2019 Grammy Awards Ban African American Bluesman Chris Thomas King From Ballot

10/30/18

First, they came for the blues, and you did not speak out—because you weren’t blues.

Then they came for rhythm and blues, and you did not speak out—because you weren’t rhythm and blues.

Then they came for you— and there was no one left to speak out.


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Listen to Hotel Voodoo and judge for yourself on iTunes. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/hotel-voodoo/1277181035

By Chris Thomas King

It’s official, the blues is no longer an African American music genre. I submitted my latest album “Hotel Voodoo” to the 2019 Grammy Awards for consideration for “Best Contemporary Blues Album.” But I learned from voters my name had been removed from all blues categories.

When I phoned my regional Grammy representative in New Orleans, he connected me with the head of the blues Grammy committee in Los Angeles, who called and confirmed the Grammy committee had removed me from the ballot because I wasn’t a blues artist and my album wasn’t a blues album. He said the decision was final.

Indeed, as an African American blues guitarist who came of age in my father’s ramshackle juke joint, Tabby’s Blues Box and Heritage Hall, in Louisiana, and was the last twentieth century “folk-blues” artist to be discovered by a folklorist from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., I was told I no longer fit the Grammy’s criteria for blues.

This is not personal. It’s larger than me. It’s about the usurpation of my culture. My new album—which he admitted several times was outstanding but didn’t meet their notions of authenticity— featured my popular anthem “Les Bleus Was Born In Louisiana.” Apparently, a controversial artistic statement in blues circles. Clearly, the Grammy committee saw my music as an iconoclastic threat. Now, in 2018, African Americans can be banished from participating in their own musical culture.

It's incredulous, the realization that I have been forced out of the blues to make room for Mick Jagger. Yes, that Mick Jagger, the billionaire Englishman, and his Rolling Stones. Indeed, Sir Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones won the 2018 Best Traditional Blues Album Grammy last year for “Blue & Lonesome.” The Rolling Stones, and others like them, have returned to gentrify what’s left of our marginal music industry landscape. Proving, they won’t let us African American blues people have nice things.

It’s cultural appropriation at its most shameless, to have the “World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band” steal a Grammy nomination away from a more deserving African American blues artist. The 2019 Grammy Awards are continuing a racist trope in my opinion.

In 1964, for their debut album, the Rolling Stones recorded “I’m A King Bee” by Baton Rouge, Louisiana, trailblazing bluesman Slim Harpo. A few years later, in 1968, Mick Jagger, in his first in-depth Rolling Stone magazine interview said, “You could say that we did blues to turn people on, but why they should be turned on by us is unbelievably stupid. I mean what’s the point in listening to us doing ‘I’m A King Bee’ when you can listen to Slim Harpo doing it?”

The irony was, Sir Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ new album sounded like their earlier albums, but their early albums were ostensibly rock and roll, not blues. However, we in the African American blues community always knew the appellation “rock and roll” was a veiled segregationist term meaning African American blues created by whites for whites.

In the mid-twentieth-century, rock and roll merchants and musicians seized the most lucrative aspects of the blues music landscape for themselves. They dominated commercial radio play, filled stadiums, and sold millions of records. Meanwhile, they left the African American blues community dive bars, honky-tonks and juke joints, like the one I grew up in, otherwise known as the “chitlin’ circuit.”

Mockingly, the Grammy organization nominated Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the traditional blues category, allowing them to compete with elderly unsung black men and women who, most likely, can’t afford Obamacare, not to mention a pricy Rolling Stone concert ticket.

Indeed, last year’s Blues Grammy Awards was like a Roman vomitorium, where gluttonous billionaire rock stars flew in on their private jets, puked up lavish meals pilfered from the sweat and tears of bluesmen and women, to make room for the chitlins. This travesty reveals rock and roll’s dirty little secret. From its inception, it was a segregated musical sphere developed during the Jim Crow segregation era to usurp billions of dollars and prestige that would have otherwise gone to the African American blues community.

