On The Radio

Robert Cray Band, Luther Dickinson feat. Sharde Thomas, Sonny Landreth and Amy Speace on Mountain Stage

Week after October 20, 2017

Robert Cray Band
Luther Dickinson feat. Sharde Thomas
Sonny Landreth
Amy Speace

Playlist

Hour

​Artist

Song

1

Amy Speace

It’s Too Late

 

 

Weight of the World

 

 

Ghost of Charlemagne

 

Luther Dickinson feat. Sharde Thomas

Shimmy She Wobble II

 

 

Hurry up Sunrise

 

 

Prayer for Peace

 

 

Need to be Free

 

 

Chevrolet

 

 

Glory Glory

2

Sonny Landreth

Blues Attack

 

 

Key to the Highway

 

 

Hell at Home

 

 

Creole Angel

 

Bob Thompson

A Sunday Kind of Love

 

Robert Cray Band

The Same Love

 

 

You’re Everything

 

 

I Don’t Care

 

 

You Had My Heart

 

 

You Must Believe in Yourself

 

Larry Groce & Co.

A Good Fool is Hard to Find

Originally Broadcast October 20th, 2017

Press Release

Robert Cray - Growing up in the Northwest, Robert Cray listened to the gospel of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Bobby Bland’s soul, Jimi Hendrix’s rock guitar and the Beatles pop sounds. He would bring all of the influences into play throughout his career, but his teenage band was captivated by Southern Soul and the blues. “In the early days of the band we were getting back into O.V. Wright and paying attention to my favorite blues players; Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Albert King and especially Albert Collins,” Cray says. The Texas-born blues guitarist known as Master of the Telecaster, Albert Collins, sealed the deal on the Cray Band’s early direction. The musical highlight of Cray’s senior year was his class voting to bring Collins in to play a graduation party. The glow of a career in music began when Cray was a teen, and in 1974 it burst into flames as the Robert Cray Band came together in Eugene, Oregon. How strong was the fire? “Richard and I didn’t own a vehicle, and we were staying with his girlfriend in Eugene. We hitched a ride to Salem, where our drummer Tom Murphy was going to school, to rehearse,” Cray recalls. With the group’s 1980 debut release, Who’s Been Talkin’, word about the Cray Band began to spread across the Northwest and down in to California. Playing packed bars and roadhouses the Cray Band was thrilling. Yes, fans could hear an Albert Collins guitar riff and a Howlin’ Wolf song but the sound was present. Blues and soul fans showed up religiously, but those steamy raucous sets also drew crowds whose tastes in music ranged from rock to funk and jazz. The Cray Band’s next two releases – Bad Influence and False Accusations – charted, taking the four-piece’s sound across the airways and abroad. The group was on a roll, but the players slept on couches. “We were just road rats,” Cray says with a chuckle. “We’d take a break for two weeks to record, then go back out. We didn’t have a house, a home, any of those responsibilities.” On one of those breaks Cray went into the studio with Collins and another great Texas guitarist and singer, Johnny Clyde Copeland, to record Showdown!, a CD that has become essential to any 80s electric blues collection. It was the sounds of the blues and soul that first drew attention from artists in the rock arena. In an interview Eric Clapton gives his initial response to Robert Cray saying, “As a blues fan, we’re saved.” The Cray Band’s beginnings did bring the sounds of its mentors into the mainstream, even taking the music of John Lee Hooker, Etta James and Albert Collins to a larger, younger audience. But no one knew how broad the band’s audience would be until the Cray Band opened the ears of rock radio programmers. With the 1986 release of Strong Persuader the Cray Band’s tunes were put in heavy rotation on mega rock stations across the nation. The first hit, “Smoking Gun,” was followed by “I Guess I Showed Her” and “Right Next Door (Because of Me).” The Cray Band’s next two releases, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Midnight Stroll, brought more radio