Saturday, March 26, 2016

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Riverside Jr. – Would You, Baby?

This CD review was originally published in the October 30, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Riverside Jr. – Would You, Baby?

Blueshine Records

11 tracks / 39:00

Solo acoustic blues brings the genre down to its most basic form, and if done well the singer and their guitar can tell a powerful story. Riverside Jr. has made just such a statement with Would You, Baby?, his debut release on the Blueshine Records label.

Riverside hails from the Netherlands, where he plays out as a solo, duo, or trio act which performs under the monikers of Riverside Jr., Big Will & the Bluesmen, or Riverside Jr. & Co., respectively. One of his partners in these endeavors is Blueshine’s founder (and killer guitarist) Peter Strujik from The Hague, who helped record and produce this album. It contains 11 roots and blues tracks, with Riverside taking the writing credit on five of them. This record had a distinctively American feel and tone -- it is obvious that Jr. has made great efforts to master the genre and make his sound as authentic as possible.

This set starts off with the traditional “Make Me a Pallet on your Floor” which has been recorded by many heavyweight artists, including Mississippi John Hurt and Bob Dylan. Though it maintains its original blues structure, it comes off as more as a folk song with clean acoustic finger picking accompanying his growly voice. This is followed by the original tune, “Ain’t that the Blues?” a song of lost love that is underscored by a slick ostinato on his resonator guitar.

It is notable that Would you, Baby? is a very well recorded disc. The vocals and guitars are balanced and all of the instrumental parts are crystal clear. Whether listening to it through speakers or headphones it is like Riverside is sitting in your living room, and every detail can be heard perfectly. His guitar playing is dynamic and percussive enough that drums and bass become unnecessary. Strujik did a fantastic job of putting together such a natural-sounding release.

Riverside’s love of classic blues recordings is shown in his inclusion of “Trouble in Mind” a tune that was written in the 1920s by Richard Jones, the fabulous jazz pianist. This could possibly be one of the slowest versions ever recorded of this tune, and its leisurely pace takes his voice to the lowest limits of its register. He was definitely not copying the Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys recording of this song! Jr. also takes a run at the granddaddy of blues songs, Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues,” and does not try to make it into something more than what it is – a short and bare bones blues classic.

The standout of the covers is Son House’s “Sundown” which is not a song that artists usually choose to re-do. It features terrific slide work on the resonator guitar, and Jr.’s voice is loaded with grit and emotion. If the production values were not so high, there would be no way of telling whether this was recorded today or in the 1930s; the way this Delta song is performed is as pure as the blues gets.

But his original songs are also very good, and it was easy to pick out two favorites, and possibly they are so special because they are personal to Riverside. “Let’s Ride” has some country overtones, and was inspired by a cross-country trip that Jr. took with his son across the United States a few years back. It is neat that his son, Jonah Konijnenburg contributed the 2nd guitar parts on this track, and he is quite an accomplished player too! “Olivia” is a heartfelt ode to his young daughter that plays out like a folk song, and it gets a little extra character thanks to sublime slide guitar work from Peter Strujik.

All too soon, Would You, Baby? draws to a close with the original title track, a pretty ballad with an uncomplicated structure that conveys a powerful message of love. It provides an appropriate closure to Riverside Jr.’s first release, as it maintains the consistently positive and tasteful tone that started with the first song and continued throughout the rest of the album. Riverside Jr. is the real deal, and fans of acoustic blues and roots music will not be disappointed with what they will find here!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

1990s Sigma SDM-18 Acoustic Guitar Review


We are going to look at something a little different today - a pretty cool budget acoustic guitar that I picked up at the monthly flea market they have by my house. This is an early 1990s Sigma SDM-18 6-string dreadnaught.

Sigma guitars were introduced in 1970 as an attempt by the venerable Marin guitar company to get a toehold into the entry level guitar market by licensing the production of instruments from overseas. This was particularly important to them as around that time many Japanese companies were building guitars that looked just like theirs, and it was hurting their business. So, the Sigma brand was their effort to fight back.

