Roosevelt Sykes – The Original Honeydripper | Album Review

rooseveltsykescdRoosevelt Sykes – The Original Honeydripper

Blind Pig Records

14 tracks; 42 minutes

This set was recorded in 1977, live at the Blind Pig Café in Ann Arbor, Michigan when Roosevelt Sykes was in his early seventies. The original LP was one of the earliest releases on Blind Pig and has now been remastered for CD with the addition of two previously unreleased tracks from the original concert. Roosevelt plays solo piano and sings material from across his career. The live setting is not overly intrusive and adds atmosphere to the recording of what must have been a very entertaining evening of music: the pace never drops as Roosevelt runs one song into another.

Roosevelt opens with the classic stride piano of “Cow Cow Blues” with plenty of action from both hands. “Drivin’ Wheel” is next, a real blues and probably his best known song. He then dips into Fats Waller with a jaunty version of “Honeysuckle Rose” and the previously unissued “St James Infirmary” which is played pretty straight as a slow blues. Of course, apart from his great piano playing Roosevelt’s repertoire included a number of comic and risqué songs which added to his attraction as a performer. The first example here is “I Like What You Did” which includes some scat-style singing to cover some of the more suggestive elements of the lyrics!

Tipping his hat to another giant of the piano Roosevelt does a nice cover of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” (sort of returning the favour as Ray had covered Roosevelt’s “The Night Time Is The Right Time”) before the funny “I’m A Nut” which shares some of the changes of the Ray Charles song so they work well as a pair. No piano player of his generation would have ignored the classic boogie style and Roosevelt gives us “Running The Boogie” in which his left hand keeps the rhythm rolling throughout. “Too Smart Too Soon” is a wistful slow blues in which Roosevelt realizes the error he made in letting his girl drift away. “Viper Song” is another from Fats Waller’s repertoire and gets a great audience reaction when he mentions the word ‘reefer’.

The closing section of the CD starts with “Don’t Talk Me To Death”, another comic piece with lots of fine piano and a strong vocal performance. The slower-paced “Early Morning Blues” is followed by the catchy tones of “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” with its advice “Don’t talk at all, that’s my advice”. Closing the set is one of Roosevelt’s best known (and notorious) songs, “Dirty Mother For You”. The title is of course a very thinly concealed version of another, much used phrase which would easily fit into the lyrics – Roosevelt being very careful to enunciate his title properly – he need not have worried, the audience are right with him, whooping and hollering in delight as the tale unfolds, the tongue-twisters getting ever more difficult for Roosevelt to get through, he even breaks into laughter at one point.

A very worthwhile reissue and definitely one for the piano fans out there.

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