HATTIESBURG BLUES is our second album for Delmark Records, and our 8th CD overall. From the beginning of our negotiations with Delmark in early 2005, Bob Koester Sr., the labels’ owner, first wanted a live CD/DVD from us, as he likes capturing blues and jazz bands in clubs “live-as-it-happens”. We did just that on July 19th of that year with surprising success. Indeed, ONE EYE OPEN: LIVE AT ROSA’S LOUNGE, CHICAGO (DE583, DVD 1783) climbed to number 6 on the national US charts as reported by Living Blues Magazine (January-February 2006). Fans and friends alike continue to say that this success is due to our tight performance that evening and to how pristine and good the sound and the mixing are. Following this success, we decided to continue our association and record a studio album for the Chicago label.
ABOUT THIS RECORDING
In my experience as a band leader, I have never gone through a recording session without witnessing or experiencing some drama. Whether it is dealing with someone forgetting the time of a recording session, asking for extra money in the middle of a song, or a guest singer coming with allergies so severe that the vocals were unusable (while having the gall to ask to get paid anyways!). No drama was spared on this session as well.
To wit: on the morning of the first day of recording (September 10th, 2007), harried, I trimmed my moustache to take away unwanted hair that might interfere with my harp playing (a potential nuisance for a bearded harmonica player!). In my haste I cut my upper lip with the scissors. Blood gushed, and I was unable to stop the bleeding for about an hour. Thank God it didn’t hinder my harp playing during the recording as the cut was located away from my lips’ playing range in spite of blood stains regularly showing up on my harps.
Here are two other examples: again on the first day of recording, about the third song into the session, Carl Weathersby injured his right thumb. As with Lurrie Bell, Carl’s wonderful tone is achieved with this thumb, and not
with a guitar pick. The injury was so serious that he had to leave the recording room to attend to his wound. Trooper that he is, as soon as he could find a way to bandage his injured thumb, he came back to the room and finished the two days of recording with the same gusto and focus as ever. He now has a new nickname among us: “The Thumb”, as he played his lead and rhythm guitar with … a bandaged thumb! Finally, to top it all of, on that day as well, Giles Corey was battling stomach flu and had to sit down to play!
After last-minute reshuffling of schedules to accommodate some guest musicians and/or band members, we were ready to forge ahead. Everyone came to Delmark’s Riverside Studios with a positive attitude. The recording unfolded amazingly well. We had done rehearsals on the road, at my brother’s Hyde Park home, and at Delmark’s Riverside Studios. These rehearsals paid up big dividends.
We recorded six tunes on the first day. This is an unusually high numbers of songs as it takes hours to set up and level everyone’s amplifiers, microphones and drums, before tackling the first tune. You quickly tend to become drained with the amount of time and concentration involved in preparing for the recording process.
From the first songs on, we knew we were involved in a special project. The rhythm section of Kenny, Steve and/or Spurling were locking in tight, Hambone did his keyboards wizardry to add unique flavoring touches to the tunes (check his work on “Calypso In Blue” and “How Much Worse Can It Be?”, for example), while Giles and Carl worked harmoniously together, leaving ample creative room for each other to do their guitar work. Finally, Inetta dived right into the songs and delivered her best on each tune. As for me, I always pay attention to what I play or don’t play as a harp player. Like my collaborators here, I tried to blend into the whole as part of a well-woven fabric.
On this recording I have added a Latin and a bit of a Gospel flavor, and I am thrilled they turned up as well as they did. Gospel is naturally inspiring to me. It easily can bring tears in my eyes. The music, lyrics, and vocal harmonies are so uplifting to me. Yet, as odd as it may sound, the “cry” so movingly expressed in blues music, moves me as profoundly as the Gospel “celebration” response. Go figure. I have always enjoyed the full range of emotions expressed by the music of African heritage as it developed through many different cultures in South America, the Caribbean Islands, and North America.
