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
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