Broke Down In The Fast Lane
The title track of Red’s Blues’ third album could be a metaphor for America right now, and most likely that is how Beth Reid-Grigsby (aka Red) and Richard “RW” Grigsby, the talented married production team who lead this Sacramento, CA-based band, perceived it. They wrote or co-wrote eight of the eleven songs, and they have that long-running knack of making personal histories both poetic and cosmic.
So even if the opening shuffle “Broke Down in the Fast Lane” is their true tale of “driving down an LA freeway in a freak rainstorm when the unthinkable happens,” it sets a tone for now -- when every little thing feels BIGGER.
Which brings us to Kid Andersen, the larger-than-life maestro of Greaseland Studios in San Jose, CA. The Grigsbys’ choice of his award-winning, inventive touch in this recording pays off. “As far as mixing and mastering, there was never any other choice for us,” says Beth. “Kid’s electric Wurlitzer piano part on ‘Flim Flam Man’ added a whole new element to the song. When he discovered that the scratch vocal was also still on the song, Kid decided to use it with the final vocal, because he felt it added an “other-worldly” quality to the song, as the vocal tracks were so consistent. Every step of the way, he knew exactly what we were looking for.” “Flim Flam Man” is a snaky surf-rhumba -- a scathing critique of what happens when a con man becomes president.
Bassist, singer and songwriter Richard “RW” Grigsby, has logged several lifetimes on the road, and his early rock and roll roots (Rome, GA near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains) burst out like another famous Richard from Georgia on “Road Scholar,” his story of a musician who has spent too much time on the road, working for too little pay. It’s sung by Red’s Blues drummer Tim Wilbur, a pro’s pro (2017 Sacramento Music Awards and Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame member), who brought creative percussion ideas -- maracas AND the entire group thigh-slapping percussion. “We sat in chairs in a circle and slapped our thighs at certain points in the song to add accent,” laughs Beth.
“Jackknifed” (co-authored with fellow road warrior Mark Hummel) continues the road theme with bio notes from their Golden State-Lone Star Blues Revue adventures.
Santa Barbara-born Beth Reid-Grigsby has the perfect voice for “Howlin' Winds” an obscure 1945 jazzy blues love song written by Kansas City natives, Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson. Guest stars/friends Rick Estrin on harmonica and piano man Sid Morris (newly transplanted to Folsom, CA from the Bay Area) complement her.
Infernal nature takes a bow in “Sweet Karma,” Beth’s Dusty Springfield-esque ode to a “man” who sits on his ass while the world goes up in flames. She’s impatient, “waiting for the rain to fall is like waiting for a lover to call --and we feel the world will never be the same, so don’t try to play that same old hustler’s game.” The band wryly quotes the classic Glimmer Twins tagline about “no satisfaction.”
Shades of Sam the Sham and Sir Doug! The Texas Farfisa organ rules in “Forty Years of Trouble”—"a touching tribute to a couple of old married folks” Beth winks as she sings “Forty years of trouble and he’s rusty like a bucket of nails.” This is a dance floor favorite for any age!
The third voice that Beth and RW create when they sing together is a genuine treat and it is all here in this loving tribute to their friend, the great Louisiana musician, Lazy Lester. “A Word About Gossip” is directly inspired by Lester’s 1964 song, “A Word About Women.” Their new lyrics point at us-- smack dab in stuck at home COVID Land, with a lesson about all the gossip on social media, as opposed to talking face to face. Young California harmonica star Kyle Rowland, who was mentored by Lester, is righteously featured on both harmonica and guitar.
There are two terrific guitarists featured on this record. Red’s Blues guitarist Doug Crumpacker, a well-known name in Sacramento for nearly forty years, is one of a handful of musicians who truly taught the city about blues beginning in 1990 with his hugely popular band, The Hucklebucks (with RW on bass, Tim Wilbur on drums). A Sacramento 2016 Blues Society Hall of Fame inductee, he joined Red’s Blues in 2018. “We included Doug Crumpacker's country-flavored original, ‘G.O.N.E.,’ because we feel he achieved the near impossible with this tune, saying a lot with just a handful of words” says Beth. “Tim has been with us for almost four years now, and Doug joining almost two years ago, was a natural fit for our band. We are all like family.“
Special guest guitarist is a bona fide younger generation Chicago blues star, Johnny Burgin, renowned for his raw Gibson guitar, Westside sound on the legendary Delmark Records. “We've had Johnny as a special guest on a lot of gigs and love his style. He’s often our houseguest when he’s in the area, and we had been trying to put together a recording date to coincide with a visit for months. December 4th, 2019, it all came together. We spent the entire day at Grub Mitchell’s Dog Yard Studio. We had our songs and we just started creating. We all brought our ideas to each original and we just clicked on some symbiotic wavelength. Got seven originals done that day,” recalls Beth. “His fearless, on the edge of a cliff playing is exciting and fit perfectly with our vision for this new CD, which is kind of Chicago meets surf, meets country, meets the Gulf Coast!”
Red’s Blues has always had a finger-poppin’ attitude—straight outta the golden years when blues, R&B and swing all meshed together and dance floors every night were filled with snake hips and slow drags. Beth, with her sensual, southern voice and classy behind-the-beat phrasing is more a Peggy Lee or Bobbie Gentry-styled singer: smoky with languid, sexy sophistication. Her “Hands Off,” accompanied by elegant swingman John Cocuzzi on piano, is pure, late nightclub vibe. Beth says “A fun tribute for folks who are married to or involved with musicians. Inspired by a lot of women over the many years, and it is in jest...sort of.”
“Say What,” the instrumental sunset closer written by Doug, has a slowed down Freddie King “Hideaway” feel. It’s like we’re there in the van, RW at the wheel, tooling down the road. Looking back at 2020 and forging ahead to 2021. We’re all in this together.
A little more Beth & RW back story:
Beth, thanks to her older brother, grew up listening to Huddie Ledbetter, Muddy Waters and Mississippi John Hurt records and as a kid, learned from and sang songs at home with her Mom -- “Summertime,” ‘God Bless the Child,’ and St. Louis Blues.” Across the street in her hometown of south Santa Barbara though, the shy 7 year old redhead was bold enough to go perch on the neighbor’s porch listening to a Cuban salsa band rehearse, and from that learned to love the rhythms, the bass and percussion in particular. She and RW met through the local Santa Barbara blues scene years later in 1977 and have lived in his home state of Georgia and then Texas before heading back to sunny Sacramento, California in 2006.
2014 Grammy-nominated and Blues Music Award (BMA) winner bassist RW Grigsby has been playing since he was 14 years old and began his professional career when still a teenager. He's toured the U.S., Canada and Europe since the '80s, and currently juggles playing with Red's Blues, Mark Hummel & the Blues Survivors and The Golden State/Lone Star Blues Revue. He played and recorded with Texas blues stars Gary Primich and Black Top Records’ Mike Morgan and the Crawl in the 1990s. RW is the bassist on the 2014 Grammy-nominated and BMA-winning CD, Remembering Little Walter. He was nominated for a BMA “Best Bassist” Award in 2017 and was inducted into the Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame in 2018.
Red’s Blues draw their audiences into a grown-up music world—southern music with downhome simmer, dance floor fun and stellar, sophisticated players who know they have no need to blast at earsplitting volumes to make the biggest impact.
– Bio by Mindy Giles, © 2020
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