Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - Year in Blues

As the year comes to a close, I would like to wish everyone a bluesy new year, and for the coming year.

New Years is another day where we reflect on what we have achieved, and how we can improve. Usually, it involves getting fat and other non-completed resolutions from last year; as they say, making small hopes gives us a sort of purpose to keep going, even if it doesn't happen.

The biggest news for me this year was returning to my home city Beirut and performing at the Fete de la Musique; it was the first time in 10 years that I perform back home. 

Beirut Blues

In 2016, I'm hoping to have some music released, and looking forward to more gigs. So stay tuned to the only blues blog in town, and again you can stay in touch on Twitter and Facebook too.

Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

37th Blues Music Awards Nominees Announced

Another year, another Blues Music Awards!

The Blues Foundation has announced the date and nominees for the next annual event. It will take place, as usual, in Memphis, Tennessee, on May 5, 2016.

As for the nominees, here they are after the jump:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

New Photo of Robert Johnson Found, 3rd in Existence

I have previously discussed the mystique revolving around the photographic history of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. The fact that only two photos of him exist just add to the his allure.

Well, after the recent discovery that a supposed picture turned out to be a fake, a real third one has been unearthed and confirmed.

The Houston Chronicle has stated that it was found "in an antique Winthrop desk, filled with odds and ends, bought in a 2013 auction'.

Lois Gibson, a forensic artist for the Houston Police confirmed it, and the Johnson estate has as well.

This is another great piece of history in blues music.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hear Pink Floyd Cover Slim Harpo's 'I'm a King Bee'

In a recent discovery, I found out that Pink Floyd, in their earliest bootleg recordings from 1965 (meaning they feature Syd Barrett) included a cover of the well known Blues standard 'I'm a King Bee'.

the 1965 First Recordings album

The song is [here].

It's always nice to see non-blues guys cover well known blues tunes; as a matter of fact it's not the only time the Floyd has played the blues!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The 58th Grammy Award Blues Nominees

Another year, another Grammy Awards!

The 58th ceremony nominees for the blues category (among the rest of course) have been announced yesterday, as follows:

This year we have some heavy contenders... let's go one by one:

1) Cedric Burnside is a grandson of legendary bluesman RL Burnside, and has won several Blues Music Awards in the past.

I couldn't find a studio version of his latest songs off the album so here's a live clip instead:

2) Shamekia Copeland is a blue/soul queen with a fabulous voice. She has held her own in the blues world and has won many awards.

3) Buddy Guy needs no introduction. He's the current OG of the blues world, leading the pack.

4) Bettye LaVette is a soul singer who rose to fame in mid-2000s, but has been singing and recording at a young age. She's got a versatile repertoire.

5) This last album, which I covered recently is mainly for John Primer, but various artists like Billy Branch, Gary Clark Jr., Shemekia Copeland, James Cotton, Bob Margolin are also involved. This album is a compilation of covers celebrating Muddy Waters' 100th birthday.

Personally, as a fan of old school Chicago blues, I predict this will be a toss-up between Buddy Guy and Joe Primer.

What do you think? Tune in on 15 February to find out!

Monday, December 7, 2015

'Third Degree' - Eddie Boyd

Eddie Boyd was a blues pianist, who like many of his compatriots, moved from Mississippi to Chicago in the early 1940's.

He is most known for his songs 'Five Long Years' and '24 Hours', but this song, 'Third Degree', is also one of his best. It was also co-written by the blues legend Willie Dixon.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

'Sad & Lonesome Blues' - Sunnyland Slim

Sunnyland Slim is one of the original gangstas when it comes to piano and shout blues. He was also a main pillar of early Chicago blues.

Here's a gritty tune featuring Lefty Bates on guitar, from 1955, to ease you to this lonesome month of December:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving, the Blues Way

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Story of Dixie Square Mall & the End of an Era

Remember the police scene in the Blues Brothers film? Of course you do! But if you need a recap, here ya go:

It took place in the iconic (and now destroyed) took place at the Dixie Square Mall in Chicago. It has been demolished 30 years after the film, but I got an interesting article detailing the demolishing and some other insights. Head on over [here] to see it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Bluesy Weekend Special

Hey folks, after a long break from performing, I'm back with the blues, and back to back with 2 shows this weekend! I've got a setlist comprised of new and rare songs, and I'm happy to have probably the best harp player I've ever played with, Steve, to join me in the set.

