Benny Turner and Cash McCall Going Back Home

In Memory of Cash McCall

Forgive the introduction to this wonderful album as, sadly, just before I sat down to write this review, the lovely Betsie Brown at Blind Racoon informed Bluesdoodles of the sad passing of Cash McCall. Cash had been battling lung cancer for quite a while and he finally succumbed to the disease on April 20th 2019. Therefore, with regret, I will devote the next paragraph to a remarkable man: a blues musician of such skill and quality in his vocals, his guitar playing, his compositional skills and the contribution he made to music as a solo performer and as a ‘sideman’.

Born Morris Dollison Jr. in 1941, he entered the music scene of Chicago with gospel groups the Gospel Songbirds and the Pilgrim Jubilee Singers. His first solo effort was a single called ‘Earth Worm’ released under his real name in 1963. Success came in with a co-write with Monk Higgins called ‘When You Wake Up’ in ‘66. On its release the record company, for reasons unknown, billed him as Cash McCall. After a meeting with the great Willie Dixon, Cash became a session musician and songwriter for Chess Records and went on to be a part of Dixon’s All-Stars. In the 70s, he moved more toward the blues and released three exceptional solo albums, the last one being ‘Cash Up Front’ in 1987. He has toured since then as a solo artist and with the Chicago Rhythm and Blues Kings and the Chicago Blues Revue. It is fitting and heartwarming to hear that Benny Turner decided to join up with his old friend as, although knowing each other for nigh on sixty years, they had never recorded together and, in Benny’s own words “A death in the gospel world inspired me to contact my old friend Cash. I had no idea about his health problems and wanted to do whatever I could to help. Getting him involved in a music project seems to have been the best medicine in the world for him because he is really excited about it’. The only shame is that this pairing will not record together again…the positive side is that they did record and we have that legacy to enjoy for evermore…Thank you, Cash McCall, for all of your contributions, both seen and unseen, over the years and rest assured that you will live on in the music you gracefully shared with those smart enough to realise the scope of your work. And thank you to Benny Turner for instigating this session and giving us a chance to hear again, this musician’s musician. Now we can celebrate the music that these two, along with a stellar cast of ‘backing’ musicians have supplied.

A word also for the redoubtable Benny Turner who is also a bluesman of renown…he is predominately known a bass player and backed his brother, Freddie King, until the guitarist’s death.  He then moved to New Orleans and became the bandleader for the well-known singer Marva Wright. He has three critically acclaimed albums and an award-winning biography to his name as well as appearing on sixteen other releases. Now, on to the music…

Going Back Home Review

A quick glance at the tracklist on Going Back Home brings trepidation as some true classics are covered here…indeed, there is only one new composition. I say trepidation because I am always wary of some of my favourites being ruined. Fear not! We have the blues awareness of two veterans that have preserved the essence of the songs and given them new and delightful twists. Opening with a Harold Burrage hit from 1965, Got To Find a Way features three Turner sisters…Carla Davis duetting nicely with Benny and Benita Turner and Yvette Whittler supplying delicious backing. They turn(er) this into a good time song that would fill any dance floor with the piano and sax cutting through the complexity of the interpretation while the rhythm guitar of Cash fills in. Spoonful is next and this is always a risky one…the original by Willie Dixon and famously released by The Wolf (and Cream) takes on a blues/soul hue as Cash provides the vocal and guitar effectively while the bass from Turner is spot on and the harp adds a little western feel. It is a very good, not the best, but a very good cover. Next, up is Poison Ivy written by Willie Mabon…this was always a simple early pop record that usually leaves me indifferent. Here though, it has a lilt and sway that the other versions lacked and the keys and guitar behind Turner’s vocals are so fulsome. Money is the only original and fittingly written by McCall. He sings it semi-spoken and so it becomes a sermon on the evil money causes. It is an effective if simple blues song that really has a rhythm that gets to you. Elmore James has long been a favourite of mine and I have heard some great and some dreadful covers of his classic Shake Your Moneymaker. Mercifully Turner and McCall keep the essential slide guitar in its primitive glory, while the keys update the sound and the rhythm guitar adds some depth. This is definitely in the good category even though I would have preferred much more slide than the sax solo that veers toward incongruous: the original will stay at the top of my preferences. Another revered song and composer is next with a version of Tampa Red’s It Hurts Me Too. Moody/Marsden are the only ones so far (imho as the youth say) to do the original real justice but this one comes close; mainly because Turner and McCall have laced it with some tasty harp and slide while the rhythm and essence is maintained. Elmore James’ One Way Out was adapted by GL Crockett in 1965 and released as It’s A Man Down There and the Allmans did another, a different take on it called One Way Out…Turner and McCall use Crockett’s version with a fast and barrelhouse feel with the piano and organ filling superbly behind the vocals. The Dirty Dozens is based on the Speckled Red original and, in case you’re wondering the line is “Mother for ya” and not anything untoward! In fact, you can learn a lot about how God made an elephant should you listen to the later verse…music can provide more than you’d think. Anyway, it is a piano-led blues of quality and, again, the instrumentation behind the ‘Fats’ like delivery of the vocal is great. Now yet another sacrosanct classic…Willie Dixon’s Built For Comfort. This version has some great slide but it’s too deep in the mix and would given the song that edge it lacks if it had been lifted. The rest of the instruments blend into a strong version that pays due deference to Dixon. It all wraps up with Sonny Boy Williamson’s Bring It On Home. Page unturned and Planted it is not…these guys own up and Billy Branch takes vocals as well as harp. It is probably the best interpretation of this classic for a long while. It has everything the original had and adds a modern edge with the multi-faceted instrumentation. A great way to end.

This is a damn good album from start to finish made all the more poignant by Cash McCall’s tragic death. So revel in the legacy and enjoy ten tracks of high-quality blues and, because of the complexity of the instrumentation, please listen (not hear) and adjust the settings each time to get the maximum out of, particularly, Turner’s adept bass playing. And while you’re listening yes, think of Cash but first and foremost join in with the fun all of the musicians so obviously shared in the studio.

NINEpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Tracklisting:

  1. Got to Find a Way (feat. Carla Davis)
  2. Spoonful
  3. Poison Ivy
  4. Money
  5. Shake Your Money Maker
  6. It Hurts Me Too
  7. It’s a Man Down There
  8. The Dirty Dozens
  9. Built for Comfort
  10. Bring It on Home (feat. Billy Branch)

Musicians:

Benny Turner: bass, vocals

Cash McCall: guitar, vocals

Carla Davis: vocals

Benita Turner and Yvette Whittler: backing vocals

Terry Saffold: drums

Butch Mudbone: guitar

Raishene Webb: keyboards

Barney Floyd: trumpet

Billy Branch: vocals, harmonica

Joe Krown: piano

Johnny Sansone: harmonica

Brentt Arcement: drums

Rodd Bland: drums

Jack Miele: guitar

Benny Turner and Cash McCall Going Back Home

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