CD of the Month

FENTON ROBINSON: Out Of Chicago, The Chicago Blues Master, Live And Studio Sessions 1989/1992

JSP 3017 (61:04)

You Don’t Know What Love Is/ I Had A True Love/ Just A Little Bit/ You Say You’re Leaving/ Help Me (live)/ Stormy Monday (live)/ Night Flight (live)/ Ghetto Train(live)/ Going To Chicago (live)/ You Don’t Know What Love Is (live)

Fenton Robinson’s debut appearance in the UK at the First Burnley Blues Festival, held over the Easter Weekend of March 23rd to 27th 1989 is now the stuff of UK blues lore.

Headlining the show on Easter Monday evening, this quiet and unassuming man won over the massed ranks of blues fans who flocked from all over the UK and Europe to the northern mill town of Burnley for what became an annual fixture – a time when local authorities invested in the arts and festivals.

Burnley would have normally been quiet, (except for football fans visiting Turf Moor) with families heading for the seaside or the Lakes.

But for that weekend Burnley became the blues mecca, the pubs were packed (with free gigs), the music went on late into the early morning in the main festival hotels and the venue itself was busy all day, including afternoon gigs and workshops – the record stalls did great business. 

B&R’s team were fortunate to get lengthy interviews with Jack Dupree (the tapes of which were lost alas!) and Fenton Robinson, who was happy to talk about his career, pose for photos, sign albums and meet the fans.

The show itself was superb with Fenton (resplendent in a white suit) on top form backed by the Norman Beaker Band who helped put on a superb Chicago blues show.

Two sides from the Burnley show ‘Help Me’ and ‘Stormy Monday’ were originally featured on a limited edition JSP CD called ‘The Burnley National Blues Festival’ which were part of a package of six sides secured by JSP. The festival organisers (led by Gary Hood) needed a CD with tracks by the artists including Jack Dupree, Little Willie Littlefield, Otis Grand, the Big Town Playboys and others to establish the festival’s reputation. I recall Jo Ann Kelly was on the bill over the weekend too but didn’t appear on the limited-edition CD.

The following day Fenton backed by Norman Beaker headed to Manchester to the BBC studios to record four sides for the Paul Jones Show, the only national blues radio show then broadcasting in the UK.

The recordings made at the BBC consisted of four great sides ‘You Don’t Know’, (from his 1974 Alligator release ‘Somebody Loan Me A Dime’); ‘True Love’, (from the 1984 Alligator release ‘Night Flight’); ‘Little Bit’ (from the Alligator set ‘I Hear Some Blues Down Stairs’) and ‘You Say’ (originally cut for USA in 1966) and which appeared on a single pressing CD, ‘The Paul Jones Rhythm & Blues Show – The American Guests – Volume 3’ also featuring Lurrie Bell, Mojo Buford and Louisiana Red. You will be hard pressed to find these CDs nowadays so it is great to have the sides available again.

The remaining four sides come from a deal JSP have done with Pierre Degeneffe to release live material from the Ecaussines Blues Festivals held in Belgium between 1988 and 2013.

In May 1992, Fenton appeared at the 5th Spring Festival supported by Son Seals on guitar and Son’s band.

Again, this is a fantastic set of tough Chicago blues with great support by Son who welcomes Fenton onto the stage on ‘Night Flight’ from Fenton’s Alligator album of the same name before they move into the funky ‘Ghetto Train’ with great guitar interplay between Fenton and Son.

Fenton does two sides from previous albums – ‘Chicago’ and ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ to round off what must have been a great show.

Watch out for more stuff on Fenton in a two-part feature on the JSP Records Story and in a feature by Bruce Iglauer who has sent us an interview he did with Fenton along with memorabilia from his Alligator sessions.

In the meantime, (with the record shops shut) you should be able to find this via mail order. Get it, it’s superb!

Tony Burke

ALABAMA MIKE: Hip You To My Blues

Big Tone Records 246 (48:00)

Black Cadillac/ I’m Selfish/ California Blues/ Frustrate My Life/ 20% Alcohol/ Diabetic Man/ Cut That Out/ How You Want Your Rollin Done?/ V-8 Ford Blues/ Hip You To My Blues/ Stop Accusing That Woman/ I’m In Love With A Woman/ Hello Central/ Keep My Grave Clean/ I Feel So Good

It was a surprise to learn about a new release by Alabama Mike (real name Michael A. Benjamin) on Big Jon Atkinson’s new label. Alabama Mike’s earlier recordings, such as those with The Andy T Band in 2017’s ‘Double Strike,’ often displayed a gospel-rooted vocal style in the manner of Little Johnnie Taylor. 

This new release finds him in a down-home blues vein with a dose of Lightnin’ Hopkins flavour along with some tracks that evoke early ’50s Chicago style. This recording reflects Alabama Mike’s long-burning desire to ‘do a record in the classic style of early electric blues pioneers….’ 

The backing musicians on this set of retro blues include Kim Wilson on harmonica, Big Jon Atkinson and Danny Michel on guitar, Troy Sandow and Kedar Roy on bass, Joe Lempkowski on harmonica, June Core and Malachi Johnson on drums, Robert Welsh on keyboards, on retro-sounding performances.

Alabama Mike certain invests his vocals with intensity and soul. The Lightnin’ Hopkins influence can best be heard on the opening ‘Black Cadillac’ (with Atkinson on guitar) as well as the revival of Hopkins’ ‘Hello Central’ with Danny Michel on guitar, Kim Wilson on harmonica and Marty Dodson on drums lending the performance a swamp blues flavour. Danny Michel also channels Hopkins guitar on the swampy ‘California Blues,’ with choice Joe Lempkowski harmonica accompaniment.

A reworking of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson’s ‘Cut That Out’ sounds like a down-home version of Junior Wells 1950’s recording. Kim Wilson is on harmonica, Atkinson on guitar and Dodson on drums. Welsh provides the greasy organ on ‘Diabetic Man’ with Wilson on the harp. On ‘How You Want Your Rollin Done,’ Atkinson plays some excellent T-Bone Walker-styled guitar. On Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘I Feel So Good,’ Alabama Mike delivers a strong vocal in the manner of Muddy Waters with J.B. Hutto styled slide guitar in the backing. ‘Keep My Grave Clean’ is an ingenious band reworking of what was Blind Lemon Jefferson’s most famous recording, while the cover of J.B. Hutto’s ‘Too Much Alcohol’ sticks close to the arrangement of Hutto’s Delmark recording.

A moody rendition of Willie Love’s ‘V-8 Ford’ with Atkinson and Welsh closes a release of notable down-home blues performances. There are a couple of times the backing may be a tad skeletal, but Alabama Mike’s singing and the idiomatic support result in a most entertaining blues album.

Ron Weinstock

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