‘King King’ a favorite of these Canadian reviewers

Jonny Ray Bartel

The Red Devils seem to have played — at best — only a handful of gigs in Canada. That didn’t stop Canadian publications from falling in love with “King King.”

These three Canadian album reviews from 1993 are colorful, and effusive in their praise. (A bonus Scottish review fits the trend, as well.)

“A cross between the Gun Club and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.”

“Lester Butler … blows fire into the set.”

“The blues as it should be played.”

“The rawest, toughest blues album I’ve heard in eons.”

Yeah, they get it.

Let’s dive in for a closer look at the details in all four reviews.

First up, from the Feb. 3, 1993, edition of The Province in British Columbia, comes this review by Tom Harrison. This review also previews a Feb. 5 performance at Vancouver’s popular Town Pump club. (Added bonus: The original page includes a contest to win an advance copy of Mick Jagger’s “Wandering Spirit,” among other prizes.)

Red Devils prime Pump on Friday

You’ll be hearing a lot more about the Red Devils when Mick Jagger’s new album hits the streets. After jamming with them one evening, he recorded enough tracks to fill a Jagger solo LP.

You can also catch the Red Devils on Friday when the group hits the Town Pump stage at midnight or you can check out King King, a “live” album recorded at L.A.’s King King club where this exemplary white blues band has had a regular gig for three years.

Once again, the feeling is raw, gritty and even — for the sake of authenticity or atmosphere? — distorted.

This short Feb. 27, 1993, review from the Montreal Gazette breaks the news about The Red Devils’ slot opening tour slot for guitarist John Campbell falling apart.

Can they do it live? They have.

Def American honcho Rick Rubin waxed this L.A. blues band in a club called King King on a night when the harmonica was coal-powered and the rhythm section rollicking.

Former Blasters drummer Bill Bateman keeps the momentum rhythmic and the rhythm momentous, but it’s Lester Butler who blows fire into the set with his voice and harp, blasted through one of those ancient Green Bullet mikes. Guitarists Paul “The Kid” Size and Dave Lee Bartel chop serious wood themselves. The band bowed off the John Campbell tour when half its members quit or something, but it may be through sometime soon.

Next up is a four-star review for “King King” from the March 25, 1993, Vancouver Sun. Reviewer John Mackie doesn’t hold back in his praise for the album.

He’s a little less enamored with Campbell’s “Howlin’ Mercy” (three stars). The two reviews are paired, much as Campbell and the Devils were briefly paired on the road in early 1993.

The blues have been done to death, so you’d better have something special if you’re gonna play ’em in ’93. And The Red Devils do. “King King” is the rawest, toughest blues album I’ve heard in eons, and the best-sounding one, to boot. Producer Rick Rubin seems to have recorded the whole album with the meters in the red, which leaves the sound completely distorted, completely electric, and completely cool. The Devils — made up of a bunch of L.A. roots and blues players, including Bill Bateman and Gene Taylor of the Blasters — play like a cross between the Gun Club and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, rockin’ the hell out of songs like “Automatic” and “Goin’ to the Church.”

John Campbell’s take on the blues is a little spookier. Campbell’s got the most bloodcurdling voice this side of Howlin’ Wolf, and when he sets it loose on material like “Down in the Hole” (by Tom Waits) and “Ain’t Afraid of Midnight” (on which he brags about teaching the hellhound to sit and cheating Satan playing cards), he sounds like the wolfman at full-moon time.

In small doses, Campbell certainly packs a punch.

Finally, this review from the Kilmarnock Standard on Jan. 29, 1993, highlights the importance of “King King” finding a UK home on the This Way Up label. That distribution helped the Devils grow its still-devoted fanbase across Europe.

Devils delight

The Red Devils’ “King King” album’s almost the one that got away.

The superb live debut set from the acclaimed Los Angeles blues band has been available on Def American in the States since last summer, but it’s never had a U.K. release, at least, not until now.

Step forward This Way Up, the company which has secured the rights to the set, and who now say they’ll release it in March.

The Red Devils had been resident house band at the King King nightclub in LA for six years before they were signed up last year by Def American’s Rick Rubin.

They play the blues as it should be played — whether performing their own songs or covering Sonny Boy Williamson or Howlin’ Wolf standards. A debut to savour . .. slowly.

Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

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