Linsey Alexander – Live at Rosa’s | Album Review

Linsey Alexander – Live at Rosa’s

Delmark Records DE-862

9 songs – 52 minutes

Few people in the world deliver real-deal Chicago blues better than Linsey Alexander, a native of Holly Springs, Miss., who’s been an institution in the Windy City since his arrival in 1960. Now age 77, he’s still at the very top of his game in this live set, which was recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience at Rosa’s Lounge on the city’s Northwest Side.

The son of sharecroppers, Alexander picked up the guitar for the first time at age 12, influenced by Rosco Gordon, Chuck Berry and Elvis as well as blues, country and early rock-‘n’-roll. After toiling as a hotel porter and bicycle technician in Mississippi, he pawned his only guitar to pay for his bus ride north to hook up with a lady he’d met in Memphis.

A former Chicago Police Department employee who retired with a pension after being wounded, he stretched his wings as a singer/guitarist with several South Side bands, including The Hot Tomatoes, The Equitable Band and others before drawing the attention of an agent who started booking him into the booming North Side scene, where he’s been a fixture for decades known as The Hoochie Man – a name derived from one of his most popular originals.

Alexander’s a stellar vocalist with a booming baritone and a straight-ahead, no-frills guitarist who displays more energy than most men half his age, something that’s easily apparent on this album, which follows the blueprint of label mate Otis Rush’s CD, All Your Love, I Miss Loving, a live set captured at the Wise Fools Pub and released in 2005.

Linsey’s backed here by a trio of Chicago veterans: Roosevelt Purifoy on keys, “Big Ray” Stewart on drums and Ron Simmons – his playing partner for 40 years – on bass with Russian import Sergei Androshin on second guitar. They deliver a mix of five originals and four covers that come across as contemporary blues with a familiar, throwback feel.

Linsey delivers stinging, single-note guitar runs and the band lopes out of the gate for the familiar “Please Love Me” to open. He makes the song his own despite being in circulation since 1953 when B.B. King first recorded it for the Imperial label. Purifoy shines on the mid-tune solo here and the original shuffle, “My Days Are So Long,” which follows. Built atop a funky, uptempo groove, it relates the need for a visit to a doctor for a prescription and a gypsy for good advice after the departure of a lady has left the singer wracked with pain.

Romantic themes run strong throughout the set. A top-notch cover of Freddie King’s familiar “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” takes on new life as Alexander re-invents it as a super-slow blues that amps up the emotion like never before of discovering his lady is seeing someone else. The mood brightens and tempo quickens once more for “I Got a Woman.” Not to be confused with the Ray Charles tune of the same name, it’s a sprightly Linsey original that sings praise of his love for a gal who’s so good that no other woman will ever do.

“Goin’ Out Walking,” meanwhile, finds him ready to head to San Antone to bring his baby home. It’s followed by a blues-ified take on Benny Latimore’s 1976 R&B chart-topper “Somethin’ ‘Bout ‘Cha” before Linsey’s uptempo delivery takes the chill off looking for a his woman on a freezing night when its “Snowing in Chicago.” Junior Wells’ “Ships on the Ocean” gets new life before another original, “Going Back to My Old Time Used to Be,” brings the night to a close.

A true blues master makes it sound easy, and Linsey’s one of the best. Live at Rosa’s is a winner on all counts. If you love traditional Chicago blues, run – don’t walk – to get this one. It’s that good!

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