Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking?”

Howlin` Wolf

Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Arthur Burnett, 1910-1976) was born in abject poverty in White Station, Mississippi, a tiny railroad station. When his parents separated, his mother, a religious fanatic, sent him to be raised by his great-uncle Will Young, a preacher, who beat the boy mercilessly. When he was 13, he ran away and joined his father on a plantation in Ruleville, Mississippi, in the Delta. There he learned guitar from local bluesman Charlie Patton and harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson.

In 1951, Wolf came into Sun Studios in Memphis, to audition for the great Sam Phillips, the man responsible for launching the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and many others. Phillips recalls seeing Wolf for the first time, a 6 ‘ 3”, 275 pound giant coming out of the fields in his overalls, holes cut out in the sides of his size 16 boots to accommodate his corns. When he heard him sing, Phillips said “This is where the soul of man never dies.” The first song Wolf recorded for Sun, “How Many More Years”, became a big hit on the R&B charts and a bidding war for Wolf’s services followed, won by the Chess brothers in Chicago. Phillips said that the loss of Wolf was his life’s biggest disappointment, worse than losing Elvis, who Phillips had to sell to RCA records for $35,000 to keep his studio going.

Alrick

Wolf’s booming voice and imposing stage presence made him one of the most popular blues artists of all time. Several of his songs became blues standards, many of them written by Chess songwriter Willie Dixon. His rough and raw stage personna was in stark contrast to the man himself. Functionally illiterate into his forties, Wolf eventually returned to school to earn a general education diploma and later to study accounting and other business courses to help manage his career. He payed his musicians very well and on time, provided them with health insurance and deducted unemployment insurance ans Social Security – a practice unheard of at that time.

Wolf met his wife, Lillie, when she attended one of his performances at a Chicago club. According to those who knew them, the couple remained deeply in love all their life. Together they raised Bettye and Barbara, Lillie’s daughters from an earlier relationship.

Wolf tried to reconnect with his mother all his life. At the peak of his success, he saw his mother in Mississippi but she rebuffed him. She refused to take the money he offered her, saying it was from his playing the “devil’s music”. Hubert Sumlin, his guitarist and friend, said Wolf cried all the way back to Chicago.

Richard and Roch

Wolf’s health began declining in the late 1960s. He had several heart attacks and suffered bruised kidneys in a car accident in 1970. Wolf had kidney surgery and died of complications from the procedure on January 10, 1976, at the age of 65.

Howlin’ Wolf probably influenced more artists than any other bluesman, even the great Muddy Waters. To listen to Captain Beefheart, Joe Cocker, Freddie King, or Tom Waits is to hear Wolf. I thought it would be fitting to play “Who’s Been Talking?”, one of my favourite Wolf songs, in the style of Tom Waits.

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars, MIDI guitar (tenor and alto saxophones)
Alrick Huenener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

Who’s Been Talking?

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Delbert McClinton’s “When Rita Leaves”

Delbert McClinton

Delbert McClinton’s website says that there are two kinds of people in the world – those who love Delbert McClinton and those who haven’t heard him yet. Very true. Unfortunately, there are far too many in that second category.

In a career that spans more than five decades and nineteen studio albums, McClinton, a singer, songwriter and multi – instrumentalist from Lubbock, Texas, has managed to win Grammys in both the Rock and Blues categories. He’s also had great success on the Country charts for his collaborations with Tanya Tucker and Emmylou Harris and is also no stranger to R& B and Tex-Mex. Many artists have flocked to participate in his recording sessions over the years, including Bonny Raitt, Lyle Lovett, B.B. King, John Prine, Tom Petty and Melissa Etheridge. McClinton is easily one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard and his songs have been recorded by Etta James, Emmylou Harris, Joe Cocker, Rita Coolidge and even the late, great Ray Charles. Lyle Lovett famously said “ If we could all sing like we wanted to, we’d all sing like Delbert.”

Alrick

Delbert McClinton made a name for himself as a young harmonica player in the Texas roadhouses and was soon backing the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed – something unheard of for a young white boy. Touring England with Bruce Channel in 1962, Delbert met the young John Lennon and taught him the finer points of playing the harmonica.

