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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Biyo” by Earth Wind & Fire

Earth Wind & Fire’s eighth studio album Spirit is an album that did a lot to help me to personally conceive of #1 hit funk in terms of an album medium. It celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. And I’ve already covered the album itself here. First purchased it on a cassette tape about 22 years ago. At that time,I remember fast forwarding through it to get to funkier songs. Upon upgrading to a CD copy a year or so later,it became clear that this was one of those very special funk era albums. Each time I listen to these songs,they improve like fine wine with each listening. Almost to the point of transcendence.
One member of EWF,who joined up on the bands fourth album Head To The Sky in 1973 was Andrew Woolfolk. This multi reed player primarily played soprano sax within EWF. As he describes it in the documentary on the band Shining Stars, the elements that he added into the band came from the jazz and funk side. He enjoyed a strong,melodic groove. He also loved to improvise in such cases too. Throughout the years,he’s done just this on many of EWF’s most popular and enduring songs. One song from the Spirit  album that amazes me to this day is the Maurice White/Al McKay composed instrumental “Biyo”.
Larry Dunn’s glassy space funk synthesizers open the song before the opening fanfare kicks in. Its full on drums,Afro Latin percussion,Verdine White’s pumping bass line,McKay’s percussive rhythm guitar and the Phenix Horns running on their usual adrenaline. Verdine’s echoed five note bass slap,Maurice’s four note Kalimba melody and Johnny Graham’s bluesy guitar accents make up the refrains. Four members of the band get a chance to solo. Woolfolk does twice-starting and at the end. Graham and Dunn do a solo that dovetail right into each other before Maurice’s Kalimba solo before its fade out.
Earth Wind & Fire added many instrumental interludes/bridges to the albums from their late 70’s crossover period. But for me this is the finest full instrumental based on their sound of that time. The production and recording is a fine example of the band making some of the best recorded funk of that era. Its a melodically and instrumentally busy number with a lot going on sonically. But the powerful Afro-Caribbean funk arrangement still leaves enough room for several amazing solos to interlock with each other. And as a showcase for Andrew Woolfolk,its one of his shining moments of the mid/late 70’s.
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Filed under 1976, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Al McKay, Andrew Woolfolk, drums, Funk Bass, instrumental, Johnny Graham, Kalimba, Larry Dunn, Maurice White, percussion, Phenix Horns, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, space funk, synthesizer, Verdine White

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tokyo Joe” by Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music were something that I only began to explore within the 2010’s. Henrique Hopkins and myself have discussed Bryan/Roxy a great deal. And these conversations have tended to emphasize their unique place on the rock scene. My personal feeling from all this talking and listening was that Roxy were British glam rock’s answer to Steely Dan. Their songs rhythmic and melodic structures were based more in contemporary  soul and funk than allusions to amplified blues. And this was reflected in their visual attitude,which in the end comes down to Ferry.

There was somewhat of a choice to be made in terms of writing this article. Whether or not to overview a Roxy Music classic such as “Love Is The Drug”,or focus on Bryan Ferry’s solo career. Both Roxy and Ferry alone have their fair share of sleek grooves to choose from. Both from the 70’s and 80’s. In the end,seemed best to focus on Ferry as a solo artist. His initial solo career ran concurrent with Roxy Music’s first run. These albums consisted primarily of cover material. His first solo album of all original material In Your Mind contained a fantastic example of Ferry’s groove in “Tokyo Joe”.

A gong like cymbal opens up the song. The intro consists of a processed keyboard melody in close unison with plucked orchestral strings. All to the best of a swinging,hi hat heavy drum rhythm. After that the orchestra begin flat out playing the same melody-assisted by some rhythmic fuzz guitar. The rhythm then falls into a heavy 4/4 disco beat with the fuzz guitar,strings and several layers of keyboards (including what sounds like a Clavinet) playing deep inside the groove. On the choruses,the plucked strings of the intro return before the refrain closes out the song with the same gong like cymbal from the intro.