The Sigmas were good guitars, though not wildly successful, and in 1984 production moved to Korea. Seeking further reductions in labor costs, in 1994 they stated importing instruments from Taiwan, and then Indonesia by the time Martin folded the brand in 2007. A German company (AMI Musical Instruments GmbH) bought the name and started selling made in China guitars.

The SDM-18 guitar that we are looking at today was built in Korea, though it is hard to get an exact date as the serial numbers seem to have been issued with little rhyme or reason. The model name is a little easier to figure out, as this is pretty much a copy of the Martin D-18 dreadnaught. The “M” in the model name stands for mahogany side and back, and the “S” is a mystery. Maybe it stands for solid wood (top and/or back and sides), or maybe it means that there are scalloped braces, but I am not exactly seeing any in there…

The body has the traditional broad-shouldered shape, and there are 14 frets clear from the body. The top is solid spruce, and as I said earlier the back and sides are mahogany, though I cannot tell if it is solid or a laminate. I am going with laminate until I figure out otherwise. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood overlay and an inlaid logo, and the bridge and fretboard are rosewood too.

This guitar had been sitting for years before I got my mitts on it, and it came with a plastic case with foam that had completely disintegrated. So, there were little foam bits stuck all over it and piled up inside the body too. I did a quick cleanup on it, but when I am done with school it will need a more thorough cleaning and fret polish. It is otherwise in good shape with no cracks or repairs and the frets show very little wear. The spruce top has darkened nicely, and it is very attractive.

It plays very well, too. The neck has a pleasantly rounded profile that is fairly slim and fast, and the tone is very rich and loud. The sounds is pretty well balanced from string to string, though I think it would be nice to find a compensated bridge saddle as the intonation is just a touch off. It is certainly good enough for anything I will be doing with it, especially at the bargain basement price I paid for it.

I rarely see Japanese-built Sigma guitars on the market as once players get their hands on them they do not let them go. I di see Korean ones every now and then, and generally they are solid instruments, but it is a good idea to try before you buy (be careful with eBay), as I have run into a few clunkers and shoddy repairs. If you have one, post a comment below, I am curious what you think!


Monday, March 14, 2016

Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames – Slip Into a Dream | Album Review

Dave Weld & the Imperial Flames – Slip Into a Dream

Delmark Records or

13 tracks / 65:44

There is nothing like an album of raucous west side Chicago blues, and that is exactly what Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames deliver. Dave is a homegrown Windy City fellow who took a break for a while in New Mexico where he studied under famed New York jazz guitarist, Kurt Black. But the call of the city was too great, and Dave headed back to town where he played endlessly at west side clubs under the watchful eye of his mentor, J.B. Hutto.

After playing with a plenty of folks from the “Who’s Who” book of Chicago blues, in 1988 Dave formed his own band, the Imperial Flames. Slip Into a Dream is their fourth album and their second for the venerable Delmark Records label. Dave handles the guitar and some of the vocals, and is joined on the leads by the amazing singer, Monica Myhre. A few long-time bandmates were there in the studio, including Dave Kaye on bass, Jeff Taylor on drums, and Harry Yaseen on piano. There were also a few extra special guest musicians, as you will soon see.

This album has twelve original tracks and one cover, with eleven of the songs written by Weld and/or Myhre. The title track kicks things off and right away it is obvious that this is going to be a rocking party with a heavy west side sound. Dave howls his lines with gusto, sounding like a much more soulful version of Clapton, and when Monica takes over the vocals she nails them with her blues diva aura. The spooky chords of guest artist Graham Guest’s organ set the overall mood, and Weld’s guitar playing is spot-on (of course). This man has tone for days.

