The Blues Scene (March 2000)
by Ray Curry

The dial on the way-back-machine is set for 1967 --- and away we go.
"Say man, pass that thing to me. You know what guys? After this little refreshment ditty, we need to get some papers at the Mind Mart, & then we need to stop by the Black Light Factory and check out the new posters & all the colors man!! You know that red-headed guy that runs that place is pretty far out too. Then after that, we can head around the corner, go upstairs & check out the scene at Love Street Light Circus!!"
"Hey Ray, you always wanna go there, man. Lets go some place different."

"Man, yaāll just donāt know what is happeninā tonight do yaā? Its only a 50 cent cover charge tonight, and those two albino blues brothers from Beaumont have Rocky Hill sitting in with them, & when theyāre finished, the 13th Floor Elevators are gonna play!! Too cool huh?"
"Ray, your brain is fogged out man. That was last week - this week its either Fever Tree or The Moving Sidewalks. Hey man, you stepped on my foot, & your scuffinā up my new desert boots!! But hey - it sounds pretty cool to me - lets go for it!"
So nowadays, Johnny & Edgar donāt gig together much anymore but they get paid more than a 50 cent cover, and Rocky Hill (little brother to Dusty) has made a name for himself in the blues arena. The Elevators are long gone, but Roky Erickson is still around and kickinā, heās based out of the Austin area, & of course The Sidewalks changed their name to ZZ Top & you know the rest. By the way, the red-headed guy who ran the Black Light Factory has very little hair nowadays, & he became one of my best friends, & my insurance agent.

The point being - there were some really cool clubs that were around here in Houston in the 60ās that really made a lasting impact on folks. Not that these were the only ones either, lets donāt forget The Cellar Club (jam all night), Liberty Hall (good olā Roberto), Jubilee Hall, & The Shanty, The Continental Ballroom. Then came the Montrose clubs that evolved in the late 60ās & early 70ās such as Damianās, Carnabyās, Miss Ireneās (an old shotgun style house that sat behind the SPCA on Washington Ave.), and one of my personal favorites with 2 stages - The Catacombs on Post Oak Blvd. (an old warehouse that was just about where The Arrangement furniture store sits now). Some of these clubs were R&R with some blues acts every once in a while, and some were pure blues clubs, but all of them were cool places to go. They set the stage for clubs of the late 70ās and 80ās in Houston booking blues acts. Fitzgeraldās, Chelseaās 804, Corkyās, Club Hey-Hey, and The Bon Ton Room to name a few. Blues clubs seem to come and go, mainly due to financial concerns, but they always make a mark in history if they book cool acts.

Not to start a battle or anything - but the last time I lived in Dallas (from 89ā-92ā) there were twice as many blues clubs there as there were here in Houston. The thing that really struck me was that the people in Dallas would stand in line to pay a cover charge to hear a local blues band that they had never even heard before. Very cool!! Here in Houston all you could get people to do was to stand in line & pay to get into a disco that played top 40 stuff. Whatās wrong with this picture? Hey - if I wanted to hear a CD, Iād buy it & play it at home for free, & on a better stereo without all that bass turned up to 12! The times have changed a little bit here, but Iād still like to see more independent thinkers here in Houston as opposed to the sheep that only go where they can hear, what they hear on top 40/album rock radio stations. Get a grip people - you donāt need a DJ or program manager (through heavy rotation) to tell you what is good & what is crap - make up your on mind for Christās sakes!! You do have a mind donāt you? Of course the Richmond strip (with a couple of exceptions) was created for these no brainer types I guess! (Man am I gonna get mail on this or what!?) Then on the other hand, most of the no brainer types arenāt going to be reading my column anyway, theyāll probably be reading the magazine that promotes the Richmond strip cover bands. That is, if they can read in the first place. So with that said -- here I am preaching to the choir again! Can I get an Amen? (and the readers reply - Amen!!)

