Magic Sam • Live at the Avant Garde 1968

Magic Sam

MAGIC SAM

Live at the Avant Garde

Delmark Records, 2013

The new Magic Sam album is outrageously great. I would say the same about virtually any other Sam Maghett recording–he never made a bad one, and that includes not only his studio work but the four live albums already available (five if one counts the solo house party set Give Me Time), which seem to have been taped almost by chance. Live at the Avant Garde is different in that it was recorded, at a Milwaukee appearance in 1968, to the highest standard of an amateur engineer. Though I had heard at least one of the earlier live shows in private circulation before it received its official (or semi-official) release, the existence of the Avant Garde tape came as a total surprise. Mindful of the adage about gift horses, I don’t question why it has become available after remaining a secret for so long. I am merely grateful, and deeply.

Unlike the other known live recordings of Sam, Avant Garde’s sound is clear and present, and the mix is fine (the set’s engineer and producer Jim Charne details the recording’s technical aspects in his liner notes). Sam’s voice and guitar are out front and crystal-clear, and Bob Richey’s drums are crisp as one could wish. Another reviewer has stated that Mojo Elem’s electric bass is inaudible. Not so. On my copy, it’s plenty loud enough for any blues band, provided that your taste has not been formed by rock soundmen, club DJs, or certain latter-day “blues” CD mixes. I’d also observe that Elem’s no-frills approach makes a better foundation for Sam than Bruce Barlow’s busy playing on Live 1969 • Raw Blues and the Ann Arbor sides.

Sam himself is in top form. His was one of the most intense and identifiable voices in the blues, with a resonant, declamatory style marked by an unusual reliance on tremolo (volume variation) rather than vibrato (pitch variation). In this show he sounds totally at ease, but with no diminution of his power. He is masterful. His guitar work? Hold on, baby! A red Epiphone Riviera into a Fender Twin Reverb (as shown in the cover photo, taken at the gig) yields beautiful tone, and the singular drive and depth that mark every note Sam ever committed to tape are all vividly present. A couple of hesitations and a slip of the fingers here and there are, I think, the only (barely noticeable) imperfections in an otherwise confident, peak form demonstration of Sam’s patented rhythm-to-lead playing. His creativity and energy are boundless; even the songs that appear in multiple versions across the live albums are packed with excitement and fresh ideas.

The playlist, pretty typical of Sam’s live recordings, contains a variety of material intended to entertain. Sam’s ‘50s classics, those sinuous, minor-flavored, tremolo-laden sides that defined the West Side style for all time, are represented by “Bad Luck Blues” (originally “Out Of Bad Luck”), with Lowell Fulson’s “It’s All Your Fault Baby” and Jimmy McCracklin’s “Every Night, Every Day” performed in the same framework as a bonus. The innovative output of his two albums for Delmark is present in “That’s All I Need,” which retains its lilting, Sam Cooke flavor even at an accelerated tempo, and by the driving boogaloo “You Belong To Me.” Over the remainder of the 16 tracks, Sam interprets the work of heroes Bobby Bland (a live-wire “Don’t Want No Woman”), Muddy Waters (“Still A Fool”–harrowing–and “Hoochie Coochie Man”), Jimmy Rogers (“That’s All Right”), and B.B. King (a brilliant “Hully Gully Twist” and a loose “I Need You So Bad”), and contemporaries Freddy King (“San-Ho-Zay”), Junior Wells (a liquid “Come On In This House”), and Otis Rush, whose “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” is a rare and special treat. Junior Parker’s Memphis stomp “Feelin’ Good” is here, as is the instrumental it inspired, Sam’s incredible, show-stopping boogie “Lookin’ Good.”

Although Sam offers some good-natured patter and gives shout-outs to the taper and the club owners, the well-lubricated camaraderie, self-promotion, and enthusiastic banter heard in the home turf Alex Club shows are subdued by comparison in the coffee house environment. But the musical aspects of the performance are unaffected. I have eagerly, and repeatedly, listened to everything that has come out on Magic Sam, regardless of its audio fidelity, and Sam has never let me down: He always brought it. Sam died too young and not often enough recorded. Improbably, given its late release, Live at the Avant Garde is all cream; nothing about it asks the listener to settle for anything less than the best. And Magic Sam was the best. His unsurpassed charisma and talent continue to thrill, 45 years later. Live at the Avant Garde is a dream come true for fans of electric blues in general and Magic Sam in particular.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this album from bluebeatmusic.com and received this review copy from the label.

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2014 Blues Music Awards Nominees

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The Blues Foundation has announced the nominations for the 35th Blues Music Awards. Blues Foundation members elect the Blues Music Awards winners, so join and vote! The Awards will be presented in Memphis, Tennessee on Thursday, May 8, 2014. Purchase BMA tickets and learn more about the Blues Foundation at blues.org.

