In Honor of B.B. King’s 90th Birthday: Live at The Regal

By Ernest Barteldes

On what would have been the late B.B. King’s 90th birthday, I tuned into Brazilian radio station Educadora FM (from Salvador, Bahia), which was doing a special broadcast in honor of  King, who passed away last May at the age of 89.

The record that the station chose to mark the date was Live at The Regal, an album recorded in Chicago in November 1964 and released the following year and became not only one of King’s most revered discs but also one of the most influential blues albums ever, cited by guitarists such as Eric Clapton and John Mayer, to name a few.

I was only able to hear part of the broadcast (I was on the Staten Island Ferry, which has a spotty WI-FI at times), but was immediately intrigued by it. I had certainly heard it before, but somehow it was not part of my personal collection – which I remedied as soon as I got a chance.

What we hear on Live at the Regal is B.B. King at top form playing songs that have since become classics. After a brief introduction, the album kicks off with “Every Day I Have the Blues” and going right into “Sweet Little Angel.”  The band behind him (rounded out by Leo Lauchie on bass,  Duke Jethro on piano,  Sonny Freeman on drums plus Bobby Forte and Johnny Board  on tenor saxophone) is sharp as ever, giving him the perfect backdrop for his unmistakable playing style. Songs like “Please Love Me”  and “Woke Up This Morning” have a fiery quality to them, and tunes like “How Blue Can You Get?”  have great response from the audience.

This was King’s first live album, which introduced him to larger audiences – he was already called “King of The Blues” back then, but the legend would grow as young folks discovered American blues across the pond via the likes of The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones, who revered American blues even as many white Americans mostly ignored the genre.

The only thing that bothered me a bit was the sound editing – the ending of “Worry, Worry” is cut abruptly to give way to “Woke up This Morning,”  and the second introduction (which I assume to be the beginning of side B on the vinyl edition) jumps into “You Upset Me Baby”  – you can almost hear the click on the tape recorder.

I am hoping someone finds the source tapes to this recording (not at the Regal – the theater was demolished in 1973) and do a real nice remaster of this album – it certainly deserves it

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Concert Review: Dr. John & the Night Trippers at Central Park Summerstage

By Ernest Barteldes

Dr. John at Summerstage

Dr. John at Summerstage

Dr. John & The Night Trippers

Central Park Summerstage

August 1, 2015

New York, NY

It was a hot Saturday afternoon when Renata and I headed to Rumsey Playfield – I was excited about New Orleans legend Dr. John’s appearance there – I had really enjoyed Ske-Dat-De-Dat The Spirit Of Satch (Concord), his recent tribute to Louis Armstrong released late last year, and was looking forward to hearing the music played live. We arrived a bit too late to catch much of Amy Helm‘s (the daughter of the late Levon Helm) folksy set, but enjoyed the last few songs as we settled on our seats.

The Night Trippers  started out with a funk-inflected melody  – the four-piece ensemble directed by  his backup singer and trombonist Sarah Morrow, an energetic woman who asked the audience if “anyone needed a doctor.” Seconds later, Dr. John emerged on stage and walked to the piano (assisted by a cane) for a spirited rendition of “Iko Iko,”  one of the staples of his live sets. He kept the energy level high, pounding the piano with gusto and sometimes semi-rapping through the lyrics.

There was a lot of improvisation throughout the set – Morrow played extended solos, and Dr. John also exercised his great piano skills, stretching some numbers to as much as 10 minutes. He did not really delve into the music from the Armstrong tribute, but did include “What a Wonderful World”  and “Mack the Knife” played closely to the arrangement on the disc.

Sarah Morrow, Musical Director for Dr. John

Sarah Morrow, Musical Director for Dr. John

The only part of the set I didn’t really enjoy was when he picked up the guitar – his playing was a bit slow and lacked energy  (probably owing to the damage he sustained after a gun accident in the 60s) – but when he returned to the keys for numbers like “Good Night Irene”  you could virtually see sparks fly. Most of those in attendance were clearly longtime fans who sang along to many of the tunes (I was not familiar with many of them).

Dr. John is known for playing longer sets, and he did not disappoint – by the time he got to the closer “Such a Night,”  almost two hours had passed. It was not easy to be under the sun for such a long time, but it was definitely worth it to catch such a legend on a live format.

Soul Rebels and Lettuce at Central Park Summerstage

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By Ernest Barteldes

Soul Rebels + Lettuce

Central Park Summerstage

Saturday, June 13, 2015

New York, NY

I had assumed the New Orleans ensemble would be closing this afternoon of music at Rumsey Playfield, so I ended up coming a bit late (due to significant subway delays) but was fortunate to have caught the final half of their set, in which they played their brass-heavy music with great ease and fluidity.

Among the highlights of what I was able to hear was an extended, creatively enhanced take on James Brown’s “Get on Up” that included several solos, and closing with Bruno Mars’ “Don’t Believe Me Just Watch” with a stronger blues-tinged feel.

