restricted access Johnnie Bassett: Cadillac Bluesman from the Motor City
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79 T he blues has always been a big part of life in the Motor City, but it’s been a long time since Detroit’s musically fertile blues community has seen one of its own citizens go on to national and international success. Not since Little Sonny landed a contract with Stax Records and issued a series of excellent albums on the Enterprise label in the 1970s, in fact, has a Motor City bluesman raised much of a ruckus in the blues industry. The scene changed with the reemergence of veteran Detroit bluesmen like Johnny “Yard Dog” Jones, winner of a Handy Award for Best New Blues Performer in 1997 on the strength of his debut CD, Ain’t Gonna Worry, and the Butler Twins, Curtis and Clarence,who made two fine recordings for the British JSP label.Cannonball Records spotlighted the Detroit scene in Ron Levy’s Blues Across America series and in 1998 issued what is, almost incredibly, the first album ever by venerable Detroit blueswoman Alberta Adams. But some of the biggest noise ever made from the Motor City was by Johnnie Bassett, a soulful, jazz-inspired guitarist and singer who commenced a new life as a featured artist after toiling since the early’50s behind virtually every singer and front man to grace the city’s gritty blues bars and nightclubs. Johnnie Bassett’s singing and playing— perfectly backed by his splendid ensemble, the Blues Insurgents, led by drummer R. J. Spangler— propelled him into the center of the modern blues scene with a series of albums recorded over ten years and a busy touring schedule that took the band from coast to coast and across the Atlantic several times. Discovered by Spangler at a Montreux-Detroit International Jazz Festival performance as a member of organist Ben Baber’s band, Johnnie recorded his debut album live on the same spot in 1995 for a small Detroit company, No Cover Records. An energetic tour de force through a program of blues standards arranged to showcase Bassett’s mellow blues recitations and driving jump-blues swingers backed by pianist Bill Heid and a six-piece horn section, this recording led to the band’s first European tour and the opportunity to record for Holland-based Black Magic Records. By the time the Blues Insurgents entered the studio in May 1996 to make I Gave My Life to the Blues, an album of original material by Bassett, Heid, Martin Gross, organist Chris Codish, and his father, Bob Codish, the band had jelled into a tight, completely sympathetic blues unit seriously dedicated to realizing the full potential of Bassett’s considerable talents. By that time, Johnnie himself had grown fully into the frontman role, displaying new confidence and strength as a guitarist and singing with power and conviction in every setting. Back in the States, Bill Heid landed Johnnie a one-off recording deal with Fedora Records and contributed an entire program of tailor-made originals to Bassett Hound, a relaxed excursion with Johnnie Bassett Cadillac Bluesman from the Motor City John Sinclair 80 deTroıT blues the Bill Heid Trio into the mellower and jazzier sides of Johnnie’s musical personality. R. J. Spangler, then acting as manager and agent for the band, parlayed these two excellent releases into gigs around the United States, a return trip to Europe, and a recording contract with Cannonball Records. Introduced by producer Ron Levy with four selections on his Blues Across America: The Detroit Scene compilation for Cannonball, the Blues Insurgents thrust themselves into the forefront of the blues world with their current release, Cadillac Blues, and have completed a second album with Levy to be released in 2016. Bassett and the band also support Johnnie’s old friend Alberta Adams on her new Cannonball release. Cadillac Blues, recorded at Willie Mitchell’s studio in Memphis, demonstrated Johnnie Bassett’s utter freshness and vitality as a contemporary bluesman. His own compositions, “That’s Fair Play” and the memorable blues ballad “Memories of Your Perfume,”shared the limelight with original tunes by a bevy of modern-day Detroit songwriters,including Chris and Bob Codish, drummers Leonard King and Ron Pangborn, and organist Tim Brockett. The Blues Insurgents was a well-seasoned musical organization powered by Codish’s Hammond B-3 organ (including foot-pedal bass) and highlighted by the horns of saxophonist Keith Kaminiski and trumpeter Dwight Adams.The band provides the perfect setting for Bassett’s tasty guitar and singular vocal...


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