BLUE NOTES By Buddy Blue
This week: more mind-blowing CDs by obscure old-time musicians you've never heard of who've been dead for decades. Yessssss!
NICK LUCAS, "Tip-Toe Thru The Tulips" (Living Era) Lucas, an unjustly forgotten figure, was one of the first jazz guitar virtuosos and a performer of great popularity and influence, but his masterful, easy-swinging musicianship took a back seat to his oddball, quavering falsetto vocals - the man who introduced the title track to the world was, after all, the model for Tiny Tim, as the ukulele-strumming eccentric was quick to acknowledge. This generous selection of Lucas' early sides also includes such contemporary standards as "Over The Rainbow," "My Blue Heaven," "All Of Me," "Singin' In The Rain," "Side By Side" and "Bye-Bye Blackbird," some in the company of quaint orchestral accompaniment, others (more rewardingly) featuring just Lucas' deceptively complex guitar work; really a little orchestra unto itself. It's unfortunate that Lucas only laid down one instrumental record in his career - "Pickin' The Guitar" b/w "Tickling The Frets," and only the A-side is included here, but that single performance will come as a revelation to guitar aficionados and jazz historians alike.
THE HOKUM BOYS, "Complete Recorded Works: June to December 1929" (Document) Hokum blues - a bawdy, fun-loving, jass-and-vaudeville-steeped blues offshoot -- was a brief craze in the late-'20s/early-'30s, and The Hokum Boys perhaps best personified the genre, although such performers as Lonnie Johnson & Victoria Spivey, Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon and Butterbeans & Susie were among the other essential Hokum entertainers of the day. A loose aggregate of musicians (to put it mildly), the Boys at times featured such early blues stars as Tampa Red, Georgia Tom Dorsey, Blind Blake, Alex Hill and Bob Robinson; a later group calling itself "The Famous Hokum Boys" featured an entirely different line- up. It all gets so confusing that this collection employs the word "probably" as a qualifier several times in the personnel listing, but no matter -- the music is uniformly blissful and superbly executed, hallmarked by giddy harmony vocals, rag-and-stride piano lines and playful guitar runs, all meshing together in service of reliably raunchy sex-and booze-obsessed material (Hokum was, after all, a Prohibition-era phenomenon). Of the several Hokum Boys collections available, this is the one to pick up, featuring great tunes like "Let Me Pat That Thing," "Caught Him Doing It," "You Can't Get Enough Of That Stuff" and "It Went To His Head."
CHARLIE POOLE, "With the North Carolina Ramblers and the Highlanders" (JSP) Banjo-pickin,' nasal-croonin' Poole is a central figure in the embryonic journey of country and mountain music, and his hillbilly string bands set the paradigm for excellence in the '20s. Poole's bluesy "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" has become standard fare among discerning roots musicians from Flatt & Scruggs to the Flying Burrito Brothers to Dave Alvin, and other, lesser-known tunes are equally delightful: "Flop- Eared Mule" features scorching ensemble musicianship which serves as a template for modern bluegrass; "Hungry Hash House," is a riotous account of a flea-ridden boarding house where "the butter had red hair" and "the baby had it's feet all in the soup;" "Goodbye Booze" is a heartrending alcoholic's lament lent true-life tragedy by the fact that Poole drank himself to death at age 39, as his popularity was in decline. Although several single-disc Poole collections are available, I recommend this comprehensive boxed set - nearly 100 tunes for around 30 bucks - as Poole never produced anything less than essential music.
SIX JUMPING JACKS, "Six Jumping Jacks, Vol. 1" (Old Masters) The Jacks were among the seemingly infinite number of bands led by '20s banjo genius Harry Reiser, and
certainly the most fun of the lot. Preposterous cornball humor was the group's stock in trade, as song titles like "You Can't Land 'Er On The Old Veranda," "When You Dunk A Donut, Don't It Make It Nice," "Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick, Chicken (Lay a Little Egg for Me)" and "Masculine Women! Feminine Men!" readily disclose, but don't be deterred by the antiquated n'yuk n'yuks, as Resier's horn-driven Jumping Jacks performed red-hot dance music with burning chops and enthusiasm as fine and more as any "serious" ensemble of the day. Fans of Betty Boop and other early black & white cartoon soundtracks will glean particular delight from the irresistibly swinging, toe-tapping madness parlayed by the Jacks, as will devotees of Spike Jones & his City Slickers, who took Reiser & company's pioneering blend of unbridled silliness combined with stellar musicianship to the top of the charts during the World War II years.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> IMPORTANT NOTICE: I just got the word that the Anson & The Rockets show has been cancelled because Sam Myers has taken ill. Hope its nothing serious and that Sam makes a full recovery! -BB
By Buddy Blue Anson Funderburgh personifies "journeyman blues artist" in the best possible sense of the term. At
age 50, he's been a professional musician for more than half his life, and while he may not possess the flash or Q factor of some bigger-name bluesers, he's a reliably solid and passionate performer, content to tear it up and sweat blood all over a stage, then take his act to the next club or festival to do it all over again the following night, 300-plus dates per year.
