On May 27, 2000, Chicago Blues came to Novi, Michigan! The venue was the 5th Avenue Ballroom and the artist was John Primer. This is the larger sister club of the original Fifth Avenue in Royal Oak, Michigan. Similar to the initial location, the ballroom's lower level features nothing but pool tables. The upper level features just a few pool tables, aquariums with tropical fish and a shark, the bandstand and nothing but the blues. The Ballroom's clientele is supposed to be older than the 20 somethings at the Royal Oak club. However by 11pm I thought I was at the wrong club! The Ballroom is not a listener's room but rather a wild house party.
John Primer moved from Mississippi to Chicago in 1963, and has slowly secured his place in the blues pantheon. He has played long stints with Muddy Waters and Magic Slim and the Teardrops. Primer is now a gem of a blues guitarist, shaped under the pressure of years doing backup work for these blues greats.
John and the Real Deal Blues Band hit the stage smoking. They ripped right into "Blues Knocking at Your Door", the title track from John's new Telarc release. Then it was one song right after another. They didn't stop long enough between tunes to even catch their breath. They reached back in time and played "She Won't Gimme No Lovin'" from The Real Deal CD. Then they played the sweetest version of "The Things I Used To Do".
Primer proved to be a diverse guitar player capable of playing traditional West Side one minute and then ripping through the notes like a machine gun the next. He easily puts you into a blues trance when he is jamming. His voice was solid and strong throughout the night. On each tune, John sang confidently.
Second guitarist Bo Trisko was hot. He had great tone coming out of his Les Paul and it nicely complimented John's style. As the night progressed drummer Mark Diffenderfer kept hitting his skins harder and harder to the point where it appeared as if he wanted to be playing with a hard rock band. Bass player Michael Morrison was consistent with his delivery and ensured the rhythm section was balanced in the blues. Morrison even took over on vocals for a couple tunes and he sang brilliantly.
I talked briefly with John in between sets. He seemed excited to be on the Telarc label. He said, "Recently Son Seals, James Cotton and others have made the jump to Telarc and the label is giving those artists some good exposure and advertisement. Hopefully they will do the same for me." He said that he hasn't seen Magic Slim in quite some time. After the Novi gig, they were headed back to Chicago were they had numerous gigs scheduled including playing the main stage (Petrillo) at the Chicago Blues Festival.
By the time the second set begun, John easily sensed the young crowd wanted to dance. So he played a set that included easily recognizable songs that one could shake their boogie to. Familiar tunes such as "Mustang Sally", "Pride and Joy", "Black Magic Woman" and "Look At Little Sister". Even though they were covers, John and the band took the opportunity to give them their own twist which included many guitar jams. With performances like this, Primer is sure to gain notoriety past the shores of Lake Michigan.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Tim Holek, 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.