There is plenty to like about “Looking for a Man” whether you are searching for a slamming beat, sultry vocals from Monica, a searing solo from Weld, or killer harmonica from none other than Bobby Rush. And “Take Me Back” is also chock full of good, thanks in part to tight work of the The Heard horns: Parris Fleming on trumpet, Bryant Smith on trombone, and Rajiv Halim on saxophone. Dave also sourced a prime horn section for “Sweet Love (Dulce Amor), and that would be the Chicago Horns -- Kenny Anderson on trumpet, Hank Ford on sax, and Bill McFarland on trombone.

Weld and Myhre did not write all of the originals, though. Jeff Taylor penned “Dorothy Mae” and got the nod on its lead vocals, too. This is a righteous funkfest and Taylor’s vocals are definitely up to the task. Guest brings his organ back for this track, and we get the joy of hearing Sax Gordon solo on his horn, plus a pretty neat lead guitar break from Weld.

”Too Bad, So Sad” features Myrhe on vocals and rocking guitar pyrotechnics from none other than Greg Guy (Buddy’s son). Like the other tunes on this disc, this one has its own sound, with a fat bass line from Kaye and snare-heavy drums from Taylor. This is one of the standout tracks on the disc, and it has earned a place in my next party mix.

Before the band reworked “Slip Into a Dream” as an gnarly instrumental (with a little doo-wop) to close out the set, they slipped into a J.B. Hutto cover, “20% Alcohol.” Dave digs down deep for the vocals on this one, and there is some very sweet harp (including a cool solo) courtesy of Mr. Bobby Rush. Weld has done a fabulous job of honoring his mentor on this song.

Slip into a Dream is the best album yet from Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames, and that is saying something as their other albums are very good. It is significant that they were able to write so many new songs that sound good and sequence so well with each other. This disc is a must buy, and while you are at it check out their website to see where they are playing next – you will be glad you did!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Harlis Sweetwater Band – Put it in Dirt

This CD review was originally published in the October 23, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Harlis Sweetwater Band – Put it in Dirt

Self Release

11 tracks / 51:37

Blues music can be found almost anywhere you look in the world, even in Surf City USA! Also known as Huntington Beach, California, this is home base for the Harlis Sweetwater Band, a group of guys you should get to know as they churn out their own brand righteous blues and rock.

Harlis is an Orange County native who received his love for music from his mom when she introduced him to Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, two of the most engaging performers ever. He has been playing out for a long time, founding Barrelhouse O.C. in the early 1990s and producing high energy shows and sounds that even the critics loved. They completed three albums and broke up in 2001, leaving Sweetwater free to pursue the music he was really interested in: greasy, funky, Southern blues. To create the music he loved, he put together the Harlis Sweetwater band in 2012 and released a well-received disc, Lights Goin’ Down.

Put it in Dirt is their follow-up disc, and it expands on what they accomplished with their debut. With a full horn section the magic of their live show is captured so it can be enjoyed whenever you need a pick-me-up. On this record, Sweetwater fronts the band and handles the vocals and guitar work, as well as acting as co-producer with Mike Troolines. He is joined on this project by Jason Hosler on bass, Jimmy Sena behind the drum kit, Geoff Yeaton on saxophone, Ken Shaw on trumpet, and Jed Thurkettle on trombone. Special guests include Eric Von Herzen on harp, Gary Brandin on pedal steel, and Sasha Smith on piano, Hammond organ and keys.

All of the songs on this album were penned by Harlis, and his songwriting skills are quite mature. The first song in the set is “Goin’ up the Mountain” and it has a huge sound and a frenzied southern rock feel. The most obvious component of the mix is Sweetwater’s tortured voice, and also prominent are the well-arranged horns that include a tremendous lead from Yeaton on the sax. The band takes things down a few notches for the next track, “Anna Lee,” a ballad that is ode to the woman (or is it women?) that Harlis left behind on his life’s journey. This song could have ended up with a Motown feel, but it hits a little harder and it comes off like a Marvin Gaye/Joe Cocker hybrid.

