Sometimes you just need a shot of Chicago blues. I mean, when nothing else can satisfy that need for gritty, raw edged, low down, feel it in your gut kinda blues. You know, The Real Deal well, here it is. John Primer has learned his craft well and it shows with his first effort for Mike Vernon's Code Blue label. Payin' dues in this business can last a lifetime. And John Primer is just one example of payin' and learnin' from the masters while perfecting a style that owes as much to remaining true to the genre as to creating an identity within it. Having served solidly as Magic Slim and the Teardrops' rhythm guitarist for the past fifteen years and fronting the band when Slim is not onstage, he has developed a presence that has been honed from many years of studio work, touring and live performances. Just prior to joining The Teardrops he toured with Muddy Waters' band until his death in 1983, and with Willie Dixon 's All Stars from 1979 for a couple of years before joining Muddy's touring band. With influences like that, Primer's approach is drenched in the Chicago tradition, and he thoroughly understands what it takes to deliver "the message".
It's obvious from the opening note that Primer comprehends ensemble playing. While backed by seasoned sidemen, as he is himself, all the instruments integrate seamlessly. Harpman extrordinaire, Billy Branch, approaches his role with impeccable understatement and punctuates passages almost undetected. Solidly backing Primer on bass, as he did for many years with Albert Collins, is Johnny B. Gayden. David Maxwell immerses his piano effort with a Chicago feel reminiscent of Otis Spann's playful signature tinklings. Rock-solid on drums from his own Teardrops lineup is Earl Howell. Jake Dawson, also from the Teardrop rhythm section adds second guitar as Primer solos.
Of the twelve cuts on The Real Deal, six are Primer originals and the well chosen covers pay tribute to his mentors (and former employers, Dixon's "Good Understanding" and Water's "Blind Man Blues"). There is ample evidence that Primer is extremely comfortable playing not only Chicago blues, but also Delta blues as he digs in with a bottleneck lead from the Elmore James School of Guitar Playing on his "How Long Will You Be Mine." "Tomorrow Might Not Be the Same," and "Tired and Worried" are right out of the 50's and early 60's Chicago era that fit this collection well. The simplicity of their production is a welcome breath of fresh air--like right off Lake Michigan through the "Windy City."
If there is any weakness in this recording, it is in John's vocals. Traditional Chicago blues have had a more impassioned approach than I hear from John. Listen again to Magic Sam and more recently Chicago's Son Seals for examples. Don't let that only possible shortcoming discourage you from picking up this CD. I await the next effort from John Primer as he furthers the journey that he begins on this disc.
The Real Deal offers blues fans a glimpse of a hard-working bluesman whose approach to blues is interpreted with influences from the Delta, Westside Chicago, road gigs, and touring with some of the truly great. I strongly recommend that fans of Chicago blues seriously consider adding this CD to their collection. Like I said, sometimes you just need that kinda thing!
This review is copyright © 1999 by TR Marshall, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.