Paul Size fuels solo debut with unearthed blues and old friends

Posted in paul size with tags , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2021 by J.J.
Paul Size performs with The Red Devils at the Borderline in London in 2017. Photo © Tina Hanagan

If you are getting ready to pick the songs to record for your first solo album, where do you start?

If you’re Paul Size, you go to YouTube.

“I went on YouTube and punched in ‘rare blues,’ you know, ’cause I didn’t want to do all the songs that everybody’s done,” Size told No Fightin’ during an April 3 phone interview. “Like the T-Bird’s first record, nobody had heard of those songs, but they were covers. So I kinda tried to do that. … Just kind of get some obscure songs that no one’s ever heard that I dug and that’s kind of, that was the start, you know?”

So thank the Algo-rhythm Gods of the Internet for their contribution to Size’s new album, “Can’t Lose Playing The Blues,” and its stellar lineup of songs by B.B. King, Earl Hooker, Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor, Frankie Lee Sims and more.

Known for his fiery Chicago blues playing with The Red Devils, “Can’t Lose” presents a different Size. He doesn’t sing, plays a lot of rhythm guitar and works sympathetically with the other musicians for a true band sound. That’s not the usual “solo” album recipe, but that probably makes it the most “Paul Size” record it can be.

“I wanted to make it a good listening record too, not just a big guitar hero record,” he said. “And Jeff really wanted to show off my rhythm playing. He goes, ‘you’re a great rhythm player. Let’s show that off.’ … So I went with the flow.”

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Onstage with The Red Devils and Zach Zunis at the Paradiso, 1993

Posted in red devils with tags , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2021 by J.J.

Thanks to Harold Schreuder in Holland, we have some “new ” looks at The Red Devils in 1993 to share.

Harold tells us that he saw the band a few times that year, including meeting The Red Devils (with Zach Zunis replacing Paul Size) at their Nov. 29, 1993, performance at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (You can tell that he really met the band because he has one photo each with the players, and Dave Lee Bartel is nowhere to be seen.)

The first batch of photos are from April and May, 1993, Harold says, with Paul Size on lead. It certainly looks like the Paradiso here on May 2. The other gig is a little harder to tell … could it have been April 29 at De Haagse Koninginnenacht, Den Haag, The Netherlands?

And here are some cool pics of the band from November in Amsterdam, with Zunis on lead guitar:

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REVIEW: Paul Size tells it like it is on debut solo CD, ‘Can’t Lose Playing The Blues’

Posted in paul size with tags , , , , , , , on March 21, 2021 by J.J.

“Let the music do the talking” goes the old warhorse. On his debut solo album, “Can’t Lose Playing The Blues,” guitarist Paul Size lets his fingers tell the tale of his life in blues.

Size, most known as the white-hot soloist from The Red Devils, offers the record as a reintroduction to listeners. Free from the restrictions of someone else’s vision, Size dishes out nearly an hour’s worth of diverse, rollicking music that stands as his word on the blues.

With a sympathetic band and some tried-and-true musical inspirations, “Can’t Lose” is the sound of a live band communicating in real time, in an intimate environment shepherded by producer/engineer (and bassist/vocalist) Jeffrey Berg.

The album is bookended by off-the-cuff acoustic guitar numbers, “Welcome” and “It’s Been A While,” which act as the preface and afterword of Size’s musical biography. In between, like a good barroom meeting between old friends, everyone gets a turn to jump in.

And jump it does on “Do The Boogie,” Size’s take on B.B. King’s “Boogie Woogie Woman.” The band’s agenda is clear, with stellar playing for the good of the song. Jeremy Berlin (Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish) takes the lead on piano — in fact, taking the first solo on the record, supported by Size’s essential rhythm work. (For the record, the album’s first electric guitar solo starts at 1:53 of track 2.)

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Block 1993 interview with Lester Butler after Pinkpop festival (annotated)

Posted in red devils with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2021 by J.J.

This week, we bring you an interview with Lester Butler from the July/August/September 1993 issue of Block magazine (#87).

There is a lot to take in from this interview, conducted May 31, 1993, after the band had already played its seminal morning set opening the 1993 Pinkpop Festival, and a gig that night in Doornroosje, Nijmegen, Holland. Basically, this interview was their last official activity at the end of an important month for the band, which kicked off May 1 with the legendary performance at the Moulin Blues Festival in Ospel.