Today, the criteria for the blues is only a few degrees removed from blackface minstrelsy. For those unfamiliar with the hateful history of blackface—like poorly informed former NBC News personality Megyn Kelly—I will point to a dangerous new book published in 2017, “The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville” by Lynn Abbott & Doug Seroff. A book which claims blackface performers originated the blues. The inference being, according to the Grammy’s pseudo-criteria, minstrelsy is the tradition I should be perpetuating to be on their ballot as a blues artist. I have written a book to counter such fallacies. I was recently featured on the cover of Living Blues, America’s premier blues magazine, dispelling such outdated racist fairytales and superstitions about my culture. The Grammys have chosen to silence me. But I will not be silenced.

Today, the rock and roll record business is no longer the cash cow it once was. Both, aging rockers, and aspiring rockers covet our cultural space. Seems our humble chitlins are looking mighty good suddenly. What’s more, continued encroachment on the small niche once reserved for the African American blues community is a threat to our livelihood. A Grammy nomination helps the blues artist achieve belated recognition, but more importantly, better-paying gigs. Besides, there is an entirely separate award ceremony called the Latin Grammy Awards, so why can’t the Blues Grammy have an African American cultural bent?

Because I chose to speak up for my community and give voice to the gentrification of our musical and cultural landscape, the powers that be at the Grammys have decided to eliminate me from participating in my own culture. I will not boast about my talent nor my successes, nor my authenticity in this open letter, except to inform the casual observer that throughout my career I have been on the vanguard of blues; my body of work has largely defined the contemporary blues genre.

Moreover, I lobbied the Grammy Awards to create the Contemporary Blues award in the 1990s. I served for nearly a decade—at my own expense—as a member of the Blues Committee in Los Angeles. I resigned a few years ago in protest. There were knowledgeable and influential African Americans on various committees, with whom I had the pleasure of serving such as Randy Jackson and Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé’s father. Many African Americans have worked to protect the integrity of the Grammy process. But when it comes to the blues category, the African American aesthetic is all but ignored.

We blues people don’t have the megaphone to call attention to outdated racist tropes, stereotypes, and appropriation of our music and culture. We need intellectuals and those with strong voices and means—from all cultural backgrounds—to join us. The blues Grammys are in need of an “Oscars So White” reformation.

Finally, the blues Grammy Awards has become a farce. But worst, the blues, America’s greatest musical artform, is no longer welcoming to African American artists like me—the question is, does anyone really care. “First they came for the blues …”

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Guitarist Chris Thomas King is a Grammy and Country Music Award-winning blues artist and actor, based in Prairieville, Louisiana. His latest album is titled “Hotel Voodoo.” His as yet unpublished book is titled “The Blues: The Authentic Narrative of my music and culture therewith.”

Chris Thomas King's "Hotel Voodoo" combines the cultural and Jungian duality of Baron Samedi and Jelly Roll Morton

ANDREW W. GRIFFIN | AUGUST 31, 2018

CATEGORY: RUSTY'S MUSIC

RUSTY'S SCORE: 5 Stars

ALBUM REVIEW: Chris Thomas King – Hotel Voodoo (21st Century Blues Records) 2017

So, last night I was reading a few chapters of Peter Levenda’s 2011 book Sinister Forces: A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft – BookTwo: A Warm Gun, the second in his series of three books, this one touching upon varying aspects of “coincidence and conspiracy in American politics, crime, and culture,” along with an emphasis on parapolitics and the occult.

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Hotel Voodoo

Is the latest album by blues artist Chris Thomas King.

It was decidedly synchromystic, in that earlier in the day I had been re-reading the June 2018 Living Blues magazine cover article and interview with Louisiana blues singer/guitarist Chris Thomas King, whose recently-released album is Hotel Voodoo, an album which in my opinion is one of the strongest records I’ve heard in the past year.

But back to that book I was reading last night …

Levenda goes into detail about the “cultocracy” of Haiti, with the prevalence of Voudon (aka “voodoo”) which is a “dynamic and energetic faith that unites racial identity, spirituality and what may be called ‘witchcraft’ or ‘sorcery’ into a single, all-encompassing practice.”

Adds Levenda: “(T)he relationship between magic and politics in Haiti is very strong, virtually inextricable.” Beginning in 1791, the Haitians (descendants of people from West Africa and many slaves) would go on to defeat 60,000 French colonizers and become independent. It began, notes the author, on August 14, 1791 with a secret voudon ceremony where a black pig was sacrificed to the god of war, all “held in the midst of a storm of thunder and lightning.” And the “Revolt of the Slaves was baptized in its blood.”

