Now, here’s an extraordinary tale, a yarn as unlikely as a condom in a convent and yet a second coming of sorts that will warm your soul. A few years after the end of the Second World War, a certain Eldon Backhouse was delivered into this world – the bastard son of a US Air Force grunt (Kent Backhouse) who had been stationed in Suffolk (and stuck around) and a flirtatious young English lass of considerable easy virtue. Seeking to escape the stifling, behind-net-curtains judgement of family and neighbors in conservative, iron-gray post-war Britain, the couple eloped with young Eldon and took passage to Backhouse’s town of origin – Helena, Arkansas.
Although details are very scant, their romantic new life together was short-lived. Old Kent began drinking for America, and a lonely, homesick Mum took solace and sought company in the juke-joints littered around town. Young Eldon got used to making his own way at the tender age of ten, often sneaking into the joints on the premise of looking for his mother….however, they never left together. As his mother soothed her lonely heart with the nearest interested male, young Eldon watched guitarist after guitarist at Club 25, eventually stealing a beaten up acoustic from the closet which doubled as a dressing room. That battered old six string became his escape from a torrid childhood and he learned the shit out of it. He soon formed his Electric Blues Band and featured frequently, if briefly, on the local scene.
At some point, believed to be in the late ‘60s, Eldon apparently experienced a “crossroads-type epiphany” of sorts and left the area to go to school studying law. He had sold his soul to the devil, crossed over to the dark side and practiced small town law – essentially disappearing into musical obscurity.
Perhaps in recognition of his own mortality or some other quirky twist of fate, Eldon Backhouse recently reappeared in the UK tracing his roots and met up with famed harmonica player, Alan Glen (The Yardbirds, 9 Below Zero, BB King). One thing led to another and together with Glen on harp, Backhouse has just recorded his first album entitled Catslide Roof.
Consisting largely of interpretations of classic blues covers, the album also features three original compositions and is heavy on shuffling, chugging, slide-soaked beauties.
Opening with “Baby Please Don’t Go”, Backhouse growls his way through a gloriously urgent, amphetamine-infused rendition. Things get a little dirtier on original track, “Corrugated Iron”, featuring weaving organ, slide and harp interplay to great effect and lamenting the demise of the long lost shacks where Eldon initially plied his trade.
Mose Alison’s “Parchman Farm” gets similar, respectful treatment and mixes up the pace of the album nicely. Ever-faithful to the evolution of the blues, Backhouse and his band pay tribute to his dual US/UK ancestry, including a freshened up version of Jagger/Richards’ “What A Shame” and a jangly, meaty cover of “Back In Your Town”, one of the Chequered-Shirted Wizard’s best tracks – Lord Rory of Gallagher would have raised a glass in justified salute to this one.
There’s almost a ZZ Top-type bump-and-grind on Backhouse’s excellent cover of Canned Heat’s “On The Road Again”, a groin-tingling, sweaty, driving blues which almost strains to be contained, such is the energy of the track. If you don’t “feel” this one, you’re dead from the waist down.
“Ramblers Shack” re-visits the theme of Backhouse’s troubled younger days, his sister teaching young Eldon to jive (although I suspect this is more of a reference to his “fun-loving” mother), a lilting, Celtic mandolin backdrop – a reminder perhaps of the link between early blues and country genres. Lush and melodic.
“Shrewd Move”, the third original Backhouse compilation, features some stellar, front-and-central guitar work and classy harp-blowing. Lyrically, Backhouse seems to recall his divorce lawyer days and has captured that “good man, feeling bad” vibe so prevalent in the blues. “Another Man” is a blistering interpretation of the traditional arrangement chain-gang song attesting to the brutality of the penal system.
An enigmatic story indeed and a very solid, tight album – the (lawyer’s) pen may be mightier than the sword but Eldon Backhouse and The Electric Blues Band prove that six strings, a bottleneck and Alan Glen blowing on his lickin’ stick conquer all. When it rains soup and all you have is a fork, them’s the blues and Backhouse might well be the cure. ****
Review by Mark “Mad Dog” Shaw
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