Seventy six year old Henry Gary is one of the mainstay keyboard men of the heyday of Chicago blues. He spent over a decade working in Howling Wolfs band, his piano was also heard driving the early recordings of Jimmy Reed and Billy Boy Arnold. In 1969 he left the windy city and relocated to Baton Rouge. By 1977 he was going round on the overseas blues circuit and has cut several albums since then, as well as making appearances at the Chicago Blues Festival.
This album was cut over a four year period in Tempe Arizona, where producer (also harpman and blues historian) Bob Corritore makes his home and regularly books roots blues act into area club and concert gigs. Corritore put together a solid backup band including another Wolf alumni Chico Chism on drums, Pops McFarlane or Paul Thomas on bass and Johnny Rapp on guitar, with Corritore blowing harp to most tracks. To this core group were added guest guitarists Bob Margolin and Kid Ramos who sit in on about half the album. But its not about individual flash--ensemble playing is the star here, and at its best the band merges with all the solid support offered by the bands of the days of yore.
Margolin is only really evident on "Trouble Blues" where his learned-at-the-knee-of-Muddy Waters slide guitar takes a center stage position. Another standout guitar cut features Rapp on Wolf's "How Many More Years" where Rapp faithfully calls up the spirit of Willie Johnson, whose funky tone linked with the piano of Ike Turner on the original 1954 version. Eight of the cuts are credited to Gray, many of them have the knack of sounding like old standards as Gray uses phrases like "Times Are Getting
Hard" and "look out the window, through my window pane", they already seem familiar. "They Raided The Joint" calls to mind a typical Louis Jordan song-saga. Gray also covers Elmore James, "I Held My Baby Last Night" and "It Hurts Me Too", as well as the generic "Everybody's Fishing."
Gray is an enthusiastic if not particularly distinctive singer and his piano is solid if not pyrotechnic--check out the instrumental "Henry's Houserocker". Corritore has a facile harp style with a vibrato that calls to mind Big Walter, and this albums continues their collaboration that was also heard on Corritores previously released ALL STAR BLUES SESSIONS (HMG 1009).
This is mainstream stuff, played with a classic sound and gusto by a man who is young beyond his years.
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.
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