Leader Blues

Monday, August 07, 2006

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>Big George Brock still packs a punch

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader publisher

Big George Brock is a 74-year-old former heavyweight boxer who still packs a double punch as a powerful harmonica player and blues singer. His new CD, Round Two (Cat Head Records), follows last year’s successful Club Caravan, which was nominated for a Handy award.

“Round Two” is more of the kind of deep Delta blues Brock has been playing for half a century, although he didn’t make a record until four years ago, when his Front Door Man was released by Tee Ti Records of St. Louis, which Brock now calls home. Mississippi-born Brock is a terrific bluesman who’s almost a reincarnation of Muddy Waters, another Mississippi bluesman who moved up North — in Muddy’s case, all the way to Chicago, and the rest is blues history.

Big George plays many of Muddy’s songs, having heard them while growing up in Grenada and Clarksdale, Miss. He’s a throwback to an earlier era, one of the last of the post-war Delta musicians still belting out the music that influenced generations of rock-and-rollers.

The great Hubert Sumlin, Howlin Wolf’s longtime guitarist, joins Brock on several numbers, making “Round Two” even more satisfying than Big George’s first Cat Head CD. It would have been even better if Sumlin were on the whole CD: Maybe Hubert will play more on their next CD.

The very able Bill Able also plays guitar and Lightnin’ Malcolm’s on drums on “Round Two,” which was produced by Roger Stolle, a St. Louis transplant who runs a record store in Clarksdale and started his record label for his idol Big George, much like Bruce Iglauer, who started Alligator Records almost 35 years ago for his hero Hound Dog Taylor. Iglauer has made millons, and maybe Stolle and Big George will, too.

If you haven’t seen Brock play live, you can catch him at the Delta Cultural Center in downtown Helena at 12:15 p.m. Friday, when he’ll appear on KFFA’s “King Biscuit Time” blues show with Sunshine Sonny Payne.

Brock will perform the following evening at the Sunflower Blues Festival in Clarksdale, Miss. He’s still the heavyweight champion.

Another musician still in the Delta mold (and also a Grenada native like Brock) is Magic Slim, who has a new CD from Delmark called That Ain’t Right with the Teardrops. Actually it’s an old record that was made in the late 1970s and had a limited release at the time.

Made under the supervision of Ralph Bass, formerly of Chess, “That Ain’t Right” is part of a series of records that Bass produced and which Delmark has reissued over the past couple of years.

The series was made on a shoestring budget, which may explain why many of them aren’t very long. But the Magic Slim CD, which is one of his best, is coupled with Joe Carter, a Southside Chicago singer who’s no longer alive. But he was an impressive performer who was seldom recorded.

The drummer Fred Below does a credible version of “Route 66,” sounding like Nat King Cole testing his vocal chords.
This is historic Chicago blues made just before many of the great bluesmen passed away, including Sunnyland Slim, whose CD Smile on My Face with the great Lacy Gibson is also part of the Ralph Bass series.

Gibson’s Crying for My Baby with Sunnyland Slim is also part of the Bass series. Gibson, born in North Carolina, may be the only one in the series who wasn’t from Mississippi.

Wonderful stuff, and what’s even more wonderful is that many of the artists are still alive and performing. Magic Slim is still going strong (we caught him at King Biscuit a couple of years ago), and so is Eddie Clear-water, whose Boogie My Blues Away is also part of the series. He played in Little Rock about five years ago and put on a great show.

It’s great to hear a young Clearwater in terrific form — he was probably close to 40 when he made “Boogie My Blues Away” — belting out Chuck Berry-influenced blues. (Although Berry will admit that Louis Jordan of Brinkley was his main influence.)
Our favorite in the series is Jimmy Johnson’s Pepper’s Hang-out with the great Eddie Taylor. It’s less than 30 minutes long, but it’s superb blues.

Johnson, who’s now in his late 70s, is a fine guitar player with a gentle voice that’s as haunting as J.B. Lenoir’s high-register singing.

Also check out Johnson’s previous Delmark records, “Johnson’s Wacks” and “North/South,” as well as “Barroom Preacher” from Alligator and “I’m a Jockey” from Dreyfus.

Jimmy Johnson may be the greatest unheralded blues musician alive.

Anyway, there’s enough music here to listen to between blues festivals.