Wolf Records 120 836
13 songs – 68 minutes
Reigning Blues Music Association traditional artist of the year John Primer hits the recording studio with his own band for the first time in 13 years to produce this collection of straight-ahead tunes that deliver the feel of the golden era of Chicago blues.
But that should come as no surprise for friends and fans of the 70-year-old two-time Grammy nominee when you consider his pedigree. In the ‘70s, he played rhythm in the house band at the legendary Theresa’s Lounge on the South Side, regularly backing harmonica legend Junior Wells and working alongside the sensational Sammy Lawhorn, one of the most influential guitarists in the Windy City.
There are few people in the world with John’s blues pedigree. He joined Willie Dixon’s band for a year about the same time Theresa’s was about to close, then spent three years with Muddy Waters and a decade with Magic Slim’s Teardrops before finally going out on his own. His first release, Poor Man Blues, debuted in 1991 as part of the Austrian imprint Wolf Records’ popular Chicago Blues Session series. This is his ninth CD for the label. Despite recording elsewhere through the years, the relationship remains strong.
Recorded both live and in studio in Europe, That Will Never Do was co-produced by Primer and label owner Hannes Folterbauer and features John’s his regular unit: former Koko Taylor and Lurrie Bell bassist Melvin Smith, ex-Magic Slim and Linsey Alexander drummer Lennie Media and harmonica player Bill Lupkin, who worked with Jimmy Rogers. There’s no new material here, but, with the exception of two of Muddy’s warhorses, all of the covers are well-chosen and fresh to the ears of a new generation.
The action kicks off with a loping version of Little Milton’s “That Will Never Do” before a faithful take of Muddy’s standard, “Mannish Boy.” The tempo picks up for “Hold Me In Your Arms,” a rapid shuffle written by harmonica player Snooky Pryor before Waters’ “Forty Days And Forty Nights.” Three lesser known songs from the greats — Howlin’ Wolf’s “You Gonna Wreck My Life,” Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Cross My Heart” and Jimmy Reed’s “Sittin’ Here Waitin’” – precede Kansas City master Jay McShann’s “Confessin’ The Blues.” Even though the song’s been recorded hundreds of times, it feels different with a true Windy City feel.
Dixon’s “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” kicks off the second half of the CD, followed by Otis Spann’s “Hungry Country Girl,” Wolf’s “Down In The Bottom” and St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s “Take The Bitter With The Sweet.” Albert King’s “The Time Has Come” brings the disc to a close.
Available just about everywhere, That Will Never Do is rock solid in every way if you like old-school Chicago blues. It’s totally unforced and pyrotechnic-free throughout just the way the masters devised it. A winner on all counts.