Beverly “Guitar” Watkins – In Paris!
Music Maker Foundation – 2022
10 tracks; 40 minutes
Beverly Watkins started playing at age 20 and continued until ill health intervened in old age; she passed away in 2019, aged 80. Despite starting out with Piano Red, playing with The Inkspots, being a fixture on the Atlanta scene and playing with the likes of James Brown, Ray Charles and BB King, she stayed under the radar and only made her first record at the age of 60, a disc that earned Beverly a WC Handy nomination in 2000.
Tim Duffy, founder of the Music Maker Foundation rediscovered her and booked her on many tours and she carried on playing well into her seventies. This album was recorded in Paris and is the first live recording of Beverly’s music. It was recorded during a MMF tour, with her former Inkspots leader, Eddie Tigner, on keys, Albert White on rhythm guitar and Lil’ Joe Burton on trombone; the rhythm section is not credited. Beverly is on guitar and lead vocals throughout a selection of original material and two choice covers.
Beverly tells the audience that she wrote “Baghdad Blues” after all the terrible news she saw on TV, a steady groove which is followed by “Do The Breakdown”, Beverly encouraging everyone to get involved in the music over a funky rhythm that owes something to James Brown. Beverly sings clearly and has quite a growl on the more uptempo numbers, but on a ballad like “Melody Cruise” she does not need to force her voice and her vocals take on a sweeter tone. It’s a great tune with a hint of Caribbean sway and we get to really hear Lil’ Joe’s mellifluous trombone for the first time.
The familiar strains of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” adds a Latin feel to the concert, the rhythm section setting the pace and Beverly adding some quick-fingered runs on guitar before checking in with the audience that they know the words to the song, getting a positive response back! Uncredited harmonica (possibly Lil’ Joe?) features on the slow “Lonesome Window Blues” which has some delicate guitar work also. Beverly leads the band into “Blues Ain’t What It Used To Be”, a shuffle on which we hear Eddie’s keyboard work and plenty of good guitar, another song on which Beverly uses her growl to good effect.
Beverly nicknamed her two guitars ‘Sugar Baby’ and ‘Red Mama’ and those two tunes bookend the other cover, a very fine version of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”. First we get the short instrumental “Sugar Baby Swing” which really does what the title suggests – try keeping still to this one! “You Send Me” is sung well over swirling organ work and also features Lil’ Joe’s trombone which adds a mellow tone to the familiar song. “Red Mama Blues” is a longer cut, another slow blues, again featuring Lil’ Joe. Beverly was famous for her ‘party piece’ of playing the guitar behind her head and that may well have happened on the closing number, the lively “Get Out On The Floor” on which you can hear and feel the crowd’s excitement reaching fever pitch.
This is a good insight into what made Beverly Watkins a great live performer, even at 73 years of age when this was recorded!