Its been awhile since I’ve really given this song a listen all the way through. But with the keyboards,drums and guitar delving so deeply into the groove,”Tokyo Joe” really showcases all the special qualities about the Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music sound. Ferry’s sleek,somewhat adenoidal vocal croon adds its distinctive character to this groove. Being from the final two Bryan Ferry solo albums of the 70’s,this song and others in a similar vein help write the musical map for what was to occur on Roxy Music’s three following comeback albums-from 1979’s Manifesto to 1982’s Avalon.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bryan Ferry, disco funk, drums, funk rock, fuzz guitar, keyboards, Roxy Music, strings, UK Funk

Kandace Springs Emerges As A Star On The Jazz Scene: An Article By Ron Wynn

Kandace Springs’ emerges as a star on jazz scene
By Ron Wynn

There’s so much fresh and exciting talent in Nashville these days across the idiomatic board folks sometimes miss performers operating outside the pop/rock universe. But exciting, versatile vocalist Kandace Springs is generating so much buzz courtesy of her new (June release) Blue Note LP “Soul Eyes” that she’s garnering widespread praise and considerable attention outside the usual arenas of specialty radio, jazz clubs and festivals.

Springs, who’ll be appearing this week at the City Winery, has always been surrounded and immersed in music. She’s the daughter of veteran Music City R&B/soul stylist Scat Springs, a popular fixture both locally and across the region, and the family’s musical involvement also includes her aunts, uncles, a grandfather, even two great-grandfathers. Her 2014 self-titled four-song EP was produced by Pop & Oak, whose past clients include Rihanna and Nicki Minaji. Springs appeared on such shows as “David Letterman” and “Jimmy Kimmel,” while burning up the stage at both Bonnaroo and the AfroPunk festivals.

But despite her alluring, enticing delivery and impressive range ideal for the rhythmic tapestries urban and contemporary R&B producers prefer, Springs’ natural affinity for jazz, especially her flair with melodic interpretation and storytelling, were what resonated when Prince heard her version of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” on the Okayplayer website. He not only invited her to perform with him at Paisley Park for the 30th anniversary of “Purple Rain,” but urged her to follow her stylistic heart, rather than take the safe, more commercially viable, route.

The results can be heard throughout “Soul Eyes,” produced by Larry Klein. His forte is striking a balance for artists with a jazz foundation between adhering to the tradition’s mandates, yet finding ways of reaching wider audiences as previously demonstrated on sessions featuring Lizz Wright, Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell among others. This approach is evident most notably on the title track, which was written by pianist Mal Waldron. Waldron was formerly Billie Holiday’s pianist, and the tune was among her signature songs.

Springs’ version inserts a few more soulful flourishes while expertly navigating the originals’s prominent lengthy note turns and crisp phrases. With Terence Blanchard’s crackling trumpet soaring around and behind her inflections and expressive presentation, it’s a showcase for how an ace contemporary performer can update a classic tune without losing its flavor or altering its lyrical intent.

The evocative ballad “Rain Falling,” one of her compositions, displays both her writing style and ease at guiding a song through differing emotional stages, while her cover of War’s “The World Is A Ghetto” reaffirms her ability to excel in a non-jazz framework. Another of Springs’ pieces “Too Good To Last,” has more of a blues edge in its story line,  reinforced by Blanchard’s brilliant trumpet accompaniment.

With guitarists Dean Parks and Jesse Harris, organist Pete Kuzma and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta joining Blanchard in the strong musical corps behind her, Kandace Springs’ demonstrates on “Soul Eyes” she’s a most worthy addition to the ranks of topflight contemporary jazz vocalists, singers who adore and treasure the burden of mastering the Great American Songbook, but also have plenty to say to and for 21st century audiences.

 

(Kandace Springs appears this week at the City Winery).

