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The Bluesmasters Featuring Mickey Thomas

The Bluesmasters Featuring Mickey Thomas

Direct Music Distribution

11 songs; 44:34 minutes; Splendid

Styles: Blues, Rock and Roll, R&B

For the $32,000 question: What song surprisingly hit #3 on the pop charts in 1976 for Bluesman-come-Southern Rocker Elvin Bishop?

And, now, for the $64,000 question, who sang lead vocals? Hint: it was not Elvin Bishop. The hit with its unforgettable lead voice was a sing-along favorite and still is even today as a golden oldie.

The song was “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” penned by Elvin Bishop and Mundo Earwood. The vocalist was John Michael Thomas, better known as “Mickey” Thomas.

Thomas’ vocals on “Fooled Around...” were far superior to the rougher hewn voice of Bishop. When I saw Bishop live in 2008 at the Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora IL, he sure enough included the hit in his set, but only as an instrumental. It was like saying, “No one will ever be able to sing this song as well as Mickey Thomas; so without him, we won’t even try!”

Now approaching age 60 and with his voice strong and soulful as ever, Thomas is lending his lead vocalist pipes to a project of classic Blues tunes for The Bluesmasters. Formed in 2007 by guitarist/producer Tim Tucker and pianist Sean Benjamin, this sextet with front man Thomas will tour in the U.S. and internationally in 2010.

Opening the CD is a mid tempo shuffle version of “Cherry Red” originally made famous by Big Joe Turner. Doug Lynn opens and solos with a plaintive harp while pianist Sean Benjamin displays his barrelhouse chops on the horse teeth. In just 2:51 minutes, Thomas swoops from a growl to his famous falsetto powered by the drumming of British bluesman Aynsley Dunbar and bassist Danny Miranda.
Thomas then takes the postwar blues standard, “Rock Me, Baby,” long identified with B.B. King, and pumps up the energy to a delivery that lets him empty out his lungs. Tucker wails on guitar in call and response with Thomas and shares solos with Lynn on harp as the entire band enthusiastically rock that baby.

Thomas and band, including organist Ric Ulsky, next do a nostalgic rendition of “Fooled Around and Fell In Love.” Demonstrating convincingly his ability to perform this fan favorite, Thomas has wonderful backing from singers Stephanie Calvert, Thomas’ colleague in Starship, and Darlene Gardner. The Bluesmasters take the original version to the grittier edge of its Blues roots in keeping with their overall set.

Studio Guest Magic Slim is on “Can’t Get No Grindin’” and the driving “Get Your Business Straight.” (The latter by Gwendolyn Collins is mistakenly credited as “Phil” Collins.) Muddy Waters’ “...Grindin’” is turned into a churning shuffle featuring a duet with Slim. They’ve combined Slim’s gruff with Thomas’ opposing timbre to great effect while Slim’s guitar solos sting like 151 proof rum.
Guest guitarist John Wedemeyer takes “Walkin’ Blues” back down home with an electric slide part married to Lynn’s harp as Thomas moans and shouts the blues over the hypnotic groove.

Another standout song befitting a confident singer, Thomas takes up singing the Etta James ballad “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Thomas simply nails the pain of lost love as Tucker and organist Ulsky recreate Memphis soul with aplomb.

The Bluesmasters have winning answers in this CD. Everything is solid, and fans of Mickey Thomas just struck Blues gold.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and longtime Blues Blast Magazine contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL

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