THE CD AND THE BAND
I’ve always had a fascination with instrumental Blues
music. It requires a somewhat different approach than Jazz. If—generally
speaking, of course—a Jazz song develops around a melody, a Blues
tune has more to do with the rhythm and the lyrics. Therefore instrumental
Blues is not really about playing a melody and improvising through chord
changes, rather it is the art of using an instrument as a substitute
for the human voice. I like to think that I can sing through
my guitar, not just play solos through it. This has always been my endeavor
as a guitarist, and it is both very challenging and rewarding.
Through the years I have always played instrumental Blues,
and I have always had the aspiration to, one day, record an all-instrumental
CD. I am excited that Electro-Fi Records had an interest in such idea,
and gave me the opportunity to make it happen. I am grateful for their
The CD itself is in many ways the outcome of my long-time
friendship with the extraordinary keyboardist, Pietro Taucher. Pietro
and I grew up in the same town, Padova, Italy, and played countless gigs
together. We were very young, and he was so committed that he would carry
his Hammond B3 on the roof of his Volkswagen Golf! As the years went
by we moved on and our lives took different directions. I went to the
United States and started to play with some great Blues bands there—James
Harman, Janiva Magness, Jason Ricci, Lester Butler, and so on. Pietro
got a job playing the keyboards for the orchestra of the national Italian
TV, RAI, but his heart was always in Blues and Soul music. His passion
for the records of James Booker, Jimmy McGriff and Donny Hathaway made
him one of world’s best Blues keyboardists—and I am not just
saying this because he’s my friend, but because it is indeed true.
Pietro was noticed by powerhouse singer Sharrie Williams,
from Saginaw, Michigan, who called him to join her band. He has been
touring all over the world with Sharrie and her phenomenal band, The
Wiseguys, for several years now. During these years Sharrie and the Band
have collected two Blues Music Awards nominations, have played every
possible Blues Festival and club, and have reached the hearts of people
everywhere. I have personally seen people cry their hearts out at Sharrie’s
concerts. She is incredible, and so is the band.
For a twist of fate, both Pietro and I ended up recording
for the Electro-Fi label separately. I did the “Key To My Kingdom” CD,
with Finis Tasby and James Harman as guest singers, and Bruce Katz on
the keys. Pietro recorded “I’m Here To Stay” with Sharrie
Williams. It was quite amazing for us to realize that we were on the
same label, and such a good label too, many years after we left our hometown
and went in different directions.
For the past two or three years, whenever possible because
we spend most of our time on the road, Pietro and I have been playing
together again in our town Padova. What you hear on Mojo Zone is what
we play live, and when I started to think about this record it was natural
for me to include Pietro in the project. Indeed it’s been a great
idea—his contribution to the album is outstanding, and our musical
affinity is so strong and developed, that I just love to play with him.
We found in Simone Serafini and Silvio Berger the perfect
match. Simone is a great, young musician from Italy. He is equally good
at playing upright and electric bass, and equally good at playing Jazz
and Blues. It’s not easy to find someone who plays Jazz festivals
all over the world, who at the same time is deeply into Blues music.
He particularly loves Chicago Blues, and his eyes lighten up when I mention
Jimmy Johnson—that’s his hero. For our music, he’s
the perfect bass player. On “Hubert” his bass lines are dynamic
and ingenious, but at the same time rough and physical, like that tune
requires. But “Midnight Blue” displays all of his sophistication.
He really covers a lot of ground. So does Silvio Berger, who is of gypsy
origins, and grew up in Vienna, Austria, where he now resides. The first
time I played with Silvio I knew that he was the man for the job. He
is one of Europe’s best
drummers in my opinion, especially when it comes to the shuffle groove.
He swings it hard, but he also has that huge backbeat on the snare that
reminds me of one of my favorite drummers ever, the great Sonny Freeman
from B.B. King’s band back in the 1960’s. Silvio is also
a hell of a funk drummer, who has performed with Chaka Khan and Joe Zawinul,
just to mention a couple!
I am excited to have such a great band. They are all great
musicians who love the Blues to the bone. You can find more information
on each one of the band members at these links:
I should also mention that Mojo Zone has been recorded
with the help of some outstanding engineers. Huck Bennert and Mark Donahue,
who took care of mixing and mastering respectively, have recorded, mixed
and mastered pretty much every recent Ronnie Earl album, including “I
Feel Like Goin’ On” and “Hope Radio”. I love
the sound of those records, and I was very lucky to have Huck and Mark
onboard for Mojo Zone. We recorded at Artesuono, a small but very nice
studio in Northern Italy, near the city of Udine. The recording engineer,
Stefano Amerio, is a true genius. One of the albums made at his studio
is the recent winner of a Grammy, no less, in the Jazz category. He has
been working with such labels as Blue Note, ECM, Verve.