The story, originally in Dutch, has been translated by nofightin.com (well, Google Translate, with some contextual edits by us), and appears in its entirety below.

In addition, we offer annotations throughout the story: What’s right, what’s wrong, more context and history. Look for the notes just under some paragraphs.

A band foaming at the mouth: The Red Devils

By Marion Wisse

The Red Devils started in 1988 as a jam session band at the King King club, a former Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles. The first time only nine skateboarders came to watch, but due to word of mouth, the number of visitors grew quickly. Among them: Peter Wolf, Lenny Kravitz and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Also always present was Rick Rubin, producer for the Def American label. But it wasn’t until they had seen his face about 60 times that Lester Butler (vocals/harmonica) and his mates knew what that man does in the business.

Much of this is detailed in the band’s official press kit biography.

The debut CD “King King” has been out for less than a year and resulted in a studio session with Mick Jagger. In addition, The Red Devils were allowed to close Moulin Blues and open Pinkpop. In the evening, after Pinkpop, they performed in Doornroosje in Nijmegen. There we spoke to the band.

When the band arrives at Doornroosje a little later than planned due to a minor collision, their Pinkpop performance of that morning has just been broadcast. Great is the hilarity among the band members when Bram van Splunteren does not seem to know who Little Walter was. And when the cameraman of the NOS then switches bass guitarist Jonny Ray Bartel and guitarist Paul Size during the announcement, the boys are really laughing. Immediately afterward we talk with Lester Butler, Paul Size (or was that Lester Butler?), and drummer Bill Bateman.

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Roll ’em, Gene: Boogie woogie master Gene Taylor dies in Austin, Texas

Posted in related music with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2021 by J.J.

Gene Taylor, whose fiery boogie woogie and classic blues piano graced decades worth of classic albums and stages around the world, died Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021.

According to social media posts from family and friends, Taylor, who lived in Austin, Texas, had been without heat or water for days during the devastating winter storm this month. Associates are saying that Taylor, 68, died in his sleep Saturday but, at this time, there is no obituary posted or any official cause of death published.

With his death, we lose a vital throughline to a half-century of what Taylor’s Blasters brothers termed “American Music”: That brew of R&B, blues, country, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll that has defined much of the world’s popular culture. 

For faithful readers of this site, Taylor’s journey includes his guest spot on The Red Devils’ 1992 album, “King King” — though an (intentionally?) unsympathetic mix makes Taylor’s contribution one of the least in his catalog. (The times that his piano parts are audible is a reminder of how little spotlight this “special guest” has on The Devils’ only record.)

Taylor will best be remembered for his incredible, authentic contributions to classic albums by The Blasters; his association with long-time running buddy James Harman, and his stint in the 1990s edition of The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Any musician would gladly sell her/his soul for a spot in just one of those situations. But add associations with Canned Heat, Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, Gary Primich (a favorite here at No Fightin’), Doug Sahm and Amos Garrett, and dozens more … that’s legendary. (And don’t sleep on the various solo, duo, trio and small band ensembles under the “Gene Taylor” brand.)

There is much to say about the man, but it is best to let him say it himself, for now. Here’s “Gene’s Boogie Woogie,” with the late, great Richard Innes on drums:

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Paul Size solo album pre-order up + Bateman/Bartel streaming live tonight

Posted in bill bateman, jonny ray bartel, paul size with tags , , , , , on February 6, 2021 by J.J.

Lots of Red Devils-related stuff going on this weekend. Let’s jump into it:

‘Can’t Lose Playing the Blues’

The debut solo album from Paul Size, “Can’t Lose Playing the Blues,” is available for pre-order now on Bandcamp. The digital album will be up on March 5; physical CDs will be shipped March 5. Both are at the recommended price of $15.

Based on the little song snippet previews, this promises to be a great blues release. It pairs Size with a small ensemble (featuring Hash Brown and Jeremy Berlin) on a series of tried-and-true, good-for-you blues. (I’ll be most excited for “Universal Rock” and “Sadie.”)

