Lester Butler & 13 reviews, collected

Reviews for 1997’s “13 featuring Lester Butler” both good and bad were collected at the time by Jasper Heikens for the Lester Butler Tribute Site. These long-lost reviews provide a snapshot of a moment in time when Butler was still breaking ground, “the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion meets Little Walter.”

If anyone has more info on these reviews, please let us know. They are presented here are they were on the original Lester Butler Tribute Site.

Spinal Column

Run to the record store and pick up this album! Thirteen offers up the best modern blues around! Led by ex-Red Devils frontman, Lester Butler, Thirteen serves up some mean and gritty blues with style. You just can’t help movin’ to the tunes. Lester Butler’s harmonica playing is absolutely remarkable and his nasally vocals mesh perfectly with the bold sound of the band. In terms of the modern electric blues (not including the living legends like R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, B.B. King, etc.), there is no one better out there right now.

Lester and the boys unleash 13 (how appropriate) rockin’ blues originals and covers. All are worthy of praise. However, there are a handful that deserve a little extra attention. Thirteen’s renditions of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go”, Elmore James’ “So Mean to Me”, and Willie Dixon’s “Close to You” do the originators proud. However, their blistering cover (complete with bottle-smashing) of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” is simply unreal. Also, originals penned by Butler like “So Low Down,” “Black Hearted Woman” and “Pray for Me” prove that these guys can play the dirty blues with the best of them. Thirteen’s blues sounds like it comes straight from a smoke filled room with the stench of whiskey permeating throughout. Music such as this should not be ignored. You really can’t go wrong with Thirteen!

Andrew Rackauskas

The Blues Bytes

A new name for me, but one that I think we’ll more from in the blues world, is 13 featuring Lester Butler. Their new self-titled album on Hightone is excellent, with a real 1950s Chicago sound to the music. The spirit of Howlin’ Wolf lives on in this contemporary band from Los Angeles. Butler is not a great singer, but his voice carries the right emotional feel. And he’s a better than average harmonica player. Also making a return to the recording business is guitarist Alex Schultz, formerly with Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers. 13’s version of “Close To You” has a real low fidelity fuzz, like listening to an old 45; that’s refreshing in these days of crystal clear CD sound. Schultz gets to star on the original “Way Down South.” Mr. Butler also has a real dark side, as heard on the frantic song “I’m Into Homicide”; check out his maniacal laughter which sounds a lot like the best from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

— Bill Mitchell

Birth of a ‘Plague’

The roots of 13’s “Plague of Madness” date back to a 1957 single from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, “Frenzy,” a speeding, twanging getaway chase of a song,

NJO Scotts on Sound

13, featuring Red Devils frontman Lester Butler, proves a few classic rock ‘n’ roll truisms remain viable here in the ’90s. First, all the supergroup talent in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t put it to work on some interesting ideas. Second, rocking out on blues classics may sound great live, but that live magic doesn’t always translate to disc.
13 is a West Coast blues supergroup, with Butler, former Blaster James Intveld and guitarist Alex Schultz, among others, getting together to crank out some classic post-war Chicago blues.

But if you’re going to cover warhorses like Howlin Wolf’s “Smoke Stack Lightning” and Willie Dixon’s “Close to You,” you better add something new. And 13, while adequate in all respects, doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

The same goes for Butler originals like “Plague of Madness” and “Pray for Me.” Lots of howling, especially from Butler, but the songs aren’t particularly memorable, making 13 just another boogie band.

— Hersey’s Pick


  • I never understood why the Red Devils didn’t make more noise. I thought “King King,” the album produced by Rick Rubin, was lively. I feel the same way, though with not so much vigor, about this self-titled debut from 13. It’s a valid thesis statement on the current borderland between straight blues and rock ‘n’ roll, with Butler providing some muscular frontman work on both vocals and harp. Unfortunately, beyond that, the ensemble isn’t all that hot with the exception of keyboard player Andy Kaulkin who burns things up on both piano and organ from time to time.
  • My personal favorites on here are Butler’s “So Low Down” and Dixon’s “Close to You,” which, unlike you, Hersey, I think Butler makes his own with some nice harmonica work.
  • Sorry, Brodeur. There isn’t enough originality here to make me the least bit interested. I’ve heard enough blues covers in my day that something has to be special to make me take notice — try Ronnie Earl sometime, if you want to hear some real modern blues that pays tribute to the masters without being slavish. A few hot harp runs here don’t make this anything but another good live band that fails on album.
  • This hits me as a cross between the Black Crowes debut and vintage, “Ladies Invited”-era J. Geils Band. Not quite as good as either of those, but in that same derivative ballpark.

The Volkskrant

More record stores discover musicians who play the same music as Jon Spencer and R.L. Burnside. So does 13 feat. Lester Butler, from America with a polished blues-rock sound, with a main act: Butlers voice and harpplay. Own material and covers are played like: “Close to You” (Willie Dixon), “So Mean to Me” (Elmore James) and “Smoke Stack Lightning” (Chester Burnett). Those songs played by Lester are loosened, relaxed, direct and very loud.

— Written by: The Volkskrant; Provided by: Robert Atskin; Translated by: JH.

The Festival Navigator

This band is the project of singer/harp player Lester Butler, who also known for his work with L.A.’s Red Devils. This recording is raw, edgy alternative blues-rock. Picture the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion meets Little Walter. The band roars through a high-powered set of originals and classic covers by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Williams and Dr. Ross.

Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

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