Thanks as always to our pal Vince Jordan for providing great photos, including this picture of the touring version of 13, James Intveld, left, on drums, Lester Butler, bassist Mark Goldberg and guitarist Alex Schultz (photographer unknown), outside the Blue Cafe in Tahiti, probably 1997.
This is just one of many different 13 live lineups, depending on date, location and circumstances. Hightone’s tour bio provides some clarity:
“Music is a hypnotic thing — it kind of puts you in this state and it just comes out,” confesses lead singer/harp man extraordinaire Lester Butler of Los Angeles-based 13, in attempting to describe the creative process that fuels the visceral, edgy sound of the band and its self-titled debut on HighTone Records. For the brand of blues that Lester and his mates are creating is not that by-the-book, note-for-note recreations of the usual cast of characters; but rather a living, breathing force of energy that effectively captures both the spirit and intent of what makes this music so special. And that’s the only way Butler knows how to do it.
It’s also the only way Butler did it back when he fronted The Red Devils, a white-hot blues machine that tore up the L.A. club scene in the early 1990’s, and then – thanks to their Rick Rubin-produced Def American live album, King King – proceeded to do the same to the rest of the country on their endless touring schedule. In addition to their own CD, The Red Devils recorded albums backing up Mick Jagger and Johnny Cash, both of which are presently locked up in tape vaults somewhere.
Originally from Virginia, Lester Butler has been playing since the age of six, when he got his first harmonica – a plastic one – and then heard the sound of blues music around his house. After moving to Los Angeles, he became infatuated with the blues, listening especially to Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Dr. Ross and Papa Lightfoot, all of whom influenced his harmonica technique.
In the other members of 13, which formed in early 1996, Butler has found the perfect complement to his vision of how the music should sound. Guitarist Alex Schultz is well-known in blues circles as both a highly-creative guitarist as well as a master of tone. Most-recently, Alex spent several years holding down the guitar slot for Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers. James Intveld is the musical equivalent of the MVP baseball utility player. An incredible guitar player in his own right with The Blasters, Rosie Flores and many others, James played bass on the band’s album and has now switched to drums for the road gigs. The most-recent member is bassist Mark Goldberg, who’s played with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Canned Heat. For the album line up, Andy Kaulkin played keyboards and Steven Hodges played drums.
The result of this collaboration is an album of boundless energy, which, while tipping its hat to the gritty Chicago blues masters, is powered by an over-the-top approach that is anything but laid back. “If you want to pay tribute to the innovators like Little Walter, you don’t try to play just like them,” says Butler, “because what made them innovators during their time was that they didn’t try to copy somebody else – they just did it!”
To that end, the band opted for a non-homogenized studio set-up, often recording the songs as a band ensemble with everyone playing together live in the room. Butler singles out “Sweet Tooth,” “Close To You,” “HNC” and “Pray For Me” as songs that especially benefited from this approach. “These are some of the real impassioned ones,” he admits, adding that the whole experience was “cathartic” for him and credits “the healing force of the music.”
In addition to the original songs on 13 (all penned by Butler), the band puts its own stamp on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” (complete with smashing bottles and a barking hellhound), Muddy Waters’ “Close To You,” Elmore James’ “So Mean To Me,” Dr. Ross’ “Boogie Disease” and Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go.” But whether it’s an original or a cover, this band plays with an intensity and an authenticity that makes the windows shake, the dancers quake and the spirit of the mojo alive in the `90’s. It’s a hypnotic thing, man!