Review by Dave Glackin
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Number: APO 45rpm LP (APO 001)
Ever wanted to hear what one of the biggest blues pianists of the Chicago of the 1950's really sounds like solo? Well now you can, up close and personal, thanks to Chad Kassem and Blue Heaven Studios. Henry was one of the featured artists at Chad's third annual "Blues Masters at the Crossroads" festival in Salina, Kansas, in October,
2000 (see show report by clicking here). That fabulous event is covered elsewhere in this publication in my article entitled
"Livin' With The Blues in Salina."
Henry recorded with Bo Diddley, Little Walter, and many others, and he played with
Howlin' Wolf from 1956 - 1968. He's still in high demand internationally as a performer, and one fall day in the middle of Kansas I found out why.
Offstage, Henry is pretty sedate, and he does not like to reveal too much of himself. But when he gets onstage, watch out. Henry really got the place rockin' with his two-fisted boogie woogie piano and his vocal style. He brought down the house with
"Tutti Frutti." He just cranked out the tunes, and only occasionally broke into a smile. This legend of blues piano seemed perfectly used to the adulation of enthusiastic crowds. And his vocals are
exuberant, a real joy to hear.
This 45 rpm LP was recorded in the afternoon, before the live festival concert. Its sound is live, direct, stripped-down, and a bit raw. As loyal readers know, Stan Ricker was on hand in Salina to make direct-to-disc recordings of these performances. The Henry Gray recordings had some flaws, due to problems with the amplifiers in the direct-to-disc recording chain (through no fault whatsoever of Stan's). So this LP was created from the backup half-inch 30ips analogue tape, mastered onto LP at 45 rpm, and pressed on HQ-180 gram vinyl. Those of you who are familiar with 45rpm LPs know what an advantage they have over 33 1/3rpm LPs. When the cutting stylus has more space on the lacquer over which to inscribe a given amount of music, and your stylus similarly has more space over which to retrieve it, good things happen.
Henry's repertoire would easily support a dozen records such as this. The six cuts on the 45rpm LP provide a good overview of his dazzling technique and crowd-pleasing style. It seems clear that Chad has set out to record a wide cross-section of blues styles, and he is succeeding admirably. I just wonder how much work Chad's piano required after Henry finished working out on it over the two days of the festival.
If you want to go back to the Chicago of the 50's, and feel like what it would have been like to sit beside one of the masters of boogie woogie as he rolled off tune after tune, buy this record, do whatever you must do to make your turntable spin at 45 rpm, crank it up, and enjoy.
Sound Quality: 80