Really intriguing is this nugget from the album summary: “Throughout 16 tracks, the record tells a story with purely improvised acoustic blues and studio banter woven throughout giving the listener a glimpse into the mind and heart of Paul’s musicianship.”

We’ll have a full write-up here on NoFightin.com when the record arrives, and more.

Order now at paulsize.bandcamp.com.

Blue Shadows streaming live from L.A.

The Blue Shadows assemble tonight, Feb. 6, with past and present members reuniting.

The band will be Javier Matos, Bill Bateman and Jonny Ray Bartel (filling in for John Bazz).

If you recall, it was Bateman, Bartel and Dave Alvin, as The Blue Shadows, that in 1988 started the Monday night King King tradition that eventually morphed into The Red Devils.

Tonight’s gig from The Redwood Bar in Los Angeles begins streaming live at 8 p.m. Pacific Time (for our friends in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, that’s 5 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 7).

The show will stream live on Twitch as a “pay what you can show,” and will be available later on YouTube.

‘A rowdy presentation of the blues’ … Dave Lee Bartel in 1992

Posted in red devils with tags , , , , , on January 24, 2021 by J.J.

From the Sept. 3, 1992, Des Moines (Iowa) Register, we get this interview with Dave Lee Bartel. The occasion was a gig the next week, Sept. 9, at the Iowa State State Memorial Union’s Maintenance Shop (“M-Shop”) venue in Ames, Iowa. Tickets reasonably priced at $2 ($3 day of show).

Where did the Devils play? Find your gig or share one for the timeline

A couple of things stand out in this relatively rare Dave Lee interview:

  • The elder Bartel brother comes off very humble and self-effacing in this story. He has a “pinch me” kind of attitude about the ride the band was on at the time, chalking a lot up to luck.
  • He also paints a vivid picture of the group’s intent, as laid out by Bill Bateman:

The current lineup has the brash, angry sound of which Bateman had dreamed.

“Bill wanted to make a rowdy presentation of the blues,” Bartel said. “We play aggressive music — like Elmore James, pretty raw. Just scream your guts out and not give it too much swing or jazz feeling.”

— “Red Devils play hot blues,” by Bart Dupuis, Des Moines Register, Sept. 3, 1992

This interview is noteworthy for another reason: Just a week later, Dave Lee would be off the tour, and Mike Flanigin in on rhythm guitar.

From Screamin’ Jay to Icepick James to 13 … the birth of a ‘Plague’

Posted in 13 with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2021 by J.J.

The recent health news of James Harman has reminded me, again, of the cyclical nature of the blues, and the passing down of music from one to another.

Lester Butler was (in)famous for partaking in this tradition. What many probably don’t know is that the most notorious song on “13 Featuring Lester Butler” is not exactly an LB original.

The roots of “Plague of Madness” date back to a 1957 single from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, “Frenzy” (written by David Hess and Augustus Stevenson). A speeding, twanging getaway chase of a song, the accomplished music is the perfect launching pad for the wild notions that come bling!-ing out of Screamin’ Jay’s head (more on that in a bit).

Walk your fingers up the H racks in the Blues/R&B section to come upon Harman, James and his take on “Frenzy” 26 years later, on 1983’s “Thank You Baby” with the devastating Kid/Fats lineup of the James Harman Band. Again, this song suits James Harman and Co. at just the right time: A jumping, rip-roaring R&B rave-up that wouldn’t necessarily upset punks or rockabillys.

And it comes with its own art project music video that, if it didn’t make MTV, surely was a hit on local cable access. Where Screamin’ Jay had a macabre personality and stage coffins, the Harman band had a straitjacket, foam in the mouth and silent film star Michael Mann as … Hollywood Fats.

So where does Lester come in?

We’ve not heard any version of “Frenzy” by the Blue Shadows or Red Devils, nothing on “King King” tapes. But it is not hard to imagine that both Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and James Harman records were being spun at house parties, at set breaks and on boom boxes. And, it’s kind of an unforgettable cut.

In a 2011 interview with NoFightin.com, 13 guitarist Alex Schultz talked about how the songs were crafted for the “13” record. The vocals were overdubbed, which gave the band the musical license to do whatever was called for at the moment, and let Lester find his vocal themes later. Schultz even said he didn’t know what the songs were about until he finally heard them with Butler’s lyrics.

