Blues Bytes


May 2019

Tony Mathews
 Condition: Blue
Hightone Records / Alligator Records / Shout Factory

Tony Mathews

One disc that I have enjoy listening to on a regular basis for a number of years is Condition: Blue, a great set from the early ’80s by guitarist/vocalist Tony Mathews. Though currently out of print, it’s still relatively easy to find.

Mathews is an Oklahoma native who got his start singing in church and with gospel quartets. He picked up the guitar at 15, and was playing in clubs at 16. Later he played with Willie Wright and the Aces and recorded with Don and Bob for Chess Records. After moving to Los Angeles at 20, he played with the Sims Twins and toured with Little Johnnie Taylor, later becoming a studio musician and touring with Little Richard. He served three different stints with Ray Charles.

Condition: Blue is the blues the way it sounded in the late ’70s and early ’80s --- blues with a taste of funk, R&B, and jazz. There weren’t a lot of the rock influences that came along a few years later in the decade. It bears a strong resemblance to what Robert Cray and Joe Louis Walker brought to the table later with their Hightone releases. Mathews has a smooth vocal delivery that no doubt owes to his early days singing gospel. It’s a style that would have been a seamless fit with the R&B of the day, too. His guitar work is first rate as well, always at the right place at the right time.

The opener, “I Really Got The Blues Today,” is horn-driven blues with a funky edge. “White Powder” is a slow blues where Mathews laments his significant other’s drug addiction. It features some excellent soloing from Mathews. “Coming Home To You” is more blues with funk, while “Uncle Joe” is a smooth, low-key reminiscence about a family member. “Lovely Linda (So True)” is jazzy R&B. Meanwhile, the upbeat “Ann Marie” leans more toward the blues side of R&B.

“Laid Off” is a slow burner focusing on the economic issues that plagued the late ’70s and early ’80s. “Let Me Know When You’re Comin’” is a lively track that blends funk and soul and would have been a great fit on 70’s-era R&B radio, reminding me a lot of what I was listening to in those days. “The Changes” is a soul/blues ballad reflecting on the ever-changing mind of woman.

The final track is actually a bonus track on the later releases of the album --- a smooth, jazz-inflected instrumental called “Arkansas Bennie.”

Mathews only recorded one more album, Alien In My Own Home, in 1989 on the long-gone Ichiban label out of Atlanta. He currently resides in Oklahoma where he was inducted into the state’s Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997.

Condition: Blue has been released by several different labels over the years. Hightone Records initially released it in the early ’80s, and it was picked by Alligator Records sometime in the mid ’80s (along with Hightone albums from Phillip Walker and Lonesome Sundown). Hightone later re-released it on their HMG subsidiary in 1997, and it also became available digitally via Shout! Factory in 2014.

Though the album has had a bit of a checkered release history, Condition: Blue is well worth seeking out if you’re a fan of the smooth urban blues of the late ’70s/early ’80s.

--- Graham Clarke



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