Born in Texas and now living in Calgary, Alberta, singer and drummer Donald Ray Johnson has had a fascinating career ranging from playing drums with A Taste of Honey in the disc era but in recent years establishing himself as a blues and soul vocalist. In France he met and toured with guitarist Gaspard Ossikian who leads the GAS Blues Band with whom he recorded a bunch of favorite songs he performed with them over the years. Others in the band include Pierre "Little Peter" Cayla also on guitars, Phillippe "Pompon" Scemama on bass and Yannick "Papayan" Urbani on drums. Others on this recording include Daniel Antoine on organ, Samuel Dumont on saxophone and Nicolas Gardel on trumpet.
9 of the 12 numbers are covers and with one exception are not songs that have been overly recorded. The GAS Blues Band contributed one original and Johnson two. This is a well played, straight-forward release opening with a solid rendition of B.B. King's "Bad Luck" and then followed by a cover of Joe Louis Walker's Bluesifyin'," with a credible vocal if not as strong a singer as Walker was on the original. The cover of "Ain't Superstitious" perhaps owes more to Jeff Beck than Howlin' Wolf. One pleasant surprise are three covers of songs associated with the late Phillip Walker, the slow brooding "Ninety Proof," the loping shuffle "Big Rear Window," and Nat Dove's rocker "Dressing Trashy."
The GAS Blues Band's "She's French," sounds like a fragment of an break song while "Distant," is a funky, bluesy rendition of A Taste of Honey recording (I believe the flip side of ""Boogie Oogie Oogie"). Johnson's "Watching You," is another similar number followed by a fairly strong original "Should've Been Gone," with his regrets about overstaying. Lucky Peterson's shuffle "You're the One For Me" closes this album with a solid vocal as he sings about his darling's love and the feeling she gives him, which (like the entire recording) is supported by the GAS Blues Band's steady, and idiomatic backing. This all results is this solid, entertaining blues recording.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 370). Here is Donald Ray Johnson and GAS Blues Band in performance.