Rockin’ Johnny Burgin graced many of the great Delmark records, especially as the guitarist for Tail Dragger. After a storied stint in the Windy City, his move to California finds him once again working with Kid Andersen in Kid’s San Jose Greaseland Studios, rapidly becoming the place of choice for blues and roots musicians who want to keep it real. Burgin was a key player in the studio’s tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, Howlin’ at Greaseland, released earlier this Fall.
Burgin gets more varied than he did on his acclaimed 2015 Greetings from Greaseland, enlisting fellow stellar guitarist and producer Kid Andersen for a set of mostly originals with a few covers. Johnny mostly keeps the sound traditional, but mixes in some surf music and zydeco as well. His commanding vocals and stinging guitar are supported by core bluesmen Aki Kumar on harp and June Core on drums together with more guests on this outing. Steve Willis from Elvin Bishop’s band provided the accordion for the three deco tunes in the middle of recording. Bishop’s guitarist and pianist Bob Welsh adds both instruments on select tracks and BMA nominee Nancy Wright plays her sax on four tracks.
The generous 16 tracks have Burgin on lead vocals for 11 with harpist Kumar singing on two along with Alabama Mike on two as well. The opening title track with its tongue in cheek title is an instrumental surf rock about which Burgin says this in the liners, “It sounds artificial but it’s fully natural – like the crashing reverb-waves, like carving an A-Frame, like aerial guitar behind a shimmying burlesque dancer- did the chi-volution form neon-lit dives to the encircling sunshine. From Chicago’s North Avenue, glinting with ice, to te ever-fading ad renewing beach-break…t’s the call to the Cali party. Neoprene Fedora baby!”
From the dazzling opener we go directly to that Chicago sound that will never leave Burgin. He’s now just mixing it up, embracing his new surroundings and opportunity to play with West Coast musicians. Burgin’s West Coast Meets Chicago roadshow is drawing increasing crowds and a key ingredient is his synergy with Kumar’s harp playing, heard on six of these tracks. Burgin himself picks up the harmonica on “Won’t Get Married Again.” Burgin proves to be a strong writer here, perhaps his greatest output of originals on any of his recordings. Beyond those already cited, notable tracks include “Kinda Wild Woman,” “Smoke and Mirrors” and the closing “Goodbye Chicago” where Burgin does his fair share of name dropping in respect to his mentors.
So, don’t be put off by the quirky title or the inclusion of a few different styles. They just serve as seasonings for the main course which is blues played the real deal way – in the tradition.
- Jim Hynes