Blues Bytes


February 2009

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Bobby Radcliff
Dresses Too Short
Black Top

Bobby Radcliff

By now, Blues Bytes readers should know that when I do a Flashback, there’s a better-than-average chance that it’s going to cover a record released by Black Top Records. This label, along with Alligator and Rounder Records, served as a launching pad for my 20+ years of listening to the blues. Black Top’s mix of resurrected blues legends and fascinating newcomers led me to expand my musical collection by either seeking out the legends’ original recordings or by checking out the artists that influenced the newcomers.

It was a sad time when the label went belly-up in the late ’90s. Many of Black Top’s releases earned Exalted Transfer Status, when I finally made the switch to CD format, but unfortunately they were out of print and unavailable. Thank goodness for Jeff Hannusch, the New Orleans-based music writer who often contributed liner notes to Black Top releases. It was he who kept a steady supply of Black Top CDs available on Ebay, so I was able to replace many of my favorites.

One of my favorites seemed to be a newcomer when his Black Top debut came out in 1989, but Bobby Radcliff had spent nearly two decades dazzling audiences in Washington D.C., Chicago, and New York. Ratcliff grew up in Maryland, and learned to play classical guitar, but his teacher showed him some blues licks and he started buying blues records. He also had easy access to the D.C. blues clubs, where guitarists like Bobby Parker showed him the ropes. In his late teens, Radcliff made the journey to Chicago to meet his idol, Magic Sam, several different times. In the late ’70s, Radcliff moved to New York City, where he soon became a fixture on the blues scene.

After signing with Black Top, Radcliff released his debut recording, Dresses Too Short, which revealed not only his lightning fast, fiery guitar, but also a great R&B vocal style that showed the influence of Magic Sam. Sometimes, it sounds like there are two guitarists present at the session, but except for an exceptional cover of Buddy Guy’s “Stick Around,” and the smoking instrument, “Bonehead,” both of which features Ronnie Earl on rhythm guitar, it’s all Radcliff.

Other than “Bonehead,” which Radcliff co-wrote with Earl, and a rearrangement of the traditional tune, “Five Long Years” (“Next Woman I Marry”), the remainder of the set consists of cover tunes from artists like Dyke & the Blazers (a thundering version of “Ugh!”), Otis Rush (a splendid take of “Keep Loving Me Baby”), and Syl Johnson (the funky title track). Dave Bartholomew’s “Going Home Tomorrow,” gets a manic reworking, as does “Alimony Blues.” “Hard Road To Travel,” slows things down a bit tempo-wise, but Radcliff’s guitar work is stinging and fierce. An electrifying remake of “Kool and the Gang” closes the set.

Backing Radcliff on this set is the remainder of his working trio, Dave Hofstra (bass) and Richard “Dickie” Dworkin (drums). Producer Ron Levy added keyboards and wrote the tune, “You Haven’t Hurt Me,” and the Kamikaze Horns, led by Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff, added even more punch to the recording.

When Dresses Too Short was initially released, fans raved about Radcliff’s astonishing guitar wizardry. He went on to record three other discs for Black Top in the ’90s: 1991’s Universal Blues, 1994’s There’s A Cold Grave In Your Way, and a 1997 live set recorded at the Rynborn Theatre in Antrim, New Hampshire. In 2004, he released Natural Ball. Though he may be working under a lower profile than in the early ’90s, Bobby Radcliff is still a force to be reckoned with as a blues guitarist, and Dresses Too Short was the release that started it all.

--- Graham Clarke


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