Sunday, December 03, 2017

Johnny Nicholas & Friends - Too Many Bad Habits

Johnny Nicholas & Friends
Too Many Bad Habits
The People's Label

In the spring of 1977 I saw Guitar Johnny (Nicholas) & the Rhythm Rockers along with Johnny Shines and Walter Horton outside of Buffalo, NY. Around the time I acquired the album "Too Many Bad Habits" on Blind Pig (and somewhere I may still have the original vinyl album). Released in 1977, it was deleted by Blind Pig in 1978 shorty after Nicholas joined Asleep at the Wheel, and stopped touring under his own name. While he requested getting back the original masters back from the label, he was finally able (in January 2016) to get back the original multi-track tapes, masters, artwork and photos. After transferring the old tapes, he discovered a bunch of recordings that had not been released so in reissuing his lost album, he has been album to add new material to the original recording. These include performances from Shines, Horton and pianist Boogie Woogie Red, along with some having Asleep's Ray Benson and other luminaries.

I do not recall what tracks were on the issued LP but I believe they are all on the first of the two discs, which include some standout ensemble tracks "Looks Can Be Deceivin'" and the witty title track that displays how good a songwriter Nicholas was (and is) as he enumerates the things that his doctor tells him he should give up. There is some nice mandolin on the opening "Mandolin Boogie" along with a solid "Sittin' On Top of the World," with nice fiddle and sax as well. After a rocking band shuffle with Boogie City Red's piano, "Rock My Blues Away," there is a lovely showcase for Walter Horton's harmonica feature"Blues Walk," with Nicholas providing solid backing.

An a cappella cover of Son House's gospel shout "Grinnin' in Your Face," is followed by "The New Canned Heat Blues" a reworking of Tommy Johnson recording with Nicholas adding lyrics about taking Robitussin in lieu of Sterno, with Horton's adding harp to the vocal and acoustic guitar. Horton sings and plays on "West Wind," followed by Shines' feature, "Blues Came Fallin' Down," an excellent number using the "Rollin' and Tumblin'" melody. This performance sounds similar to those on Shines' early Testament recordings. More Shines and Horton follow on a lovely "Careless Love," and then an instrumental feature for Horton "Gettin' Outta Town," where Nicholas opens playing the melody for "The Dirty Dozens," before Horton shifts into  a familiar boogie instrumental of his. Having misplaced the discs, I am not sure if it is Shines' guitar heard behind Nicholas on a cover of "Hellhound on My Trail," that has solid Horton harp.

The second disc has a number of more showcases for Horton like his backing on "Pump Jockey Blues," and the instrumental, "Apple Grove Boogie," which has some slide guitar as well. "Prisoner Blues" is a slow blues with exquisite harmonica, while the brief, brooding "That's Alright Mama," comes across as brooding Hill Country blues. Boogie Woogie Red is featured on a rendition of Jay McShann's "Hootie Blues," followed by a straight take of Jimmy Rogers' "Money Marbles and Chalk," again with wonderful Horton harmonica. There is also more Big Walter on the folk-ish "Lonesome Traveler," and the lazy tempo shuffle "Froggy Bottom." The final track is a nice rendition of St. Louis Jimmy's "Soon Forgotten," with Boogie Woogie Red on piano and Big Walter on harp.

While there are  solid performances on the second disc, some have flaws such as "Believe I'll Make a Change," a "Dust My Broom" variation with the vocal being off mike initially. The alternate take of "Looks Can Be Deceivin'," is slower and not as fully satisfying. "Move on Down the Line," is a vocal duet with Horton, and probably would have benefited from being at a bit quicker tempo. These are not terrible performances.

In additional to his musicianship, one of Nicholas strengths is his singing and that he never forces or strains when he delivers his vocals. With the splendid playing, the music on "Too Many Bad Habits" may not be essential, but its re-release is most welcome with the fine performances by Nicholas and the welcome cameos and assistance of blues legends, Boogie Woogie Red, Johnny Shines and Walter Horton.

I note that the recording album was contemporaneous with the Blind Pig Walter Horton recording (which Nicholas is on) and originally issued at the same time, and I believe still available Also, Ron Levy played keyboards on the Guitar Johnny tour in 1977  I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip of Johnny Nicholas backing another Chicago blues legend, Snooky Pryor, at the 1991 Chicago Blues Festival.

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