Wednesday, November 17, 2010

John Primer's Blues Life

There are few blues performers as accomplished in a traditional blues vein as John Primer. A member of Muddy Water’s last band as well as long-time stint with Magic Slim, Primer has certainly produced a number of really fine recordings starting with the Atlantic/ Code Blue CD “The Real Deal” and including last year’s excellent All Original (Blues House Productions) that Primer produced himself which is a 2010 Blues Music Award Nominee with some really terrific originals and solid playing including Harmonica Hinds adding his sympathetic accompaniments. Among Primer's other releases was a  tribute to Elmore James, Blue Steel (A Tribute to Elmore James) on Wolf. The Wolf label has been a supporter of Primer and have issued other discs by him in addition to Blue Steel and Delmark also has issued some strong stuff by him.

Here are three older reviews of his music I have done over the years. First up is a 1993 review of Stuff You Got to Watch that was issued on Earwig when he was second guitarist in Magic Slim & the Teardrops. This originally appeared in the May, 1993 Jazz & Blues Report, issue 181:

Fans of straight ahead Chicago blues should check out John Primer’s Stuff You Got to Watch on Earwig. The Mississippi born Primer was in the houseband at Theresa’s Lounge where he was befriended by the late Sammy Lawhorn. Later he was in Muddy Waters’ last band and has been with Magic Slim and the Teardrops for the past few years. While he has an album for the Austrian Wolf label, this US debut certainly makes one wonder what took him so long to get hooked up with a US label.

Among those on this date are fellow Teardrop, Nick Holt, on bass, Harmonica Hinds on harp and Carl Snyder on keyboards. It is an excellent studio band which strongly supports Primer’s delta rooted vocals and guitar . While much of this is comprised of Primer’s originals, his covers are imaginative with a strong nod to Muddy on the title track. His renditions of Freddy King’s See See Baby and Magic Sam’s That’s All I Need are wonderfully paced performances while he personalizes Otis Rush’s Double Trouble, giving it a fresh cast that almost is as good as Rush’s original (which had Ike Turner’s guitar in addition to Rush’s).

Jimmy and Jeannie Cheathem’s Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On, is answered by Primer’s original Bring Your Clothes Back Home. Less expected is his transformation of Texas country bluesman Little Son Jackson’s Cairo Blues into a Chicago band blues.The instrumental Lawhorn Special is a fitting nod to the late guitar giant and his mentor. To these ears, the only misguided effort is Rhinestone Cowboy (the Glen Campbell pop-country hit), but perhaps it will get him on Nashville Now.

This is first-rate album of Chicago blues that comes from (to borrow a Bob Margolin phrase) “The Old School.”

In the March 1996 Jazz & Blues Report, Issue 209, I reviewed the Mike Vernon produced The Real Deal:

John Primer certainly has paid his dues, having been a member of perhaps the top Chicago party band, Magic Slim & the Teardrops, as well as stints in Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars and Muddy Waters’ last band. He also spent several years in the house band at the legendary Chicago club, Theresa’s, working with the late Sammy Lawhorn, and Lawhorn’s influence can be heard in Primer’s strong, focused guitar work, with a cutting tone, and a crisp delivery.

He is also no slouch as a vocalist, and his new Code Blue release,The Real Deal, is actually his fourth album, two being highly regarded imports on the German Wolf label, and the other a strong album on Earwig. Producer Mike Vernon has put together a strong backing band here: Billy Branch on harp, Johnny B. Gayden on bass, Dave Maxwell on piano (coming on like Otis Spann) , and Teardrops’ Jake Dawson on guitar and Earl Howell on drums.

Primer and the band grind out some old-fashioned Chicago blues with tasty covers of Willie Dixon’s Good Understanding and Lafayette Leake’s Blind Man Blues,relatively obscure Muddy Waters recordings, along with his own originals. Oddly, Muddy’s influence as a guitarist is more evident on Primer’s original Still in Love With You, than on Blind Man Blues, and while the influence of Muddy’s vocals can be detected, Primer has developed into an authoritative, forceful ‘deep blues’ singer in his own right. Elmore James’ music reverberates on Still in Love With You, with some broomdusting slide guitar. Branch is outstanding throughout, particularly his crying accompaniment on the Walter Davis-Henry Townsend standard, Come Back Baby, while Maxwell (veteran of Freddie King, James Cotton and other bands) is strong throughout.

John Primer is indeed the real deal and this is a splendid set of straight ahead Chicago blues.

In the March-April 2001 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 250), I examined the Wolf release It’s a Blues Life:

Leader of Muddy Waters last band, and for thirteen years a member of Magic Slim and the Teardrops, John Primer has been developing into one of the strongest traditionally based blues artists out of Chicago. He has also been building a very impressive catalog and the enterprising Austrian Wolf label has issued this 1998 session by Primer and The Real Deal Blues Band. Primer’s band of rhythm guitarist Thomas Holland, harp player Steve Bell (Carey’s son); and drummer Bert Robinson are joined by bassist Nick Holt and pianist Ken Barker for a rocking set of no-nonsense Chicago blues.

There are covers of songs from Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Albert King and Hound Dog Taylor (though Give Me Back My Wig is more inspired by Lightnin’ Hopkins than Taylor) and strong, idiomatic originals from Primer who can take things down in the alley on Albert King’s Can’t You See What You’re Doin’ to Me as well as get a rollicking groove going on his own Sweet As a Georgia Peach. Primer’s direct style is devoid of artifice or overwrought emotion. His crisp, stinging guitar complements his forceful vocals, and with solid backing has produced another release that showcases his abilities quite nicely.

Reading these reviews years later, I am struck by some of the same points coming out including his straight-ahead style with solid singing and playing. The same points can be made about All Original, which shows why Primer is a favorite among fans of straight-ahead Chicago blues. Solid no nonsense numbers with echoes of Muddy, Elmore and others in Primer’s singing and the solid Chicago blues bands he has assembled. And he remains “The Real Deal.”

For purposes of FTC regulations, I believe I received review copies of these from the recording companies or a publicist for the company. I purchased All Original.

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