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Filed under Dean Parks, Jazz, Kandace Springs, Larry Klein, Mal Waldron, Prince, Ron Wynn, soul jazz, standards, Terence Blanchard

Jon And Sally Tiven: Dynamic Writing/Producing Team find Unexpected Success-An Article By Ron Wynn

 *Sally and Jon Tiven with blues icon Buddy Guy (Photo Used Courtesy Of Jon Tiven)
Dynamic writing/producing team find unexpected success
By Ron Wynn
The writing/production/instrumental duo (as well as husband and wife) team of Jon and Sally Tiven have worked with many legends of soul, blues, R&B, rock and pop over the years. Since 2002, they’ve also been an integral part of the Music City community. Now they’ve recently enjoyed a new breakthrough: success on the dance charts.
Jon Tiven acknowledged that it’s been quite a surprise to see how well the single “Glittering Gutter,” off the LP “The Soul Tapes” by English vocalist Billie Ray Martin, has done. It entered the Billboard Dance/Club Charts at #44 and last week reached number eight. The song has also been issued as an eight-remix single, with differing versions reworked by some of dance music’s biggest production wizards like Mooli, Offer Nissim, Tweaka Turner and Dave Aude.
Here are Tiven’s views on the single’s success and several other topics we covered last week in an extensive interview.
How different was it working on this project as opposed to some of the other things that you’ve done?
 
“Billie and I met in the mid-90s after her smash “Your Loving Arms” made her a known quantity and she came to the U.S.A to meet people who could help her make a Soul record. She, Sally and I wrote several songs which she recorded on her album “18 Carat Garbage” (the title track and “Captain Drag” were songs we wrote with her), and that album was cut in Memphis with the Hi Rhythm guys and Ann Peebles and Carla Thomas guesting.”
 
“We became friends and wrote some more, and she approached me about a new project. We wrote and recorded a record in New York with my band, which at that time was Sally, myself, and our favorite NY drummer Simon Kirke (Free, Bad Company).
 
This was originally intended as a collaboration between Billie Ray and myself where I would completely share billing, and so I took liberties with my guitar playing that I wouldn’t have necessarily done had I strictly been the producer. I figured “if it’s my name on the marquee, I get to go wild, freak out, and play what’s deep within me” and so I did. All the tracks were cut for this in 2000, and when it was complete I thought it was not only one of the best things I’d ever done, but had great commercial potential, as they say. But Billie was not convinced that all of her vocals were of a quality that she’d be proud of in fifteen years, so the record sat and was never fully mixed, never mind shopped to labels. A year or so ago I got a call from Billie telling me that she’d listened to the record again after so many years and loved it and wanted to finish her vocals, so I sent her the tapes and voila! Success!”
 
The fact that this sat for 15 years—I had completely written off it ever being released—-and now it’s gotten to #8 on the dance/club charts (Billboard) and is currently #12 on Music Week’s charts in the U.K.—-I just feel like my artistic license has been renewed and approved.”
Hearing all the different remixes were you surprised by any of the approaches and were any of them radically different from how you originally envisioned the project?
“I was completely stunned by all of the mixes……they basically took the skin off the bones and built entirely new people on the remaining skeletons. It showed me great possibilities of how far you could go and still keep the song. I like my chord progressions the way they are, but it’s nice to know that with a little tweaking you can go off on a completely different tangent and still keep the integrity of the song.”
You’ve worked with many legendary names in soul, R&B, rock and pop. What person or persons have proven the most enjoyable and memorable among those you’ve worked with?
“Making records with my dear friends—-Wilson Pickett, B.B. King, Frank Black, Bobby Womack, P.F. Sloan, Don Covay, Steve Cropper, Little Milton, Ellis Hooks, Steve Kalinich, Syl Johnson, Sir Mack Rice—-that’s the kind of experience you want to keep with you forever. These were/are not just business relationships, these were/are buddies of mine who I speak to or spoke with regularly about all kinds of things. I’ve made some records with people who testing the boundaries of our friendship during the making of the record as well with Alex Chilton and Don Nix, and those experiences are memorable in another way. I’ve been so fortunate to have had my musical career intersect with so many one-of-a-kind talents any one of which would be enough to make me feel grateful, let me list a few: Chrissie Hynde, Paul Rodgers , Tom Verlaine, Ron Wood, Arthur Alexander, Felix Cavaliere, Graham Parker, Chris Spedding, Dan Penn, and Betty LaVette.”
 
