Ghosts of the Riverside Hotel
- Ramblin Man 3:58
- Grapes & Greens 4:00
- One Meatball 4:30
- I Always Meant to Love You 4:07
- Trouble 4:03
- Nothin Left to Lose 5:25
- If I Ain’t Fishin 4:45
- Mama Told me Not to Come 4:03
- Whiskey Woman 4:09
- Walkin (Dead) Blues 3:55
- Mama’s Got a Mojo 3:50
- Delta Town 3:44
I called this album “Ghosts of the Riverside Hotel” because the spirits of those who passed through those doors are still there, they can be felt. Those blues greats have made my life so much better through their music, and I hope to honor them with this record. As with my past record, this one was made possible through Jeff Jensen’s considerable talents as a musician, manager, and thoughtful producer. Jeff’s band, with longtime bass playing buddy Bill Ruffino and drummer Robinson Bridgeforth, were the musical backbone of this record, and we were joined by Chris Stephenson on the B3 organ to round it out. What a team to start with! We were joined by large group of amazingly talented friends to finish the songs.
The songs on this album were chosen with love, and cover a wide range of blues styles. There are three covers and nine originals, recoding them was a wonderful experience – I hope you enjoy them.
Ramblin Man (Hank Williams Sr)
I have always been a fan of Hank Williams, I believe that his music is as much blues as much of what we think of as traditional blues music. I have sung this song for many years, and chose to open it with the traditional arrangement, which includes yodels. We then brought it into the 21st century with a very different arrangement. Jeff’s playing of the tremolo guitar on this song is evocative of some of the rock solos of the mid to late 60s – simple and intense. Although I don’t think “Hank done it this way” I’m pretty sure he would be happy to have new ears hear this great tune.
Grapes & Greens (Kolassa)
Grapes & Greens is my way of honoring Muddy Waters. His song “Champagne and Reefer” has always been a favorite, and a tune I sing that always is a crowd pleaser. I chose to arrange this to sound as much like Muddy’s earlier work as I could, and the Hughes brothers really made that happen. Eric’s harp and Walter’s slide guitar were just what I was hoping for on this tune.
One Meatball (Lou Singer, Hy Zaret)
When I first heard Josh White’s version of this song I was blown away, it’s such an amazing song. Since then I’ve heard several versions, most of which were jocular and lighthearted, almost none treated it with seriousness of White, who seemed to really feel for the main character who couldn’t afford the cost of a full meal. I hope that my interpretation of the song helps listeners to hear it with a sympathetic ear. Victor Wainwright’s piano on this track is stunning, he put every emotion he had into it. Reba Russell’s backing vocals on this song are simply a pleasure, and a clear example of why I value her contributions so much.
I Always Meant to Love You (Kolassa)
This song is my response to “You Were Always on My Mind” which basically says “I was running all over the world while you sat at home, but I thought about you” – not exactly the most romantic message! This song is about a man who regrets not making better choices. I chose to do it as a “West Coast” style song.
Trouble (Todd Snider)
Todd Snider is an amazing songwriter. He isn’t a bluesman but his songs are definitely worth hearing. This song, which I have always enjoyed, slipped easily into a basic blues style. And it is just plain fun!
Nothin Left to Lose (Robin’s Blues) (Kolassa)
Robin Williams’ suicide left me wondering how a mind that brilliant could see suicide as his only solution. My attempt to understand his state of mind brought me to this song. Kirk Smothers’ sax on this song is fantastic, he captured the spirit of the song and took it right where it needed to go.
If I Ain’t Fishin (Kolassa)
This song was inspired by a telephone conversation – it describes the break that everyone needs! This is a mostly acoustic track, meant to be laid back and enjoyable. Have fun, that’s what it’s about!
Mama Told me Not to Come (Randy Newman)
Randy Newman reportedly wrote this song for Eric Burdon, intending it to have a more bluesy sound. Three Dog Night made it sound fun, but Newman’s own versions of it show that he saw the party as something more edgy, even dangerous. We tried to bring that sense of the party to the listeners.
Whiskey Woman (Kolassa)
On this song we were joined by some wonderful guests. Logan and Cole Layman are two young blues musicians who are making their mark in a hurry. Logan is a great bass player and vocalist, and Cole is an amazing your guitarist. We were joined in the studio by two lovely ladies, Annika Chambers and Tracey K Masteler, who together with Logan did backing vocals. Tracey did double duty as the vocal arranger on this tune, helping the ladies to find just the right notes to bring this tune together.
Walkin (Dead) Blues (Kolassa)
Why not have a zombie blues song? I mean, life ain’t easy for a flesh eating undead person! My only regret about this song is that Brandon and Jeff play some amazing stuff that might be missed because of the lyrics. Listen closely to their interplay.
Mama’s Got a Mojo (Kolassa)
I have always loved rhumba-based blues and when I got the idea for this song I knew that it needed to be a rhumba. The band stepped up and really delivered on this.
Delta Town (Kolassa)
Clarksdale Mississippi is an iconic town, the epicenter of the blues. Every year in April Clarksdale hosts the Juke Joint Festival, which inspired this song. There is blues music everywhere you look and listen. It is my favorite time of year. We were joined on this tune by Watermelon Slim, a Clarksdale resident who is a fantastic blues artist and wonderful (and colorful) human being. His slide guitar and harp made this tune very special to me, and so very Clarksdale!