Funderburgh's blazing guitar style is the product of his central Texas upbringing. In his licks, one hears the influence of such celebrated Lone Star pickers as Freddy King, Albert Collins and Otis Rush. And where else but Texas would a grade school kid spend his spare time sitting around listening to vintage blues 45s?
"There were always little toy guitars around the house when I was a kid," Funderburgh recalls. "My mother has a picture of me from 1957 with a little Roy Rogers guitar. But when she bought my first real guitar for me, the lady she bought it from also gave me a stack of singles. In those singles were Freddy King's 'Hideaway,' Albert Collins' 'Sno-Cone,' there was Bill Doggett stuff, Ray Charles, Jimmy Reed. When I heard 'em, I said, 'THIS is the stuff!' I really loved it."
Funderburgh was an earnest fan and student of the blues from the time he was 10 years old, illustrated today by his slicing tone, innate good taste and encyclopedic knowledge of electric blues guitar styles. His devotion to the music remains readily, amusingly apparent when Funderburgh reminisces on his early heroes; Anson kicks himself in the pants if he forgets to mention a mentor, as if he'd somehow insulted their memory.
"I like Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Magic Sam - I like all those Texas guys," he says. "Albert Collins, Freddy King, Lightnin' Hopkins. T-Bone Walker! How can you forget him?! I like jazz stuff like Kenny Burrell and Billy Butler, who played with Bill Doggett. Oh! How could I leave out Robert Junior Lockwood? Louis and David Myers. Luther Tucker. I'm just a big fan of all of them. Hopefully, I've created my own little sound, but I've sure listened to everyone. I loved it back then and I still love it just as much today."
Funderburgh was already a fixture on the Dallas nightclub scene at the ripe old age of 16. In the '70s, he released a few solo singles and recorded with a group called the Bee's Knees before starting up Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets. He signed with New Orleans-based Black Top Records in 1979 and stayed with the label through 1997, until moving to the Bullseye Blues label a few years ago.
In 1982, Funderburgh met a kindred spirit in the booming-toned singer/harpist (and sometimes drummer) Sam Myers, who'd recorded with the legendary Elmore James and released a few solo singles in the early '60s. The duo cut an album together in 1984; Myers wound up joining the Rockets as frontman in 1986, forging a partnership that's lasted to the present day.
"It just seemed like it made sense for both of us," says Funderburgh. "He was kind of in between work and I needed a singer and harmonica player, so I called him up and asked if he wanted to move to Dallas and start working together. We've been together ever since. Sam brings authenticity to the band. He's the real deal and he has a wonderful voice."
Another Rocket who once passed through the crew was a scruffy-looking bassist with a wicked sense of humor named Mike Judge. After leaving the Rockets to pursue a career in animation, Judge became a huge success with "Beevis & Butthead" and "King Of The Hill." Funderburgh never envisioned Judge's work becoming a national sensation, "and if you asked him, he'd probably say the same thing," he chuckles. "Mike's success is absolutely phenomenal, and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. He was a great musician and a very funny guy to have in the band."
More recently, Funderburgh and Myers were accorded some over-due recognition in the form of a 2004 W.C. Handy Award. If that and a dime won't buy even a fraction of a venti soy latte, the Texan wastes no time pining over the fates - although he wouldn't complain if his career somehow got a little jolt in the
keister. "If I said I didn't have dreams, I'd be telling you a story," he says. "I think my biggest dream would be
to make as many people aware of this music as possible, to give more people the opportunity to hear what Sam and this band does. I enjoy what I do and it's important to me."
Anson Funderburgh and The Rockets with Sam Meyers, March 11 at Humphrey's Backstage Lounge, 2241 Shelter Island Drive, $15, 9:30 p.m., 224-3577.