Hop Wilson’s Steel Guitar Blues

Rolling Stone released two compendiums of Record Reviews in the early 70s, back when Lenny Kaye, John Mendelsohn, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Bud Scoppa, Ed Ward, Richard Meltzer, Al Kooper, Ralph J. Gleason, Paul Gambaccini, Stephen Davis, Jon Landau, Jann Wenner, and (occasionally) Nick Tosches, and even Peter Townshend (Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy album) were writing reviews for the (formerly) underground ‘rock’ publication.  Tip of the hat to Record Review’s Vol. II for pointing out Hop Wilson’s distinctive steel guitar-driven rockin’ blues sound, as on masterpiece, “Chicken Stuff”:

“Chicken Stuff”     Hop Wilson & His Chickens     1958

As Peter Guralnick would write in the Rolling Stone Record Review:

“Especially enterprising but a little further afield is Chicken Stuff:  Houston Ghetto Blues, an English album available on Flyright.  This is made up of six cuts by Hop Wilson from his legendary Ivory sessions and a side of live recordings.  Wilson, one of the few bluemen to master steel guitar, employs a driving bottleneck-style technique which shows traces of Robert Nighthawk and Elmore James.  With his deep brooding voice, stunning guitar work, and the overwhelming power of his blues, he is a singer who deserves much wider recognition.”

Sadly, too few recordings feature Hop Wilson (who also went by “Poppa Hop” and also “Poppy Hop”).  John Broven, thankfully, provides some helpful historical background in South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous

“As word spread that there was a recording studio in Lake Charles, a few blues artists, mainly from Texas, started arriving at Goldband.  Hop Wilson was easily the best.  His first recording, ‘Chicken Stuff’ in 1958, was a startling instrumental that had all the bounce of an old country dance number … At the time Hop was touring Texas and Louisiana with Ivory Semien’s band.  He had a second Goldband release, the stark ‘Broke and Hungry,’ before recording three impressive singles for Ivory Records in the early 60s.”

Goldband’s Eddie Shuler would note how “[“Chicken Stuff”] is unique in the blues field” in that “he played a Hawaiian guitar — six strings of blues soul.”

Hop Wilson & Steel Guitar     1963

Hop Wilson on steel guitarHop WIlson’s soulful steel-based blues sound would set the stage for ground-breaking album, Sweet Funky Steel, released by Freddie Roulette (pictured below), coincidentally enough, around the time of this Rolling Stone Record Review‘s publication (as featured previously on Zero to 180).

Freddie Roulette & pipe

Freddie Roulette’s Sweet, Funky Steel

Freddie Roulette coaxes all manner of sweet, funky feeling out of his doubleneck lap steel guitar on the track “Joaquin” from his debut solo album:

“Joaquin”     Freddie Roulette     1973

Steel Guitar:  Freddie Roulette
Bass, Acoustic Guitar:  Victor Conte
Drums:  Paul Lagos
Guitar:  Coleman Head
Saxophone:  Richard Aplanap
Mixed by Fred Breitberg
Produced by Harvey Mandel
Recorded by Baker Bigsby

Prior to Sweet Funky Steel, Roulette had played with Charlie Musselwhite and the Chicago Blue Stars, whose 1969 debut LP kicks off with the “Fred Roulette” composition, “I Need Your Loving.”

Freddie RouletteHow fascinating (and sad) that Freddie Roulette would release his groundbreaking album Sweet Funky Steel in 1973 — and then issue no other recordings for over 20 years.  One gets the sense that this album may have been a bit ahead of its time and had to wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

With the release of Psychedelic Guitar Circus (1994), Back in Chicago (1996), Spirit of Steel (1999), Man of Steel (2006) and Jamming with Friends (2012), it would seem that the artist and his audience have, at last, found each other.

Photos of esteemed “guitar client” Freddie Roulette can be found at Berkeley’s renowned Subway Guitars.  Freddie Roulette is on Facebook – hopefully he will one day play at a venue near you.

Sweet Funky Steel LP