There is probably not much need for me to sing the praises of this leading European traditional blues band, because by the time you are reading this you have probably already purchased this CD – a good choice. And if you have been enjoying authentic blues music for a while, you probably already know the Mojo Bluesband well. For more than 22 years, this Austrian group has been playing this music professionally all over Europe, and lately also in the blues’ homeland, the United States, where they have become a popular attraction on the “beach music” scene of North and South Carolina.
Besides issuing their own critically acclaimed (and at one time even charting) albums, the Mojo Bluesband has long been first choice for touring US blues artists in need of sympathetic, dynamic accompaniment true to their respective styles. And the band itself has on numerous occasions brought over artists from the States to Europe as featured guests for concerts tours and recordings. The list of blues people that the Mojo Bluesband has appeared and recorded with reads like a “who’s who” of the traditional blues scene. A number of these special guests were featured on the 3-CD-Set “Super Blues News” released in 1992, including Champion Jack Dupree, Lowell Fulson, Katie Webster and Big Jay McNeely. This was followed by CDs featuring Red Holloway, Johnnie Allan, Big Wheeler, and most recently big-voiced Chicago blues belter Tail Dragger (on Styx CD 1001 “A Chicago Blues Night Live”).
With their new double CD that you are now holding in your hands, the Mojo Bluesband continues this tradition and shares the spotlight with some of their guests of recent years. Compiled from sessions and concerts recorded between 1992 and 1998, the band is by itself on 7 tracks of this double CD set. Six tracks are sung by the group’s founder, Erik Trauner, whose strong, experienced, unaffected vocals match his instrumental prowess on guitar and harmonica. On one track, bassist Dani Gugolz is the lead singer with his distinctive high-pitched voice. “Sunnyland Train” and “Anna Lee” are both features for Trauner’s exceptional slide guitar work, inspired by Elmore James and Tampa Red/Robert Nighthawk, respectively. The stylistic diversity of the band is taken one step further on this CD with the inclusion of material from the area of western swing (Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On”) and rockabilly (“Rocket In My Pocket”).
Over the years, the Mojo Bluesband has featured some of the best piano players in the business (and they often collaborate with German Boogiemeister Axel Zwingenberger). On this CD, four different pianists can be heard, all exceptional players who contribute perfect rhythmic backdrops as well as exciting solos: long-time former member Christian Dozzler; the “Hamburger” Henning Pertiet who was with the band from 1993 to 1995; Frank Muschalle, also from Germany, who sometimes joins the band for special “History of the Blues” concerts and occasionally borrows the Mojos’ rhythm section; and finally Christoph Rois who is currently occupying the piano chair in the band, and whose laid-back, classic style is featured on two self-penned solo tracks.
It’s no secret that the success of the Mojo Bluesband is in no small part due to the incredible drive, flexibility and reliability of their rhythm section: Markus Toyfl (gtr), Dani Gugolz (bs) and Peter Müller (dms) are not only rock-solid players, but enhance each song with their dynamics and accentuations.
Following are some biographical data about the renowned, but partly not too well-known guests featured with the Mojo Bluesband on this CD. The earliest recordings here are from November 1992, when the Mojos did a special Louisiana tour through Austria with Johnnie Allan, Harry Simoneaux and Jimmy Anderson. Anderson is a real down home blues harmonica player and singer who made a handful of recordings in the early sixties at the legendary studio of Jay Miller in Crowley, Louisiana. Originally, Jimmy Anderson came from Natchez, Mississippi, where he was born in 1934. Around 1960, he moved to Baton Rouge and was very active in the clubs of the area. In 1969, he moved back to Natchez and has since then worked outside of music, except for occasional appearances such as the tour during which the songs on this CD were recorded. Anderson has the typically lazy, laid-back vocal and harmonica style associated with Louisiana blues, somewhere between Slim Harpo and Jimmy Reed. Three of his songs are reprises of his old Zynn/Excello recordings, and the authentic backing of the Mojo Bluesband together with Jimmy’s undiminished abilities make them true Swamp delights. Further tracks from this tour can be found on the Mojos’ 1994 CD release “Blues Roll On!”.
Towards the end of 1993, Doug Jay played with the Mojo Bluesband for a while (and almost became a full-time member). This Californian harmonica player and singer is solidly rooted in the Chicago and Louisiana styles; of his three feature numbers on this CD, one is a swamp standard and the other two are intelligent original compositions. These tracks were recorded live at two concerts in late 1993 that also featured Bob Gaddy and Larry Dale, two legends of the New York blues scene. Bob Gaddy was a cheerful piano player and singer; born in West Virginia in 1924, he settled in New York after his discharge from the army in 1946. Appearing with Brownie McGhee and Larry Dale in local clubs, he first recorded in 1952 and made a number of singles throughout the 1950s, most notably for the Old Town label (reissued on an Ace Records LP/CD). Although Gaddy continued to work the Big Apple clubs, he hardly ever toured or recorded again – apart from these live recordings with the Mojo Bluesband, there is only one cassette album available. On this CD, Gaddy reprises two of his Old Town recordings and delivers a surprisingly effective cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”. Unfortunately, these were his last recordings: Bob Gaddy died from lung cancer on July 24th, 1997.
