[20 April 2007]
Fifty years since his previous recording, and described on a reprehensibly far too curt inlay note as a “Blues Shouter,” the Austin, Texas-born Big Pete Pearson’s more like a soul singer (on the Otis Redding side of Otis Rush, who was vocally near the cusp) than the sort of bluesman who recorded in Chicago with bands in the style—not always of the same consistent quality—as appear here: mostly young-ish white bluesmen of some talent. Bob Corritore’s a classy harmonica player, there are numerous switches between a pool of personnel—four different drummers, one occasioning my hilarity by being the namesake of a hack MD whose name I remember on TV credits—and I’d not fault Johnny Rapp and the other guitarists, or anybody else. In fact, I would apportion praise if I’d the space in this review.
The guests are there only briefly and for special qualities, and the bands blend beautifully. Pearson may have some shortcomings, but if he inspired these guys he should get a gold star too. He does get credit for five of the songs (at least one is, however, a Trad. Arr. job), and the occasional close echo of the original ensemble performance recorded forty-odd years back in Chicago isn’t to be complained about here or on roughly similar CDs with, at times, a few of the many names in the player-pool who are the staff here.
There are some Chess-style band recordings, and then on “Big Leg Woman” the venerable Ike Turner guests, with Leon Blue on piano, and the prodigious Joey de Francesco on Hammond B-3: the two famous names (de Francesco presumably having a
good time in this setting) may have inspired Corritore’s potent solo. They had to be good and unhackneyed to follow that.
No complaints. Turner and de Francesco manage the switch in the next track to more B.B. King than the preceding Wolf, Muddy, and Sonny Boy band styles. This suits Pearson better, slow and mellow, better than Bobby Bland, whose stylistic contemporary he may well be, with Turner extremely impressive. I used to have an LP of his guitar playing recorded in Memphis fifty years back, and wonder what I’d think about it now. He moved into things other than blues, I think with changes in his official age (though not so radical as Jimmy McCracklin’s, whose publicity once went to an extreme—he had already made several recordings before the date on which it was claimed he was born). It wouldn’t pay Pete, or his contemporary new talent bluesman Big George Brock, to claim to be younger than they are. Or older, which would indeed stretch credulity!
W.C. Clark (courtesy of Alligator Records) plays guitar and sings along with his soul brother Pearson on what’s described as a blues medley (do they remember Junior Parker, another bluesman and an amazing harmonica player who went R&B soul, duetting on disc with Bland?). Then it’s 1960s Muddy Waters band and Muddy-inspired guitar (Kid Ramos) for “Possum Up a Tree”. On “Natural Ball”, Tom Mahon plays piano in a more 1950s, smaller-scale, maybe Sonny Boy Williamson Chicago recording band performance. “My Baby Is a Jockey”, though reversing traditional requests by bluesmen to be a lady’s “jockey”, uses many of the same lines and images. Big Pete endorses them, to adapt a famous Duke Ellington remark, by being yet another of the many individuals keen to have written them.
Larry Reed plays historically impeccably wheezy tenor sax, J.D. Duncan organ, behind the Clark and Pearson bout of reminiscence which concludes the lively set. “Texas Blues Memories” is a poor name for the happy chat about “times was hard but life was beautiful”.
Then, still in Austin of long ago, and Earl Jackson, T.D. Bell… Twelfth Street, there’s the tale of underaged Pearson coerced to sing because he’d been drinking in a bar and the law was standing outside the door. Alas, there’s a fade just as the two vigorous ancients are starting to discuss what the blues is all about. Why not more inlay notes?
Big Pete Peason is no giant of the blues, though apparently a big man physically and otherwise. The legend, “Look out world, Big Pete is coming!” concludes the tiny note on the inlay. Times is getting hard in some ways, and life… saccharine? Well, beside the address of the company from Phoenix, Arizona, which produced this very decent set, “STOP THE DEATH PENALTY!” is printed.