The complete list of 35th Blues Music Award nominees:

Acoustic Album
There’s a Time – Doug MacLeod
Juba Dance – Guy Davis featuring Fabrizio Poggi
Soulscape – Harrison Kennedy
Avalon – Rory Block
Unleashed – The Hound Kings

Acoustic Artist
Doug MacLeod
Guy Davis
Harrison Kennedy
Little G Weevil
Rory Block

Album
Get Up! – Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite
Remembering Little Walter – Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia & James Harman
Rhythm & Blues – Buddy Guy
Cotton Mouth Man – James Cotton
Blues in My Soul – Lurrie Bell

B.B. King Entertainer
Bobby Rush
Buddy Guy
John Németh
Kim Wilson
Rick Estrin

Band
Lil Ed & the Blues Imperials
Rick Estrin & the Night Cats
Tedeschi Trucks Band
The Mannish Boys
Trampled Under Foot

Best New Artist Debut
Double Crossing Blues – Adrianna Marie and Her Groovecutters
Rooster – Clay Swafford
Proof of Love – Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ Band
What’s the Chance… – Paul Gabriel
Daddy Told Me – Shawn Holt & the Teardrops
Pushin’ Against a Stone – Valerie June

Contemporary Blues Album
Get Up! – Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite
This Time Another Year – Brandon Santini
Rhythm & Blues – Buddy Guy
Magic Honey – Cyril Neville
Badlands – Trampled Under Foot

Contemporary Blues Female Artist
Ana Popovic
Beth Hart
Bettye LaVette
Candye Kane
Susan Tedeschi

Contemporary Blues Male Artist
Buddy Guy
Gary Clark, Jr.
Johnny Sansone
Kim Wilson
Otis Taylor

DVD
High John Records – Time Brings About a Change (Floyd Dixon)
J&R Adventures – An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House (Joe Bonamassa)
Shake-It-Sugar Records – Live (Murali Coryell)
Ruf Records – Songs from the Road (Royal Southern Brotherhood)
Blue Star Connection – Live at Knuckleheads (The Healers)

Historical
The Sun Blues Box (Various Artists) – Bear Family
The Original Honeydripper (Roosevelt Sykes) – Blind Pig Records
The Jewel/Paula Blues Story (Various Artists) – Fuel Records
Death Might Be Your Santa Claus (Various Artists) – Legacy Recordings
The Complete King/Federal Singles (Freddie King) – Real Gone Music

Instrumentalist-Bass
Bill Stuve
Bob Stroger
Danielle Schnebelen
Larry Taylor
Patrick Rynn

Instrumentalist-Drums
Cedric Burnside
Jimi Bott
Kenny Smith
Tom Hambridge
Tony Braunagel

Instrumentalist-Guitar
Anson Funderburgh
Gary Clark, Jr.
Kid Andersen
Lurrie Bell
Ronnie Earl

Instrumentalist-Harmonica
Brandon Santini
Charlie Musselwhite
James Cotton
Kim Wilson
Rick Estrin

Instrumentalist-Horn
Big James Montgomery
Eddie Shaw
Jimmy Carpenter
Sax Gordon
Terry Hanck

Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female)
Diunna Greenleaf
Lavelle White
Teeny Tucker
Trudy Lynn
Zora Young

Rock Blues Album
Gone to Texas – Mike Zito & the Wheel
Made Up Mind – Tedeschi Trucks Band
Can’t Get Enough – The Rides
John the Conquer Root – Toronzo Cannon
Luther’s Blues – Walter Trout

Pinetop Perkins Piano Player
Barrelhouse Chuck
Dave Keyes
Marcia Ball
Mike Finnigan
Victor Wainwright

Song
“Blues in My Soul” – Lurrie Bell
“He Was There” – James Cotton, Tom Hambridge & Richard Fleming
“That’s When the Blues Begins” – James Goode
“The Entitled Few” – Doug MacLeod
“The Night the Pie Factory Burned Down” – Johnny Sansone

Soul Blues Album
Down In Louisiana – Bobby Rush
Soul Changes – Dave Keller
Soul for Your Blues – Frank Bey & Anthony Paule Band
Remembering O. V. – Johnny Rawls
Truth Is (Putting Love Back Into the Music) – Otis Clay

Soul Blues Female Artist
Barbara Carr
Denise LaSalle
Dorothy Moore
Irma Thomas
Sista Monica

Soul Blues Male Artist
Bobby Rush
Frank Bey
John Nemeth
Johnny Rawls
Otis Clay

Traditional Blues Album
Driftin’ from Town to Town – Barrelhouse Chuck & Kim Wilson’s Blues All-Stars
Remembering Little Walter – Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia, James Harman
Cotton Mouth Man – James Cotton
Blues in My Soul – Lurrie Bell
Black Toppin’ – The Cash Box Kings

Traditional Blues Male Artist
Anson Funderburgh
Billy Boy Arnold
James Cotton
John Primer
Lurrie Bell