Johnny B and the Goodes – “Have Mercy”

A CD Review by Michael Witthaus

Harp player Johnny Bishop is a steady presence in the area music scene since moving north from Virginia a few years back.  Blues fans that have enjoyed him in bands like Blue Monday and Have Blues Will Travel, will be pleased with this CD, the first from Bishop’s main band.

“Have Mercy” features songs from rock and blues mainstays like Muddy Waters (“Honey Bee” and “Trouble No More,” popularized by the Allman Brothers) and Fats Domino  (“I’m Ready”), but the emphasis is on Bishop’s harmonica heroes, Little Walter in particular.

Of particular note are covers of two shuffle blues,  “It’s Too Late Brother” and “Mellow Down Easy.” On the first, Bishop smoothes a bit of the gravel from Little Walter’s vocals. He channels Willie Dixon’s smoky singing  style on the latter, helped by some pop and flash from guest guitarist Ted Mortimer.

Throughout, Bishop punches up the harp playing on each of the classics he takes on, adding a modern sheen that recalls Magic Dick of the J. Geils Band and Blues Traveler’s John Popper.

He gives the disc’s other Little Walter track, the slow burning instrumental “Blue Lights,” some jazzy textures, admirably anchored by the rhythm duo of bass player Brian Kennell  (of the Squids) and drummer Bobby Gagnier.

On “Hard Hearted Woman,” a slow blues number written by Walter Horton (harp player and self-proclaimed tutor to both Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson) , Ed Eastridge’s nimble touch on guitar,  along with Bishop’s soulful vocals and scale-stretching harmonica antics, provide the high moments.

Bishop strips all restraint from “Nine Below Zero,” transforming Sonny Boy Williamson’s smooth, steady (and oft-covered) original into a rock and roll rave up.  He then  takes “Good Rockin’ Tonight”  in the opposite direction, bringing a languid feel to the buoyant Roy Brown tune.

“Mood Tuesday” is another surprise, one of two Bishop originals on “Have Mercy.”   The acoustic song features guest guitarist Wally Wysk offering up flamenco flourishes  in an acoustic stew that’s part Duke Ellington, and part Django Reinhart.  The shift is a bit jarring, but it works nonetheless.

The other original, “I’m Lonesome, “ is a straight-up blues rock number with a Fabulous Thunderbirds energy.  It will undoubtedly fill a few Upper Valley dance floors before too long – beginning  with a CD release party this Friday at Salt Hill Pub in Lebanon.

The production, shared by Bishop and guitarist Ed Eastridge, is crisp throughout.

Johnny B. and the Goodes play a CD Release Party At Salt Hill Pub Friday (9 PM, FREE ADMISSION)

Local Rhythms – Banding Together for a Fan

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Few can match the music community’s generous nature. It’s amazing – most area players have day jobs, and stuggle to find the time to even practice. But when there’s a friend in need or a cause worth supporting, they won’t hesitate to step up.

For example, there’s the COVER show featuring Jay Ungar and Molly Mason tomorrow at the Lebanon Opera House, and next week’s Farmer’s Market benefit, wit Dar Williams topping the bill.

Sometimes it’s a fellow performer that needs a helping hand, but this weekend in South Strafford, Vermont some of the Upper Valley’s best will band together for a fan.

Health care is a problem that no amount of politics or public agitation seems able to solve. For some, medicine is the greatest luxury of all. That’s the case for the area woman, who’s asked to remain anonymous in the public media, at the center of Saturday’s benefit show at Barrett Hall.

The “Purple Hair Fund Dance” – she’s been known to dye hers that color – features Dr. Burma, Gypsy Reel, Blue Monday, Jeanne McCullough and Friends, Jeremiah McClane and Terry Youk.

In the course of the event’s four hours, others will undoubtedly join in.

Admission is by donation, and proceeds raised will help with the medical costs faced by a person who, says show organizer Ted Mortimer, “all the musicians on the bill know and love.”

Ted Mortimer leads Dr. Burma; he’s guitarist, teacher and all-around good guy. “I’ve known her for 20 years,” he says.

“She and my wife Linda are like sisters.”

“Last month she was diagnosed with a Type IV Glioblastoma,” he tod me in a recent email, “which is the worst variant of the most aggressive brain tumor there is. She had surgery at DHMC about 10 days ago to remove it, but they couldn’t get it all.

“The docs have told her she has 18 months to live if she opts for heavy radiation and chemo; 3-6 months if she doesn’t. She has no health insurance, little savings, and can no longer work.”

Far too often, financial ruin accompanies the physical and emotional devastation of failing health. That’s especially true for a lot of musicians.

The Rhythm & Blues Foundation, for example, pays for things like wheelchairs, hearing aids and funeral expenses for destitute players.

With that in mind, it’s inspiring to know that this weekend, local musicians will be singing for a music lover.

What else is on the calendar?

Thursday: Aztec Two-Step, Boccelli’s – “Music Lives in Bellows Falls.” That’s the new slogan across the river, and they’re proving with show after show. This duo has been entertaining regional audiences since the late Sixties. Their 1972 debut album sat at the crossroads of folk and prog-rock, and was an FM radio staple at a time when such a thing mattered. It’s been over 35 years, and they’re still going strong.

 

Friday: Blue Monday, Skunk Hollow Tavern – This band, which also plays the “Purple Hair Dance,” got their name from the Monday night Salt Hill jam sessions where they met and found their groove together. Featuring harmonica man Johnny Bishop, Brian Kennell of the Squids, Bobby Gagnier and Ted Mortimer (who’s everywhere and plays everything, it seems), the band covers the gamut of the American blues idiom, and have a ton of fun in the process.

Saturday: Sirsy, Salt Hill Two – If you haven’t seen this two-piece powerhouse, you’re in for a treat. Haling from upstate New York, Sirsy features the awesome lungs of Melanie Krahmer, who can wail, growl and pound the devil out of a drum kit. She’s accompanied by guitarist Rich Libutti, who helps out on snare when Melanie takes a flute solo – did I mention that? This is a duo that’s decidedly greater than the sum of their parts.

Sunday: Jack’s Mannequin, Keene State College – Jack McMahon’s side project is more of the piano-driven indie rock that his band, Something Corporate, has a reputation for – albeit a little wilder and unrestrained. In an attempt to either keep the crowd young or make sure the oldsters pay a price for living vicariously, student tickets are five bucks. Everybody else pays twenty-five.

Monday: Graham Parker & His Latest Clowns, Iron Horse – He emerged around the same time as Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. Early records like “Squeezing Out Sparks” hinted at greatness, but Parker’s star never rose to the level of his English compatriots. One of the punchiest live shows in all of rock. Eilen Jewell opens – she’ll be a bona fide star by summer’s end, mark my words.

Wednesday: Chaos Theory Dance Company, Colby Sawyer College – Student, faculty and guest dancers join forces for two nights of spirited improvisation The “Theory of Everything” dance features music taken from silent movies and Queen riffs. This week’s eclectic pick.