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Saturday, March 9, 2013

STEP BACK BABY - KING BISCUIT BOY

Richard Alfred Newell (March 9, 1944 – January 5, 2003), better known by his stage name King Biscuit Boy, was a Canadian blues musician. He was the first Canadian blues artist to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.. King Biscuit Boy played with artists such as Muddy Waters, Joe Cocker, and Janis Joplin. Newell was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and played guitar and sang, but was most noted for his harmonica playing. His stage name was taken from the King Biscuit Flour Hour, an early American blues broadcast. He was given the name by Ronald "Ronnie" Hawkins, a pioneering rock and roll musician, while he was part of Hawkins' back-up band. Newell reportedly started his career by stealing his first harmonica (Marine Band, key of B) from a joke shop near his home on Hamilton Mountain, Hamilton, Ontario. Newell played with The Barons (later renamed Son Richard and the Chessmen) from 1961 to 1965, followed by a stint with The Midknights and in the summer of 1969 helped to form And Many Others, which was Ronnie Hawkins' backing band at that time. After one LP and several US appearances, Hawkins fired the entire band in early 1970, upon which the members, including Newell, formed themselves into their own band, which they named Crowbar. Newell recorded an album with Crowbar, then embarked on a solo career, although he played with Crowbar off and on throughout his career. After leaving Crowbar, he signed a major American deal with Paramount/Epic. Seven solo albums followed, along with two Juno nominations (the Juno Awards are the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Grammy Awards). Newell released his last album in early 2003 at Race Records, an independent record label in Hamilton, Ontario. It was a collaboration with saxophonist Sonny Del-Rio (a former Crowbar bandmate and long-standing friend) entitled Two Hound Blues. The album was a combination of six lost tracks from the 1981 King Biscuit Boy album, Biscuits 'n' Gravy, and the 1991 Sonny Del-Rio effort, 40 Years of Rock & Roll and All I Got's the Blues, which was recorded in 2002. Blake 'Kelly Jay' Fordham (a former Crowbar bandmate and friend) recalled that Newell had a soft spot in his heart for 1950s doo-wop music. "We'd do a medley, four chords in F, and see how many songs we could fit into it; stuff by Johnnie & Joe - ""Over the Mountain, Across the Sea," and "You Belong to Me", or "Talk to Me", by Little Willie John. Each week we'd try to best ourselves, see who could come up with more. He would always find the most obscure stuff." Newell preferred Hohner Special 20 (diatonic) harmonicas, and was using a Danelectro amplifier late in his career. He rarely played a chromatic, either on stage or in the studio. Newell fought repeated battles with alcohol abuse throughout his life. Poor health due to alcoholism stunted his career through the 1990s. The bright spot in this time period was his release of the album Urban Blues Re: Newell in 1995. Newell succumbed to the disease at his home in Hamilton, Ontario, in 2003, just two months short of his fifty-ninth birthday.

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