Back in 1979, Hollywood Fats (Michael Mann) and a gang of friends went into the studio to record a few tracks, and everything gelled so completely well, they hung out and managed to put together an LP. That LP became a cult classic and proved beyond a doubt that while the Fabulous Thunderbirds might have been tearing it up in Texas, Hollywood Fats and his crew were dishing out vintage blues on California's coast. After Fats, Al Blake, Fred Kaplan, Larry Taylor, and Richard Innes had gone their separate ways, plans were in the works to re-form the group with the original members, and in a bizarre form of celebration, on December 8, 1986, Fats overdosed and died at the age of 32. The original PBR LP afforded 11 cuts of pure, unadulterated, no-holds-barred blues and boogie and when reissued by Black Top a number of years ago, an additional 6 tracks trussed out the disc (Aim International also issued it with 14 tracks). Crosscut trumps and takes honors with this 2-CD set; the first disc containing the original tracks while the second includes 13 additional gems.
From the opening Jimmy Rogers' chestnut, Fats and friends throw down and prove the hype was justified. Sizzling, distorted guitar opens "Rock This House" making way for Al Blake's gruff and blasting harp, then for B.B. King's "She's Dynamite," things only get better. Gatemouth Brown's "Okie Dokie Stomp" delivers crushing chords, thick and overblown fills, and is a jarring two-and-a-half minutes of thundering prowess. "Suitcase Blues" finds everything in order with Kaplan's tasteful piano behind a loping feel while Blake's acoustic harp owes a debt to the original Sonny Boy Williamson, and although "Red Headed Woman" is credited as being an original, it's obviously Baby Face Leroy Foster's version with a few nasty twists. Memphis Slim's "Lonesome" comes complete with solid horn charts and a harrowing guitar break from Fats but "All Pretty Women" isn't quite as original as the session details might suggest, it's based on a JoJo Adams' cut from years before. Al Blake's "Prettiest Little Thing" has some forceful chromatic harp and if "Caldonia" strikes the lame-cover nerve, listen as these guys breathe new life into it just as they do on "Poor Boy," with Fats dishing out Chicago-like rhythm and fills while Blake tears up the proceedings with a harp tone as thick as cigarette smoke in a Southside joint. The first disc closes out with Big Walter Horton's "Have A Good Time" with its stop-time groove and chugging breaks.
Disc two is comprised of alternate takes of "Rock This House," "All Pretty Women," and "She's Dynamite" plus out-takes that didn't make the initial. A thundering "Read About My Baby" makes way for "Shake Your Boogie" as the outfit delivers a Chicago gem with a jumping West Coast attitude, and for "Little Girl," the pace rears back and moves into a dark alley for a slow and brooding seven-minute blues where Fats hands in a restrained solo packed with double stops and searing single notes before Blake tosses in some flowing harp. There are three takes of "Too Many Drivers," all showing the cohesive spirit that dominated this band, not to mention more fat-toned harp chomping smoking, and no-frills guitar. The previously unreleased "Fred's Blues" is a miraculous five minutes of Kaplan handing in some fine Lloyd Glenn-like piano while Fats comps quietly as Taylor and Innes nail the rocking beat. "I Got My Eyes On You" (using Sonny Boy II's "Bring It On Home" riff) storms along with intense guitar and some Spann-flavored piano, and "Kansas City," another oft-covered piece, manages to break free as the Fats and his friends pull back the reigns for a slower and more deliberate offering.
While Blake, Kaplan, Taylor, and Innes have moved on to brighter futures, Fats left his immaculate and searing guitar, which has found its rightful place in the pantheon of giants. While discussions continue on as to how young someone can be and manage to deliver soulful blues, back in 1979 when these sessions were tracked, Hollywood Fats and his band were only in their mid-twenties, yet they played with the finesse of men twice their age. There's no showing off here, no grandstanding, no pyrotechnics, none of what has become part-and-parcel of many blues-playing hotshots today. This is lowdown, ragged-but-right sensibility done with respect for a tradition that, at the time, was in it decline, soon to revive itself thanks to the Hollywood Fats Band and others who used vintage gear and soul, leaving Marshall amps and enormous egos behind. Plain and simple, these guys were retro long before it became a buzzword.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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