Bootleg review live from Iowa, 1993
A bootleg of The Red Devils live at the Mississippi Blues Fest at Le Claire Park in Davenport, Iowa, July 2, 1993, is a solid capsule of the band on the summer festival circuit.
It’s not an essential set by any means, and may be of interest only to the most hardcore of collectors. Most of the songs are found in better form and audio quality in several other live sets. What stands out is the band’s almost experimental jamming, coming more than a year into the original lineup’s never-ending tour schedule.
The audio recording comes from a KFMH radio live broadcast of the festival; the announcer mentions other performers that day included Dr. John, Jimmy Ley and Nappy Brown. The poor audio quality of the recording means parts of the music are a wash, though Butler’s vocals are right out front, as are the harp and Paul Size’s lead guitar.
Noteworthy in the set is the take on “Cross Your Heart,” which, for the first two verses, is actually Lester Butler’s “Pray for Me,” four years away from its wax debut on the 13 album. The groove is similar to most other live versions of “Cross Your Heart,” but when Butler leans into the microphone, he croons, “Hey baby, little girl please pray for me.” In hindsight, it’s surprising to hear the song; this might be the earliest recording of the 13 slow blues, and may be the only recording of the Devils working out a song that Butler would take for his own later.
It’s not until the third and final verse, after a Paul Size solo, that Butler nods to the “Cross Your Heart” lyrics. With Butler’s request to “play it again, Sam,” Size does Magic Sam-style “All Your Love” riffing to close the song out in style.
Whether Butler was just vamping, or the band was consciously working on the slow blues, it’s a tantalizing intersection of the Red Devils and 13.
The Iowa set is also of note for including the three new songs to be featured on the then-upcoming “Blackwater Roll” EP. The songs stand out for being the most high-energy in the set; whether that is because they were the freshest tunes for the band or because they were the furthest away from blues purity remains to be seen. An interesting aside is Butler’s introduction of the tunes, confirming the songs’ names as labeled on the “Blackwater” sleeve.
There is a freshness to “Blackwater Roll” — an unhinged Size solo and Bateman killing himself behind the drums, as Butler goes chaotic on the vocals and the harp solo, chanting, almost stream of consciousness.
The set also includes “Commit a Crime” — the Howlin’ Wolf song wrongly called “Louisiana Blues” on the 2 Meter Sessies. Bill Bateman keeps it from becoming a dirge with propulsive cymbal work, while Butler quotes “Spoonful” on the harp. The song clocks in at more than 9 minutes long.
Size really shines, as always, on some showcase blues: The instrumental dubbed “Smokin'” (in reality, a super-fast take on fellow Texan Freddie King’s “Sen-Sa-Shun”) and the Albert Collins showstopper “Backstroke.” (Butler’s note, “We kind of change it up a little,” is an understatement for this frantic jam.)
Another highlight is “Trouble’s Knockin’,” a “Tramp”-like groove that Butler introduces: “We’re gonna jam one now — I guess that’s what we’re getting known for.” From the performance here, this tune might honestly have been a spontaneous jam. “Who Do You Love,” taken at a slower tempo, and with harp, almost sounds like a military or fife and drum march.
And, as always, Butler’s song introductions are either humorous or head-scratching; his gem on this day: “We want to do a outtake off one of our albums. Do a tune called ‘Dangerous.’ We got an album out there called ‘King King.’ On Def American Records, it exists … out in the nebulum .. the planet void.”
1. “The Backstreet Crawler”
2. “Commit a Crime”
3. “Trouble’s Knockin'”
4. “Cross Your Heart” [“Pray for Me”]
5. “She’s Dangerous”
6. “I Wish You Would”
7. “The Hook”
8. “Blackwater Roll”
9. “Smokin'” [“Sen-Sa-Shun”]
10. “Who Do You Love”