Smokey Wilson’s West Coast Blues music

Smokey Wilson’s West Coast Blues music

We’re goin’ back to 1970 when Smokey Wilson decided to move out of Mississippi. He had a long career in the Juke Joint’s of the southern states, performed with a whole lot of bluesmen and lived the blues for already 34 years. His mother died. He was done with Mississippi and decided to go the city of Angels, Los Angeles.

Moving To Los Angeles blues scene

In L.A. Smokey was confronted with the growing popularity of the blues. Soon after his arrival he opened his own bar the Pioneer Club in Watts. He started playing in the Pioneer Club house band and invited a lot of friends like Big Joe Turner, Albert Collins, Pee Wee Crayton, Shakey Jake and Big Mama Thornton. Before Smokey bought the club The Doors had performed there in 1965.(Encyclopedia of the blues, p 1093)

Smokey Wilson Style and Genre

 Watts -1912 - photo Wiki Commons
Watts -1912 – photo Wiki Commons

His own music is widly stretched in all black music genres. `High Time´ is a great funky song. `Howlin´ for my Darlin´ is a more Chicago style blues song and ´goin´ Away Baby is a fast Rhythm and Blues close to Rock ´n Roll song.  What we can say is that Smokey Wilson is capable in performing all the genres with attitude and flair.

Smokey Wilson best song, in my book, is definitely `I´m No Fool I Know the Rule´. It is the funky voice, the rhythmic screaming and laid back chorus. Somewhere it has the same groove as `Messing with the Kid` by Junior Wells. I´m No Fool I know The Rule has a great groovy a steady between the lines bass guitar, and very fine guitar solo.

Wilson Started recording for several record labels since the seventies, like Cadet, Big Town and Modern Record. He had a lot of success in the Pioneer Club but outside the West Coast his fame was very little.  In 1981 he sued the record labels because he had not been paid for his rightful record and publishing royalties. Find here more about the court case.

Last night I drank beer with some friends and wanted to introduce them to the blues, Rhythm and Blues and Rock ´n Roll. For that night Smokey Wilson was a golden match. His music is always good and every sub-genre he knows how to play with flair.

Smokey Wilson on Spotify

Smokey Wilson – High Time

Smokey Wilson Killig Floor

Smokey Wilson – 44 Blues

Spoonful by Blues Hit Maker Willie Dixon

Men lies about little,
Some of them cries about little,
Some of them dies about littles,
Everything fight about a spoonful,
Dat spoon, dat spoon, dat …

Spoonful by Blues Hit Maker Willie Dixon

Some people understand how music has to be made. How the groove and feel of a song has to fit perfectly with the lyrics. How a song should be performed and how the singer should sing it. Willie Dixon was the hit maker of the blues. A man who was the blues and knew how it should be performed. We can recall a dozen of songs Dixon wrote  like “My Babe”, Hoochie Coochie Man and Little Red Rooster that are absolute blues classics. Today the classic song is “Spoonful”.

Meaning of Spoonful

In his biography I am the Blues, Dixon explained the meaning of the song. It doesn’t take a large amount of anything to be good. If you have a little money when you need it, you’re right there in the right spot. (Willie Dixon, i am the Blues, p 148). Many people thought the song spoonful was a metaphor  for drugs. Especially after Cream covered the song in a psychedelic way on their Fresh Cream album. The song was part of the sixties counter culture .

Willie_Dixon_1979_ Wiki photo by Len Carlson
Willie_Dixon_1979_ Wiki photo by Len Carlson

Willie Dixon wrote the song that was first performed by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960. Dixons´ Spoonful was loosely based on A Spoonful Blues from Charley Patton, recorded in 1929. That song relates to All I Want Is A Spoonful by Papa Charlie Jackson (1925) . Howlin´ Wolf who was known for his howlin’ made a slow and relaxed version of the song, with no howlin’ but accompanied with groovy guitar and rhythmic piano.

After Howlin´Wolf Etta James recorded the song in 1961. For the version of Etta James she added to her golden voice a Bazzy Big Band sound . The song was a duet with Harvey Fuqua recorded like a dialogue between James and Foqua. The interpretation of the song changed a little, the lyrics  relate to men’s sometimes violent search to satisfy their cravings.

