Concert Review: John Primer & The Real Deal Blues Band@ The Linda, 09/29/2023
Like Buddy Guy, John Primer began plucking a single wire nailed to his family’s shotgun shack in the Delta at age three. Both emigrated to Chicago, Buddy in 1954, and Primer in 1963.
Primer’s Albany set, however, was the antithesis of Buddy in style. While Buddy is an over-the-top slash and burn guitarist who plays fundamentally the same set he did 60 years ago, Primer in his show in Albany did a first set of original songs, concentrating mainly on material from his last two albums, Hard Times and Live at Rosa’s. Buddy Guy’s only consistent nod to his many albums since his rise to mass acceptance after signing with Silvertone in the early ’90s is what has become his signature song, “Skin Deep.” It was written by his drummer, Tom Hambridge, known for writing character-defining biographical material for scores of mostly young blues artists, including Kingfish’s first two albums.
Primer played guitar with Muddy Waters for the last two years of Muddy’s life from 1981 to ’83 in Muddy’s Legendary Blues Band. That group was formed after the breakup of Muddy’s former group. John’s performance of Muddy’s “I’m A Man” was so close to the original down to Muddy’s guttural inflections that when I closed my eyes, I was transported back to 1981 when Muddy played the Colonie Coliseum.
I was frankly pleasantly surprised by the adulation displayed by an audience of about 80 people. Primer has an iconic resume having played with Chicago legends he assumed were all dead when he emigrated there fresh from the Mississippi cotton fields at age 18. Forty years later, he’d played with most of them, including Jr. Wells and Magic Slim. But to a mass audience, he’s best known for a DVD documentary shot at Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge in 1981 with the Rolling Stones sitting in with Muddy Waters and Lefty Dizz.
I spoke to a few in the audience who’d come from as far as The Berkshires and Springfield. Mostly white, with a sprinkling of Rolling Stones jacket and shirts, they were transfixed by Primer’s performance which was the antithesis of the kind of flamboyance usually required to hold the attention of fans brought up on blues rockers’ flamboyance.
Make no mistake, Primer is an old school master whose originals hold up next to the covers he did of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ for My Baby” and “Back Door Man.” The crowd adored him and gave him the respect he deserved.
Primer played “Rainy Night in Georgia,” proving he’s not a one-trick pony, and he paid homage to his 13 years at Theresa’s South Side Lounge with Jr. Wells, who was “a good teacher.” He was Muddy’s band leader but said that he never knew what key Muddy was going to play in on any song until Muddy plucked the first note.
Primer’s four-piece Real Deal Blues Band included Steve Bell playing a set of harps from his cartridge belt. He has a style all his own with enough James Cotton in it to fit perfectly into Primer’s style.
John Primer will be my guest on October 7th at the Call and Response Seminar at King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, along with Nick Moss and his harp player Dennis Gruenling and Munnie Jordan, CEO of the festival.