So enough about that - lets get on with the blues news. Want to catch the best blues and R&B show of the month? Youāll have to drive to The Arena in Liberty, Texas for it ö March 25th starting at 3pm. Check this out ö Bert Wills, Tommie Lee Jackson & The B Sharps, and Jerry LaCroix will be appearing at a benefit sponsored by The Rotary Club International to raise funds to fight polio (no this nasty disease hasnāt gone away forever), and to benefit the Liberty High School. Iāll be there sitting in with The B Sharps & looking forward to hearing some of the best music & musicians you can hear live & up close.
I got a copy of Dave Nevlingās CD this last month. Dave was interviewed by James Nagle in MN last month & they talked about Daveās new CD "That Look" as well as his band. But I just got to tell you folks - this is some good stuff! Pick it up at one of The Blues Kats gigs or at Sound Waves or Cactus, also available via mail order for $15 which includes S&H at Katastic Records, PO Box 9166, Bacliff, TX 77518.

Last month my column focused on local blues guitarists and the gear they use to get their own signature tone. I had such a good r esponse to the column from the players & the MN readers that Iāve got a few more to throw at you this month. So, without any further adieu, here it is.

Johnny Bockelman: Lead guitar & vocals for The CityKings. A roots R&R band with a flair for Texas style blues thrown in for good measure. Johnny has been playing guitar for 32 years, took piano lessons for about 7 years & played some bass since 1972 as well. His main guitar is a '69 Les Paul with P-90 pickups, Grover tuners and jumbo frets. Johnny says, "My other electric is an '80 Stratocaster with stock pickups, tremolo, and a Schecter bridge. For slide, I use a '78 Guild D-40 acoustic with a Dean Markley ProMag pickup and a Mighty Mite heavy brass slide on my pinkie. I like the Les Paul for the feel. The output equals the input I give it. It has a classic tone and smooth action, and it has 22 frets that are relatively easy to reach. The Strat has a very thin and slim neck that takes a little adjusting on my part in order to compensate from playing that fat-necked Les Paul, but I can get some very clear and precise tonal qualities out of the guitar overall, including but not limited to a very wide-range vibrato. Whereas the Les Paul has one or two main tones, the Strat can go virtually unlimited in its sound capabilities. I've played everything on it from light pop to jazz to Heavy Metal to Surf, Blues, rock and roll, punk, and so on, and it has done all of it and come in like a champ every time."
RC: What type of amp(s) do you use?

JB: My main amp is a '75 Fender Twin Reverb. It has 85 watts, new tubes, stock Fender speakers, and it has both reverb and vibrato. My buddy Dave Freeman "loaned" it to me last year on a permanent basis. I was using a variety of amps before this one. Mesa Boogie, Peavey, a Fender Super Reverb, etc., but this amp has good tone and it'll hold up for a full night's boogie and never let me down. Heck, I've never had to turn it up to 5.
RC: What type of strings do you use? I use Ernie Ball Power Slinkys on my electric guitars .011 to .048, Earthwood or Guild Phosphor Bronze medium gauge on my Guild acoustic .013 to .056.
RC: What effects are you running through?
JB: I use a home-built suitcase-style double-decker pedalboard. I use 2 delays (Ibanez and Boss), an Ibanez Tube Screamer, an Ibanez stereo chorus, a Boss octave doubler, a Boss Super Phaser, a Realtube, a ProCo Rat, and a Steve Vai Bas Horsie wah pedal.
RC: Do you use any out of the ordinary effects or devices to get your tone?
JB: Not any more. I used to use a "Fender Blender" tone machine which was the most outrageous, obscene sounding pedal I ever heard. I also used Electro-Harmonix LPB and Flanger pedals. Now I just use the "big box."
RC: Do you use any other misc. accessories that you feel contribute to your overall sound?
JB: Iāve used a Jim Dunlop 1mm pick for the last 20 years. I have developed a slide style based on using heavier-than-usual materials, such as brass and ceramic slides. I also have a Sears Craftsman 11/16ths socket that works real good.
RC: What would your perfect gig rig be if you had unlimited funds?
JB: I dream of owning a 100-watt Marshall half-stack with an angled cabinet and Celestion speakers, playing a white Gibson SG/Les Paul Custom with 3 humbuckers, or a double-neck SG and using a Korg AX-1000G effects processor.
RC: Whose guitar/bass playing on a national level inspires you & maybe influences your style?
JB: Peter Green, Kim Simmonds, Johnny Winter, Robin Trower, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore, Billy Gibbons.
RC: Whose guitar/bass playing on a local level do you most admire?
JB: Well for as far as bass players go - I have always admired Tommy Shannon for his control, tone and style. The late Keith Ferguson also influenced my style. For guitar players, Jimmy Don Smith was my all-time favorite guitar player. He had the total package. World-class chops, style, attitude, and a professional agenda. I haven't been around much to see who else is happening lately, but I have always admired the style of none other than the author of this column. Ray Curry plays with an original flair and tone, and he inserts a sense of humor into his performances as well as gives a psychedelic rendering to his more adventurous solos. I've seen him play slide, lightning riffs, heavy sustained notes, and jazzy bebop-styled licks all in one solo! Ray's real big on tone, and he works hard to apply just the right touch of tone to his work. His stage presence and mastery of his style are both original and rare in a world of so many clones.
RC: Damn Johnny, Iām gonna have to pay you some big bucks for that one - let me get out my checkbook! At least Iāll sound good on paper!! (it sounds psychedelic cause the 60ās havenāt worn off yet, & its adventurous because I have absolutely no idea of what Iām going to play next - & there are 10 styles all in one solo because I throw everything and the kitchen sink in just to see what will work!)

