By James Walker
Invented in 1709, the piano produces a greater range of musical sounds than most other instruments. On a piano, a musician can play melody and harmony at the same time.
There was a time when the piano was the lead instrument, or only instrument, for a musical performance. Somewhere along the line, the guitar took over - relegating the piano to background harmony or out the door completely. That is a shame because a good pianist can pound a boogie and start a party faster than any other musician in the room!
A seeker can still find great piano music. The luckiest seekers will find Charles Goering, better known as Barrelhouse Chuck, who can acutely play an extraordinary variety of loud and soft notes with great speed.
Barrelhouse Chuck has a great voice with exceptional timbre and plenty of range as proven on his six previous albums. But for this latest release, Chuck has decided to showcase the piano and Farfisa organ and his prowess upon them by giving us 16 instrumentals on 25 Years of Chicago Blues Piano – Volume 2.
Guitar, harmonica, saxophone, bass, and drum fans need not worry, Goering shares the limelight with accomplished veterans and passed heroes, too. Every tune has true legends on the cuts: for drummers - S.P. Leary, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, or Kenny Smith, and Sam Lay appears on one track. John Carpenter slaps skins on the 10th track.
Wisconsin’s under appreciated guitar virtuoso Billy Flynn appears on eight tracks while Hash Brown, Ben Andrews, and Rich Kirch also appear on their six-strings. Bassists include Muddy Waters alum Calvin Jones, Rick Holmes, Betty Ducre, Michael Peters, and Frank Bandy.
Harmonica and horn guests showcase Harmonica Todd Levine, John Tanner, Dave Clark, and Martin “Van” Kelly.
Goering even shares the keyboard duties with Chicago great Erwin Helfer on one track and John McKaba on another track co-written by him.
“Betsy’s Boogie” is the first track where Barrelhouse Chuck kick starts this blues CD with a bang. There’s piano, guitar, drums, everything you could want in an up-tempo shuffle. Check out the two solos in the middle, Billy Flynn on guitar, and Chuck on the ivories. This song hits your eardrums with gale force, and it proves that Chuck’s band has mastered every aspect of its instrumental music.
“Leroy Carr’s Hop”—If dancing listeners have two left feet, they can still jump up and down to this fantastic tune. It’s jolly and upbeat, and Barrelhouse Chuck has a ball sliding his fingers down the piano keyboard for the quick riffs that sound like a slide whistle. This song is like one you might hear in a 1920s speakeasy, one of those that still had dance-hall girls and giant, frothing mugs of beer. It’s a party song, celebratory, and sure to put one in a “hopping good” mood!
“Nutty Boogie,” “Farfisa B3 Boogie for Steve Winwood,” and “Viola’s Stomp” - You’ll want to play these three songs as a trio in order to get a taste of the most classic Chuck. Barrelhouse is most famous for his swinging instrumentals, and for good reason. “Nutty Boogie” is a duet with Erwin Helfer – picture a pianist with 20 fingers on steroids, and you’ll get the idea.
“...B3 Boogie...” is so catchy, so techno-sounding, and so short that it might be on your next video game’s soundtrack. It features guest and co-author Jim McKaba on organ with Chuck on his Farfisa. A Farfisa is an organ from Italy. Says Goering, “I am the only guy in the blues playing one. Everybody likes their Hammond, and God bless them all, but the Farfisa, to me - first of all it is more portable - it's got a real nasty, greasy, dirty tone. It is not jazzy.”
Grab your sweetheart for a quick dance with the jazzy and jitterbugging “Viola’s Stomp.” It completes this “holy trinity” of piano blues instrumentals by showcasing Chuck on piano and Ben Andrews on acoustic guitar.
“Blues for Little Brother Montgomery”—When listeners contrast this 4th track with “Leroy Carr’s Hop,” they will hear the two distinct sides of blues songs. There’s a “light side” with a bouncy beat and plenty of cheerful high notes and a “dark side” as displayed in “Blues for Little Brother....” This instrumental is melancholy and contemplative - a wordless ballad to calm one’s soul. What a beautiful ode to the legendary pianist who wrote and played piano on Buddy Guy’s signature song, “First time I Met The Blues” – Chess single #1753.
On the 5th song, “Hangin’ Round the House,” a listener’s first reaction will be, “Whoever the harmonica player is, he’s good!” Said howlin’ harpist is Harmonica Todd Levine, who also composed this instrumental. One imagines “Hangin’ Round the House” to be a laid-back, low-key, and lazy activity, but none of these adjectives describes the musicians’ work here. “Lively”, “luscious”, and “low-down” would definitely be better fits! Check out the call-and-response between Hash Brown and Todd.
“Walkin’ The Ceiling” finds Billy Flynn channeling Hound Dog Taylor’s burning slide guitar on this song written by Hound Dog himself.
The Ventures’ “Walk, Don’t Run,” redone here as “Walk Don’t Run 69,” was a big hit surf instrumental. The 7th track finds Barrelhouse Chuck on organ and Billy Flynn on guitar and bass with Kenny Smith on drums creating a credible cover with real pizzazz. Barrelhouse’s jolly Farfisa organ and Flynn’s playful guitar will send one “back to the beach” riding some daydreaming brain waves!
“On the House”—There’s a lot going on in this song, and it will take more than one listen to peel back all the instrumental layers. Of course, one hears Barrelhouse Chuck’s fine piano and Hash Brown’s delicious and ambitious Elvis/ Scotty Moore-style guitar. Listen closely and you’ll also hear Dave Clark and Martin “Van” Kelly on saxophone. They give a tangy taste of “big-band swing” to this ditty. It might remind listeners of the saxophone classic “In the Mood”, but “On the House” has a little more oomph, and a LOT more complexity.
“Salute to Sunnyland Slim”—Listeners might want to take up Fred Astaire’s art after hearing this toe-tapping tribute. It would certainly be the perfect song for a routine! Don’t dare call this song “jazz”, though, because instead of a disorganized mishmash of notes, it’s spontaneous without being too “off the wall”. The main percussion here is Willie Smith’s suave work on the cymbals rather than the drums themselves. One will find himself nodding along with the beat driven by Goering’s right hand and underscored by Calvin Jones’ bass line.
The 13th cut has never been heard before. Written by Goering, “Kingpin” is an Albert King sounding tune with Billy Flynn proving his versatility. Muddy Waters alums S.P. Leary and Calvin Jones appear with John Tanner on harmonica.
“Wah-Wah Blues, Part 1”—Billy Flynn soulfully presents this display of Earl Hooker’s “wah-wah” guitar. Keep in mind, this is not the growling and visceral “wah-wah” of mere journeymen, but a more suave and styled version. It’s understated, giving substance and atmosphere to this number instead of being the main attraction. That’s what makes Flynn’s interpretation of Hooker’s “wah-wah” relaxing to listen to. With Chuck’s Farfisa organ blending sometimes over and sometimes under, it lulls listeners into sweet roadhouse daydreams.
Simply said, this is a true collection of wonderful songs form 30 years of sessions.
- James Walker
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