by Emery Columna – Live From The House of Blues, Sunset Strip 18 April, 1996 –
The House of Blues has been an essential part of the L.A. Music scene ever since it opened in ’94, reviving a Sunset Strip club scene that came close to being usurped by Fairfax district clubs only a few, short years ago.
Nowadays all that’s changed, as the House Of Blues has proven to be the Musical epicenter of The Strip, drawing crowds to this venue to see artists and performers that otherwise would not be seen on the Strip simply because of the economies of scale the House of Blues affords that other clubs can’t. The House of Blues manages to purvey the widest possible spectrum of music on The Strip all year round.
The inevitable visionary segue was to form a music company that adheres to the tenets of HOB founder, Isaac Tigrett. It seems like HOB Music Company is poised to reach a wide audience with the amount of talent in this Initial Public Offering of Preferred Musical Stock.
And so it was that I was invited down to The House of Blues on The Sunset Strip last Thursday to check out the new label’s lineup. And it went a little something like this:
Elwood Blues was the Master of Ceremonies for this night, and it was his special privilege to introduce each act, taking us to church early on in the evening by bringing on The Blind Boys of Alabama.
The Blind Boys kicked it off with their signature rendition of “Didn’t It Rain” which nearly slay the swelling crowd with The Spirit. The Blind Boy’s music depends on the ability of their blindness to tune into each other and their crackshot band, dispensing with eye contact and counts. It’s all feeling, baby, and that’s why The Blind Boys of Alabama have helped to soothe many a hardened soul with the Fillin’ of The Holy Ghost for so many years.
Sufficiently primed, the crowd was ready for the entrance of the Gospel Diva herself, Cissy Houston. Cissy made a point of giving it all up to her Lord and Saviour before she started singing and then once she began to sing, the swollen crowd for the most part deferred to the 1995 R&B Foundation Pioneer Award Winner, who held them in her hands bringing about a subtle modulation in the overall din of a mondo record release party. Cissy’s choir was dead on accurate in the call and response department during her uplifting reprise of “I’m Somebody”. Other highlights to the extensive set were her personal “Face to Face” and the Gospel take on Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is”. Marvin’s ability to meld secular with sacred themes was matched by Cissy’s ability to turn his 1965 smash hit into an altogether sacred thing on this night.
Church ended with John Goodman answering the alter call, giving Cissy a large arrangement of Roses and a humbled kiss on the cheek.
Paul Black & The Flip Kings was one of the surprises this evening had in store for me. Of tall, rangy stature, Black had a stint in Triple A baseball and looks like a baseball player that’s been allowed to grow his hair long. He may not have hit well in Triple A, but he sure handles the necks of his slide guitars like the shaft of a 32 oz. bat.
Black’s got authentic slide tone and can join people like Sonny Landreth, Kelly Joe Phelps, Bonnie, Duane Allman, Roy Rogers, and his own labelmate, John Mooney playing around the campfire semi-circle with the tone that only slide evokes from the soul.
In 1994, James Gadson invited me down to Residuals to listen to a band he was playing with and to hear the Guitarist/Lead Singer. Mark Goldberg was holding down the bottom end, Teddy Andreadis was on the Hammond, and, of course, my Main Man James was on drums. The name of the Guitarist/Lead Singer is Becky Barksdale and she destroyed me that night.
That night at Residuals was a sonic tour de force that left me driving home with tears welling up in my eyes. That night will always rest on my mind. The uncanny similarity of vocal tone to fellow Port Arthur, Texas native, Janis Joplin, is inevitable…but the guitar…Becky holds a guitar with the familiarity of a lover. Becky’s intimacy with the instrument is scary and she plays the guitar like a good relationship.
At the House of Blues this night, Becky had beautiful, long, dark, flaxen hair that fell to her shoulders, a pleated field hockey dress, and her signature logger boots with the socks rolled down just to the tops of them. Becky is FINE and for me to hear her again and see her up on stage caused me to flash to that night at Residuals to the point that I had to turn away a few times. Larry Lermer held down the bottom in the Power Trio format like a howitzer. Jerry Angel was right there pounding out a solid beat on the house DWs. Elwood Blues got to give Becky roses…I wish it was me.
John Mooney came up from New Orleans just for this gig, bringing with him Michael Ward, a percussionist who also plays in the Wild Magnolias. John Mooney, in my book, is one of the finest slide guitarists in the world and a leading proponent of the Son House school of ‘Singing Loud’. The crowd really did not get a full dose of what John Mooney is like in full blown format…For that you can refer to the live to 24 track album he did at the Bremen Fest with Kerry Brown on drums and Glenn Fukanaga on bass. That album stands for me as one of the finest live blues recordings I’ve ever heard.