Say No More
The shuffle groove is the foundation of Blues music, and one of my favorite
things to solo on. It is also one of the most difficult to play. Shuffling
on the drums, in particular, really is an art. I am delighted to have
Silvio Berger in the band, for he has understood the art, and mastered
it. It is amazing how different a shuffle beat can be—think for
instance Jimmy Reed, Magic Slim and Albert Collins. They all play shuffle
most of the time, but they sound so different from one another. There
are myriads of variations on the shuffle, both rhythmic and harmonic,
and Say No More is one of our interpretations. We added a couple of
chord changes on the turnaround, and a progression that leads to the
Sweet And Skanky
It is a R’n’R tune, but more in the style of 1960’s
Freddie King, rather than Bill Haley… from the title (thank you
Lynne and Andrew for suggesting that!) to the groove. It goes without
saying that I am a huge Freddie King fan. I’ve
been lucky to hear a lot of great Freddie stories from Finis Tasby, who
was his bass player in Dallas. And in 2008 I had a chance to meet Andrew “Jr.
Boy” Jones, who was also in the band in Texas. He has a Gibson
Les Paul that Freddie King used to play regularly. When Andrew handed
that guitar to me for a jam session, I was ecstatic—even more so
because Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was on the drums, and Dave
Maxwell on the piano. Sometimes life is just great!
Last Night In Atlanta
This is probably my favorite tune on the CD. Not a blues tune per se,
but I think it is very soulful. It starts like a ballad and has a short
Memphis-soul-style bridge at some point. From about half way through
the song, to the ending, we go into an extended guitar solo. The way
the solo builds, while the song is vamping out, might recall the treatment
that Derek Trucks would give to a tune like this—I am obviously
talking about the arrangement, the dynamics and the overall intention,
rather than the guitar sound and the solo itself. I’ve had the
chord progression in the back of my mind for at least fifteen years,
but it was only after Pietro put his magic on the keys that I realized
that we had a good song. His intro is outstanding. The title is related
to something that happened to me in Atlanta, but once the song was
recorded I thought it would have been nice to dedicate it to Sean Costello,
a phenomenal blues guitarist, and a friend, who passed away prematurely
in a Atlanta hotel room. I met Sean when he was fourteen, and he was
already a guitarist beyond compare. What a loss.
Well, the title says it all! It’s a rocking tune which we made
up on the spot in the studio, first and only take, and it is inspired
by the wild guitar that Hubert Sumlin would play on something like this.
The first chord change comes after 4 minutes or so, we were thinking
about re-cutting the tune and doing a shorter version, but it would have
never sounded as genuine as the first take. So we just left it like that.
As a matter of fact, it was a complete impromptu: I just started to play
the guitar riff, and the guys came in just right—particularly Simone
with that bass line from outerspace. It’s great when something
magic happens in the studio while the tape is rolling—and it’s
impossible to recreate that feeling with subsequent takes.
This is a tune with a funk vein, named after the “Casa Babylon” club
in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, which is one of my favorite places in the
whole world where to play music. The club is across the street from the
beach, and to begin with it is just amazing to be playing right in front
of the Pacific Ocean. On top of that, the nights with live music at the
Babylon are always wild. You’ll see people dancing on the tables,
people dancing on the floor, people dancing on the sidewalk, people dancing
on the street and people dancing on the beach. It’s fantastic.
Sometimes people who had a couple too many tequilas try to dance on the
ocean, but they soon realize it doesn’t work out. I often do this
tune live. It is loosely based on Billy Preston’s “Will
It Go Around In Circles” and on the version that Larry Johnson
used to do of that song. Speaking of which, the club in Mexico got its
name from a Manu Chao record entitled “Casa Babylon”. Now
the name has gone back to a CD…things do go in circles!
Blues For Larry Johnson
I used to go to the blues jam hosted by Larry Johnson in Santa Monica,
CA, every Monday night. I did it for years, and I would always go home
spellbound. In fact, Larry was one of the best guitarists ever in America. He
spent many years touring the chitlins circuit with ZZ Hill,
Joe Tex and many more (he is not to be mistaken with the great Larry
Johnson from New York, who plays acoustic Blues) , and he could
play anything from Lightnin' Hopkins to George Benson, with so much
feel... Some nights people like Chaka Khan would show up at the jam,
and Larry would know any song that she would call. He was that
good. Larry didn’t care much about touring, so he never garnered
the country and world-wide recognition he deserved. Yet he was a legend
in Los Angeles and in his native Oklahoma. Legions of guitarists would
go to his blues jam, it was a free guitar lesson of the highest caliber!