Having been a Nashvillian for several years now, what are some things you’ve discovered about living and working here that you wouldn’t have thought were the case until you came?
“The wonderfully open music scene that some folks have showed me. Particularly jazz cats. Thank you Nashville .”
What projects have you done that turned out better than anticipated and some that didn’t do as well as you thought they might>?
Better—-well, this Billie Ray Martin really turned around completely, after having given up……..the most surprising thing to me is that several of my early productions (Alex Chilton, Prix, Van Duren) from the mid to late 70s are now being revered as Powerpop Classics when at the time I never got paid, didn’t see a whole lot of positive reviews, and so I consider those my “pancake” records.”
“You know, when you make pancakes you throw away the first batch so the 2nd batch tastes good. Now I’m getting wonderful reviews and even a check or two, it’s quite a mindbending experience. I hope I don’t have to wait 40 years for people to appreciate the work I’m doing now.”

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Filed under Jon Tiven, music producers, Nashville, Ron Wynn, Sally Tiven, session musicians

‘Miss Sharon Jones-Cultural Reflections from

Sharon Jones

Cultural Reflections
“Miss Sharon Jones” an exceptional story
By Ron Wynn

Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple’s newest documentary “Miss Sharon Jones” is an exceptional tale of triumph and perseverance in the face of recurring obstacles, as well as a chronicle of the way things work for independent musicians and bands in the 21st century. Jones and the Dap-Kings, a New York ensemble who’ve become quite popular on the neo-soul and contemporary R&B circuit despite never having any radio hits or selling large numbers of albums, are spotlighted during a key three-year period between 2013 and the present when they were trying to maintain momentum from previous acclaimed releases and tours. But during this time frame, Jones finds herself battling pancreatic cancer, enduring multiple procedures and having to take time away from recording and touring each time to rebuild her strength and regain her stamina. Simultaneously she battles guilt feelings over being the reason why her band members have to deal with layoffs and lost pay because she’s unable to work.

Kopple doesn’t sugarcoat or obscure any of the tough moments during Jones’ battles. The audience sees her occasionally discouraged, downcast and irritable, as well as pensive because she also is dealing with the recent loss of her mother and the fact that she never got to really see that her daughter did become a successful performer.  Dismissed frequently for being too short, unattractive, even too dark, she didn’t even have her first LP released until she was 40. At one time she worked as a prison guard. Yet through all the struggles and despite the negative claims of some critics, she and the Dap-Kings persisted, and the band’s ultimate victories are seen late in the film as they appear on national and syndicated programs like “Ellen” and “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.”

The assistance of holistic nutrionist Megan Holken proves especially vital, as her efforts and those of manager Alex Kadvan and assistant manager Austen Holman help Jones maintain her spirit during the lowest moments. She also returns to her Augusta, Georgia hometown to relive old memories (both good and bad), do some fishing, and recall the impact that the great James Brown had on her. He was an inspiration and mentor, and she cites his message to her as among the things she always recalls in times of need.

The film also segues into other timely aspects of Jones’ life, among them an incredible performance that she gives at her church, where the spiritual side of her personality comes across just as vividly as the soul diva/R&B shouter side does in concert. The finale, a sold-out comeback concert at the Beacon Theatre, with Jones’ returning to her adopted New York home. She’s initially worried that she won’t be up to the challenge, but then shows in a decisive and memorable opening number that she’s not only back in form, but even more intense and determined to succeed.

