WIB Listening Party #47: Don’t Give Up On Me

featuring…

Solomon Burke, Don’t Give Up On Me

🍺 Crew Republic In Your Face West Coast IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Today’s my 57th birthday. I feel moderately OK, calm, at peace. But my mood is not celebratory. Current world events, a black cloud as of late, are not the primary reason. It’s that number. 57. I have a problem with it.

My graying hair, my daily aches and pains, the slight gut that now sags from my scrawny frame – they all tell me that the number fits. It’s gotta be true. But I don’t want to be 57. I’m possessive of my time on this earth. I love life and don’t want to surrender it. I don’t want to count the days.

Turning back the clock is not an idea that appeals to me. My youth wasn’t all that wonderful. I like where these 57 years have taken me. I’m so much stronger in so many ways. If only I could have had the life skills I have now – the confidence bordering on fearlessness – when I was young and bursting with physical energy. I still have the passion and desire, but now it’s packed inside this aging, slowing, declining body.

I know what the solution is, what the goal must be today: To find my way from wishing things could be different to accepting what is. Being in the moment and arriving at a place of gratitude is always the answer.

Or maybe it’s music and beer.

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WIB Listening Party #46: Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down

featuring…

Ry Cooder, Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down

🍺 Maisel & Friends Hopfenreiter #6

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I walked past a brewery today. Not just any brewery, but the one I lived across the street from in the mid-to-late 1990s. Yeah, I’ve been in Cologne a long time. That brewery made Gilden Kölsch, one of the numerous local Kölsch brands, and was a mid-sized operation – not massive enough to be deemed industrial, but big enough that on brewdays, a sweet bready aroma hung in the air throughout the neighborhood.

Not everyone who lived nearby was in love with that smell, but I was. It’s one of my main associations when I think back to my five years at that address and may well have planted the seed for my subsequent fascination with all things beer.

After being swallowed up by a big fish many moons ago, then by an even bigger fish in the bottled beverage industry years later, my old neighborhood brewery shut down last year. Soon it will be flattened and give way to a newfangled office and apartment complex due to be completed in 2030. Lots of that going on in that section of town, which still manages to retain its red brick, 19th century industrial character despite all the new buildings going up.

As I carried on walking along streets I hadn’t visited in years, I felt a little sad and nostalgic. Not about Gilden Kölsch – it was never a favorite – but simply about the passage of time. Saw a poster for an upcoming concert by Joe Jackson. His was the first band I ever saw live in concert as a kid. There’s no other way of saying it – the picture on the poster made Joe look like an old man. I guess he is by now. Which means I’m getting up there, too.

Today, I’ll reflect a little about days gone by as we enjoy a beer and some good music together.   

As Jim Lange used to say: And here they are …

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WIB Listening Party #41: Doctors, Devils & Drugs

featuring…

Floyd Lee Band, Doctors, Devils & Drugs

🍺 Kehrwieder Prototyp

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I was just looking at a Forbes article outlining the development of the American craft beer movement in the ten years between 2008 and 2018. The most striking figure: Whereas in 2008, there were roughly 1,500 brewpubs, micro and regional breweries operating, by 2018 that number had ballooned to over 7000. That same year, craft beer sales accounted for roughly a quarter of the overall beer market in the US.

Contrast that to where the country was thirty years ago, when I first settled in Europe. Back home, Budweiser, Pabst, Miller and Coors ruled the day and people here – perhaps rightly so – looked down their collective noses at the mere mention of American beer. The craft beer revolution had in fact already begun, but quietly. It didn’t make sense, at least not yet, to point out that there were beers being made on American soil and with American ingredients whose quality was at least as good as the Old World classics.

Today, that’s hardly a secret. You often hear about young, upstart European brewers educating themselves in the art of craft beer by spending time in the United States. Case in point: Oliver Wesseloh, co-founder and master brewer at Hamburg’s Kehrwieder Kreativbrauerei. Before going out on his own in 2011, he spent eight years learning his craft abroad, part of that in Florida. Today he runs a thriving brewery in his hometown in northern Germany.

Prototyp – today’s Listening Party beverage of choice – was the very first beer he produced under the Kehrwieder flag.

Our featured record is Doctors, Devils & Drugs by the Floyd Lee Band, which surprised some people, including me, in 2008. We’ll dive into it after the jump.

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WIB Listening Party #36: Spinning Christmas

featuring…

Various Artists on vintage 45 singles

🍺 Riedenburger Festbier

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Deep from within a swirling pool of childhood memories, I hear it bubbling up into consciousness: A small intermingling of children’s voices, singing Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer …

For most of us, the run-up to the holiday doesn’t feel much like A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s a hectic dash to finish off projects and order a few more Christmas presents, fearing our loved ones may have got us more than we got them.

With that in mind, I’ll not take up much of your time with this final Listening Party of 2021. The plan’s simple: I’ll spin a few of my favorite holiday-themed blues 45s on the official Who Is Blues cheapo phonograph, which you’ll see in the clips to follow. Quick hits on some great tunes you never hear on the radio.

And I’ll crack open a cheerfully designed bottle of seasonal Festbier from the Bavarian town of Riedenburg.

We’ve all heard holiday classics by Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Eartha Kitt and Nat King Cole a million times. Let’s give these bluesmen their due.

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WIB Listening Party #29: Blues From The Delta

featuring…

Skip James, Blues From The Delta

🍺 Chinook Red Indian Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Are you ready to get way down low?

I just dug out my CD copy of the Skip James album Blues From The Delta, thinking it might be a worthy Listening Party candidate. It’s been a while since this one found its way into the CD player tray. The purple and violet-tinged Vanguard Records release combines nine tracks from 1966’s Today! with an additional nine cuts from 1968’s Devil Got My Woman. Two previously unreleased recordings bring the total to 20. As my favorite baseball broadcaster might say when noting a player’s stats: That’s just bookkeeping.

