Rob Tognoni – “Baby Please Don’t Go”
“Baby Please Don’t Go” needs little if any introduction. Most every music fan will have his or her favorite version of this oft-covered tune, originally popularized by Delta bluesman Big Joe Williams in 1935. For some, it will be the 1964 single by Them featuring a 19-year-old Van Morrison on vocals. Or the blistering take AC/DC included on their 1975 debut album High Voltage. Blues-minded folk can debate the merits of any number of versions, including those by Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Big Bill Broonzy, John Lee Hooker and Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins. (The latter is the essence of cool on his version.)
For sheer firepower, look no further than Australian bluesrocker Rob Tognoni, who has been performing the song for as long as he can remember. It’s easy to decipher which of the above-mentioned versions of “Baby Please Don’t Go” inspired Tognoni’s razor-sharp, full tilt rendition.
Lonnie Johnson (with Elmer Snowden) – “Memories of You”
One afternoon in May of 2000, Grammy-winning author and record producer Chris Albertson welcomed me into his Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan. Then it was story time.
Chris spoke about discovering jazz as a teenager in Copenhagen in the 1940s and how he bluffed his way into a job for Danish radio. He talked about emigrating to the US in the mid-50s, his days as a DJ in Philadelphia and subsequent producing gig at Riverside Records. At the time of my visit, Chris was revising Bessie, his standard work on blues singer Bessie Smith, so there were plenty of Bessie stories, too. Indeed, it was Bessie’s voice that had originally called him to jazz and provided the spark for a life devoted to music.
But my real reason for wanting to meet Chris Albertson was because his name appears on the sleeve of one of my all-time favorite blues records: Blues & Ballads by Lonnie Johnson with Elmer Snowden.
Adrian Byron Burns – “Massa John”
Singer-songwriter Adrian Byron Burns speaks a variety of musical dialects. Blues, reggae, rock, bluegrass, jazz. A native of Arlington County, Virginia and a current resident of France, he’s been recording since the mid-70s. Burns has been a frequent collaborator of Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman in his Rhythm Kings project and is a respected guitarist and vocalist in his own right.
When I asked him about “Massa John,” a cut from his 1998 UK release Back To The Wood, Burns gave a surprising answer.
“The influence was Disney’s Song of the South, which, while a charming movie, is also extremely delusionary about slavery.”
Gary Clark Jr. – “Star”
Everywhere you go, just know that you’re a star…
I found myself humming this on the way to work today. The perfect vibe for a Monday morning.
Gary Clark Jr. wrote “Star” while he was readying himself for the adventure of parenthood. His first son – eight months old when I spoke to Gary in Berlin two years ago – was about to splash down on Planet Earth and Gary was doing some serious soul searching. “What am I doing with my life? I gotta get my shit together. I gotta really focus and be responsible for another human being.”
Rosco Gordon – “No Dark In America”
No Dark In America, the final album and ultimate musical statement of Rosco Gordon’s career, emerged posthumously in 2004, two years after his passing in the summer of 2002. The title song and centerpiece of the record is an unusually upbeat tune written in the wake of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center in New York. The tune celebrates the human spirit to an infectious, ska-inflected rhythm, exuding joy and a firm belief that any calamity, no matter how great, can be overcome.
“We love the roots, but we’ve chosen to live on a branch of this wonderful tree.”
A Contra Blues – “IDKWTBI”
On “IDKWTBI” – an acronym for “I don’t know what the blues is” – Barcelona’s A Contra Blues takes on the purists. The ones who say the blues is this and the blues sure ain’t that.
“We love blues, but we have never been a ‘blues’ band,” says Jonathan Herrero of his five-piece outfit, unlikely winners of the European Blues Challenge in 2014.
The blues is more than “I woke up this morning.” Or “my baby done left me.”
WIB of the Week (WoW) uncovers the genre’s gems, shining a weekly spotlight on an obscure, overlooked or merely great blues song.
It’s a once-a-week listening party – and the place where artists, producers and songwriters share the stories behind the songs.