Tail Dragger - Stop Lyin'

The good stuff doesn't need to change ...
  |   Comments

Delmark Records have long been the torch-bearer for classic Chicago blues.  True, the template doesn't vary much - Stop Lyin,' the latest result from Delmark's vault-dipping, comes from sessions in September of 1982, but sounds as though it could easily have been recorded in any decade from the 50's to the present.

But while 'timeless' has become a bit of a cliché, that's exactly what this music is - basic, meat-and-potatoes blues.  No frills, nothing fancy.  But it works, as well today as it ever has, thanks to the sheer conviction and commitment of all involved.

The band, all stalwarts, includes Johnny B. Moore on guitar, the late Willie Kent on bass, with Lafayette Leake contributing overdubbed piano on a pair. Eddie 'Jewtown' Burks (okay, now there's something that's changed - no one could get away with a name like that anymore) and Little Mack Simmons share harmonica duties.

Tail Dragger - real name James Yancey - had never recorded prior to these sessions, though he was a frequent performer in Chicago's tough West Side clubs, his act a frequently-over-the-top take on Howlin' Wolf (who bestowed the 'Tail Dragger' moniker and declared  Yancey his natural successor).

That same approach is here, Yancey's raw, raspy vocals a fair approximation of Wolf's ferocity, along with the highly personal raps he often interjects (live, he's known for getting right up in the face of audience members), and the utterly rock-solid band, while unobtrusive, provides absolutely spot-on support.

The songs are all originals, though they're all based on the basic building blocks of the blues.  Only two tunes were ever released on a single, and this is the first time the rest of the material - these versions, anyway - have been released.  (Dragger has been known to revisit and re-record material from his catalog).

Of particular historical interest is "Tail's Tale," the lengthy (over sixteen minutes), rambling but riveting story about Tail's times and the recording of this disc, told by the man himself, that's tacked onto the end.

Tail Dragger is still out there, still recording, still a vital and commanding presence.  But while production may have improved a bit in the interim, little else has changed; even back then, Tail Dragger was thoroughly in control while seemingly teetering on the very edge of out-of-control.  And twelve bar blues, after all, still adhere to much the same basic template.

Good, solid stuff, made absolutely essential (for the interested) by the inclusion of "Tail's Tale," a history lesson in and of itself ...