The Prime Movers

The Prime Movers Blues Band

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The Prime Movers Blues Band Review

by Mark Deming

If you're a student of the Michigan rock & roll scene of the '60s, the Prime Movers are a band you've probably read about but not actually heard. Founded in Ann Arbor in 1965, the Prime Movers were part of the nascent scene that would explode a few years later with the rise of the MC5 and the Stooges, but while their contemporaries were dynamic, high-energy rock bands, the Movers were loyal to the blues and specialized in stretched-out Chicago-style electric jams, suggesting a more doctrinaire Michigan version of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The Prime Movers had a significant Midwest following in their heyday, but since they never made a record, they're best remembered today for what their alumni went on to accomplish. Lead guitarist Dan Erlewine went on to become a guitar repairman to the stars and a columnist for Guitar Player magazine; his brother Michael Erlewine, who handled lead vocals, harp, and guitar, would found the All Music Guide website and database; keyboard man Robert Sheff became a noted avant-garde composer under the name Blue "Gene" Tyranny; bassist Jack Dawson would join the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band; and drummer James Osterberg transformed himself into America's leading streetwalking cheetah, Iggy Pop. Nearly 50 years after the Prime Movers broke up, one can finally get a taste of what the band was about with The Prime Movers Blues Band, a release drawn from live tapes of the group on-stage in their glory days. These recordings certain clear up the mystery of what the band was about, but judging from The Prime Movers Blues Band, their most notable accomplishment was being a credible blues band made of young white guys at a time when that was all but unknown. Dan Erlewine's guitar work is the star of this show, and he shows off solid chops and an imaginative approach to soloing, while Michael's harp work is good and shows he'd spent plenty of time with his Little Walter records, and Osterberg was a fine drummer with an indefatigable shuffle. But the group's stylistic purity also turns out to be their Achilles' heel; most of the time, the musicians take care not to stray too far from the original versions of these blues standards, and as strong as their interpretations may be, they lack the adventure that the Butterfield Blues Band brought to their take on the blues -- good as the Prime Movers were, there's nothing here that suggests they could create something as visionary as East-West. Significantly, the most exciting performance here is a cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," where Iggy takes the lead vocal and pushes the rhythm beyond the mid-tempo shuffle that dominates nearly everything else. The Prime Movers Blues Band is a fun listen and historically invaluable, but it's never the mind-blowing find that one may have dreamed of.

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