Orq Davidson: (Pronounced "Ork" as in Mork from Ork) Guitarist with the Tony Vega Blues Band has been playing guitar for ten years. He plays primarily an American Standard Tele, and also an '89 Japanese Strat. He uses Dean Markley strings 10 - 46, and says, " I change them pretty infrequently. I do this only because I rarely break strings, though not for lack of trying. As far as effects go I use a tube screamer and a Boss Distortion pedal. I run the Boss first, but I don't think it really makes much difference what the order is. For my perfect gig rig, I'd have to knock off Teri Green and take his Super. It has a monster tone!
RC: Whose guitar/bass playing on a national level inspires you & maybe influences your style? Orq: Tony turned me on to Tab Benoit. I went to go see him at the Satellite, and man that guy is smoking!! Great tone, no pretense, just killer.
RC: How about players on a local level? Orq: I would have to say that the player I admire most on any level is without a doubt Teri Green. His immaculate tone and his tastefulness (not too over-the-top, but he can be when a song calls for it, all the chickin-pickinā, and jazz phrasing) has tremendously influenced how I think about playing music. To me, he has been the most riveting guitar player I've heard since my first introduction to blues with SRV. Also Mark May, who's a truly amazing guitar player, and especially Harlem Slim who is the singular practitioner of the old blues and ragtime styles of guitar in Houston. This guy is really a treasure trove of blues music. Last but not least, J.D. Ditullio. J.D. is a drummer, but he plays with such a fire, such an all-consuming passion that one can't help but be pulled into the music. I want to play guitar like J.D. plays the drums. If I could do that I'd be a great guitar player.

Tony Lee: Guitarist for Monica Marie & The Blues Cruisers has been pluckinā the strings for 33 years. He plays an American standard with Rio Grande pick-ups, a Lone Star Stratocaster, a California Stratocaster, & a Gibson Flying V.
RC: Why do you prefer these guitars?
TL: The Stratocasters, because of the versatility; the Lone Star, because it has a humbucker and it makes it easy to get Gibson sounds without being on a guitar that unfamiliar. Srats are real hotrods.
RC: What type of amp(s) do you use?
TL: I use a Marshall JCM 900 2X12 combo 100 watt. Most all of my guitar heroes used some sort of Marshall, & I guess that is where all started for me. I have always like the sound of the English amplification when I got my first amplifier of any quality it was a HIWATT 100 8x12 ever since then I have been hooked on the sound.
RC: What type of strings do you use?
TL: Dean Markley Blue Steel 10 thru 46
RC: What effects are you running through?
TL: Boss digital delay and Boss digital reverb, Boss chorus, Boss tremolo, MXR phase 90.
RC: Is there a particular order you run them in? TL: Yeah, I run the Nady wireless, Vox wah wah, tremolo, chorus and MXR phase 90 on the main line, Echo and reverb on the loop.
RC: Do you use any out of the ordinary to get your tone?
TL: I use a beer bottle for slide. (I shouldāve asked Tony if he preferred domestic or imported bottles)
RC: Whose guitar/bass playing on a national level inspires you & maybe influences your style?
TL: Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Terry Cath, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, BB King, Otis Rush & Ariel Grosvenor. RC: Whose guitar/bass playing on a local level do you most admire?
TL: Sherman Robertson, Joe Hughes, Mark May, Luther "The Healer", Mike Davenport, Steve Radney, Scott Magill & Gene Kelton.

