Saturday, November 07, 2009

Bill Heid shines on jazzy blues piano set.

“You Know I Can’t Reuse: The Bill Heid Sessions,” (Eastlawn) is one of those discs that straddle the blues and jazz categories, so unfortunately sometimes get lost in the mix of new recordings. Drummer RJ Spangler is one of those musicians who has championed the swinging blues and rhythm pioneers of his native Detroit as well as providing solid, idiomatic support that helped revive the careers of such folks as Johnnie Bassett, Detroit’s Blues Queen Alberta Adams and the late Motor City legends as Joe Weaver, Stanley Mitchell and Kenny Martin. RJ tours with his Rhythm Rockers and plays in different combos such as RJ Spangler’s Blues Four which reunites him here with Bill Heid, one of the unsung blues and jazz keyboard players of the past thirty-five odd years. The Pittsburgh native has lived in Chicago for several years where he was on Alligator recordings by Koko Taylor, Fenton Robinson and Roy Buchanan. He later recorded for a variety of labels including several excellent organ recordings for Savant as a leader, in addition to recordings by Johnny Bassett and others for Cannonball. He lived in Detroit for about two decades developing a bunch of followers including RJ and played a major role in helping getting Johnny Bassett some international exposure. More recently, he has been part of the Baltimore and Washington jazz and blues scene. This new disc that RJ Spangler produced has Pat Prouty on string bass and Keith Kaminski on saxophone with Johnnie Bassett adding his guitar to several selections.

As the disc's subtitle suggests, Heid is the focus here. Heid plays piano and handles the vocals on a set of jazz-inflected blues or blues-inflected jazz. A good part of the 11 songs here derive from the repertoire of such jump blues legends as Floyd Dixon and Jimmy Witherspoon although it opens with a rollicking rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Ninety Nine,” with Heid’s Amos Milburn-Floyd Dixon inspired boogie piano complementing his unforced off-the-cuff vocals embellished by Bassett’s nice solo. Dixon’s “Red Cherries,” is a sophisticated uptown number with the, “Cherry a day will keep the doctor away,” has him singing about the fun in getting cherry juice on his tongue. Next is another Dixon classic, though more in the Charles Brown-Little Willie Littlefield vein, “Baby Lets Go Down to the Woods,” as Bassett’s guitar conjures up Oscar Moore. The tempo picks up for Leiber-Stoller’s “Too Much Jelly Roll, a popular part of Jimmy Witherspoon’s fifties repertoire. While he can’t shout the blues like Witherspoon, Heid’s delivery appeals in its own fashion on Spoon’s “Failing By Degrees,” with the down-in-the-alley piano ably supported by Prouty’s bass and Spangler’s brush work. Heid's “Boogie For Mr. B.” is a fine original boogie woogie. Heid’s piano also adds a fresh feel to the Joe Turner and Pete Johnson classic “Piney Brown Blues,” with Kaminski telling his bluesy story on tenor sax, while Jimmy Witherspoon’s “Times Getting Tougher Than Tough,” gets rollicking piano along with Kaminski’s tenor sax punctuation. The title track, originally by Detroit’s Five Dollars backed by Joe Weaver & the Blue Notes, has a tasty rumba groove while Johnny Bassett, who played on the original, adds his guitar here.

RJ, in the album notes, mentions outside of Bill’s original boogie, these are songs that Bill would play with RJ and the cats iover the years but had never recorded. I add that none of these numbers have been done to death. In any event, Heid adds his own inflections to his performances making for a set that should appeal to fans of jazz and blues, and artists like Jay MacShann, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Amos Milburn and Mose Allison who defy category borders. Kudos to Spangler for putting together such an strong session. It is available at and, to name two of the sources listed on

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