In all his compositions, it’s mostly Delberts lyrics that ring true for me – simple, honest, with the occasional wry humour. The first time I heard “Your Memory, Me, and the Blues” and his
impeccable lyrics “A creature of habit in all that I do / When I make coffee, I still make coffee for

Richard and Roch


two”, I knew that Delbert McClinton was in a class by himself. Roch, Alrick and I have chosen to play his Tex-Mex classic “When Rita Leaves.” I’m sure that every songwriter alive wishes they had written this song. If I were hosting a songwriting class, this is where I`d start.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar, classical guitar, mandolin
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums and percussion

When Rita Leaves

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Help Me / Green Onions

Booker T. & The MGs

When I was 14 and 15 years old, all the kids in the area went to the Clarence Creek arena on weekends where there were dances in a big ballroom on the second floor. The DJ played dance music which, at that time, was the superb soul music that came out of Stax, Atlantic and Motown studios. We listened to Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, The Temptations, so many unforgettable artists that defined our youth. Being very reserved and clumsy on the dance floor, I didn’t do so well with the girls but the music, at least, stayed with me all my life.

Sonny Boy Williamson


I heard the instrumental piece “Green Onions” by Booker T. & The MGs for the first time at one of these dances. The band was made up of Booker T. Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass and Al Jackson Jr. on drums. Booker T. & The MGs, the house band at Stax studios, was also one of the first racially integrated bands, at a time where this was severely frowned upon by our intolerant neighbours to the south.

Richard and Roch


I quickly became a huge R&B fan, in particular everything that came out of Stax and Atlantic studios. This led me, quite naturally, to the blues and to black American music in general, a passion that consumes me to this day.

“Green Onions” was recorded in 1962 and, a bit later, I heard “Help Me”, one of Sonny Boy Williamson’s best “trance” blues, recorded in 1963. The lyrics to “Help Me” describe, in a simple but devastating manner, the mundane tasks of a relationship in the middle of failing. Both songs use the same chords and I always thought that playing blues in a R&B style might be pretty interesting. Here’s what it sounds like.

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars, electric bass, MIDI guitar (B3 organ)
Roch Tassé – drums

Help Me – Green Onions

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A tribute to Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley

When I was six years old, I was in complete awe of my older brother Gabriel. He was 20, tall and handsome and a gifted piano and accordion player. I couldn’t believe we were related! When he saw that I followed him around everywhere, he started teaching me about the rock ‘n roll artists he loved so very much and he also let me play his great collection of 78 and 33 rpm records. I couldn’t believe what I discovered in that music. I had the definite sense of trespassing into a very adult world.

I lived in a small rural eastern Ontario community and there were no crazy wild men like Jerry Lee Lewis in our village. There were no blacks at all in Rockland, certainly no one as flamboyant as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. I loved white and black artists alike but I knew they were different and came from different worlds. But I really didn’t know how different someone could be until I saw Bo Diddley on the Ed Sullivan show in the early sixties. I stared at the TV in disbelief as Bo strutted across the stage, bashing out a single chord song with a tribal beat on his low slung square guitar. His band had driving drums, maracas and a gorgeous woman to boot! I’ve been a slave to that Diddley Beat ever since.

How different was Bo? First of all, the name. Bo Diddley? Really? His real name was Ellas McDaniel and how he came about his nickname is uncertain – many believe it comes from “diddley bow”, a makeshift instrument popular with black kids in the South where a steel wire is stretched and nailed to the side of a barn and then plucked.

Bo, The Duchess and Jerome Green

There simply was nothing ordinary about Bo. His use of African rhythms and his signature beat influenced hundreds of artists from Buddy Holly to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. His square guitar was different. Long-time Chess Records percussionist Jerome Green on maracas and “The Duchess” on guitar were both very different. Bo always introduced The Duchess as his sister but she was Norma-Jean Wofford and was no relation to Bo, although he always thought of her as a real sister. Bo was no fool and he always had a beautiful woman in his band. When I saw him at a small club in Montreal in the late seventies, his band featured a tall, statuesque black goddess wearing only high-heeled shoes and a long sequined silver dress slit down both sides and held together with laces. She was shaking the maracas. Every man in the place was slack-jawed and stupefied.

Richard and Roch


Our tribute to Bo Diddley starts off with two of his compositions, “Mona” (1957) and “Who Do You Love?” (1956). Both are the type of single-chord wonders that Bo was famous for. “Willie and the Hand Jive”, a 1958 hit by Johnny Otis, was heavily influenced by the Diddley Beat, as was “Not Fade Away” (1958), one of Buddy Holly’s most beloved songs and certainly one of my all-time favourites.

Richard Séguin – voice, electric bass and guitars
Roch Tassé – drums and maracas

Tribute to Bo Diddley

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“Well, Well, Well”

Danny O’Keefe

The ecological anthem “Well, Well, Well” came about by coincidence. Singer-songwriter Danny O’Keefe happened to be in the same studio as Bob Dylan and he played Dylan a guitar part that he was working on. Dylan soon came up with some lyrics and “Well, Well. Well” was the result of this brief collaboration.

