James Y. Jones, the Chicago blues singer took his stage name, Tail Dragger, from a Howlin Wolf song. This was fitting insofar as Wolf was a mentor and heavy influence on him as reflected in his singing, stage act and his music which employs some of the grooves and melodies associated with some of Wolf’s classic recordings, even tossing in a yodel-like Howl on several tracks. A few years back he had a CD and DVD on Delmark is My Head is Bald, Live at Vern’s Friendly Lounge, Chicago. He benefited from a terrific band that has Billy Branch on harmonica, Lurrie Bell on Guitar, Kevin Shanahan on guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, Kenny Smith on drums and Willie Young on tenor sax. Jimmy Dawkins replaces Shanahan on My Head is Bald.
Tail Dragger contributed all the songs except Jimmy Dawkins’ So Ezee. One song, Cold Out Doors, is a DVD bonus track not on the CD. While one would be hard-pressed to call the Tail Dragger a major artist, he entertains with a program that evokes the Wolf. His vocals are slightly slurred and don’t have Wolf’s crispness nor is he as forceful as Wolf was, but still is a very enjoyable singer with the band rocking behind him. Billy Branch is typically outstanding while Lurrie Bell’s stinging lines and riffs evoke Hubert Sumlin’s playing with Wolf. The rhythm duo of Stroger and Smith provide a solid foundation for everybody else. Songs like Tend to Your Business, My Woman is Gone, and the title track, are typically of the solid evocation of Wolf’s music present throughout and its entertaining to watch the DVD to see Tail Dragger singing for the woman, working the crowd and egging his musicians on.
I was also impressed by the camera work and production on the DVD which really gives a sense of that evening at Vern’s Friendly Lounge. This is certainly welcome as an entertaining release that should appeal to fans of classic Chicago blues.
I received my review copies from Delmark and this review originally appeared in slightly different form in the February 2006 DC Blues Calendar which was then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. It also appeared in the July-August 2006 Jazz and Blues Report (Issue 284). I previously posted a review of his Live at Rooster's Lounge.
If my review interests you, here is Delmark's Trailer promoting this DVD.