For this gig, Mooney held more closely to a stripped down minimalist blues approach that commanded the crowd’s attention and won their respect as he closed out his set with an Authoritative version of Son House’s “Smilin’ In Your Face”, showcasing the Son House vocal approach that few have mastered.
Jimmy Rip may have had the waters parted for him, so to speak, by being hooked up into Mick Jagger‘s scene since 1983, but if you’ve ever had the chance to hear him you realize real quick that he’s definitely got the legs to walk on across to thother side. I’ve heard Jimmy several times down at The Mint, both sittin’ in with whatever band was presiding that night or with his own band, which is tighter than virginity. One thing I’ve noticed about Rip is that he is extremely consistent at what he does, but you sort of have to be if you’re a NYC first-call session man. He’s got very few ‘off’ nights. Jimmy played “Detroit Jewel”, “Cold Comfort”, and got the crowd singing with him on a new song , “The Blues Gets You”.
The next big surprise for me was the Gales Brothers Band. I’ve been aware of Little Jimmy King ever since June Yamagishi turned me on to his “Something Inside of Me” album he did with SRV’s Double Trouble back in 1993, but I wasn’t paying attention to June when he told me that Eric Gales was Little Jimmy King’s brother.
So as (newly signed HOBmc artist) Otis Rush videos were shown, I took in the sight of the stage crew rolling out 3 very big cabinets with at least 50 Watt heads on top of them, informing me that I was in for a heavy dose of big guitar tone. Stage left & right were Mesa Boogie 412s and center stage was a lone, Marshall 412. Manuel “Little Jimmy King” Gales and Eric Gales followed their oldest brother, Eugene out on to the stage: Eugene stage left, Little Jimmy center stage, and Eric stage right. Little Jimmy King plugged his Gibson Flying V into the Marshall, while Eugene and Eric plugged their custom Fender Strats with lefty bodies and righty maple necks into the Mesa Boogies. Upon comping for each other, the three brothers were off to the longest set of the night. If the three men were not related to each other the House Of Blues could have witnessed one heck of a cutting match. Instead, what the crowd got was a whole lot of love displayed between the three brothers, who seemed aware of each other’s tone at all times during the escalating set. By the time the brothers got to “Hand Me Down” the crowd was ready to receive a stunning display of guitar flexing that few in L.A. get to see regularly. The story of the power of a hand-me-down guitar, “Hand Me Down” was a startling display of each talented brother’s vocal and guitar tone via a handed down solo sequence from Eugene, to Little Jimmy, to Eric. It seems the power of that guitar was flowing through each brother’s solos.
Eugene’s got a real straight ahead Blues guitar tone that the two younger brothers defer to and his vocal tone is a thing of beauty. Little Jimmy King has got ungodly, punishing guitar tone and a mentholated vocal tone that works. Eric Gales’ guitar tone is a freedom all of its own, reminding me of a cross between the daredevilry of Eddie Hazel and the explorations of Jimi Hendrix. Eric’s vocals are the most subtle of the three. Combined, the Gales Brothers construct a sonic battering ram that’s easy to take and hard to resist.
Their finale was a blues jam that got into things you normally see in Chicago well past midnight. Little Jimmy King kicked it off with an Albert King tone that pulled me from my spot on the rail behind the soundboard to one of these Huge pinecones that crown the corners of the soundboard. There I rested my jaw as Little Jimmy King proceeded to lay to waste the crowd with Memphis Tone. King shook riff after unreal riff from the Flying V and into the Marshall amplification, pausing to let the notes breathe, or turning the guitar inward so he could play while biting the strings. Eric Gales played behind his head and tried to saw his mike stand in half with his Strat. John Porter came out from stage right to hold the mike stand, assisting Eric in his quest.
I sensed the crowd response shift from awe, to admiration, and finally to adoration as the set drew to a close. No one there that night, including Elwood Blues, would Ever forget that the Gales Brothers are from Memphis, TN.
The night ended with time enough to highlight the Clara Ward Singers, who do the Gospel Brunch every Sunday at House Of Blues.
Private Music’s Taj Mahal came on to cap off the night. My last surprise of the night was that I got to meet and chat with John Porter, who I regard as the finest Blues producer on the scene, over by the soundboard during Taj’s wonderful set. Porter is such a cool guy and really cares about the Sound of music and it was such fun to talk music with the Ace producer.
Kudos to Tony Braunagel, Johnny Lee Schell and the rest of the first rate House Band that made every act sound great when they were needed on stage.
It was a throwdown is what it was, when you come to think of it. House Of Blues Music Company is off to a start that should make it a relevant part of the music scene from here on out.