A strong album from the delta area is the Rooster Blues debut album of Lonnie Shields, Portrait. Born in West Helena, Arkansas, Lonnie Shields’ career started in church and also playing guitar as a teenager. In high school he played in a band that did a fair amount of Al Green songs. Later he developed friendships with drummer Sam Carr and Frank Frost. Lonnie’s blues is rooted in the soul-blues as represented by the late Z.Z. Hill, Bobby Bland, B.B. King, Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor and Tyrone Davis.
Portrait has been several years in making and finds Lonnie backed by several different sets of musicians. Supporting musicians include Sam Carr, Frank Frost, Lucky Peterson, Eddie Shaw, and Eddie ‘Vaan’ Shaw who play in different groupings of musicians. The opening Fistful of Dollars (which is never enough, of course) has added percussion which imparts some of the rhythmic flavor of a delta fife and drum band. The titles with Lucky Peterson on rhythm guitar, and horn players Anthony Royal and Dennis Bates (then with Al Green, but also from Lonnie’s high school band) are excellent modern soul-blues and Lonnie really delivers this groove.
The lyrics cover the spectrum of blues themes from lost love, cheating lovers, and hard times, and Lonnie invests his performances with feeling and heart. Strong backings help these recordings rise above more commercially successful soul-blues recordings. I was impressed by Eddie Shaw’s saxophone work on Eight Days a Week and My Baby Left Me. His playing here shows he can play more with more imagination and finesse than the limited raspy sax heard on his own recordings suggests.
A real fine effort.
Portrait was Lonnie’s debut album and this review appeared in slightly different form in the June 1993 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 182). I likely received a review copy from Rooster Blues Records. I have had the pleasure of seeing Lonnie a number of times over the years and he is such a nice person. Fistful of Dollars is often his opening style, and illustrates his hard, percussive style which cause him to break more than one guitar string.