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Tail Dragger

My Head Is Bald: Live at Vern's Friendly Lounge, Chicago

(Delmark; US: 22 Nov 2005)

Intense! Authentic! Kinda Boring!

I think it’d be a lot of fun to see Tail Dragger do his weekly show at Vern’s Friendly Lounge, but it’s not that much fun to listen to it on CD. (Apparently, there’s a DVD of this, but I wasn’t sent it, so I don’t know.)

Oh, Tail Dragger is an authentic blues man, all right; he studied with Howlin’ Wolf, he’s been playing in Chi forever, he’s authentic as hell. These songs are straight-up trad blues, there’s A-A-B schemes and 12-bar structures and all that stuff they taught you in school. And Tail Dragger (James Y. Jones to the government) has that good old everyone’s-pickin’-on-me attitude (titles like “Prison Blues”, “My Woman Is Gone”, and “Tend to Your Business”), and a lot of that intense Wolfian style to his singing, or growling, or whatever you call it.

But Tail Dragger doesn’t have Wolf’s huge voice, or really much of a voice at all, and that’s the main problem. He screams, he mumbles, he pulls out every trick in the book to get his songs across, there’s no faulting his work ethic. But it never quite works, because dude can’t hold a note.

The songs, too, turn out to be nothing special. “So Ezee” wants to be a good timin’ shuffle, but it’s just the same riff, repeated over and over, with some boring-to-illegible words and some uninspired solos. “Prison Blues” should draw blood, considering it’s about his woman riding around with another man while he’s in the can—but it just kind of fades without being anywhere near threatening, or sad, or anything else that I think he’s going for. And ending the album with a song called “Jump for Joy” that is neither joyous nor jumping is a very bad idea.

If I cared more, I’d talk here about how T.D.‘s funny between-song raps (rants is more like it) are more entertaining than the songs, or how the title track should be great but instead is a slow trudge through a subway tunnel, but I don’t, so I won’t. This is only worth it if you are a HUGE blues freak, and probably not even then.


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