After a lifetime in music, Bill Sheffield cuts his first live album
It seems reasonable that at least every 30 years or so, a working musician should make a live recording.
So it is that Bill Sheffield and the Ringtail Rounders will take the stage at the Blue Raccoon in Marietta this Friday and Saturday night with a 16-track recording rig in place to capture their performance. Sheffield, an Atlanta native who turns 50 next week (Oct. 12, to be exact), has been a regular on the local scene since the early 1970s. He toured and recorded with guitarist Roy Buchanan (1974's In The Beginning). He's performed with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker and Big Joe Turner, to name a few. He was a member of Cool Breeze and, later, the XLs (their eponymous 1985 LP has been re-issued on CD). He recorded 1997's Real Time with vocalist Liane Webb. And this July, he released Penny Candy, his first CD with the Ringtail Rounders.
There are several reasons why Sheffield wants to make his first live recording for public consumption.
"We want to capture the energy of the live show," he says. "A studio recording is a different thing — like making a movie — and the live thing is more like theater. We want to capture the theatrical side of it."
Sheffield hopes to have the live CD available by Christmas, and certainly in time for his European tour, which begins in February. The time, it seems, is right.
"You look for the songs and the sounds," Sheffield says. "The rhythm section [bassist John Wieland and drummer Lee Goodness] has been together two-and-a-half years, gigging on a weekly basis, so that has a positive effect. We've also got Jon Liebman [a harmonica player who joined the band earlier this year], who reaches farther out into the instrument than anybody I've ever worked with. And I feel like this is the best I've ever played. So it feels like it's time."
Liebman, in fact, is pulling double-duty as both Ringtail Rounder and bandleader for the Electromatics, whose schedule includes shows at Fat Matt's every Wednesday, at Fuzzy's every other Thursday, and weekend gigs at the Northside Tavern, the Blue Raccoon and other venues.
"Playing in the Ringtail Rounders gives me a chance to play a lot of harmonica without having to front the band," Liebman explains. "I feed off of Bill because he has great energy. Also, Bill plays a lot of old ragtime and Delta-type blues, whereas in the Electromatics focus on late-'50s/early-'60 blues, R&B and jazz."
Indeed. Armed with either of two vintage '30s Gibson guitars, Sheffield leads the Rounders through classic pre-WWII acoustic blues by Willie McTell ("The Georgia Rag," "Statesboro Blues"), Robert Johnson ("If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day," Come On in My Kitchen") and Mississippi John Hurt ("Louis Collins," "Candyman"), along with original songs that complement his choice of cover material.
Sheffield has been working the Blue Raccoon steadily — usually on Friday nights — since the place opened in June 2000. The mission of the club, says Blue Raccoon owner Kerry Dockery, is to fill a need "for people who live in the outer Perimeter area, who don't want to go into the city to hear music."
In addition to weekend bands, the club features Steven Talkovich and Bo Weevil on Tuesdays, and hosts an acoustic jam on Wednesdays and an electric jam (with Sheffield at the helm) on Thursdays.
"It's a solid music room," Sheffield says. "When you find a place that's really interested in presenting quality music for music's sake, you've just got to jump on the bandwagon."
The Ringtail Rounders play Fri.-Sat., Oct. 5-6, at the Blue Raccoon, 188 Garrison Road, Marietta. Show time is 9:30 p.m. $5. 770-426-6400. www.billsheffieldblues.com or www.ringtailrounders.com.
This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.??