In the song I talk about the Riverside Hotel, a magical place in Clarksdale. The Riverside was originally the G.T. Thomas Hospital – the region’s African American Hospital. It is the hospital in which Bessie Smith died after a tragic car crash. In 1944 it was closed and converted into a hotel, and for the next 50 years it is where blues musicians stayed when in Clarksdale. The greats, including Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Robert Nighthawk, the Blind Boys of Mississippi, and many others slept soundly in those rooms after playing local gigs. Ike Turner and his band worked out the arrangement for Rocket 88 before going to Memphis to record it – the first Rock and Roll song – at Sun Studios.
The Riverside is now operated by Zee, the third generation of management. There is a magic there that you can feel. The Riverside is a National Treasure!
Jeff Jensen not only produced this record, he played some amazing guitar to make it all come together. Working with me he helped arrange the songs before we started rehearsing and throughout the process. This album is easily as much his as it is mine and I will be forever indebted to him for his work, support, guidance, and sense of humor throughout this process.
Bill Ruffino is simply a fantastic bassist and exceptional man. I’ve never met anyone with an equal level of determination to be sure that everything he does is as good as it can be – then he pushes to make it better. Bill has played with Jeff Jensen for over 10 years and their work together shows that. He played some amazing bass on this record, listen carefully.
Robinson Bridgeforth is the third and youngest member of the Jeff Jensen band. I was blown away from the moment I first heard him – he plays the song, not just the beat. Working with this young man was a pleasure and an honor – just dig what he put down here, stellar work! And he deserves so much credit for being able to deal with Jeff!
Chris Stephenson is an unsung hero of Beale Street. A rock solid artist and true gentleman, Chris shared his talent with me on this record as well as my last. He provides solid backup for a number of songs on this record and gave us a wonderfully funky solo on Whiskey Woman.
Brandon Santini is one of the most powerful harp players on the planet, and he is a great friend. We’ve done a lot together over the past few years and I couldn’t imagine doing a record without his contributions. I just love his guy and what he does.
Reba Russell is a treasure, it’s that simple. Not only does she have pipes that most of us would kill for, she has an attitude and way about her that makes it clear she is her own woman. She blessed my last album with backing vocals that took songs to level I hadn’t even imagined, and she did it again here.
Victor Wainwright is almost too good to be true. Immensely talented, he is also one of the nicest and most generous people you will ever meet. His efforts on this record are stunning; he added amazing licks to “I Always Meant to Love You” and “If I Ain’t Fishin” but what he did with “One Meatball” is special. You could tell from the first time he heard what we were doing with the song that he wanted to add to it, and what he added was so innovative and heartfelt that it’s impossible to explain – just listen.
Eric Hughes is the hardest working man in Memphis Music, period. Not only that, he is one of the best friends you can have. Eric contributed to my first record and I had to have him back for this one – and he plays harp on two very different tracks. Listen to his versatility, and also to his heart, which shows every time he blows into that Seidel!
Walter Hughes is a journeyman guitarist who also happens to have a brother that’s pretty good! When I wrote the song “Grape and Greens” I wrote it knowing that I would ask Walter to play slide on it, I never gave it a second thought. Listen and you’ll understand why.
James Cunningham is an institution in Memphis music. I’ve known and played with James for a number of years, and knew that I could count on him to bring his percussion magic to this record. James is a seasoned drummer who can always be relied on, but his skill with the traps is equally great, and the little things he can add to a record turn into big deals when you listed.
Watermelon Slim is a blues icon, wonderful artist, skilled musician, great storyteller, caring person, and a lot of fun to be around. When I wrote “Delta Town,” which is about Clarksdale, I knew I wanted Slim to be part of the track – and he is actually two parts, playing some great slide guitar as well as harp. Seeing him perform is special, performing with him is a treat and an honor.
Kirk Smothers has played sax on more important records than I have had the chance to listen to. As the saxophone player for the Bo-Keys, Kirk has had the chance to play with so many great artists that it would make you head spin – knowing that he agreed to play on two tracks on this new album of mine is humbling and amazing.
Logan Layman is a force to be reckoned with. Her talent with the bass is simply stunning when you consider her age, and I have enjoyed watching (and listening to) her mature as an artist. She lays down some pretty serious basslines on “Whiskey Woman” and does double duty by singing some backup. Watch this young lady!
Cole Layman is not only immensely talented; he is one of the most remarkable young men I have met. Polite, considerate, and caring, this guy can also play some serious blues guitar. On “Whiskey Woman” he had a chance to trade chops with Jeff Jensen and spread his own wigs on a great solo.
Tracy K. Mastelar is an accomplished blues artist who is also a master crabapple thief (but that’s another story). Tracy joined us to sing on “Whiskey Woman” and also acted as the vocal coach and coordinator – her skills and ability in this arena are very impressive. With perfect pitch and a great vocal range she helped the other ladies put together a great backing vocal performance.
Annika Chambers – do I need to say anything more? Annika came to the studio to add her immense talents to the vocal track for “Whiskey Woman.” She not only sang like mad but her smile and personality brightened the entire studio. What can I say, she’s magnetic!