listeners to record stores, increasing sales of the group’s CDs. Following the path of fame taken by blues-based rockers like Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Cray became a sensation, leading his band in concerts at large arena and rock festival. He was the first African American artist since Jimi Hendrix to rise to such fame in rock music. Was there a change in the band’s direction or had the blues arrived again into the mainstream after more than three decades of being forgotten by radio? “We were doing blues and Rand B from the first,” Crays says. “That’s just part of what we do. If you’re writing a tune it’s only natural to grab something from someplace else. You’re gonna put in some soul changes and some jazz, something you’ve been listening to. With what we do there’s a whole lot of room to move.” Clapton’s admiration for Cray led to a writing collaboration on the hit “Old Love,” which featured Cray on guitar. A call came from Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards who asked him to be in the film he and Steve Jordan were producing about the rock guitarist Chuck Berry, “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Concert footage in the film features Richards, Jordan, Clapton, Julian Lennon, Linda Ronstadt and Etta James. Cray performs “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” with Berry. Dressed in a baby blue tuxedo jacket, the young guitarist is the epitome of the tune’s title. Cray also performed on the Tina Turner TV special “Break Every Rule.” During the 90s the Cray Band was featured in concert with artists like Clapton, the Stones, John Lee Hooker, BB King and Bonnie Raitt, who declared that the band leader is “an original; he’s passionate, he’s a bad ass and puts on one of the best shows you’ll ever see.” Amidst these accolades, soaring record sales and a packed touring schedule the Cray Band recorded six CDs in the 90s. Cray produced Shame + A Sin, which referenced his blues roots, in 1993. It was followed by two more self-produced recordings, Some Rainy Morning and Sweet Potato Pie. Recorded in Memphis and featuring the famed Memphis Horns Sweet Potato Pie was the Cray Band’s most soulful album to date. The next recording Take Off Your Shoes delved even deeper into Memphis sounds of the 60s. “That was definitely a soul record,” Cray says. “I’d already been writing songs, Jim (Pugh, who was keyboards with the Cray Band from 1989 to 2014) was writing songs, leaning toward soul. Steve (Jordan, producer) heard them and put the icing on the cake.” Jordan, who subsequently produced the Cray Band’s In My Soul, Shoulda Been Home and the first CD in 4 Nights of 40 Years Live, also brought the personification of Memphis soul to the recording session, Willie Mitchell, to help with arrangements for the Memphis Horns. Mitchell discovered and first recorded Al Green along with other Southern Soul singers like Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright and Syl Johnson for the famed Memphis label Hi Records. When he arrived at the Cray recording session, he brought not only the Memphis presence but also a present. “Willie came over – he was wearing a gold jacket – and gave me this song, ‘Love Gone to Waste,’” Cray says. “Then we put some final touches on the CD at his studio in Memphis. It was a great opportunity to see Willie in the studio.” Both on Take Your Shoes Off and 4 Nights of 40 Years Live, “Love Gone to Waste” showcases Robert Cray’s natural ease with soul ballads. He is intense but smooth in telling the story of love gone bad. Then in a falsetto voice he soars through the sadness into the inevitable pain. It is a song that Cray owns because no other singer has dared try to do it justice. Take Your Shoes Off won a Grammy in 2000. In the next decade the Cray Band recorded seven CDs, three of them live, and two – Twenty and This Time – were nominated for Grammys. The group’s most recent recordings, Nothing But Love and In My Soul put the band back on the Billboard Charts.​

