Louisiana born and raised Henry Gray hit the windy city in 1946, at the time when urban electric blues was on the rise. Although he returned to his roots in 1969, evidence of his fruitful time in Chicago has never been far from the surface in his performances. It therefore seems only natural that Hightone should release an album called "Henry Gray Plays Chicago Blues," even if it was recorded in Arizona! "... Plays Chicago Blues" was recorded over a number of years in producer (and harp man) Bob Corritore's home town, and shows Gray in fine form. Instead of his regular band, the Cats, here Gray is supported amongst other by another erstwhile Howlin'
Wolf colleague, Chico Chism, on drums, and Bob Margolin and Kid Ramos make guest appearances.
The album opens with a rollicking "Talkin' 'Bout You" which lets you know where the band are coming from. This is an old style Chicago blues band playing piano-led Chicago blues. Nothing too flashy or neat, but a cut above the imitators out there. The band then take a bit of a breather on the slower "Times Are Getting Hard," before Gray gets a chance to stretch
out on "Henry's Houserocker." This is an instrumental which demonstrates more of the barrelhouse element to Gray's playing, reflecting Big Maceo's influence.
Eight of the 14 tracks are originals, and nearly all the others are by Gray's previous employers (including Howlin' Wolf, and Elmore James). The tunes have generally been arranged to suit the band line-up, however. So, Elmore James' "I Held My Baby Last Night," is dominated by piano, rather than the stinging guitar that featured on the original. It is also one of
the best tracks here, although the last three tracks ("Ain't No Use," "That Ain't Right," and "Showers Of Rain") are all equally fine, and make for a great end to the album.
The album's title sums it up perfectly: this is Henry Gray playing Chicago Blues. The band know and understand Chicago blues, and this adds up to a polished performance. There are few great piano playing band leaders around in the blues idiom, so it is something of a treat to hear Gray in good form. Gray's fans, and followers of Chicago blues can get "... Plays
Chicago Blues" through Hightone Records (www.hightone.com) if the local store has not got it, and you can catch the latest about Gray from his web site (www.henrygray.com).
This review is copyright © 2001 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
Click button to join
our mailing list!