‘Blast furnace blues’: Dec. 3, 1992, ‘King King’ review

Looking around a few months ago, I found this review of “King King” from the University of Houston Daily Cougar Online archives, Dec. 3, 1992. I really like the exuberance and imagery in this review.

As a bonus: A Jeff Healey review!

by Manuel Esparza
Daily Cougar Staff

"King King"

How do you like it, live or studio? Well the Red Devils cut a live disc and the Jeff Healey Band is fresh from recording 12 new tracks.

Got your asbestos gloves handy? Good. Now get ready to handle some blast furnace blues. Captured on the Red Devil’s live album King King is blues in its most elemental form — fire.

The album, King King, takes its name from the L.A. club that has adopted the Devils. It is a beer sopped, cigarette stench, sweaty bodies, dimly lit, watch where you sit, graffiti ridden, wrong side of the tracks, eardrum rupturing disc.

Etched into this disc is the atmosphere of that club and, more importantly, the energy and impact of the Red Devils.

Technically the album is superb. Engineered with great separation between instruments, the clarity of sound is just amazing. Filtered down, but not completely eliminated is the audience’s reactions during some of the songs. This is what really makes this recording jump out of the loud speakers.

The band is tighter than a hand-woven Persian rug. Vocalist and harmonica man Lester Butler, bassist Johnny Ray Bartel and ex-Blasters Bill Bateman (drums) are founding members, and have been playing together every Monday night for the past couple of years at the King King club. Talented Texan Paul Size is the newest member and lead guitarist.

It must be that weekly gig that keeps the band members so in tune with each other. When the songs turn into jam sessions, the spontaneity flows fluidly into the songs much as ice melts into water.

The jams are characterized by the ongoing guitar/harmonica war between Paul and Lester. There are guitar licks crisper than a new C-note and more pure than Ivory soap. Paul Size can turn it around with a burst of rock melting leads. Each note is performed with a precision that is hard enough to achieve in studio and supposedly not able to be done live. Paul’s fretboard gymnastics reduce the dependency on effects pedals. It’s unbelievable what can be done with just six strings.

Butler’s mouth harp is no less impressive. He cuts the swirling smoky air with his wailing style. The man must have lungs the size of blimps. Butler sustains his notes and breathes enough feeling into his jams that gives them their own lives. His daunting, taunting tremolos challenge Size to rise up and spar with him.

They play a musical game of “chicken” trying to see who will go further. This friendly dynamic tension usually ends with the two players uniting to gun down the audience with lethal leads.

This is an absolutely fantastic album. Also listen for them on Mick Jagger’s up coming release. Mick jammed on stage with the Devils and liked them enough to invite them into the studio.

Kick your dog and dump your girlfriend so you too can sing the blues with these guys.

If your mouth waters for some solid rock, quench your thirst here. Jeff Heeley has returned with Joe Rockman (bass) and Tom Stephen (drums), the other pillars if the power trio, and they are stronger than ever.

The accolades are flung to them as roses to a matador. Not without justification, are they highly regarded. Listening to Feel This, the new album, it is apparent the painstaking effort that went in to each note.

There is no effort spared and no wasted sound. The marriage of Joe Hardy and the JHB to produce this disc is a better pairing than Ozzie and Harriet Nelson.

The first cut off the album, “Cruel Little Number” is getting a good amount of air play, and with good reason. It has all a single should. There is the tale of a ‘hot babe’, the catchy beat, and generous doses of guitar, all without the bubble gum. Healey cuts loose and puts a slow, searing lead behind his vocals.

Healey is highly talented and surrounds himself with very proficient musicians. He has been blind since age one and has been playing guitar since he was three. All his years of practicing really do show through, not just in his playing but also in his song writing.

Healey changes pace without sacrificing any bit of style. The band has the ability to make any beat sound as if it were the one they always played in.

What Feel This appears to be is an excuse to put some brilliant guitars on vinyl for posterity. That sounds pretty good to me.

Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

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