Tales of the Cool and The Wicked


Blues Is Alive And Well -2018 Buddy Guy


Buddy Guy is the last blues man standing. By the time Buddy Guy showed up in Chicago in the late 1950’s with an alder bodied Stratocaster in hand the scene was already hot with the delta sounds of Muddy Waters and the great Howlin’ Wolf. In fact, Guy landed a gig as a session guitarist for Chess Records on the recommendation of Muddy Waters. It was there that Buddy Guy worked with the legends who defined the Chicago Blues and essentially laid the foundation for Rock and Roll. Muddy, The Wolf and other Chess studio blues men like Willie Dixon(The Father of The Blues), Hubert Sumlin and Pinetop Perkins are gone now. Even the statesman of the blues, B.B. King is no longer on this plane of existence. Buddy Guy was once the young gun in town, standing just to the side of those great Blues Men, but now he stands center stage as the last lion among men. In the 1960’s Buddy was already a force to be reckoned with. A photo shows a young Jimi Hendrix sitting front stage at a Buddy Guy set… the clever Mr. Hendrix was holding a tape recorder. Over the years Buddy Guy has shared the stage with Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and the texas hurricane, Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The British were the first general audience to recognize the true significance of the Chicago Bluesmen. Musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones emulated the strutting bravado of the Chicago Blues lexicon. The very name of the Rolling Stones Band is a homage to a classic Muddy Waters song. It is only fitting that on Buddy Guy’s latest album, Blues Is Alive And Well, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and the six string dynamo Jeff Beck are guest artist.

At 82 years old, Buddy Guy is an ascended master of the fretboard. He can coax a lifetime of emotion from the guitar and still give you a vacuum tube powered vision of the future. Blues Is Alive And Well is a fifteen track doctorate presentation of sonic craftsmanship. Unlike the earlier reviewed Briefcase Full Of Blues, this is not an album of blues party favorites. No, this a heat wave of juke joint authenticity. Guy’s vocals are strong and his guitar wails with authority. This is a Blues Man at the peak of his power. The first track that I heard from this album is called Cognac. Driving and listening to satellite radio, I happened to switch to the station mid song but Buddy Guy’s distinctive tone was unmistakable. Cognac also features Keith Richards and Jeff Beck. The three Jedi Masters lay down an epic tale of single coil wizardry that will have young rockers in awe. Other tracks on this album such as Somebody Up There and the classic Nine Below Zero smoulder with a similar heat. If you aren’t familiar with Buddy Guy, this is a good place to start. I also highly recommend his award winning album Damn Right I Got The Blues as, well as, the raw power Sweet Tea.


Briefcase Full Of Blues- 1978

Some of you may remember the 1980 Blues Brothers movie with Dan Akroyd and John Belushi. It’s a fun comedy featuring two Chicago blues singers on a self proclaimed “mission from God”. With whiskey marinated prayers to the blessed Lady of Acceleration the blues men burn rubber across Illinois and also manage to rock a song or two. What is unknown to most is that The Blues Brothers have legit credit as a gig worthy band. Formed in 1978 as a opening act for Saturday Night Live, the band had talent like SNL musical director Paul Shaffer, guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy and the dynamic duo of Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn. Cropper and Dunn were part of the house band for Stax records in the 1960’s. Their recording credentials are packed with top ten hits that would make the road trip playlist of many travelers. Sitting on Dock of the Bay, Soul Man, Green Onions…Cropper and Dunn were pillars that held the sonic foundation of soul. Listen to those old tunes and try to pick out the cool and efficient twang of Cropper’s Fender Telecaster. Next focus on the steady rolling rhythm of Dunn’s Fender Precision Bass. Those are the same legendary syncopated lines that are heard in the context of Briefcase Full of Blues. The twelve track album opens with a jumping horn intro that features Akroyd, in Elwood Blues persona, ruminating on the state of the blues. What follows is an authentic trek through some of the best standards that personify the Chicago Blues style. This recording is from a live show in Los Angeles and the energy is terrific. The set does veer a bit off course with reggae inspired version of Groove Me but even that track is tight and consistent with the spirit, if not the tone, of the album. Highlights of the set include a get ‘em on the dance floor version of Hey Bartender and a signature rendition of Soul Man. I would be remiss to overlook Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s scorching riffs on Shot Gun Blues. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore…but they should.

