The sound of Chicago blues was heard loud and proud in the centre of Rathmines last night and it was a joyous night, a blues feast, of grooving, dancing, carousing in the company of the legendary Chicago Blues Guitarist John Primer.
The original show was scheduled to take place in MB Slatterys regular home of local blues promoter Pat Cannons Saturday Sessions, who found thankfully that the interest in the John Primer gig exceeded the capacity available in Slatterys and so we were treated to a large, well spread out and good stage visibility venue across the road upstairs in the Madison Bar.
John Primer earned his stripes riding shotgun with Willie Dixons All Stars, Muddy Waters Band filling the lead guitar spot until Muddy passed away in 1983, and moving on to a huge favourite of mine Magic Slim & The Teardrops before enjoying well-deserved front man status himself in the 90s, releasing hit albums like The Stuff You Got To Watch and The Real Deal among ten of his solo albums.
John originally from Mississippi moved to Chicago in 1963 cutting his teeth in the West Side Clubs of Chicago by the side of Junior Wells, Sammy Lawhorn and Buddy Guy and has evolved as a superb electric Blues troubadour with his own clean, uncluttered and ever reliable traditional blues solo phrasing and fast bottleneck signature sound.
Proceedings got off to an unexpected and excellent start with the arrival on stage of John Quearney, Pat Farrell and Jimmy Doyle popularly known to us all on the Irish Blues scene as The Business.Pat Farrell is a terrific guitarist and was in particularly fine form in this fast opening act set from these local stalwarts which caught fire from the start with solid groove favourites like Talk To Your Daughter, Dimples and a superb traditional Chicago blues treatment of Seamus O Hendrixs Red House.
Pat Farrell demonstrated an impeccable blend of blues techniques on the night that never once sounded crowded or overblown and it was a sizzling set and such a pleasure to settle into a night of blues in the company of such accomplished and unassuming flag bearers for the blues in Dublin.
Willie Dixon and T Bone Walker also got boiling arrangements from John Quearneys bass lines with Pat Farrells molten guitar lines slashing through clean and articulate, full of variety, energy and spontaneity topped off with tasty harp from Glen Baker joining them on stage for the night.
John Quearney is a joy to watch on stage showcasing a command of numerous musical styles using the neck of his Bass Guitar as a sort of baton to gesticulate the pace and groove reigning in Jimmy Doyles jazzier improvised flourishes again with the neck of his bass acting as a third drumstick.
A regular musical treat for myself recently has been one of Johns other projects the Wildmans Blues session in the Annesley House on the first Monday of the month with Jimmy as his regular drummer creating the backbone for a different line up and surprise amalgamation of Dublins finest musicians each month.
John Primers backing band for his Irish dates including the Warrenpoint Blues Festival was The Lee Hedley Band who took to the stage and warmed up the main phase of the show for about 30 minutes with some of their own favourites starting with Canned Heats On The Road Again.
“My dear mother left me when I was quiet young,
She said, Lord have mercy on my wicked son”
The groove was turning into a party at this stage as promoter Pat Cannons fears of solving the commercial nature of this venture were assuaged and calmed by the arrival of many familiar blues fans, Anna Livia 103.2 Bluestrain presenter Charlie Hussey, both Northside and Southside Eddie, Peter Moore just out of hospital for the event and local blues guitarists Ben Prevo, Pat Mc Sweeney and Graham Hynes all present to celebrate and support the arrival of this much respected guitarist from the Chicago Blues Scene.
Lee Hedley on Harp with his brother Mark on drums, flanked by Aaron Loughran on Electric and Double Bass and Lou Campbell playing a white Strat on Rhythm and Lead guitar duties have a friendly good time charm about them on stage.
It was my first time come across this competent and friendly bunch of guys from across the border who have a jam band, bar room roadhouse repertoire to suit all occasions with Hookerish/SRV Boogie pieces, the Fabulous Thunderbirds Tuff Enuff, The Rolling Stones Miss You and the ever popular Commitments song Treat Her Right all setting out the stall to get down and get with it.
By the time John Primer joined them on stage to rapturous applause they were pulling out all the stops with Lee wailing away to his hearts content on his Blues Harp on Johns classic Knocking At Your Door.
John moved about the stage with his favourite weapon of choice a hollow bodied Epiphone Rivera until he got the sound he wanted around him on stage moving on to another classic JP hard driving shuffle The Stuff You Got To Watch.John Primers seasoned guitar genius prevails from the start in a warn confident and unpretentious style show, that brings the band, the crowd and each song rumbling along like a latent volcano that climaxes with his trademark emotive, stinging axe work. His voice is confident and soulful and his bottleneck technique is pure traditional fifties Chicago blues producing pointedly wicked guitar solo after solo that serves tradition well.
John has a great sense of humour on stage his lyrics recalling adventures he had with some Red Hot Mamas across town and about the dilemma of having someone elses mule kicking in your stall, turning the atmosphere from groove time to party time and had the ladies shaking their beautiful asses all around the front of the stage.
“Everybody say yeah”
“If you got a mouth use it”
“If you ain’t got a mouth I still luv ya”
The Lee Hedley Band does well to stick the almost three hour pace this being the first time out of the traps with John Primer who confessed to not sleeping for two days, and even when they lose their footing there is a great sense of imagination and daring bobbing and weaving around Johns expertly delivered guitar playing.
The great affection the audience has for the traditional Chicago Blues set is often the familiar and accessible repertoire of classic songs like Sweet Home Chicago, CC Rider, Got My Mojo Working and Hideaway which cut straight to the chase, meaning for middle aged groovers like myself I don’t have to speed date a load of new songs to get into the groove.
John had to part with his hard working hollow bodied Epiphone and strap on what looked like a sunburst Les Paul mid song for string breaking version of I’m A Man with bite and girth, reassuring the audience that they will always have a friend in John Primer reaching to the shouts of approval with a vigour and love for both life and his top flight blues guitar music.
Magic moments were a plenty with the diversity of John Primers delicious guitar lickery ringing out effortlessly from the man known as The Real Deal and certainly satisfied the blues fans in Dublin with almost three hours of genuine house rocking live blues music reverberating around the Madison on Thursday night and one gets the feeling that when the groove is good these Chicago Blues guys would play all night long as was the case for the late Luther Allison up in the Monaghan Blues Festival back in the nineties on another memorable night.
Fortunately I got a chance to have a chat with John earlier on that night and found him to be an engaging affable man full of stories about the Windy City Blues scene and his travels.
I bought him a cranberry juice and we talked about hollow bodied Epiphone Rivera guitars and how his use of the same sweet toned hollow body through a Fender Twin is his desert island choice and how he had influenced many of his contemporaries to convert to hollow bodied Epiphones as well over the years for that traditional raw edged and uncompromising windy city blues style.
Like a good wine when it comes to guitars there are good years and bad years you have got to get the vintage right before you part with your money and he has a 1965 the bitch of the bunch.He is a very likable guy and great fun to spend time with.I told him in jest I had told my own father I wanted to play blues guitar when I grow up and my father had told me you cant do both.
Above all John Primer is fond of the past but he is not one for reclining on his laurels, constantly looking forward to the next performance with enthusiasm and good will and greeting all around him with a big broad smile.
Johns philosophy is simple, play from the heart and make people happy and hopefully be a success in the process and there was a house full of contented fans in Rathmines last Thursday night and early into Friday morning who would willingly confirm and second that emotion and the success of his philosophy without the slightest hesitation.
“She spends your dough
She drinks your gin
She rolls and she tumbles
Then she’s ready to go again
That’s the stuff you got to watch
That’s the stuff you got to watch
If you don’t wanna lose that girl.”