Then I skim listened, starting with James’s most enduring title “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.” Goose bumps. “Special Rider Blues.” Goose bumps. James’s sorrowful moan set my hair on end the first time I heard it and it still does today.

If you’re unfamiliar with the originator of the so-called “Bentonia School” of blues (James was raised on a plantation near Bentonia, Mississippi), this 1998 Vanguard compilation is the place to start, as opposed to the hissy, scratchy relics he recorded for Paramount in 1931 – undeniably great but considerably less accessible.

Over on the beer side of things, we’ll be unscientifically enjoying a bottle of Kraftbierwerkstatt’s Chinook Red Indian Ale. Let’s be clear: I did not choose this beer on the strength of its name. I suppose I could have not chosen it on that basis. Were it brewed and bottled in the US instead of the southern German city of Böblingen, the marketing people at Kraftbierwerkstatt surely would have thought twice about the Red Indian moniker. Just ask the owners of the baseball franchise now called the Cleveland Guardians or the NFL’s Washington Football Club, who are still looking for a new name.

Issues of racial insensitivity aside: The album and beer look great together.

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WIB Listening Party #18: All I Want

featuring…

John Mooney, All I Want

🍺 Welde / Himburgs Braukunstkeller Pepper Pils

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

All I want is …

Nah. Let’s not go there. The list is long and kind of depressing. Let’s talk about John Mooney instead.

John Mooney is a guy who projects both power and sensitivity, both darkness and light. In his playing and singing, you can hear how he went to school on one of the all-time greats, Son House, the former Baptist preacher and blues pioneer who was forever torn between the sacred and the secular. Mooney played alongside House as a teenager in upstate New York after Joe Beard introduced them in 1971. He possesses an uncanny feel for the sort of Delta blues House performed during his lifetime and has come up with a signature guitar tone that soars like a bird on the wing.

But he carried it a step further. He moved to New Orleans as a young man, hooked up with influential musicians like Professor Longhair and Snooks Eaglin and made that city’s famed second line rhythm his own. Mooney makes magic with those two basic ingredients, the Delta and the second line.

I love just about everything’s he done but have a special place in my heart for All I Want. The album’s energy is electric and Mooney’s playing is off the charts.

All I Want was his most current disc when I interviewed John before a club show in Bavaria in 2003. I think I was drinking Pyraser Landbier in half-liter mugs that night. Mmm. Today’s Listening Party pick has little in common with that Bavarian Helles, but it is German: Pepper Pils, which I chose for the simplest of reasons. I’m intrigued by what adding pepper does to beer.

Let’s crack open the bottle and let the music play.

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WIB Listening Party #10: Live In Tokyo

featuring…

David Lindley & Hani Naser, Live In Tokyo

🍺 Strüssje Kurt

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

The Who Is Blues Listening Party has reached its first, modest milestone. Number ten. Thanks for joining in.

This time around, I’ve chosen a couple of relative oddities – bound by their flair for color and cult status.

The “official bootleg” Live In Tokyo from stringed-instrument wizard David Lindley and gifted percussionist Hani Naser, who sadly passed away last November, is an out-of-print rarity. It originally appeared on CD on Lindley’s own indie label Pleemhead in 1994. Twenty-seven years later it’s listed as out of stock on his website and sells for upwards of $50 on Amazon.

Adding to the weirdness of this album is that nobody seems to know exactly what the title is. It’s usually referred to as David Lindley & Hani Naser Official Bootleg Live In Tokyo Playing Real Good or some combination thereof. There’s a lot of information on Lindley’s hand-penned black-on-blue cover.

The beer named Kurt – hi, Kurt – is one of just two offerings from Cologne, Germany’s Strüssje brand. It’s unconventional in as far as it is not Kölsch. If you joined me for Listening Party #4 or simply know your beer, it’ll come as no secret that drinkers in my adopted home city generally choose the locally brewed ale called Kölsch. It’s everywhere. Recently, a handful of small local brewers have set out to remind people that, though Kölsch is King today, it wasn’t always that way. They’re reviving forgotten recipes as an alternative to the city’s monoculture.

Strüssje Kurt and David Lindley both come colorfully packaged. Lindley’s penchant for bluntly patterned shirts and leisure suits have earned him the nickname “Prince of Polyester.” The loud pinks and blues on the Strüssje Kurt label would surely make him smile.

Ready? Let’s bring these two garish beauties together and see what happens …

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WIB Listening Party #5: Life is a Carnival

featuring…

The Wild Magnolias, Life is a Carnival

🍺 Superfreunde Till Death Old School Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Yeah, so this is the week where, traditionally, hundreds of thousands of locals and out-of-towners would be out drinking, dancing and parading in costume through the streets of Cologne. I don’t know what’s happening right now in Rio or New Orleans, but here in Germany’s fourth largest city, where for many Karneval is the high point of the year, the 2021 celebration is just one more victim of the pandemic. Public gatherings and private parties of any kind are a no-no and even the rules regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages – normally quite liberal – have been tightened to keep people from getting too frisky.

So it’s not surprising to find myself thinking back on a more carefree time – my first trip to the holy city of New Orleans.

That was in spring of the year Y2K. A good friend and I had hatched the plan after a concert in Brussels the previous December. Riding back to Cologne while another friend took care of the driving, we started dreaming out loud of a musical sojourn through the deep south. Four months later we touched down at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, did a quick run through Mississippi up to Memphis and back down again, arriving in New Orleans for the start of JazzFest. We stayed the whole ten days, with a short break on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in between the two big festival weekends.

Before I go any further, let’s crack open a bottle of Superfreunde Till Death Old School Ale and see where it takes us …

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