For around 45 years, Larry Dale appeared off and on with Bob Gaddy. Although he toured and recorded with such renowned blues and rhythm & blues artists such as Paul Williams, Cootie Williams and Champion Jack Dupree, and even appeared in the rock & roll movie “Rock, Rock, Rock” with Jimmy Wright, Dale’s own recordings never sold well and today are sought-after rarities. Larry Dale’s real name is Ennis Lowery, and he was born in Texas in 1923. He moved to New York in 1949, initially working as a car mechanic, playing music only on the weekends. Soon he was playing regularly with Brownie & Sticks McGhee and Bob Gaddy. From 1956–58, he was a member of the Cootie Williams Orchestra, with whom he travelled all over the U.S. and Europe. When the interest in R&B waned in the early 1960s, things slowed down for Dale and he only recorded sporadically, his last recording being a 1987 single for the British magazine “Juke Blues”. Thus, these live recordings with the Mojo Bluesband are all the more welcome and show Larry Dale in great shape on 4 feature numbers: “Big Muddy “ and “Rock A While” are titles he first recorded in 1960 and 1968 for Glover and Fire, respectively; “I Got A Brand New Mojo” was one side of his Juke Blues single. On the Jimmy Reed standard “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, Dale, Gaddy and Jay all share the vocal duties. It must have been a hell of a night in Rankweil and in Vienna on Nov. 30th and Dec. 2nd, 1993!
Starting with their “Wild Taste Of Chicago” tour, LP, CD and video from 1989, the Mojo Bluesband has always had a special affinity to the Windy City’s blues artists. Consciously searching for lesser-known artists who still play the traditional Chicago blues style, the Austrians have appeared and recorded with J.B. Hutto, Big Mojo Elem, Willie Kent and many others. On this CD, original Chicago blues is represented by A.C. Reed, Little Mack Simmons and Tail Dragger. A.C. Reed, best-known for his many years in the bands of Earl Hooker, Junior Wells and Albert Collins, is one of the few saxophone heavyweights of the Chicago blues. He is also a great singer who writes his own funny, ironic blues lyrics about real-life situations, in particular musicians’ problem such as low-paying gigs and malnutrition on the road. On his two songs featured here, A.C. is glad that his woman went on a diet and (again) claims that he will quit the music business for once and all – which he hopefully won’t ever really do. Another track, also recorded on one of the frequent trips of the Mojo Bluesband to Chi-town, features harmonica player Little Mack along with Erik Trauner’s slide guitar on a typical instrumental. (Further tracks from this Chicago studio session can also be found on “Blues Roll On!”)
The Mojo Bluesband’s recent success in the United States among shaggers led up to a collaboration with two giants of rhythm & blues who have long been favorites on the beach music scene: Jimmy McCracklin and Nappy Brown. Both were big stars during the heyday of R&B, and today are revered as living legends of this music – and the way that both of them are inspired by their Austrian accompanists is a tribute to the band’s quality.
It would take much more space than a CD booklet to do justice to the enormous talents and achievements of Jimmy McCracklin as a writer and performer. Born in 1921 in St. Louis, the pianist and singer was at first influenced by Walter Davis. After a stint in the army he moved to California in the mid-40s, where he made his first recordings in 1945. By 1948 he had formed a full-fledged R&B combo, the Blues Blasters, and recorded a large number of singles for several companies, a.o. Modern/RPM, Swing Time, Peacock and Chess. For the latter company he made his most successful record, “The Walk”, which became McCracklin’s first top ten chart success in 1958. After a period of further label-hopping, he began a lengthy cooperation with Imperial Records in 1962. While other R&B artists were struggling during this time, McCracklin was able to remain successful by adapting his music to current trends, but without sacrificing his own creative identity. His intelligently crafted songs such as “Just Got To Know”, “Think” or “Stepping Up In Class” have become classics. After an LP for Stax Records in 1971, things also slowed down for Jimmy McCracklin, but since 1991 he has been making excellent CDs for the Bullseye label. Of course the four 1998 studio recordings by McCracklin on this CD with the Mojo Bluesband are all original compositions with the little twists and turns that make his songs so unique. Two of them, “No No” and “Arkansas” were previously recorded by McCracklin for Imperial Records. He has no shortage of material – the BMI database currently lists 248 songs written by Jimmy McCracklin!
Although not quite as prolific as his colleague, both as a writer and recording artist, Nappy Brown enjoys a similar legendary status among R&B fans. Brown was one of the first singers to combine gospel vocal styles with secular music, and thus became one of the role models of future soul singers. His adaptation of Roosevelt Sykes’ “Night Time Is The Right Time”, which he recorded in 1957, was made world-famous by Ray Charles. Brown had a string of successful releases on Savoy Records from 1954 to 1962, including his best-sellers “Don’t Be Angry”, “Pitter Patter” and “Little By Little” (not the Mel London/Junior Wells song). Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1929, Napoleon Brown started out singing gospel music, appearing with renowned groups such as The Golden Bells and The Selah Jubilee Singers. While recording for Savoy with The Heavenly Lights, label owner Herman Lubinsky (whom Brown later sued because he didn’t credit his authorship of “The Right Time”) asked him whether he would also sing secular material – and Brown “crossed over”. Unlike most other performers, he made the switch back to gospel music in the 1960s and 70s, but since the 1980s he is firmly back on the blues scene, with numerous albums for Landslide/Alligator, Black Top, JSP, Meltone, Ichiban and New Moon. Brown’s mighty strong vocals are soaked in gospel fervor, and his live shows are intense and emotional. On this CD, he is featured on a re-working of the standard “Baby You Don’t Have To Go”, and the hilarious “They Must Have Seen Me Comin’”, penned by Erik Trauner in a rare instance of trans-atlantic collaboration.
I’m sure you will agree that this ambitious project by the Mojo Bluesband is again a full artistic success. This is no longer merely the case of a European band searching out the roots of their music and hiring black blues stars to raise their own visibility or credibility. The recordings on this CD are proof that the Mojo Bluesband has reached a level of musicianship and originality that puts it on the forefront of traditional blues and rhythm & blues bands anywhere in the world today. And the featured musicians regarded them as peers, not pupils: you can hear the fun they had together, live and/or in the studio.