Tribute CD Honors Texas Blues Legend Bugs Henderson

Bugs Henderson was a Texas blues rock mainstay for decades before his death in 2012.
When blues guitarist Bugs Henderson died from liver cancer in 2012 at the age of 68, Texas music lost one of its storied veterans. The native of Tyler spent much of his life performing and based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

And while he briefly flirted with larger stardom in the '60s as a member of the garage/psychedelic band Mouse and the Traps -- whose songs included the dead-on Dylan pastiche "A Public Execution" "Made of Sugar, Made of Spice" and "Sometimes You Just Can't Win" -- his heart was largely in the blues.

Several champions of Henderson - including performers Bill and Sherman Allen and producer/studio owner Chuck Kavooras - set out to pay spotlight the performer and make sure his music was kept alive. The end result is The King of Clubs, a 2-CD tribute record.

Players who contributed to the project -- recorded over several years at Kavooras's SlideAway Music Studio in California and various places in Texas make up a large list.

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We Insist! Jazz's Five Greatest Protest Songs

Candid Records
Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln's Protest Aria
The writer and journalist Harriet Martineau said, "If a test of civilization be sought, none can be so sure as the condition of that half of society over which the other half has power." That same test, if applied today, would reveal certain improvements in American society. Yet, based on the recent turbulent events in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., much remains to be done to rectify the present injustices forged upon America's most marginalized.

The seeds of protest due to grave miscarriages of justice for those in pursuit of the same happiness promised by our Declaration of Independence sprung from the soil that yielded the only exclusively American art form, jazz. In the 1950s and 1960s, jazz musicians began eagerly addressing inequality and bigotry, bringing to the foreground the sounds and images of the struggle for equal rights. Max Roach and Charlie Mingus confronted specific incidents head on while Billie Holiday transformed a song composed by a white school teacher horrified by the mass lynchings in the South.

Jazz, at the time America's most widely popular music, listened to by blacks and whites alike, felt the urgency to speak for those yelling from outside of the margins, for those who wanted nothing more than the decency that should be afforded to all men regardless of skin color.

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RIP Blues Man Don Kesee

photo by Sherman Hatton
Don Kesee (far right) with Texas Johnny Brown, Little Joe Washington, Milton Hopkins (standing), Eugene Moddy, George Brown at the Big Easy, August 2011
Longtime Houston bluesman Don Kesee, known by all who met him for his good nature and huge, friendly smile, passed away Wednesday afternoon after an extended illness. He had been on dialysis for some time and, according to folks who saw him at a benefit in November, he had not looked at all well lately.

photo by Sherman Hatton
Don Kesee
Kesee was one of the elder statesmen of the local blues scene included in our August 31, 2011 cover story about the Houston blues community.

Kesee was born near Hempstead and began playing guitar when he was 9. His father had been with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama for some years. After a teenage apprenticeship in blues bands in Hempstead and LaGrange, Kesee moved to Houston in the early Sixties, joining The Esquires.

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Remembering Rozz Zamorano, Houston's Bass-Guitar Giant

Photo courtesy of Greg Davis
L-R: Fondue Monks Denver Courtney and Rozzano Zamorano
Note: this Christmas, Rocks Off is remembering some prominent members of Houston's music community we lost this year.

Houston's music community is still reeling after popular bassist Rozzano Zamorano was found dead in his Montrose apartment on February 19. Friends say Zamorano failed to show up for a gig with Vince Converse that night at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar, leading police officers alerted by his family to break down his door and discover him unconscious in his bed. Zamorano had just celebrated his 44th birthday the previous weekend at a gig with his band the Fondue Monks, also at Dan Electro's.

"Rozz to not show up at a gig -- that never happened," says Fondue Monks singer Denver Courtney, who had been Zamorano's bandmate since the group formed in 1991. "I've been onstage with Rozz when he had a 103-degree fever and was puking off the back of the stage."

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Remembering Joe Sample, Fifth Ward Jazz-Funk Great

Photo by Marco Torres
Note: this Christmas, Rocks Off is remembering some prominent members of Houston's music community we lost this year.

Joe Sample, the Houston native whose masterful keyboard playing made him a leading figure in the jazz fusion movement of the '60s and '70s and a top session musician in jazz, R&B and pop for several decades, passed away September 12, according to his Facebook page. His family announced his death with the following message:

[Wife] Yolanda and his son Nicklas would like to thank all of you, his fans and friends, for your prayers and support during this trying time. Please know that Joe was aware and very appreciative of all of your prayers, comments, letters/cards and well wishes.

