Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rockin' Johnny Has A Date With The Grim Reaper

Rockin' Johnny Burgin has been playing the blues for a couple decades, having a regular residency on Monday nights at a Chicago club while also honing his skills playing with a variety of blues folks such as Pinetop Perkins, Tail Dragger, Jimmy Burns, Sam Lay and Billy Boy Arnold. Delmark has just issued Grim Reaper, the second album by the Rockin' Johnny Band. The band is comprised of Rick Kreher on rhythm guitar; John Sefner on bass; Steve Bass on drums and Big D on harmonica with Kenny Anderson, Dudley Owens and Jerry DiMuzzio adding horns on occasion.

Comprised of several originals and interpretations of generally blues that have not been overly covered, Rockin’ Johnny has put together a solid album of Chicago blues. One can hear a variety of influences in his approach. On guitar, the West Side styling of Magic Sam and Eddie C. Campbell can be heard while Billy Boy Arnold’s low-power singing (to use Johnny’s characterization) is a strong influence on his vocals.

The title track is an original, co-authored with Ken Kemawshima, is a solid West Side Chicago styled blues with plenty of nice guitar and his earnest singing. It also displays his approach which is to not overplay and let the silences speak as much as what he plays. The band provides the appropriate support without laying down things too heavy. Johnny’s Window To Your Soul channels a bit of Magic Sam with a more low-key vocal and impressive, imaginative fretwork. On I Was Fooled, he channels Billy Boy Arnold vocally on a Jody Williams number that Arnold recorded for Vee-Jay. A swamp blues feel marks Lousy Dimes as he worries about his money problems and on which Big D takes a strong solo with Johnny adding chords and jazzy fills.

The venerable Rollin’ and Tumblin’ is given an understated treatment in a performance that owes as much to Sleepy John Estes (singing about of the river was whiskey and I was a diving duck) as Muddy Waters. Its Expensive To Be Broke is a laid back urban blues with the horn section, while the cover of Otis Rush’s My Baby Is a Good ‘Un, is taken a very leisurely tempo. He takes out the slide for some broom dusting on My Sweet Baby, where DiMuzzio adds his baritone sax behind Rockin’ Johnny’s vocal and guitar and then channels Fenton Robinson in a nice rendition of Robinson’s Somebody Loan Me a Dime with some nice guitar and a heartfelt vocal. Shoe Leather and Tire Rubber is about wearing out shoes and tires looking for some blues gigs as Big D contributes another solid harmonica solo.

Rockin’ Johnny is an engaging, low-key singer as well as a consistently imaginative and tasty guitarist backed by a sympathetic band. With a nice varied collection of songs he has produced a very appealing album.

Delmark provided me with a review copy. He he performs Fenton Robinson's I Hear Some Blues Upstairs.

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