Delmark Records DE620
18 songs – 69 minutes
When the world lost Magic Sam to a heart attack at the tender age of 32 on Dec. 1, 1969, it lost one of the true superstars of the blues, a man whose music remains as fresh and innovative today as the day it was recorded. This album guarantees his memory will continue for another generation.
Born Samuel Maghett in Grenada, Miss., in 1937, he migrated to the Windy City at age 19, quickly establishing himself as one of prime movers in the revolutionary new sound that came to be known as West Side Chicago blues, joining Otis Rush and Buddy Guy on the legendary Cobra Records label, which delivered it to the world. He played guitar effortlessly with a distinctive, single-note tremolo style, which he exhibited on such early hits and soon-to-be classics as “Easy Baby” and “All Your Love,” and his tenor vocal intonations were embodied with equally powerful emotion.
Sam joined the Delmark label lineup in 1967 after a brief, unpleasant stint in the military. Recorded just 11 months prior his death, Black Magic was his second release on the label, following West Side Soul, and, to this day, Bob Koester, who’s owned and operated the blues and jazz imprint for 60 years, insists it’s the best he’s ever produced. Koester was about to lose him to Stax if the Grim Reaper hadn’t intervened.
Joining Sam in the studio were a true all-star lineup of bluesmen. Mighty Joe Young held down second-guitar duties, woodshedding in a period just before he emerged as a superstar himself. Long an essential part of the B.B. King Orchestra, Lafeyette Leake contributed keyboards. A rising legend in his own right with Howlin’ Wolf and the future leader of his Wolf Pack, Eddie Shaw delivered on sax. And the rhythm section consisted of bass player Mac Thompson, whose skills were on a par with his guitarist brothers Jimmy and Syl Johnson, and drummer Odie Payne Jr., one of the best timekeepers in Chicago blues, who could do more with a small kit than any man on the planet.
Black Magic quickly became one of the essential blues albums of its time. One listen and every note was etched in your memory for eternity. It’s still not unusual to hear one of the 10 cuts – two originals and eight covers — being played over the air today.
How could something so perfect be improved?
This time around, Delmark gave it the full digipack treatment for CD, adding eight cuts, including two that never previously saw the light of day. The packaging includes a 16-page booklet packed with the original liner notes from Living Blues magazine co-founder Jim O’Neal as well as Koester’s notes from the 1997 release, The Magic Sam Legacy, from which six of these cuts previously appeared. Their entries are accompanied with additional notes that were penned recently. And the booklet is illustrated with never-seen-before photos taken during the recording session.
Fear not, however, if you’re as familiar with original release as I am and don’t want to see any changes. Other than conversion to digital and remastering from the original analog tapes, the first 10 cuts on the new release appear in the same order as the original, kicking off with the Rosco Gordon tune “I Just Want A Little Bit,” which Sam wastes no time making his own. The original “What Have I Done Wrong” precedes a version of Willie Dixon’s “Easy, Baby” before the Maghett original “You Belong To Me.” A Lowell Fulson number, “It’s All Your Fault Baby,” precedes Donald Nix’s “Sam Old Blues” and Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me” before Sam reinvents Freddy King’s “San-Ho-Zay,” Andrew Brown’s “You Better Stop” and Otis Rush’s “Keep On Lovin’ Me, Baby.”
The rest of the disc includes five alternate takes, two originals and one cover tune. A reprise of “What Have I Done Wrong” and “I Just Want A Little Bit” precede the Sam-penned “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” before a take on harmonica player George “Wild Child” Butler’s “Keep On Doin’ What You’re Doin’.” The original instrumental “Blues For Odie Payne” precedes a previously unreleased alternate of “Same Old Blues” and a “new,” third try at “What Have I Done Wrong” before another version of “Keep On Lovin’ Me Baby” concludes the set.
Despite the redundancy in material, all of the repeated tunes are delivered in a manner that’s fresh while keeping an air of familiarity about them.
The original version of Black Magic has been among my top-five favorite albums of all-time since that day long ago when my hair was black and the music was new. This version gives me that same familiar feeling. Not only is this album great, it’s essential listening for anyone with a love for Chicago blues. It’s available everywhere. Pick it up today. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.