Further into his analysis, Levenda notes pop culture references in cinema, from the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973) and Angel Heart (1987), with fantastic Caribbean actor Geoffrey Holder memorably portraying Baron Samedi in the former film. That one involved 007 and his investigation into drug trafficking and its links to the deaths of three British agents on the fictional island of San Monique.

Later in Live and Let Die, the voodoo aspects of the film come to the fore as Tarot card reader Solitaire (Jane Seymour) is nearly sacrificed in a voodoo ceremony as it becomes clear that the charismatic Baron Samedi is the true villain, laughing on the front of a train as the credits begin to role. Unusual ending for a Bond film, as Baron Samedi literally gets the last laugh. 7Up, anyone?

Continuing, Levenda gets into the more contemporary politics of Haiti, noting the authoritarian Haitian leader Papa Doc Duvalier and his obsession with voudon and that it was his magic spells that killed President Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. Twenty-two is significant in that it is a number of tremendous occult power in the voudon cult. November being the 11th month (11+11 = 22).

And when Papa Doc was in power, he relinquished the powerful hold of the Catholic Church on his fellow Haitians, allowing for the native voudon religion to flourish. This led to many people believing that Papa Doc was “a channel for the typically and uniquely Haitian god, the dread Baron Samedi (‘Baron Saturday’),” with Papa Doc going “out of his way to cultivate this identity, dressing in the Baron’s typical black suit, black hat and sporting a cane.”

Adds Levenda: “Baron Samedi is the Lord of the Crossroads, and thus is the Guardian of the path into the other world. The Baron is usually invoked before most rituals that have to do with summoning power from beyond.” It is at the crossroads, usually around midnight, when the living and the dead are able to intersect.

Indeed. Baron Samedi, as portrayed by Geoffrey Holder in Live and Let Die is a very debonair-yet-sinister character - a loa, or spirit in both Haitian and Louisiana voodoo. This is also evident with “Legba” as seen at the notorious “crossroads” near Clarksdale, Mississippi where future Father of the Delta blues Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the Devil. This is recounted in the 1986 film Crossroads.

And let’s not forget the Baron Samedi-like Doctor Facilier, an evil bokor, or witch doctor, who plots to rule New Orleans with help from his “friends on the other side” in Disney’s animated film The Princess and the Frog (2009).

But let’s get to Chris Thomas King. Those unfamiliar with the name will certainly recall King’s role as Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson in the 2000 Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou? King would win a Grammy Award for best album thanks to his contribution to his contribution to the film’s soundtrack, a cover of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” writes Robert H. Cataliotti in the recent and insightful Living Blues profile on Chris Thomas King.

Tommy tells Everett, Pete and Delmar, when they picked him up at the crossroads, that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange to be able to play his guitar “real good.”

“Oh son, for that you traded your everlasting soul?” asks a shocked Delmar.

“Well, I wasn’t using it,” responds Tommy. Indeed.

I should mention that King’s role in O Brother and my recent research into Robert Johnson and the crossroads legend has made it into my recent sync work, notably my articles “Rolltop desk,” "Old situations need old medicines" and “Blues hammer.”

It’s interesting to look over the course of King’s blues music career (the name “King” was added as he was starting out, having learned under the guidance of his father Tabby Thomas of the Blues Box in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. and because that name was associated with “great things”) and how he has refused to be pigeonholed by what he calls the “Blues mafia.” On Hotel Voodoo, King offers us "Tabby's On The Bayou," a tribute to his father where they have a "voodoo party" and it "ain't no crime" to have a good time.

In fact, as I noted in one of my aforementioned articles, King is close to completing a book called Sacré Bleu: The Authentic Narrative of My Music and Its Culture Therewith. As Cataliotti notes, King’s writings encompass his and his father’s careers in the blues while arguing that for a New Orleans-based blues narrative, or that “the origins of the blues … are located in the late 19th century black Creole culture in New Orleans.”

And here’s what really captured my attention. Just as Peter Levenda wrote of Baron Samedi as the “Lord of the Crossroads,” King tells Living Blues that the first side of his new album, Hotel Voodoo, is called the “Baron Samedi Suite.” These five songs are dedicated to the Voodoo loa, or spirit, writes Cataliotti, “an electric blues power trio tour de force.”

