Roosevelt Sykes

Music Is My Business [Blues Alliance]

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The non-existent fall had already shifted into winter weather when a Volkswagen packed with two record producers and two blues musicians pulled into Edmonton, Alberta, in the late '70s. They were looking to hook up with another pair of classic blues players, pianist Roosevelt Sykes and slide guitarist Johnny Shines, up north on a series of club and concert dates combining them in an evening of solo performances. The idea was to cut albums by Sykes and Shines, in combination with the younger blues players that were stuffed in the back of the car: none other than the intense Louisiana Red and a harmonica player who called himself Sugar Blue (at this point most likely to be heard on the streets of New York, but eventually to cut records with none other than the Rolling Stones). This album presents the pianist's side of what happened. The cranky Sykes had a particular loathing for harmonicas and barely let the Sugar out of the bowl, while the combination of the florid, technically adept New Orleans pianist with the raw Red was not always a good color match. When Red first enters here, he tries to provide lead guitar fills in the Buddy Guy style, but the sustained string choking always start to sound out of tune with at least a few of the many notes Sykes is hitting, seeing as the piano man doesn't really go for restrained comping. Sykes hears the problem and comes up with a tune called "Stop Stopping Me," effectively bringing forth the guitarist's talents by providing him with a more fixed harmonic base. Shines, in general, fares better blending his guitar with Sykes; not only is his style more relaxed, word was the two bluesmen has been arguing about the Bible all day and were making an effort to get along a little, which one can hear. A large chunk of the tracks are solo piano, which is of course something Sykes does with great flair and intoxicating élan. This is perhaps not an essential blues album, but the set of performances are well recorded and provide an entertaining document of what can happen in the studio when a gang of sharp blues players are assembled.

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