Rick Brau--esperanto

    If there's one key lesson that Rick Braun has learned from all his travels as both a sideman extraordinaire and one of contemporary jazz's most acclaimed and innovative artists, it's that music is truly the transcendent universal language. The title of Esperanto , the trumpeter, composer and producer's long-anticipated follow-up to his wildly popular 2001 Warner Bros. Records debut "Kisses In The Rain," is a wistful reference to a language created in the late 19th century (by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof, who used the pseudonym "Dr. Esperanto") to facilitate communication between people of different lands and cultures. In his colorful liner notes, Braun conveys the album's distinctive Euro-vibe influences (drawn from the realms of trance, electronica and acid jazz, including dramatic orchestral touches as well) with images of folks from various European countries sitting on an Italian portico, speaking different languages amongst themselves. Wafting over the conversations from inside the house is the music of Miles Davis, one of Braun's idols. "The idea is that music is a link between these people of varied backgrounds, a healing force that brings them together," he says. "It creates an atmosphere of mutual understanding."
  14. Space

    The Houston Scene

    Happy New Year! Hello friends in the blues. I apologize for my recent hiatus and want to thank all of you for your communiqués and kind words. May 1999 be a Fantastic Year for blues lovers and players everywhere! This installment is dedicated to the Blues Giants of Houston, Texas who welcomed me into their musical circle. When My wife and I relocated there from Austin in the late 80’s, we did not expect to find such a rich and vibrant blues culture. Hidden in the wards that surround downtown is a vast wealth of largely unrecognized talent. In addition to the great guitarists covered below, I’d like to mention several performers with whom it was a pleasure to have shared the stage - vocalists Trudy Lynn and Lady D. (Donna McIntyre), the great Sax man, Grady Gaines who toured for years with Little Richard, the wonderful trumpeter, bandleader and vocalist Paul David (Texas Horns), the up-and-coming tenor sax man/vocalist Aubry Dunham, a the good folks of the Houston Blues Society. I would also like to thank promoter Sirron Kyles for believing in me and helping me along that lonesome Gulfcoast blues highway. - Lightning Red Joe “Guitar” Hughes When you pick up the July/August 1998 issue of Living Blues magazine, the warm, friendly eyes of one of today’s most talented and fluid blues guitarists welcome the reader into a world of smooth ######s and hot tricks. Clutching the Japanese Telecaster copy that he’s mastered, my all-time favorite Houston bluesman seems to bare his very soul. Although it had the standard chrome-covered neck position single coil pickup intact when I first played this axe (and which I prefer to the present setup), Joe decided to replace it with a dual coil humbucker. I believe his reason for this to be as follows: when Joe first mesmerized me, he was coaxing ever-so- sweet tones out of a bright red (B.B.King-style) Gibson ES-345 from high atop the stage of the Doris Miller Outdoor Theater in South-central Houston. The next time I saw him in a small, restaurant-style place in the Montrose area, he was struggling with his newly acquired, cream colored Tele copy. And he was singing a slow blues about having his 345 stolen (every player’s nightmare - when mine disappeared from our south Austin residence I had reward flyers plastered all over town, and Ray Hennig took pity on me and nearly gave me a 1970’s 335 - could never replace the ‘59 gold plated 345 that ‘walked’). This drove me into orbit. I missed the sound of that 345 in Joe’s able hands so much that I pleaded with the club owner (who was a blues fan, and who I assumed to be wealthy) to buy Mr. Hughes a replacement Gibson. My efforts failed but after struggling for many months on that Fender, Joe eventually mastered the ‘foreign’ instrument and proceeded to pump out his signature flowing blues cascades in small clubs all over the city. After Joe Hughes saw me play at a Blues Society benefit (man, was I nervous to be performing face to face with Joe, “Texas” Johnny Brown, Pete Mayes, Trudy Lynn and TNT Briggs - a legendary piano player) he would always shove that Tele copy into my hands when I’d greet him at