From there the band digs deeper and “Coolant Blues” checks all of the right boxes. The intro of this slow-paced dirty blues song is marked by trippy-sounding out of phase bass guitar from Hosler which is soon joined by a Von Herzen’s gnarly distorted harmonica. The lyrics are funny as the Harlis describes that his lady is possibly trying to poison him (literally). Then the rest of the band is stripped away for “Cornbread Blues” which leaves Sweetwater’s voice and resonator guitar out there for everyone to judge. He nails it, as his slide work and picking are fluid and natural, and he sings with true conviction. “Muddy Water” is another solo acoustic piece, but this time it as a folk rocker with more emphasis on Harlis’ singing, and his vocal strength is astounding.

The standout track comes near the end, and “Evil Spirit” has a cool honking harmonica intro that quickly morphs into a slick hard blues rocker. It has a stomping beat that almost overshadows some nifty work from Sasha Smith on the piano. Sweetwater also cuts loose with a heavy electric guitar solo that shows that he comfortable playing all types of the rocking genres.

Closing out the album is “12th Street Lonely Blues,” and this song makes for a strong finish. It goes pretty far towards the country edge of the blues spectrum with sweet pedal steel, honkytonk piano, and a pretty melody. Though this tune is relatively short compared to the other songs on this disc, they were still able to fit in tasty solos from Brandin and Sweetwater. Taking it in context, the softer sound and mood of this track present a suitable coda for a set that refuses to be confined to any single genre.

Put in in Dirt is strong sophomore effort from the Harlis Sweetwater Band with not a weak track to be found. They have their own sound that is a unique blend of greasy electric blues and soul that makes this album worth your time. Also, this is a hard working band with an exciting live show, so if you are in the Orange County make sure to take the time to check them out -- you will not find anything else like it in the Southland!

Keith Emerson: November 2, 1944 to March 10, 2016

Rest in peace, brother.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hofner Ignition Series Vintage Violin Bass Review


Most every bass player on the planet over the age of 40 can picture Paul McCartney playing his Hofner bass as he stood up in front of The Beatles. I have never had the desire to own one of these instruments, though I have often wondered how well they play. After trying out their super bargain basement version Ignition Series Vintage Violin bass I still have to wonder, as there is no way he played something this crummy if he had any other choice.

These unique basses go back 60 years, when they were designed by Walter Höfner in 1955. The 500/1 Violin Bass is the one that McCartney plays, and they are still being made in Germany, with price tags that approach $5000 ($3500 street), and they must be at least pretty good for that kind of money. Now, the Ignition Series instruments like the one I am reviewing are made in China, and judging by this example they are miserable chunks of crap.

If you take a casual glance at this violin bass, it has the same shape and style as the original. It has a spruce top and flamed maple sides and back. It is available in sunburst or black, though why would you ever get a black one? McCartney didn’t play a black one. There is simple white binding on the semi-hollow body and a “mother of toilet seat” pickguard to give it a classier look.

The set neck is made of maple and beech with a rosewood fretboard. This 30-inch scale neck has 22 frets and little dot markers set into it. The neck is not bound and the nut is 42mm wide, and it has a relatively thin profile so those with smaller hands might be happy.

On to the hardware and electronics. Tuners are open-geared nickel-plated Waverly copies and the bridge is rosewood with what looks like little chunks of frets set into it. There are two humbucking pickups that are wired through a volume and a tone knob. There are also three switches: bridge pickup ON/OFF, neck pickup ON/OFF, and a rhythm/solo switch.

This all sounds pretty good, but when I looked at how this thing is put together and how it sounds things go south in a hurry.

The finish on the body is poor, with fisheyes and dirt in the paint. The binding is sloppily applied, with finish running over the edges of it, and a portion of it looks like it is already coming loose. Everything about the neck is terrible. The frets are not level, and the edges have such a large ramp on them that the E and G strings easily come off the edges of the fretboard when digging in a bit. The headstock end of the fretboard looks like it was cut with a chainsaw and you can see the chipped end in the gap between the fretboard and the very crudely cut nut. On to the electronics! This thing sounds terrible. The pickups have almost no output, and the tone knob seems to do nothing at all.

