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CD REVIEW -- Studebaker John

Studebaker John

Old School Rockin’

Delmark Records

Studebaker John CD

 Geoff Trubow

For his 2010 Delmark debut, Studebaker John Grimaldi took us on a trip back to old Maxwell Street when Chicago’s electric blues were born – and played in a stripped down, rough and raucous manner.   On That’s The Way You Do, guitarist/harp player Grimaldi put together the Maxwell Street Kings – guitarist Rick Kreher and drummer Steve Cushing -- to help achieve that minimalist approach to the blues which first captured his imagination as a youth growing up near Maxwell Street in the Fifties and Sixties.


John began to play guitar after seeing Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers. “Hound Dog started playing, hitting notes that sent chills up and down my spine.  I left there knowing what I wanted to do.  I had to play slide guitar!” he recalled.


Through the years, he played with the likes of Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, James Cotton and Hound Dog Taylor himself.  After devoting much of his time as a sideman and session musician, he struck out on his own, releasing his own albums and writing his own songs.  Old School Rockin’ carries this on nicely.


The title of Grimaldi’s sophomore release for Chicago’s oldest existing blues label, Delmark, sums everything up about it musically. Studebaker John throws down boogie laced blues with an unrelenting rock beat. Joined by Bob Halaj on bass and Albert “Joey” DiMarco on drums, Studebaker John takes us through fourteen original tunes that do not let up.  


Early into the record, on “Fire Down Below,” he demonstrates his snappy guitar style through a dramatically appropriate solo while belting out lyrics such as “You won’t be laughing when Satan takes you from this place” with a voice that possesses hints of John Hiatt and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  He closes the song with a remarkable multi-note harp solo which truly ices the cake.


The dosages of heavy riffing John pulls out on “Fine Little Machine” and “Brand New Rider” echo a touch of Billy Gibbons (Z.Z. Top was an early influence) without copying him.  “Dark Knight” allows him to explore his blues chops, dueling with himself on slide guitar and harp, as does the harp-based album closer, “Tumblin’ Down The Road”.  His harp keeps the song rhythmically chugging along as his muddy guitar provides a more than ample, and somewhat ghostlike, undertone.


With more than a dozen albums under his belt, Studebaker John continues along with fresh material.  As he readily admits, and is apparent to the listener, Chicago blues is his foundation.  Yet, with Old School Rockin’, the stamp applied is his own.  


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