For instance: Here is an alternate take of the song that would become “Plague of Madness” — what sounds like the same backing track, a different guitar track or mix, and extemporaneous “Frenzy” lyrics:

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James Harman needs our help. (Icepick’s Story 2021)

Posted in related music with tags , , , , , , , on January 4, 2021 by J.J.

In a parallel universe, James Harman is a superstar.

An in-demand artiste who plays command performances for kings and queens. A poet laureate whose lyrics are studied in college courses. A giving mentor and bandleader whose roots have grown the fruits of generations of musicians. A vocalist whose records stop all diner conversation when the needle hits his latest song.

But in this here-and-now, James Harman — blues raconteur extraordinaire — is 74, without the means to earn a living, and beginning chemotherapy for Stage 4 cancer.

Harman is not a household name — unless your household is real hip. Those who know, know.

To the true believers of “The Red Devils, Lester Butler and California’s (and beyond’s) blues, rock and roots music,” James Harman is the Godfather.

Some of this is by talent, and some of it is by proximity. Harman is one of those threads of connective cool from his native Alabama, to the post-Woodstock Canned Heat California scene, to Big Joe Turner, Hollywood Fats, MTV, ZZ Top and a touring schedule in the 1990s that rivaled any act on the planet (“She wrapped my sandwich, boy, in an old road map”).

Harman has always surrounded himself with whipcrack musicians, and entire James Harman Band lineups have gone on to form or evolve into other killer bands, from The Blasters (Phil Alvin and Bill Bateman were early bandmates, as was Gene Taylor), to The Fabulous Thunderbirds (whose early ‘90s incarnation was a literal James Harman Band with Kim Wilson) to Lester Butler’s various 13s.

His most well-known ensemble was the early 1980s version of the James Harman Band … Those Dangerous Gentlemens: Hollywood Fats, Kid Ramos, Willie J. Campbell and the incomparable Stephen Hodges on drums (you might know Hodges from the Tom Waits band). Yes, Hollywood Fats and Kid Ramos in one lineup, under the direction of one James Harman.

Recommended: Extra Napkins, Strictly Live … in ’85!, Thank You Baby, Those Dangerous Gentlemens

James Harman, The Blasters, X, The (original) Red Devils, Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, Canned Heat, Dwight Yoakam, Tom Waits, Los Lobos and many others shared common DNA, even if each leaned on nurture more than nature (punk rockabilly, experimental roots … or “American music”).

Harman would tell you (and has told me and my pals) that he is not a harmonica player. He is a singer and a songwriter who uses the harmonica when needed to tell his stories. And those stories are clever and compact in a way that demonstrates the craft and care he puts into his art. His musical ethos align more closely with artists and outsiders such as Waits and Los Lobos than the average “Tuesday bluesday” crowd — even though he gets the job done down behind that city dump, presiding over a real blues party.

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11 favorite moments on ‘King King’

Posted in red devils with tags , on December 13, 2020 by J.J.

Having lived with “King King” for the last 28 years, I believe I know this record better than any other I’ve heard. It gets at least one annual “I’m obsessed with this” turn in the car or earbuds, not to mention all of the other times it crops up on various playlists.

We all have our favorite songs from “King King,” but let’s get really specific. What are your favorite moments from The Red Devils’ album — those little details that make this record one of our favorites? Not necessarily musical moments, but all the elements that add up to a one-of-a-kind record.

Fortunately, “King King” is chock full of those moments. Here are some of my favorites (today):

Automatic (0:00): Yes, the very beginning of the record. The tuning check, the short snare roll … what other album begins like that? It’s a last-ammo inventory before Lester Butler’s harp lick, right in the pocket. Besides, how many cover versions of “Automatic” have you heard that start with this same (unnecessary) preamble?

She’s Dangerous (0:36): Let’s give a shoutout to piano man Gene Taylor, who is buried deep in the mix on “King King.” “Dangerous” is one of the key tracks where Taylor’s piano is audible and essential. His triplets elevate “Dangerous” from blooz-rock to the blues. You take it for granted, but you would miss it if it weren’t there. (And check that piano at 2:33, too, leading into Paul Size’s deep “Still A Fool” riff.)

Read more after the jump …

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