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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Bob Dylan’s “From a Buick 6”

Richard and Roch

“From a Buck 6” was part of Bob Dylan’s phenomenal 1965 output that featured two albums, “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited.” I believe that the impact of the 20 songs on these albums was not and has never been equaled by any artist and contributed greatly to Dylan’s winning of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. The original recording featured Mike Bloomfield of the great Paul Butterfield Blues Band on guitar, the very influential Al Kooper on organ, as well as studio veterans Harvey Brooks on bass and Bobby Gregg on drums. Steve Jobs once said that this was his favourite track of all time.

Bob Dylan

Any artist must recognize those that came before. When Dylan plugged in an electric guitar in 1965 and alienated all the folk purists, most notably Pete Seeger, he showed that many of his influences came from Rock ‘n Roll. My arrangement of the piece owes quite a lot to one of my big influences, Chuck Berry and especially his great 1959 single “Memphis Tennessee.”

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

From a Buick 6

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Appalachian music

Richard and Roch

In the 60s, when I was growing up, I was exposed to so much music: Dylan and the folk revival, pop music with The Beatles and a slew of hybrid rock bands, Miles Davis and the new jazz. These were all forward thinking artists and they were all agents of change. But in the middle of this mad rush, there was Doc Watson (1923-2012), an old oak tree with deep roots, and Doc was looking back.

The most important thing I learned from Doc Watson was to respect the people who came before. Doc learned much of his repertoire playing with Clarence Ashley (1895-1967), one of the most important artists in traditional Appalachian music. Likewise, Doc Watson became one of the most important musical influences in my life.

Alrick


“Appalachian” refers to an area of the eastern United States comprised of seven states, from Mississippi in the south to Pennsylvania in the north. Named “Apalachee” by the Spanish, the region has been known, stereotypically, for legends like Daniel Boone, wars between “moonshiners” and “revenuers”, very low standards of education, clan feuding and abject poverty for everyone other than loggers and coal miners, not that they fared much better.

The music of Appalachia is derived primarily from old English and Scottish ballads, Irish and Scottish fiddle music and African-American blues music. The tone of the music is very dark and dominated by stories of broken relationships full of rejection, abandonment and infidelity, often ending in murder.

Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson

Appalachian music is traditionally played only on stringed instruments, most notably the 5-string banjo which was played in a “clawhammer” style of picking with the instrument tuned in an open 4th chord, known as “sawmill” or “modal” tuning, both of these characteristics developed by Clarence Ashley. I tune and play my banjo in “The Cuckoo” and my guitar in “Little Sadie” in this fashion to honour Clarence Ashley.

I have loved Appalachian music since I was a young man and now, I finally get to record some thanks to my collaboration with Roch Tassé and newcomer Alrick Huebener, a fine upright bass player from Ottawa. And for the first time, I sing!

The Cuckoo

“The Cuckoo” is an early 19th century English folk song first recorded by Clarence Ashley in 1929. In its earliest versions, the cuckoo is likened to a roving and inconstant lover. I have added the verse about Angola prison, one of my favourites, which is taken from “Junco Partner”, a New Orleans standard popularized by Dr. John. I have also added a Cajun flavour to the piece with the addition of a triangle, called “’tit fer” (little iron) by the Louisiana Cajuns.

Richard Séguin – voice, banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – triangle

The Cuckoo

Little Sadie

“Little Sadie” is a 20th century Appalachian ballad also first recorded by Clarence Ashley in 1930. Some earlier versions were entitled “Bad Lee Brown” although there are no known instances of an American killer named Lee Brown. The addition of drums, although against Appalachian tradition, brings a more modern flavour to this great song. Alrick plays the ending chords with a bow.

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

Little Sadie

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