Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Why I Choose to Sing the Blues
By Linda Cain
Chicago songwriter/author/playwright Terry Abrahamson won a Grammy by writing songs for his late friend, blues legend Muddy Waters; his song “Bus Driver” was on the Johnny Winter-produced Hard Again album that won in 1978.
Fast forward a few decades and Abrahamson finds himself partnering with musician/vocalist Derrick Procell, and writing songs for demos to pitch to contemporary blues artists. Bob Margolin and Long Tall Deb & Colin John have recorded Abrahamson’s work on their current releases. The writing team also has songs in the works for Big Bill Morganfield, Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Eddy Clearwater and Big Llou Johnson.
Abrahamson -- a creative force of nature who has authored plays, children’s books and a noted blues history and photo memoir (In The Belly of The Blues) -- has found the perfect writing partner in Procell. The multi-talented musician/producer skillfully creates the perfect music to bring Abrahamson’s epic blues songs to life. And then there’s that voice! Powerful, soulful, passionate and gritty, Procell’s commanding and resonant vocal style recalls Gregg Allman and Ronnie Van Zandt.
You won’t find Procell on the stages of Chicago’s blues clubs; however, you most likely have heard his voice on TV or radio. “Mr. Studio Guy,” as he is known in the ad biz, has sung the praises of McDonald’s, Budweiser, Michelob, Taco Bell, Ford, Chevy, Jeep, Kraft and many more brands. When not recording jingles or voiceovers, Procell works on his own original CDs in the Americana vein.
Thanks to Abrahamson’s ties to the blues world, heavy-hitters Eddie Shaw, Billy Branch and Bob Margolin joined Procell in the studio to enhance the tracks on a demo project that turned out to be Procell’s debut blues CD, Why I Choose To Sing The Blues.
The result is a treasure trove of richly detailed story-songs that immerse the listener in the blues experience from the Delta to Chicago and beyond. Blues fans around the world who are seeking smart, powerful modern blues songs that honor the legacy of the genre’s masters will find it here.
The disc kicks off with a moving homage to Howlin’ Wolf, sung as a duet by Procell and Wolf’s longtime bandleader/sax player Eddie Shaw. “The Wolf Will Howl Again” is propelled by Procell’s haunting harmonica as he and Shaw (with a weathered voice that echoes blues history) trade off on Abrahamson’s striking and dramatic verses:
Might hear it ‘neath your bed/ When you reach down for your shoes/ Or some basement flat in London/ Where a white boy learned the blues/ Might shoot from a steelyard stack/ Breathin’ smoke and fire/ Or from brother Hubert’s first guitar/ Strung from bailin’ wire.
But it’s there/ It’s in the air/ Like the callin’ of a friend/ He ain’t gone/ He’s livin’ on/ And the Wolf will howl again.
If that doesn’t give you goosebumps blues lovers, keep listening.
The title track, “Why I Choose To Sing The Blues,” takes us on a journey to the music’s origins in Mississippi, Memphis and Chicago; the lyrics regale us with iconic landmarks -- like The Crossroads, Beale Street and the City of New Orleans train direct to the streets of Chicago -- all inhabited by the ghosts of past blues legends, from Robert Johnson and Junior Parker to Koko Taylor, Willie Dixon and more. Procell not only sings his heart out on this compelling number, but he also plays piano, organ, bass, drums and percussion throughout the epic song’s varied tempo changes.
You may find yourself growing misty-eyed while hearing the poignant “Who Will Tell Lucille?” which poses the musical question about breaking the news of B.B. King’s death to his beloved guitar.
She lived the life of Riley/He took her ‘round the world/ So gentle on her neck/ ‘Til her strings were drippin’ pearls/ To know her was to love her/ To hear her was to cry/ Now who will hold her close?/ People, who will dry her eyes?
Alex Smith’s guitar rings out with an emotional B.B. feel, but it is not an attempt to impersonate The King’s inimitable style. Procell’s vocals are compassionate and gripping. If this song doesn’t deeply move you, then fix that hole in your soul.
Note to blues DJs: please play this song on B.B. King’s birthday (Sept. 16) or day of passing (May 14).
“Back in the Game,” featuring the great Billy Branch on harp, is one of Procell’s originals and sounds like it was tailor-made for Gregg Allman with its bluesy-gospelly organ, soaring slide guitar by Bob Baglione and soul-searching lyrics.
Another Procell song: “Trouble Me No More,” also has Gregg Allman written all over it, with its rockin’ beat, pumping keyboards and Baglione’s stinging slide guitar hooks. And of course, Procell’s awesome voice.
For “Don’t Waste a Wish on Me,” Procell plays piano ala Randy Newman’s Big Easy style, while Zoey Witz picks some sweet notes on guitar and the ladies croon and harmonize. Abrahamson’s witty, sardonic lyrics let the song’s subject know that no matter what the genie in the lamp says, this is NOT the man of your dreams. It’s a captivating, catchy little number that could work well within the plot of a movie or TV show.
“The Eyes of Mississippi,” a good ol’ lump-de-lump shuffle, is highlighted by Bob Margolin’s sublime slide guitar. Procell delivers blues harp and commanding vocals on his songwriting partner’s clever lyrics that double as a geography and spelling lesson.
“Sorry?” is the tale of a scoundrel; it shares the same musical swagger as Joe Cocker’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On” by Randy Newman. We won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that Abrahamson’s lyrics will have you saying: “Whoah!” at the misdeeds of this royal cad.
The various studio players throughout the album are very talented and, like the fabled Wrecking Crew in L.A., they know how to sell a song. And in the tradition of “20 Feet From Stardom,” the sassy ladies with the soaring harmonies (Meredith Colby, Evvy Procell and Sofie Way ) are the icing on the cake that get us singing along, especially on stellar songs like “Broke The Mold” and “They All Find Out.”
It’s refreshing to hear an album that is entirely devoted to the service of the song. Why I Choose To Sing The Blues is not about showboat guitar solos, flamboyant drumming or over-melismatic singing. The blues is about universal truths, emotional catharsis, the human condition and songs from the heart to the heart. Derrick Procell and Terry Abrahamson know how to strike a chord to connect with the listener and deliver a message in blues that you won’t soon forget. Highly recommended!
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