Cliff Jackson: Guitarist for Tommie Lee Jackson & The B Sharps has been playing for 34 years. Although Cliff cut his teeth on rock & roll, he has grabbed a hold of the R&B and blues styles that he is playing with his wife Tommie Lee with a vengeance. Cliff tells me he plays a Mid 80s Jackson Firebird made for Slash of Guns-n-Roses; removed the active electronics, put in 3 Duncans, all splittable, 3-3 position toggle switches so he could get Strat and Gibson sounds 1973 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty, all still stock (says it was his first "good" electric guitar) 1998 Ovation Adamas Red Sunburst with pearl inlays.
RC: Why do you prefer these guitars?
CJ: Necks, necks, and necks. I couldn't believe how wonderful the low action of the Les Paul was; the Jackson grabbed me the same way (I love big, thick, fat necks, unlike most players) and the Ovation's tone plus the neck is what got me there. I played a ton of acoustics by every maker, but nothing compared, and I knew I would be using it recording and performing a lot, so the electronics & EQ were very important to me.
RC: What type of amp(s) do you use?
CJ: I use a V.H.T. Pitbull for blues/R&B, a Marshall combo for rock; both are stock. The V.H.T. gets the "ringing blues headroom Fender" tone, and the Marshall gets the crunch I have to have for rock.
RC: What type of strings do you use?
CJ: D'Addario XL 9 - 42, just because they seem to stay "live" longer and not break very often. I've been rubbing a very light gun oil on the strings & neck before and after playing, and it seems to be making the string tone last much longer. Iāve been able to get as much as a month out of a set of strings, unless I sweat a lot.
RC: What effects are you running through?
CJ: Iām using a Boss GT-3 for delay, reverb, flange & a very sparsely used Cry Baby.
RC: You play some pretty cool slide stuff - your tone reminds me of the slide work on the "Like a Rock" Chevy truck commercials - what type of slide do you use?
CJ: I like to use a ceramic slide, it has a tone somewhere in between glass and steel to me.
RC: Whose guitar playing on a national level inspires you & maybe influences your style?
CJ: Iāve been inspired mostly by Billy Gibbons, early and ongoing; some Tommy Bolin; some Steve Vai; & even some Angus Young. On a Texas level, Rocky Athas (out of Dallas) was and still is the biggest influence on my playing style.
RC: On a local level, who do you most admire?
CJ: David Spencer (with Sisters Morales) gets the best tone and is the most talented and versatile player I've ever seen in Houston. Unfortunately, I don't get out much anymore to see the local talent. I guess I need to get out more often! (Cliff added this interesting comment that I thought was worthy of print as well.) "I thought playing as many notes as fast as you could was the ultimate goal until I heard ZZ Top's Tres Hombres and realized, for the first time, that the right hand was essential to producing tone (squeals, harmonics, chukka-chukkas, etc.,) not just for moving a pick as fast as possible."
So there you have another installment of the local Tone Masters of Houston guitar. Iāll have a few more next month & some fun info on those poor unfortunate souls we musicians call drummers!!

Blues tip for March: Just pay the damn cover charge & support live music, especially the blues. The drummer has a $2000 set of drums (unless its a blues band & then he has a total of a hundred bucks tied up in them); the guitar player has 2 guitars & an amp worth $2000 (times 2 guitar players); the bass player has $1500 invested in his rig; and an average PA costs about $1500 to $2000 for a small club system. That totals to about $9500 for equipment alone, and if we are talking about some seasoned players with 30 years of experience each then that ought to be worth something as well. So donāt blow your cork when a doorman asks for a $4 or $5 cover. I can tell you this -- you wouldnāt work at your day job for what most working musicians live on. If the band is good - then get off your ass & go stick an extra $5 in the tip jar to boot!
Remember, the blues is a never ending story, and Iāll be back next month with another chapter. If you or your R&B or blues band has something in the works such as a new CD project, new band members, unplanned explosions on stage, playing a benefit, a favorite brand of guitar strings, a new tattoo that says "Born to Blues", or any other news let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.


The Citykings



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