It plays terribly too. Because the nut is cut so high the action is incredibly high on the first few frets, and the intonation is especially bad on these. Intonation is universally bad on the rest of the frets, and there is virtually no way to get this thing so that most of the notes on each string are in tune.

Pretty much the Hofner Ignition Series Vintage Violin bass is a toy, as it feels and plays like something you would get with your Guitar Hero video game. If you have to get something that looks like this and use it for more than a wall decoration, Rogue makes something similar that is acceptable. Or you can pay a few thousand bucks and get a German-made one…

Should you go against my recommendations, at least you will not be paying a ton of money. The Hofner Ignition Series Vintage Violin bass has a street price of $349 (List $499), and no case is included. Do not say I did not warn you, though.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

George Henry Martin: January 3, 1926 to March 8, 2016

You were truly a Beatle. Rest in peace, sir.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Berndon Kirksaether and the Twang Bar Kings – The Voodoo Sessions, Live at Down Under | Album Review

Berndon Kirksaether & the Twang Bar Kings – The Voodoo Sessions, Live at Down Under

Roller Records

4 tracks / 20:49

I do not get very many blues albums to review out of Norway, but the few that have made it to my desk have been very good. One of these is the latest disc from Berndon Kirksaether & the Twang Bar Kings, The Voodoo Sessions - Live at Down Under. This EP is their fourth release, and it is a healthy dose of burning and moody blues-rock.

Three members of this group are from CIA, a solid blues band that hit the Norwegian scene in the early 1990s. On The Voodoo Sessions Live at Down Under you will find Berndon Kirksaether and Erik Gabrielsen on guitar, Stein Tumert on bass, and Roy Hanssen behind the drum kit; everybody gets credit for vocals on this effort.

This four song EP was recorded live at Down Under in Mjondalen, Norway and it includes three originals and one awesome cover tune. It is apparent that these guys are fans of 60s and 70s AOR swampy blues-rock, and this sound seems to be working for them. You will hear a bit of this when the band kicks off this set with “Mama Roll Over” which builds slowly into a powerfully dark anthem. The sound is very clear for a live album and it is mixed well so that none of the instruments are buried. The vocals are throaty and the lyrics are in English with no trace of an accent, in case you were wondering – they are from Norway, you know…

Next up is another original, “Some Kind of Voodoo,” which is six minutes of psychedelic fun. Berndon and Erik are able to coax synth-like sounds from their highly processed guitars, and there are neat vocal harmonies in play here. Hanssen shows great restraint and lays back on the drums throughout, mostly hitting the toms and adding cymbals in as needed for effect.

When looking for songs to cover, it is hard to go wrong with Robin Trower, so “Mad House” is a pretty good choice for the number three spot. This is one hell of a jam that lets all four members cut loose, and it is nice to hear Hanssen and Tumert go a little crazy. This is the standout track from the disc, and at 3 ½ minutes my only gripe is that it is not long enough!

Closing out the CD is “When the Moon is on the Rise” which gets even more out there in the guitar sounds department with tons of reverb added in. Hanssen keeps a steady beat on the high-hat which helps to create a tremendous sense of tension throughout as it sounds like the band will explode at any moment, though they never do. This song would have fit in well on any of The Doors’ albums, which is good thing in my book.

The Voodoo Sessions Live at Down Under is a fun release from Berndon Kirksaether & the Twang Bar Kings and it is good to hear what they can do live. We can only hope that they make it over to the states soon so we can hear them in person!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Memphis Cigar Box Guitar #313 Review


I have bought and sold hundreds of guitars and basses over the past 30 years, and out of all of them there are only two that I consider “keepers” – a Gibson Explorer that a friend of mine custom painted for me, and my Memphis Cigar Box guitar.