Dylan never recorded the song but O’Keefe recorded it on his 1999 album “Runnin’ From The Devil.” O’Keefe had a very big hit in 1972 with his song “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” and has been recording and performing for decades. Nevertheless, “Well, Well, Well” seemed to be heading for the forgotten back pages of contemporary music when it was taken up by Ben Harper on his 2004 Grammy award winning collaboration with The Blind Boys of Alabama entitled “There Will Be a Light.” The Bling Boys of Alabama have been singing gospel since 1939 and have won 5 Grammy awards on their own. Bonnie Raitt also recorded the song as a duo with Ben Harper on her 2006 album “Bonnie Raitt and Friends”.

O’Keefe’s original version features very funky fingerpicking while Raitt and Harper, both slide guitarists, have given the song a deep bluesy feel. When I listened to “Well, Well, Well” I heard its Appalachian overtones and couldn’t help thinking about Doc Watrson, my musical mentor growing up. Doc would have murdered this song with his magnificent voice and his great banjo playing. So I came up with this arrangement, which I play in remembrance of Doc Watson.

Richard Séguin – voice, banjo, percussion

 

Well, Well, Well

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Highway 61

Bob Dylan in 1965

In 1965, Bob Dylan released two albums, “ Bringing It All Back Home ” and “ Highway 61 Revisited ”, both forging a path far removed from his early folk music into a new musical hybrid that included folk, rock ‘n roll, literature and blues, everything mixed up into this irresistible whirlwind. The next year, Dylan released a double album, “ Blonde on Blonde ”, and the 34 songs from these three albums are, in my opinion, the greatest achievement by any musician at any time. The lyrics of these songs were instrumental in Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016.

The crossroads

The real highway 61 divides the United States and stretches 1,400 miles from New Orleans, Louisiana to Wyoming, Minnesota. Highway 61 is also known as the Blues Highway because it runs through the Mississippi Delta, the area most associated with the development of blues music. The junction of Highway 61 and US 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi is the famous crossroads where legend has it that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in return for his incredible talent. Blues songstress Bessie Smith also died on this stretch of highway in a car crash in 1937.

My arrangement of “ Highway 61 ” is taken straight out of Muddy Waters’ fifties versions of “ I’m A Man ” and ” Mannish Boy. ” It is played in the classic “power trio” style of a lot of 60s bands like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and, one of my favourites, BLT (Jack Bruce, Bill Lordan and Robin Trower), a collaboration that lasted for all of one album!

The lobby of the Capitol theatre

In 1968, both Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience played the magnificent Capitol Theatre in Ottawa, only a few weeks apart. I couldn’t afford to see both concerts so I went to see Clapton (Cream) and a friend of mine went to see Hendrix. My friend couldn’t believe that Hendrix set his guitar on fire! As for me, Cream played so loud that my ears are still ringing 50 years later!

A victim of the new and nearby National Arts Centre, the Capitol Theatre closed its doors in 1970. Shortly afterwards, one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in Canada was demolished and replaced by yet another ugly square office building. The Ontario provincial government, ever behind, only enacted heritage protection legislation 5 years later.

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar, electric bass
Roch Tassé – drums

Highway 61

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Bring It On Home – the trance blues of Sonny Boy Williamson

Sonny Boy Williamson

I really started listening to blues music when The Beatles died out in 1969. Muddy Waters was my big hero but I listened to everybody, acoustic and electric. In particular, I was very fond of songs that were repetitive, hypnotic and didn’t vary from start to finish, often played in a single chord. The best proponents of this captivating genre were Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. Much later, this type of blues became known as “trance blues.”

“Bring It On Home”, a great example of trance blues and a train song to boot, was written by Willie Dixon, the best and most prolific writer in the blues idiom. It was first recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1963, although it was only released in 1966.

Sonny Boy Williamson’s real name is believed to be Alex Ford but he was mostly known as “Rice” Miller. The date and year of his birth are uncertain. Sonny Boy himself said he was born in 1899 but his tombstone, set up in 1977 by Lillian McMurry, owner of Trumpet Records where Sonny Boy recorded, gives 1908 as his birth year. However, his real birth year is believed to be 1912, according to census records.

There is a close bond between Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf – Wolf married Sonny Boy’s sister and Sonny Boy later married Wolf’s half-sister, Mae.

Sonny Boy Williamson on King Biscuit Time


In 1947, Sonny Boy Williamson played on the very first radio broadcast of King Biscuit Time, a 30-minute long show from Helena, Arkansas sponsored by the King Biscuit flour company, which featured live performances by African-American blues artists. King Biscuit Time is the longest running daily American radio broadcast in history. Its popularity made it one of the most important catalysts in the propagation of blues music throughout the country and helped launch many careers by some of the most significant artists in the genre.