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After a very brief break, Brooklyn-based Lettuce came on stage, kicking off their set with a very funky edge – focus was on the Hammond B-3 and guitars and their fantastic rhythm section with a strong funk-derived sound. At the same time, they stretched some of the tunes into extended jams that sometimes got tired, especially after having been exposed a more organic, soul-driven New Orleans sound.

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One of the highlights of their set, in fact, was when they invited The Soul Rebels to join them. It was then that the big, fat sound the marching band style band joined with the more electric Lettuce merged to get a new life – that allowed both bands to improvise freely and exchange smart riffs from a chemistry developed by touring together.

As the guests left the stage, it really felt like a bit of a lull – Lettuce never again picked up the same energy, and the music seemed to go into a more experimental direction that never really caught fire for me.  They are highly accomplished musicians but their sound just lost something to me – I hope to see them again in different circumstances to change my opinion.

Interview: Catching Up With Laura Cheadle

by Ernest Barteldes

Over the past few years I have seen Laura Cheadle and her Family Band about four times, but I rarely had an opportunity to write anything about her save a short profile that came out in the City Arts back in 2011 (it was a series of short pieces on up-and-coming new voices in jazz and blues – you can check it out here http://cityarts.info/2011/05/03/laura-cheadle).

Four years on, she has continued her pursuit as an independent artist – she partly relocated from Philadelphia to New York and has appeared in various locales here since then. She has not abandoned her hometown completely, as she explains in this e-mail interview conducted during the last week of February.

Cheadle has a great funk and blues-inspired sound. Backed by a band mostly formed by her family members under the direction of her father, keyboardist James Cheadle, she belts out original tunes with a very personal feel. The musicians are very tight – they have been performing together for many years, and there doesn’t seem to be any ego battles there – they seem extremely happy to be doing this together.

You moved from Philly to NYC – what made you make that decision?

I am actually in Philly half the week and NYC the other half so I get the best of both worlds and cities 🙂 I’ll always be a Philly girl but the allure of New York City is so seducing to my soul. The magic is incredible. I am also meeting so many amazing musicians and opportunities here. I love both cities in different ways.

Your “Family Band” – how did that come together? And how do you keep everyone’s egos in check since you are the front woman?

It’s just been completely natural for us. I literally was four years old when I began singing with my family. We are unbelievably close and it just feels natural. I know most people would think that we have egos with each other, but we don’t. Performing together is the same as eating dinner together.. It’s natural and pure.

Your father has long experience as a musician and arranger. How does his experience play in your music?

 This plays a large part in my music! My dad is an incredible musician and not only performs with me and plays on my recordings, but he also records me in his professional studio and produces my albums. On some of my songs, he is playing every instrument. I am extremely lucky to have him. He has taught me since a young age about the details that go into making real music.

Ever since I was a baby my Dad has been playing and recording music around me. He used to take me to his studio and work with me right there in my toddler chair. I remember The Soul Survivors rehearsing in our basement when I was little and so many great musicians have passed through our houses through the years. My Dad always had a recording studio in or near the house and my brothers and I were always encouraged to participate in whatever capacity my Dad would want us to. I sang on many of his tracks and got to see him work and so understood the whole arranging/recording process firsthand.

You have a new album – how is it dealing as an independent musician with the dramatic changes in the music industry? Do you think the current formats – Spotify, iTunes and Rhapsody, for instance – are doing a service or a disservice?

It definitely is hard, especially when people listen to you for free. However, for people to learn about you, they must listen to you. A positive side for me is that a lot of people come to my shows and still buy CDs in person . My band has always been a band where people come and dance and I’m very thankful that people continue to come and support our music.

Don’t you think they represent music today the way that, say, radio did in the past? After all, folks don’t pay to listen to the radio…

 Yes but many people stream Spotify all day and do not ever feel the need to buy iTunes . It doesn’t bother me as my fan base still buys CDs. I also have nothing  against Spotify or any of the latest technology . I’m an old soul, born in the wrong generation. I am now buying records 🙂 sounds the best

What are your main influences as a songwriter, and principally as a singer?

As a songwriter, I have always idolized James Taylor. I feel like he writes in a way that makes you nostalgic for an experience that you have never had. Stevie Wonder vocally has always been the ultimate inspiration. He sill can sing better than ever .

New York seems to be becoming less and less welcoming to indie artists – so many venues have closed, and club owners refuse to take responsibility for their own clubs – how do you deal with that?

I have actually felt the opposite of this. Since being up here often, I have joined local groups of songwriters and jams that are extremely supportive. The clubs I am playing are also paying very well. I know not all of NYC is like this but there are many communities that support the arts. One of the best parts of NYC is the unknown and how you can meet different artists and learn about hidden gems or venues at any given time.

Check her out at www.lauracheadle.com