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Big Joe Louis & Steve Weston + Papa George Band
Charlie's, 26th Sept 2006
Review by David Atkinson

Charlie's is a decent-sized, welcoming venue in the city and is quite opposed to the ribald, tourist-packed Ain't Nothin' But... where I'm used to seeing Big Joe Louis and his Blues Kings play. The atmosphere was nice and relaxed but I wasn't wearing a suit so I felt a little underdressed. I'm not about to criticise the clientele though - paying customers are vital and it's good to know that even on a tuesday night places like this can draw enough punters. 
 
First and foremost Big Joe Louis is a blues singer and he sings songs about love, loss and getting it on with big ol' gals. He has a powerful voice and great phrasing and he sings and plays hard. Original tracks such as She Was All The World To Me (a great song), Bad Old Man and Back Door Slam are good, honest blues tunes as instantly familiar as the themes they deal with. There's no secret to playing blues like this other than being able to do it right.

They're a charismatic pair and as tuned in to one another as it's possible to get, and even without bass and drums Joe and Steve got the rhythms and syncopation going and didn't let up. Joe's tasty P90-equipped arch-top guitar (played with fingers and thumb) was plugged into a grumbling brown-face fender amp and was unadorned save for some tremolo on a few tracks. It's a sound that hard to recreate on a solid body electric, which sacrifices some tone for sustain, louder volume and relative freedom from feedback. Anyway, it was a lesson in economy and genuine rhythm playing; chubby chords and wiry stabs of lead. They also proved - for me at least - that all you need sometimes is one chord. Provided it's the right one, that is.


 
Miles Davis thought Little Walter Jacobs was one of the most important musical innovators of the last century, and I can't see much wrong with that argument.
Amplified harp is probably the defining characteristic of Chicago blues but it's only really live that the whole range and tone of the instrument can be appreciated. Harp players will give most guitarists a run for their money when it comes to fetishising equipment but unlike the guitar most of the harp's tone is generated by the player - his hands and body (in Steve's case possibly his old-school trousers too). Whatever, there's something about his sound that upsets my mind; throughout the set I found myself repeatedly saying 'Daaaaaaamn...'. He sounds so good BiL put him on a t-shirt. High praise indeed. (Buy it here - all proceeds go towards the running costs of this site)
 
It was not as rough and tough as hearing the full Blues Kings in action but I welcomed the chance to hear this slightly stripped back sound in a bigger space. They've got the songs and the sound and should be heard by any self-respecting blues fan in this big city. Check them out.
 

I think Ernest Hemingway said of F.Scott Fitzgerald "If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby, I was sure he could write an even better one." This kind of sums up Papa George's set a Charlie's last night. He's clearly a proficient musician who loves what he does but I just wanted to yell out 'Come on! You're better than this!'  It was a typical 'might is right' display, full of seemingly endless guitar solos. I was a bit taken aback when I realised that what I thought was the third song turned out to still be the first. It was that long...
 
However, while I can lament the abundance of guitar-fuelled blues rock in town, I've absolutely nothing against those for whom it makes the perfect night out. Live music is a good thing. Kudos then to venues such as Charlie's for their broad range, but what is a pity is that the wailing siren-song of the 'guitar hero' drowns out the old AND the new so lot's of folk think that that's just what blues is. A look at these pages tells you quite the opposite though - there's some awesome stuff going on London. BJL and West Weston are kind of our own Jimmy Rodgers and Little Walter - they just totally have it, and you can catch them on a goddamn tuesday night!