Willie and the Poor Boys

Poor Boy Boogie: Willie & The Poor Boys Anthology

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The Castle/Sanctuary reissue of the two recordings by Willie and the Poor Boys -- former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and a host of the most enduring session and touring players in British rock music history -- enables listeners to reconsider not only the records themselves -- comprised of a smoking batch of early rock & roll, country, R&B, and even soul recordings done in a loose but expertly played fashion -- but rock & roll itself, as written and performed in its golden age. These two discs -- the first a studio set from 1985, the second an incomplete live date in Sweden by a revamped unit in 1992 -- may not be the most musically adventurous (and they aren't supposed to be), nor are they concerned with authenticity. These were not academic sessions made to bring some new light to bear on nuggets of rock and soul's golden age. They are what they are: a great group of players who could care less -- on either of these dates -- about showing off their individual chops, but in simply getting together for real fun playing the music that drew them in the first place. As such, these loose, raggedy, blast-off albums work here shockingly well. Paul Rodgers' guest vocals on Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine," and Little Richard's "Slippin' and Slidin'" (with killer roots guitar work from Jimmy Page), are among the most convincing of Rodgers' career. Likewise, moody rocker Chris Rea's vocal read of "Baby Please Don't Go," is astonishing. Geraint Watkins, known by many as Van Morrison's keyboard ace (and producer of Tres Chicas) turns in a killer lead vocal on "Saturday Night" and "Chicken Shack Boogie," (not bad for a guy who everybody thought couldn't sing). Ray Cooper, percussionist to the stars -- and some regular blokes, too -- sings his skinny ass off on Lee Dorsey's nugget "Can You Hear Me?." But it's not just the singers who provide satisfaction here. Guitarists Andy Fairweather Low and Mickey Gee are killer throughout. The horn section of Steve Gregory and Willie Garnet add heft and weight to this entire orgy of rock and rhythm. Speaking of rhythm, the drummers here are none other than fellow Rolling Stone Charlie Watts, ex-Faces and Who drummer Kenney Jones, Eric Clapton skinman Henry Spinetti, and Rockpile's rhythm ace Terry Williams. These cats push the proceedings into the red, with splattering hi hat work and popping snares. With Wyman manning the bass with finger-popping groove and grit, guests in the chair were utterly unnecessary. Fairweather Low is also a smashing vocalist, as evidenced on a burning read of Hudson Whittaker's "Let's Talk It Over (Don't You Lie to Me)." The awesome thing about the set, brief as it is, is that despite the many players, it sounds like a band, a whole band, experienced, rehearsed, and smashing.

The final and title cut on the Poor Boy Boogie studio album is a great pastiche/medley written by Wyman. Lyrics from all the songs are used and so are themes; it's a seamless, wooly monster. The remastering job is terrific and if ever there were a record to take the roots sound and make it fun again, this is it.

The second live disc is even rawer, more immediate, and less precise -- thank God. Wyman handles the vocal chores with a slightly different conglomeration including Fairweather Low, guitarist Terry Taylor (Tucky Buzzard), Procol Harum keyboard boss Gary Brooker, and drummer Graham Broad, along with a quartet of female backing vocalists that include Maggie Ryder and Miriam Stockley. This stripped-down group, less than well-rehearsed and playing in front of a loutish Swedish audience, burns through a series of cuts including "High School Confidential," "Tear It Up," "Baby Please Don't Go" (with an absolutely nuts harmonica solo by Jimmy Henderson), and a couple long medleys that should've been crowd pleasers no matter where they were played. The disc ends with a completely crazy read of "Land of a Thousand Dances." Given that this wasn't the end of the show -- five tracks were lost to the undependability of technology -- it doesn't have the sense and rigor or flow the studio album does. It's a small complaint, though; truth be told, sometimes only something this raucous will do. Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings are deeply indebted to the musicians gathered here, and still play the arrangements of this material as performed by Willie and the Poor Boys. The Rhythm Kings were born from the same desire to play roots music in a fresh way without accenting personality. The Poor Boys didn't give a damn for personality, they just rocked and had a ball.

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