Monday, June 16, 2008

Sonny Boy Terry's First One

Sonny Boy Terry

Breakfast Dance

Doc Blues Records

Here we go. This is one of those reviews that I wrote "back in the day" for a website called Delta Snake Daily Blues. A fellow by the name of Al Handa ran the Snake with dedication and a conviction to keep the blues alive with a site chock full of music reviews and news that could be used relating to the blues. Then, the website just vanished. Weird how these efforts to keep the genre alive always seem to die first. I began writing reviews for him by submitting my opinions on blues CDs that were in my possession and those that I really thought that others needed to know about and for the most part releases that I enjoyed listening to and felt were good enough to recommend. Soon, though, I was receiving several CDs a month from Al for me to put my spin on and to be quite frank, some were abysmal examples of the genre. These were tough to write about, because I'd always adhered to the policy that if you can't say something good about someone (or their efforts), then say nothing at all. I also realized, though, that the job of a critic is to critique--the good and the bad. This became somewhat of a chore for me because what I really wanted to write about was blues that revolved around the blues harp and I began to fill a drawer with CDs from Al on every type of blues imaginable--acoustic, country, delta, Chicago, West Coast, pre-war, post-war, blues/rock, rock/blues, you name it. Anyway--this is the first review that I wrote for the site back then because I felt Sonny Boy Terry had put out a winner for his first release and EVERYONE needed to hear about it. So, this is it as it appeared back in 1999.

When harpman Terry Jerome move to Houston in the early '80's and sought out and began playing with storied musicians like Jimmy "Louisiana" Dotson, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Johnny "Clyde" Copeland and Jerry Lightfoot, it didn't take long for him to get tagged with his "Sonny Boy" moniker. They recognized the talent in his soul and on his instrument.

His talent led to a four year stint with Hughes and the chance to tour Europe with both him and Dotson. His recorded harmonica graces albums by Hughes, Copeland and James Bolden. This CD represents his first foray into the world of bandleading.

He has captured the rich, musical essence of the Texas Gulf Coast on this debut release, Breakfast Dance. It moves from straight ahead blues, Latin grooves, Zydeco swing, bluesy rock and a touch of jazz. All with the sensibilities of a true bluesman.

The CD title comes from an after-hours gig along the Gulf Coast with Hughes and Copeland that began on Christmas eve and lasted until morning. The locals called it a "Breakfast Dance" and it kicks off fittingly enough with a rollicking version of Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner's I Live Where The Action Is. SBT's slashing harp leads the way and puts harp fans on noticed that this Houston boy can play and his vocal growl gives the tune what it calls for. It sets the stage for Adam Birchfield's rockabillyish string bending that adds the right groove to the song.

I'll Be Your Fool is one of five originals that showcases SBT's skills at shaping his own tunes. The driving, slashing guitar of co-author, Bill Allison, sets up the rock-tinged groove and SBT's solos show off the tone that he can coax out of the humble diatonic harmonica. Phil Marquez' B-3 organ keeps the tune flowing along smoothly.

Co-written with Jerry Lightfoot, the jumping instrumental, Pressure Cookin', really throws down SBT's techniques onto the disc. His mix of thickly drawn chords and single note runs prove his mastery of his instrument. Adam Birchfield's guitar versatility emerges on this one.

SBT again pays homage to another legendary Gulf Coast figure on Ashton Savoy's Jangle, Jangle (Down Mexico Way). Savoy is one of those Louisiana cats that recorded for Excello and Goldband back in the '50s and '60s. SBT gives the tune a Latin beat and shows that he can adjust his vocal timbre for the genre. The groove is driven by the rhythms of bassman Benny Brasket and drummer, Kevin "Snit" Fitzpatrick. If you like what Charlie Musselwhite has done with Cuban rhythms , you'll love what SBT is doing with his harp on this one.

He takes Little Walter's Business Man (from the pen of Willie Dixon) on the trip it deserves. Once again he prove his skills at adapting his vocals to fit the material. Marquez weave his piano in and out and provides a tasty solo break and Birchfield stretches out with a Kid Ramos flavored tone. SBT's harp licks are purely original and he lays off of copying Little Walter. Basically, he just kicks butt.

Recorded by Slim Harpo many decades ago, Moody Blues proves that Slim could have used a better saxman when compared with this version. SBT tapped Houston's Grady Gaines' exquisite talent on the instrument and he blows the leanest, meanest sax ever put to wax here. When he and SBT get into a synchronized groove, it is a classic not to be missed.

The minor-keyed original, Take Your Time showcases SBT's chops on the big chromatic harmonica. It is a jazzy little number featuring the vibraphone of Harry Shepard, who lays down some mighty tinkling that plays off of SBT's sweeping harp lines.

The CD heads straight for the heart of Louisiana on Hey Zydeco, replete with rubboard from Joe Lavergne and accordion swing from Pierre Stoot. SBT's harp chording chugs drive the tune into the swamp.

SBT digs back into Juke Boy's songbook with Railroad Tracks and he lays down some wonderful, nasty amplified tone on the Mystery Train rhythmed highlight. Birchfield goes back to his Scotty Moore influenced rockabilly guitar licking and bassman Terry Day and drummer, Fitzpatrick add the fuel that keeps the train a'rollin'.

SBT begins the minor blues classic, Laundromat Blues, on the chromatic and then switches to wailing away in third position on the diatonic harp. His sounds drip with vibrato and passion. True Houston legend, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, lives up to his middle name and reputation as he applies his considerable six string skills that sets this tune apart.

Another original instrumental again proves what Houston folks have know for years--Sonny Boy Terry is one of the finest harpmen in the business. It also drives home the point that this CD was long overdue. There are not too many darn harp instrumentals that have the soul contained in Holman and Dowling. Allison puts out some real blues riffing on the guitar here and Marquez applies his B-3 skills once more.

Just when you thought that SBT applied his nastiest tone on Railroad Track, he jumps into Billy Bizor's Screwdriver with even a nastier, driving, lowdown, distorted sound that drives the listener home. Allison's string-bending is once more on display here and the punch is supplied by Fitzpatrick with Rex Wherry on bass. A fitting way to end a disc dedicated to the sounds of the Texas Gulf Coast.

So, if you have never tasted what has been happening in this region for decades, give this gumbo stew a spin and get a little Gulf Coast nourishment at the Breakfast Dance.

Anyway--there you have it. I could have re-written it and improved it, because I've listened to it many more times since I wrote this in 1999, but this is what part of this blog is about--simple resurrection. Check out the Doc Blues Records website and Sonny Boy's myspace page.


Al Handa said...

Hello, thanks for the nice comments about the old Delta Snake. That web page did disappear suddenly I have to admit :-) Long Story...the Snake did appear as a blog later though, but it was too soon (post burnout perhaps), and I did want to get back to making music again after a few years. The Snake is still around as a blog though, on this service, in fact, and I will say that you were always one of the best and dedicated reviewers on the Snake and it's obvious from your blogs that you write from a real conviction and love for the blues. Good to see you still writing.


Ricky Bush said...

Hey Al--Man, it's good to hear from you. Glad that you're still out there doing it. I totally understand the burn-out phase of keeping a website/blog alive. Stay in touch, I'll look around the blogosphere for The Snake.