David Kearney, best known as Guitar Shorty, was among the three major rediscoveries that Black top made (Robert Ward and Bobby Parker are the other two. The Florida born singer-guitarist was heavily influenced by Guitar Slim who made some choice recordings for Cobra Records and the LA based Pull label. For a period he was married to Jimi Hendrix’s stepsister and would swap ideas with the future legend. Kearney had recorded a wonderful My Way or the Highway for the English JSP label before joining Black Top where he recorded three albums, Topsy Turvy, Get Wise To Yourself, and Roll Over, Baby. After leaving Black Top, there were live albums on Collectables followed by Evidence’s I Go Wild and more recently he signed to Alligator.
Shout Factory’s The Best of Guitar Shorty: The Long and Short of It, is taken from the JSP album, the three Black top CD and the Evidence. It is not as consistent as the Black Top albums because Shorty’s latter albums (Especially the Evidence and Alligator are a bit too tailored for rock audiences and lack some of the subtle touches and superior bands used by Black Top). Even if Go Wild! is forgettable, the stunning remake of Hard Life, You Better Get Wise to Yourself, Swamp Dogg’s I Want to Report a Crime and a duet with Carol Fran, I’m So Glad I Met You. The two selections from the JSP disc, No Educated Woman and Red Hot Mama, are almost equal to the Black Top discs but using such first-rate players like Lee Allen Zeno on bass, Herman Ernest III, Shannon Powell or Raymond Weber on drums, David Torkanowsky on keyboards, Kaz Kazanoff on sax..
Oddly the only number from Black Top that had South Central, his working band of the nineties was a credible rendition of Hey Joe, a tribute to Hendrix which is ok, but there are some other selections that are missing, especially his rendition of Al Kooper’s I Love You More Than You Know, derived from Donny Hathaway’s recording. Hathaway was a major influence on Shorty as a singer, but you would never know it from most written about him that focus on his guitar playing and Hendrix connection. Given the more rock-oriented production of his recent recordings, his vocals also suffer.
But if this gem had replaced the tracks from the Evidence album, then the title would be more accurate as opposed to really being Almost The Best of Guitar Shorty. Still this will have to do until Topsy Turvy and Get Wise To Yourself are reissued. The JSP may still be in print.
This review originally appeared in the September-October 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 286). I likely received a review copy from a publicist.