Memphis Cigar Box is owned and run by Matt Isbell, frontman of the incredible Ghost Town Blues Band. He hand builds cigar box guitars, bottleneck slides, and cigar box amps, and there is nobody else you would want to do this for you. Not only is he a craftsman, but also a real-live gigging musician so he will not sell you a guitar that does not play right or sound good. If you want a feel for what he does, there is an award-winning documentary that gives a nice summary of Matt and what he does.

The cigar box guitar we are looking at today is number 313, and it was build by Mr. Isbell last year and I picked it up from him at the 2015 Blues Blast Music Awards. For starters, it is a smart-looking instrument, with the inherent uniqueness that comes about from using an old cigar box for the body. He hand-shapes the necks and headstocks, so it does not look like something that I would have built in my garage, though I will build one some day – I already found a suitable box…

This guitar is a 3-string with a single pickup that is controlled through a volume and a tone control. The neck appears to be oak, with sealed black tuners, a galvanized bolt for the nut and a chunk of steel rod set into the bridge. The strings are anchored at the end of the neck that sticks out through the other side of the body. Matt did a great job of putting this one together: everything lines up nicely and is straight, and it is definitely a player. He would not sign him name on the back if this was not so!

When I got it home I started messing around with it, and was blown away. It is fun to play, and it sounds fantastic with just a little fiddling around with the tone and volume knobs. I picked up one of his bottleneck slides with the guitar, and though I have experimented with some old deep sockets I have out in the shop, I like the sound of glass better, to be honest.

If you want to pick one up for yourself, sometimes Matt has some in stock, but it is probably best to give him a call and tell him what you want so he can build one for you. They start at around 200 bucks for a basic 3-string with no electronics and go up from there. And when you think that these guitars are built by a small businessman who is supporting his family, and not a big company that is exploiting little kids in a third-world country, one of these is the real bargain and it is the most ethical and logical choice you can make.

Trust me on this – you do not need to try before you buy. Check out to see what Matt can do for you.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Keith Stone – The Prodigal Returns | Album Review

Keith Stone – The Prodigal Returns

Self Release

11 tracks / 50:36

I am rarely disappointed when I get new music out of New Orleans, and Keith Stone’s debut solo album, The Prodigal Returns, is no exception – this stuff is dynamite! Stone is the real deal, born and raised in the Crescent City, where he learned his craft and cut his musical teeth. After a successful stint on guitar with Willie Lockett & the Blues Krewe, Keith and his wife Cindi left town in the mid-90s so he could get his life in order and he found a place in the world where he could use his musical gifts as a ministry to help others.

But Keith and his wife could not give up on his old hometown and after Hurricane Katrina tore the city apart in 2005, they did what they could to help out. That was not enough for them, and they ended up moving back to The Big Easy a few years later to start a non-profit that recruited thousands of volunteers and raised millions of dollars to aid in the much-needed recovery. It did not take very long for Stone to renew old acquaintances and work his way back into the local music scene, and many of these friends pitched in to help out on this album. For the core band Keith handles the vocals and guitars, producer David Hyde plays the bass, Nelson Blanchard is on the drum kit (as well as backing vocals and keys), backing vocals are provided by Elaine Foster, and Lacy Blackledge and Mike Broussard play the horns. That is not all, as you will find that there are a lot more friends that stopped by the studio.

The Prodigal Returns is bookended by a pair of tracks that are the essence of New Orleans. Credit for this goes to the inclusion of the legendary Dr. John on piano, Joe Krown on organ, Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes on accordion, Doug Belote on drums, and a horn section that includes Tim Stambaugh (sousaphone), Kevin Clark (trumpet), David Phy (trombone), and Cale Pellick (saxophone). The way that “Prelude” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” are presented makes them timeless, and the sound is just right with the snare, accordion, and piano perfectly set in the mix. In between these two tunes there is a well-rounded selection of songs in musical styles that represent a lot of what the town has to offer.

