The Knickerbocker All-Stars – Open Mic at the Knick
JP Cadillac Records
13 tracks / 47:36
Back in the 1970s and early 1980s there was a killer Sunday night jam at the Knickerbocker Café in Westerly, Rhode Island. Duke Robillard, the founder of Roomful of Blues, would share the stage with unknowns and major league players to crank out a righteous blues show. Unless you were local you probably never chance to experience it, but thankfully Westerly natives Bobby Christina and John Paul Gauthier recently gathered a troupe of killer musicians in the studio to recreate some of what you missed. The result is the Knickerbocker All-Stars new CD, Open Mic at the Knick on JP Cadillac Records.
The heart of this project is Bobby and Fran Christina on the drums, Ricky King Russell on guitar, Bob Worthington on the bass, Al Copley and Dave Maxwell on piano, and a horn section of Doc Chanonhouse, Bobby “Breeze” Holfelden, Rich Lataille, and Dennis Cook. The soul is the eight singers that split up the 13 tracks amongst themselves. They include Willie J. Laws, Malford Milligan, Johnny Nicholas, Sugar Ray Norcia, Mike O’Connell, Curtis Salgado, J. P. Sheerar, and Brian Templeton. All of these folks have been in the business for decades.
Obviously there are no originals in the playlist, and it ends up being a 45 minute set with most of the songs around three minutes long. That means there are no 5-minute solos, so the songs are all about the singers; it is a good thing they are all so talented! There is not enough space here to give a blow-by-blow account of every track, but here are a few of the high points:
-- The CD starts off with B.B King’s “You Upset Me Baby” with Sugar Ray Norcia behind the microphone and Ricky King Russell killing it on the guitar. Right away it is obvious that this is a band full of pros and the horns are really well arranged. Sugar Ray comes back later on with “It’s Later Than You Think,” a Roy Milton jump track that features amazing piano work from Al Copley.
-- Austin, Texas soulman Malford Milligan also takes on two songs: Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” and Gene Dinwiddie’s “Love Disease.” Milligan does Bland proud, showing great range and tone as the band sets up a slick Chicago rhythm and blues accompaniment.
-- Johnny Nicholas appears of three tracks: “Jelly Jelly”, “Reconsider Baby” and “Along About Midnight.” This Texas bluesman used to sit in with Roomful of Blues when he was in town, and he has not lost anything over the past four decades.
-- The set finished up with Mike O’Connell taking the lead on Freddie King’s “Going Down,” and they ended strong with David Maxwell hammering out the piano part and the horns gloriously accompanying O’Connell’s distinctive howl.
If you love jump blues and horns, you need to pick up a copy of the Knickerbocker All-Stars Open Mic at the Knick. The aim of this disc was to hearken back to a time where there were great frontmen on stage every week, backed by a high-octane piano and horn-fueled band, and they succeeded in this task. They ended up with nothing but good songs that are performed well and recorded with care. What more could you ask for?