‘The Lenoir Investigation’ Takes A Lesser Known Blues Musician’s Work Into New Territory

The Lenoir Investigation is being released on May 20th by Little Village, and represents an energetic experiment working with the music of a lesser-known Blues musician to create new directions for that work. Little Village is a nonprofit record company that seeks out music that might not otherwise be recorded.

J. B. Lenoir (pronounced Len-nore) was born in Mississippi, played a bit in New Orleans, and in 1949 arrived in Chicago, where he recorded many singles and a few albums before he died far too young soon after a 1967 car accident. Although he played with George Wein’s Folk Blues tours in Europe, J.B. mostly stayed in Chicago.  This, coupled with his inclination for writing very serious political songs about the Korean war and civil rights, insured that neither the Blues music world nor its audience gave him the attention he deserved. 

Henry Kaiser and Rome Yamilov studied Lenoir, particularly his acoustic albums with Fred Below on drums, and gave themselves some ideas for genres to use in their improvisational approaches. The band for the recording consisted of June Core (drums), Kid Andersen (bass), Jim Pugh (keys), and two guitars, with Yamilov as the primary vocalist. They cut all the songs in one or two takes.

The idea was to apply unusual musical genres to the improvisational sections of the songs.  For instance, in “The Whale Has Swallowed Me,” they played Ska, but with a Dub section. Then for “Feel So Good”, Yamilov says about the Meters-like direction:

We had to have a funk piece, and there is very little funkier than New Orleans and the Meters.

Their one non-Lenoir song on the album is “Rollercoaster,” by Bo Diddley, which “just wanted to be played,” Yamilov says. Some of the tracks on the album also incorporate various languages from around the world.

More about the artists:

Rome Yamilov

For a guy born in Russia and now hanging out with the unconventional Henry Kaiser, Rome Yamilov’s start in music was astonishingly normal-American.  His parents turned him on to the Beatles, Dark Side of the Moon, and Santana.  Rome picked up the guitar at ten and decided he wanted to be AC DC’s Angus Young.  After more metal in high school, he heard In the Court of the Crimson King and shifted into progressive rock, which led him to bluegrass, John Fahey, and Chet Atkins.  He even discovered J.B. Lenoir by taking a history of blues class in college—Lenoir was his teacher’s favorite. 

His brother fell in with Kid Andersen of Greaseland Studios (Little Village’s unofficial clubhouse) and Rome discovered San Jose’s local blues scene, which featured jams hosted by a harp player named Aki Kumar at Little Lou’s in Campbell and the Mojo Lounge in Fremont.  Rome had been in and out of high school rock bands, but Kid’s scene was a great deal more serious.  “It was the first time I ever saw really high-quality music being played in real time, and it blew me away.”  The various house bands Aki assembled gave Rome his blues education, along with the special guests who dropped by, some of them major names from Chicago. 

Henry Kaiser

Henry Kaiser attended a Captain Beefheart show on Halloween in 1971 while in college in the Boston area  He bought a guitar the next day and spent the rest of the day “playing” along (mostly making sounds with a slide) to Live Dead, Captain Beefheart, an album with Malagasy music, and an album with Pharoah Sanders and Sonny Sharrock. Over the next few years, he would play live or in the studio with all of them…and many more.  He’s appeared on more than 300 albums.  Henry has visited Madagascar with David Lindley to record several award-winning albums, partnered with Wadada Leo Smith to honor Miles Davis, worked with Werner Herzog on four features, including the documentary about Antarctica, Encounters at the End of the World, for which Henry also received a producer’s Oscar nomination. He has been a scientific diver in the US Antarctic program for more than 20 years and his career interweaves music, film, and science work.

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