One of the last great Chicago piano players of the Howlin' Wolf era is Henry Gray. He played and waxed with the Wolf for over twelve years from 1956-1968, and played and recorded with Muddy Waters, and many other Chicago blues elite including Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter Jacobs, and Robert Lockwood Jr.. Gray, a Kenner, Louisiana native has spread his ivory work about, playing with Taj Mahal, Koko Taylor, Johnny Shines, Jimmy Reed, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, and a continued list of contemporary blues luminaries.
Having arrived in Chicago in 1946, and with further schooling under the wing of Big Maceo Merriwether; Gray became a valuable tool in the construction of the Chicago blues ensemble stylings of the 50s and 60s. With an already outstanding musical vocabulary of barrelhouse, rag, and blues, Gray and his peers (the likes of Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, and Detroit Junior, and others) made the piano an important element of that Chi-Town blues formulae! At seventy-six, Henry continues to play today; still stretching the recipe.
That ensemble sound made famous by Wolf and Muddy is just what you find here. Straight standard Chicago chops: complete with interactive harp or horn, piano, and guitars, built atop bass guitar and drum rhythms. On this biscuit you find ex-Wolf drummer Chico Chism, ex-Muddy guitarist Bob Margolin, and producer/harpman Bob Corritore. Fabulous Thunderbird axeman Kid Ramos also stops by to whip it up on four tracks.
There are songs by the Wolf, Elmore James, Lowell Fulson, as well as a few original compositions. Henry Gray and Corritore have put together premium set of non-tired blues for your consumption. Eat it up! Shuffle right into the opening "Talkin' 'Bout You" and hear the subtleties of Gray's playing. From his reactive left hand rhythms to his intricate lead fingerings. The other treat here is Gray's utterly convincing vocal character; when he sings "Times Are Getting Hard" he shows the depth of his blues experience. Catch his rolling boogie on "Henry's Houserocker" and see the next facet of this master's profile.
Throughout this meal of Chicago treats you get alot of real blues meat. Honest, no frills, authentic stuff from one of the finest pianists around; a living remnant of the golden era of Chicago blues. Henry Gray has a killer traditional release with this disc. This is a luscious plate guaranteed to satisfy any appetite for Windy City blues!
HMG/HighTone Records; 220 4th Street, #101; Oakland, CA 94607:
This review is copyright © 2001 by Mark A. Cole, 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.