Luther Dickinson - On Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook) Vol. I & II, Luther Dickinson finds his way forward by retracing his steps. This ambitious double album collects twenty-one tunes from throughout his life and career—songs he wrote with his rock & roll band the North Mississippi Allstars, songs he learned from friends and family, songs passed down to him by his heroes and mentors, songs that have lived in the American subconscious for decades now—and pares them down to their irreducible elements. Voice, guitar, drums. Here and there some blues fife or Beale Street piano. The performances on the record itself are some of his most excitable and energetic, with the bounce and rumble of early blues and rock; the arrangements transcribed in the illustrated songbook (which accompanies the vinyl edition of the album) reveal the intricate and imaginative rhythms and melodies that underpin all of Luther’s compositions. “The idea,” he says, “was to re-record everything very stripped down—very acoustic and honest and folky—to accompany the songbook.” As the subtitle suggests, this is only the beginning of what promises to be a multi-volume undertaking. It started, as so many good things do, with Mavis Staples. The two have been friends and occasional musical partners for twenty years: She has sung with his rock-and-roll band the North Mississippi Allstars, and he accompanied her on the soundtrack to Take Me to the River, the 2014 documentary about soul music in the South. When Mavis mentioned that she wanted to record the Allstars tune “Hear the Hills,” Luther knew he had to make it happen. On the day of the session, however, Mavis changed her mind and asked to record another song, “Ain’t No Grave,” from the Allstars’ 2011 album Keys to the Kingdom. It’s a song that means the world to Luther. He wrote it shortly after the death of his father, the producer/singer/songwriter/all-around badass Jim Dickinson. Most people know him as a session musician who played on hits by the Stones and Dylan or as a producer who helmed seminal albums by Big Star and the Replacements. He taught Luther everything he knows: how to play guitar, how to lead a band, how to keep a songwriter’s notebook. For Mavis, “Ain’t No Grave” is the kind of song her own father—the great Pops Staples—might have taught her and her sisters back in the 1950s and ‘60s, when the Staple Singers were the biggest name in gospel. Arranged, performed, and recorded on the fly, their version of the tune is haunting. The tempo is slow but determined, as though midway through a long, arduous journey. Sharde Thomas taps out a sympathetic rhythm on her drums while Luther lays down a wiry blues riff and sings about living up to his father’s example: “When the day comes, death comes back my way,” they sing together, “I would hope to be as brave as he was on Judgment Day." Mavis sings behind him, her voice trailing his, her presence a reassuring hand on Luther’s shoulder. Fatigue colors their voices, evoking the inescapable gravity of death: We are all pulled toward the grave, but it’s what we do along the way that matters. At the heart of the song is a kernel of hard-won hope, as though simply making music is consolation enough. That memorable session sent Luther down the road toward Blues & Ballads, which he describes as a community project: “This is the most casual record I ever made. I’d record one or two songs at a time, very effortlessly and unstrategically. Then I started recording songs with different groups of friends, wherever I happened to be.” Fortunately, he happened to be in some of the best and most historic rooms in the world, including Sun Studio and Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios in Memphis. Equally fortunately, he has some incredibly talented friends: Jason Isbell, J.J. Grey, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, Lillie Mae Rasche, and Charles Hodges, a keyboard player of the legendary Hi Records rhythm section that backed Al Green. In addition to these cameos, Blues & Ballads emphasizes first and foremost Luther’s chemistry with his solo band, Amy LaVere on bass and Sharde Thomas on drums, fife, even accordion. Sharde in particular plays a prominent roll on these songs, not just providing a steady backbeat but singing backup and lead. It’s her voice that introduces the album on opener “Hurry Up Sunrise,” which is fitting since the song was written by her grandfather, the renowned blues fife legend Otha Turner. Their voices blend gracefully on the verses, lending the tune a spry bounce and a wide-eyed tone. Luther is so moved by the performance—recorded in one take—that he punctuates it with an excited, “I love you, girl!” He’s been singing the song for most of his life, first learning it on Otha’s front porch. “Back in the day when I was a teenager, I would sit on his porch with our friends, all guys in the hill country blues scene, and we would all play guitar. We’d try to get Otha fired up enough that he would start singing. If he started singing, we knew were getting somewhere.” That porch was where he met Sharde, back when she was just 9 years old but already something of a fife prodigy. As a teenager, she started playing with the Allstars. “I look at him as an older brother,” she says. “When we’re onstage together, magic seems to happen. I know Otha’s smiling down on me and Luther’s father’s smiling down on him." Blues & Ballads has a retrospective flavor, but it’s not a greatest hits. Rather, it’s a means of translating these songs to a new moment, of letting them breathe and take new shapes. In that regard, it’s fitting that the vinyl edition includes that songbook. “I love all sorts,” says Luther, an avid collector of “hymnals, children’s songs, country music, whatever. And I’ve always wanted to have my own.” When he was growing up in rural Mississippi, these songbooks formed the bedrock of his musical education. “My grandmother was the church pianist, and I remember looking at the hymnals and trying to figure out the music. I would read the words and listen to the people singing along. Growing up pre-internet, I would go to the library and memorize every music book in the Hernando Public Library.” Around this same time, Luther learned to keep copious notebooks full of stray thoughts, fragments of lyrics, doodles and drawings, anything that came to his mind. It’s an approach his father insisted was essential not just to the songwriter, but to anyone who creates any kind of art. Luther continues the practice today, archiving his old notebooks—all emblazoned with stickers and filled with his chicken scratch penmanship—the same way he collects songbooks. “My whole life my dad really helped teach me how to craft songs. I’d bring in these rough songs and we’d demo them up and record them. He would always go through them and make sure the syllable count added up and the rhymes were traditional. He taught me the importance of getting the most out of every word, making every word as strong as it could be. Now that he’s gone, I still work on songs using what he taught me. We’re still working together, because he taught me how to do it. The collaboration lives on." Every song on Blues & Ballads was born in those songbooks and notebooks, a fact that lends the double album the feel of a memoir. This is the sound of a vital artist taking stock of his life in music and acknowledging his debt to his heroes: his grandmother, his father, Otha Turner, Mavis Staples, and so many others. “When you put all these songs together, they tell my story and my family’s story.”

