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East Side SlimBy East Side Slim

CD image - Mitch Kashmar – Live At Labatt

Studebaker John – waiting on the sun…
Avanti, 2008

“Studebaker John Grimaldi is a self-taught Chicago-born bluesman and a quadruple threat musician – guitarist, harpist, vocalist and song writer. He has been on the Chicago blues scene professionally since the very early 1970s, when he formed his first version of Hawks in 1971. According to John, he was inspired to play slide guitar after seeing Hound Dog Taylor play in a small club. To quote John, “he was wild and raw, in the groove and just killin’”, the he being Hound Dog.

Studebaker John has released at least nine albums that have been released domestically, including 4 during the mid- to late-1990s on the Blind Pig label. Those albums showcased the houserockin’ style John admired after seeing Hound Dog Taylor and others live in Chicago while coming of age. This new CD, waiting on the sun…, tends to explore some different sounds, including some Latin touches, some hard rock attitude, some speed harp and even a little jammy, groovy feel here and there.

The stage name: it comes from John’s first car, a Studebaker Lark. He’s moved on from the Lark to a sharp 1963 Studebaker Silver Hawk.

The Songs:

1. Down at the Bottom -- This is an up-tempo contemporary blues-rock tune with a Latin feel. It’s peppered with some nice percussion work (ala War or Santana) and some screaming single-note guitar lines. It’s really a pretty cool song.

2. She Just Won’t Roll -- This tune is more in the vein of Studebaker John’s (S.J.) work from earlier in his career – hard shufflin’ Chicago blues. This is the tale of one of those pretty gals who likes to get the men folk all riled up…and then walks away! Girl, that just isn’t right… East Side Slim digs this cut a lot (I do enjoy a shuffle.)

3. Every Night is a Saturday Night -- This is another contemporary tune with a rock edge. Still no harmonica or more traditional-styled slide guitar, both of which S.J. is noted for. The song contains some nice organ work, but the guitar (or synthesized guitar probably) is heavily processed. It’s not a bad song; it just never really connected with me.

4. Hell to Pay -- This is one of S.J.’s trademark blues-rock numbers, the kind of thing he often recorded during his days on Blind Pig in the mid-‘90s. This cut would get a live crowd worked up & the dancers shakin’ their stuff!

5. Partner in Crime -- Sounds like a good old heavy Chicago-style shuffle to me. There’s some nice piano playing under-pinning the song, and S.J. tears loose with some fiery single-note guitar runs. At 5:30 minutes in length it runs a little long, but the piano player (Bartok Szopinski) is given some well-deserved solo space. The lyrics are fun, such as “I’m a gangster baby… gonna steal away your love”.

6. Nothing but the Rain -- This song is a mid-tempo contemporary blues-rock number with heavily distorted guitar and an organ bed. I like this cut, and it’s a nice change of pace from the previous up-tempo cuts.

7. Natural Born Boogie -- Do I hear harmonica? Wow, I never would have guessed I’d have to wait until the 7th song on an S.J. album to hear harp. Frankly, I could have waited a little longer as John went with the note-heavy speed style of John Popper or Sugar Blue. I’ll probably never be a huge fan of that style of playing (on harp or guitar) so this tune didn’t do much for me. If you happen to dig speed runs and scales then this might appeal more to you.

8. Follow Your Soul -- This song has a Latin thing going on, similar to track #1, but maybe more in the vein of Los Lonely Boys. It’s a nice track, in a style that seems to suit S.J. very well. There’s a short bridge that I found a little jarring, but the band quickly returned to ‘the groove’.

9. Tell Me So -- Finally, the harp-driven S.J. sound I’m so fond of. Yes, he plays some of the speedy runs here, but he plays much more of the time in the time-honored manner of Chicago harp players – FEEL baby! This one rides a cool loping shuffle beat, and no one gets in a hurry. The song is probably the most traditional – as in traditional electric Chicago blues – tune of the CD. Studebaker John absolutely excels at this type of thing.

10. Let It Roll On -- We’re back to contemporary blues-rock here. This one will appeal to those who like their hard rock on the bluesy side.

11. I’ll Be Rockin’ -- The title says it all – Studebaker John is rockin’ here. This is a hard rocking blooze tune and one of the few cuts on the CD where his slide work is the centerpiece of the song. The tune would fit solidly onto most any of his Blind Pig releases. It might not be ground breaking, but it’s fun; nothin’ wrong with that! He breaks the harp out, too, eventually achieving a wall of blooze sound. This tune would be great to hear in a live setting.

12. Waiting on the Sun -- This last song is a bit of a departure, and a sound I haven’t really heard much from Studebaker John. It’s closer to a hard rock or hard alternative track, but it’s cool if taken for what it is. How about hard rock psychedelic jam? It’s heavy, groovy, distorted, snaky…all at the same time.

The Verdict:

I hadn’t heard any newer music from Studebaker John is a few years, as I had missed his last couple of releases. If you’re most familiar with his past Blind Pig releases (as I was), this will be a bit of a departure for you. No, Studebaker John hasn’t suddenly developed into a crooning balladeer. His sound is still heavy and raw, but it has moved into a much more contemporary blues-rock style, relying less on traditional Chicago electric blues themes. For fans of his harp work, there’s not much of that found on this CD as the focus is squarely on S.J.’s guitar work. The songs can tend to get a little long, as 4 of 12 top 5 minutes and only 2 are under 4 minutes (just barely, too.) I am a great fan of Studebaker John’s Blind Pig work, but this one a little less so. I’m going to give the album a score of 3.0 on the STLBluesometer.

Lee Howland - aka "East Side Slim"

The STLBluesometer

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