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Issue 1089

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Review

Johnnie Bassett: I Can Make That Happen (Sly Dog Records)

Johnnie Bassett CD Cover Pic

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UK release date 25.06.2012

A new name to me, but I am so glad I know who he is now. Born in Florida 76 years ago, Bassett relocated with his family in 1944 to Detroit, where he is a local legend as a blues guitarist and singer.

Bassett has spent most of his life as a session player, working with all sorts (see what I did there? A clever reference to Bassettâs Liquorice All Sorts confectionary? Oh forget itâ¦.) including Tina Turner, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, Dina Washington, former neighbour John Lee Hooker and he even jammed with Jimi Hendrix.

Johnnnie played on early Miracles cuts with Smokey and the boys. As a guitarist in his first group, Joe Weaver and the Bluenotes, they won local talent contests. In 1958, Bassett joined the United States Army, but on his return to Detroit he worked with the Bluenotes as session musicians for Fortune Records. During this time he provided accompaniment to Nolan Strong & The Diablos and Andre Williams.

He later backed The Miracles at Chess Records, working on their 1958 debut single, "Got A Job." While in Detroit, Bassett played on stage alongside John Lee Hooker, Alberta Adams, Lowell Fulson and Dinah Washington. He spent most of the next decade doing gigs in Seattle, also backing Tina Turner and Little Willie John.

The Detroit Blues Society recognised Bassett's contribution to the blues with a lifetime achievement award in 1994. He released the album âI Gave My Life to the Bluesâ on the Dutch label Black Magic in 1996, before recording and touring in North America and Europe with his own backing band, the Blues Insurgents.Their 1998 album âCadillac Bluesâ was nominated for five W.C. Handy Awards, the blues equivalent of a Grammy.His then record label, Cannonball Records ceased to trade, but Mack Avenue Records signed him after its owner saw Bassett and his band play a concert in Detroit.

At the 2006 Detroit Music Awards, Bassett won the 'Outstanding Blues/R&B Instrumentalist' title. In both 2010 and 2011, he was awarded the 'Outstanding Blues Artist/Group' title. Bassett's last album, âThe Gentleman is Backâ was released in June 2009.

âI Can Make That Happen,â really does just that; make it happen that is. Itâs a joy. He has such a laid back style, and leaves space enough in his playing to drive a bus through. Dangerous ground to tell people you are âdifferent soundingâ to any other guitar player. But, apart from gentle nods in the direction of his influences T Bone Walker, BB King and perhaps Albert King at times, he is very much his own man. I detect traces of early Johnny Guitar Watson and the great Clarence âGatemouthâ Brown in his style too, but Johnnie makes those six strings do exactly what he wants âem to do, to deliver his own very lovely retro but fresh sound.

Amazing that a man this talented and unique has mainly stayed a best kept secret outside of Detroit , other than a handful of albums, just five with this new one. He uses open tuning to get his sound, impeccable timing and a really, really chilled style. Volume down pretty low, never over-plays on his vintage Gibson, Heritage and Conrad axes.

Detroit guys The Brothers Groove provide ace backing, along with fellow Detroitonians The Motor City Horns. Solid as a rock. Back for more after their help with his 2009 album. Johnnie sets the time with his playing and the band dig in behind him, all very naturally. A great fit. Keyboard man Chris Codish and sax player Keith Kaminski taking on producer duties too. A good job.

Overall the 44.49 minutes of material avoids the well trodden and tired 12 bar blues path, and blends blues with jazz, r&B and soul. 11 tracks, all but two are new ones from Chris and Keith. Johnnie has a hand in two.

âProud To Be From Detroitâ sets the scene with a horn-soaked, funky groove and some very tasty licks from JB. âLove Lessonsâ is a mid-tempo, jazz tinged run and a very chilled vocal. The title track features a beautifully controlled solo, like all of this album, almost his tease as to what else he could do but doesnât ever feel the need to show off, or even break into a sweat. He makes it sound so easy, where others could spend a life-time studying music to try to sound as relaxed and as competent as this man.


One of the high spots is the cover of the 1962 R&B chart hit by the late Solomon Burke, âCry To Me.â A boogie vibe, Dr John vocal style and the band lock in nicely. Leads on to âTeach Me To Love,â Fats Domino style song that sounds like it was penned in the 50s, but is a new track written by Chris Codishâs father Robert. A duet between Johnnie and Thornetta Daivs, whose forceful, pleading delivery contrasts well to Johnnieâs casual style.

âDawging Around,â a jazzy instrumental where Bassett, veteran of many jazz organ combos, shines. His version of Lowell Fulson's classic âReconsider Baby,â is next. I do get fed up hearing this played to death at blues festivals,usually very badly. A big song and a very big artist to follow. Here he turns the volume on the guitar down low and we get a subdued version, with under-stated horns and some very nice electric piano and sax.

I kept wanting him to do a cover of âHound Dog,â just so I could say it was Bassetâs Hound Dog! âMotor City Bluesâ laments broken Detroit in the recession, factories closing and people broke. Could be anywhere in the UK, eh? Closer âLetâs Get Hammered,â advocates the demon booze as a way of letting your hair down. âHammered like nails, plastered like walls, toasted like bread." More attack in his playing on this one and more urgency.

A kind of blues yodel in his vocal, which is endearing. Vocal and guitar both so chillaxed, a wonder he doesnât fall over! Refreshing to hear amid all these young rock-end-of-blues guitarists banging up the volume, huge amp stacks and playing over everything.

At 76, he proves age is but a number, and should be on all the big blues festivals here and in Europe in 2013. He'd definitely make many new friends and a be a hard act to follow. If his people need any introductions, I can make that happenâ¦..
Words SIMON REDLEY

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