The group name, The Mississippi Sheiks may not be a household name, but one of their most famous songs, “Sitting On Top Of The World” was made famous by Cream on the band’s 1968 Wheels Of Fire album. That song and dozens more the Sheiks recorded between 1930 and 1935 are the inspiration for a 2009 tribute CD entitled Things About Comin’ My Way—A Tribute To The Music Of The Mississippi Sheiks. Produced by Sheiks buff Steve Dawson for his Black Hen Records imprint, the 17 track CD features a range of musicians, some famous, some not so much yet, but they each perform this timeless music quite well. Dawson himself turns in a fine performance of “Lonely One In This Town,” reworked by Dawson and company as an uptempo bluesy shuffle that borders between ragtime and a bluesy pop feel. The North Mississippi Allstars, Bruce Cockburn, John Hammond, Bill Frisell, Geoff Muldaur, Bob Brozman, Madeleine Peyroux and more contribute a track a piece. As an expose on the classic early blues of Mississippi Sheiks, the album sounds great while the tracks seem to flow into each other. In addition to featuring his excellent electric and acoustic guitar skills throughout, Dawson did a fantastic job assembling the project with a crack band featuring Wayne Horvitz (piano) Keith Lowe (bass) and Matt Chamberlain (drums). Commenting on the importance of introducing the Mississippi Sheiks legacy to 21st century ears, Dawson comments, ‘I’ve been a huge fan of The Mississippi Sheiks for the last ten years. Ultimately, my reason for putting this tribute together was to pay respect to the great body of material they produced in their short life span, and show how the songs themselves stand up so well over time. I wanted to work with people who celebrate the music and the songs.’ Having gifted the blues world with “Sitting On Top Of The World,” recording for three different record companies and having played a show for President FDR, it’s high time Mississippi Sheiks are given some respect in today’s CD market and, nearly 80 years after some of these songs were first written and recorded, Things About Comin’ My Way admirably succeeds on their behalf in style. www.blackhenmusic.com
MUSIC WEB EXPRESS 3000 presents STEVE DAWSON
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I started playing guitar in my early teens—mostly playing original music with rock bands through high school. After high school, I went to Berklee College of Music and spent a few years there in Boston. A teacher there named Bob Stainton got me into playing fingerstyle and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since, both on acoustic and electric guitars. He turned me on to players like Merle Travis, Mississippi John Hurt and Chet Atkins. Plus he was a ripping country lead player. That really influenced me, because I got really into the whole fingerstyle side of playing, plus I learned to adapt what I could do with a flatpick over to using a thumbpick instead.
Another guy there named Porter McClister leant me a dobro, which I’d never really heard of or played before. That had a huge impact on me, because I’ve been playing lap style guitars ever since. Other than that, I’ve been learning as I go in all kinds of different styles and musical situations. In 2004 I studied pedal steel with Greg Leisz and got really into that instrument as well. Greg is a very musical and understated player, and I love his approach to music, so it was great to learn from him.
Lately, I've been playing gigs as a solo artist, and with my trio, as well as being a sideman for groups and singers. I also produce a lot of records, probably about 40 or 50 by now. I have a little studio in Vancouver called The Henhouse where I do all of my work.
I have a few new projects out. Last year I recorded two albums at once. Waiting For The Lights To Come Up and Telescope. Both were recorded at the same time, in Vancouver. Waiting… is a bunch of songs I’ve written, and a couple of blues and Hawaiian tunes, both styles that I play a lot of. Telescope is an instrumental pedal steel record. It’s the culmination of a couple of years study on that instrument. My idea was to write music for the pedal steel that is outside of the usual style it’s associated with. Not that I don’t like country music… I just really enjoy playing steel in a different context. I have some great musicians playing with me—Scott Amendola on drums, Keith Lowe on bass, and Chris Gestrin on keyboards. We recorded them both in five days, although I did lots work on sounds, overdubs and textural layers after the fact.
The other new project I have is a tribute record to the Mississippi Sheiks, called Things About Comin’ My Way. They are a group from the 1930’s that I really love. We recorded it in various places—Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa—and a few tracks were sent in to me from Mississippi and San Franciscso. The album has tons of cool guitar stuff on it, and features 17 different artists doing a song each. John Hammond, Bill Frisell, Bob Brozman and Bruce Cockburn are just a few of the great guitarists to be featured. The Seattle session was particularly cool because we had a house band set up—me, Jesse Zubot on fiddle, Wayne Horvitz on keys and Matt Chamberlain on drums. It was great to work with all those guys. They are all incredible. We recorded 7 songs in one day, by 7 different artists. Really old-school, in the spirit of the Stax or Motown studios where they would churn through song after song on any given day.
I have quite a few electric and acoustic guitars that I use extensively, but if I had to bring it down a bit, my main go-to instruments that get used the most are a Weissenborn made by Michael Dunn, a National Tricone, and a jumbo Larivee. My main electric is a bit of a Frankenstein—a Fender Strat body with a custom made neck. It has a Teisco gold foil pickup, a chandler lipstick tube, and a really great pickup made by Jason Lollar. I play a lot of slide on that guitar. Other guitars I use in the studio are a Bill Asher Electro-Hawaiian, a Les Paul, a couple of Silvertones, a Danelectro baritone, a Harmony Roy Smeck, a Larivee Ukulele, a Hammertone mandotar, and a Fender Strat.
I use different amps and effects, but right now my main live rig includes and Ernie Ball volume, a Durham Sex Drive, a Fulltone OCD, an Electro Harmonix Memory Man, and a Demeter Tremulator. I usually always use a Fender Deluxe for all of my acoustic and electrics. All of my acoustics that I use live have Sonrise pickups in them. In my studio I have a few more Fender amps, and an old Flot-a-Tone, which is my favorite amp for recording.
My pedal steel is a Carter single neck 10-string. I play that through the deluxe as well.
There are a lot of them, but I’d say these albums have been the most influential for me, for different reasons: Into The Purple Valley by Ry Cooder, Tales From The Farside and Good Dog, Happy Man by Bill Frisell, the original recordings of Mississippi John Hurt, Greenhouse by Leo Kottke, Roots by David Tronzo, Southbound by Doc Watson, Axis: Bold As Love by Hendrix, the complete recordings of Sol Hoopi, Acadie by Daniel Lanois, Saints by Marc Ribot, The Voice Of The Turtle by John Fahey. Countless others….
I have lots of non-guitar influences as well, people like Brian Eno, Tchad Blake, Bill Evans, George Gershwin.
The Mississippi Sheiks tribute is the next thing that comes out this October. We’re planning some shows around that—possibly one at the winter Olympics here in Vancouver, and then a scaled-down touring version of the album with 5 or 6 of the artists. Meanwhile, I continue to perform solo shows and tour with my trio. I’m also producing a bunch of other artists right now, so I’m quite busy in the studio.