These other nine tracks are all originals, with Stone getting writing credit on all of them except for one that Hyde penned. These songs all show mature songwriting with catchy rhythms and lyrics that show that Keith is not afraid to get personal. They are all good, and here are a few of my favorites:

-- “First Love” is a smooth and dramatic blues song with a lot of space in the bass line and tight horns from Blackledge and Broussard. Blanchard shows a lot of versatility by filling in some tasty piano and organ work as Stone wails on the guitar and belts out the vocals.

-- “Cindi Leigh” is a sweet ode to Keith’s wife, and it has a cool New Orleans feel thanks to Sunpie’s accordion, and a little frottoir (washboard) and cowbell from guest artist Andy J. Forest. As an added bonus, Broussard nails a solo on his sax and Blanchard provides vocal harmonies as needed.

-- You cannot beat a cool and jazzy instrumental, and “Buster’s Place” delivers. Stone has a different guitar tone on every track and this is one of the tastiest ones that you will find on The Prodigal Returns. It mixes well with the horns, including a crazy good trumpet solo from Lacy Blackledge.

Keith Stone has crafted a wonderful tribute to New Orleans with The Prodigal Returns, and it is a slick journey through the many types of roots and blues music that can be found in his hometown. He has proven that he is a very good singer, songwriter, and guitarist, and he not letting any grass grow under his feet as he is already working on a new project with plans for touring later this year. But for now make sure you check out his new CD, as it is a winner!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

2015 Rickenbacker 4003 Bass Review


Today we are looking at my third Rickenbacker bass: a brand new 4003 model I picked up recently.

The 4003 model bass was introduced in 1981, with many of the same features of the 4001 as well as a few improvements, including:

A. An improved truss rod system. The 4003 still uses dual truss rods, but now has nuts at both ends of the neck.

B. The 4003 has no capacitor on the bridge pickup. This allows full tone from the bridge pickup, which is rather tinny on 4001 bases.

Other these changes, the 4003 has all of the usual 4000-series bass features.

The 4003 has a bound neck-thru body, and a has a bound neck with the curlicue headstock tip. Other distinctive Rickenbacker features are the signature triangular fretboard inlays and wacky trussrod cover. They also have the dual trussrod system “for added strength and adjustability” and Schaller tuners. I am still not a fan of the thick clear finish that coats the rosewood fretboard on these.

The electronics need a little explaining. There are two pretty hot single coil pickups, a selector switch, two volume and two tone knobs. But, the way they are wired is kind of whacky. Rickenbacker installs a push/pull pot that routes the bridge pickup signal through a capacitor to suck out the bass tone, and I guess the idea of this is to make better use of the Rick-O-Sound feature.

Rick-O-Sound is a stereo output effect that allows the player to divide the pickup signals and send them two different amps. Ideally this would send the bridge signal to a guitar amp and the neck signal to a bass amp. The output jack plate on these basses has a jack for a stereo guitar cord (for "Rick-O-Sound"), and a jack for normal mono output. Meh.

This one is a 2015 model, finished in Jetglo (black). which is a little disappointing. The quality of the finish is not great, with a light orange peel over the whole thing, and it is not lustrous and rich. This is a brand new bass, and it should be beautiful, but they missed the mark. It showed up with a surprisingly good set-up, and plays better than any Rickenbacker bass I have ever tried. The neck is dead straight with a low action and no lift to the bridge (yet). The pickups have even output, though the pickup cover is a bit of a hindrance to my playing style.

This 4003 is pretty light for a neck-through bass, coming in at 9 pounds, 2 ounces.

There are no playability or sound problems with this bass at all, but I am really not a Rickenbacker guy yet. The ergonomics are still awkward for me, but I am not surprised or disappointed, as this is what I have found before. After I am done with school I am going to get back into playing more and will try to make this one work for me.

These basses are not cheap, but then again they are made right here in sunny Southern California so they are paying higher labor costs. The 4003 has a street price of $2159 so they do not come cheap, but some online dealers do close them for quite a bit less. Make sure you shop around a bit. For that price, it does come with a hardshell case, but it is a flimsy plastic affair with latches that do not exactly want to hold well. They definitely could have done better.

