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Danny KalbBluesman and guitarist Danny Kalb has always been closely associated with Muddy Waters' "Two Trains Runnin'" as one of his signature pieces. It's an appropriate choice, since Kalb's blues influences run on two tracks.
The first track is the one that trend-conscious record labels in the 1960s dubbed the Real Folk Blues, a genre broad enough to include Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Lead Belly, Dave Van Ronk, and Pete Seeger. The other train Kalb rides is the one he calls "the rock and roll blues"-Little Richard, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, and the pumping piano of Jerry Lee Lewis. Together, these two trains are the foundation of Kalb's art.
They are also at the heart and soul of Livin' With the Blues, Kalb's first solo album (and first new studio recording in more than 20 years). The 12-song collection of Kalb originals and blues standards from Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Blind Willie McTell, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins, B.B. King and others, was recorded in the Bay Area live and in the studio, produced by Bruce Barthol (known for his work with Country Joe & the Fish).
Born on September 19, 1942 in Mount Vernon, New York, Kalb grew up listening to (and later teaching) folk music at Socialist summer camps in the Catskills, then catching the subway into Manhattan for Alan Freed's rock and roll revues at the Paramount. In high school, Kalb joined the Gay Notes, a rockabilly quartet which he is fond of describing as "two Jewish intellectuals and two Italian hoods." By the time he was 16, the young rock and roller was also heading into Greenwich Village for the Sunday afternoon music rallies in Washington Square Park. There Kalb met Dave Van Ronk, already considered an elder statesman on the New York folk and blues scene with a handful of recordings under his belt. Van Ronk became mentor to Kalb and other young folkies, including (later on) an equally young Bob Dylan.
In 1960, Kalb enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, where he found himself at the center of a thriving folk-coffeehouse scene. He studied history, in between performing blues and bluegrass with such folkies as Marshall Brickman, who was later to gain fame as a collaborator with Woody Allen. It has been widely noted that Bob Dylan, on his first foray from Minnesota to New York, sojourned at Kalb's residence in Madison while en route, and the two formed a lifelong friendship. In July, 1961, the two performed together (Bob on harmonica!) at a WBAI-FM concert broadcast from Manhattan's Riverside Church.
In 1962, Kalb returned to New York City for a longer stay and found himself swept up in the Greenwich Village folk music revival, which acclaimed him as one of its first guitar virtuosos. During 1963-64, as jug bands were making their impact in folk music, Kalb played with two of the most influential (if short-lived) groups in the field: the Ragtime Jug Stompers with Van Ronk (on Mercury Records) and the True Endeavor Jug Band with collaborating producer and blues historian Sam Charters (on Prestige Records).
During this same period, Charters and Kalb also recorded for Prestige as the New Strangers, a piano-and-guitar duo inspired by pre-war Chicago blues; likewise, Kalb and guitarist Barry Kornfeld recorded for Prestige as the Folk Stringers (produced by Charters), an instrumental trio that spotlighted Danny's guitar handiwork. Further proof of his ability was in evidence as second guitarist on Phil Ochs' debut album, All the News That's Fit To Sing, and Judy Collins' breakthrough recording of 1964, The Fifth Album.
A one-shot recording date in 1964 was to have a longer-lasting impact on Kalb's career than the $300 it earned him at the time. The Blues Project, an Elektra folk blues compilation featured Kalb on two tracks ("I'm Troubled," "Hello Baby Blues") as well as Van Ronk, Spider John Koerner, Eric Von Schmidt, Geoff Muldaur and others. The LP sold over 300,000 copies, introduced a new generation of would-be bluesmen to the music, and gave Kalb the name for what would become his band a year later.
Under the spell of Tim Hardin, Kalb had started playing electric guitar and formed the Danny Kalb Quartette, which became a fixture on the Village nightclub and coffeehouse circuit. After a shakedown period that saw the addition of former Dylan session man Al Kooper on keyboards and singer Tommy Flanders, the Blues Project emerged full-blown in the summer, 1965. Live at the Cafe Au Go Go was issued on the new Verve/Folkways label in early fall, as the group became the nexus point for a series of historical "Blues Bag" shows at the Au GoGo over Thanksgiving holiday.
The Blues Project had reached national prominence by the time its second album was released in 1966, Projections. Its impact and influence was incalculable, especially in the context of the burgeoning folk-rock movement that took root in '65-'66, and the equally explosive blues-rock movement of the time-echoes of both still quite resonant some three decades later. But by the time its third album was released, Live at Town Hall (recorded in '67), the vagaries of the music business and advanced pharmacology had taken its toll and the process of disintegration had begun, with Kooper and Steve Katz leaving to form Blood Sweat & Tears.
