I don't know why it's taken me so long to get my hands on some of Greg Izor's harp playing. The first time I heard his blowing was on satellite radio's BB King's Bluesville. A song popped up with that greasy fat amplified blues harp blasting and I had to find out who was blowing. I've totally forgotten the name of the band that he was playing with, but I looked them up back then long enough to find out that it was Greg Izor. I had all intentions of tracking him down, but life got in the way and I forgot to follow up. My loss, but not any longer, since he kindly sent me a copy of I Was Wrong. Thecover has a picture of Izor cupping a bullet mic that covers the bottom third of his face. Whenever I see a CD cover with such, my first thought is "Okay, now back it up with your blowing". Greg Izor lives up to that photo.
He gets down with it from the "get go" by opening "Who You Lying To" with a few fat back harp licks that sets the tonefor what follows. What caught my ear very quickly, though, was Izor's vocal chops. The man's in great voice throughout this release. One of the drawbacks with a lot of blues harp aces who stretch out into front man territory is the ability to pull it off vocally. Izor can do the do in that category. I place him on a shelf with Mitch Kasmar, Tad Robinson, John Nemeth, and Darrell Nulisch-to name a few contemporaries that can really sing the blues. Speaking of Nulisch, the first time I heard him sing was pre-Sam Myers Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, and guess what? Izor is now the post-Sam Myers lead man for Anson Funderbugh's group.
Here he leads his Greg Izor & The Box Kickers band through a tough set of predominantly original blues. The Box Kickers feature a couple of guitarists that ring my bell. I've been listening to Mike Keller slinging blues guitar notes since he and his brother Cory walked on stage at Antone's as the Keller Brothers back in the day and floored audiences with their command for the blues at such a young age. Today he's Johnny Moeller's partner in chime with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, as well as laying down some mighty fine stuff with Izor's band. I first heard guitarist Willie Pipkin at a gig with The South Austin Jug Band, which had threads of bluegrass, country, folk, and blues emanating from the stage. Pipkin was the blues card in the band and when he lit into it, he impressed me. I'd say that he's in his element as a Box Kicker. This duo bends some stone cold blues strings throughout the CD and follow the variety of vibes that Izor lays out for them, whether it's a Louisiana swamp rocker from Izor's native state, like "I Thought It Would Be Me", something country twinged, or gettin' jazzy. On the former he gets his fat chords sounding kinda like a squeeze box that's reminisent of his mentor, Johnny Sansone.
He brings the Texas sound (he's lived in Austin since '06) to the table with the hard shuffling "Stuck In Texas", on which he also whips out some of my favorite deep fried, greasy licks of the CD. Drummer Jason Corbiere and bassman Johnny Bradley drive the bottom all the way from the Colorado River to the Sabine with Keller and Pipkin's rhythm and leads riding the groove. I could venture a guess as to who plays what, but then I could be wrong. It's Izor's harp runs, bends, and whomp that sets this apart from any other Texas shuffle, though.
He throws down the George Jackson/Jimmy Webb penned "Old Friend" to venture off into a country western flavored tune. I'm am guessing that it is Keller's Telecaster that kicks this into the ol' two steppin' territory which reminds me of a sort of "Mathilda" riff. Izor could give quite a few of those radio ready faux cowboys a run for the money with his vocal lines here. This is the only cut withot his harp blowing applied.
The title tune lopes along pleasantly with a couple of harp breaks that takes off like a Little Walter solo with nice runs up and down the comb. "Broken Heart" covers the K.C. Douglas song with some of Izor's baddest lowdown Chicago blues harp tones, as he drags some deep stuff from the low end and bends the reeds for all they are worth. Speaking of Little Walter, "Swiss Krissly" has the master's influence written all over it-think "Off The Wall" as a point of reference, but Izor throws plenty of his own making into the mix.
He breaks out the chromatic harp on "I'm Yours", on which the guitar rhythm approximates Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Empty Arms". Izor gets the big harp pumping out a swinging motif with huge octave runs blasting though his mic. William Clarke ain't got nothing on this Louisiana cat. He does the same for the instrumental, "Turkey Necks", which bops along with an insistent beat and a great guitar lead break from one of those two aforementioned slingers. The chromatic on "Voleur", another instrumental, falls squarely into the jazzier realm and he proves that he knows what the button is for on the instument.
When "Soul Survivor" hit my ears, James Cotton hit my brain, because Izor was yanking some powerful stuff out and emulating the "no holds" blasting that only Cotton is known to produce. Of course, James Cotton recorded this tune written by his piano player at the time, Albert Gianquinto, and with the greatest band that he had ever assembled. Izor covers the song remarkably well and switches over to chromatic for one of the harp breaks.
I'm impressed with Greg Izor's talent and his band and this CD. Greg Izor & The Box Kickers have it going on and deliver all the goods that I look for in a release of blues harp music. Thoroughly enjoyed this, or enjoying it, or will keep enjoying it, or whatever. Worth it. Get it.
So, I'm glad that I've finally caught up somewhat with who Greg Izor is, but getting to watch and listen to him strut this stuff at the Texas Harmonica Festival on July 30 at Dan Electros will be loads better. He's definitely a triple threat with his vocals, blues harp playing, and writing. Check out http://www.gregizor.com/ and check out his youtube vids, but beware--you'll get lost in the music over there. 'Nuff for now.
As of May 30, 2008, I retired as a high school teacher with 29 years of sharing my knowledge of journalism, English, and world geography with Texas teenagers and eventually some of their kids (including three of my own).
This blog will provide a piece of the answer to the question I've been asked for the millionth time, "Well, what are you going to do now?"
#1 Son, John Bush, designed the title artwork several years ago and it is remarkably appropriate for this blog. Try this as a contact e-mail: rkbush51 at att dot net.