A Johnny Rawls show is not strictly blues, since during the course of the night you'll get some soul, old-school R&B, great soulful blues, a little bit of rock, and even some James Brown funk. But no matter what he plays and sings, Johnny is smooth in everything he does. Smooth, soulful vocals, slick guitar licks that are much stronger than he is normally given credit for, and solidly written original songs. With his winning smile, soulful eyes, and stylish dress, he has a stage presence that never fails to capture the attention of the ladies in the crowd. And his original songs, many based on loving, cheating, and trying to apologize, have a roguish quality that say 'hey, I may have been bad, but I sure want you back and will try to be better in the future.' You can almost hear the playful wink in his vocals.
Normally when Johnny brings his traveling R&B, blues, and soul show on the road he has a trio, backed by solid players Harvey Westmoreland drums and James Carson on bass while he handles lead guitar and most of the vocals. Tonight we had the Rawls Revue, complete with a solid keyboard player in veteran Mr. Jimmy, who came on stage for the second and third sets, and excellent harmonica player Ricky Brothers, who shined all night long. While Johnny's trio is solid, the added players this night made for a richer, fuller sound where Johnny could shine on vocals and guitar without having to work quite as hard. The hard work from the snappily dressed band made for a great night of music all night long.
Johnny kicked things off with his soulful, mid-tempo blues original, "It's My Turn To Win." Johnny showed some great soulful, expressive vocals, demonstrating great range as smooth and warm as velour. Solid harmonica work by Ricky Brothers added greatly to this song, as it did throughout the night. Johnny came right back with "I Know a Place," a bluesy R&B number that showcased Johnny's solid guitar picking and soaring, expressive vocals. Ricky proved a great addition to Rawl's band playing fluid, muscular harp. Muscular is a good word for Ricky, a short, powerfully built man who nonetheless showed fluid subtlety as well as power in his harp playing. His ability to play, smooth, long drawn-out harp riffs down low served as a nice counterpoint to Johnny's great vocals and clean guitar playing.
On "No One Is Going to Take Your Place" Johnny's passionate, from-the-heart vocals and jangling guitar licks were complemented nicely by Ricky's smooth, subtle harp riffs. Johnny was fine with letting Ricky shine, letting him take the spotlight as he played his way through the crowd on a long harp solo, Johnny urging him on from the stage. The Rawls Revue even gave the crowd a little Marvin Gaye on "Let's Get It On" as they showed great vocal harmonies on the refrain. Johnny got the crowd into it, urging them to scream. Johnny's warm, rich and soulful vocals captured the spirit of the song and enthusiasm of the crowd. Johnny got the crowd really going with his love song, "I'd Be Nothing Without Your Love," bringing up old friend and local blues man Percy Strother up to add his warm, rich vocals on the song.
For his final set, Johnny combined a little James Brown R&B / funk, a little soul, and more than a little bit of naughtiness. He gave the crowd the PG version of "Lucy Get Juicy," a catchy, irreverent song with a great beat to dance to, following it up with the soulful, inspirational, "People Get Ready." As the clock neared 1AM, the Rawls Revue launched into "Stroking," with a great deal of audience participation. Bass man James Carson jumped off the stage to play on the dance floor, concentrating on an attractive lady. Ricky Brothers played harp without missing a beat, his arm wrapped around a young lady standing in front of him. And Johnny served up strong, smooth, suggestive vocals and advice on love, the consummate showman that he is. The crowd on the dance floor and throughout Famous Dave's roared and clapped their approval.
The next time Johnny Rawls heads into town, be sure to check him out. I guarantee that there is no way to not have fun with this band. All you have to do is let yourself go, get up and dance, and enjoy the music.
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