Monday, August 06, 2012

Johnnie Bassett Had The Cadillac Blues

As I write this, word was received that Johnnie Bassett, a gentleman as well as a superb bluesman has passed away. The Detroit News has an obituary as does the Detroit Free Press. Here is a review of his CD for the now defunct Cannonball label that appeared in the April 1998 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 230). I likely received a review copy from the label or a publicist. 

Johnnie Bassett’s emergence from obscurity in Detroit continues with Cadillac Blues (Cannonball), the third album by the very talented singer-guitarist to hit the racks in a very short time. This album is similar to his Black Magic album, I Gave My Life to the Blues, with Bassett backed by the Blues Insurgents of Chris Codfish on the Hammond B-3 and organ bass; R.J. Spangler on drums; Keith Kaminski on alto and tenor saxophone; and Dwight Adams on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Johnnie Bassett at the 2010 Pocono Blues Festival.
It was the last time I saw him perform.
Photo © Ron Weinstock
What is remarkable is not just how good Bassett is, or what a good band he has, but how consistent his recordings are. He has had three first-rate albums made available in such a short time. Perhaps having waited four decades to take the spotlight, he doesn’t waste any opportunity to showcase himself. It certainly does not hurt that he has good material, or that the Blues Insurgents are such a fine band. Codfish and Spangler provide a swinging rhythmic foundation, while Adams and Kaminski play punchy head arrangements and take some terrific solos.

With a hint of world weariness in his voice, Bassett effectively communicates the ironies in the lyrics, like on his own That’s Fair Play, where he notes how a former lover is suffering with her new man. Perhaps its because Bassett has been in the motor city for so long, but cars are a frequent theme in the songs. Not only are there two songs devoted to the Cadillac, the title track and Cadillac Baby, but on That’s Fair Play Bassett also notes that a former lover won’t leave him alone now that he has a Mercedes.

A bit of Memphis funk on Get Over Here Baby is tempered by the Blues Insurgents’ jazz sensibilities. Kaminski and Adams both take solos that go beyond simple blues band conventions and complement Bassett’s own fine playing. Much is made of T-Bone Walker’s influence on Bassett, although one should not minimize the clear influence of B.B. King’s guitar playing of the mid-sixties. Bassett might be compared to the late Fenton Robinson, although Robinson’s music does not swing quite as hard as Bassett’s does, like on the hot jump blues Raise the Roof, Raise the Rent.

Produced by Ron Levy at Willie Mitchell’s Memphis Studio, Cadillac Blues, is another release that will help establish Johnnie Bassett as one of the brightest new names in the galaxy of blues stars.

Here is a video of Johnnie Bassett performing Cadillac Blues.

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