First, on Friday 20th November, at the Khareef Festival at DAI Cultural Center in Yarmouk:

And on Saturday the 21st at Qout Market, Sahara Golf Club:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

'Too Poor to Die' - Louisiana Red

One of the biggest blues woes is the lack of finance... to most of us, we try and hustle to pay the rent, but also the reality of dying is true; you have to pay to get buried, to have a plot of land to be buried in, along with taxes and the like.

This song was released by bluesman Louisiana Red in 1964, and has become one of his staples. I will be performing this song in the near future (stay tuned!)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

"V8 Ford Blues" / James Cotton, Paul Butterfield & Elvin Bishop

This is a rare gem of a song; Chicago blues legends James Cotton, Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop sat down to play one of Cotton's classic tunes, in a stripped down late night blues.

The song is also known as "Down at Your Burial".

Sunday, October 18, 2015

'Joliet Blues' - Johnny Shines

Joliet Correctional Center (i.e prison) was a famous landmark in Illinois, and is a not that far from Chicago. Many inmates from around the area are sent to it, and many blues songs have been written about this infamous prison, even Jake Blues of the Blues Brothers served time there, hence his nickname 'Joliet Jake'.

'Joliet' Jake Blues

One famous tune about the jail comes from Chicago bluesman Johnny Shines, and the song is aptly called 'Joliet Blues' released in 1950:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

2nd Blues Workshop - 20 October

Following from where my last workshop ended, I'm returning once again to Bayt Lothan to continue my blues discussion, and a jam will take place too!

It will take place Tuesday, October 20 from 7-9. 5KD fee.

The marketing:

BLUES WORKSHOP with Ali Sleeq 
DATE: Oct 20 
TIME: 7-9pm 
VENUE: Bayt Lothan 
First hour will cover blues concepts and the second hour will be a jam with the participants so bring your instruments whatever they maybe!

Registration fee : 5kd
To register: 25755866 / 25755877 ex: 102 /107 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Eid Blues Roundup

So it was a long break, and I've been slacking on the blog lately (i know, forgive me). I expect things to pick up by October.

I've gathered up some tidbits about some blues / jazz (and me, plugging shamelessly) for ya:

1) Radio Blues

Yep, I was on the radio (Kuwait FM 99.7) yesterday morning for some live blues and discussion on the Eid Special with Maha and DJ Aki. Props to them and 99.7 for the support and love!

Songs played:

1- Key to the Highway
2- You Don't Have to Go
3- Rollin' Stone

2- Jazz for Cows

It's not really a new video, but it just came across my feed again and thought it was cute. Bovines love jazz it seems!

3- Happy Birthday John Coltrane!

It was the legendary jazzman's birthday over the holiday, so mad props to the man who reinvented music with his nonstop search for enlightenment. Here's the full Blue Train album for your pleasure:

4- Dudley Taft's album confirmed for October

Blues-rocker Dudley Taft will release his new album 'Skull & Bones' on October 16! Here's a snippet of some hard rockin blues to come:

5- The Hurt Project releases EP

Marlon Hunt from the Hurt Project contacted me and informed me of their new EP release 'After the Storms' and features some old-school blues I'm sure you guys will enjoy. Their bandcamp site is [here] and you can hear the music below:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Standard of the Week: 'You Don't Have to Go'

Alcoholism and personal problems left bluesman Jimmy Reed a bit less popular than his other blues compatriots, but later his legacy has proven itself to be highly influential. 

In 1954, the bluesman he released 'You Don't Have to Go', which was a big hit. Reed was signed for Vee-Jay Records and this song led to many hits later on in his career. It features the infamous Chicago shuffle with a harp melody (that Reed played himself while playing guitar as well.)

Since then, many blues artists covered this song, and it became a standard in modern blues music. 

Some of the cover artists include:



ANDREW ODOM & The Gold Tops

Jerry Lee Lewis & Pinetop Perkins

Grant Dermody & John Dee Holeman (acoustic)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rare New Footage of John Lee Hooker 1970 Performance Unearthed

A  set of rare footage of a John Lee Hooker performance in Detroit has been found and uploaded.

This is from a 1970 TV music show called Tubeworks. This is some deep blues right there! Dig the organ!


1st Video:

1- Can't Get out of These Blues Alive
2- Maude
3- It Serves Me Right to Suffer

2nd Video:

1- Hobo Blues


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

'Wild, Wild Woman' - Johnny Young

Johnny Young was a seasoned Chicago blues veteran who found success in the 40's and 50's. He went to retirement around 1958, until he came back to music after the folk and blues boom in the 60's.

