Big City Blues
Blues & Rhythm (UK)
Blues Art Journal (Austria)
Blues Lovers United of San Diego
Cahl’s Jukejoint Blog
Doc’s Juke Joint
Docteur Blues (France)
Dr. Soul & Blues (France)
El Dorado News-Times
Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Juke Joint Blues & Soul (France)
La Hora del Blues (Spain)
Long Island Blues Society
Phoenix New Times
Rootstime Magazine (Belgium)
San Diego CityBeat
San Diego Reader
Twoj Blues (Poland)
Juke Joint Blues & Soul (France) (April 17, 2008)
Le nouvel album de Tomcat Courtney est disponible ! L’écoute de quelques titres démos laissait présager un bel album, le résultat enthousiasmant est à la hauteur de notre attente. Enregistré sous la houlette de Bob Corritore chez Blue Witch Records, c’est un vrai plaisir de retrouver aux côtés du vétéran de San Diego les amis Chris James et Patrick Rynn. Si les ombres de Lightin Hopkins et de Lil Son Jackson planent au dessus cette session, Tomcat Courtney est un de ces artistes dont la signature est immédiatement reconnaissable. Superbe !
– Jean Luc Vabres
El Dorado News-Times (Arkansas) (April 21, 2008)
If you like Texas roots blues you might check out Downsville Blues by Tomcat Courtney on Blue Witch Records. The CD will be released on May 20.
Courtney, 78, is a native of Texas but he’s lived everywhere, including San Diego, Calif., which he’s called home for decades. The title track is about his hometown, about 8 miles from Waco, Texas. Although he’s had a few self-produced CDs in the past, Downsville Blues is his first national release.
Courtney’s guitar and that of Chris James sizzle throughout the new CD. Throw in amazing harmonica work from Bob Corritore and you have a genuinely fine product. Other musicians on the CD are Patrick Rynn, Brian Fahey and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums. The CD was recorded in Tempe, Ariz., and produced by Corritore.
“The rest of the world is about to discover what San Diego has known for 35 years: Tomcat Courtney may well be the closest connection to Texas country blues tradition extant,” wrote Bill Dahl in the liner notes.
Courtney began as a dancer after World War II, took up the harmonica, and eventually settled with the guitar.
Song after song on Downsville Blues rings true with Texas and Delta blues. “Cook My Breakfast,” which opens the CD, finds Courtney growling in duet with Corritore’s harmonica. The title track dips into his soul:
Well I was raised in a shack
Down by a railroad track
That old train came along
I bordered on and never looked back
One day I decided I’d go back home
Back to that old place, Lord where I used to roam
But that house, by the tracks, Lord, it was gone
Old neighbor he came around
He said that old house by the track had burned down
It’s been so long, since I was back home
Courtney also wrote “Disaster Blues” following Hurricane Katrina in 2005:
I met a homeless man this morning
Ah he was looking very sad
I met a homeless man this morning
He was looking very sad
He said ‘I lost everything in the world
Everything in the world that I had’
He said it was down in Louisiana
Down in New Orleans
Down in Louisiana
Way down in New Orleans
I said it was the worst disaster
It was the worst disaster I’d ever seen
You know the wind was blowing
You know the rain was coming down
You know the wind was blowing
You know the rain was coming down
You know the levee broke
And it flooded the lower end out of town
Courtney also carries on the tradition of saucy, uptempo blues with “Shake It Up Baby”, “Four Wheel Drive”, and “Bottle It Up And Go”:
I said mama killed a chicken
Thought he was a duck
Put him on the table with his lunch sticking up
You gotta bottle it up and go
You see you high-powered women
Sure ‘nuff bottle it up and go
Robert J. Hawkins wrote in a San Diego entertainment guide that Courtney called San Diego his own. “Make no mistake: For 20 years, Tomcat Courtney was the Texas Teahouse and the Texas Teahouse was Tomcat. When he’d come to that old Ocean Beach flytrap and strum his brand of blues, the tables would fill and the Teahouse would stand for something more than the end of the road for a bunch of washed-out surf bums and motorcycle hoods. They were a couple of beat-up old roadhouse dogs. Cigarette smoke, stale beer and the blues clung to both of ‘em. And they both wore it all with a touch of threadbare dignity. Inseparable”, he wrote.
“Tomcat Courtney is the older of the two, too. Born in 1929. In Texas. He learned to pick listening to fellow Texan Lightnin’ Hopkins and traveled the same rough-and-tumble dusty roadhouse circuit until he answered the siren’s call of California. One visit to San Diego in 1971 was enough to convince Tomcat that he’d found a home. A year later, he found the Teahouse. They had a standing date, once a week. It lasted two decades. For 20 years Tomcat Courtney worked in the kitchen of a Mission Valley hotel and spent his nights picking the blues either solo or with his revolving band of talented sidemen, the Bluesdusters.”
Hawkins said about Courtney, “He’s a showman. With his band the Bluesdusters, you’ll hear some familiar B.B. King, Freddie King, John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’, among other greats, mixed into his sets. And you’ll hear his own compositions. But it isn’t about flash. It is about feeling. Courtney doesn’t shred chords. He heals busted dreams by singing the blues.”
