Always Played The Blues
BluesWax Rating: 9 out of 10
Louisiana Red overcame a tragic childhood to live a long, adventurous, and fruitful life, and sadly left us in February 2012, just short of his 80th birthday. Fortunately for us, he left a copious legacy of outstanding music, of which this album represents an acme.
Born in Alabama in 1932, Iverson Minter was orphaned when his mother died soon after he was born and his father was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan when Iverson was 5. He spent his childhood years with different relatives, and by age 17 was an adept enough musician to be recorded by Chess Records. After a stint in the service, he spent some of the 1950s in Detroit as John Lee Hooker‘s buddy, and some time recording as Rocky Fuller. By the 1960s he was an established artist with multiple albums under his new moniker, Louisiana Red. Eventually, in 1981, he moved to Germany, as did many African-American bluesmen who met greater acceptance in Europe than in their native U.S.; think Memphis Slim and Luther Allison among others.
An adept slide guitarist and better-than-average harmonica player, Red was at home collaborating with other harpmen, as evidenced by notable albums in tandem with Carey Bell and Kim Wilson. His comfort with keyboard wizards was particularly compelling: his 2009 album with David Maxwell, “You Got to Move,” garnered him Blues Music Awards for Acoustic Artist and Acoustic Album of the Year in 2010.
Always Played the Blues finds Red fronting a premier band at a recording session in England. Marty David on bass and Geoff Nicholis on drums hold down a steady groove throughout. David is particularly exposed and impressive on the slow blues number “Down So Long.” On guitar is Richard Studholme, a name unfamiliar to me until this album. Researching, I find that he has been a valued go-to session man in England for at least three decades. His leads on this outing, and his fills while Red ventures out on slide guitar, are uniformly tasteful and tangy. Their two-guitar interplay on “Sun Goes Down” is one of the album’s many highlights.
Jon Cleary, a name you probably know, an Englishman long ensconced in New Orleans, is the pianist here, and he burnishes his well established credentials with consistently dazzling keyboard contributions. Many of the thirteen tunes, all composed by Minter, begin with Red’s slide approach, followed by Cleary’s dynamite forays on the 88s. Every song but two is longer than five minutes, giving the band plenty of time to stretch out cohesively and creatively. Louisiana Red’s slide chops are impeccable; his harp renderings range from acceptable to excellent.
Always Played the Blues represents an apparent attempt by JSP Records to take advantage of Red’s death with a reissue. The inadequate liner notes hint at the date of the session as 1977, 1990, or 1999; a little clarity would have been appreciated. On the other hand, it’s hard to complain about an album as good as this, and at almost 75 minutes long it provides an ample amount of great music, reminding us of how much we will miss Louisiana Red.
Steve Daniels is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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