Released last year on the redoubtable Gulf Coasts Record label was an album that has only just reached the top of the review pile and as with any album on Mike Zito’s label, it just has to be shared on Bluesdoodles. The artist in question is the 70 plus-year-old blues genius that is John Blues Boyd and this release is the history of John’s life and more: it is an object lesson in the turbulent history of Afro Americans and their invaluable culture and contribution. Mike Hale (president and co-owner with Zito of the label) puts it best… ” Born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1945 he was picking cotton in the fields at the age of seven. At eighteen he was run out of town by racist forces for joining Martin Luther King’s Freedom March at sixteen. It was obvious to us both that this record had to be about his life. A life that has witnessed the struggle and oppression of Afro Americans through the dark days of Jim Crow. The murders of many including Dr King, Malcolm X, and John F Kennedy. John overcame all this and married and made a good life for himself and his lovely wife Donna Mae in California”. Fortunately for us, his warm or stinging or comforting or confrontational and rich vocals are now available on the aptly titled What My Eyes Have Seen… Uniquely, JBB, Hale and producer, Kid Andersen, sprinkled between the ‘main’ tracks (some as individual tracks and some at the beginning or end) with organ/guitar backed reminiscences from John called simply, My Memory Takes Me There over nine Parts…they need listening to too as they capture his memories in such a way that John should address the UN and be given the chance to share and shame people into doing the right thing.
Bluesdoodles thoughts on What My Eyes Have Seen
Opening track, In My Blood, tells of his love for the blues backed ably by the stellar cast of musicians as the song develops into a BB King styled romp with trademark guitar phrases from Kid Andersen; it may be traditionally based, but it is still a fresh song delivered with panache. The title track is slower and with a touch of soul injected over the blues with fascinating rhythms courtesy of the clever bass and drum patterns and more lovely guitar and keys as JBB relates the oppression and injustice he has seen and suffered first hand.
I Heard The Blues Somewhere recalls his first blues encounter over a simple riff but with tasty harp and organ over the ever expressive JBB and and equally tasty guitar solo. On The Run has a brief memory intro before a great groove is layered by the band for JBB to relate the sorry account of his being run out of town for joining Martin Luther King’s Freedom March in 1963…as I said, an object lesson in the shameful history of the times…but set over such a neat backing with organ, sax and guitar (especially the superb picked solo) enthralling as much as the story.
Her Name Was Dona Mae is a moving tribute to his much loved wife, as is the slow and mournful Forty nine Years…the first celebrates meeting her over a reliable blues pattern and the vocals are laced with love and passion; the latter is a slower, mournful, near jazz blues with the piano, sax and guitar again matching the sheer emotion of JBB telling us “after forty nine years, I put my baby in the ground”. Sad but essential.
Why Did You Take That Shot is about the assassination of Martin Luther King told over a slow jazz base with horns weeping over the lyrics…alleviated by the sensitive and brilliant organ and guitar solos. Oh California! is about his move there and the music celebrates with some swinging style blues complete with a sax and guitar solo to ramp up the fun.
The blues adopt a jump-style (which I’m glad that JBB didn’t carry through to his day job at the time) on That Singing Roofer…the clever brushwork and a great solo make this an absolute joy. I Got To Leave My Mark has a great funk feel to the clever bass line as the guitar and horns join in on a song that must surely have been the motivation for the history lessons. It wraps up with another, longer My Memory Takes Me There…lovely keys and guitar behind JBB sitting in his chair and allowing himself to be transported to wherever he pleases.
So, here is an album that is riddles with passionate vocals and instrumentation all steeped in the finest blues traditions…nothing earth shatteringly new, just lots of blues to revel in and, at the same time, be treated to glimpses into the life of a fine singer and human being.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws; a Wonderful slice of blues, blues history, the shortcomings of mankind and the undying love for someone close… lovely stuff!
1. In My Blood
2. What My Eyes Have Seen
3. I Heard The Blues Somewhere
4. On The Run
5. Her Name Was Donna Mae
6. Why Did You Take That Shot
7. Oh California!
8. That Singing Roofer
9. Forty Nine Years
10. I Got To Leave My mark
Vocals – John Blues Boyd
Bass – Quantae Johnson (tracks: 1, 3, 7, 9, 11 to 14), Robby Yamilov (tracks: 4)
Drums – June Core (tracks: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 to 14), Lisa Leuschner Andersen* (tracks: 4)
Electric Organ [Farfisa] – Kid Andersen (tracks: 4)
Guitar – Kid Andersen (tracks: 5, 9, 11), Rome Yamilov (tracks: 4)
Guitar, Organ – Kid Andersen (tracks: 1 to 3, 6 to 8, 10, 12 to 15)
Harmonica – Ryan Walker (12) (tracks: 4)
Organ – Jimmy Pugh (tracks: 3, 5, 9, 11)
Percussion – Kid Andersen (tracks: 3, 5, 15)
Piano – Jim Pugh* (tracks: 7, 12 to 14)
Saxophone [Sax] – Eric Spaulding (tracks: 1, 13, 14), Jack Sanford (2) (tracks: 1, 3, 7, 9, 14), Nancy Wright (tracks: 5, 9, 11, 12)
Trombone – Ric Feliziano (tracks: 3, 7, 9, 14)
Trumpet – John Halbleib (tracks: 3, 7, 9, 14)
(iTunes this time ran on to Sunday Blues by John Hammond and The Sceamin’ Nighthawks with killer bass, slide and all things bluesy…from the rather excellent compilation album ‘White Boy’s Blues Guitars’.)