75 and Alive
Blue Heart/ HighJohn
There are not that many seventy-plus original bluesmen, certainly few with the pipes of venerable Johnny Tucker who still has plenty left in the tank based on 75 And Alive, recorded on his 75th birthday in October of 2020. For that special occasion Tucker’s manager Bob Auerbach wanted a much bigger sound than what they laid down on 2018’s acclaimed Seven Day Blues and so he recruited the renowned guitarist Kid Ramos, giving him in turn the reins to build a top shelf unit. Accordingly, pianist Sunny Leyland conspired with Ramos to tap the rhythm tandem of John Bazz on electric and standup bass, drummer Jason Lozano (son of Los Lobos bassist Conrad Lozano), saxophonist Ron Dziuba and harmonicist Bob Corritore.
The primarily West Coast cast takes us through jump blues, some slow burners, and a few funky ones. The listener will likely be unable to discern one of the most remarkable things about this recording because these tunes were all written on the spot. That’s right, Tucker makes up the lyrics as the band plays the tune, totally spontaneously. All were cut on the first or second take with Ramos establishing the groove and then having the band and Tucker take it from there.
There’s a T-Bone Walker feel to the opening “All Night Long, All Night Wrong,’ moving immediately into the simmering “There’s A Time for Love.” Leyland’s pounding piano takes us down to Louisiana for the swamp pop of “If Your Ever Love Me” and it’s a direct trip to Chicago for the shuffle “Can’t You See,” with Corritore blowing a storm and trading verses with Ramos as Leyland pounds away. The guitarist presents a ballroom rhumba groove for Tucker to improvise over in “What’s the Matter,” gushing with joy over a night on the town and in the next sequence expressing regret in “Treat Me Good.”
Texas blues comes with a nod to Albert Collins on the shuffle “Snowplow,” complete with a filthy Dziuba gutbucket tenor turn with Ramos in full flight. Similarly, Ramos does the same for Earl Hooker in “Hookline.” In between it’s Leyland who gets the spotlight with his boogie woogie piano in “What’s On My Mind.” We’re still in Texas for “Dance Like I Should” where Ramos takes the slide and Corritore playfully spars with him. “Have A Good Time Tonight” essentially mimics Buddy Guy, though it’s all in fun. The session concludes with the rousing horn-driven soul of “Gotta Do It One Time” with Tucker emitting a primal scream of joy midway through as the band is totally locked in, seemingly wanting to further extend this summit of blues greats. What a terrific way to celebrate birthday number 75!
- Jim Hynes
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