Whether this earns Barbara Kopple a third Oscar win or not, “Miss Sharon Jones” is every bit as powerful and magnificent as anything she’s ever done, and a superb story about a singer and band who’s defied both professional and medical odds and won both times.

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Filed under 2016, Barbara Kopple, Contemporary R&B, film reviews, musical documentary, Neo Soul, Ron Wynn, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

Sonny Rollings Hold The Stage,For The Forth Time: An Overview By Ron Wyn

Sonny Rollins

Today at 2:25 PM

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Filed under Bobby Broom, concerts, Jazz, jazz icons, Live music, Music Reviewing, Ron Wynn, Sonny Rollins

Kalimba Helps Keep Earth,Wind & Fire’s Music Alive: An Article By Ron Wynn

KALIMBA_-_ALL-IN-ALL_+_BandKalimba helps keep Earth Wind & Fire’s music alive

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Filed under Chris Siegmund, Dereke James, Earth Wind & Fire, Gary Tobin, Jeff Haile, Jeff Lund, John Groves, Kalimba, Maurice White, Michael Cole, Ray Baldwin, Ron Wynn, Sheldon Reynolds, Thomas Chazz Smith, Uncategorized

Jazz Golden Age?-An Article From Ron Wynn

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Filed under Jazz, Kendrick Lemar, Miles Davis, Robert Glasper, Uncategorized

