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September 2014

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William Clarke
Groove Time
Alligator Records

William Clarke

William Clarke was already a mainstay on the Southern California blues scene when he signed with Alligator Records in 1990, first releasing Blowin' Like Hell, the first of four albums done for the label prior to his untimely death in 1996. Everything that Clarke ever recorded was top-notch West Coast swingin' harmonica blues, with the influence of George "Harmonica" Smith and Shaky Jake very evident in his music.

Every William Clarke fan could make a case for their favorite CD from this giant of a bluesman, but the disc that I keep coming back to is the 1994 release Groove Time. Perhaps the tiebreaker for me is when Clarke shouts out "groove time!!!" to raise the energy level partway through the song "Your Love Is Real."

Groove Time gets underway with Clarke wailing away on the harp on the party stomper, "Daddy Pinocchio," with the horn section of John Marrotti, Jon Viau and Troy Jennings giving the tune that big swing sound. Following is another fine example of Clarke's versatility, with "Saturday Night Blues" containing a solid New Orleans rhythm.

"The Complainer's Boogie Woogie" has Clarke trading resonant riffs with Jennings' baritone sax as if it's a competition to see who can get the most down and dirty. Clarke shows here that the harmonica has a rightful spot in any decent horn section. Just when you think both guys should be out of wind, they close the number with a prolonged instrumental break. And then, lest the listener is tempted to think that Clarke's harmonica playing overshadows his beefy vocals, he pours out his heart on the slow blues, "This Is My Last Goodbye."

The instrumental number, "A Good Girl Is Hard To Find," straddles the blurred lines between blues, jazz and swing better than any other song on the CD, highlighted by the tastefully exquisite guitar work of former Mighty Flyer Alex Schultz and the piano playing of John "Juke" Logan. Of course, Clarke gets so many diverse sounds out of his chromatic harmonica that you'll swear there's more than one harp player on-board. Another instrumental later in the album, "Blowin' The Family Jewels," is a rapid shuffle that primarily features Clarke's diatonic harmonica work with more good guitar accompaniment from Schultz and a rock-steady drum beat from Bob Newham.

"Broke And Hungry" is an up-tempo blues shuffle that contains one of my favorite lines: "... I ain't never loved but four women in my life ... that's my mother and my sister, my darling, and my wife ..." While a majority of the songs on Groove Time are Clarke originals, this one's a cover of an old blues song by Sleepy John Estes, although this version is mostly unrecognizable to the original.

Another standout is the slow, late night blues number "Chicago Blues," this time with Kid Ramos providing outstanding yet understated guitar accompaniment and Fred Kaplan coming in with nice blues piano.

The CD ends with a jump blues shuffle, "Your Love Is Real," that will leave the listener smiling with it's feelgood vibe. Ramos is back with several incendiary guitar solos that are just soooo good. At about the halfway point of the song Clarke implores the band to pick it up by shouting out "groove time," thus thje name of the CD, before launching into a succession of harp riffs. What a great way to wrap up a fine CD.

Clarke left us way too soon, passing on at the way too young age of 45. But he left us with a lot of great, great music. Groove Time is just one example of Clarke's rich discography, 15 songs of pure blues bliss. If you don't already own everything this man ever recorded, well .... what are you waiting for???

--- Bill Mitchell

 

 

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