King Ernest / Lester Butler: “Black Bag Blues”

"King of Hearts"

Of all of Lester Butler’s guest spots in the ’90s, his work on soul singer King Ernest’s 1997 “King of Hearts” (Evidence ECD 26084-2) stands out. Usually, Butler was just adding harp to someone else’s tune, but for California’s “King Ernest” Butler Baker, he contributed an original song, “Black Bag Blues,” notable for being, to our knowledge, the only Butler-credited song not appearing on an official Lester Butler solo or band release.

And unlike some of the more unusual or experimental music he added harp to, “Black Bag Blues” is a straight-up, hardcore shuffle: No frills, no tricks, just soulful vocals, a stompin’ rhythm section and boastful lyrics that just fit the bill.

Over a mean Texas-styled guitar, Ernest lays it out in the first verse, coming out blowing hard:

I’m gonna blow away all my troubles, and throw my clothes in a black bag and roll

I’m gonna blow away all my troubles, and throw my clothes in a black bag and roll

Got some money in my pocket, I might find trouble, people, I don’t know

The lyrical themes are pure Butler, and you can hear shades of “No Fightin’,” “Way Down South” and others in the song. By the fourth verse, Butler reverts ā€” as he often does ā€” to some of his favorite standby lyrics, in this case, “Ride with the doctor, ride with the nurse” from Dr. Ross’s “Boogie Disease” on the “13” record. But Ernest sings with conviction, effectively taking ownership of this variation.

Butler also takes a few verses of solos, including the outro, where he plays straight-up blues harp, riffing off the rhythm. No showboating here, but it’s King Ernest’s show; Lester’s harp is merely the chauffeur for Ernest’s voice, riding in style.

Adding to the fun is guitarist Zach Zunis, who has the distinction of having played in the Red Devils, 13 and the Lester Butler Tribute Band, and here puts down the bedrock shuffle. The album was recorded in May 1994 and January 1995 in Culver City, California, which would put this album’s genesis right toward the tail end of The Red Devils’ lifespan. The CD sleeve notes that “Lester Butler appears courtesy of Jerico/Castle Records” ā€” Butler’s originals on “13” are listed as “Published by Jericho Music.”

Unfortunately, the two stars of this cut both died untimely deaths: Butler in 1998, and in 2000, Ernest was killed in a car accident, mere days before his second album, “Blues Got Soul,” was released on Fat Possum. That record showcased Ernest, universally described as one of the sweetest men you’d care to meet, to stunning effect. Fans of classic soul singing, with real emotion and real live instruments, will cherish that album, as well as “King of Hearts.”

One Response to “King Ernest / Lester Butler: “Black Bag Blues””

  1. In addition to The Blue Shadows, The Red Devils, and 13, Lester also did some gigs as simply “The Lester Butler Band” in between The Red Devils and 13, featuring a lineup that was different from either of those bands. Search for “Lester Butler” “Park City” on youtube for some clips.

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