his Tuesday night blues jam in the 3rd Ward. “Go to it Red” he’s say and then sit back and smile. The action was set way too low, and the strings were too light (with a 9 or 10 thousandth of an inch diameter - the top E position) for my big hands, but I did the best I could. I felt like royalty playing that beat-up old axe which was said to have been presented to Joe Hughes by the legendary Lightning Hopkins. Eventually I learned how to get his Peavey amplifier with two 12 inch speakers to sing, but watching this great bluesman master his recently acquired solid body guitar was my greatest treat. The master of “passing chords” (chords that ‘lead’ the listener to the dominant 1, 4, 5 progression chords), Joe knows how to interject just the right amount of ‘jazzy’ quality into a ballad or slow blues to please the most jaded taste, much as the legendary T-Bone Walker did. And when I saw Joe “Guitar” Hughes play a throbbing boogie [my all-time fave groove] with a five piece horn section punching out the lines behind him at a Houston Blues Society event, I nearly flipped. And if I may digress for a moment: It is unfortunate that the vast majority of Houstonites do not support the blues, and night after night we’d see the great bluesmen featured in this installment (with the exception being Johnny Copeland, who was a touring act) playing to an empty house. Very sad indeed. Someday I hope to get back to Houston and play his ‘Tele’, or to be on stage while HE plays it. So, I strongly suggest the intermediate guitarist play along with Joe on: Down & Depressed: Dangerous / Munich Records Texas Guitar Slinger / Bullseye Blues (BB 9568) Texas Guitar Masters / Double Trouble Records (TX 3012) If You Want To See The Blues / Black Top Records (BT 1050) Texas Johnny Brown I’m not certain if the guitar I saw Texas Johnny Brown play in the small clubs was a Hagstrum [German Guitar] or a really unusual Epiphone [formerly Gibson-Epiphone]. It looked like a ‘confusion machine’ to me, with a slew of toggle buttons and knobs that could have been borrowed from the space shuttle. But when cranked through his Fender Twin Reverb, it produced the sweet sound of a bluesman who knows his stuff. After nearly twenty years on the Chitlin’ Circuit, which provided black players with regular tours of the Southern US, playing behind everyone from Bobby “Blue” Bland to Joe Tex , Johnny Brown decided that Sunday mornings were much too lonely and he settled down in Houston to raise a family. This wonderful guitar “slinger” is now making regular trips to Europe and hopes to have an album out before too long. I feel honored to have seen Texas Johnny Brown perform countless times in [mostly empty] Houston clubs throughout the west and near east sides of town. Unlike the fluid lead style of Joe Hughes, Johnny’s experience was mostly as a rhythm player [playing chords to support the melody] doing very little lead work.. With a four-piece band that included keyboards, I experienced no shortage of exciting music and solid blues guitar emanating from the experienced fingers of this yet-to-be recognized Gulf Coast guitarist. Although he was inexperienced as a vocalist when first coming out of retirement, Johnny’s voice developed quickly, and I assume his ‘pipes’ have sufficiently matured enough to allow him to “front” his band as the featured vocalist. Good luck to you “Texas” Johnny Brown. Pete Mayes The last time I talked to Pete Mayes was after he performed at a concert in San Jose, California with the Antone’s house band featuring Derrick Obrien. [in a future installment I’ll talk more about all the great guitarists and my experience coming of age in the fertile Austin, Texas music scene of the 70’s.] Hey, Red! Pete said, surprised to see me so far from Texas. We then reminisced about the scene in Houston and he filled me in on recent events and gave me his new home phone number. After his leg was amputated below the knee as a result of severe diabetes, Mr. Mayes was forced to sit in a chair when performing. Something he has mastered quite well. Pete has played his cream colored mid-seventies Fender Stratocaster ever since I’ve known him. Usually he is seen pumping it through a late model, compact style Fender Twin Reverb amplifier - the one with the red knobs. This has become a favorite of many blues guitarists because of its size and portability. This was also the amp that Johnny Copeland and his sideman guitarist both used. To hear