Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lazy Lester Rides Again

Leslie Johnson, better known as Lazy Lester, is the remaining member of the four giants of Louisiana Swamp Blues that recorded for Jay Miller at his Crowley, Louisiana studios and which were issued on, and distributed by, the Nashville based Excello label. The others were Lightning Slim, Lonesome Sundown and Slim Harpo.; Lester who sang “They call my lazy, but I am just tired,” played on numerous sessions including his own recordings such as Sugar Coated Love, I’m a Lover Not a Fighter, and recordings Miller produced, including many accompanying Lightning Slim.

Ace Records (of England) has just reissued Mike Vernon’s Blue Horizon issued Lazy Lester Rides Again. It was originally released in 1987 and were I believe Lester’s first post-Excello recordings. He was touring England at the time and Vernon used members of several English bands to back him and they provide understated, effective backing. This release fortunately was the first by him over the past couple decades and he remains a vigorous performer who is still rooted in the distinctive style he gained fame for.

Swamp blues is a style rooted in Jimmy Reed’s style and employs very simple walking blues boogies and slow moody blues with the use of echo and treble as well as crying harmonica to add an evocative moody atmosphere, especially on slower tempo numbers. For this recording, Vernon allowed Lester to remake three of his recordings as well as take his turn on other swamp blues and classic blues themes. So we get a remake of his Sugar Coated Love, as well as Nothin’ But the Devil. He played behind Lightnin’ Slim on the original recording.

Outstanding is the remake of the philosophically tinged “The Same Thing Could Happen To You,” while Bob Hall adds some rollicking piano to I Hear You Knockin’. Other standout tracks include the remake of King Karl’s swamp pop classic Irene, and Jimmy Rogers’ Out On The Road. On the latter tune he plays guitar while Tim Elliott plays harmonica, emulating Lester’s style.An unexpected delight is the swamp blues reworking of WC Handy’s St. Louis Blues, as well as the instrumental Blowin’ a Rumba.

The present reissue contains a number of bonus tracks which are mostly alternate takes of the originally issued recordings. Some of these have mistakes and Vernon discusses how this recording was made at length in the copious notes provided in the accompanying booklet. I Ain’t Glad, was an original by Lester and Vernon with a lyric that was a bit of a tongue twister which was not issued at the time. Lester’s harp was added after the original recording, but it was some more recent digital repair that enabled it to be issued for the first time here. The closing tune is an instrumental Rockin’ With Lester, an extended two harmonica instrumental with Tim Elliott’s chromatic harp added to Lester’s harp. Still unissued from these sessions is a rendition of the deep soul classic The Dark End of the Street, that still, after 24 years, is deemed unusable.

The original release of Lazy Lester Rides Again was a WC Handy Award winner in 1988 and the additional takes and tunes are a bonus for listeners today. Lazy Lester still is with us, and still delights blues audiences at festivals and concerts. His music has been immortalized by the remarkable roots concert series, The Ponderosa Stomp, which takes its name from one of Lester’s Excello recordings (the recording was titled Pondarosa), and at which Lester is one of the regular performers. Long may Lazy Lester Ride.

I purchased this CD.

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