Sunday, September 20, 2015

Henry Gray Plays Chicago Blues

Since he moved back to Louisiana a few decades ago, former Howlin Wolf pianist Henry Gray has kept playing but has never enjoyed the level of recognition that contemporaries, such as Pinetop Perkins, have received. Besides being in Wolf's band for an extended period, Gray did a fair amount of session work, recording with Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Billy Boy Arnold and Jimmy Reed, as well as making his own recording for Chess. The biggest influence on Grays style is Big Maceo, and like that great master, he is a strong, two-handed player and he certainly sings with a definite sense of urgency.

Gray did record some swamp-blues flavored sides for an Arhoolie anthology, and some singles for small Louisiana labels, an album for Antone's which I believe is long out-of-print, and a live album for Lucky Cat which would have been better if some of the performances had been edited to be tighter. Hightone has issued a new cd by him, Plays Chicago Blues , which has him backed by guitarists Bob Margolin and Kid Ramos, fellow Wolf alumni Chico Chism on drums and Bob Corritore on harmonica.

My promo cd does not provide any more detailed information, but these are from various sessions that Corritore produced over several years. Its a nice mix of material including covers of classic Chicago blues including a couple songs associated with Elmore James, It Hurts Me Too and I Held My Baby Last Night, as well as Wolf's How Many More Years , The Maceo influence is quite evident on the slow moody Trouble Blues and It Hurts Me Too, while Henry’s Houserocker is a strong, rollicking instrumental. There is nothing fancy about this music but it strikes this writer as the best currently available disc of Henry Gray's music available.

Henry Gray had a recent album issued under Bob Corritore's direction, The Henry Gray/ Bob Corritore Sessions Vol. 1 that I will post my review of tomorrow. This review was written in  mid-2001 and likely was published in Jazz & Blues Report and the DC Blues Calendar. I likely received a review copy from Hightone and this may be still available.

Here is Henry in performance in 2009 at the Louisiana Music Factory.

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