This would have the been the "crucial third album" for the Bugs Henderson Group eighteen years ago, but it was never released due to differences of opinion about its stylistic direction. In early '98 Bugs finally dusted off the tapes, re-cut the vocals, and now presents us with another slice of his legendary career.
From his days with Mouse & the Traps in the 60's to being a member of Freddie King's backup band in the 70's to the dozen or so albums he's released since with his own band, Bugs has been tagged with a number of handles. He's been called "The Godfather of Texas blues rock", "the daredevil of the red guitar", and "a national treasure". But Bugs can frustrate his devotees as easily as he delights them, and Backbop is no exception.
Like many of his releases, this one has moments so nifty you want to run right off to visit your guitar-fanatic friends and say, "You've GOTTA hear this!" But then you quickly snatch the disc away from them before they listen to the "other" parts.
There isn't much in the way of blues here, but guitar freaks will find plenty to lap up. Be forewarned that the design of the CD itself - made to look like a volume knob - is more a direct order than a work of art. The key here is not to put your feelers out for a great song - most of Backbop is
just straight-ahead rock and roll, most of it just plain bad - but to let Henderson surprise you with his intermittent blasts of guitar genius. Treasure the lefts he takes just when you thought he was turning right. Take, for instance, "Help Me." It shifts gears so many times it sounds like four different songs, depending on which ten seconds you're listening to. What starts out a little like Heart's "Barracuda" has a mid-section that has Chet Atkins written all over it. And although most of the lyrics are silly
and contrived, there's an occasional pearl: "Countin' the hours instead of the minutes, I'm lookin' for a night with no dark in it."
"Love Junkie" is about as close to blues as Backbop gets. It has some nice jazzy riffs but their steady repetition gets to be too much. "Thief of the Night" provides a good display of what Bugs can do when he commences to rock out; the speed and the bends are as decidedly his as he is a Texan. The last track, Audio Liner Notes, is Henderson's customary narrative on the origin of the album's songs. The acoustic picking and strumming beneath his voice is actually one of the highlights of the album; the beautiful minor chords alone are enough to make you seek an audience of one with Bugs on his front porch for the entire day.
By and large, Backbop will take you back several decades to the sounds of bands like Deep Purple, Golden Earring, and even AC/DC. Or, as Bugs tells you himself, the music reflects the crazy life and times of the band members during that time period: "high intensity, up-tempo, get it on and kick it stuff".
This review is copyright © 2000 by Ann Wickstrom, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.