Magic Sam – Live at the Avant Garde | Album Review

magicsamcd Magic Sam – Live at the Avant Garde

 Delmark Records

 CD: 16 songs; 67:48 Minutes

 Styles: Classic Chicago Blues

 The French phrase “avant garde” means “vanguard” – something or someone who stands at the forefront of culture or art. Samuel “Magic Sam” Gene Maghett exemplifies this term when it comes to Chicago blues. Born in Grenada, Mississippi, he learned to play this style of music through listening to records by Muddy Waters and Little Walter. After moving to the Windy City when he was nineteen, he signed on with Cobra Records and became well-known after his first release, “All Your Love,” in 1957. Eleven years later on June 22, 1968, he recorded a live concert at the Avant Garde in Milwaukee. This show was just 17 months before his untimely passing at age 32 from a heart attack. Praised by Delmark Records as “the best sounding live recording from the legendary Magic Sam,” this album contains over an hour of some of the most fantastic West Side-style Chicago blues one will ever hear. With our hero on lead guitar and vocals, Big Mojo Elem on bass and Bob Richey on drums, they present four original songs and twelve killer covers. This latter feature might be a drawback for some, but in Magic Sam’s masterful hands, even Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” sounds as fresh as a newly-plucked guitar string. Choosing the three best tunes on this CD is as difficult as filling out a perfect NCAA bracket, but here goes nothing…

Track 02: “Don’t Want No Woman” – A ballad for perpetual bachelors by Don Robey, track two reveals the prime motivation for some of them: “I don’t want no woman telling me how to live my life. I don’t want no woman telling me how to live my life. Well, I’m gonna leave you, baby, ‘cause I don’t want no wife.” This is Chicago blues at its most quintessential, both lyrically and instrumentally. Also known as “lump-de-lump,” this rhythm can be most clearly heard in Big Mojo Elem’s funky bass line. 

Track 04: “Feelin’ Good” – Magic Sam holds this number’s opening shout of “Well…” for eight full seconds, and listeners’ rapt attention for four minutes and twenty-eight seconds! Originally composed by Herman Parker, “Feelin’ Good” features Sam’s distinctive “tremolo” style of picking guitar, meaning “with a trembling effect.” Insanely hard to play and (fortunately) much less hard to dance to, this blistering boogie may be a cover, but it’s a spectacular one. 

Track 11: “That’s All I Need” – There’s an old saying that the best things in life are free, and Magic Sam’s partner’s affection fits the bill for him. “I’ve got a new home; I’ve got a brand new car. I will come, baby, wherever you are. Just give me your love – give me love, love, love. That’s all I need!” Jaunty and melodic, “That’s All I Need” seamlessly combines the ‘Happy Days’ of the 1950’s with the swinging spirit of 1960’s R&B. 

The late “Avant Garde” Magic Sam is absolutely timeless, still carrying classic Chicago blues into the 21st century!

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