John Wick -2014                    

Score: 4 0f 5                                            Recommended Album: Gary Clark Jr. Live

This was a fantastically enjoyable movie that will thrill any car guy or girl.  We’re talking a V8 engine extravaganza with John Wick driving a trifecta of muscle powered cool. Starting with the opening salvo of a 1969 Ford  Mustang to a mid course of a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS and the porterhouse finale of a 2011 Dodge Charger RT, this movie rocks. In addition to the great cars we are also treated to several well-executed scenes of close quarter combat, combining gun play and awesome pugilist fury.  The trailer for John Wick promises action and this film delivers on that promise. The premise is pretty straightforward. A retired hitman is drawn back into the game when thugs kill his dog and steal his car. The ensuing carnage is stylish, swift and righteous.  The cast, headed by Keanu Reeves and William Defoe provide solid performances that stay within the context of the movie. Reeves is in full on Samurai mode. As John Wick, Reeves does not try to over reach his boundaries. He plays this character close to the vest by keeping his dialogue sparse and addressing his mission with a Zen like finality. While this film can easily be enjoyed just for surface value as an action movie there are some key points to notice. For example, Wick’s wardrobe is a welcome departure from the hoodies and sloppy attire that dominates current social taste.  French cuffs, pic stitching and double vents denote Wick’s attitude as a professional. Perhaps that air of rouge professionalism is what appeals most in this film. The characters depicted are criminals at the top of their game. They all conduct themselves to a code of conduct and they each extend professional courtesy. Further, Wick is motivated by the loss of a woman who was not only his wife but also his best friend. Not many films are willing to present such a spartan clarity of purpose.  At its strongest, John Wick is a 4-barrel salute to car guys everywhere. Overall, it is a solid movie that will entertain action fans. John Wick. Yeah, I’m down with this.-Stewart



Score: 5 of 5             Recommended book: Blazing Combat


This movie is a hardcore  portrait of a tank crew during the later days of World War 2. Comic fans will remember titles such as Our Army At War and the penultimate Blazing Combat. Well, FURY is the closet depiction yet of the mental and physical conflict depicted in those books.  From the opening scene to the closing credits we are presented with a rare representation of camaraderie, moral conflict and the destruction of war.  Brad Pitt leads a wolf pack including Shea LeBeouf,  Micheal Pena and Jon Bernthal.  Also, along for the hell ride is Logan Lerman as the team's reluctant wolf cub. Pitt's character, Don "Wardaddy" Collier leads the crew with a volatile mix of violence and fatherly guidance.  When a crewman needs encouragement to complete tank repairs, Sgt. Collier delivers  a couple of swift kicks as a way of motivation.  Collier continues to deliver counseling by "The fist and the boot" at various stages along the brimstone trail through Germany.  Alternately, there are scenes that show the inner  struggle and anguish that the grim Sgt. Collier is enduring.  The brutality of the war demands that he prepare his men for the worst but  there is little doubt that he cares for them like brothers.  The crew argue and posture among themselves, consistently testing Collier's alpha dog status. This is to  be expected in a situation where the number one job requirement is the ability to endure.  Let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It fires on all cylinders from the excellent camera work, compelling characters, engaging actors and the grim reflection of history. It is at  times difficult to watch and there heartrending scenes of cruelty and destruction.  But there are also moments of peace and compassion. For the most part,  our society has become isolated from the themes depicted in Fury.  We have been led to believe that we  live in a world of computer guided precision bombing and surgical strikes. Yet we rarely see the true impact of suffering that is the result of war. Fury brings that reality up close.  -Stewart



Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D #1 - 1968                  Recommended Movie: Dr. No


Popular movies like Iron Man, The Avengers and Captain America have introduced modern audiences to the character, Nick Fury. Not surprisingly most folks associate Nick Fury through the portrayal of the great actor, Samuel L. Jackson. Admittedly, Jackson does an incredible job of channeling the intensity and raw cool of Fury but Jackson's version is a stylistic departure from the original character in the 1960's comic.

