Bob Stroger & the Headcutters feat. Luciano Leães – That’s My Name
Delmark Records 871
13 songs – 53 minutes
One of the most beloved artists and best bassists ever to set foot on stage in Chicago, Bob Stroger hasn’t released many albums as a front man in his 91 years, but every time he does so, it’s special. And that’s never been more true than with this CD, which teams him with The Headcutters, one of the foremost proponents of the traditional Windy City sound despite hailing from South America.
Bob’s family relocated from Hayti, Mo., to the Second City in 1955 when he was 16. They rented an apartment along the L tracks a few miles from the Loop and in the rear of the same building that housed Silvio’s nightclub, the epicenter of the blues on the West Side where Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Elmore James held court.
A self-taught guitarist, Stroger’s entry to the music came after his as brother-in-law, guitarist Johnny Ferguson, hired him to drive him to his gigs alongside J.B. Hutto in his early band, The Twisters. Bob eventually formed a family band, the Red Tops, which included his brother John on drums and cousin Ralph Ramey on harp and evolved into Joe Russell – Stroger’s short-lived stage name – and the Blues Hustlers when bassist Willie Kent joined their ranks.
After a stint in jazz, Bob picked up the bass and spent 15 years backing guitarist Eddie King, making his debut on disc when cut the single, “Love You Baby,” in 1965. A top session player, he toured internationally with Otis Rush in the ‘70s and ‘80s, worked frequently with Sunnyland Slim, Odie Payne Jr. and other Chicago stalwarts. In recent years, he’s appeared nationally as a member of the Bobs of the Blues, his frequent partnership with Bob Margolin and Bob Corritore.
This disc is only the fifth under his own name in his 70-year career and his first since teaming with Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on Keeping It Together on the Big Eye imprint in 2014. This disc was captured at Grooveland Recording Studio in The Headcutters’ hometown, Itajai, Brazil in November 2019 and Estudio do Arco in Porto Alegre a few months. A skintight unit deeply imbued with a ‘50s Windy City sound, they’re composed of guitarist Ricardo Maca, harp player Joe Marhofer, bassist Arthur “Catuto” Garcia and drummer Leandro “Cavera” Barbeta. They get a helping hand from keyboard player Luciano Leães and saxophonist Braion Johnny.
Junior Parker’s familiar “What Goes on in the Dark” kicks off the action atop an unhurried shuffle, and Stroger’s warm vocals belie his advanced age. Marhofer’s harp runs, Maca’s lead lines and Leães’ organ fills fit like a glove. It eases into a classic take on Eddie Taylor’s “Just a Bad Boy” before Bob breathes new life into the Ma Rainey standard, “CC Rider,” which first appeared on record in 1924.
If you’re thinking he’s doing nothing but covers, however, you’re wrong. Stroger penned five tunes in this set, beginning with the next cut, “I’m a Busy Man,” which hints at Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby,” as it insists that his lady is “the only one” despite his full schedule and the fact that she’s long gone. The tempo quickens dramatically for the follow-up, “Come on Home,” in which he admits he’s been “a bad little boy” and been out all night long, leaving her to cry all alone.
The pace drops off again for familiar Casey Bill Weldon tune “Move to the Outskirts of Town” then picks up for Jay McShann’s “Keep Your Hands Off Her” before Bob launches into his own number, “Something Strange,” a harp-fueled pleaser that wonders why his lady won’t open the door when he visits or calls. Maca’s guitar is featured on a reworking of Parker’s “Stranded in St. Louis” before a percussive cover of Eugene Church’s 1956 chart-topper, “Pretty Girls (Everywhere).” The uptempo originals “Talk to Me Mama” and “That’s My Name” bookend Big Bill Broonzy’s “Just a Dream” to bring the disc to a close.
If you like old-school blues, it doesn’t get better than this. Bob Stroger ages like fine wine. Here’s hoping another album’s in the offing soon!