Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Jim McCarty release captures magical moments

Fans of blues guitar owe Mike Moss a big “thank you.”
It was Moss, owner of Callahan’s Music Hall in Auburn Hills, who convinced legendary guitarist Jim McCarty to release the fine new CD “Jim McCarty & Friends” (Cally’s Records and Tapes),  a collection of 12 songs recorded live at Callahan’s over a three-year period. Each tune features McCarty in impromptu jams with the likes of Duke Robillard, Jason Ricci and John Nemeth.
“I was a huge McCarty fan growing up,” Moss said. “I knew he was an incredible rock ‘n’ roll guitarist from his work with Mitch Ryder and the Rockets.”
A chance viewing of McCarty’s group Mystery Train at a Detroit club turned Moss on to McCarty’s considerable blues chops.
“I was surprised to see him play the blues and I was blown away,” Moss said. “When I opened the club, I got a chance to book Jim. He was one of my first guitar heroes and it was quite an honor.”
Moss and McCarty became friends and shared their passion for the blues. When visiting national acts would stop by the club for an afternoon sound check, they would often comment on the photo of McCarty hanging in Moss’ office.
“He would show up that night and they would see him in the back of the room and ask him to play,” Moss said. “We started rolling tape and capturing it.”
The results are nothing short of remarkable as McCarty interacts with a wide variety of artists.
“This reason this CD exists is because of Mike,” said McCarty, who celebrates the release of the CD with a show on Saturday at Callahan’s.  “He’s been talking for a while about wanting to do this, because he thought I never got my due in the blues community. Everybody knows my rock ‘n’ roll stuff, but Mike wanted something out there representing the blues.
“I’m very pleased how it turned out, especially with the variety. It’s not a one-trick pony type of thing.”
The CD opens with a pair of smoking jump instrumental jams with East Coast bluesman Johnny A and his band. Next, McCarty lends his vocals talents as well as his tasty guitar to a version of “Help Me” with harp player Jason Ricci and his band The New Blood.
One pleasant surprise after another follows as McCarty trades licks with Roomful of Blues founder Duke Robillard and shares the stage with Detroit’s fine jump blues and swing band The Millionaires, the John Nemeth Band and the Jimmy Thackery Band . The CD also features an original song by the Bee-McCarty Duo, with McCarty joining longtime friend and musical companion, drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek; and ends with Mystery Train’s soulful version of Donald Byrd’s jazz classic “Cristo Redentor.”
“I’ve always loved that tune,” McCarty said. “One night, I woke  out of a deep sleep and said to myself, ‘I’ve got to play this song.’ I used heavy duty sustain to try to emulate what the trumpet did.”
McCarty gushes when he remembers the various sessions.
“It was a ball, an absolute ball, playing that big band stuff (with The Millionaires). It was  something completely different than what I normally do. Playing jump blues with the horns reminded me of the old Buddy Miles days with the horn section, although that band didn’t play the blues.
“I particularly enjoyed playing the stuff with Duke. His solo on ‘West Helena Blues’ speaks for itself.”
The live format contributes to the energetic feel of the recordings, with the artists challenged by being a bit out of their comfort zone.  McCarty is more than up to the challenge, delivering numerous inventive solos with a deft and confident touch.
He recorded B.B. King’s classic “Sweet Sixteen” with the John Nemeth Band, playing a borrowed Gibson SG with heavy gauge strings. Ironically, one of the strings broke about 20 seconds before the end of the song, causing a tuning problem, but McCarty insisted the track be included on the CD because of Nemeth’s vocal prowess.
“That guy’s voice made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end,” McCarty said.
It was a collaborations like that one that make the CD special, according to Moss.
“I listened to the tapes and said, ‘Wow, there’s an album here. We’ve got to put it out,’” Moss said. “They are all jams, none of it is rehearsed, and some of the people didn’t even know each other.”
McCarty, who is still playing rock ‘n’ roll with his reunited band the Rockets and at an occasional Cactus reunion, calls the results “lovely.”
“For me, rock ‘n’ roll and blues are both necessary. I need both of them to be musically happy.”
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS: McCarty and his band Mystery Train will perform a set to open Saturday’s show.  Mystery Train includes guitarist-vocalist Rick Stel, drummer Todd Glass, and bass player Marvin Conrad, who McCarty says is “like my right arm. He’s rock steady.”
The second set is expected to feature jams with some of McCarty’s friends, including harp player Kenny Welk, guitarist Big Al Grebovic, and harp player Garfield Angove and some of the horn players from The Millionaires.
NO FUN: One of the highlights of “Jim McCarty & Friends” is a unique version of The Stooges’ song “No Fun,” recorded with The Millionaires. Ironically, another Stooges’ song, “I Just Wanna Be Your Dog,” is on the rock ‘n’ roll CD “The Hell Drivers Live From Detroit,” which was also recorded at Callahan’s.
“I can’t get away from Iggy,” McCarty joked. “That song is probably the highlight of the (Hell Driver’s) CD.”
NEW ROCKETS MATERIAL: McCarty is keeping busy with his rock ‘n’ roll music. He’ll perform with Cactus on July 22 at the Magic Bag in Ferndale and also has summertime gigs with the reunited Rockets. Don’t mistake the Rockets for one of those oldies acts who often tour during the summer.
“I’ve seen some of those bands who reunite after 35 years and they sound like 65-year-old men who haven’t played together in 35 years,” McCarty said. “The Rockets don’t sound like 65-, 66-year-old men.”
He says the energy level at performances by the Rockets has been incredible and that the band has some “new, killer material” that the band hopes to record soon.
“Badanjek has been writing his ass off,” McCarty said. “We’re playing the new songs live and every time we play ‘em, we know we’ve still got it. We want to let everybody know this isn’t just an oldies act.”
McCarty and his band Mystery Train perform Saturday (June 25) at a CD release party for “Jim McCarty & Friends” at Callahan’s Music Hall, 2105 South Blvd., Auburn Hills (248-858-9508, atcallahans.com). Tickets are $10-$12. Signed CDs will be available at the gig and the album can also be purchased on iTunes or at www.mccartyandfriends.com.

To send info to JB Blues, please email Joe.Ballor@dailytribune.com.

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