Jazz Plus 1: Rhythm & Bayous,Will Downing & The Terry Hanck Band

Rhythm & BayousJazz Plus

New DVD spotlights Louisiana’s music excellence
By Ron Wynn
“Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” (MVD, 120 minutes)
The Louisiana music experience epitomizes the scope and vitality of this nation’s cultural heritage, and ace filmmaker Robert Mugge’s new DVD “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” showcases those qualities in marvelous fashion  What was initially supposed to be a travelogue feature documenting a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bus trip instead evolved into a comprehensive documentary with a host of informative interviews, reflections and encounters. Mugge dispenses with the bus trip portion via some early foundation footage that establishes the film’s premise. It is a series of visits to key locales across the state, plus interviews with knowledgeable experts, and most importantly, unforgettable performances from numerous Louisiana artists.
The film’s divided into three sections covering Northern Louisiana, New Orleans/Baton Rouge and the Southwestern region. There are stops at clubs, churches, record stores, and other key locations that collectively comprise key aspects of Louisiana’s amazing musical tapestry. The marvelous musical selections include blues, R&B, swamp pop, gospel, Cajun, Zydeco, jazzand rock, all delivered with an urgency and energy that comes only from those making music that live and love it, as opposed to cranking out whatever’s in vogue for strictly commercial purposes.
Kermit Ruffins, Frankie Ford, Rosie Ledet, Dale Hawkins, Henry Gray, Henry Butler, Nathan Williams, Warren Storm, Claude King, Hackberry Ramblers, La Famille Viator, and Rod Bernard are among the distinguished lineup. As with all his musical presentations, Mugge provides a stunning, comprehensive and varied portrait. Ford’s “Roberta” helps jump start things, while those who’ve either grown up in or experienced fervent church worship will be totally engaged by the marvelous Ever Ready Singers.
But it’s just as revealing to see lesser known acts like La Famile Viator, a family group whose young kids are doing traditional Cajun music with the identical flair and detail of grizzled veterans, or see personalities like legendary gospel DJ Sister Pearlee Toliver, doing the kind of programming that was once available on Black radio everywhere, but now can only be heard on a handful of legacy stations.
No matter your preference, there’s something you’ll enjoy hearing at some point on “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.” The disc also delves into distinctive areas of regional interest, like the “Easter Rock” celebration that combines a religious observance with a dance/stepping tradition. He also spotlights newer artists such as Lil’ Bryan and Lil’ Alfred extending and tweaking vintage styles, and venerable types like Henry Gray, who’s returned home to Louisiana after spending decades in Chicago backing the greats of modern blues.
Although there’s quite like personally visiting these Louisiana sites, the next best thing is seeing them and hearing the music soar the way it does throughout “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.
CD reviews
Will Downing – “Black Pearls” (Shanachie)
Will Downing
Downing’s first release in six years pays homage to women vocalists he’s idolized. Thankfully, he’s also won his battle with the auto immune disease Polymyositis, and is again singing with the robust sound and soulful ardor that characterized his past releases. It’s a treat to hear his approach on tunes previously done by vocalists ranging from Cherelle to Deniece Williams, Phyllis Hyman and others. Personal favorites include his soothing version of the Emotions “Don’t Ask My Neighbors,” a masterful interpretation of Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” and a dazzling rendition of Williams’ “Black Butterfly.” Even tunes equally notable the first time around for dynamic arrangements (Cherelle’s “Everything I Miss At Home” and The Jones Girls’ “Nights Over Egypt,”) prove just as engaging and effective numbers when done as in Downing’s smoother, less driving fashion. His version of “Street Life” is slicker than Randy Crawford’s, but just as emphatic. Najee and Kirk Whalum add crisp sax assistance on “Street Life,” and atmospheric flute interludes on “Nights Over Egypt.” Downing is at his sensual best on “Meet Me On The Moon,” a suiting tribute to Hyman, and increases his ardor while reworking the Chaka Khan and Rufus number “”Everlasting Love.” “Black Pearls” proves a solid return for Will Downing, and is ample evidence he’s back in form and still an tremendous pure singer.,
The Terry Hanck Band – “From Roadhouse To Your House: Live” (Vizztone/TVR)
Terry Hanck
Saxophonist/vocalist and bandleader Terry Hanck’s Band seamlessly blends rocking blues, roadhouse R&B, soul covers and even a throwback tune or two in a rousing live session cut last year at the California State Fair. Hanck’s tenor sax style blends hot licks and high register effects with expressive melodic interpretations and fiery lines, while he’s an effective, alternately comical and earnest vocalist. The band’s best covers include solid versions of Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind” and the Louis Jordan war-of-the-sexes piece “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman.” The top originals are the surging opener “Good Good Rockin’ Goin’ On,” a testimonial to Junior Walker (“Junior’s Walk”) and “Peace Of Mind.” Besides Hanck, the tight group’s other stirring soloists include guitarist Johnny “Cat” Soubrand and masterful special guest Jimmy Pugh on an array of keyboards. The rhythm section of bassist Tim Wagar and drummer Butch Cousins keep the grooves tight and fluid, and the Terry Hanck Band offer 13 mostly engaging performances that show why they’re 2016 Blues Award winners.

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Filed under 2016, Blues, CD's, film reviews, Louisiana, Music Reviewing, musical documentary, rhythm & blues, Robert Mugge, Soul, The Terry Hanck Band, Uncategorized, Will Downing

