Friday, August 10, 2012

Big John Wrencher - Big John's Boogie

This set by the obscure yet legendary one-armed harmonica player and singer Big John Wrencher is one of the great overlooked blues classics of the 1970s. Recorded in England in 1975 (with two bonus tracks from 1974) with Eddie "Playboy" Taylor's band, the Blueshounds, it is the only recording in Wrencher's small catalog that begins to capture the intensity, soulfulness, and elegance of his live performances. Wrencher was a composer as well as an interpreter and arranger of great blues and R&B classics. The set begins with an amazing read of "Honeydripper" by Joe Liggins. Began as a simple blues shuffle, Wrencher's harmonica solo before the tune's main groove kicks in turns it into something else entirely -- a spine-loosening groover of the highest order. When he begins to sing in his clear, smooth baritone, the seams begin to split and the track bleeds blue all over the stereo. His arrangement of the traditional blues tune "Third Degree" is a nearly Famous Flames-styled funk tune with its choogling riff and pumped-up bass in the front of the mix. Wrencher's voice makes it really growl and shake, however. He doesn't ask questions when he sings; he shouts what he knows. Wrencher's own "Lonesome in My Cabin" is a spooky, minor-key blues that has the author's moaning, groaning vocal at its heart, and a repetitive piano riff shadowed by the electric guitar filling space along with Wrencher's harmonica. The four-to-the-floor boogie of "Come On Over," another Wrencher original, rolls, twists, and turns on his harmonica's woven lines, his huge, ringing voice moving into a guttural groove colored by Taylor's lead guitar. This is a Joe Turner-styled shouter, but Wrencher's voice makes it so immediate, so full of cracks and splinters, it's virtually alive. The album's final track, "I'm a Root Man," one of Wrencher's own, is a slow to mid-tempo blues with a call-and-response line that acts as nothing but a vehicle for the author's storytelling way of singing. It is sensual, raw, and full of the kind of otherworldly life listeners seldom hear in blues records anymore. This set is a treasure. Period.
Also a review from the cd release with 2 extra tracks.

Some more info:
THE BEAR remembers Big John Wrencher...

Big John Wrencher was an amiable giant, possessed of that agility so often seen in big men. He also had only one arm, and the sight of that huge bear of a man singing and playing wonderfully, jiving around the stage with such grace, empty sleeve flapping at his side, is indelibly etched in my memory.
He'd lost his left arm on a highway outside Memphis in 1958, whilst driving home from a performance. A hot night, he dangled his arm from the car window as he drove, fell asleep and side-swiped a truck coming in the opposite direction. The story has it that he picked up the limb and walked back into Memphis is (in?) a vain attempt to find a doctor who might reattach it. When we first met, he was also using the sobriquet One-Armed John Wrencher, but was dissuaded from that. He performed with a vivacity and drive that his fellow musicians found compelling. He had a great mellow voice, total command of his harp despite his physical limitations, and an immense stage presence.
He was born John Thomas Wrencher in Sunflower, Mississippi on February 12th, 1923, and raised around the fertile Blues territory of Clarksdale. He was a self-taught musician, but worked as a farmer in the 40s. He took off to hobo through Tennessee, Mississippi and Illinois from 1947 to 1955, working as an itinerant musician on the street, at picnics, parties and jukes. He then moved to Detroit to work full-time in music, before relocating to Chicago in 1962, initially playing for tips on Maxwell Street and subsequently becoming an integral part of The City's Blues scene.
He took to Europe instantly, as we took to him. A fierce scowl masked a character of immense charm and generosity. Onstage he was a king; if ever a man was born to entertain it was Big John Wrencher. His rich vocals and wonderful harmonica playing endeared him to a new generation of Blues fans. On tour with American Blues Legends '74, Big John would often tell the story of his shock on first arriving in England, when he spotted a huge dog driving a truck: "Damn", he said "I know they are pretty clever over here in England, but I never throught I'd see a dog driving a truck!" He was somewhat disappointed to subsequently discover that we drive on the left-hand side of the road.



Anonymous said...

I was happy when finally I could have this in CD edition, now double happy of having this LP rip and the original art.
Thanks a lot for so nice postings, Xyros.

boogieman said...

Thanks Xyros. I really miss those American Blues Legends european tours that brought us all those guys in the early seventies.
And it's always a pleasure to hear Bob Hall.

Xyros said...

They were great package tours in the early 70's and Big John been one I remember still.
I might try and find all the clippings and programmes that I've stuck away somewhere from that period. see what's worth while scanning and posting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the chance to hear Big John Wrencher. Good album with a unique harmonica style.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for good music!
I like such blues with garmonic.
This is good chance to hear Big John Wrencher for living in Russia.

Gerard Herzhaft said...

I remember chatting with Big John and Eddie Taylor after their sets. The two apparently didn't like each other and the atmosphere was electrical! Eddie seemed to think that Big John was a very bad harp player. But in fact, and although Eddie is of course a major Chicago bluesman, the two were very good and this album is proving it.