Nestled within this year's list of nominees for the Chicago-based Blues Foundation's annual W.C. Handy Awards--which most blues artists and their industry kin rightly lend at least as much weight as the Grammys--is an item with a sharp local kick.
You'll find it in your program under category 19, "Traditional Blues Album of the Year," as nominee number four of five. The recording is Sittin Here Wonderin. The artist is Louisiana Red, a blues guitarist who, despite his name, is from Phoenix. Or, at least, he was in 1982, when he cut Wonderin in three sessions over two days at Lamb Chops studios.
Actually, like a lot of old-school bluesmen--hell, maybe even all of them--Louisiana Red isn't really from anywhere, except perhaps the road. As the saying goes, there's a lot of dust on them shoes. Red's lived and gigged in Chicago, New York, Detroit, Dallas and Pittsburgh, and now hangs his hat in Hanover, Germany, where--according to Bob Corritore, who produced Sittin Here Wonderin--"he's treated like the blues god that he is."
Corritore says Red went into the studio to lay down the tracks for Sittin Here Wonderin only days after the love of his life passed away. "The sessions were drenched in emotion," Corritore says. "It's low-down, gutbucket blues. Red brings you right into his psyche."
Louisiana Red is on tour in Europe and couldn't be reached for comment. But he says all he needs to through the vintage slide-guitar sound he coaxed and throttled out of the Gibson ESI 25 he used for the sessions--ahollow-body electric with one soapbox pickup. Throughout Sittin Here Wonderin, Red goes for (and consistently reaches) the same ringing, overamplified technique that was prevalent in early '50s blues, when players such as Lightning Hopkins and John Lee Hooker were just starting to figure out what happened when you plugged in a blues guitar.
Hooker's latest effort, Chill Out, is also up for the Handy award, along with recordings by Billy Boy Arnold (El Dorado Cadillac), Smokey Wilson (The Real Deal) and Paul "Wine" Jones (Mule). Corritore says Hooker's recording is favored to win. "He's such a legend, it'll probably go that way. Of course, you never know." The award will be announced in a Chicago ceremony on May 2.
About half of the songs on Sittin Here Wonderin open with a short spoken intro, in which Red details the deeply personal meaning behind the material. On the wrenching "E. Street Bridge," you can hear the catch of tears in Red's voice. Corritore remembers the guitarist crying on that song and on "Bumblebee," a tribute to Crit Waters, the relatively unknown Pittsburgh street musician who acted as Red's mentor in that city.
Red was 46 when he cut Sittin Here Wonderin for B.O.B. Records. That label shelved the tapes for six years, then sold them to Earwig Records. The Chicago label waited another seven years before finally releasing the album late last year. The commercial climate for Red's authentic style of blues, Corritore says, is now optimum. "The album appreciated over the years, because, while that kind of blues-playing was no less spectacular in the early '80s, it was far more common.
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"Now, a lot of modern blues has strayed far from the source," says Corritore. "This record flows right from it."
Good (and local) as it is, Sittin Here Wonderin is a tough find at Valley record stores. Special order/catalogue info is Earwig 4932.
Trunk Federation recently returned from a three-date spin through Southern California. The band headlined the Velvet in San Diego on January 4. "It was a total punk-rock club, which was great because we were playing to more of an underground audience," says Fed bassist Mark Frostin. Next night was Brick By Brick, also in San Diego, and the wrap-up show was January 6 at Foothills in Long Beach. Frostin again: "That place is crazy. It looks like something out of a '70s disco movie, and when we went into the chorus for 'Beanie's Soft Toy Factory'--the part that goes, 'This is entertaining'--these girls started doing cartwheels all in front of the stage. It was wild."
The Townies are sans bass player (Michael Jacques lit out for Dallas) and are holding auditions. Call 583-8690.--David Holthouse