Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Remembering The Masters
The Sirens Records
By Mark Baier
When Barrelhouse Chuck takes a trip down memory lane, one thing is certain -- a lifetime of Chicago Blues piano is on his mind. With his newest release on The Sirens Records, Remembering The Masters, Barrelhouse Chuck (a.k.a Charles Goering) reminisces with a musical journey spanning not only his lifetime, but the lifetimes of blues piano’s greatest luminaries. Goering is essentially unique in the blues community in that he studied firsthand with blues piano’s most important practitioners. Sunnyland Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Little Brother Montgomery, Blind John Davis and Detroit Junior not only all mentored Chuck, but considered him a friend and equal. Indeed, the cover photograph features Chuck and Sunnyland Slim circa 1980 in Alaska, arm in arm, smiling ear to ear. It’s a warm portrait of two men, generations apart, sharing a common love for music and each other’s company. Over a dozen such color photos of Chuck with Little Brother, Pinetop, Detroit Junior, Sunnyland and others grace the generous liner notes.
Remembering the Masters kicks off with the self-penned title “Homage to Pinetop Perkins”. This tune, and every selection on Remembering the Masters, features the rather sparse arrangement of piano and guitar or mandolin. No drums, bass or Hammond organ here; it’s a trip back to a crowded house rent party in 1937, South Side style. From the first notes, Chuck’s piano rolls are impossible to resist, and in no time, the place is rockin’ to the raucous jaunty rhythm of Chuck’s left hand. Billy Flynn provides the perfect foil, weaving stinging guitar lines in between Chuck’s swinging piano. Goering handles the vocal duties on each track, save for a couple instrumentals, and on J.B. Lenior’s “How Much More” he demonstrates a maturity and delivery that makes each cut a genuine gem. While he channels Sunnyland Slim on “How Much More,” the next cut, Johnny Young’s “Keep on Drinking,” is a primer on Otis Spann, who played on Young’s original recording. Flynn (of course) limns Young’s mandolin to a T. Sunnyland’s style is revisited on Goering’s own “I Forgot to Remember” and Sunny’s old chestnut “She’s Got A Thing Going On”.
Perhaps no other mentor had more influence on Chuck than Little Brother Montgomery, and it’s in full display on the cuts “Vicksburg Blues” and “I Just Keep On Drinking”. “Vicksburg Blues” is Little Brothers’ signature song, and Chuck tapped the talents of his good friend and colleague, Spanish pianist Lluis Coloma, to play on this beloved number. Coloma deftly and beautifully recreates the archaic, fragile bass runs and turn-arounds like he’s owned them from day one. (There’s some debate regarding who actually played these iconic figures first, LBM or Sunnyland-- both evidently take credit for their conception. This reviewer sides with Little Brother).
“I Just Keep Drinking (not to be confused with the earlier “Keep On Drinking”) features a delicate and bouncy melody that’s a joy to take in -- a wonderful track.
“Double D Boogie,” one of Chuck's originals, is a rollicking instrumental that distills it all into a minute-forty tour de force, with Flynn working out some mean slide guitar.
The next three tracks visit the most influential of the pre-war blues pianists, and maybe of all time, Leroy Carr. (Carr lived a short but ultimately meaningful life, recording some of the finest blues piano ever committed to shellac). His brooding, haunting bass lines provide the backdrop for a sad autobiographic tale of Carr’s alcoholic excess on “Straight Alky Blues”. The next cut is Carr’s arrangement of Irving Berlin’s 1927 hit “How About Me,” featuring Chicago’s Scott Grube on piano. Rather than Carr’s usual sideman, Scrapper Blackwell, Flynn’s guitar figures evoke classic era Tampa Red, giving the tune a feel that’s period correct and sublime in every way. It’s a lovely song that represents ‘20s-‘30s pop music perfectly. The Carr classic “How Long, How Long Blues,” is next up and its familiar melody and cadence will ring a bell for all seasoned blues fans. It’s a blessing to know these songs are in such capable hands.
“Stockyard Blues” features an Otis Spann type accompaniment on this venerable Floyd Jones song. It’s an example of the raw post-war style that emerged in Chicago and gave birth to rock’n’roll a few years later. Little Johnny Jones’ “Chicago Blues” is a slow grinder featuring Goering’s piano supporting Flynn’s slashing Elmore style slide runs.
Remembering The Masters closes out with “Chuckabilly Boogie,” an exuberant instrumental that seems equal parts Big Maceo, Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Otis Spann and Pinetop Perkins all rolled into 2 minutes 16 seconds of Barrelhousin’ boogie woogie. It’s the kind of song that could render a piano useless after the onslaught. Or at least a little out of tune.
Barrelhouse Chuck’s dedication to the art of blues piano playing is on full display on Remembering The Masters. Each selection is a deep and reverent expression of love and respect for the genuine masters of blues piano. Sunnyland, Little Brother, Pinetop, Spann and Leroy Carr et.al. may all rest a little easier in the afterlife knowing that Chuck Goering is honoring and continuing their legacies for future generations. It’s an unforgettable recording that no collection should be without!!
It’s fitting that, on September 23, Barrelhouse Chuck will receive a Lifetime Achievement award from the publishers of Blues Blast magazine. It honors a lifetime that represents more than just one man. Goering’s legacy may be that he’s lived many lifetimes in his 59 years, touching generations before and ahead of him, enriching their lives with his. Thanks to artists like Barrelhouse Chuck, the blues will never die.