The Mannish Boys, Live & In Demand

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Assembled by southern California blues activist and occasional singer/harmonica player Randy Chortkoff, the Mannish Boys are a “supergroup” that performs revue-style, with different members, most of whom also have solo careers or belong to other bands, stepping in and out of the spotlight. The frontman and nominal leader is vocalist Finis Tasby, who sings like a lighter, smoother B. B. King and is aided by the gritty Mississippi/Chicago singer and harpman Johnny Dyer. Pianist Leon Blue (Ike and Tina Turner Revue, Albert Collins) often shows up, as well as guitarists Frank “Paris Slim” Goldwasser and Kirk Fletcher. The current rhythm section is Tom Leavey on bass and Richard “Big Foot” Innes on drums.

Blues supergroup lets it all hang out on this excellent live set.

They have most of the pros and cons of other supergroups, in any genre. These guys are seasoned pros, who can play together tightly on short notice; they confirm that no matter how good individual soloists are, the groove counts for at least as much, if not more, in blues. But no matter how tastefully and impeccably they play, they are classicists to a fault; their idea of a bold move is to give Muddy Waters 'Chicago stomp “I'm Ready” a Slim Harpo-style swamp blues arrangement. And they are so concerned with demonstrating all that impeccable taste that sometimes they simply fail to generate much excitement; it's blues under a glass dome, blues as a museum piece. As skeptics used to say of Motown, “Every bead of sweat is in place.”

Or, at least, that's how it went until Kid Ramos came along for the second album. Despite an abundance of technique, Ramos is no “scholar” of the blues; his four solo albums, three of them available at eMusic are rocking, rollicking party blues, and that's the spirit in which he kicks off the Mannish Boys'live set. Backed only by bass and drums, he burns for nearly five reverb-soaked minutes on his Texas boogie instrumental “Kid's Jump.” In the process, he becomes the live wire who lights a fire under this band. “Mannish Boy,” the Bo Diddley/Muddy Waters title that gave the group its name, struts and menaces; Goldwasser's shimmering slide guitar frames Dyer's vocals beautifully on “Howlin'Wolf,” and Ramos'spooky, swelling lead and snaking rhythm work threaten to steal “As the Years Go Passing By,” a singer's song, from Tasby; “Goin'Crazy Over T.V.” and “It's Too Bad” flaunt a go-for-broke attack missing on the studio versions.