King Ernest rides with Lester Butler on 1997’s ‘Black Bag Blues’

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” 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 — as he often does — to some of his favorite standby lyrics, in this case, “Ride with the doctor, ride with the nurse” from Dr. Ross’ “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.

The full lineup for this song is Baker (vocals), Butler (harp), Pete Kay (drums), Tom Leavey (bass) and guitarist Zach Zunis, who puts down the bedrock shuffle. The album, produced by Randy Chortkoff, 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” — Butler’s originals on “13” are listed as “Published by Jericho Music.”

MORE: Bukowski, drug busts and blues: Inside Lester Butler’s ‘lost year’

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 issued 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.”

Note: This post was first published on Feb. 1, 2009, and updated Oct. 2, 2021.

King Ernest live in Laughlin, Nevada, in this undated photo courtesy of Eddie Clark. The band included guitarist Paul Bryant (out of frame at right), Clark on drums, Lenny Gambino on harp, Mark Pocket Goldberg on bass and horn player Paul Biondi. (Thank you to Mark Goldberg and Eddie Clark for identification)

Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

2 thoughts on “King Ernest rides with Lester Butler on 1997’s ‘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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  2. King thought black bag was about a suitcase .
    I’ve got a really nice version of it we did in the studio but Lester said he promised it to Randy and King

    Like

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