In 1968, Kalb and fellow folk-blues guitarist Stefan Grossman (along with a rhythm section and Donnie Brooks on harmonica) recorded a pivotal album, Crosscurrents, for Atlantic Records' Cotillion label; regretably, its master tapes were destroyed in the infamous Long Branch, New Jersey storage facility fire of 1976, and the LP remains a collectors item. Meanwhile, Kalb kept the Blues Project's spirit together, moving to San Francisco where he continued to perform with original band stalwarts Roy Blumenfeld (drums) and Andy Kulberg (bass, flute). Capitol Records released the appropriately-titled Lazarus in 1971, and the eponymous The Blues Project a year later.
The double-album Reunion at Central Park (MCA) chronicled the "first" official reunion of the original Blues Project (Kalb, Kooper, Katz, Kulberg, Blumenfeld), which took place in 1973 at New York's summer concert series. After that, Kalb kept a relatively low profile, concentrating on his guitar teaching, in effect nurturing a generation of disciples who range from professional musicians to doctors and lawyers with a jones to learn guitar from a master.He re-emerged with a legendary appearance at the all-star Phil Ochs memorial benefit concert at the Felt Forum in 1976.
That year marked the beginning of a series of Danny Kalb trio dates around New York City which found him stripping his rock, folk and blues chops down to their essence-then rebuilding them piece by piece, song by song. There were Blues Project reunions along the way, most notably the 1981 shows at Bond's Casino on Times Square (within weeks of the Clash's traffic)-appearances in the San Francisco Bay area, where Kalb had migrated to (living in Oakland) in the mid-'80s.
It was during his stay on the West Coast that Danny Kalb recorded the original tracks to Livin' With the Blues back in 1989. His return to New York City in 1990 was welcomed by friends and family, likewise the students who were ready to resume their guitar studies where they'd left off, and the new wave of neophytes who were waiting in the wings for an opening in the schedule.
At the same time, New York's legions of Blues Project fans have grown accustomed to the (more or less) annual reunions which have settled into the Bottom Line as their venue of choice. In 1996, the group convened to celebrate Kooper's 50th birthday. The results can be heard on the double-CD Soul Of a Man: Al Kooper Live (MusicMasters), in which the Blues Project deliver four of their classics -part of a lineup that included the group dubbed "Child Is Father To the Man" (performing Blood Sweat & Tears numbers) and The Rekooperators featuring legendary bassist Harvey Brooks .
Livin' With the Blues and Soul Of a Man: Al Kooper Live were issued near simultaneously in mid-'96 with the release of The Prestige/Folklore Years (Fantasy), a painstakingly compiled four-CD set that anthologizes some two dozen artists who recorded for the influential folk label between 1960 and 1965. Kalb is heard on a total of five cuts: as a member of the True Endeavor Jug Band and the New Strangers, both with Samuel Charters (who compiled and annotated the series); and with the Folk Stringers, again produced by Charters.
The appearance of these three albums in 1996-30 years since the release of the first Blues Project LP, which emblazoned Danny Kalb's name in the pantheon of America's greatest rock and blues guitarists, and provided an influence for such rockers as Bruce Springsteen (as documented in his biography, Born To Run by Dave Marsh)-coupled with the prospect of a new solo album by Kalb in '97, and the release of an extensive multi-disc anthology set on the Blues Project from Verve/PolyGram, provides proof positive that there's hope for rock's legacy to survive the milennium.
It's also proof that more than three decades since the lightning-fast guitarist first caught the public's ear, Danny Kalb remains a bluesman of prodigious skills and soul, and a man well-worth listening to anew.
[liner notes: Danny Kalb, Livin' with the Blues]
The Blues is a feeling-an all encompassing feeling projecting from the depths of the heart and soul. This one special quality separates the authentic (real-deal) bluesmen from all the rest. Danny Kalb exudes this aura of legitimate feeling-the deepest of all feelings-the feelings of a bluesman. His entire life epitomizes and is testament to living the blues.
In the early 1960s Kalb studied with and became one of Dave Van Ronk's premier guitar students. Kalb's masterful guitar playing soon found him playing and recording with the likes Sam Charter's group, The New Strangers, Phil Ochs, Dave Van Ronk, and Pete Seeger. In 1965, Kalb performed one of the first electric (Chicago-style) blues concerts in New York City. This performance (attended by blues aficionados and Kalb's contemporaries, Charlie Musselwhite and Michael Bloomfield) led Kalb to form one of the most influential seminal blues bands of all time, The Blues Project.
Fronted by Kalb's guitar skills, appreciation, and love for the blues, the band expanded the blues horizons of New York's Greenwich Village. The Blues Project, along with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, were directly responsible for pioneering the raw electric urban blues sounds that 'turned on' and provided the catalyst for the blues explosion to a new generation in the '60s. Their iconoclastic performances incorporated Kalb's brand of improvisation that projected the blues far beyond its traditional format; from folk/rock, to Chicago-style electric blues, to jazz, always returning to and enveloping the band in the blues. Kalb was the great blues interpreter and innovator of the band. He combined blistering guitar leads, big round chordal progressions with tasteful melodic solos allowing him to transcend his total range of influences and forge his own deeply personal and emotionally charged unique style.