Anyway, if you decide you want a Rickenbacker bass, and if you are not be hung up on getting a vintage 4001, you should pick up a 4003 instead as it is a more versatile and better built instrument. But really, you should try one out before you buy, as it may not be your cup of tea.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Knickerbocker All-Stars: Go Back Home to the Blues | Album Review

The Knickerbocker All-Stars: Go Back Home to the Blues

JP Cadillac Records

13 tracks / 47:00

If you were around Westerly, Rhode Island in the 1970s and 1980s you may remember an outstanding Sunday night jam at the Knickerbocker Café. Duke Robillard, founder of Roomful of Blues, would share the stage with unknowns and fan favorites to put on the weekly blues show. Unless you were local you probably never chance to experience it, but thankfully Westerly native (and producer) John Paul Gauthier put together an outstanding band to recreate some of what you missed. The result is the Knickerbocker All-Stars sophomore effort, Go Back Home to the Blues, on JP Cadillac Records.

The personnel line-up for this disc was a bit different than their debut album, Open Mic at the Knick. The core band included Mark Texeira on the drums, “Monster” Mike Welch on guitar, Brad Hallen on the bass, Al Copley on piano, and a horn section of Doc Chanonhouse, Doug James, “Sax” Gordon Beadle, and Rich Lataille. Frontman duties for the 13 tracks were split up amongst up amongst Willie J. Laws, Malford, Sugar Ray Norcia, Al Basile, and Brian Templeton. If you were putting together your own jump blues band you could not ask for a finer group of musicians!

Most of the tracks on Go Back Home to the Blues are covers, and there are a also a handful of originals that fit in perfectly with that vintage Knickerbocker sound. With a run time of around 45 minutes none of them are terribly long, which means the focus is on the song and you will not hear any endless solos here. The set kicks off with Bobby Bland’s “36-22-36” with Sugar Ray behind the microphone and Copley killing it (in a good way) on the piano. Right away it is obvious that this is a band full of pros and the horns (including guest artist Carl Querfurth on trombone) are well arranged which really makes the mood. Norcia also takes the lead on an Al Basile original, “Brand New Fool,” and Chuck Willis’ “Take it Like a Man,” which is one of my favorite tracks on the disk thanks to some wonderful saxophone work.

Brian Templeton takes on Roy Brown’s “Cadillac Baby”, and his voice is just perfect for this tune which is set over the awesome backline of Hallen’s double bass and Texeira’s drums. He also gets the nod on two Basile originals: “Go Back Home to the Blues,” which conjures up a little Cab Calloway, and “Annie Get Your Thing On,” a song that lets Monster Mike stretch out a bit on his guitar over a cool Latin beat.

Al Basile was the music director for this project and he actually gets to sing and play his cornet on one of his original tunes, and “Don’t You Ever Get Tires of Being Right?” is the best of the bunch. It has a rollicking beat, witty lyrics, and super-tight musicianship, so there is pretty much nothing else to ask for!

The fourth vocalist on the album is Willie J. Laws, and he ends up with some great songs to sing, too. These include guitar-intensive versions of Freddie King’s “You Know that You Love Me” and Guitar Slim’s “Something to Remember You By,” as well as the blistering rendition of Larry Davis’ “I Tried” that closes out the set. His vocals are hearty and fit perfectly into the mix, and I find it hard to get “He Was a Friend of Mine” out of my mind, as this ode to the wedding tackle is really out there!

The Knick is not gone, and it has moved into the future as the Knickerbocker Music Center, a non-profit center that celebrates and furthers the blues (and other music) in the community by serving as a fine performance venue and music education center. Proceeds from this album go to the center, which is a certainly a good enough reason to buy a copy, but it is also a fine set of jump and urban blues, which makes it the bargain of the year. Pick up a copy of The Knickerbocker All-Stars’ Go Back Home to the Blues and see what you think!