John Primer – Hard Times | Album Review

John Primer – Hard Times

Blues House Productions

13 tracks/66 minutes

John Primer has had a long and storied career as a bluesman.  He grew up in a sharecropping family in Mississippi. He lost his father when he was only four years old but his father’s guitar and singing along with an older cousin made Primer love the blues and gave him the desire to become a blues musician. His dream was to play with Muddy Waters.

The desire turned to reality when he left for Chicago in 1963 at age eighteen. He played for tips on Maxwell Street and then joined Pat Rushing and formed the Maintainers who played on Maxwell Street every Sunday. They expanded their gigs to more and more nights of playing on Chicago’s West Side.  He moved on to front The Brotherhood Band and then in 1974 began a sewven night a week stint with the house band at Theresa’s Lounge on the South Side. He joined Willie Dixon’s Chocago Blues All Stars in 1979 and then in 1980 joined Muddy Water’s new  Legendary Blues Band and was the band leader and opening act; he had achieved his dream! Muddy unfortunately passed away in 1983, but Primer stayed with the band until 2001 when the Checkerboard Lounge finally closed.

Primer also played with Magic Slim’s band after Muddy passed and was involved with Slim for thirteen years and won a WC Handy Award. He also fronted his own band, recording on Wolf Records label, the same label as Slim. In 1997, his third record The Real Deal was nominated for a Handy Award (now BMA) and he now has received many an accolade and award in the 25 years of his solo career.

This new CD features John and his Real Deal Blues Band. In addition to Primer on guitar and lead vocals, Steve Bells plays harp, Lenny Media plays drums and David forte handles the bass. Guests include rick Kreyer on 2nd guitar, Johnny Iguana on keys and his daughter Aliya Primer debuts on vocals on “Tough Times.” Primer wrote all thirteen songs on this album.

The album begins with “You Got What I Want,” a flowing and vibrant cut with Primer at his best. His distinctive vocals shine here as they do throughout and his guitar is exceptional. He gives us a tasty solo on guitar and Steve Bell then follows with a short harp solo. They reprise their instrumental skills later in the song to good effect. “Don’t Wait Too Long” follows, a nice shuffle with a great guitar introduction. Iguana shines on piano and then it’s Bell’s turn to shine. Primer finally gets to solo and it’s a great one. Next is the title track with a hill country vibe as the bass drum stomps and Primer hits the slide guitar hard. Piano and harp add to the mix, but Primer really is the star with his slide work. Slow blues are next in the moving “Blues Blues Blues,” a deep and cool blues. John‘s guitar stings and Bell’s harp punctuates nicely. The tempo picks up with “I Won’t Sweat It,” with another well-done intro by Primer. Bell and Primer once again display their prowess on this driving cut. “Chicago” comes next, a straight up blues shuffle paying tribute to his hometown. Bell solos first and then it’s Primers turn to display his chops and he does so well. “Tough Times” features John’s daughter Aliya who joins the band and is the vocal lead. She does and exemplary job on this fine, slow blues cut. Bell and Primer offer more solos and the younger Primer sings with emotion and feeling. The seventeen-year old really can sing!

The pace quickens on “All Alone,” a fine Chicago blues cut.  Both he and Bell solo and then Primer takes us home with more slick guitar and his ebullient vocals. “My Sugar Mama” retains the fast pace as Primer lays down a nice groove on his guitar. Bell again solos first, which leads into a big Primer guitar solo. After another verse, Iguana gets his turn and then Primer delivers some more sweet guitar licks. Next up is “You Mean So Much to Me,” a bouncing cut with another fine introduction on guitar by Primer. Bell and Iguana give us some licks and later Primer also solos nicely. It’s back to slow and deep blues with “Try To Make You Mine,” another well done piece with an even longer and moving intro by John’s guitar. Steve gives us a signature solo on his harp and then it’s Primer’s turn to shine with his guitar. Another winner. “Hot Meal” is another slow blues with all the grease one needs to make this one another one for the listener to enjoy thoroughly. Primer sings with emotion as Bell answers his vocal call. Bell then joins the fray for a subdued solo. Primer then sings and follows that with a restrained but cool and long solo of his own. He then returns to close things out on vocals and guitar. The final track is “Whiskey,” and, of course, Bell and Primer get some more solo time in as they deliver an excellent finale to a really fine album!

Primer’s return to recording post pandemic shows he’s not lost any of the edge that his music has. He wrote a bunch of great songs that Rick Barnes produced for him at RaxTrax Studio in Chicago. The result is thirteen outstanding new tracks laid down by John and The Real Deal Blues Band. All the songs exemplify John’s long commitment to Chicago blues and keeping the flame burning. This is a really great album which I most highly recommend for adding to your blues collection. It is one you will listen to over and over again!

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