Larry would often play a smoking slow blues and hand the guitar over
to me right in the middle of the song, and that was the start of the
jam...it was scary to play after him, but he knew and I knew that there
was no other way for me to learn. That’s the old-school way of
teaching a young guy how to play, and I will never forget Larry’s
encouragement. Larry passed away a few years ago, ironically on the same
week that I bought my first mini-disc recorded. I went to the jam with
the new device, happy that I could finally put his music on tape, and
when I arrived I was told of his sudden death. It was devastating, and
it still bothers me that I don’t have any recordings of his guitar
playing. But his memory lives on, and this slow blues is a heartfelt
tribute to Larry and to the many unsung heroes who from the sidelines
have made the history of Blues music.
When I talk about Kenny Burrell, I am partial. I have all of his records,
and I think he is one of the most soulful musicians in jazz history.
He is the only guitarist who has ever played with Duke Ellington, and
the only guitarist who has ever recorded with John Coltrane. Incidentally,
he is B.B. King’s favorite guitarist, if that says anything.
I had the fabulous opportunity to study with him at UCLA. It was absolutely
incredible to learn about jazz music from someone who was there and invented it.
Midnight Blue is one of his great tunes, which surprisingly doesn’t
get covered very often. I guess jazz musicians think it’s too bluesy,
while blues musicians think it’s too jazzy. One of those things.
We covered it on “Mojo Zone” mostly because it is one of
my favorite tunes to play and to listen to. The original version is quite
different, it is more up-tempo, while we tried to turn it into something
with a late night mood. Nonetheless, Pietro’s organ comes in heavy,
and that’s great! His solo is mesmerizing, it sounds like a cross
between Dr. Lonnie Smith and Larry Young, but it’s neither of them.
It’s just Pietro at his best.
This is another of my favorite tunes from one of my guitar heroes. I’ve
always acknowledged that it is very hard to make this type of tunes sound
bluesy rather than cheesy, and in this case I am very happy with the
result. We managed to make the tune sound more Earl Hooker than mariachi—that’s
good for a blues record! Especially courtesy of our drummer Silvio, who
handles the transition from rumba to shuffle and back in a way that is
very “ghetto”, so to speak…he plays like Odie Payne
would have played. Guitar Rumba is one of the less known Earl Hooker
tunes, and as far as I know very few people have covered it on their
recordings (most notably Sue Foley and Dave Alvin), so that’s a
plus for me—I
like tunes that are somewhat obscure.
Come On In This House
This is our version of the Mel London classic, which I always loved.
It is one of my favorite songs in the Chicago Blues repertoire. The
versions by Junior Wells, Byther Smith and Magic Sam are all outstanding—check
them out! We played this tune a lot like Ronnie Earl’s “Blues
For The West Side”, and this is in fact intended to be a tribute
to the great Ronnie. However, I tried to stay close to the original
by recreating, with the guitar alone, that great effect of “call
and response” that in the original version happens between the
voice and the guitar.
It’s named after the Cape Flats township of Cape Town, in South
Africa, which I had a chance to visit some time ago. Although decades
of apartheid have condemned most South African townships to poverty and
social misfortune, the people there are some of the most beautiful and
welcoming I’ve met in my whole life. And I should mention that
South African music, with its combination of relentless groove and genre
contamination, is one of the world’s most soulful and inspired
types of music. Blues, jazz, funk, soul, gospel are all mixed with African
traditional music, and the brew is explosive. If you have a chance, read
Gwen Ansell’s book “Soweto Blues” for a great historical
analysis of the evolution of jazz music in the townships. You’ll
find some amazing parallels with American Blues. If music is hot at night
in Cape Flats, during the day I love the slow, lazy atmosphere. So the
title was just right for this relaxed slow blues, that showcases some
great piano playing by Pietro.
I recorded this one using a double-neck baritone Danelectro guitar, through
a Leslie rotating speaker. The guitar is tuned to B and has a ferocious
tone (it has a low B as the lowest string, and a longer neck than a
regular guitar, so it’s half way between a bass and a guitar),
and the Leslie gives it a crazy sound. It’s something Jimmie
Vaughan experimented with in the early days, and the result is so powerful
that—given that Danelectros are nicknamed “Dano”—I
thought that Dano-Mite would make a good title. I love to take the
Danelectro on the road, but too often I can’t—the
flight case is as big as an aircraft carrier!
– Enrico Crivellaro
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