Lightnin’ Willie is a veteran bluesman with in excess of twenty-five years of touring experience under his belt. His new release on Little Dog Records is entitled No Black No White Just Blues. It features ten clever and powerful new self-penned compositions that explore the haunting expressions of human feelings that inhabit the blues alongside a fair share of wit. Originally from Texas, but now with a home base in Southern California, Lightnin’ Willie (born William K. Hermes) writes his songs in a concisely crisp manner. He sings with genuinely rich, full-bodied character, while playing his guitar with sizable skill and oodles of bluesy kick up your heels know-how.
No Black No White Just Blues was flawlessly produced and arranged by Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam, Roy Orbison, Sara Evans, Flaco Jimenez, Buck Owens, Lucinda Williams and Mark Chestnut). The Los Angeles based Anderson also plays superb bass guitar and, on a few tracks, whips out a mean swinging blues harp. Lightin’ Willie has some other impressively talented musicians supporting him on this effort that just feels oh-so right from start to finish. Michael “Fireball” Murphy (Stevie Nicks, Joe Walsh) is present for some stirring piano and organ. Skip Edwards handles Hammond B-3 organ duties and accordion, and Jerry Olson (Lowell Fulsom, Charlie Musselwhite and Denmark native son Jesper Kristensen drum up a major blues storm).
“Lightnin’ Willie is one of the best contemporary blues songwriters & performers today” ~ Pete Anderson, multi-award winning producer & guitarist
The first-rate opening track, “Can’t Get That Stuff,” is a song that positively brings home the bacon. Barrelhouse piano courtesy of Doña Oxford (her only appearance on the CD) and some early rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly guitar by Willie are stand-outs on this straight-on rocking blues track. The lyrics tell the age-old tale of missing things that we once took for granted which are no longer available. I’ll corroborate that this point becomes more evident the older a person becomes. An example LW provides is the bygone ability to purchase homemade whiskey for a dollar a jar before the police show up to smash his seller’s still. A great chorus in a song is ripe for a successful take-off: i.e., the bit in the song that makes you either a) sing, b) cry, or c) sprint to the dance floor. Delivered here “You can’t get that stuff no more” provides all three of the above choices while delivering a lasting earwig into your brain.
Next comes “Eyes In The Back Of My Head,” a mid-tempo hard blues shuffle regarding the hardly infrequent blues song subject of having a lady who is largely suspected of infidelity. In this case when her kisses taste of cigarettes, added to the fact that she doesn’t even smoke, he doesn’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes to know his lady has been smooching another hombre. The blues harp of Pete Anderson adds a lot of weighty substance to the song. Willie sings with a cocksure manner and gets in a couple fine bluesy guitar licks.
A medium-slow blues song “Locked In A Prison” provides the setting for some fine guitar work from LW and honking sax punctuations from the talented Ron Dzubla (pronounced JOObluh). Tinkling piano and Hammond B-3 flow over the tight rhythm section to form the firm foundation. Willie provides a more than nice vocal and his simple but effective guitar solo evokes the single string stylings of B.B. King.
“Sad ‘N’ Blue” reminds me a lot of the classic up-tempo blues song “rollin’ and tumblin’ (made famous by Muddy Waters). The song features some prominent bass guitar work and accordion highlights which give the tune a slight merrily bouncing hangs zydeco flavoring to the melody which floats contrary to the tunes title.
The blues shuffle “Note On My Dooc” has a jazzy arrangement with moody B-3 and guitar. Willie’s voice is smooth with just a speck of grit. The lyrics relate the sorrow of a man who receives a “Dear John” letter attached to his door, only to later realize that it was all just a bad dream.
The faintly Latin-infused “Heartache” contains a catchy guitar lead and horn accents. Drum sticks striking the rims give the impression of a persistent knocking on a door while the organ aids the melody superbly. Willie sings in heart baring detail that he won’t make the mistake of allowing a female to hurt him again and that next time “I’ll be more careful, just like a blind man in the dark.”
The Hammond B-3 organ of Skip Edwards lends a nice melodic touch to “Fuss And Fight.” Lightnin’ Willie displays some beautiful guitar sustain and a way of reading a song reminiscent of Gary Moore and Mick Taylor. Once again his vocals do not disappoint and fit the song snugly.
It’s hard to pick a favorite song on the disc, but I think I’d pick “Phone Stopped Ringing” as the one for me. It is a song full of sinuous grooves and Peter Green-like snaky guitar in this song. It reminds me immensely of the same ominous atmosphere of Green’s classic “Black Magic Woman.”
“My foundation is blues, so it is blues people who have been my biggest influence.” ~ Lightnin’ Willie
Luke Miller provides the beautiful strings on the beautiful slow-dance number, “Thinking Of You.” It has an old school sway flavor that differs from the balance of the other songs and provides a most refreshing side-step. Lightnin’ Willie nails it. It also is a great illustration of LW’s rhythm and blues roots, recalling an era when music tugged relentlessly at your heart and soul. This is a love song containing simple and slightly soppy words that develop greater charm and impact with each listen.
“I don’t play a lot of fancy guitar. I don’t want to play it. The kind of guitar I want to play is mean, mean licks.” ~ John Lee Hooker
“Shake My Snake” recalls the immortal boogie guitar style of John Lee Hooker (think Boogie Chillen’) or the work of one of his disciples Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top’s La Grange). It’s a fuel-injected get-off-your-butt song impressively played and sung by Willie and provides a great choice to end the album with down and dirty inspiring flair.
“If it doesn’t come from your heart, music just doesn’t work.” ~ Levon Helm
The music contained On No Black No White Just Blues does indeed work. Lightnin’ Willie and his musical cohorts deliver the blues spectrum with an honest integrity that cannot be counterfeited. The realness of depth of blues feeling is communicated on each and every song. All the pieces fall in the 2½ to 4 minute time frame to ensure the listener’s attention will never waver or fade. It is great Blues, need I say more?