The Louisville Blues Compilation

Format: Cassette

By Michael Campbell

It never fails. Visitors from other cities, major and minor, cruise this city's circuit of live blues music: the Cherokee, Air Devils Inn, Barry's, (sometimes) the Butchertown Pub, Zena's, etc. and rave about the quality of the music they encounter, followed by puzzlement at those clubs that are not brimming with patrons. The blues phenomenon in Louisville is for real and growing.

If this phenomenon grows to a point at which we would designate an impresario, then the producer of this compilation, Scott Mullins, must top the list of contenders. Mullins, as recently profiled in the Courier-Journal's Scene supplement, shares the enthusiasm of our visitors and possesses a vision of spreading the fever locally. One of his concepts, this audio calling card/sampler, has resulted in getting local blues artists on tape and, it is hoped, to the ears of a discerning blues label or two.

This process, including finding and committing backers and performers as well as producing and distributing the tape, took nearly two years. As a result, the personnel of the bands today may not match those of this tape, or the band itself may not exist anymore (e.g., the Bluebirds). But rest assured; this is a musically incestuous little town and most of the players are still out there in some configuration..

Curtis & the Kicks open things up with the urbane and disciplined "Reach for What You Can," displaying the key attributes of Curtis Marlatt's bands: crisp rhythm arrangements accompanied by tasty doses of Stratocaster. As fine as this is, the element of live performance provides added fire and sweat; I suggest catching them live.

Da Mudcats fire up "Two Man Blues" to display why they are one of the city's best-loved ensembles. After establishing an easy shuffle, drummer Gene Wickliffe and bassist Larry Holt downshift, cranking up the rpms. After Susan O'Neil tells us a bit about the way it is and will always be, Jimmy Rosen ups the ante and energy level with his dancing, darting harp wizardry, providing the appropriate context for Rob Pickett's fuzz guitar assault. This is a group that has found a winning and working combination.

Henry Woodruff's trademark wah-wah guitar on "Greyhound Bus Station" provides focus on basic blues values. The elemental luxury of playing around with tempo or dropping a beat forces attention to the singer and what he's feeling; a familiar yet fresh lesson.

I've long suspected that Steve Ferguson's top hat owns some sort of mystical properties; when he wears this along with a guitar, strange and wonderful things happen. "I Stand Accused," recorded live at Uncle P's, bears testament to the strong players that surround Ferguson and especially to that sputtering, stuttering Telecaster fatback funk he churns out with such casual authority. This guy could play a Bach fugue'and still raise the collective cholesterol level in the room.

I found lots to like in the other cuts as well: the Leslie-swirled smokiness of Foree Wells & the Walnut St. Blues Band, the muscular strut of Mark Stein & the Steamrollers, the Chicago-tinged tension produced by the Rocky Amaretto Blues Band and the loopy quasi-Third World approach that the Derby City Blues Review bring to "I've Been Abused." The cuts that were recorded in live performance correctly imply that this good stuff gets even better live; hopefully Volume II (will there be an encore, Scott?) can address that fully.

No, it ain't sweet home Chicago, but then again it's not supposed to be. Louisville sits in the musical crosscurrents of Chicago, Nashville and Memphis. This music is a natural resource; the men and women who play and sing it don't get rich from it, so it doesn't qualify as a renewable resource. Use this tape to turn yourself on to the wealth that surrounds you, then pass it on and check these folks out in performance. Pass it on.