Psychedelic version Spoonful: Cream

The most alternative version of Spoonful is without a doubt Creams version. The song was often performed live and lasted easily fifteen minutes. Especially the improvisation of Clapton, Bruce and Baker the song starts with brilliant. On Youtube you can’t find the fifteen or twenty minute version, but these eight minutes are pretty great too!

Willie Dixon greatest Blues hits

Especially in the sixties Spoonful was widely performed by a lot of blues and beat musicians. Other versions of the song I did not mention but are absolutely worth listening are the Q 65 version, a Dutch beat band. Canned Heat’s version of the song or George Thorogood’s.

Spoonful was just one of the great songs of Willie Dixon. He always made his songs work, her recalls it in his biography: “It couldn’t make sense you can’t make peace if you want to make peace”.

Etta James: Spoonful

Cream: Spoonfull

Howlin Wolf – Spoonful (Psychedelic version)

Other Versions of Spoonful on Spotify.

San Fransisco’s Blues Rock: The Stone Foxes

San Fransisco’s Blues Rock: The Stone Foxes

If there is a band who understands how the roots of music still influences the future,  how a rock ´n roll band should start playing in the deep underground Chitlin’s and Juke Joints of Mississippi with an urge for the old days The Stone Foxes are. The San Fransisco based band makes blues, folk and rock ‘n roll in a happy-feeling mix of loudness.

Blues inspired musicians

The Stone Foxes are blues fans, you hear it in the covers they play like Slim Harpo’s ‘King Bee’, Muddy Waters ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’’ and Willie Dixon’s Spoonful and Little Red Rooster. They got away with doing things that hadn’t been done before even if they started playing basic blues. It’s when they started experimenting that they took on their own identities, “They’re trying to do the same thing”. Bass player Aaron Mort: “You have to, and it feels like something that had to happen AND happen very naturally”. (website stone foxes)

Songs of the Stone Foxes are clearly influenced by Blues and Rock ‘n Roll, but overall they are a rock band. In a lot of songs of these guy you hear the blues. Like the Elmore James’ style of slide guitar in the song “Cotto” or the rhythmic, the singing and harmonica in “Stomp” from their 2010 Bulls & Bears album. Especially “Stomp”  is a trademark for the bands music and inspiration.

Music of the Stone Foxes

How The Stone Foxes describe their music, and the thoughts of how that should be played on their own website: “The core of any rock band worth their salt is a deep respect for the fundamentals – a feel that’s redolent of the scare-the-parents, back country, wild juke joint origins – and an abiding drive to carve out one’s own unique territory”. The friction between these impulses is where good things happen, and it’s the place San Francisco’s The Stone Foxes  have resided since their 2008 debut, young men dedicated to keeping rock engaged and succulently alive.

Multi Instrumentalists The Stone Foxes

These guys are all multi instrumentalists Shannon Koehler who plays the Drums, The harmonica and Vocals recalls: “You do what the song needs you to do. That’s how this band does it,”. “Hell, that’s how The Band did it! You can go back to Muddy Waters and further for examples of this. With us, there’s this filter of blues and roots that we’ve created by soaking up that music, and when we write everything gets put through that filter. It comes out as who we are today but everything we do goes through that filter, this cultural fuzzbox.”

Their Latest album Small Fires was released in 2013. They still keep influences from the blues, but most of all you will hear a more rock sound in their  songs, comparable to the Black Keys, Reignwolf or Radio Moscow. Their Song King Bee was part of the Jack Daniels commercial of Honey Bee. Listen to their full Albul Bulls & Bears right here. You will also find some of their Blues covers. We are fans of the Stone Foxes.

The_Stone_Foxes_RBF_photo by Piotr Drabik wiki commons
The_Stone_Foxes_RBF_photo by Piotr Drabik wiki commons

The Stone Foxes Spotifty

Little Red Rooster

I Killed Robert Johnson

Rollin’ and Tumblin


Jack Daniels Commercial Honey BEE

Chicago Blues Harmonica great Junior Wells

Chicago Blues Harmonica great Junior Wells

When the great Junior Wells from Memphis Tennessee started playing harmonica he almost went to jail for stealing a Marine Band harp. Wells wanted the harmonica he saw in a pawnshop on Harrison Street, Chicago costing 2 dollars. Junior only had one-fifty. He smashed the one-fifty down, took the Marine Band and ran out. Junior got caught by the police and went to court. The judge was impressed by Wells story and decided to pay the fifty cents. Who was this judge? I don’t know, but the guy was great.