He was also known to be one of the few popular blues mandolin players. He died in 1974.

This track from 1965 features the harp and piano of James Cotton and Otis Spann respectively, of Muddy Waters' blues band.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

My Interview with Studentalk is Now Available!

Recently, I had the pleasure to be interviewed by leading Kuwaiti magazine Studentalk, where I talk about my love for the blues!

You can pick up a free physical copy at Starbucks, or alternatively, check the below links :)

Thanks to Ali Al-Hassan and Tarek Kabbani from Studentalk for their support and great work!

Page 1

Page 2

Thursday, August 27, 2015

'Good Morning Mr. Blues' - Otis Spann

Most of you listen to Fairuz with your morning coffee; I present you a chill alternative!

Otis Spann was one of the pillars of Chicago blues piano until his untimely death in 1970. He also had a souldful voice to boot.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Slave Man Blues

I might not be in Beirut to support the Tol3et Re7etkom cause, however I have donated to the Indiegogo campaign and signed the petition, which you can too! I'm sending you my blues support, stay safe everyone!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

'Personal Manager' Live - Albert King

In 1967, Albert King released his first album on Stax Records (2nd overall), 'Born Under a Bad Sign', to widespread acclaim, featuring several songs that would eventually become standards, like the title track, 'Crosscut Saw', and 'Personal Manager', which you can see below in an extended live version at the Fillmore in 1968. 

Truly electrifying, with the added soul horn section, and Albert's distinctive guitar style.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

'Too Much Alcohol' - JB Hutto

JB Hutto was a bluesman who was inspired by the work of Elmore James; in the late 50's he became disillusioned with music and quit for a while. 

He worked as a janitor to make ends meet, until he was picked up to record some music for Vanguard.

This song is a product of that session, and he kept playing until he died in 1983.





Wednesday, August 12, 2015

'Bessie' - a Blues Film Not to Miss

A few months ago, HBO released a TV film called 'Bessie', starring Queen Latifah.

It's a biofilm about 'The Empress of the Blues' Bessie Smith, who was one of the top female blues artists alongside Ma Rainey, Victoria Spivey, and dozens of others.

I'm not a movie critic but the film captured the spirit of the depression era, how she rose to fame, generally everything feels right and the performances are spot on. 

I watched it on OSN, so you can look for that now, or if you can get your hands on it somehow, because it's a great movie about blues history, which we lack so far (see this post about some blues films).

Here's a song from the movie, 'Down Hearted Blues' (cover):





Tuesday, August 11, 2015

'Cleanhead Blues' - Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson

Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson was an American jump bluesman, and alto saxophonist. 

He was nicknamed 'Cleanhead' after an incident in which his hair was accidentally destroyed by lye contained in a hair straightening product.

He is well known in crossing over to R&B and jazz territory as well.

Here's one of his signature tunes, where he discusses his baldness, with a humorous result:





Sunday, August 9, 2015

Buddy Guy on the Future of the Blues

The last remaining OG bluesman Buddy Guy has spoken about the future of the blues in a recent interview with NPR (full interview here):

I wonder if there aren't as many young black musicians devoting themselves to the blues. Do you worry about the future of blues music?

I worry about the future of blues music whether you are black or white. If they don't hear it like I did and listen to it and don't know about it — you ever been to Louisiana where they cook all this gumbo?
I have. I love it.
I do, too. [Laughs.] So if you never tasted it, you wouldn't love it. That's what's happening with the blues. Now, the young people don't know nothing about it unless — I know satellite [radio] do play blues, but we need more than that. I tell everybody I would love to hear Muddy Waters twice a week. I'm not telling you to play him all day, all night; just play him. Let the young people know where it all started."
His new album, 'Born to Play Guitar' has been released and I'll be reviewing it soon.

Here's a song off the new album; no embed is available sorry:

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Chicago Blues Session - Sunnyland Slim & Little Brother Montgomery

In 1960, legendary blues pianist Sunnyland Slim and jazz pianist Little Brother Montgomery got together and recorded a full length album full of blues and jazzy pieces, showcasing each person's background. Jump Jackson appears on drums on a few tracks.

