Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Mike Henderson Band Heats Up The Joint With If You Think It's Hot Here

A year like 2014 I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. That’s not to say that there weren’t a few good moments, but for me it’s safe to say that I’m glad to see that year disappearing in my rear view mirror. It was the kind of year that gave you the blues in a bad way.
Of course you can’t appreciate the sunshine unless you walk through the darkness and I am glad for friends and family that stood with me when the darkness threatened to swallow up everything. Mrs. Professor was there with smiles and help when I needed it, so were all my kids, and you better believe that the meticulous Mr. Cook was always there with me.
Mostly reminding me that we needed to get a show done. He’s pretty good that way.
Sorry, but I had to let a few things slide. This blog bore the brunt of the suffering and I hope my little but loyal audience will find their way back to the Juke Joint to listen to some great music.
A really nice little piece of blues tinged with country and gospel was delivered to me by my good friend Li’l Ronnie. It was part of an EllerSoul care package – and trust me, this was just the tonic I needed to start picking myself back up.
If you’ve listened to the show (Saturday Nights at 11 on WCVE-FM 88.9 or ideastations.org/radio) you know EllerSoul. They are one of our underwriters that help keep us on the air. As such we have to be careful not to overplay their artists as that could be misperceived.
But I was a fan of EllerSoul long before we became a member of their family.
Li’l Ronnie has been one of my favorite harp players for a long time. How he manages to drum AND play the harp at the same time astounds me. I learned a lot of chops from watching and listening to him over the years.
Anyway, when he made his way up the side of the mountain to the Juke Joint, I know he had something important on his mind. I fixed him some barbecue and corn bread and poured us a couple of cool drinks and we got caught up.
When we were through talking he pulled out his wallet and I told him to put it away. His money was no good here and never will be. He smiled, folded up his wallet and turned to leave.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” he said opening up his briefcase. He pulled out a couple of CDs and slid them along the counter. “You may be getting these at the station, but I wanted to make sure you had them now. It’s time to get back to work.”
He put on his sunglasses and slid out the door and left me with two recent releases from EllerSoul. One from one of my favorite DC Bands, The Nighthawks, and the other from The Mike Henderson Band.
Thought I might save the Nighthawks for a little later, but I went ahead and slid The Mike Henderson Band into my player in the office and took a little time to enjoy their sound.
Henderson has been around for a while – he was a member of the Bel Airs who released an album on Blind Pig in the ‘80’s. After that he moved to Nashville and joined The Roosters and played The Bluebird Café pretty much weekly. He even wrote a song that The Fabulous Thunderbirds recorded for the movie Cocktail.
He became an in-demand songwriter and session player and worked regularly in the field and even released three country albums, with Country Music Made Me Do It being the best known.
He gravitated back into the blues (and really the lines between the two genres are often a little blurry) and started to make a name for himself in the field. His latest CD is titled You Think It’s Hot Here and it features several originals along with covers of T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Li’l Son Jackson, and Sonny Boy Williamson.
I Wanta Know Why kicks off the CD. An original that makes good use of his growling voice and the piano work of his producer and keyboardist Kevin McKendree, and the bass work of Michael Rhodes. It’s a good start that gives you the feeling that there is a lot behind the group.
Send You Back To Georgia is the first of two Hound Dog Taylor covers. This has been covered by so many greats but Henderson growls it out with the band putting it into high gear and playing in their best house rocking style. I really enjoyed this one a lot and you can expect to hear it on the show in the near future.
It’s Alright completes the Hound Dog Taylor portion of the CD. Henderson rips into the song with style and makes it swing. Henderson trades off with McKendree as they drive the song.
If You Think It’s Hot Here may just be my favorite track on the CD. It brings the pace down and moves the lyrics into the spiritual realm. McKendree uses his B3 to bring us into the church by the banks of the river while Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton’s combined voices lift us up into the sky.
Weepin’ And Moanin’ is another Henderson original and it starts off by showcasing his guitar skills. More solid work that brings the band together in a straight blues fashion. McKendree takes over the middle portion with his piano while the rhythm section keeps everything in check.
Mean Red Spider is the Muddy Waters side not the Canadian band of the same name. This is a good outing that is probably a lot of fun to catch live. It’s got a solid beat behind and it makes you want to jump up and shake whatever you got.
If I Had Possession is the Robert Johnson song and Henderson strips down his recording to match Johnson’s style. It’s a haunting change of pace and when he brings in the band starting with Pat O’Connor’s drums adding fullness without losing its old school charm.
Unseen Eye by Sonny Boy Williamson II is another one of those songs that just gets it hooks in you and doesn’t let go. Henderson walks up and down the fret board before letting lose with the vocals. The lyrics make you really pay attention – after all, “that Unseen Eye is watching you.”
Matchbox is the traditional tune made famous by Carl Perkins among others. The band gives it a real roadhouse feel on this one. It’s gotta tear it up when they do it live. If you get a chance to catch ‘em live, be sure to let me know.
Gambling Blues was originally written by Li’l Son Jackson, the Texas-born bluesman and once again they capture the spirit of the song and give it a driving beat.
The CD concludes with Rock House Blues, a duet between McKendree on piano and Henderson on harp trading licks old school style. No vocals, just a simple bass line to give Henderson room to play. It’s a good sound, one you might find with musicians just jamming.
Henderson and company obviously love the classics, but they find ways to update the sound without losing the soul of the piece. It can be a tricky tightrope, but when it works – like it does here – the results can be electrifying.
Make sure you check out The Mike Henderson Band when they come near your town. And go get yourself a copy of If You Think It’s Hot In Here to tide you over in the meantime. It’s got the Professor’s recommendation.