In 1969 during the great "rediscovery", Adelphi Records, assisted by Big Joe Williams, set out to find and record blues musicians. The vinyl versions of resulting albums are now pretty scarce, but Adelphi is now reissuing them on CD. "On The Road Again" gives you a chance to hear three Memphis blues friends and legends sounding in rude health.
There are five Furry Lewis tracks, three from Bukka White, and two from Gus Cannon (including "Goin' Back (to Memphis, TN)" which was not on the original release). All the tracks are originals, and the performances are all mighty fine, even if the fingers were not quite as nimble as they once were.
The opening bars of the title track give some insight into Lewis' universal appeal. His performance makes it sound like he was born to the blues. Dewey Corley backs Lewis on washtub bass, and supplies some guitar sound-alike kazoo, which I missed on the first couple of plays. Mike Stewart (aka Backwards Sam Firk), who also appears on other albums in the series, provides the second guitar which perfectly dovetails with Lewis on this one, and on the later "I've Got a Bird to Whistle". It is not clear whether it is Stewart who also provides uncredited guitar on several other tracks.
On "My Wife Is Getting Old" Lewis eggs on Bukka White, but it is clear that White never needed much encouraging. White--B.B. King's cousin--has a voice that is brimming with raw intensity and passion, similar to Blind Willie Johnson. His powerful guitar playing, which matches his voice, is similarly a reflection of his admiration for Charley Patton.
Gus Cannon had previously worked alongside Lewis in Dr. Willie Lewis' medicine show. Superficially, Cannon's tracks here appear somewhat anachronistic, with the banjo having long since disappeared from the blues. In some respects, that makes the tracks all the more precious. Although he was well into his 80's, Cannon serves up spirited performances on "Lela" and the closing "Goin' Back (to Memphis, TN)".
The overall feel of the album, with the various interjections and other asides, suggests that the protagonists were very much at ease. There are plenty of highs, with the last three tracks--Lewis' rendition of "Furry's Worried Blues," White's reading of "Gibson Hill", and Cannon's "Goin' Back (to Memphis, TN)"--ensuring that you are left wanting more.
"On The Road Again" provides a timely reminder of the work of three important and highly respected members of the Memphis blues scene. Although all three artists have long since died (Lewis in 1981, White in 1977, and Cannon in 1979), their legacy lives on. "On The Road Again" is an album that should be part of every discerning blues lover's collection.
Adelphi/Genes Records, PO Box 7688, Silver Spring, MD 20907
Web site: www.adelphirecords.com
This review is copyright © 2000 by Gordon Baxter, 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.