Blues Bytes

Surprise

April 2020

John Blues Boyd
What My Eyes Have Seen ...

Gulf Coast Records

John Blues Boyd

Just when I think that I've heard of every significant older blues artist still around, along comes a surprise like 70-something John Blues Boyd, an incredible singer from California. Don't be fooled by Boyd's age, because his rich and powerful voice belies his years.

Boyd isn't exactly a newbie when it comes to recording, as a quick scan through Amazon finds five previous releases, only one of which is still available. Why this wonderful blues vocalist has eluded me to date is a mystery, but I'm sure glad that What My Eyes Have Seen... recently showed up in my mailbox.

It's good. Like really good. Not surprising since Boyd went to Kid Andersen's Greaseland studio to record the nine cuts plus nine brief interludes that share details of his life. (Andersen is very quickly turning his digs in San Jose, California into this decade's version of Muscle Shoals, with soooo many great recordings coming out of the place!). Andersen and Gulf Coast head Guy Hale collaborated with Boyd to write all of the material here, making it a thorough biography of our star's life. Andersen also plays either guitar or organ on every cut. Other featured guests include noted players, at least names that were familiar to me, like Jim Pugh (piano), Nancy Wright (sax) and June Core (drums).

My favorite part of the album is when Boyd explains in "California" how when Howlin' Wolf sang about the "California Blues" that it inspired him to pick up his Mississippi roots to move himself and wife Donna Mae to the Golden State. It's a feelgood mid-tempo shuffle with a nice sax solo from Wright and good guitar work from Andersen. That leads into the wonderful and rollicking "That Singing Roofer," sounding very much like Howlin' Wolf's music from his earlier Sun Records days, especially with Andersen getting the proper Willie Johnson vibe on guitar. Best song here, without a doubt.

Another very emotional gem is Boyd's tribute to his beloved Donna Mae, "49 Years," a slow, late night T-Bone Walker-ish blues on which he sings about the time had with his wife before she passed away. In addition to Andersen's usually exemplary guitar playing, Pugh comes in with tasteful piano work and we get solid sax accompaniment from Eric Spaulding.

Boyd sings about his time in Mississippi during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s on the very topical blues shuffle, "Ran Me Out Of Town," with Wright really killing it on her sax and Andersen showing his typical versatility with a well-placed organ solo. Speaking of the organ, I love when musicians work in the Farfisa combo organ, which Andersen does on a mid-tempo blues with a heavier back beat, "I Heard The Blues Somewhere." Ryan Walker joins in here with some tasty harmonica riffs.

While his voice is strong throughout the album, Boyd really shows off his power and range on an up-tempo blues shuffle, "In My Blood," on which he's got a Morgan Freeman-type authoritative feeling when he sings "...The blues was in my DNA ...", followed by the eerie slow blues "What My Eyes Have Seen," with Andersen adding some spooky effects to his guitar sound.

Another song that delves into our nation's history is the jazzy slow blues, "Why Did You Take That Shot," with Boyd asking why Martin Luther King had to die and questioning the motivation of the shooter. He wonders, "...Why would you hate a man just for the color of his skin ...," before stating "...The power of your hatred tied your soul into a knot ..." There's a four-piece horn section on this number, but they present a more subdued, tasteful vibe instead of blasting out a wall of sound.

Boyd and the band get a little greasy, a little funky and a little jazzy on the closing number, "I Got To Leave My Mark." The horns get to unleash a little more here while Andersen does some of his best guitar work.

What My Eyes Have Seen... is one of the best surprises that I've had in a while. It's a great album by a singer who needs to be getting more recognition in the blues world. Let's hope this album earns Mr. Boyd the kudos that he deserves.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

 

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