Gary Smith and the Houserockers – Live at the Poor House Bistro
CD: 12 Songs, 54 Minutes
Styles: Blues Covers, Harmonica Blues, Live Album
Not so very long ago, I had the privilege of going to live concerts my father hosted at various venues in Kankakee, Illinois, under the communal name “Friends of the Blues.” Let me tell you: collectively and individually, they were terrific. From Albert Castiglia to the late, great Sean Costello to Laurie Morvan and Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, I got to see a lot of big-name stars in the blues biz. Even if they weren’t as well-known as the ones I just mentioned, the bands we selected had three things in common. I’ll list them in reverse order for emphasis. 3) They established a friendly, easygoing rapport with everyone from their fellow band members to the audience to the sound crew and light technicians. 2) They knew how to please a crowd, playing lots of covers but making them fresh and vivid. 1) They loved the blues first and foremost.
Gary Smith and the Houserockers may have played Live at the Poor House Bistro in San Jose, CA instead of one of our locations, but we, the Friends of the Blues, would have loved them.
On September 4, 2021, they put on a live performance that lives up to the wishes they express in the album’s liner notes: “We hope you enjoy this CD, and we hope it makes you feel like you are in the front row at one of our shows.” Indeed. The sound mixing is balanced, the instrumentation crisp and clear, the vocals heartfelt, and the atmosphere jovial – like you’re hanging out with old friends (of the blues). In fact, they are, having first arrived on the scene in 1977. In 1980, Gary Smith joined the Houserockers as their front man and leader, leading them nearly overnight to become the in-demand blues band in the greater San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas. In the spring of that year, they were added to the lineup of the 1980 San Francisco Blues Festival. That launched a nearly five-year run of them being the premier genre ensemble in the area.
Joining Smith (harp and vocals on several numbers) are Sid Morris on piano and vocals, Frank DeRose on bass and second guitar, Jack Sanford on sax, Gary Weller on guitar for all tracks except the last one, Jimmy Mulleniux on drums, and special guest Johnny Cat Soubrand on guitar for the aforementioned closer.
There are lots of familiar songs to savor, including “You’re So Fine,” “Chicken Shack Boogie,” “Caldonia,” “Don’t Start Me Talkin’,” and “I’m Ready.” The only original composition is the tenth one, entitled “Harmonica Boogie.” Get up and dance, or even better, play along if you have a harp of your own. Even if you can’t pull off the showman’s tricks Gary Smith can, it’s a lighthearted romp that’ll offer good practice.
The best thing about Bistro is that it shows what live concerts are supposed to be: free-flowing, fun and full of feeling. Gary Smith and the Houserockers were “dialed in” to the blues last September, showing that their talents haven’t diminished with age. My father would be proud of them and their authenticity. As am I. They’ve gained a new fan, though they’ve been around for more than 40 years!