Lester Butler and 13 on AllMusic

At one time, music lovers used resources such as Goldmine, Trouser Press, or All Music Guide to discover rare recordings or complete discographies.

Of those, All Music Guide was the most mainstream, with several printed publications and a CD-ROM database of recorded music.

Though it’s been bought and sold several times over, allmusic.com survives as a website today, though it clearly has been overtaken by Discogs for serious fans.

Along with several other reviews at the time, Jasper Heikens captured biography and review material from All Music for the original Lester Butler Tribute Site. This material included a biography from well-known blues writer Char Ham, and a review of “13 featuring Lester Butler” by legendary rock critic and Brownsville Station hitmaker Cub Koda.

Both of these texts are almost Gospel-level in terms of the biography of Lester Butler, and have informed many reviews and summaries ever since. We present them here as part of the Lester Butler Tribute Site on No Fightin’.

Biography by Char Ham

Musical visionaries in their lifetime are often criticized for blasphemously blending musical styles. Such was the case with Lester Butler. His last album, “13,” melded the roots of American music, blues and alternative rock. Yet Butler could also get down and blow some hardcore blues, backing luminaries Billy Boy Arnold, King Ernest and Finis Tasby.

His first band, the Red Devils, received the attention of producer Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mick Jagger, Tom Petty) while playing their favorite haunt, the King King. With Rubin, they released their only album, which was named after that haunt. Their sound attracted the likes of Jagger, who took them into the studio, but the tracks were never used for Jagger’s album “Wandering Spirit.”

Alex Schultz, fresh from Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, teamed with Butler to form 13. Though abhorred by blues purists, the group broke ground, especially in Europe where they drew high praise from rock bands, who in turn gave 13 opening slots for their shows. 13 was a step away from stardom when Butler died unexpectedly at age 38.

— Char Ham, All-Music Guide

13 review by Cub Koda

From the opening harp honk of “So Low Down,” one is immediately struck by the fact that this is one dirty-sounding, forward-looking blues album, entering into territories usually unexplored by the pleated pants and berets hardliners intent on regurgitating their own record collections. There is not one slickly played, sung, or produced note to be found anywhere on this disc, making it stand out from the rest of the pack right from the beginning. Harmonica man/vocalist Lester Butler’s songwriting pen comes up with nine of the 13 tracks on this disc, and all of them are every bit as finely wrought as the classics covered elsewhere on the album. With burning, solid guitar work from Alex Shultz, Paul Bryant, and someone named Smokey Hormel, a trio of revolving bassists and a pair of revolving drummers (Tom Levy, James Moore, and James Intveld doing the plunking with Steven Hodges and Johnny Morgan doing the skin-beating) and Andy Kaulkin on piano, this is one lowdown, lo-fi sounding (grungy would not be too descriptive a phrase here) album that immediately sucks you in with its sheer honesty alone. Even hackneyed titles like Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” Elmore James’ “So Mean To Me,” and Doctor Ross’ “The Boogie Disease” sound reasonably fresh here, no mean accomplishment for anybody. Although Butler overdubs his vocals on this session, thus utilizing his harp lines as a member of the band rather than the traditional vocal-harp fill-vocal method used in a true live recording, things sound so alarmingly natural, it’s a very minor, niggling point at best. Is this the greatest White juke joint record ever made? Belly up to the bar, turn up the volume and you’ll sure find out; it’s a hard one to ignore.

— Cub Koda, All-Music Guide

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Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

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