And he is right. Beginning with “American Man (In The Key Of Free),” King kicks of Hotel Voodoo with a decidedly uplifting bit of rootsy pop-rock, in the vein of The Hooters and Springsteen.

In the second song in the Baron Samedi Suite, King gets autobiographical on “Voodoo Child (On Hells Highway)” with the singer playing the guitar, bass, harmonica and percussion while Jeff Mills in behind the drums, from a recording session at The Shed in New Orleans (while a lot of the other songs are recorded at King’s 21st Century Blues Studio in Prairieville, La.).

Over a spooky, swampy, electric blues track, King tells of how he was discovered in 1979 as a young folk-blues discovery by a folklorist from the Smithsonian Insitute in Washington, D.C., considered a folk-blues successor to Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt and Manse Lipscomb.

King said of Baron Samedi in the Living Blues interview: “As far as Baron Samedi, as far as the concept, Baron Samedi is lord of the crossroads, and a lot of times he’s depicted with a top hat and the drink in his hand and the cigar. Some people thinks that’s my alter ego, you know, because I do the top hat, and it might be. But I didn’t consciously start wearing the top hat to emulate Baron Samedi.” Sometimes the sync sort of takes over. And later you realize, “Well, I’ll be doggone! Look what I’ve done!” It’s clear that King is comfortable with the Baron Samedi comparison. What I sense is King's embrace of that "whole Jungian thing," the duality of man. That sort of thing. It's perfect!

And so King, having shed the “pretenses of primitivism” in blues music, would make waves by new sounds like hip-hop in 1990’s. However, this would make the iconoclastic musician persona non grata amongst many of the Blues Mafia purists. So, when he sings of being a “voodoo child, running wild,” it is clear that Chris Thomas King is determined to do things his way.

And King never looked back. He stayed true to his blues roots while moving decidedly forward. And it has certainly paid off.

After all, listen to the third song, “Friday Night Bleu.” Here you have the infectious joie de vivre that New Orleans and Louisiana culture are so associated with. This is one of the more classically-styled, straightforward blues-rockers on Hotel Voodoo where King (playing every instrument) is quite comfortable in the role of party animal – and a guy who reminds me of a couple of other Kings – B.B. and Albert – playing that electric guitar of his. Brilliant stuff!

One of my favorite albums King did – 2006’s Rise – where he offers a brilliant, heartfelt record released in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Standouts include covers of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and the standard “What a Wonderful World,” made famous by fellow Louisianan Louis Armstrong.

But keeping in mind the Baron Samedi, it’s “Like a Hurricane (Ghost of Marie Laveau)” where King sings of this “Voodoo queen” whose specialty is “casting beautiful spells” and whose hooks are in King, as he concludes in the final verse: “You possess everything I own / You’re like a hurricane.”

The final song in the Baron Samedi Suite is "Rock and Roll Conjurer," with its mix of Jimi Hendrix ("The Wind Cries Mary") and Tab Benoit ("Medicine") sounds alongisde honks of Louisiana blues harp and King's confident guitar playing. And that's what many of us here for - that guitar.

And before you know it we are in the "Jelly Roll Suite" and "Les Bleus Was Born in Louisiana" incorporates a decidedly New Orleans-style jazz/blues that will put any listener in a Mardi Gras-sorta mood. This is an effort by a combo, with Owen Callahan providing the tasteful clarinet, with MIlls on drums, Eric Welch on bass and King handling the rest. And King is making sure that the listener understands the blues started in Louisiana - not Mississippi or Texarkana. Duly noted, Mr. King! Somewhere in heaven, New Orleanian Jelly Roll Morton is smiling!

"White Folks Call It Jazz" is another acoustic-music combo effort, this time with Gregory Agid playing clarinet and Nathan Lambertson on bass.

An unexpected cover here is Adele's 2011 smash hit "Someone Like You." Hearing the soft-spoken, smooth Chris Thomas King, playing the piano part, pull this ballad off is a joy to the ear.

He closes out the record with the folk-tinged "Rainbow Lullaby" a slice of positivity where King sings and plays mandolin, banjo and pretty much everything else. It kind of brings Hotel Voodoo full circle, when all is said and done.

As King told The (Baton Rouge) Advocate last year: “The blues is one of America’s greatest assets. It tore walls down across the globe. That’s why somebody has to advocate for the blues and try to get Louisiana to wake up and embrace something that’s so beautiful.”