Sample was a graduate of Wheatley High School, where he and some classmates founded a group they called the Jazz Crusaders in the mid-'50s. They moved to Southern California in the early '60s and became one of the most popular and respected groups in jazz thanks to albums like Freedom Sound and Looking Ahead. In the '70s, as their sound incorporated more and more elements of funk and R&B, the group changed its name to the Crusaders. Sample also took plenty of jobs on the side, appearing on classic pop-rock albums such as Joni Mitchell's Court & Spark, Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On and Canned Heat's Up the Country. It was not easy work, he told the Houston Press in 2013:

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The 10 Most Quintessential Old Jazz Songs

Library of Congress/Wikipedia
Louis Armstrong was once so popular he had a brand of cigar named after him.
The best thing about old jazz is how just one good song will serve as a reminder of how brilliantly romantic that time period was. The soulful cry of artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong was just made to intertwine with the rat-tat-tat-tat of crisp drums and and the wail of blaring horns. The collaboration between the big band and those big voices was -- and still is -- absolute magic.

And because it was such a magical time, we feel that everyone should spend part of their day dancing around to old jazz songs. While we may not be able to transport you back to the time when Dizzy Gillespie reigned supreme (our flux capacitor has gone missing) we can throw this here list your way to help you out instead.

So just throw on these old jazz standards and dance around like you're on some airy New Orleans veranda instead. We'll never tell.

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Little Joe Washington: The Stories Never End

Photos courtesy of Ray Redding/TexasRedd Photography
Little Joe Washington at KPFT's Anniversary Party, April 2013
Houston is a little less of an action town today after Wednesday's passing of Little Joe Washington, the mighty-mite of the local blues scene. Washington's death is believed to be due to diabetic complications; he was 75.

I could prattle on here with the nuts and bolts of an overview of Joe's life: his birth on Velasco Street in Third Ward, his roots in the local scene here backing up guys like Albert Collins and Joe "Guitar" Hughes back in the day, his crazy days in the bars of El Paso and Juarez with pal Long John Hunter, his salad days in Los Angeles recording for Syd Nathan and Specialty Records, or his long slide into addiction and homelessness.

But screw it, I have better memories than that.

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JW-Jones Is No Blues Nazi

Photo courtesy of JW-Jones
Going out of -- hell, just trying to get out of -- the box in blues is hard. Purists, traditionalists, blues nazis, or whatever you want to call them built the box and they are proud of the box. The box has its advantages: it's comfortable and doesn't require much thinking or adjustment, the comfort zone is there to cocoon in.

So who knows what traditionalists will make of JW-Jones, a brash young Canadian with a mostly-Texas blues bone who refuses to play by the rules. He plays two gigs in Houston this weekend, tonight at Shakespeare Pub and tomorrow at the Big Easy.

Blues Revue calls Jones "a fluid amalgam of T-Bone Walker's big, bright chords, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's slashing leads, and Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown's jazzy sting." That's high praise indeed. For his part, Jones says it's nice to have the accolades, but his influences are fairly wide.

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Revisiting Johnny Winter's Hell-Raising Memoir

Photo courtesy of Kid Logic Media
Johnny Winter, third from left, with John Belushi, Muddy Waters and Dan Aykroyd
Raisin' Cain; The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter
By Mary Lou Sullivan
Backbeat Books, 384 pp., $24.99

As is the case when any musician dies, widespread interest in his or her career and catalog shoots up in the immediate aftermath. And that has certainly been the case with blazing blues singer/guitarist Johnny Winter, who passed away in July at the age of 70 while on the road in Switzerland.

Ironically, even outside of his demise, the profile of the Beaumont native and former Houstonian was on the rise with the release of a career-spanning box set (True to the Blues), a documentary (Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty) and a now-posthumous "comeback" record, Step Back.

So it's a good chance to look back at Raisin' Cain. First published in 2010, it was the culmination of a rocky road for author Sullivan. Based on scores of hours of first-person interviews Sullivan conducted with Winter -- along with his bandmates, his mother and brother Edgar, friends, lovers and others -- the book took more than two decades to produce. It didn't help that a former manager barred her from access to Winter halfway through the project, while his next one restored the relationship.

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Joe Bonamassa Is Feeling Different Shades of Blue

Photo by Rick Gould/Courtsey of Jensen Communications
If you were searching for Joe Bonamassa's new record Different Shades of Blue in an actual record store (remember those?), you'd likely find it in the "Blues" section. But like most of the work he's put out since 2000, the material is decidedly more rocking as well. Still, the 37-year-old singer/guitarist says he's fine with the term both on a professional and personal level.

"You've got to label me something, and that's fine. I don't think that 'blues' is a bad word at all!" Bonamassa says just prior to the record's release Tuesday and a fall tour, though one that sadly skips Houston. "I think all of my records can be in the rock section, but I don't mind being in the blues. There's a lot of good company there!"

Besides, Bonamassa thinks that national listening trends may have finally caught up with him.

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