Here is the full vinyl, conveniently placed on Youtube, perfect for your work commute or your way back home:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

New Release: 'Muddy Waters 100' - A Centennial Tribute Album

Just released, 'Muddy Waters 100' is an officially authorized tribute album featuring many artists, including former bandmate Joe Primer,Billy Branch, Gary Clark Jr., Shemekia Copeland, James Cotton, Bob Margolin, Keb’ Mo’, Derek Trucks, Johnny Winter, with Vincent Bucher, Leanne Faine, Tim Gant, Khari Parker, James Teague, Steve Gibons, Keith Henderson and the Living History Band: Matthew Skoller, Billy Flynn, Johnny Iguana, Felton Crews, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith.

This album is a tribute to 100 years of the great bluesman Muddy  Waters, whose musical legacy lives on today. 

To buy this album digitally or physically (including a deluxe 48 page booklet) go [here].

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

You Seein' Trash 'Cause You Gots the 'Garbage Man Blues'

photo by Jawad Chaaban

In light of the recent debacle in Lebanon, about trash not being picked up and is currently filling up the streets, I'd like to dedicate this blues by Muddy Waters to the Lebanese people and the government.

Although it technically is about a cheating woman leaving her husband for the garbage man, ideally we can use it as a metaphor for being screwed by politicians instead.

My baby, she run off
With the garbage man
Yeah my baby, she run off
With the garbage man
Well, I need you so bad little girl
So you can empty my garbage can

I don't know where she been
And I don't know why she goin'
Yeah, I don't know where she been
And I don't know why she goin'
Please come back to me
My garbage can is overflowin'

Yeah my baby, she run away
With my hard earned cash
Well my woman, she run away
With my hard earned cash
Well I don't need your money
I don't need your money girl
I need you so you can empty my trash

Bonus: Buddy Guy Cover

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Complete 'Blues Masters' Video

In 1966, CBS Corp. recorded a live blues session with some of the best Chicago blues players. It features Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and many more.

If you want a great piece of musical history, which hasn't happened again for some time (getting master blues players together for a summit), including an encore performance by everyone, don;t miss this classic showcase!

Monday, July 13, 2015

'Chicken Hearted Woman' - Clarence Samuels

Now almost forgotten, Clarence Samuels was a blues singer who was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on October 30, 1923 and died on May 21, 2002. Samuels made his first recordings for Aristocrat (Chess) in Chicago in 1947 and 1948. He recorded for a number of labels and made his final recording in 1966.

He started performing live again after a long haitus, touring the US and Europe.

His most famous song is called 'Chicken Hearted Woman':

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue' the 5th Best Selling Vinyl in 2015

via Sinister Salad

So far in 2015, these are the top 10 most selling vinyls according to Nielsen Music:

1. Taylor Swift, 1989 (34,000)
2. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell (32,000)
3. Arctic Monkeys, AM (27,000)
4. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color (26,000)
5. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (23,000)
6. Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour (23,000)
7. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon (23,000)
8. Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack (22,000)
9. Father John Misty, I Love You Honeybear (22,000)
10. Hozier, Hozier (21,000)

My my.

We already know that this seminal jazz album by trumpeter and legend Miles Davis is the best selling jazz album of all time; but to still be this relevant in 2015? It seems it's relevance is still paramount, even after almost 60 years since release.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Blues Workshop - 12th July

I'll be giving a workshop about blues music next week (Sunday, 12th June) at Bayt Lothan; it's only KD 5/- a person, with limited seating.

Here's the blurb:

"Part historical and part practical, Ali's blues workshop will cover the origins, various playstyles and the main legends of the blues, along with a practical understanding of the basics of blues playing. 
 If you want to brush up on the history of the blues and learn a few licks, join us at Bayt Lothan on July 12 for the first workshop of its kind in Kuwait!" 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Robert Johnson’s Son Dies in Mississippi

Claude Johnson, seated
The blues legend Robert Johnson remains an enigma; for all but two pictures are known of him (a third one is under dispute and is most probably fake), he also never left a will, and died at a young age. Yet his music shook the foundations and spawned rock n' roll.

One of his sons, Claude Johnson, was announced dead at the age of 83 in Mississippi a few days ago. Claude was the sole heir of his father's music, and under a supreme court order in 2014 to also benefit from the photograph royalties, despite heavy class action suits from relatives.

However, he didn't use these royalties to build houses or whatever, rather taking menial jobs and living a simple life.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rolling Stones Sing a Muddy Waters Tune Featuring Buddy Guy

A few days ago at one of their concerts in Milwaukee, The Rolling Stones performed 'Champagne & Reefer', a Muddy Waters classic. Joining them as a special guest was blues legend Buddy Guy (who played and recorded with Muddy many years ago.)

