JAZZ IN JAPAN
Mike Henderson —lead vocals, guitar & harmonica
Kevin McKendree —piano and B3
Michael Rhodes —bass
Pat O’Connor —drums
Additional musicians on “If You Think Its Hot Here”:
Don Underwood —guitar
Chris Stapleton —background vocals
Morgane Stapleton —background vocals
The back cover of Mike Henderson’s excellent new blues CD is taken up with a photo of a 1959 Fender Bassman guitar amp. For non-gearheads, it should be explained that amp is famed for its gutsy, two-fisted sound. If pure blues actually exists as a category, this CD would fit. If I were only the Fender Bassman sound, it would be enough, but Henderson knows how to work that amp into a full-on guitar tone. The amp’s tubes must be glowing red and sweating hard.
The raw passion and blunt feel of the blues here is potent and real. The band is made up of session musicians who know what they like and play it. The four members here make a perfect line-up, guitar, bass, piano, drums—the vital essence with no frills. That sound, and the feel, groove and honesty, harkens back to early Chess recordings.
All four musicians are on target all through. Rhodes on bass pops up, in and around all the tunes, setting the groove, but mixing it up, too. McKendree fills out the sound on Hammond B3 and piano, but deepens it and moves it, too. O’Connor on drums sets the rhythmic variety that makes the CD an overview of blues possibilities, of sorts, but an integrated and potent one. Together, the band cooks hard.
Henderson’s slide guitar playing is inventive without showiness. He plays mean, rough riffs that pump out of the speakers with a live sound. He cuts solos all over the fret board, sanding them down just right. On “Mean Red Spider,” a Muddy Waters’ tune, he lays into the riff by dropping to the lowest strings, then leaping up for just the right notes. He doesn’t need many to get his point across.
On Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession” he lets his chops work themselves out, but always with restraint and direction. The rollicking, traditional “Matchbox” is blues as blues should be. “Send You Back to Georgia” will stick in your head, keeping your body grooving even after it’s over.
This straight-up blues from Henderson and band belongs in the CD player of any and every blues fan.