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 #40: Territory

featuring…

Alvin Youngblood Hart, Territory

🍺 Anchor Steam Beer

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Last time out, while revisiting 1999’s Greens From The Garden, I found myself thinking about another, similarly eclectic blues album from the same period: Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Territory. This 1998 release was the follow-up to Hart’s stunning debut Big Mama’s Door – a record that had catapulted the Oakland, California native to the forefront of an emerging wave of traditionally minded acoustic bluesmen. Just two years later, he made a clear statement informing the world he was not going to be pigeonholed.

Even today, Hart’s “music is music” philosophy is right there on his website for all to see: “I have a great disdain for genre segregation. I try to avoid that practice.”

On Territory, the big man with the powerful hands put his money where his mouth is. True, the album includes a few traditionals, performed in the spirit of Leadbelly and Bukka White, as well as an update of Skip James’s “Illinois Blues.” But on the whole, the musical ground Hart stakes with the disc’s eleven cuts goes well beyond what anyone was expecting at the time. 

Across the bay from Hart’s birthplace, in the taverns of late 19th century San Francisco, steam beer emerged as a unique variation on the lager. It’s perhaps the lone beer variety indigenous to the United States. San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company owns the trademark and is thus the only brewer allowed to use the term for what’s otherwise referred to as “California common beer.” Not a very enticing name. Nevertheless, we’re going to give Anchor Steam Beer a try as we spend some time with Alvin.  

Blues and brews by the bay today, you say? Hooray!

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WIB Listening Party #39: Greens From The Garden

featuring…

Corey Harris, Greens From The Garden

🍺 Einstök Icelandic Arctic Berry Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I’ve been doing what I do – this blues writer thing – for roughly a quarter of a century now. The striking, verdant cover of Corey Harris’s Greens From The Garden carries me back to a time when I was still a novice. The album came out in 1999, so I had a few interviews under my belt at that point, but mostly I was flying by the seat of my pants. I met with Corey and the other dreadlocked members of his so-called “5 x 5” at a now defunct blues venue in Frankfurt and recall having a generally relaxed conversation about this groundbreaking record.

He’d completed most of it in a Charlottesville, Virginia studio (Harris has academic ties to the University of Virginia) and added a few live tracks recorded at the famous Funky Butt Club in New Orleans. The singer and guitarist had resided in that city for a time, busking and soaking in its rich musical tradition.

Far from the American South, nipping at the Arctic Circle, lies Akureyri, an Icelandic fishing port that is home to the Einstök brewery and its Arctic Berry Ale. It’s brewed seasonally, for the summer months. So you could say I’m cheating – or perhaps just pining for warmer weather.

If I had to give this Listening Party a motto, it would be “north meets south.”

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WIB Listening Party #38: Man From Another Time

featuring…

Seasick Steve, Man From Another Time

🍺 Hopfenstopfer Incredible Pale Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Last Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the Who Is Blues Listening Party. (Thanks for the reminder, Facebook.) Sitting here today on a cold, dull gray afternoon, I recognize that coming up with the idea for this regular celebration of beer-and-blues in the middle of January was no accident. I hate January.

Once the familiar warmth and boozy partying of the holidays passes, January turns dreary in a hurry. Armed with good intentions, you tell yourself the new year is a chance to reinvent yourself. To make a new start. But where I’m from, things can’t get rolling until the kids are back in school and businesses get up and running again. By then, it’s mid-January and your forward momentum has ground to a halt. Even in normal times, there is a dearth of concerts in winter. Life seems to have been put on hold. Yet the clock is ticking away the whole time, silently, unceasingly, a stealthy adversary.

Then – WHAP! – in the seeming blink of an eye, January is over and you realize one-twelfth of the year has already vanished down the drain.

As if that weren’t enough reason to get a bad case of the blues, there’s this.

Unlike the protagonist of Seasick Steve’s song, I don’t like the dark and it is not my friend. I wonder how people up around the Arctic Circle survive winter. I wouldn’t. My mood is seasonally affected even at the 51st parallel. I need and crave light.

But there’s always beer and music, right?

Man From Another Time is a 2009 masterpiece from the aforementioned Seasick Steve. I’ll be exploring it with the help of Hopfenstopfer Incredible Pale Ale from Germany’s Häffner Bräu.

Just saying “Hopfenstopfer” puts a smile on my face. Drinking it promises to be even better.

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WIB Listening Party #37: Let’s Buzz!

featuring…

The Paladins, Let’s Buzz!

🍺 La Quince Queens Kellerbier

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Dear reader, welcome to 2022. If you’re new to the Listening Party, this regular blog post is where I celebrate two of my biggest enthusiasms, a pair of wonderful inventions that were seemingly made for one another: beer and blues. I do that by spotlighting one standout album from my record collection while cracking open a single vessel of exceptional beer. The majority are sourced from a local craft beer retailer, my Listening Party partner Bierlager.

This dive into the big, sudsy world of barley broth is essentially a by-product of the ongoing pandemic: I’ve had a thing for beer ever since my dad let me sip from his bottle of Schmidt’s when I was a little boy (see Listening Party #11), but only recently did I begin taking the hobby a little more seriously. I now enjoy and appreciate it more than ever before – one of the millions swept up in the craft beer revolution.

