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July 2003

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Magic Sam
West Side Soul
Black Magic


Magic Sam - West Side SoulMagic Sam Maghett may not have been the father of the West Side sound of Chicago blues, but he was definitely one of the leading contenders for the title in the early '60s. With an already impressive list of singles for the Cobra label in the late 50’s, Magic Sam ended up on the Delmark label in the mid '60s after years of struggling with management problems, as well as problems with the musician’s union, and recorded what are considered to be two of the best blues albums of all time --- West Side Soul and Black Magic.

West Side Soul earned a five-star review in Downbeat magazine and was considered by author Peter Guralnick (Last Train To Memphis, Feel Like Going Home, Searching for Robert Johnson) to be “a perfect album.” It’s hard to argue with those opinions. It was definitely unlike anything else heard at the time, as Sam was able to fuse the sounds of soul music and urban blues with the raw electric blues up from the Mississippi Delta that had become so popular in Chicago during the 1950’s. It didn’t hurt a bit that Sam had a voice that many soul singers would have killed for, full of spirit and passion, and a stinging, vibrato-drenched guitar attack.

Fronting a four-piece band that included Mighty Joe Young on guitar and Odie Payne, Jr. on drums, Sam simply grabs you from the beginning with “That’s All I Need” and never lets go. Wisely, producer (and Delmark head) Bob Koester allowed the band to play beyond the normal three-minute span of most songs of the time, which allowed the band to really stretch things out.

Other classics tracks include “I Feel So Good (I Wanna Boogie),” which will definitely put a hop in your step, a remake of his first hit, “All Your Love,” and what is considered to be the seminal recording of “Sweet Home Chicago” (the standard of the standard, if you will), but there’s not a bad song on the entire album. For the CD, an alternate take of “I Don’t Want No Woman” has been added that is just as good as the final take.

While it is indeed a classic as is, it would be nice if Delmark would consider releasing a remastered edition with a little fuller sound.

Magic Sam - Black MagicFor his sophomore effort for Delmark, Black Magic, Sam added saxman Eddie Shaw, bassist Mack Thompson, and pianist Lafayette Leake to the returning Young and Payne, with even more successful results. He gives Young and Shaw plenty of room to solo. Shaw’s presence on the album adds a great deal, and Leake does a fine job on the ivories.

There’s a remake of “Easy Baby” (with that familiar melody that was also present in “All Your Love” and also in this album’s “It’s All Your Fault,” in addition to several of his earlier Cobra sides) that is a bit mellower than the original side for Cobra. Other standout cuts include “I Just Want A Little Bit” (with some nice guitar by Young), “I Have The Same Old Blues,” which sounds like it came out of the B.B. King catalog, a fiery remake of Freddy King’s “San-Ho-Zay,” and the rousing closer, a cover of “Keep Loving Me Baby.”

Of the two albums, I’ve always preferred Black Magic, maybe because it’s looser and a bit more ragged than its predecessor, but it wins by a razor-thin margin.

Tragically, Magic Sam’s early death at age 32 on December 1, 1969 (only a few weeks after the release of Black Magic), brought on by years of bad habits, late nights, and endless touring, robbed us of what might have been. These two albums, deservedly enshrined in the Blues Hall of Fame, should be in every fan’s collection.

--- Graham Clarke

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