As far as the Latin dimension on this CD, they reveal my love for my wife Vickie and for her side of the family. From the time I first met my Cubanita about thirty years ago, she introduced me to a Latin musical world I would have never had the privilege of knowing and appreciating. Besides this obvious emotional ties to Latin music, I am also the lucky godfather to three beautiful children who are either born to Cuban parents (Alina , 23 years old; and Jasmin, 2 years old), or born with at least one Cuban parent (Nicolas, 7 years old). Adding to this list our many Latin friends, these songs add even more sentimental value.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Inetta Visor has been with MISSISSIPPI HEAT since 2002. That was the year we recorded FOOTPRINTS ON THE CEILING (released by CrossCut Records, and which received “Best Blues CD of the Year” and “Best Blues Production of the Year” by REAL BLUES MAGAZINE). This success was, in part, due to her stunning performance on it. As you shall hear on HATTIESBURG BLUES, she is one of those artists who keep on improving as she performs and records! By know, we have traveled the world over, from Mexico to France and Canada, for instance, and she never ceases to amaze me. Her stage presence and beautiful voice mesmerize our fans. They adore her, both as a person and as an entertainer. Inetta has a deceptive look about her: unassuming, humble and easy to get along with. She is indeed all of that, thank God, but don’t let that fool you. She is as ambitious and as determined to succeed as any singer I have ever met. It is rare to meet a vocalist that is so talented and yet down to earth at the same time. On this recording, Inetta wrote the beautiful lyrics to “Light From Within”.
With the exception to our 2005 ONE EYE OPEN-LIVE AT ROSA’S LOUNGE (a CD/DVD project for Delmark Records) where we highlighted Lurrie Bell’s genius, Carl Weathersby appears on all our recordings since HANDYMAN (CrossCut Records, 1998). That is, we now have recorded four CDs together in that 10 years span. The same can be said also with my drummer Kenny Smith, who has been playing and recording with me since 1997. Carl and Kenny are the oldest members of the MISSISSIPPI HEAT’s family, and actively contribute to our band’s unique sound.
I first met Carl in the early 1990’s when I was on tour with the HEAT in Belgium (my country of origin). My family had relocated to Chicago in 1969, and I enjoyed returning to Belgium as often as music would allow me. At that time, Carl was working with Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues. I was introduced to him by my then singer Deitra Farr. I liked him right away and kept a friendship that has grown well beyond the stage. As with Lurrie, I invite him as often as possible to festivals and trips overseas. Carl traveled two weeks with us in France (Paris and Avignon) in November 2006, for instance. He continues to be a steady member of our recording cast. Whatever his contribution, we know it will be tasty and, above all, soulful. He is also one of my favorite singers.
Kenny Smith is the son of Muddy waters’ long-time drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. He has played drums since the age of 5! Today, at the tender age of 34, Kenny is among the best blues drummer alive. He always gives his all, and his commitment to the band is steadfast. I feel it when we play, but also off the bandstand. He is one of the few musicians I know who understands my musical style. I have a unique sense of timing, for instance, which can throw off some players (just watch my legs when I play). NEVER with Kenny. With him backing me up, I can venture and create. He is family to me. “The only way you’ll ever get rid of me”, he told me recently “is if you fire me. Otherwise I am playing with you until you retire”!
Guitar wizard Lurrie Bell and MISSISSIPPI HEAT also go back many years. He often would show up at our gigs with … a harmonica in his hand. Few people know that he loves the harp. He plays it well enough to carry a couple of tunes, and has the legendary Carey Bell’s tone and style. Whenever we travel, and at the wee hours of the day, he can be heard in his hotel room practicing his harp. For hours on end! We also often jam in the van on the way to a gig. His schedule permitting, Lurrie is present at many of our shows. He is a gentle, humble man, who plays with uncanny inspiration, tone and feeling. Lurrie is always ON. A genius. Here he plays and sings on two tunes: “Chicago Is My Home”, and “Gone So Long”.