Nice to see the Stones pay tribute to one of their biggest influences!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

'Early Morning Blues' - Big Joe Williams/Lightnin Hopkins/Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee

In 1960, a live jam session took place at the Ash Grove club in Los Angeles, featuring four blues legends, Big Joe Williams, Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

A very raw and down low, loose performance by all these greats, this album was only released in 2001 after being bootlegged for so long.

Here's 'Early Morning Blues' also known as 'Chain Gang Blues':

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Post-Gig Blues Report

10 years. 

It was 10 years ago that I performed in Beirut. Why did I take so long to go back and play? Lots of factors really. After all, I was always in a band situation, never a solo performer until only a few years ago. 

The opportunity seemed ripe, considering the amount of work and effort I was putting into this blues thing. How far can someone go with the blues? A genre that continues to dwindle in the overall scheme of things?

I got the approval of Fete de la Musique a month back. It was the comeback I was looking for after a decade of absence from the Lebanese music scene.

The next step would be to assemble a band. Like I normally do things, I have my friends and network of musicians. I was fortunate enough, considering how busy everyone would be on that night (92 bands were playing), I reunited with Toufic who was the drummer with me in the Mojolaters Blues Band before we returned to Lebanon 4 years back.  

Next I had the versatile and laid back Joe on guitars, who was essential in filling both the role of lead and rhythm. 

Given the time constraints and busy schedules, I was not able to get other people on board. A power trio it would have to be.

Under tension and anxiety, and also having an extremely powerful band (Funky Blues Brothers), incidentally fronted by the French Ambassador no less, led me to almost crumble. I mean, these guys have about 30 years of playing experience, not to mention some of the best musicians in Lebanon, and having more members on stage to fill up the sound.

To counter this, I made a rapport with the audience, telling them my story of being here, cracking some jokes here and there.

Our setlist was:

1) Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock N Roll - Muddy Waters
2) My Babe - Little Walter
3) How Blue Can You Get - BB King
4) La Grange - ZZ Top
5) Got My Mojo Workin' - Muddy Waters

My tension eased once the first opening notes were played, and when everything gelled together. By the 3rd song we were in full force. Thankfully we pulled off a great performance and the crowd was very supportive and engaging, especially when they were singing along in "Got My Mojo Workin'.

Thanks to Fete de la Musique and to Beirut for having me again after all these years, to my friends and family who came to the show in support. I'm back in Kuwait now with the blues as I write this, but I hope to be back again soon. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Standard of the Week: 'Statesboro Blues'

In 1928, country blues legend Blind Willie McTell released 'Statesboro Blues' on the Victor, referring to the town in Georgia.

The song is very much a ragstyle blues, and became one of his biggest hits.

However, it was the 1968 version by Taj Mahal and the 1971 version by the Allman Brothers that actually popularized the song, due to it's heavier beats and the electrifying slide guitars. The Allman Brothers version has seen heavy success and was chosen #9 on Rolling Stone's Top 100 Guitar Songs.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Weekend Roundup + A Reminder

It's been a busy weekend, so I thought I'd group everything into one post:

First, we start off with some bad news.

1- Ornette Coleman, free jazz legend, dies at the age of 85. 

Ornette Coleman was known to be a breaker of conventions; a man who played a plastic Yamaha alto sax, which is alone a shocker at the time, and performing odd measures, scales, and with more and more freedom within jazz.

His album, The Shape of Jazz to Come, in 1959 was his breakthrough, and went on his never ending search of new sounds until the day he died.

Jazz truly was never the same without him. Here's an old post I wrote about him a while back.

2- My Full Interview with Urban Q8 is Out

I had a great time doing this video with Tarek of Urban Q8. I hope you guy like this video!

3- Only a Week Left for Fete de la Musique!

Remember, next week on 21 June, I will be performing with my blues band in Beirut, at Samir Kassir Square. 

Checkout the full lineup that day, and don't forget to say hi!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Live Version of my original 'Snake Oil Blues'

I recorded an interview for Urban Q8, and that will be coming later on, however I thought I'd upload a live version of one of my tracks for that interview for you to enjoy.

This version, unlike the original, is in open G tuning, which makes it sound a lot darker and more true to the Mississippi Delta blues sound.

Hit me up with your feedback!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

'Glory Bee' - Lightnin' Hopkins

Lightnin' Hopkins was known for his haunting vocals, enchanting lyrics and fiery guitar skills. This song combines them all in a chilling blues track, called 'Glory Bee'.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015