Sonny LandrethSonny Landreth’s new album, Bound By The Blues, to be released June 8th on Provogue, marks a return to the slide guitarist’s musical roots. It presents a bold, big-sounding collection of recordings that climb to stratospheric heights of jazz informed improvisation, swagger like the best of classic rock, and inevitably remain deeply attached to the elemental emotional and compositional structures that are at the historic core of the blues.

 

With Landreth’s mountainous guitar tones and nuanced singing leading the way on its ten songs, Bound By the Blues is a powerful tribute to the durability and flexibility of the genre, and to his own creative vision. It’s also a radical departure from his previous two albums, 2012’s classical/jazz fusion outing Elemental Journey and 2008’s guest-star-studded From the Reach.
 Ever since The Road We’re On [his Grammy-nominated 2003 release], fans have been asking me, ‘When are you going to do another blues album?’ Landreth explains. “After expanding my songs for Elemental Journey into an orchestral form, I thought I’d get back to the simple but powerful blues form. I’d been playing a lot of these songs on the road with my band, and we’ve been taking them into some surprising places musically. So going into the studio to record them with just our trio seemed like the next step.” Bound By the Blues, the guitarist’s twelfth album, pivots on the song “Where They Will.” Its gloriously chiming cascades of six-string, and the refrain “Let the blues take me where they will,” serve as a musical blueprint for the album. “The blues has been a big part of my journey for the past 40-plus years,” Landreth attests. “Some of the numbers on this album are among the first I learned. I wrote ‘Where They Will’ about my relationship to blues – letting the music lead me to new sounds and improvisational passages, and introduce me to things I haven’t played before.” 

