Eight years in the making: as fine a modern recording of old-school Mississippi juke joint blues — right down to the chainsaw-sounding, tremolo-heavy guitar accompanied by vocals that often sound as if they’re coming through a megaphone — as one is likely to find.
It’s Little Victor’s sixth solo release. (He’s also collaborated on two albums each with the late Louisiana Red and with Sophie Kay, among others, and lately has been producing vinyl-sourced compilations for Koko Mojo Records such as “Burning Frets: The Rhythm, The Blues, The Hot Guitar.”)
His apparent mission on “Deluxe Lo-Fi” is to share pleasures derived from raw, heartfelt blues in the vein of Howlin’ Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Willie Johnson, John Lee Hooker and R.L. Burnside. And while he may or may not be familiar with the works of Tony Joe White, the Blasters and the Stray Cats, some of their work comes to mind when this reviewer listens to this set — most likely because they, too, were influenced by the aforementioned greats.
Mostly made up of original compositions, the exceptionally outstanding album finishes with three covers: Tampa Red’s “Chicago Moan Blues,” Willie Dixon’s “Rockin’ Daddy” and Muddy Waters’ “Country Boy.”
One trip through this set leaves no doubt that, as Little Victor has proclaimed in the media, “lo-fi is the new hi-fi.” And as he claims in the liner notes, “I play guitar the way I really want to and not the way I’m ‘supposed’ to.” But inquisitive minds might wonder how this sweet sound is achieved, so Good New Music caught up with the Beale Street Blues Bopper (aka the King of Grit).
He shared with GNM via email that “the whole point here and the ‘concept’ of this album is about songs captured on old magnetic tape with vintage tube equipment at great vintage studios. … I reckon the last two songs were recorded at a ‘modern’ state-of-the-art studio in Hollywood by the great Jeff ‘Mox’ Moxley but both songs were bounced through a vintage tube desk on magnetic tape, so the outcome sounds just like the other songs and has the same ‘vibe’ and feel.”
Tracks 1 through 12 were recorded at Suprovox Recording Studio in Finland with guitarist Jo’ Buddy and the Down Home Kings (drummer Down Home King III and upright bassist J.P. Prepula). Tracks 13 and 14 were done at Big Jon Atkinson’s old Bigtone Records in Hayward, Calif. (before the studio moved to Virginia), during sessions for the Little Victor-produced album “Travelin’ With the Blues” by Vancouver, British Columbia-based singer/harmonica ace Harpdog Brown. Tracks 15 and 16 were made at Landsberg Studios in North Hollywood.
Jo’ Buddy and the Down Home Kings are “three great (musicians) I worked with for about a decade in northern Europe before doing these recordings,” Little Victor told GNM. “It was a three-day thing at (blues musician and studio owner) Tomi Leino’s place … at the end of a tour with Louisiana Red in the summer of 2010. We headlined a cool little festival in Finland on a Saturday night. The first session was on a Sunday morning and Red and his wife, Dora, didn’t have to catch a plane back home until the next morning. Red wanted to guest on a few songs, but he was not able to make it. He was really tired, and he could not physically climb the ladder that … led to the studio (which) at that time (was) on top of a barn.
“He gave me his guitar, a green 1950s Kay Stratotone with one pickup — the same guitar Elmore James used on his ‘Dust My Broom.’ Red used that guitar for his ‘slide’ songs in open D. I tried to tune it in my own version of ‘standard’ tuning — I tune a full step below the regular concert pitch — but with little luck. Red was using steel guitar strings on that guitar, so it was impossible to play anything that wasn’t slide guitar. So I tuned it back in open D and I recorded ‘Slow Down Baby’ and ‘Rocks’ using Louisiana Red’s guitar — the same guitar he used to play slide on (his albums) ‘Back to the Black Bayou’ and ‘Memphis Mojo.’ I also used two of his slides for my album.
“I recorded the other 10 songs from these sessions on an Epiphone Broadway from the ’80s. The whole thing was recorded on magnetic tape. Tomi Leino recorded over the tape by mistake, so I thought all this stuff was lost forever. Luckily a rough mix done quickly right after the sessions at the studio was recently found. These are basically the first 12 songs. The great Steve Lucky in California added some piano on some tracks and sent them back to me.
“… I used a vintage Harmony H-75 with DeArmond gold foil pickups on ‘Gambler’s Boogie’ — I bought it for 300 bucks at a pawn shop before the Bigtone sessions — and a fabulous 1958 Harmony H-62 for ‘Country Boy’ … (that) was lent to me by the great Rick Holmstrom. … I am now the proud owner of an identical 1958 Harmony H-62 that Rick used to play back in the day, though.”
On three songs, Little Victor focuses on vocals and lets others handle the guitar duties: “What’s the Matter Now” (Jo’ Buddy), “Chicago Moan Blues” (Harpdog Brown guitarist Jordie Edmonds) and “Rockin’ Daddy” (Big Jon Atkinson).
1. My Mind
2. Graveyard Boogie
3. I Done Got Tired
4. This Letter
5. Slow Down Baby (feat. Steve Lucky)
6. What Kind Of Girl Are You (feat. Tom Leino)
7. Some Ole Day
8. I Wanna Make You Mine
9. Too Late Baby
11. So Blue
12. What’s The Matter Now (feat. Jo’ Buddy)
13. Gambler’s Boogie (feat. Danny Michel)
14. Chicago Moan Blues (feat. Harpdog Brown)
15. Rockin’ Daddy (feat. Big Jon Atkinson and Carl Sonny Leyland)
16. Country Boy (feat. Kim Wilson)
Total time: 1:01:50