304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Johnny Tucker is seventy-five and, for sixty-five of them, has been singing his heart out on stages around the world, most notably as drummer and vocalist with bluesman Phillip Walker. Strangely, it wasn’t until 1997 that he recorded as a ‘named’ artist when he released an album with fellow singer James “Broadway” Thomas called Stranded. Since then, he’s had a couple of very strong releases: Why You Lookin’ At Me? in 2002 and 2018’s Seven Day Blues (reviewed here on Bluesdoodles).
His story (his history) is similar to many of the original blues artists, as he explains: “We picked cotton and cut grapes. We did everything we were supposed to do out in the field.” From humble beginnings he drank in the music of the family and began, as many drummers did, knocking seven bells out of pots and pans, graduating to a full kit and then joining Walker and embracing the touring and performing schedules.
This album is a natural development as, with the help of genius guitar man Kid Ramos and the Allstars band, Johnny’s unique approach to writing and recording worked so well with Kid’s instinctive playing. Kid explains:
“I just started calling out these different grooves, and we just went through them and let the tape roll, and Johnny was in his booth and he started making up words,” says Kid. “Everything was pretty much first or second take, and I just had all these grooves in my mind. And the band was a great band, so they were just able to follow my lead.”
So, in essence, they jammed while Johnny made up the words and melodies as they went along.
That approach has led to ten tracks of improvisation and inspiration where the protagonists seem to use ESP as they keep tight and original…there’s a bonus too: an extra two tracks are ‘tribute’ instrumentals by Kid Ramos. The album is called 75 & Alive because it was recorded on October 17, 2020, which was Johnny’s 75th birthday. His wife, Georgia May Tucker was in the studio with him and has since sadly passed away, so the record is dedicated to her.
Johnny’s voice has matured like a fine malt whisky and you’d never guess his age as you listen to his tone and inflections: backed such a good band, this is a solid record and a fitting way to show his love for Georgia.
It opens with a party atmosphere and T-Bone style guitar from Kid as All Night Long, All Night Wrong draws you in…the sax, the bass, the guitar all hit the precise tone for the era as Johnny declares his love and whoops about it and the bonus of a clear paint solo tops it off nicely. There’s A Time For Love moves to slow blues and an evocative vocal all backed by Kid’s neat guitar phrasing and an impassioned and subtle solo of real invention.
If You Ever Love Me hits the R ’n’ B via Fats Domino button as the piano-led blues, backed by some lovely phased guitar and subtle harp work, builds with another class vocal performance. I can’t work out how the guitar ‘phased’ sound is achieved, but it’s effective. A geographical shift to Chicago next as Can’t You See opens with guitar, piano and harp and a great drum shuffle combining to ensure the “have a good time” lyrics are spot on. The harp and piano solos are a delight. What’s The Matter takes us dancing rumba style as the sax parps, the guitar lightens and Johnny has a ball…pun intended. Kid serves up another inventive, paced and clever solo to strengthen the song still further.
Another change of mood as Treat Me Good has that phasing/vibrato treatment again on the guitar backing a slower paced blues, although the runs Kid fits in are rapid and classy…as is the solo and all the while Johnny lays down a great vocal. The first of two instrumentals is next: Snowplow (or Snowplough) is a tasty if short tribute to Albert Collins where Kid captures the style perfectly whilst still adding his own touches including some clever hammers. The sax solo fits well and it is a great little tune that you can’t help but tap along to. Slotted in between the instrumentals is the barrelling piano blues of What’s On My Mind with the harp and piano firing up and matching the vocal. Hookline is the second of Kid’s tributes; not to John Lee, but the other Hooker…Earl Hooker or to give him his full name, Earl Zebedee Hooker. A hugely influential player with his slide driven Chicago blues, he performed with blues giants such as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Junior Wells, and John Lee Hooker as well as his own bands. If you don’t know him, listen to his single Blue Guitar, slide-guitar instrumental which was later overdubbed with vocals by Muddy Waters and became popular You Shook Me…which has since been appropriated! Dance Like I Should has some gorgeous slide and harp overlaying the mid-paced beat as the whole band team up with Johnny on a familiarly new Texas blues song. The piano solo is a particular delight as it traverses the keyboard.
Have A Good Time Tonight – Play Your Soul, Johnny brings the great Buddy Guy to mind as Kid plays some true blues runs on the intro and burns brightly on the solo. The final track moves cities to Memphis and a soulful, horn-driven Gotta Do It One Time. The blues are kept front and centre however by the great pain solo and the guitar chord work and picked solo.
A hugely enjoyable album of blues that reflect the various eras of the blues while retaining a freshness…yes, the old tropes are all there, but they all get a professional polish from Kid and the Allstars while Johnny sings from the heart.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen for classic blues delivered by true craftsmen who take the familiar and weave new life around the traditional frameworks.
All Night Long, All Night Wrong
There’s A Time For Love
If You Ever Love Me
Can’t You See
What’s The Matter
Treat Me Good
What’s On My Mind
Dance Like I Should
Have A Good Time Tonight – Play Your Soul, Johnny
Gotta Do It One Time
Johnny Tucker: vocals
Kid Ramos: guitar
Carl Sunny Leyland: keyboards
John Bazz: bass, upright bass
Jason Lozano: drums
Ron Dziubla: saxophone
Bob Corritore: harmonica
75 & Alive is out now on Blue Heart/Highjohn Records.
(I always have fun trying to guess what iTunes will serve next: the fact that it files by first name meant I listened to Johnny Winter, with brother Edgar,and a storming version of Johnny B Goode from the Brothers in Rock ’n’ Roll album…nice!)