A quote on the subject (it fills an entire page in Garrett & Evans’ Beer School) gives us a good jumping off point: “Some may take beer too seriously, but few who do are guilty of taking life too seriously.”

In that spirit, I’ll kick-start the new year with a 1990 album that crackles with positive vibes: Let’s Buzz! by San Diego roots stalwarts The Paladins. Liquid refreshment comes in the form of Queens Kellerbier, one Spanish brewer’s take on a traditional German recipe. We’ll indulge a bit later on.

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that you gotta make your own fun. Are you with me?

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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 #35: Wizards From The Southside

featuring…

Various Artists, Wizards From The Southside

🍺 Saranac Adirondack Lager

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I must say I’m bummed about the way 2021 is shutting down. Fourth wave, fifth wave, whatever the experts want to call it – where I live in Germany, stricter social distancing measures are back in place, requiring vaccinated individuals to present a negative COVID test to do fun things like attend concerts or enter restaurants. So people are staying home, shows are being cancelled, businesses of all kinds are suffering. Necessary? Probably. But I can’t help feeling we’re all the poorer for it.

So please allow me – in this, the penultimate Listening Party post of the year – to vent a little and return to a much happier time and place. I need only think back a couple of weeks.

I flew to New York for Thanksgiving and there it felt almost like business as usual.

Travelling upstate, I met a beer called Saranac Adirondack Lager.

And I caught up with an old friend: Wizards From The Southside, a Chess Records compilation featuring mid-50s recordings by the likes of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Little Walter.

Read on if you dare …

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WIB Listening Party #34: Giving Thanks

featuring…

Fishbone, In Your Face

🍺 Sierra Nevada Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

It’s Thanksgiving week and I’m using that as an occasion to veer from the usual Listening Party format. At the risk of getting overly sentimental, I’ll use this space to give thanks for three things that have not only helped me survive the past year-plus of the corona pandemic, but several decades of life in general.

Those three “things” are friends, family and music.

Along the way, I’ll share a story of what was probably my most memorable Thanksgiving. It’s a while back and foggy in my memory, but I’ll do my best. The music in that story was supplied by Los Angeles, California’s Fishbone, so that’s the music you’ll hear this time around, taken from their 1986 album In Your Face.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fishbone or turning up your nose because it’s not blues – imagine the great band leader Louis Jordan had been a young man in the 1980s. I’d venture to say his music might have sounded like this.

And since no Listening Party is ever complete without a delicious beverage, we will be cracking open a Sierra Nevada Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA.

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WIB Listening Party #33 1/3: The Specialty Story Vol. 1

featuring…

Various Artists, The Specialty Story Vol. 1

🍺 Bevog Rudeen Black IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Entry #33 in the Listening Party series. That number – inevitably calling to mind the rotational speed of a long-playing record – sent me back to the shelves that hold my modest collection of vinyl LPs. (At least the ones I’ve acquired in Germany; the 500+ albums of my youth reside in a walk-in closet in upstate New York.) There, I settled upon The Specialty Story Vol. 1 – a flea market find from the mid-1990s. I recall putting a few standout cuts from this record on a mixtape back when spending hours punching buttons on a tape deck was something I took pleasure in. Also, I had the time for it. Where have those days gone?

Some 25 years later my favorite songs off the album haven’t changed and I’ll be featuring them here today.

Over on the beer side of things, we’ve got something deep, dark and Austrian to dive into – Rudeen Black IPA from Bevog, the inventive brewer we first came across in Listening Party #14.

I’m not feeling especially deep or philosophical today, so this one will be a straightforward mix of historical facts and upbeat tunes infused with the rock’n’roll spirit.

Blues had a baby, remember?

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WIB Listening Party #32: Break The Chain

featuring…

Doug MacLeod, Break The Chain

🍺 Lowlander Cool Earth Lager

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Riffing on the environment, drinking the environmentally-friendly Cool Earth Lager, revisiting Doug MacLeod’s 2018 gem Break The Chain. Welcome to Listening Party #32.

This morning I was watching CNN’s ongoing coverage of COP26. If you’re reading this in the year 2050, it means this particular summit meeting – “The United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties” is the official title – wasn’t all for naught and that Planet Earth is still inhabitable. Hooray for that!

But I’m doubtful. Even as they put on a good show and say all the right things, I question our leaders’ willingness to put the long-term good of the natural environment ahead of economics and their own addiction to power and personal gain. 

Today’s news included promises to reduce methane emissions and a deal by 100 heads of state to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. Well, OK.

Then CNN brought in a representative of an anti-poverty organisation who put a damper on things. He pointed out how Britain was actually doubling down on fossil fuels while doing the climate change dance at the COP26 conference. Greta Thunberg also chimed in, calling out politicians for their hypocrisy and shouting about how we cannot entrust the fate of the planet to corporations and governments. In true revolutionary spirit, she said climate change would have to come from “the people.”

Next came an almost too-painful-to-watch report from Afghanistan showing impoverished parents in the act of selling their daughters in order to survive. Selling their daughters.

My main takeaway: humanity sucks. The systems we’ve created are unjust. Given that situations like this exist – circumstances so desperate that mothers and fathers would make the soul-killing decision to sell their children – is there really any hope that we can pull together as a race and reverse the seemingly irreversible downward climatic spiral?

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