Joseph W. Washek

Joseph W. Washek  |  Apr 26, 2021  |  First Published: Apr 26, 2021  |  8 comments
Etta James was in the heartbreak business. Other singers sold sweet dreams of love, romance, and sex, but Etta James sold pain and she had an endless supply. The pain started early. She never knew who her father was. When she was born, her mother who was fourteen, abandoned her, leaving her with a childless older couple. The woman, called “Mama Lu” by Etta, became her surrogate mother, and she was loved and spoiled by her and they lived happily. But not ever after, because all was not well and never would be. Periodically, her birth mother, Dorothy, who loved the night life, would appear and take the child away. It was always the same. They would live in squalor until a few weeks passed and then, bored and frustrated with parenthood, Dorothy would return Etta to Mama Lu. The pattern continued until Etta was twelve when Mama Lu died. Dorothy appeared, told Etta that she would be living with her now, and took her to San Francisco. There, Dorothy met her brother on a street corner, left Etta with him, and walked away.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Mar 18, 2021  |  First Published: Mar 18, 2021  |  17 comments
On December 9, 2010 at about 11:30 pm, I was standing in front of Johnny D’s, a now defunct and demolished Somerville, Massachusetts club, alone with Bert Jansch who about an hour earlier had finished an hour plus set. It was cold, in the twenties and sleet was becoming snow. Bert was holding his guitar, uncased, by the neck in his right hand.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Feb 19, 2021  |  First Published: Feb 19, 2021  |  4 comments
Tracy Nelson is such a great singer that you have to wonder why she never became a major, “you still hear her on the radio” star. Her deep, powerful, soulful voice is instantly recognizable whether she is singing, rock, country, r&b or blues. The usual vocal comparison is to Janis Joplin, which I’m sure Ms. Nelson got tired of hearing by the late 60s or sooner, but I’d say Nelson, while lacking the Joplin charisma, is a more subtle and technically, a better singer.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Feb 19, 2021  |  First Published: Feb 19, 2021  |  9 comments
When Chet Baker died in 1988, he wasn’t an icon of “cool,” he was a has-been. The biopic with the Hollywood star and the consistent ranking among the top-selling jazz CDs on Amazon was far in the future and long after he was gone. The New York Times obit was perfunctory, misstated his age, and devoted two sentences to his career post-1950s. Baker, in the 1980s, had been the same unrepentant, narco-ssistic junkie mess that he had been since the mid 1950s, but he was working in Europe, playing mostly small clubs, driving from gig to gig, and sleeping on couches instead of the way it had been in the ’50s in the U.S.—playing concert tours, fielding movie offers, topping the jazz polls and charts, his popularity making even Miles Davis jealous.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Oct 12, 2020  |  First Published: Oct 12, 2020  |  15 comments
Yes, I’m gonna get me religion
I’m gonna join the Baptist Church
I wanna be a Baptist preacher so I won’t have to work

In June 1964, Nick Perls, Dick Waterman, and Phil Spiro, three young white men from the North, traveled to Mississippi in search of Son House (1902-1988), a blues singer/guitarist whose career had been so abject a commercial failure that he was completely forgotten and unknown, except to a small group of perhaps two dozen country blues collectors who, based upon the recordings available, maybe twenty minutes in total, had proclaimed him to be the greatest of all the Delta Blues singers.

Joseph W. Washek  |  Jun 19, 2020  |  First Published: Jun 19, 2020  |  16 comments
In January 1961, Riverside Records sent the great, but sadly uncelebrated recording engineer, David Jones (also known as Dave Jones and David B. Jones) to New Orleans to record Black traditional jazz musicians for a projected series of albums to be called “New Orleans—The Living Legends”. Jones is little remembered today and remains a shadowy figure, despite recording five months later, also for Riverside, the all-time audiophile classic Bill Evans LPs, Sunday At The Vanguard and Waltz For Debby. Jones did not follow the career path that made other recording engineers who were his contemporaries, latter day icons. He never recorded rock or pop music, limiting himself to on-location recordings for small independent labels of ethnic and classical music, and occasionally jazz. The personal recording style that he created and mastered strove to capture the natural sound of instruments in a room from a slightly distant, contemplative perspective and eschewed whizzbangery and artificial flash. It’s a subtle style that does not immediately impress and one that has undoubtedly limited his reputation.

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