it’s all in the delivery. Much as a good comedian can take a stale one-liner,
punctuate the right syllables and make it funny again, a good blues singer can
make a simple couplet stand as emotional testimony if they sing with the right
amount of grit or emotion. The fellow known only at Tail Dragger sounds like
Howlin’ Wolf between bites of food, snarling about love or his bald head – equally
convincing on both counts. Vance Kelly comes clean about his small stature, and
when he borrows the dirty “Hoochie Coochie Man” riff for back-up, the message
is clear that he’s not lacking anything in the love department.
artists and five others were documented by Chicago guitarist Jimmy Dawkins
throughout the 1980s. Dawkins launched his own Leric imprint during the Reagan
years in hopes of exposing the city’s blues artists much as Chess and Vee Jay
had done in previous decades. One of the
few musicians familiar with the legalities of the music industry, he stuck to
the 45 format, in hopes of getting jukebox and radio play for these regulars on
the club scene. When we wasn’t securing recordings from local producers, he
lead sessions himself, playing guitar in the band.
might have been the decade when studio technology starting wiping the grime off
of recording sessions, but that wasn’t the case with most of these 16 tracks.
Nora Jean’s “Oh My Love” wants to serve like a female version of Isaac Hayes or
Barry White’s seduction soundtracks, but it doesn’t get too lush. And even when
Dawkins’ own guitar sounds a little clean on his session with vocalist/bassist
(!) Queen Sylvia, his fretwork overcomes the setting. (Reid’s three tracks and
one by Big Mojo Elem are the only previously unreleased tracks.)
back to the issue of delivery, many of artists add different elements to the
music so the compilation doesn’t simply sound like a block of 1-4-5 patterns.
Little Johnny Christian adds some soul horn charts to his tracks, while Kelly’s
“The Jam” sound like its title – four minutes of blowing over a hip soul-blues
lick. The unknown drummer on the Queen Sylvia session also kicks it up with
some sharp, open hi-hat crashes on “I Know I Ain’t Number One.” The compilation
closes with two excellent gospel sides by Sister Margo and Healing Center
Choir, the second of which unfortunately fades out right as Margo (who sang
blues under the name Lady Margo) seems ready for some extra testimony.
to the liner notes, the original Leric singles were more popular with white
blues fans than the African-American audiences that Hawkins hoped to reach. But
while many of these singers have passed on, at least it’s good to know that their
creative output is still around to be heard.
DOWNLOAD: “So Ezee” (Tail
Dragger), “I Know I Ain’t Number One” (Queen Sylvia). MIKE SHANLEY