Ottawa Blues Festival
The following cuts are mostly my solo, live in concert, recordings that I did at various Ottawa (Ontario CA.) Blues Festivals over the last several years. The individual site was their indoor and intimate Barney Danson Theatre. I always look forward to performing there as it has excellent acoustics, and an equally excellent sound crew. These all are all raw, in your face, tracks and none have even been EQ’ued, let alone sweetened with various studio magic. I hope you enjoy them. Here some brief back stories on each song, the instruments played etc. I’d like to thank Mark Monahan the executive director and founder of the Festival, for his support of my programs and his commitment to Blues in the Schools. The last two cuts are studio recording featuring my entire group Tj Wheeler & the Smokers.
1: The River Runs with the Blues.
On the first three numbers I’m playing my 7 string Eastman Arch Top guitar (thank you Eastman for allowing me to endorse your fine
instruments.) As well as being influenced by George Van Epps, I’m also inspired from Brazilian 7 string guitarists, Folk Blues, Ragtime & Jazz guitarists and piano players. I’m most always going for an orchestrated sound in my solo approach. That incorporates playing various bass lines, while also playing rhythm chords, along with melody and improvised solos. This is an original song I wrote a few years ago. It’s also the title of an integrated arts education residency theme that I conduct. The song, as well as residency, explores the philosophical metaphor connections of the River and the Blues. It draws inspiration from everyone from Langston Hughes, Herman Hesse, Mark Twain, Memphis Minnie, Charlie Patton to Rogers & Hammerstein and Irving Berlin.
2: What a little Moonlight can Do:
This is one of my favorite Billie Holiday numbers, which I take in a combination of Bossa and Swing rhythms. Billie, to me, is one of the all-time great vocalist-storytellers, communicators of the great American songbook. To quote my late friend Philadelphia Jerry Ricks “Straight vocalist sing songs ….Blues based vocalist explain songs.” I’m no great singer, but I strive to be a good musical conversationalist.
3: Cherokee : This great warhorse for jazz soloing I’ve always loved. As mentioned, I often emulate Piano players in my solo (-trio) guitar playing. My finger picking, like many
began with learning alternating bass AKA ragtime, as well as pedal tone bass lines. Which some of the old bluesmen & women call dead thumb. About 13 years ago, I started attempting the piano technique of integrated simultaneous walking bass patterns, while still comping, & playing the melody or soloing. It’s still a work in progress. I dedicate this piece to the great pianist Dorothy Donegan and guitarist Lenny Breau. Two of the most inspiring musicians to of ever walked the planet!
4: Hope, Heroes’ & the Blues:
In the late 80’s while opening for a series of speaking engagements for Rev. Jesse Jackson. I had the epiphany that, though Blues came out of the hardest of hard times, it was truly music of Hope. Shortly after, with the help of a grant from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, I began my first national Blues in the school tour AKA BITS. I called my program Hope, Heroes’ & the Blues. The song explains why. I perform it on a National Resophonic Guitar, with a slide, in an open G tuning with a very low G on the bottom.
5: John Henry :
August Wilson & Cornell West have both said that the Blues are the Oral Chronicles of Black history. I learned this song from Furry Lewis, though
as instructed by him and other Bluesmen like Bukka White, I added my own spin on it It’s played on the 1 string slide guitar known as the Diddley Bow. The Diddley Bow, I think of as the first stringed instrument of the Blues. Most folks seem to think of Mississippi as it’s place of origin. Though known by different names, I’ve seen and heard them on my various BITS sojourns to both Brazil and Africa. It truly is a magical instrument. Kids love its ability to talk. Really!
6: Do Lord:
To me, Blues and Gospel can be viewed as different side of the same coin.
The Folk Bluesmen & woman seemed to of known this better, perhaps than their
electric descendants. All that I studied with, knew the value of including at
least a couple in every concert. Personally I think they were included for more than just
musical reasons. I play this old spiritual on the Tenor Banjo (which I also love
playing lots of NOLA traditional Jazz on.) It’s utterly incomprehensible to me how
the fact that the banjo is an African originated instrument could have been obscured
so long in American history. In this song, I attempt to impressionistically, bring back
some of its trance like qualities.
7: Pay Day:
Speaking of trance music; that component has always been inherently important in… really explaining why music is so important to me. Only in the moment of improvisation, for me, does the immediacy of “reaching up and grabbing the notes from the stars” (Bukka White) occur. Mance Lipscomb used to say “You don’t play the music…the music plays you.” Here in one of my favorite Mississippi John Hurt Songs …Pay Day. The song takes me where it wanted to go. (this is performed on the National with an Leslie effect, as I’m just as hung up about the Hammond B3 as I am Piano players LOL.)
The last two numbers are studio numbers that I recorded with my band
Tj Wheeler & the Smokers. Sasified I wrote about 10 years ago. It’s done in a rhythm
known in the vernacular as the Flat tire beat. It’s, once again, fhonky philolosophizin.’
9: Let Me be Me:
This was collaboratively written with a group of students from Brookline NH, Elementary school about 20 years ago. The school, at that time, was thought of as being all White. I posed a question to them…their answers are in this song…Plus; since I found (and still find ) myself, very often, in the complete opposite situation, I added a verse, as well, for those students.