We agree, having spent years covering the Louisiana music scene. Chris Thomas King is addressing something that needs to be highlighted in a major way. And I really think King's offering of Hotel Voodoo -a fantastic record - will get the proverbial ball rolling.

THE STORY OF MY GIBSON LG2 ACOUSTIC GUITAR'S BROKEN NECK: AND HOW SALVADOR GIARDINA FIXED IT

It’s been nonstop touring lately, which means the wear and tear on my precious guitars have been adding up. Although I fly with my two favorite guitars on the plane, in a special double acoustic/electric guitar bag made by Mono, heavy playing and transporting them around can cause problems. Last year, my Gibson LG2 acoustic fell off a guitar stand on stage. The neck broke-off at the headstock. You can imagine how unhappy I was. Normally, I request Hercules guitar stands because they are sturdy. However, some venues don’t invest in professional guitar stands. I thought the guitar was ruined. I phoned Gibson about maybe getting a replacement, but unfortunately, the Gibson company are having some problems of their own these days. They were unresponsive, I wasn't surprised.

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My Gibson LG2

A sad sight. My favorite acoustic with a broken neck. (Photo taken summer 2017)

Then I remembered, when I lived in New Orleans — before Katrina washed me a few miles north of the city — I would take my acoustic guitars to Salvador Giardina, a master luthier, in Old Metairie (New Orleans). I called Sal and explained the break and he just laughed. I thought to myself, why he is laughing? Turns out Sal has seen hundreds of panicked guitarists. He laughs because they needn’t worry. He said he could have it as good as new in 24 hours. I left my LG2 with Sal and returned the next day hoping for the best. I was pleasantly surprised to find my favorite acoustic looking good as new. I could hardly believe it! Sal did such a great job I couldn’t even see where the break was. Since then I’ve had Sal work on several of my acoustics.

A note about my Gibson LG2 parlor guitar: Because I mostly use the LG2 with a slide, I use very heavy gauge strings. I use a customized set, .018 (naked) .022 (naked) .026, .035, .045, .056 Elixir poly-web warm strings. The heavy strings provide the tension I prefer but, it stresses the neck and bridge. To prevent stress problems, I always detune when the guitar is idle.

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Salvador Giardina

Holding my repaired Gibson LG2 in his shop in Old Metairie. Sorry for the blurry picture.  

Last week Sal worked his voodoo on three of my acoustic guitars. A Gibson J-45, a Steel Dobro, and a Fender Classical. The body of the J-45 was split in the back and was coming apart. It happened on a flight because of air pressure, I believe. The Dobro’s neck was broken, similar to the LG2. The classical only needed maintenance.

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I'm All Smiles.

 

I'm holding the repaired Dobro, Sal is holding the repaired J-45.

It took about a week to repair the J-45. Cosmetically, the scar is still there, (I wasn’t interested in a major refinish) but Sal fixed it right up. The break on the Dobro was undetectable. Sal also did some fretwork and adjusted the neck. The Dobro feels and plays better than ever. The classical guitar's frets were honed, and the neck adjusted. It too, feel better than before. Next up for Sal is my Martin 12-string and a Martin 6-string. I’ll also take the J-45 back to him soon to have the frets redone. I’m very pleased with the way my week went. Now if I only can find the time to play them all. So many guitars and so little time.

 

Grammy Winner Chris Thomas King Returns Home For Rare Blues Fest Concert

“Spend one night in Chris Thomas King’s “Hotel Voodoo” at this year’s fest, and you may never want to leave.”

March 15, 2018

Chris Thomas King is Louisiana blues royalty. The son of blues Icon Tabby Thomas will headline the Baton Rouge Blues Festival Sunday, April 15, 2018, in Downtown Baton Rouge. There is great anticipation among blues festivalgoers. The rare hometown concert will mark the first time in more than a decade King has returned home to headline the annual event.

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King will Reign

At 2018 Baton Rouge Bluesfest

Since his last headlining Baton Rouge Blues Festival appearance, in 2007, the Grammy and Country Music Award winning guitarist's passport has been stamped throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. Closer to home, the multi-talented virtuoso has performed on America's most prestigious stages to sold-out audiences, including the Ryman in Nashville, Carnegie Hall, and the Apollo in New York City.