Sammy Kershaw’s blues – Improvisations

sammy kershaw
Sammy Kershaw’s got the blues
By Ron Wynn
Though he’s enjoyed his greatest commercial success as a country artist, Sammy Kershaw’s always enjoyed all types of music. But even some longtime fans might not know that blues is a part of his idiomatic foundation alongside the country and Cajun sounds that have permeated and defined his biggest hits.
It’s taken a while, but Kershaw has finally released a blues LP. “The Blues Got Me” was actually completed in 2008 and mastered in 2009. However an extremely busy touring schedule, coupled with other releases, kept it on the shelf until May, when Kershaw decided it was time to get this one out. “I’ve been doing some of the songs in my live shows for a long time,” he told The Scene recently. “I had even put one or two of these on other albums, but did them in a country vein. So I just felt like the album had been on the shelf for a long time, and let’s get it out there.”
“I grew up in the dance halls and heard all kinds of music,” Kershaw continued. “The blues has most definitely had an impact on me, just like country and Cajun and Zydeco. A lot of times, when you’re talking about blues and country, it’s really the same feeling, but you’ve got different arrangements and instrumentation. They both speak to the soul, and they’re both about the soul, about expressing your true feelings from the heart about whatever your situation is in a song.”
“The Blues Got Me” includes a rollicking cover of Chuck Berry’s “No Money Down,” a poignant reworking of Solomon Burke’s hit “Honey, Where’s The Money Gone” and a dynamic rendition of the Allman Brothers’ “It’s Not My Cross To Bear.” But the most intriguing part of “The Blues Got Me,” aside from the stylistic departure, is it’s also a compositional showcase for Kershaw, who either wrote or co-wrote seven of the compositions.
“I don’t even consider myself a writer that way,” Kershaw explained. “But when we started cutting the songs, I just sat down and started writing and it really started flowing that way. I kept the blues in mind with all the tunes I was doing. Before I knew it we had a bunch of material that was ready to go, and I was really happy with what was happening.” Kershaw also points to Zydeco and swamp pop as two other influences that seep into the numbers, citing everything as part of what he heard in his youth.
Sammy Kershaw’s third cousin is the legendary Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw. He got his first electric guitar at 11, and a year later was touring the Southwest with area bandleader J.B. Perry. He endured some tough times personally and professionally during the ’80s, even at one point departing the music business for the retail world. But a tape submitted to Mercury Records by a friend in 1990, followed by a triumphant showcase performance, led to a deal and the ’90s proved his breakout decade.
Over that time, Kershaw enjoyed huge success doing traditional country and honky-tonk, as well as more pop-influenced material. His 1991 release “Haunted Heart,” one of two early ’90s platinum LPs he enjoyed, is still regarded by many as his finest, particularly the single “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful.” But he also had big hits on the other end of the country spectrum, among them a fine cover of the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “Third Rate Romance” and the 1994 LP “Feelin’ Good Train.” His last big hit that decade was “Love Of My Life” from the LP “Labor of Love,” which peaked at number two.
Kershaw pursued both music and politics for several years, finishing second twice in bids for Lt. Governor of Louisiana, while also recording for a variety of labels with limited success and exposure. But he’s bounced back in a big way the past couple of years. The 2014 LP “Do You Know Me: A Tribute To George Jones” ranks alongside “Haunted Heart” in the Kershaw catalog. It features 13 Jones’ classics, plus one stellar original, “The Route I Took.” “That one I didn’t care whether it sold one copy or 100,000, that one was one I had to do,” Kershaw said. “George Jones has been one of my idols pretty much all my life. He’s one of those people who has so much soul and honesty in their voice, someone that you know when they sing, every thing that comes out is truth.”
Along with “The Blues Got Me,” Kershaw’s also issued another release this year “I Won’t Back Down,” which in addition is the first album he’s produced himself. It includes a fine version of R.B. Greaves’ “Take A Letter Maria,” plus the  strong title cut (a Tom Petty number), and a seasonal fun tune, “Grillin’ and Chillin’.” Kershaw is currently maintaining a busy performance schedule, while planning future releases.
“I want to put out a gospel album next, and then one of the swamp pop and rock and roll I grew up hearing,” Kershaw concluded. “I’m also working on my autobiography. I started out in the dance halls as a kid and I’ve been on the road 46 years. I still love my job and I really love all kinds of music. I think that music is something that unites people, and that’s what I want to do with all the projects that I’m going to put out there from now on.”
