Far West Mississippi Recordings
Blue Highway hails from Southern California. Mourning the death of John Harrelson in 2013, they celebrate his legacy with this 2014 release of a live recording of theirs from 1995. Opening for Charlie Musselwhite, the band was obviously psyched and energized. Formed in 1993, the band is a high energy rocking group of musicians. In addition to Harrelson on vocals and guitar, the 1995 band was Rob Donofrio on vocals and bass, “King” Roger Ehrnman on tenor sax and Rick Campos on drums.
Harrelson’s career spanned 45 years. The band dissolved for a time due to Harrelson’s health, but Harrelson continued to perform in his home town of Claremont, CA. The band had a reunion in 2008 and now has reformed with new members. The film Dead Man Rockin’ was released prior to John’s death and highlights Harrelson’s career. It has also won some film awards. This album was recorded in nearby San Juan Capistrano in California as the band was opening for one of the many greats that they had opened for.
I must say that there are lots of highs and some lows here. Harrelson’s vocals are earthy but also strained on the three tracks he sang as he fronted the band that night. He’s gutsy and very rough hewn as he sings on “Fire and Gasoline,” “I Want Your Ass,” and “The Shuffle King.” While the vocals are strained, the rest of the performance is pretty darn good. Blending the sax with guitar leads, the band really has an interesting groove going. The first song is slow blues and Ehrnman gives a really standout performance on the sax. Harrelson’s guitar is well done, too. On “I Want Your Ass” Harrelson made me chuckle a bit with the lyrical topic he sings about and Ehrnman is again quite the showman here. “The Shuffle King” features Harrelson going over the top on some big guitar solos; he teases the crowd with tidbits of many rock classics as he closes this driving shuffle.
Donofrio’s lead vocals are much more precise and smooth. He’s a rocker who likes to belt one out. “Cut You Loose” opens and is a driving cut with big vocals, sax and guitar. “You Make Me Smile” is a short and frenetically high paced rocker. “Full Time Lover” follows and Harrelson picks out some wicked slow blues. Donofrio, Harrelson and Ehrnman all offer emotive performances. “24 Hours Of The Day” is an upbeat swinging cut that led into the closing tune “The Shuffle King.”
A bonus track from 1994 features Harrelson acoustic off a video tape that the tune was extracted from. Recorded at the Espresso Yourself in Upland, CA, the tune shows a softer side of Harrelson solo as he picks out some good stuff and sings. The vocals are rough as that was his style, but it’s a cool little cut.
Now with D.J. Alverson on guitar and Steve Rios on drums, the band continues the free wheeling and rough hewn style of this energized blues rocking band. Harrelson’s legacy continues as the new band plays many of the tunes from his huge repertoire. I’d not heard this band before; Harrelson never was “found” despite his huge catalogue of work. Kudos to the band for their dedication to their friend and fellow band mate and keeping his legacy alive!