UPDATED JULY 18 with Willie Nix number.
The Red Devils’ backstory includes classic blues, arty punk and the best of California rock ‘n’ roll.
Nofightin.com presents this curated mix of “The Roots of The Red Devils.”
Some of the songs will be obvious, and others are “in the spirit of” the original Red Devils.
Listen up, and let us know what songs you would include. And turn it up!
1. “Keep It to Yourself,” Sonny Boy Williamson
2. “Hydramatic Woman,” Joe Hill Louis
3. “Off the Wall,” Little Walter
“Automatic,” the opener on 1992’s “King King,” is essential and elemental. This mix includes a song that inspired the “Automatic” harp lick (“Keep It to Yourself,” the first of three Sonny Boy Williamson songs); the theme, lyrics and groove of Joe Hill Louis’ “Hydramatic Woman,” and the lead-in to Freddie Below’s classic drum break on Little Walter’s “Off the Wall.” Arkansas, Memphis, Chicago in one song.
4. “Just Can’t Stay,” Willie Nix
5. “Moanin’ at Midnight,” Howlin’ Wolf
Borrowing heavily from “Catfish Blues,” Willi Nix’s “Just Can’t Stay” is a clear lyrical and melodic precursor to “Goin’ To The Church.” The Wolf’s famous single sounds like a tornado gathering steam in the flat, dusty, Mississippi Delta. The Devils borrow a similar groove and lick and put the listener into the eye of the frenzied storm.
6. “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” Muddy Waters
The first of two Muddy songs in this mix is the prototypical stop-time Chicago blues. The Red Devils took a similar approach to the recorded version of “She’s Dangerous.” But where Muddy can do no wrong, that dangerous woman is more than a match for the snakebit Lester Butler.
7. “I Wish You Would,” The Blasters
The Blasters’ take on Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would” appeared on the band’s 1980 debut “American Music.” It features the propulsive drumming of Bill “Buster” Bateman, who brought similar dynamics when the Devils recorded this for “King King.”
8. “Cross My Heart,” Sonny Boy Williamson
Sonny Boy wrings every ounce of emotion from this slow blues, faithfully recreated on “King King.”
9. “Run Through the Jungle,” The Gun Club
“Devil Woman,” the most original cut on “King King,” owes a lot to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle.” But where CCR’s take is almost shorthand for the Vietnam War, The Gun Club’s jungle is neon and drug-infested. Lester Butler cited The Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce as a friend and influence.
10. “Checkin’ Up On My Baby,” Sonny Boy Williamson
Our final Sonny Boy tune. The Red Devils played this with Mick Jagger on the famous bootleg — in fact, the last recording officially released featuring the original Red Devils. The reunited band is playing “Checkin’ Up on its July tour.
11. “Baby Scratch My Back,” Slim Harpo
12. “I’m Ready,” Muddy Waters
The “King King” highlight “I’m Ready” is a clever mashup of these two classic tunes. Here they are in their original glory.
13. “Mr. Highway Man,” Howlin’ Wolf
Howlin’ Wolf was a clear influence on the band and Butler’s harp playing. The Devils’ “Highway Man” is closer to Wolf in spirit than in imitation.
14. “Quarter To Twelve,” Little Walter
The Red Devils are known for their aggressive style. But many people overlook the amount of restraint and behind-the-beat talent it takes to pull off a stone-cold classic like this Little Walter number.
15. “Cut That Out,” Junior Wells
Junior Wells’ jumping mid-tempo Chicago blues became a template for the tour-de-force version that closes “King King” with a series of heart-stopping false endings.
About this mix: It ain’t perfect, but it gets us there. We would love to include the original “I Wish You Would,” or something from the Hollywood Fats Band, kin to The Blasters/Red Devils, but those aren’t available on Spotify. Butler was also wild about Snooky Pryor, but we wanted to keep this tight.
Thanks to Brian in the comments for pointing us back to “Just Can’t Stay” by Willie Nix.
4 thoughts on “#NowPlaying: “The Roots of The Red Devils””
The Red Devils arrangement of B.B. King’s “She’s Dynamite” is based on the one by The Hollywood Fats Band. Hollywood Fats was Lester’s mentor.
“Time To Cry” is based on Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips”
This may be the 45 you are looking for: “Just Can’t Stay” by Willie Nix, one of my favorite early 50s era musicians.
He was out of Memphis, and was a hell of a drummer. That’s Big Walter Horton on harp. He only recorded about 10 songs on numerous labels, but all are excellent, such as “Baker Shop Boogie.” All are on YouTube.
I have often wondered if Lester had heard this song and adapted it into “Church.” Sure sounds like it.
Another possibility is Dr. Ross’ version of “Cat Squirrel” which is on YT. It gives ’61 as the date for his Fortune label 45. Willie’s song was from ’51 or ’52, and the Doctor’s sounds earlier than ’61 to me.
Love your website, and am always glad to get the latest news!
THE BLUES IS ALIVE AND WELL!
Brian, thank you! Yes, that’s the one. I recall now because I was searching online for Billy “Stix” Nicks, one-time drummer for Junior Walker and the All-Stars, and this particular Willie Nix number came up. Will update the post and my mix.