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Ted Crook’s Blues Highway 2nd June 2007
Of course it all depends on your taste and some may disagree - but the music of Ted Crook’s Blues Highway seemed to be a real treat for most of the crowd at the Borough Blues Club June Gig.
Here was a band who were striving to stay in touch with the roots of the blues; who selected their songs very carefully, mostly from the period between the 1920’s and the 1940’s, and delivered them in a style probably more in keeping with their original performance than the modern interpretations of many other bands.
The band structure was a little different from the ordinary too, with a harmonica Masterclass from leader Ted Crook who featured in many solos but was capably assisted by a clever and very tight back line of “Tiny” Phillips on guitar (so-called because of his massive frame and small hands), Gordon (Doc) Jones on drums and “Stiff” on bass (I never did manage to get his real name). “Stiff” was slight of stature with a polished head, glasses, ear-ring and powder blue check suit with white soled baseball boots – highly colourful and a clear contrast to the much larger and more subdued “Tiny”.
This four-some produced swing, shuffle, boogie and Latin rhythms with intricately interwoven backings. Ted Crook performed most of the vocals, occasionally joined or replaced competently by Doc or Stiff and it was evident that the words of the songs were very important to the group as well as the music. The clarity and delivery of the singing made it easily possible to understand the meaning and sentiment of the numbers the group played – which was refreshing.
Highlights from the first set were “I’ve been looking for a girl who only drinks lemonade” and “Can’t get that stuff no more” (Tampa Red, 1922). The group were not afraid to take it right down, allow the guitar to stand out and let the singer tell the story before launching into brilliant harp solos. “Flip, flop and fly” (Big Joe Turner); “You’re so fine” (Little Walter) and “One Way Out” (Sonny Boy Williamson) were well received by an appreciative audience. The set finished with Little Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” (which was also a hit for Elvis Presley); “I can tell” (Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, 1959) and Blues Highway’s own composition “Let’s do the Southside Boogie”.
It turned out that the group were not to be the only star attraction of the evening. Club Secretary Adrian Powell, who was Master of Ceremonies, was surprised by a presentation of a bass-shaped chocolate cake and a “guitar” birthday card signed by club members to celebrate his upcoming birthday (can it really be only 60 years?) He received a warm round of applause after the traditional birthday song and just managing to summon enough breath to blow out the six token candles (Panteg RFC’s fire insurance would not allow the properly representative amount of candles!)
Into the second half of the night’s entertainment with the Fabulous Thunderbirds “She’s tough”; another Blues Highway song “I got a hard lovin’ woman” and Little Walter’s “Crazy about you baby” which featured a superb duet introduction between Ted Crook and “Tiny”. The guitarist produced intricate little fills and runs which passed almost un-noticed in Big Bill Broonzy’s “Too many dives” and drew an extended ovation for the intro and solo in “Outskirts of Town”. The band, though not of a heavy or hard rocking blues persuasion, had a sensitivity and feel which brought loud audience demands for encores as the evening drew to a close with Robert Johnson’s “New Walking Blues”; and Jim “Boy” Brunner’s “I’m not jiving”.
Just my opinion, but this was one of the top blues groups to appear at the Borough Blues Club and I’m sure they will make a return visit in the future. If you missed them this time it would be good to catch up with them then!