13 songs – 58 minutes
Based in the New York City borough of Queens, Little Mike and the Tornadoes were one of the hardest working bands in America from the ‘70s through the mid-‘90s with a successful run of CDs on the Blind Pig, Ichiban and Flying Fish labels. Playing a style of music that harmonica great Paul Butterfield identified as the “old Chess sound,” they toured relentlessly, delivering heaping doses of straight-ahead Chicago blues to eager audiences. They also worked and recorded with a galaxy of Windy City superstars, including Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, James Cotton and Eddie Clearwater.
The band’s run ended about a decade ago, with the leader, harp player/vocalist Little Mike Markowitz, relocating to central Florida and his playing partners going separate ways. A diminutive powerhouse himself, string-bender Tony O. Melio, former lead guitarist with the Legendary Blues Band (the Muddy Waters Band spin-off), continued working with many of the top musicians in the world. Bass player Brad Vickers formed his own unit, the popular roots band, Brad Vickers And His Vestapolitans. And drummer Rob Piazza, who, along with Markowitz, recorded with the late, great Jimmy Rogers, pursued other ventures, including session work at Eclipse Studios.
The Tornadoes reformed last year and released the CD “Forgive Me.” But it included only material recorded a decade before. But the band’s original lineup returns with gusto with collection of 11 Little Mike originals and two more new tunes from Tony O and Vickers. They’re joined in the studio pianist Jim McKaba, who played behind and toured with many of the Chicago greats in the ‘70s.
The disc kicks off with “Hard Hard Way,” an uptempo complaint about the difficulties making ends meet when you’re a working blues musician. Tony drives the tune before Mike launches into an extended solo mid-tune. The funky “Problems” follows; flawlessly weaving together instrumental licks reminiscent of several blues classics atop a rock-steady bottom, as Little Mike details the difficulties he seems to be facing in every aspect of his life.
McKaba, who played behind many of the Chicago greats in the ‘70s, makes his first appearance in the mix, taking much of the early lead for “Since My Mother’s Been Ill,” a slow blues that quiets the mood dramatically. The feeling’s strong as Markowitz plaintively sings about the love/pain a person feels as he helplessly witnesses the woman who gave him life slowly fading away. A long, stylish guitar solo drives the point home.
The mood brightens immediately for “I Got Drunk Last Night,” on which six-string and keys get plenty of space to shine. Little Mike’s vocals swing, as they do throughout this work.
“Sam’s Stomp” gives Markowitz a chance to show off his strong harmonica chops in a brief, but effective instrumental. The rhythm section lays down a Latin beat for “A Little On The Side,” with Mike singing about having a good woman at home, but needing another taste of the good thing to be truly satisfied.
Harp, vocals and guitar play call-and-response for “All The Right Moves,” accented with another rich piano solo, before the steady-driving five-minute burner “The Blues Is Killing Me” and “You Wonder Why,” which hints strongly to a Muddy Waters root.
Four more numbers — “All The Time,” “Won’t Be Your Fool,” “Stuck Out On This Highway” and “Close To My Baby” – conclude the set.
Make no mistake about it: This is old-school blues delivered the right way by folks who feel it down to the core. Highly recommended.