Gandy Dancer Records
13 songs – 51 minutes
When New England-based singer-guitarist Peter “Hi-Fi” Ward decided to step into the limelight after decades playing in support of other musicians, he didn’t mess around. He enlisted the aid of Ronnie Earl, a former roommate, Gordon “Sax Gordon” Beadle and Sugar Ray And The Bluetones, including his brother, bassist Michael “Madcat” Ward, to get the job done.
A native of Lewiston, Maine, he, Mudcat and younger brother Jeff played the blues in a family band as teenagers after schooling themselves with LPs and exposure to Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal, Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells in concert. Still underage, he played bass behind legendary drummer Ola Dixon in New York before moving to Boston, where he backed several major touring artists, including Jimmy Rogers, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Lowell Fulson. And he commuted on weekends to Rochester, N.Y., where he worked with guitarist Joe Beard, the man credited with influencing Son House to perform after going “missing” in the late ’30s.
In the early ’80s, Peter toured with the Legendary Blues Band in a lineup that included several of Muddy’s former sidemen, appearing on their first two albums, Life Of Ease and Red Hot ‘n’ Blue. Always working, but in the background, he stages an annual fundraiser for breast cancer research in memory of his late wife, blues deejay Mai Cramer, with headliners who’ve included Lurrie Bell, Jody Williams and Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson. In 2010, he and Herb Remington, an original member of Bob Wills And The Texas Playboys, co-produced the album Goodbye Liza Jane: Hello Western Swing.
An avid, often humorous, songwriter and stylish guitarist, he’s penned all but one of the 13 tunes on this disc, delivering a solid set of traditional, old-school blues in the process. Peter handles guitar and vocals backed by a rhythm section that includes Mudcat, Bob Berry and Joe Delia on bass and George Dellomo and the Bluetones’ Neil Gouvin on drums. Neil’s bandmates — harp player/vocalist Sugar Ray Norcia, guitarist “Monster” Mike Welch and keyboard player Anthony Geraci — all contribute on multiple cuts, as does Beadle. Eric Kilburn sits in on mandolin for one song, and Rusty Scott provides Hammond B3 organ on two others.
Ward’s laid-back vocals play call-and-response with Norcia’s harp to open “She Took It All,” a steady-walking blues that describes a woman walking away with just about everything — even his goldfish. But he insists he’s not bothered at all. “Which Hazel” is up next and has nothing to do with the topical astringent. Instead, the medium-fast rocker, a tip of the hat to Chuck Berry, deals with a romantic interest in two women as different as night and day but sharing in the same name.
The feel continues for the title tune, “Blues On My Shoulders,” with the distinct contributions from Welch and Norcia before Sugar Ray takes command of the mike to deliver the melodic slow blues “Collaborate,” Peter’s tribute to Lonnie Johnson and Robert Lockwood Jr., which is loaded with truly tasty, smooth lyrics that could have come straight out of the ’50s and features stellar horn and harp solos.
The instrumental “Shiprock,” a tribute to his late wife influenced by a trip they took to Navajo land, puts Ward’s guitar skills on display before he questions “What Can I Do To You?” as a clerk just hired to work in a downtown store surrounded by beautiful female customers. Earl makes his distinctive first appearance for “It’s On Me,” a horn- and guitar-propelled promise to pick up the tab even though the singer has very little money.
The keyboard work of Scott is featured throughout the instrumental, “Southpaw,” Peter’s ode to lefthanded swing guitarist Dickie Thompson, before the slow blues, “A Little More,” features a full arrangement featuring Monster Mike as Ward sings about realizing why his woman left — because she always wanted more than he could deliver. Earl and Geraci trade licks on “On The Ropes,” an instrumental with a Duane Eddy feel, before the acoustic “Colletta” recounts a bad marriage. An uptempo cover of Jim Johnson’s familiar “Kansas City Blues” follows before “Drummin’ Willie,” Peter’s aural slow-blues tribute to Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, who kept the rhythm for Muddy and Legendary and drove the band across country before fronting bands as a harp player, brings the CD to a close.
Available through Amazon, CDBaby and other retailers, Blues On My Shoulders is a pleasing taste of what music used to be before pyrotechnic guitarists took command of the airwaves. Strongly recommended for both its original material and musicianship throughout.