Chris Thomas King is likely the best-known blues artist of his generation having sold over 10 million records. As an actor, King starred in Oscar-winning films Ray and O Brother, Where Art Thou? in which he plays a bluesman who claims to have earned his chops through damnation. The man himself, however, earned his skills by playing the blues in his father's legendary juke joint Tabby's Blues Box.

King's new studio album, "Hotel Voodoo," finds him at the peak of his powers on electric guitar rockers, "Voodoo Child (On Hell's Highway), and "Rock And Roll Conjurer." Another highlight is the King-penned second-line stomp "Tabby's On The Bayou," an ode to Tabby's Blues Box and Heritage Hall, his late father's Louisiana juke joint, razed in 1999. Spend one night in Chris Thomas King's "Hotel Voodoo" at this year’s fest, and you may never want to leave.

Komet 19, The Best Guitar Amp For Blues Tone

 Komet 19 Amp Head

Komet 19 Amp Head

My pedal board is an essential part of my tone. Most of my tours are fly tours. Meaning, promoters, and venues supply all back-line including amps and cabinets. Until my endorsement from Komet Amplifiers, I only traveled with my guitar and effects. Now, in addition to my effects and guitars, I travel with a Komet 19 head, the perfect guitar amp for my tone. The Komet 19 has only three knobs, volume, saturation, and tone. It also has a bright switch which I engage on occasion.

Touring with the Komet 19 means I travel with a much smaller pedal board. My main pedal is the TS808 Tube Screamer which provides midrange boost and sustain. When the amp is set to low volume (club setting) this combo works great. However, the TS808 Tube screamer is not necessary for larger venues where the amp is louder because the amp has a purity when driven hard that a pedal can’t match. In larger venues, the volume knob on my Stratocaster act as my boost. The Komet 19 cleans up well when I turn my guitar volume down. And as for that clean chime Strat tone, well, that’s where the Komet 19’s bright switch shines. My Komet amp has its own sound, but it can be set to overdrive similar to a Marshall or an Orange. It can also give me the clean chime of a Fender but only better because it’s warm not piercing like recent Fender Amps. 

Prior to switching to the Komet 19 head, I flew around with a large pedal board. I needed several layers of overdrive and sustain because Fender Twin amps are not built to overdrive its tubes until its volume is on 8 or 10. A Fender Twin with its volume cranked to 10 would be unbearable in a club or small theater setting. Therefore, to get my blues driven tone at low volumes, 3 to 4, I relied on pedals such as my trusty TS808 Tube Screamer. For heavier solo’s I would use a Fuzz Face. For a simple clean boost, it was the EP Booster. Currently, the only drive pedal on my board is the TS808 Tube Screamer. I still place the EP Booster before the TS808 Tube Screamer, but I rarely use it.

 TS808 Tube Screamer

TS808 Tube Screamer

Today’s Fender and Marshall amps are not the same as those of the 1960s and ‘70s. I think the Komet 19 is the best amp for blues tone I’ve played through in the 21st century. All its tone and boost was designed to be operated from my guitars’ tone and volume knobs, as it was in the ‘60s and 70s. The Komet 19 is not cheap, it’s an investment. 

I am endorsed by Komet but that’s not why I praise their handmade amps. My quest for tone led me to try Komet amps. After I tried them I was sold. Their amps are intuitive. They operate the way I think my guitar amp should. But to each his own. My suggestion would be to invest in the perfect amp head for your style when you can. It will pay-off by making you a better player in the long run.

The Best Guitar Pick for Blues Tone

In subsequent blogs, I will write about my preferred amps, tubes, types of speakers, pickups and such, but for now, I want to focus on something that’s an afterthought, the guitar pick. 

    About five years ago I grew frustrated with my tone. I felt I’d hit a sonic wall. I expanded my harmonic vocabulary far beyond the usual pentatonic major and minor scales. Yet I couldn’t soar over the proverbial sonic wall. A Fender guitar, plugged into a Fender amp, is a classic blues setup. Adding an overdrive pedal for sustain is standard. After all, on gigs with Albert King, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Hubert Sumlin and B. B. King, over the years, I saw them plug their guitars (be it Fender or Gibson) into an amp, most often a Fender Twin, and achieve their unique tones effortlessly. 

