Blues Bytes


January 2016

Magic Sam
Black Magic
Delmark Records

Magic Sam

Delmark Records continues its wonderful series of “Deluxe Edition” releases, selecting one of the classic albums in their catalog, remastering the original songs while adding alternate tracks, previously unreleased sides, new liner notes, and never-before-seen photos to enhance the original contents. The latest to receive this treatment is Black Magic, the second Delmark release from Magic Sam that was issued only days before Sam’s tragic death on December 1, 1969 at age 32.

For this release, Sam made a few changes from his previous masterpiece, West Side Soul. He added tenor saxophonist Eddie Shaw, a longtime member of Howlin’ Wolf’s band, bassist Mack Thompson (brother of Jimmy and Syl Johnson), and the underrated pianist Lafayette Leake, a mainstay of the Chess Records studio during its heyday. The trio joined the already formidable combination of guitarist Mighty Joe Young and drummer Odie Payne, Jr., both alums of West Side Soul.

Some of Sam’s finest work was on Black Magic, including the raucous opener, Rosco Gordon’s “I Just Want A Little Bit,” and a remake of his earlier hit “Easy, Baby,” and “I Have The Same Old Blues,” which would have been a good fit in B.B. King’s repertoire. He also covers Freddy King’s “San Ho Zay,” Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me,” Andrew Brown’s “You Better Stop,” and Otis Rush’s “Keep On Lovin’ Me Baby,” but he makes them his own with his fiery singing and guitar. The sound was already great on the original release, but the remastering makes it sound even better.

There are eight alternate tracks included. Six of them were previously available on Delmark’s The Magic Sam Legacy set from 1989. The alternate of “I Just Want A Little Bit” is as good as the version that made the cut, truthfully this applies to most of the other retakes. “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” is pretty cool, too, and would have fit in just fine with the final product. The instrumental “Blues For Odie Payne” has a jazzlike quality, with some nice moments from Sam and Shaw.

The two previously unissued tracks (alternate takes of “Same Old Blues” and “What Have I Done Wrong”) fall into the same category. This had to have been a happy problem for Delmark --- to pick the best cut out of a plethora of “best cuts.”

The liner notes are very informative as well. The original notes from Jim O’Neal are still here, and so are his notes from the 1994 CD release. Delmark founder Bob Koester’s notes from The Magic Sam Legacy are included, and he also adds some updated commentary as well. In addition, there are several never before seen photos from the session and a previously unseen color picture from his legendary appearance at the Ann Arbor Blues Fest on the inside cover.

In 1969, Sam’s future looked bright. Just after the release of Black Magic, he and Delmark had agreed to speed up the recording of his third album for them so he would then be free to sign with Stax Records. From that point, there’s no telling where Sam would have gone musically. Instead, he was dead within a couple of days. Black Magic shows us just how good he was at this time, but it also causes one to wonder how much better he would have become.

--- Graham Clarke
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