Although this is apparently his eighth album, I confess that this particular Johnny is new to me. He is Johnny Ticktin and has a long history of playing the blues with some high profile names. Johnny’s from the Washington D.C.area, and first picked up the guitar at the age of six and started playing locally. During college, while studying for a degree in Psychology, he spent his spare time listening to the music of Magic Sam, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Otis Rush, Little Milton, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and T-Bone Walker. He crossed paths with harmonica player Larry Wise and, through him, Johnny met Louisiana Red and the three began to tour together. He has also worked with the likes of Albert Collins, Luther Allison and Sunnyland Slim. In addition to all of that,as a member of Johnny and the Headhunters, The Excellos and Rockett 88 he has toured extensively for overthirty years.
This latest album, That’s All I Need, is a set of covers but one glance at the track list reveals that it is not all of the usual suspects; instead, it is a carefully chosen mix of the less obvious blues with some surf, swing, mambo andR’n’B culled from across the years…from the great Elmore James through LinkWray (a vastly underrated innovator of the electric guitar) to the Albert Collins dance romp to close the album.
First up is the title track, a Magic Sam song, which sounds like Three Dog Night remaking the original, but the guitar and vocals are very good and take the song to a new level. The solo is measured and encapsulates the feel of the lyrics. (Incidentally, my new West Highland White pups loved it too with their ears pricking favourably as it progressed). The Bobby Blue Bland cover, Lead MeOn, maintains the soulful essence but adds some neat guitar picking and pianoto make it a mellow blues. Body And Fender Man in all of its double entendreglory has added funk in Johnny’s hands and the guitar has a clean edge thatsuits the interpretation and the organ backing is spot on. A bit of rockabilly next with Dave Rich’s Chicken House, although it doesn’t have quite the same energy or bite (or should that be peck?!) as the original. In saying that the laid-back guitar and organ backing is again worth listening to. The Lowell Fulson penned Rock ‘Em Dead ups the pace a little as we get some tasty jumpblues with more perfectly judged guitar and organ. An all-time classic is covered on the next track as Johnny takes on the Elmore James masterpiece, Shake Your Money Maker. Here it keeps the essential slide guitar and it is more akin to the excellent Mickey Moody version than the original…this is a good thing. Now to a visionary and an underrated composer: Link Wray tends to be classed as surf guitar, but his skill and innovation ran much deeper and he bears checking out. Johnny interprets Link’s Ace of Spades cover in a very respectful way, keeps the mystique and, although it could be Hank Marvin doing the lead, it still works really well…after all Wray did influence manyguitarists in his short time in the spotlight. Donovan is the next composer toget the Headhunter treatment…Watch and Chain has the organ to the fore and soit sounds a little more indebted to the Animals version than Donovan’soriginal. It also has an added, pleasant surprise in that, after the bridge, guest vocalist Liz Springer joins the fray and brings a great and original touch. Magic Sam calls in again with All My Whole Life and it gets atraditional Chicago blues makeover; the bass line is the highlight on this as it brings an extra bit of class behind the nice guitar playing. It’s all wrapped up with the delightful Collins Mambo: an instrumental tribute to the legend that is Albert Collins. Swirling organ leads to the guitar melody, whichis definitely in the Collins style, and the bit with the string bends is class.
Although a brief thirty-one minutes and fourteen seconds, this is an album that repays repeated listens as the great bass playing and the thought that has gone into each song becomes obvious. On the down side, it is nearly all of a similar pace and a harder, rockier cover or two would have lifted the whole album. Still, it is an enjoyable half-hour and the musicianship on display is a real pleasure to listen to. A big enough pleasure that means I will be seeking out his previous work in the hopes that the variations I crave will have been built into those albums…we shall see.
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
Tracklisting and composers:
That’s All I Need (Magic Sam)
Lead Me On (D Malone)
Body And Fender Man (Doc Pomus/Duke Robillard)
Chicken House (Dave Rich)
Rock‘Em Dead (Lowell Fulson)
Shake Your Money Maker (Elmore James)
Ace Of Spades (Link Wray/Milton Grant)
Watch And Chain (Donovan Leitch)
All My Whole Life (Magic Sam)
Johnny Ticktin: guitar, vocals
Tam Sullivan: piano, organ
Bass: Brian McGregor (tracks 4,5); Steve Shaw(2,6,9,); Pete Kanaras (1,7,8,10); Etorro Gamble (3)
Drums: Clark Matthews (4,5); Toro Gamble (2,3,6,9); Robbie Magruder (1,7,8,10)