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Chris Thomas King

Guitar tone tips ...

    Modern mass produced guitars and amps don't sound the same as they once did for various reasons. A modern Fender amp cannot get you over the sonic wall unless you spend $1,000 on pedals, and still, to my ear, it won’t soar. Don’t get me wrong, modern amps work just fine for playing today’s popular music. But when it comes to in your face blues guitar, the tones we all love from bygone masters, modern Fender amps will not lift off. 

    While recording my latest album “Hotel Voodoo” I questioned everything about my guitar rig. I even questioned my technique. But I never questioned my ear, which told me something was amiss. The plectrum, in my opinion, is what most differentiates the guitar from other stringed instruments. For example, if played with a bow, the guitar wouldn’t sound much like a guitar.     

    Changing your guitar pick can change your tone dramatically. For years, I used only Fender medium guitar picks when playing electric guitar. Then I started experimenting with thin picks. Thin picks were fine when playing rhythm. Thin picks, on a song such as Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” works well on a cranked amp. The softness of thin plectrums acts as an attenuator. But when it comes to my solos, the thin pick was useless. I always found myself reaching for a medium plectrum.

    On the other hand, a small rock hard heavy pick, AKA the jazz pick, allowed me to play faster solos. But more importantly, it dampened the piercing bright tone of a modern Fender amp. The so-called jazz pick acted as a low pass filter. It allowed me to pick harder because I had confidence that doing so wouldn’t increase the annoying piercing tone of modern Fender amps. Jazz plectrums have become my pick of choice. However, I still find comfort in medium picks (perhaps out of habit) for rhythmic arrangements.

    Today, with the help of a jazz plectrum, I can achieve those classic blues tones. In summation, before buying new pickups, again and again, you should experiment with various plectrums. It’s the cheapest way to change your tone for the better. 

New Chris Thomas King “Hotel Voodoo” Album Coming September 14, 2017

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“Spend one night in King’s “Hotel Voodoo” and you may never want to leave.” 

 

“Hotel Voodoo” is the first new studio album in five years from Grammy winning guitarist, songwriter, and actor, Chris Thomas King. “Hotel Voodoo” is a blues rock guitar tour de force on par with legendary greats Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy. Chris Thomas King, an electric guitar virtuoso, based in New Orleans, is at the peak of his powers on rockers, “Have You Seen My Princess,” “Voodoo Child (On Hell's Highway), and “Rock-and-Roll Conjurer.”

 

King conceived the album for vinyl as two suites, side A and B, not the linear CD sequence. Side A is the “Baron Samedi Suite.” (Baron Samedi is the lord of the crossroads in Voodoo religion). Side B is the “Jelly Roll Suite.” The “Jelly Roll Suite” is a nod to New Orleans as the birthplace of the blues. 

The long-anticipated ten-song album features nine Chris Thomas King originals and a cover of superstar Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which features King playing grand piano and singing lead vocal. The song, like several in the Jelly Roll Suite, was performed live in the studio as an acoustic jazz trio. Another highlight is the King penned second-line stomp “Tabby’s on the Bayou,” an ode to Tabby’s Blues Box and Heritage Hall, his late father’s Louisiana juke joint—razed in 1999.

King is supported on the album by his touring band, Jeff Mills on drums, and Danny Infante on bass guitar. Several outstanding New Orleans musicians join in the fun, too. Clarinet and upright bass are featured on the hot tune, “White Folks Call It Jazz.”

The multi-talented guitarist is also a celebrated actor. He co-starred in Oscar winning movies “O Brother Where Art Thou” and “Ray.”

The Chris Thomas King Band is on tour this fall, 2017, in the United States and Mexico.