Sonny Boy Williamson died in 1965 at the age of 52. He was very popular in the sixties and appeared on a number of television shows that followed the blues/folk revival. Luckily, some of these great live performances are still available and I urge you to have a look at “the real thing.” This is a good place to start:

 

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar, electric bass, MIDI guitar (B3 organ)
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Bring It On Home

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Who’s Gonna Save My Soul

Richard and Roch

I first heard “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” playing over the end credits of a TV show. It’s by an urban soul duo known as Gnarls Barkley.The piece had enough interesting elements that reminded me of 60s soul music and Roch and I decided to record something modern for a change.

60s soul was the soundtrack of my growing up. I struggled with dancing and meeting girls, pretty well like all teenagers I knew back then, but the musc that we socialized with was the sweet earthy sounds of Memphis (Stax Records), New York City (Atlantic Records) and Alabama (Muscle Shoals Studios). Musically, it was the best of times – Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Booker T. and the M.G.s, and so many other great singers. You’ll notice that I don’t mention Detroit and Motown Records. Motown is like a disgraced uncle to me, someone you may respect but will never forgive. I never trusted Motown – it was much too slick and glittery for my tastes and I always thought nothing good would come of it. What became of Motown is disco music so, enough said.

I never thought Roch and I would record anything from the murky cesspool of contemporary music but I guess you should never really say never!

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass, MIDI guitar (electric piano)
Roch Tassé – drums

Who’s Gonna Save My Soul

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Subterranean Homesick Blues

Richard and Roch

In early 1965, a 15-year old folk music fan put Bob Dylan’s new album on the turntable, put the needle down in the groove and, like everybody else, sat back in disbelief at what he heard. “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, the first track of the album “Bringing It All Back Home” was a whirlwind of seemingly insane lyrics backed by romping electric instruments. The old Dylan, the folk hero, the saviour of a generation who wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changing”, was gone.

The odd title of the song is said to come from Jack Kerouac’s novel, “The Subterraneans” and “Taking It Easy” a song ironically written by Woodie Guthrie (Dylan’s greatest inspiration) and Pete Seeger (Dylan’s greatest denigrator). Dylan himself said it was based on the vocal delivery of Chuck Berry in his anti-establishment classic of 1956, “Too Much Monkey Business.”

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” is a perfect snapshot of the 60s, with references to drug distillation, drug busts, wire taps, civil rights riots (often broken up by high-pressure fire hoses) and a palpable atmosphere of paranoia and dread surrounding the proverbial “kid.” If there’s any of Dylan’s warnings that I took from this song it was “don’t follow leaders” – one of the doctrines of my life.
“Subterranean Homesick Blues” was used in one of the first “modern” promotional film clips, the forerunner of what was later known as the music video. The original clip was the opening segment of D. A. Pennebaker’s film Dont Look Back, a documentary on Dylan’s 1965 tour of England. The video, one of the best cultural artifacts of the 60s, can be seen by clicking this link:

Click on the X top right to remove the advertisement for Pennebakers’ documentary. The bearded bald man in the video is the poet Allen Ginsbeg (1926-1997).

Hubert Sumlin & Howlin` Wolf

Contrary to the original recording, my arrangement of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is indeed in a traditional blues format and comes from Howlin’ Wolf (real name Chester Burnett, 1910-1976), one of the greatest artists of all time, and his very influential blues piece “Smokestack Lighting.” In particular, Wolf’s guitarist Hubert Sumlin (1931-2011) came up with a timeless blues guitar riff for the song’s original 1956 recording. When I was a young man, I spent hours playing Hubert Sumlin’s riff and working out some fingerpicking variations which, more than forty years later, form the basis of this arrangement.

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars. electric bass
Roch Tassé – drums

Subterranean Homesick Blues

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The Séguin Brothers play “For No One”

Robert et Richard

Robert et Richard


Sometime around 1966, The Beatles became adults. “She Loves You” was replaced by “She’s Leaving Home.” The joy of their early pop music was nowhere to be found in pieces like “Nowhere Man” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Very much in this vein, “For No One” is about the end of a relationship, where people are discarded like worn out clothes – very shocking for the “love generation” of 1966. Unless you were there, it’s difficult to understand or explain the sense of social upheaval the The Beatles reflected in their new lyrics at that time.

But it wasn’t only lyrically that The Beatles were evolving. Their music, thanks to the contributions of producer/arranger George Martin (1926-2016), often referred to as the fifth Beatle, expanded into areas previously unknown to pop music. For example, the original recording of “For No One” is quite baroque, featuring a clavichord and a superb French horn solo, ably played here by Alrick on the upright bass.

Alrick

 

Bob Séguin – voice
Richard Séguin – mandolin
Alrick Huebener – upright bass

 

For No One

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