this lesser known bluesmaster, check out his latest release on Antone’s Records. Milton Hopkins The most important thing to know about Milton Hopkins is that he is Lightnin’ Hopkin’s nephew, and was B.B.King’s bandleader off and on for nearly seventeen years. The next vital piece of information consists of the fact that his favorite guitarist is Tal Farlow. During the four months spent subbing (temporarily replacing) for his regular bass player, I studied Mr. Hopkin’s amazingly full orchestral-like chording and sparse, soulful leadwork as best I could while facing the back of his guitar neck. It was only later, when I became part of the audience that I could fully appreciate the T-Bone Walker influenced runs (melodies, ######s) that punctuate his six-string wide chords. To this day I am unsure how to form many of the jazz-like fingerings and chords that seemed to catapult off his fingerboard. The fullness of his sound is amazing. The strings on every one of Milton’s wide bodied Gibson jazz-style guitars are totally unbendable [each consists of a very heavy gauge metal], and this was reflected in his playing style. While most blues guitarists utilize a variety of string bending techniques to make the guitar “sing”, this yet to be discovered bluesmaster prefers to use a flurry of notes to express himself. Just as Wes Montgomery or Kenny Burrell chose wide arpeggios (a fast flurry of notes) that move cleverly up and down the scale, Milton Hopkins would let loose a lightning fast torrent of notes moving in a jazz/blues jump around the tonic (the note that determines the key of the song). This guitarist, unlike most blues players, was schooled in music and it was his reading ability and sharp ear that landed him the number one spot in B.B.King’s show. But these days it’s the vitality of his performance and the warm smile that brings in the crowd. One night, while I stared in disbelief from the back of the bandstand in this old style lounge, a group of Frenchmen began freaking to the music. Flashbulbs began bursting and poor Milton was almost blinded. Later that night I learned that this group of Europeans had been following Mr. Hopkin’s career and were begging him to go to Paris and record in their studio. I’m sorry to say that he declined. As far as I know, his music remains undocumented. Like many of our best loved blues heroes, Mr. Hopkins found that a constant touring schedule wears thin and decided to settle down in Houston to be with his lovely wife and family. And, as is the case for the vast majority of entertainers who remain within the confines of the “Big H”, fame has eluded him. If you’re ever in this city on a weekend night, be sure to stop by the Reddy Room where Milton Hopkins holds ‘blues court’ on a continual basis. You won’t be sorry you did. Johnny Clyde Copeland !997 Handy Awards Photo by: Chuck Winans© Johnny Copeland learned to play guitar from Joe Guitar Hughes and they performed together while still teenagers. Unlike Joe, Johnny was determined to leave Houston at the first opportunity. When he was offered help to relocate to New York, Mr. Copeland jumped on it. He followed a long line of Gulf Coast performers who left to find fame. And of course, it was always a special occasion when he returned home to perform during the early 90’s. I was very fortunate to be at Miller Outdoor Theater when he was given the key to the city by Mayor Kathy Whitmire. You’ve never seen a happier man. Johnny Clyde made his black Gibson Les Paul solid body guitar scream as he bounced back and forth across the huge stage like the ex-boxer that he was. But it was when he and his super tight band with Randy Lippincott on bass [also bandleader] played at Billy Blues club that I got a good look at his solid-state [using printed circuits instead of vacuum tubes], early 90’s compact model Fender Twin Reverb amp with the red knobs. Judging by the scarcity of his string bending, and the pained expression that crossed his brow when he did pull up on the string a bit, I’d say that he preferred a stout [thick gauge] set of strings under his meaty fingers. While not considered one of my favorite lead guitarists, Johnny more than made up for this feature with the strength of his singing voice and the power of his songs. He will be missed by blues fans everywhere and the beginning guitar student would be wise to study his sparse but soulful ######s on:
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