Contact:
Mariann Thomas
CTK Tours Agency, LLC
(225) 226-2820
Mariann@ChrisThomasKing.com

song listing
 

Baron Samedi Suite

1.   American Man (In the Key of Free)

2.   Voodoo Child (On Hell’s Highway)

3.   Friday Night Bleu

4.   Have You Seen My Princess?

5.   Rock and Roll Conjurer
 

Jelly Roll Suite

6.   Les Bleus Was Born in Louisiana

7.   White Folks Call It Jazz

8.   Tabby’s on The Bayou

9.   Someone Like You (Adele)

10.  Rainbow Lullaby

 

21st Century Blues Records

·      ARTIST: CHRIS THOMAS KING

·      ALBUM TITLE: HOTEL VOODOO

·      RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 14, 2017

·      LABEL: 21ST CENTURY BLUES RECORDS

·      PRODUCER: CHRIS THOMAS KING

·      PRODUCT NUMBER: 21CB-CD-2133

·      UPC: 6 7626121322 2

·      GENRE: BLUES/ALTERNATIVE ROCK/NEW ORLEANS/JAZZ

·      FORMAT: CD, Digital, Vinyl

·      TERRITORY: The World

·      DISTRIBUTED by Virtual Label, Brooklyn N.Y

New Double Album From Chris Thomas King This November

Chris Thomas King at piano

Hello friends, first allow me to thank you all for supporting my music, films and concert tours over the years. I would like to share some new information regarding some of my latest projects. I’m very excited to let you know my long awaited new album is nearing completion and should be officially released on my label, 21st Century Blues Records, in November. Its been a few years since my last album — do they still call them albums? 

My plan for the project was very ambitious. I originally wanted to release a 100 song album of new songs. It would’ve been the first of its kind. So far, I’ve only completed around 70 tunes. As many of you know, I would never include music I deemed unworthy, so in my humble opinion, there is no filler. Which means, that, in order to complete my 100 song album it would take at least another year. I know you didn’t want to wait that long. Neither did I. Therefore, the digital version may include up to 30 tracks. I will also release a physical CD, and a double vinyl album featuring between 18 and 22 songs.

My band, Jeff Mills (drums) and Danny Infante (bass), appear on several tracks along with several of the hottest musicians in New Orleans. For those of you who are electric guitar lovers, I dusted off my Marshall amps for some good old rocking blues tones. My fender stratocaster was plugged into a Fender Deluxe amp for that classic spring reverb tone on several straight ahead blues arrangements, “Have You Seen My Princess” an original, and the Freddy King classic, “Have You Ever Loved A Woman.” My Orange Amp distorts nicely on a few tracks too, actually, I think the Orange provided my personal favorite tones on the album. 

Those of you that have seen my live show recently, have heard me play and sing a piano set. There will be a piano suite within the new album. I wrote a new song “Tabby’s on the Bayou” about those nights at Tabby’s Blues Box, my dads ramshackle juke joint, before it was razed by the city of Baton Rouge in 1999. I pay tribute to my good friend, piano legend Henry Gray, who at 89 is still making it do what it do! 

The piano suite was record at the Shed in New Orleans. I played an upright piano and did most of the vocals live. If I recall correctly, most of the tunes were one take affairs. I covered a great piano ballad by Leon Russell, “A Song For You,” Leon is a wonderful lyricist. Some of you may know the song as a Donny Hathaway tune. I covered Adele’s “Some One Like You,” in a no frills arrangement. Some folks will be surprised by this cover. But one shouldn’t be. Ray Charles, one of my heroes, recorded all types of songs simply because they were great ones. Same with Louis Armstrong and so many others. Anyone remember Mile’s version of “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper? I rounded out the piano suite with an original honky-tonk blues, “One Strong Beer.” 

I’m off to tour Norway and Finland this week, therefore, post production will be put on hold — that’s one reason it has taken so long, I’m on the road a lot lately. When I return I plan to complete an acoustic slide guitar suite to complete the album. 

My long time fans will hear me introduce a new featured instrument, the clarinet. 100 years ago the clarinet was an essential solo instrument in New Orleans blues. I thought it’s about time it was reintroduced. These days I prefer the clarinet as a solo horn — nothing against the harmonica — but the clarinet says New Orleans blues. I feature two clarinetists over the course of the album. The opening track “The Blues Was Born In Louisiana,” another original, perhaps best illustrates what I wanted to express using the clarinet. New Orleans really is the birthplace of the blues and New Orleans blues is Saturday Night music. It puts a smile on your face; it makes you want to move.

King Bolden, King Keppard, King Oliver, and Jelly Roll Morton, established the first dynastic period of Nola blues. I hope that after you have had a chance to experience my new album (yet untitled) you will agree that a new Nola blues dynasty is long over due. Yes, I hope to reintroduce the world to this music, but not in a conventional way, you know me, I have to play it forward.