12 tracks / 52:22
DogTown is the West Los Angeles neighborhood that separates the communities of Venice Beach and Santa Monica. In the 1970s it was the rougher part of town and it was the nexus of the skateboarding revolution that brought the sport into the mainstream. This neighborhood captures the essence of the LA surf and skate culture, and the guys from the southland-based DogTown Blues Band have adopted it as their moniker. The band recently self-released their debut album, DogTown Blues, which brings a cool mixture of blues and jazz for your listening pleasure.
Though they met up in Southern California, the band members bring diverse musical influences from all parts of the US to the studio. Producer, songwriter and guitarist Richard Lubovitch hails from Chicago, and in his career he has been a sideman for Rufus Thomas and Gatemouth Brown and run his own recording studio. He wrote eight of the twelve tracks for this disk, with help from singer Q. Williams and harpmaster Bill Barrett. They were joined in the studio by Wayne Peet on keys, Tad Weed on piano, Trevor Ware and Tom Lilly on bass, and Lance Lee on the skins. There is not enough room here to run down all of their CVs but they have a wealth of experience, having played with big-time acts that include Kenny G, Diana Ross, Edgar Winters, Kenny Burrell, and Lindsey Buckingham.
DogTown Blues kicks off with “She Was Not a Girl at All,” and right away the PG-13 rating is guaranteed for this album – do not put this in the mix for you kid’s next birthday party. Though these guys are top-flight musicians, they are still having a ton of fun. Q. Williams’ voice is throaty and full of wry humor as he leads the band through this hearty blues romp. Their sound is huge with piano, Hammond organ and a super-tight backline. You will find a similar humorous theme to the slightly misogynistic “Ugly Girl Blues” which brings things right into R-rated territory.
But these guys are no joke, as they can tear off some serious blues too. “Slow Jam Blues” is a guitar-driving instrumental with a killer harmonica lead. This is followed-up by the “Sexy Man Blues” which features Weed cutting loose on his boogie woogie piano for a couple of top-shelf breaks. “Drunkard Blues” slows things down a bit, and lets Q. Williams’ fabulous voice take the front of the stage with a rich foundation of organ setting the mood.
These tunes are interspersed with four covers, including a smooth instrumental version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” a 1960 tune that was written by Willie Dixon. Then there are three other songs that you would never expect to find from a group with “Blues Band” in its name. The first of these is an instrumental of the Young Rascals’ 1967 chart topper, “Groovin’.” The vocals are switched out for Barrett’s harmonica and Lubovitch’s guitar in this laid back jazz-influenced R&B tune, and it all comes together very nicely. It is interesting that the DogTown Blues band only did instrumental versions of these tunes, as it makes it seem like they have great respect for the originals, but want to make them their own by providing a different type of voice. It is a good strategy, as it makes the album much more interesting.
There is also a sweet re-do of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take 5” with Lubovitch taking on Paul Desmond’s sax part. Richard does a great job of capturing the sax feel with his axe in what is probably the most recognizable jazz hit of all time. The final cover finishes up the album and it is way outside the box: Frank Zappa’s epic song from 1969, “Son of Mr. Green Genes.” This one was an instrumental to start with, and Richard cut this fusion/prog-rock classic down to five minutes to make it more accessible. They also took a more laid back approach to bring it more into the conventional jazz realm, and it works out just fine.
DogTown Blues is well recorded, and the songs are sequenced seamlessly so that nothing is out of place and the album can stand as a singular whole, not just a collection of diverse songs. This project is a terrific debut from the DogTown Blues Band, and they are going to have to aim high to top this one. If you like jazz and blues, it is worth your time to give it a listen!