BigLlou Johnson – Bigman
GoldenVoice Audio Recordings
10 songs – 40 minutes
BigLlou Johnson is one of the busiest men in show business. Not only is the longtime host of SiriusXM’s B.B. King’s Bluesville, but he’s also a first-call emcee for blues festivals on land and sea and an award-winning commercial voiceover talent with dozens of Hollywood film and TV credits, too. He’s in such demand that it’s taken him seemingly forever to release a follow-up after catching lightning in a bottle in 2013 and winning the Blues Music Award for new artist of the year for his debut CD, They Call Me Big Llou.
But it’s definitely been worth the wait.
A native Chicagoan who grew up on the West Side, but is now based out of greater Los Angeles, BigLlou has been a performer since playing the sax in cover bands and doing high school news reports for WVON radio as a teen. A former talent agent, he went from booking extras for TV and movies to appearing in the Barbershop films and doing commercials for White Castle, McDonald’s, Phillips 66 and more.
But despite that aspect of his life, he’s always been a singer, too, touring internationally and recording as a member of Phava, a four-piece gospel group, performing as a member of the Oak Park (Ill.) Concert Chorale and recording albums with Polish vocalist Dorota Jarema and Chicago folk icon Andrew Calhoun. He became a blues vocalist at the insistence of Bill Wax, the legendary program director who hired him for his SiriusXM gig.
Influenced by Howlin’ Wolf, Barry White, Willie Dixon and Paul Robeson, Johnson was primarily a blues shouter on his debut, delivering a set of seven covers and one original produced by harp player Russ Green with backing from an uncredited collection of top Windy City musicians. On this one, he proves himself to be a crooner who compares well to Barry White, Isaac Hayes and other basso profundo giants.
Recorded at Jookbox Studio in Memphis and GoldenVoice Audio in Los Angeles in partnership with Keith Stewart, BigLlou penned four of the tracks with others written by Keith, Terry Abrahamson and Derrick Procell, Doug MacLeod and Ellis Hall, and he’s backed by a moveable feast of top talent. The roster includes Joe Louis Walker, Gino Matteo, Isaiah Sharkey, Terrence “Sweet T” Grayson, Ellis Hall and Curt Morrison on guitars with Victor Wainwright, Tim Gant, Ellis Hall, Chris Stephenson, Josh Lava, James Pastman and Michael Raiford on keys.
Also in the lineup are Anne Harris (strings), Mark Earley, Stewart, Doug Woolverton and Bill Overton (horns), Green and Morrison (harp), Anthony Dopsie (accordion), Felton Crews, Paul Martin and Ricky Nelson (bass) and Nelson, Raiford, Jim Widlowski and Kaylan Pathak (percussion). Dwight Dukes, Ellis Hall, Amanda Joyce, Monique Whittington and Monico Whittington provide backing vocals.
A blast from the horns and a brief guitar run kick off the blazing “Lightnin’ Strike,” a smooth declaration from BigLlou that he’s coming to your town — and “you better be prepared because storm clouds say you’d better beware” because “a righteous woman ain’t got a prayer.” The blues kick in South Side-style for “Bigman,” which follows. A driving shuffle, it’s a tune that updates the tradition of songs that boast about sexual prowess through allegory and thinly veiled innuendo.
The tempo slows to a steady shuffle and heats up with harp solo to open “Chill on Cold,” a cautionary tale that describes a woman who goes after her male prey “like a gator hunts the swamp and makes love to fools until she gets what she wants,” before BigLlou goes on the prowl himself with “Let’s Misbehave,” an unhurried ballad in which Johnson turns on the charm and politely asks a lady who’s in a relationship for a “horizonal dance” because another chance might not come along.
“Shucky Ducky (Quack Quack)” is up next. A lush, medium-paced shuffle, it describes a beauty who always sits in the front row when BigLlou performs, but never seems able to say the trademark phrase of the title correctly despite trying desperately to do so with a look of delight. It flows into “Sunshine on You Face,” a love song that will surprise you because it’s acoustic and propelled by stellar runs from Harris on violin.
“Stuff to Do,” a call-and-response pleaser, is built atop a rapid-fire bottom before the ballad “I Got the Fever” serves up love for the blues as it describes a romance that’s just gone bad. “Never Get Over Me,” the most interesting tune in the set, opens as a ballad with layered strings, picks up speed and professes that the singer’s such a great lover that he’ll be on his lady’s mind long after they’ve parted before the catchy, gospel-tinged “Beezthatwaysometimes” brings the disc to a pleasing close.
One listen to Bigman and you’ll have even greater appreciation for BigLlou Johnson than you’ve had before. It’s that good! Strongly recommended for fans of classic soul-blues.