Livin' with the Blues finds Kalb returning to his solo acoustic blues roots. His stellar guitar playing is vintage Kalb-crystal clear, impeccably tasteful, fluently explosive, constantly re-interpreting while pushing his blues forward into uncharted territories (blues for the '90s). He performs an eclectic variety of acoustic blues numbers and waxes two originals, including his hauntingly autobiographical "Reachings." As the title implies, Danny Kalb keeps reaching through good times and bad.
Kalb's dazzling, yet delicately caressing guitar lines crescendo and decrescendo with impassioned responses and offset his pained, expressive, gruff voice. His playing breathes new life into Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues" and takes B.B. King's "Rock Me" to new heights. Blind Boy Fuller's "So Sweet" is tearfully painful, yet ever so beautiful. Jimmy Reed's "Going To New York" and Brownie McGhee's "I've Been Living with the Blues" are Kalb's sincere tribute to some of his musical heroes.
Many musicians have attempted to play the blues. Few have truly succeeded in having something unique to say through their playing. The ultimate compliment a musician performing in the blues sphere can receive is to be called-a bluesman. Danny Kalb has been living and playing the blues his whole life-he is the embodiment of a blueman.
Livin' with the Blues features Danny Kalb, the interpretive guitar genius at his best; sincere, honest, effervescent, unprotected, and overflowing with heartfelt emotion and feeling. This is the way the blues is suppose to be. -Andrew M. Robble, Editor Blues Revue DANNY KALB: FEATURED ON THREE CONCURRENT RELEASES:
Legendary Guitarist Heard On Brand New Solo album, plus Early Acoustic Folk/Blues Reissues, And as a Member of The Re-united Blues Project, Live at the Bottom Line.
Legendary Blues Project guitarist Danny Kalb's career comes full-circle with a serendipitous release of albums this year, led by Livin' With the Blues (Legend Records, French import), the first new album in more than 20 years from a musician deserving of "the ultimate compliment," according to Blues Revue editor Andrew Robble's liner notes, "to be called-a blues man... Danny Kalb is the embodiment of a blues man."
At the same time, Kalb's influential guitar work is showcased on two other 1996 album releases: Soul Of a Man: Al Kooper Live (Music Masters), a double-CD set recorded over three nights at the Bottom Line in 1994; and The Prestige/Folklore Years (Fantasy), a four-CD set that anthologizes some two dozen artists who recorded for the influential folk label between 1960 and 1965.
Kalb's career was built on the seminal New York folk scene of the '60s, both as a solo performer and backing musician for Phil Ochs, Judy Collins and others. He founded the Blues Project in 1965, which he led until its final studio recordings seven years later. The Blues Project's reputation has flourished with reunion dates throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s-most recently at New York's Bottom Line last month-and album reissues/compilations on MCA, Rhino, One Way, and Verve, the group's original label, which released an extensive multi-disc anthology set in early '97.
Livin' With the Blues, a 12-song solo collection of Kalb originals and blues standards from Muddy Waters, Blind Willie McTell, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins, B.B. King and others, was recorded in the Bay Area live and in the studio, produced by Bruce Barthol (known for his work with Country Joe & the Fish).
Soul Of a Man: Al Kooper Live, which features a representative selection of music from virtually every period of Kooper's career, is ignited by Kalb's work with a re-united Blues Project on four of their classics, "I Can't Keep >From Cryin' Sometimes," "Flute Thing," "Two Trains Runnin'," and "Violets of Dawn." The album also includes a group dubbed "Child Is Father To the Man" (performing Blood Sweat & Tears numbers) and The Rekooperators. As Kooper's liner notes attest, "A lot of people don't understand about Danny. He is the equivalent of a John Lee Hooker...They both have had hard lives and both have been immersed in living the blues... [Danny's] singing gets better and better and really, the reason why we continue to reunite as a band is that we're proud to play behind him."
The Prestige/Folklore Years anthology features Kalb on a total of five tracks: as a member of the True Endeavor Jug Band in 1963 and the New Strangers in 1964, both with guitarist, vocalist and producer Samuel Charters (who compiled and annotated the series). Kalb is also heard with the Folk Stringers in 1964, again produced by Charters.
"It was generally conceded around New York that Danny Kalb was the most exciting of the new players," Charters writes. "We met when we were both playing in Dave [Van Ronk's] Rag-time Jug Stompers... After these apprentice years as an acoustic musician he became a founder of the Blues Project, one of the seminal rock bands of the '60s... He still performs in Greenwich Village clubs, and for some time has been working on an album which combines his extraordinary blues technique with some of the new, free guitar music... His touch on the guitar is as exciting and as individual as ever."
Livin' With the Blues, Soul Of a Man: Al Kooper Live, and The Prestige/Folklore Years represent but three chapters in one of the most extraordinary stories in American music. It is a story that continues to unfold as Danny Kalb brings his incendiary guitar style to bear on a new generation of students and young audiences.