Junior always looked relax on stage, his performances were energetic, his voice soulful and his screams James Brown-like he had charisma. He could sing Blues Ballads, Rock songs and Funk Tracks at the same time. He made a party explode and with his solid band he just had to make a crowd swing. And that was Junior Wells his trademark.

Harmonica with Sonny Boy Williamson

As a kid he learned to play harmonica from the best. At age ten Sonny Boy ‘John Lee’ Williamson took care of him. John Lee was doing a thing with Big Maceo and Tampa Red at that time when they heard Junior play. They liked Junior’s style and asked him to play along. It was Sonny Boy who told Wells to buy a Marine band harmonica.

Junior Wells in the Chicago Blues scene

Junior Wells 1996 photo Wiki commons  Masahiro Sumori
Junior Wells 1996 photo Wiki commons Masahiro Sumori

Junior Wells was a young dog in the Chicago music scene. The world of blues musicians is small. Everybody met everybody, and they all played together. It must have been a friendly but competitive world because they all switched and changed bands, musicians jammed together and record together it was all in the game; play to pay the rent. Junior Wells was no exception. Like many others in the Chicago blues scene Wells met Little Walter and Muddy Waters. He was twelve and saw Muddy and Walter perform at the Union hall of Chicago. After a while Wells took the stage. Walter looked down on Junior and said “He gonna blow a Harmonica”, “A pip-squeak?“ Wells made eighty dollars in tips that night. The twelve year old youngster made quite made his mark that night. (Harmonicas, Harps and Heavy Breathers p. 179/184 by Kim Field)

As a youngster Wells played with many musicians in tavern bars around Chicago. He was part of Tampa Red’s, Memphis Slim’s band. The main persona of this blog went to a lot of houseparties on the southside. At one of those parties he met Dave and Louis Myers. Junior and the Myers started playing together in the Hollywood Rendezvous seven nights a week calling themselves the Aces. Two songs from the aces I like are: Junior’s Whoop and Man Downstairs.

Juniors Whoop

Man Downstairs

When Little Walter made some big hits in the fifties, Wells got offered a job at Muddy band for a tour through the south. Junior went to Muddy, The Myers brothers went to Little Walter. Wells played Harmonica on the hit song ‘Mannish Boy’. The Myers became the steady jazzy backbeat of Little Walters live band.

Junior Wells Hoodoo Blues

My personal hightlight of Junior Wells recording career was Hoodoo Blues with Buddy Guy. Songs like We’re Ready. Good Morning Schoolgirl and Chitlin’ Con Carne are songs everybody should listen to. He has a great Harmonica sound on these tracks and above all a great rhythmic backing band. The album inspired many blues revival musicians like Eric Clapton and Paul Butterfield.

Chitlin’ Con Carne

Greatest songs Junior Wells

Junior Wells never made the fame other artist like Little Walter, Howlin’Wolf, Muddy Waters and James Brown had on the national Charts. He recorded a whole lot of great records, some with Buddy Guy, and other with Earl Hooker. Together with Hooker he recorded some rock ‘n boogie songs. I really like Lazy Mule, a combination of rock ‘n roll and the later on traditional Blues. Also Come on in this House is a must listen.

He was a true performed, even at an older age he knew how to make good music. If he was better produced an more managed he could have been the greatest blues singer of all time. In 1996 he released the acoustic album Come in My House. At older he age gave a great interview to Lincoln Beauchamp BluesSpeak: The Best of the Original Chicago Blues Annual
Read it here. For now: Let’s listen  to this great and remember the fantastic Junior Wells.

Tracy Chapman with Junior Wells- Give Me One Reason

Interview with Junior Wells

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells Interview

Junior Wells-What’d I Say

Most recorded songs: Baby Please Don’t Go

Most recorded songs: Baby Please Don’t Go

Baby Please Don’t Go was originally recorded by Big Joe Williams in 1935 on Bluebird records. Big Joe could never for see the influence the song would have on music history. This song is recorded, performed and sang in so many versions by so many musicians. For that, I put some of my favourite versions in line. Continue reading Most recorded songs: Baby Please Don’t Go