 When talking about his music philosophy, Sammy Kershaw always comes back to the same things: Don’t mess with the classics. Let a song breathe. Wrap up a record while it’s fresh. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Kershaw is talking about recording or fine wine, but if we’re using metaphors, in the case of Kershaw’s latest project, The Blues Got Me, it’s a vintage that’s been bottled up for seven or eight years. Not that he’s been working on the album for that long; actually, Kershaw recorded the disc years ago and hasn’t touched it since.
“We didn’t change anything,” he tells The Boot. “We didn’t change a thing. It’s seven or eight years old. That’s it, period. It’s done.” Kershaw doesn’t believe in nitpicking. He trusts what he captured with the original recording.“I don’t want to lose the feel,” he explains. “And there’s a certain feel when you first record a song, there’s a certain feel you get in the studio from all the musicians. It’s fresh and exciting, and I want to keep that fresh and exciting feel on that record.
If we go in there and start nitpicking it every day — look, I could have a guitar player do his ride 50 times in one day, but by the time it’s over, you can’t tell which one you like out of 50.” The way Kershaw approaches guitar solos — and all aspects of recording — is much more organic. He likes to let it ride. “Nothing was planned,” he says of recording The Blues Got Me. “All four of us were sitting in a room … with a board and microphones, and that’s it. There was no planning out rides, there was none of that.
When I wanted somebody to ride, I’d just nod at them, and we’d take a ride … there was no planning. We just sat and did it. It was very raw.”To hear Kershaw talk, it sometimes seems as though all of the choices on his album were a happy accident. Take, for example, his cover of Solomon Burke’s “Honey, Where’s the Money Gone”: It just so happened that Kershaw heard Burke’s recording of the tune on the drive into the studio one day … and he decided to cut it.
“We Googled it and listened to it a couple of times, wrote the lyrics down, and cut it,” Kershaw recalls. “It was something I lived before, and I just loved the song.”
On The Blues Got Me, Kershaw also covers Chuck Berry‘s “No Money Down” and the Allman Brothers‘ “It’s Not My Cross to Bear.” His “no nitpicking” rule definitely applies to covers.
“A hit is always a hit,” he reasons. “I’ve done a lot of cover tunes in my career, but I’ve never changed the song, because the song was a hit for a reason … people liked it for a reason.”
Kershaw also won’t record a song, cover or otherwise, if he hasn’t lived it.
“When you listen to my music, it’s honest music,” he notes. “I’ve lived everything I sing about. If I haven’t lived it, I won’t sing it.” Even though he only sings songs that he’s lived, Kershaw is usually performing tunes written by someone else. But this album is different: He wrote or co-wrote seven of the songs on The Blue Got Me. That choice was “kind of unheard of for me,” he admits, but — another happy accident — the songs “… just came to me, and so I put them on this album.”
The Blues Got Me is a record that Kershaw has been wanting to record for nearly 35 years. But in many ways, “blues” is just the overarching genre umbrella; underneath that umbrella, Kenshaw says, is a lot of Louisiana-inspired music that’s hard to classify.
“There is some blues traditional-sounding things on here, but there’s also, like, Cajun-y-seasoned blues,” he says. The album also has “one song in there that’s got kind of a New Orleans shuffle … it’s just a zydeco-flavored blues song. It’s just different types of music that we have in Louisiana, and I don’t know … where you would put the music except in blues.”
Now that his blues album is finally out, does Kershaw feel the need to explore more genres? Not necessarily, the singer says — not unless the spirit moves.“Look, I just do what I feel. I just do what makes me happy,” he muses. But along with traditional country music, Kershaw does have plans to record a gospel album and a swamp-pop album. He likes having special projects in the works.
“I love all kinds of music … and when I’m not working on a country record, I don’t want to be not making music just because I’m not ready to make another country record,” he admits. “I’ve been doing this for 46 years, so special projects, to me, that’s exactly what they are — they’re special projects.”
As his career continues, Kershaw is adapting to the changes in the music industry. He says that “radio’s not gonna play me again,” but he’s fine with that. For him, the name of the game is finding a way to stay relevant while staying honest. He has his own label now and will continue to cut country records and special projects alike. And he’s thanking God for those years of making music. “I’m gonna use that gift He gave me,” Kershaw concludes. “I’m gonna use it all I can ’til I can’t use it anymore.”
(This piece originally ran in Nashville Scene’s Cream blog).

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Filed under 2009, Blues, Cajun, Country Music, country/soul, Doug Kershaw, Ron Wynn, Sammy Kershaw, swamp pop, Zydeco