The Landreth-penned title track offers brilliantly keening guitar solos while paying tribute to the universality of the experiences – love, death, birth, transcendence – chronicled in the blues’ vast catalog. “Bound By the Blues” also name-checks Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Buffy Sainte-Marie and some of Landreth’s other musical heroes along the way. He offers, “Singing about the unifying power of the blues and paying tribute to the great artists who’ve helped shape the music in that song means a lot to me.” So does paying homage to his hero and fellow slide slinger Johnny Winter, who died last year, with the instrumental “Firebird Blues.” Winter was an important influence. The two men became friends and often shared bills in recent years, and Landreth made a guest appearance on Winter’s 2011 return-to-form Roots. Landreth reflects, “The news of Johnny’s death came just as we were about to make this album and it hit me really hard. I decided to record a slow instrumental as a tribute by keeping it raw and in the moment like Johnny’s playing always was.” To that end, he used his vintage Gibson Firebird guitar, a model long associated with Winter. Drummer Brian Brignac played on cardboard boxes to give the track a funky, primitive feel, while bassist David Ranson played a ukulele bass with nylon strings for a more flexible kind of thunder.
 Bound By the Blues opens with a brisk version of “Walking Blues,” a Delta chestnut associated with Robert Johnson and Son House that’s among the first blues tunes the Louisiana-based slide man recalls learning. Inspired by the Paul Butterfield interpretation, the arrangement’s pace and singing guitar solo takes the song’s broken-hearted lyrics to a surprisingly joyful place. And his take on Johnson’s “Dust My Broom” (made famous by Elmore James) is played as a dance floor stomp, with a beat Landreth’s late mentor, the zydeco king Clifton Chenier, used to call a “double shuffle.” The performance is a showcase for the sheer heat of Landreth’s touring and recording trio as well as his own right-hand technique, with sharp-toned picking and muting adding previously unheard nuances to the oft-recorded number.
 “Key To the Highway” was first recorded by pianist Charlie Segar for the Vocalion label in 1940. But Landreth’s interpretation reframes the song in much the way that great jazz improvisers like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane reinvented pop tunes. Landreth reconstructs the familiar melody into a series of telegraph-like dots and dashes, with the low-end growl of his Stratocaster humming like an overblown saxophone and his use of delay creating sheets of reverberating sound.
 As a kid, my first instrument was trumpet. Miles Davis and John Coltrane were two of my jazz heroes,” Landreth relates. ”That’s where a lot of my perspective on improvising and phrasing comes from, and my belief that when you’re playing ‘in the zone’ there’s no real limitation of where you can go creatively.” This is, of course, if you’ve got Landreth’s staggering command of his instrument.

 The lean Mississippi native, who grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, had already been playing horn for three years when he got his hands on his first six-string and fell deeply in love. Slide guitar spoke to Landreth immediately. He recalls, “When I realized that my slide heroes had mastered a vocal quality on the guitar, I wanted to do the same thing. At the start, the sounds I made were rough on everybody – my family, and especially my poor dog and cat – but eventually I was able to develop my own instrumental voice and began to apply that to any style I wanted to play.” At age 17 Landreth attended three very different shows in his home state that would have a great impact on him. “Amazingly, in the span of about a year, I met and heard B.B. King in New Iberia, Jimi Hendrix in Baton Rouge and Clifton Chenier in Lafayette. Needless to say, all that had a profound effect on me. To this day, I still think about those experiences.” Many years later, he became a member of Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band. With steamy roadhouse sets that often ran for hours without a break and stretched songs out for their maximum impact on the dance floor, he was put to the test. Landreth quickly developed the ability to change keys, rhythms and even musical styles in a flash.

 While still with Clifton, he recorded a solo album in 1981 called Blues Attack. Four years later his influential “Congo Square,” named for the slave auction block in old New Orleans, appeared on Down In Louisiana. Although that album fanned the flames of his reputation as an emerging force in roots music, Landreth kept a parallel career going as a celebrated sideman and session player. Over the years he performed and recorded with many great artists, including songwriter John Hiatt and British blues innovator John Mayall, and toured as a member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. He also collaborated with Eric Clapton and has performed at all of Clapton’s prestigious Crossroads Guitar Festivals since 2004. Along the way Landreth has continued to develop his vision and his musical voice, growing increasingly original and diverse, expanding from blues, zydeco, folk, country and jazz into increasingly category-blurring musical excursions like Bound By the Blues.
 His plans for the remainder of 2015 include heavy international touring with his razor-sharp trio as well as duet concerts with fellow slide virtuoso Cindy Cashdollar. (Landreth and Cashdollar both guested on Arlen Roth’s recent Slide Guitar Summit album.) Developing a style and an approach that is your own musically is not something to be taken for granted,” Landreth says. “I’m at a point in life where I want to make the most of every moment I can and that changes your perspective, your priorities and how you relate to everyone else. And at the end of the day, I think that’s the essence of what I wanted to express with Bound By The Blues.”

