Blues Bytes


May 2014

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John Primer & The Teardrops
You Can Make It If You Try!
Wolf Records

John Primer

Chicago blues guitarist John Primer was an integral member of Magic Slim & The Teardrops for a large chunk of his still flourishing blues career. During the live shows from his Teardrops stint, Primer would typically lead the band, consisting of Magic Slim's brother Nick Holt (bass) and Earl Howell (drums) through a few tunes leading up to the onstage arrival of the star of the show. These brief shows by Primer and the band were of such high quality that they were never regarded as a step down from the main act.

Wolf Records, an untiring chronicler of all things Chicago blues, has released a collection of these live recordings, You Can Make It If You Try!, crediting the band as John Primer & The Teardrops. These live performances were recorded in the early 1990s from various appearances by The Teardrops in Vienna, Austria. Sound quality is so impeccable that I first thought they were studio recordings until detecting the unobtrusive audience background noise.

The title cut, a slow blues cover of an Otis Rush classic, is as good as it gets, with Primer and his guitar whipping the audience into a blues fervor. I love Rush's music as much as the next person, but I'll put this version up against the original. According to the liner notes, Primer and his wife cried when the recording was played back to them years later. Man, that's the power of the blues!

Listening to "You Can Make It If You Try!" over and over, with four (4!) incendiary guitar solos from Primer spread over its nine-minute length, justifies the cost of this CD on its own. But wait ... there are 10 more cuts here, all equally as good. Most songs are blues classics that we've heard many times over the years, but John and The Teardrops infuse them with their own style and personality.

Primer throws down a masterful guitar solo to open the nine-minute slow blues, Muddy Waters' "If I Could Hold You In My Arms." Equally good is the rendition of the Robert Johnson classic, "Love In Vain," in  quite different from the original version as the band stretches this one out to nearly seven minutes with several Primer guitar solos.

"Standing At The Crossroads" is a classic blues shuffle, but with a style described in the liner notes as utilizing the Teardrops' "Lump" style of accompaniment, in which Primer simultaneously plays four parts on his guitar --- rhythm, baseline, lead and slide. (Be sure to read the liner notes for more information on this "Straightforward Lump" style).

Primer shows his versatility on the guitar with the chords he throws down on a cover of Albert King's version of the classic "Corinna," with more of a rhythm & blues treatment here. The CD ends with an extended version of Muddy's slow blues "Long Distance Call." Primer spent some time in Mr. Waters' band, and I'm sure that Muddy would smile if he could hear this version of one of his classic tunes.

Other songs, all equally good as the ones I've already mentioned, include another Muddy Waters number, "Sweet Man," Stevie Ray Vaughn's "My Little Sister," Hound Dog Taylor's "Big Fat Woman," Junior Parker's "Don't You Hear Me Crying For You," and Guitar Slim's "Things I Used To Do."

Throughout the album, Holt and Howell provided rock steady accompaniment, never intruding on Primer but laying down a solid blues foundation, just like they did for Magic Slim for many, many years.

While these recordings aren't brand new, they are every bit as good as anything else you'll hear this year. Do yourself a favor and add this great CD to your blues collection.

--- Bill Mitchell



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