Giles Corey joined Mississippi Heat in 2006. Giles played guitar with quite a variety of well-known blues legends, from Otis Rush and Otis Clay to Billy Branch. He is as passionate a guitar player and singer as anyone I have ever known. A team player, always on, he adds whatever musical touch is necessary to make the band sound good. That is true not only of this recording (listen for instance to “Calypso in Blue”, “Hattiesburg Blues” or “Say Something Good”) but with our live performances as well. Beneath Giles’ reserved and introverted appearance lies a witty and immensely likeable person. He always seems to know what is needed; not more, not less. A rare quality for a lead guitarist…
Spurling Banks is one of the two bass players used on this recording. He played with the HEAT from about 2002 until last December 2007, when we decided to part ways amicably. He is an awesome musician, as comfortable with Gospel, R&B, Jazz Fusion, Funk, as he is with Blues.
On HATTIESBURG BLUES, the other bass player, and new MISSISSIPPI HEAT member, is Stephen Howard. Steve is a former band alumnus (late 1990’s to 2002). He is one of the best in-the-pocket players I know. He works so well with Kenny.
On keyboards you will find Chris “Hambone” Cameron. As with our GLAD YOU’RE MINE CD (CrossCut Records, 2005), I have prepared many of my tunes with Hambone (some with Giles Corey and Chris Winters as well). Hambone has a small recording studio in his basement. He also records piano and B3 on the tunes I bring for eventual band rehearsals. This process of putting songs together is tedious, and his patience and creative generosity makes our work all the more rewarding. Among the greats Hambone has played and/or recorded with are John Mayall, Etta James, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, James Brown, Howard Levy (Chevere), Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows, and Sonia Dada. Hambone is a musician’s musician. His musical knowledge is uncanny. He has a “third ear” for tunes. He knows what to add (check his Manteno licks on “How Much Worse Can It Be?”), and what not to play. He always listens. As he helped me with lyrics and/or some musical arrangements, he appears here as a well-deserved co-author on “Hell & Back”.
When Hambone heard I was looking for a Latin percussionist for some tunes, he directed me to Ruben Alvarez. He and Ruben are current band members of CHEVERE, lead by harmonica extraordinaire, Howard Levy. Hambone and Ruben also know each other from the John Mayall Band days, with whom they worked together in the 1970’s. Ruben did a superb job on four cuts.
When I was looking for a male guest singer for “Foolish Man”, Chris “Hambone” Cameron recommended one name, and one name only: Devin Thompson. They had collaborated on previous recording projects, and Hambone had nothing but great things to say about his singing abilities. I can now hear why! Devin holds the lead vocals chair with the Chicago-based group, The Chicago Catz. Born in Joliet, Illinois, he grew up in a family steeped in gospel, R&B, blues and jazz. He has recorded numerous jingles (it is also Hambone’s main livelihood, though now-a-days the present economy makes it difficult to survive solely on that), and can be heard (with Hambone) on the Walt Disney soundtrack movies “Holes” and “The Guardian”. Devin is an affable, professional man. He delivers passionate vocals on “Foolish Man”.
Finally, I have not felt so much thrill listening to horns as I have to those on HATTIESBURG BLUES. Indeed I have not heard horns arrangements like these in a long, long time. The Chicago Horns, here led by Kenny Anderson on Trumpet (who did the arrangements), are on the money. Their Latin flavoring and harmonizing up and down the scale while celebrating the band’s work, all testifies to Kenny Anderson’s genius.
It is a humbling experience to be surrounded by the musicians on this recording session. I know being inspired by them, and others whom I worked with before them, is one of the key factors to Mississippi Heat’s success. I am blessed to have such musicians as either part of my regular band or as part of an extended MISSISSIPPI HEAT family. Though not on this record this particular time, this extended family also includes Danny Draher (who played with Etta James, Dr. John, Wilson Pickett, Paul Butterfield among other luminaries) who replaces Giles Corey when he isn’t available; as well as former band member Chris Winters who still occasionally performs with us.
HATTIESBURG BLUES is our best recording to date. Delmark Records is a company that showed me the respect and support any artist would wish for. And more. Hard to beat. Additionally, the fact that this label has such a long list of world famous blues recording alumni deepens my thrill at being on their roster. Indeed, many of my heroes like Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Carey and Lurrie Bell, Dinah Washington, Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Rush, Sunnyland Slim, Magic Sam, among many others, have recorded for that famed label. I hope you will enjoy listening to our new project as much as we did recording it.
Peace and Love,