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September/October 2013

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Johnny Rawls
Remembering O.V.
Catfood Records

Johnny Rawls

During the 1970s, Johnny Rawls served as O.V. Wright’s music director and guitarist, keeping the band intact even after the legendary soul singer’s death in 1980, when they backed some of R&B’s greatest acts like Little Milton, Little Johnny Taylor, and Bobby “Blue” Bland. Rawls took what he learned from his mentor and has carved out an impressive career himself, earning regular BMA nominations in the Soul Blues category, winning Soul Blues Album of the Year in 2010.

Rawls has been reluctant to undertake an entire album of his songs (though he did turn in an excellent version of “I Don’t Do Windows” on his mid-'90s effort with L.C. Luckett on Rooster Blues’ Can’t Sleep At Night) . Thankfully, Bill Wax, former blues program director for Sirius-XM, Catfood Records label head Bob Trenchard, and former Marvin Gaye and LTD guitarist Johnny McGhee were able to talk Rawls into covering “Ace of Spades” on the album of the same name, which actually won the 2010 BMA for Soul Blues Album of the Year.

Rawls began including a Wright song on his subsequent albums (“Blind, Crippled, and Crazy” on Memphis Still Got Soul in 2011 and “Eight Men, Four Women” on last year’s Soul Survivor), which finally culminated in this effort, Remembering O.V. (Catfood Records), which includes reprises of those two songs, “Ace of Spades,” and several more songs that will be familiar to Wright fans…..”Precious, Precious,” “Don’t Let My Baby Ride,” and “I’ve Been Searching.”

In addtion, the remaining three songs feature a very special guest, soul blues legend (and former Wright labelmate) Otis Clay, who teams with Rawls on the smoldering opener “Into Something (I Can’t Shake Loose)” and “Nickel and a Nail.” They also pair up for the album closer, the lone non-Wright song on the disc, “Blaze of Glory,” a warm tribute to Wright and Little Johnny Taylor, with Clay and Rawls vowing to help keep their memory and music alive.

As stated before, Rawls doesn’t exactly sing like O.V. Wright (who does??), but his style and delivery is very close to the model, as close as anybody could get and he and Clay make a great team (hopefully, a future collaboration is in the works…..nudge, nudge). As on other Catfood releases, the Rays (Trenchard – bass, McGhee – guitar, Dan Ferguson – keyboards, Richy Puga – drums, percussion, Andy Roman – saxophones, Mike Middleton – trumpet, Robert Claiborne – trombone) provide superlative backing, with sweet background vocals from the Iveys.

I’ll make this simple…..if you’re a fan of soul blues music, there is no reason why Remembering O.V. should not be in your collection. It’s soul music at its finest by two of the genre’s driving forces. If you’re a newcomer to the music, follow up with some of O.V. Wright’s own recordings and you will never look back.

--- Graham Clarke
Read Graham's blog



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