Approximately four months ago, November 13, 2001 to be exact, The Sirens Records drew four Chicago blues piano greats into the studio to record 8 Hands On 88 Keys. The end result was an incredibly good time for all of the parties involved and the creation of one exceptional recording of classic solo blues and boogie woogie piano by four of the best piano players the blues has to offer, the youngster Barrelhouse Chuck; two blues mainstays, Detroit Junior and Erwin Helfer; and the senior statesman of Chicago blues piano, Pinetop Perkins.
The CD features all four musicians on piano and/or vocals with Barrelhouse Chuck on four songs; Detroit Junior on five songs; five for Erwin Helfer; and finishing with Pinetop Perkins on four songs. The mix of pianists and vocalists is as interesting as the combination of songs performed.
8 Hands On 88 Keys opens with Barrelhouse Chuck performing a Sunnyland Slim tune, "It's You Baby" on vocals and piano. This is followed by an original instrumental called "Rooster's Blues." On Barrelhouse Chuck's third song, the combination of pianists and vocalists begin. In an interesting twist, Pinetop Perkins' original "Pinetop's Blues" is sung by Barrelhouse Chuck with piano by Erwin Hefler. It's a very well done version of the song, despite the absence of Pinetop on the tune. Chuck's final appearance is as the vocalist on "Miss Ida B," with Detroit Junior handling keyboard duties for the first time.
Detroit Junior continues his stint on the CD with "I'm So Unhappy," an original medium tempo boogie that allows Junior to flex his vocal talents along with his piano skills. This is followed by "Ella" an instrumental that has hints of the song "My Blue Heaven" scattered through it. Junior picks up the tempo on "Staggerlee," putting his personal touch on the traditional blues classic.
The transition from Detroit Junior to Erwin Helfer is handled via the Jimmy Witherspoon original, "Ain't Nobody's Business." This time, Junior handles vocals while Erwin Hefler takes his another turn on the piano in his second duet. This is an excellent slow blues that offers an excellent match-up between the two bluesmen. It is also one of several examples of one piano player willing to share the spotlight with another in a very unselfish manner, pretty good in today's world of musicians with big egos who many times seem more intent on showing how good they are versus putting together great combinations of musicians to play great music.
Erwin Helfer's visit to the spotlight continues with the boogie woogie original, "Stop Time Boogie," an excellent demonstration of boogie woogie piano at its best. Hefler follows with a slow blues, "4 O'Clock Blues" another well done instrumental number written by Jimmy Yancey. On "I Almost Lost My Mind," an excellent tune written by another fine piano man, Ivory Joe Hunter, the final transition is made moving from Erwin Hefler to the living legend, Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins. Pinetop starts his "set" on vocals with Hefler staying on piano.
Pinetop finishes off the CD with three excellent examples of his enormous talent, performing "Grinder Man Blues," "How Much More" and "How Long Blues." It is amazing that at 88 years of age, Pinetop is as good as ever and as easy to listen to as he has ever been. He does a great job of personalizing Memphis Slim's "Grinder Man Blues," followed by a fine piano laden version of J. B. Lenior's classic "How Much More." The CD is finished off with Leroy Carr's "How Long Blues," an excellent slow blues and a fine finish to the CD.
Lovers of good blues and boogie woogie piano are bound to love 8 Hands On 88 Keys. More than anything else, I was amazed at just how well the older players have maintained their skills, not taking anything resembling a back seat to anyone, including the "youngster" on the CD, Barrelhouse Chuck. To find out more about this and other recordings from The Sirens Records, visit their website at
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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