Blues Bytes


January 2009

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Vernon "Chico" Banks
Candy Lickin' Man

Chico Banks

When Vernon “Chico” Banks died suddenly in early December, the blues world lost one of its brightest young stars. The 47- year-old Banks had been playing since the age of 14, when he got his start in a Top 40 band in the Chicago area. After that auspicious beginning, he stuck to the blues and R&B, backing artists like Johnny Christian, Big Time Sarah, Magic Slim, Buddy Guy, Otis Clay, James Cotton, Little Milton, Melvin Taylor, Koko Taylor, and Mavis Staples. He also appeared on albums by Willie Kent, Freddie Roulette, and Pops Staples.

From an early age, Banks not only absorbed the music of the blues from artists like Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, and Albert King,, but also took in other styles that were prevalent at the time as well, including the soul/funk of Earth, Wind, & Fire, the Isley Brothers, the Ohio Players, and Parliament/Funkadelic. He also listened to jazz guitarists like George Benson and Wes Montgomery, and, yes, few guitarists grew up in the ’70s without being influenced either directly or indirectly by Jimi Hendrix, and Banks was no exception. Last, but certainly not least, Banks’ father, Jessie, was a bluesman himself and played guitar with the gospel group, the Mighty Clouds of Joy.

In 1997, Banks released his debut album on Evidence Records. Candy Lickin’ Man was an incredible opening statement and a marvelous showcase for one of the best young guitarists to come out of Chicago in a long time. Every one of the 14 tracks seemed to have at least one jaw-dropping guitar break, and his playing showed all the influences listed above….blues, soul, gospel, and funk. He also took full advantage of the wah-wah pedal, something rarely utilized effectively in the blues. His vocal style was a bit unusual, as he possessed a high-pitched delivery that was probably better suited for the soul and R&B numbers on the disc. However, there’s enough guitar wizardry present that most listeners won’t care.

Of the 14 tracks, five were original compositions either written by Banks or with his brother Stanley. All are standouts, particularly the funky title track, “Red Dress,” and “It Must Be Love,” which features Mavis Staples on vocals. The other nine tracks will be familiar to most blues fans….an excellent cover of Albert King’s “Angel of Mercy” (one of four songs associated with King that Banks tackled, the others being “Truckload of Lovin’,” “Got To Be Some Changes Made,” and “Down The Road I Go”) a sizzling version of King Curtis’ “Soul Serenade,” Magic Sam’s “All Your Love” (featuring trombonist Big James Montgomery on vocals), and a sweltering take on King Floyd’s “Groove Me,” being the highlights.

As mentioned, Banks is simply phenomenal, but he has plenty of great support from Ronnie Hicks (keyboards, Hammond B3), Ken Hampton (bass), and Lester Holmes (drums), along with the Chicago Playboy Horns (Montgomery on trombone and Charles Kimble on tenor sax).

As fantastic as this disc was, Banks never released a follow-up. However, Candy Lickin’ Man will always remind us of what a talent Chico Banks was, and how much he’ll be missed.

--- Graham Clarke


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