First a little back-story, Nick Fury is a legacy character with publishing roots that go back to the early 1960's. Fury was initially introduced as a rough hewn Army sergeant back in 1963.  Along  with his crew of Howlin' Commandos, Fury fought some fairly standard punch 'em up, shoot 'em battles against the Axis.   As the 60's spy craze took over with properties like James Bond, Our Man Flint and Man From U.N.C.L.E., Marvel Comics and the peerless Jack Kirby reinvented Fury as a tough secret agent in the pages of Strange Tales. The series  galloped along admirably under Kirby's helm but the gallop was soon turbo-boosted, afterburnerated and super sonic-fied with the arrival of writer/artist Jim Steranko.  Jack Kirby is the undisputed King of Comics but Jim Steranko is quite simply  a Rock Star. You cannot discuss Nick Fury without  an acknowledgement  to the Jedi Master, Jim Steranko. Seriously, Steranko is "That Dude"...a triple threat, all singing-all dancing, Superfly TNT with the kung-fu grip. Steranko took comic  art to the next level by fuel injecting the predominate elements of pop culture into his designs and layouts. It went beyond just having characters dress in, the then, current fashion styles. No, Steranko found a way to bring the essence of cool and the cinematography of Hollywood  onto the printed page.  The man has a list of accomplishments that  stuns and amazes. He is a writer, an artist, a publisher, a magician and an escape artist. Yeah. That's right, I said it... an escape artist.  Remember, the DC Comics character Mr. Miracle?  Miracle was married to that smoking hot brunette, Big Barda...but I digress.  Anyway,  Mr. Miracle "the world's greatest escape artist" was inspired by Jim Steranko.  Still not impressed? Well check it out ,fanboy.  Steranko also had a hand in the production and layout of the 1981 film, Raiders of The Lost Ark. Best of all, Steranko did all of those things with impeccable  style. If all that doesn't add up to some serious street cred then I would like to see what you're bringing to the table.

Okay,  if you're on my site you're obviously a comic book cognoscenti and you're looking for something a little different than the usual play by play review.  So,  let's talk about the book. Steranko did such a great job on Strange Tales that Marvel gave Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D  a solo title. The book is a masterpiece. Starting with the front cover we are greeted with an intriguing design that showcases elements of pop-art, images foreboding danger and inspired, classical composition. Notice those triangular stacking pattern of the cubes on the cover? Sure, the cubes are colorful and flashy but they also create a composition technique used by classical painters. The layout scheme of that fundamental triangle guides the viewer's eye in linear fashion from the top of the image, down to the base, and then back to the top. Steranko double downs on this technique by superimposing  the main characters  in circular positions on top of the base triangle. The end effect causes the viewer's eye to travel in a continuous loop around the cover image. Finally, after your eyes have taken in the scene, Dum Dum Dugan points the way to the bottom right corner of the page.  Dugan is literally guiding the reader to the inside of the book. Brilliant! You can see similar application of this subtle guiding technique in paintings such as The Mona Lisa and countless pieces from the Renaissance.

Steranko continues the innovation and measured momentum in the books interior. Since Nick Fury's back story was covered so extensively in the pages of Strange Tales, Steranko makes no pretense about telling an origin tale. In fact, the book has a caption-less three page opener that revels the apparent death of Nick Fury.  Soon our hero is on the trail of a jet setting villain and most writers would use that setup to tell and standard tale.  Instead,  Steranko employs a clever story telling technique that I usually associate with the great storyteller, Will Eisner.  Much like Eisner did in his award winning Spirit comic strip, Steranko interweaves two tales into this story. One the one hand, he chronicles Nick Fury's investigation into identity of the mysterious killer known only as, Scorpio. It should be noted that we also  get to see some of the obscenely expensive and high energy consumption  gear that S.H.I.EL.D. is buying on the taxpayer's dime.  Concurrently, Steranko lays out the everyman  tale of Flip Mason,  a bad luck gambler who is on the run from the crime syndicate. The characters of the two opposing dramas never actually meet, however their respective actions have interweaving effects in desert outside of Las Vegas.  The inclusion of the gambler's sad tale is a way of humanizing the over-the-top world of Nick Fury.  Flip Mason is a comedian...a family man with a gambling addiction and through a case of misidentification he appears to gain fortune's favor.  There's a touching moment when Mason phones his wife in San Francisco that serves as a capstone for the book.  Steranko manages to pack a considerable amount of action, drama and super spy goodness into this first issue.  It is a solid representation of Marvel's Silver Age and one of my favorite comics.-Stewart