Angel Air Records [Release date 17.08.18]
It wasn’t until the mid-1980s – and a series of albums for the Alligator label – that Roy Buchanan really found his calling on album: fiery, blues rock. Back in the 1970s when he recorded his first albums for Polydor he followed a country blues route which never quite came to life although during that period he recorded the seminal ‘The Messiah Has Come Again’ later to be covered by the likes of Gary Moore.
By 1977 he was teamed up with producer, jazz fusioner, Stanley Clarke and traded licks with legendary Stax musician Steve Cropper for ‘Loading Zone’ which more than any previous album highlighted his unique guitar technique and commercial potential. One further album for Polydor/Atlantic followed.
‘My Babe’ marks an interim statement when Buchanan was ‘between labels’. It was self-produced and lacks the strong material that might have been imposed by an independent producer/main label. With a scratch band that included Paul Jacob on vocals most of this fare doesn’t rise above acceptable bar band fodder.
Musically it looks back to the rockabilly style that Buchanan grew up with in the late-1950s when he worked with Dale Hawkins as illustrated by his re-working of the Little Walter penned title track which he recorded originally in 1958.
There is little hint of Buchanan’s incendiary style that was better captured – and thankfully – on those Alligator albums. Only the instrumental ‘Blues For Gary’ and ‘My Sonata’ are really compelling in this collection.
Guitar-wise, Buchanan was a technical wizard, his playing characterised by pinch harmonic ‘whistles’ and tonal effects obtained solely from his technique rather than external ‘effects’.
This reissue of an album that was only ever available on CD for a short time in the States is most interesting for the added 30 minute contemporaneous promotional interview (also including some of the tracks).
This reveals again that Buchanan turned down a stint in the Stones after the death of Brian Jones and hints that at least for a decade Buchanan was a nearly-man eschewing the trappings of wider fame although a hero to those fellow musos like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page who cited him as an influence.
Sadly Buchanan hung himself in a prison cell in August 1988 after being arrested for drink related offences although as the liner note indicates there is still a mystery surrounding the actual circumstances. There is no doubt, however, that Roy Buchanan was a troubled soul fighting inner demons and not least alcohol.
Thirty years on from his untimely death, this is a timely reissue. Those inspired to find out more should also search out the anthology ‘Sweet Dreams: The Anthology’ released in 1992. ***
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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