Amy Speace Amy Speace is a folk singer, timeless and classic, and a bit out of her own era. “She has one of the richest and loveliest voices in the genre and her songs are luxuriously smart,” writes Craig Havighurst (host of Nashville’s “Music City Roots). “She’s profoundly personal yet also a bit mythic.”  Since her discovery in 2006 by folk-pop icon Judy Collins, Speace has been heralded as one of the leading voices of the new generation of American folk singers. Her latest release, “That Kind Of Girl”, received rave reviews by Billboard MagazineThe New York Times and NPR.  Recorded live in 3 days with her longtime collaborator/producer Neilson Hubbard,  with a small combo featuring Will Kimbrough (Emmylou Harris) and Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket), Girl is spare, direct and brutally honest and is her most personal collection of songs yet. Born in Baltimore, Amy Speace studied classical acting in New York City after graduating from Amherst College and then spent a few years with The National Shakespeare Company and other Off-Off Broadway classical rep companies, doing guerrilla Shakespeare in Lower East Side parking lots, working backstage on Broadway, writing poetry in cafes and feeling increasingly like success as a theater artist was just out of reach. In that season of doubt, she bought a cheap guitar at a pawn shop in the East Village and began putting her poetry to music and in short time was appearing at local folk clubs The Sidewalk Cafe, The Bitter End and The Living Room. Judy Collins’ manager caught a set of Amy’s at the 2005 SXSW conference and brought her demo back to Collins, who had just started her own imprint, Wildflower Records and immediately signed Amy.  Her Wildflower Records debut “Songs For Bright Street,” was released to rave reviews in 2006 and featured E-Street band fiddler Soozie Tyrell and a duet with The Jayhawks Gary Louris.  That year she was nominated as Best New Artist by the International Folk Alliance.  In 2009 she released “The Killer In Me,” recorded in North Carolina with Mitch Easter (REM, the db’s), which had NPR comparing her to a young Lucinda Williams.  That record's bonus track, an acoustic version of her song "Weight of the World" was recorded later that year by Judy Collins herself, who named it “one of the best political folk songs I’ve ever heard.”  WFUV, NYC's premier AAA radio station, awarded "Weight of the World" the #4 Folk Song of the Decade.  Seeking new inspiration, in late 2009, Speace moved to Nashville, changing management and labels, and began collaborating with producer/songwriter Neilson Hubbard on a collection of songs that would become  the  cinematic “Land Like A Bird,” released in 2011 on Thirty Tigers.  In 2013, she received the best reviews of her career with the epic "How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat,” a string-laden song cycle inspired by Shakespeare, winning 4 stars from Mojo Magazine and a feature on NPR’s “All Things Considered”.  Rock critic Dave Marsh, long a fan, who contributed the album's liner notes, wrote "Amy Speace’s songs hang together like a short story collection, united by a common vantage point and common predicaments…it’s a gift to hear a heart so modest even when it’s wide open." An accidental side project was born in East Nashville in 2015, when Applewood Road was formed.  The trio of Speace, Amber Rubarth and Emily Barker  met in 2015 at a coffeeshop in East Nashville and, after writing one song together, were signed to a deal with the London-based Gearbox Records. Their eponymous debut was recorded in 4 days around one microphone at Nashville's analog studio Welcome To 1979 and was released in the UK in February 2016 to astonishing 4 and 5 star reviews. The Sunday London Times called the album “a flawless set that has to be the most haunting release of the past year” and The Telegraph wrote “There’s a Moorish magic to the harmonies of this country-folk trio that recalls the vintage appeal of the Everlys and the Andrews.”  Applewood Road appeared that summer at Glastonbury Festival, The Cambridge Folk Festival and on the Andrew Marr Show.