Courtney has also played for many years at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix. He’ll have a CD release party there in May. Also in May will be a special performance at the Delta Groove Showcase in Clarksdale, Miss. He’ll be performing with other legends such as Big Pete Pearson and Dave Riley.
Corritore has on his website: “San Diego-based blues guitarist/vocalist Tomcat Courtney was born in Waco, Texas in 1929, where he grew up on the music of Lightnin’ Hopkins and T-Bone Walker, both whom he knew personally. Tomcat is a stunning vocalist and guitarist with a beautiful down-home approach to the blues … He has become a prominent elder statesman of the San Diego blues community…”
Find out more at www.bluewitchrecords.com on the Internet. You can also order Downsville Blues from the same site.
– Roderick Harrington
MusicCityBlues.org (May 15, 2008)
There is nothing like a trip down along Highway 61 to make a blues lover feel right at home. And, there’s no better soundtrack for a “road trip” of this nature than a CD from a genuine, down-to-earth bluesman who’s literally lived every note he’s played. We are talking about none other than Tomcat Courtney and his debut CD on Blue Witch Records entitled Downsville Blues. It’s an exercise in plaintive, “storytelling” blues from a native Texan who has a deep affinity for the blues the way Lightnin’ Hopkins or Sonny and Brownie used to play ‘em.
Tomcat left Texas in the Seventies and landed in San Diego, where, by his own accounts, he’s been “working four nights a week since I got here!” His deep vocals and sparse, understated guitar lines are ably complemented by his ace back-up band, who all happen to be members of the Phoenix, AZ, Rhythm Room All-Stars. They are: Bob Corritore on harp, Chris James on guitar, Patrick Rynn on bass, and Brian Fahey or Big Eyes Smith on drums. These guys, along with Tomcat’s gritty delivery, give this one a definite, “back-porch pickin’ feel.
Check out his uncanny way with a lyric, too. A consummate teller-of-tales, Tomcat writes from personal experiences and societal topics as well. A mean-spirited lover who “just won’t let me ride” owns a big ‘ol “Four Wheel Drive”. A killer slide attack permeates “Cryin’ Won’t Help You”. A long-ago hometown visit where nothing seems the same any more is the theme of the title cut, while the destruction and hopelessness of Katrina is the focus of “Disaster Blues.”
While we were at the Blue Witch Revue in Clarksdale at the Ground Zero Blues Club on May 9, Tomcat told the audience that “this is my favorite song on the album,” and it’s ours, too—“Cook My Breakfast” kicks the set into high gear when Tomcat exhorts his lover to bring “biscuits, nice and round, and a jelly roll, sweet and brown!!”
Many thanks to Beth Lipham of Blue Witch Records for giving us this CD during the Blues Awards show on May 8. It was the perfect CD for our ride down 61 to Clarksdale, and here’s hoping that Downsville Blues brings Tomcat Courtney well-deserved prominence in the blues world!!
– Sheryl and Don Crow
San Diego CityBeat (May 14, 2008)
The ’cat’s meow
One listen to Tomcat Courtney and it’s clear this guy ain’t faking it. His powerful, honeyed voice aches with every rotten thing ever done to him, while his jagged guitar weeps with the knowing grit of experience. But the fact that the bluesman calls San Diego home isn’t half as surprising as the fact that, at age 78, Courtney will release his first album, Downsville Blues, on May 20.
Growing up in Texas in the 1940s, Courtney watched heroes like Lightnin’ Hopkins and T-Bone Walker spin tales of lost love, broken homes, and bad luck. They inspired him to pick up the guitar, but it wasn’t until he started tap dancing in a tent show that he knew he could sing.
“It was a Memphis-style show, and there was a girl who couldn’t remember the words to ‘St. Louis Blues,’ so I starts singing it behind her so she would remember,” Courtney tells CityBeat in his Southern-fried brogue. “They liked it enough to have me do it in the show…. I never knew I could sing before that.”
After getting married and having kids, Courtney left his performing days in the rearview mirror. He toiled to support his family with odd jobs—dish washer, fry cook, etc.—for nearly a decade before he began playing again in juke joints and roadhouses throughout the South. When his band broke up during a tour stop in L.A., Courtney liked the weather so much he stayed.
“I liked San Diego, but L.A. had more joints to play,” he says. “Then I got some regular gigs in San Diego, so I moved down there.”
Courtney established himself as a fixture at the Texas Teahouse in Ocean Beach and now plays regularly at the Turquoise Café (Wednesdays and Fridays) in La Jolla and Chateau Orleans (Thursdays and Saturdays) in Pacific Beach.
And while the raw appeal and unvarnished soul captured on Downsville Blues makes you wish he hadn’t waited so long to release an album, it’s a debut worth waiting for.
“I had so many jobs all around that I never worried about making no record,” Courtney says. “But this is a real blues record because I lived it.”
– Paul Saitowitz
Phoenix NewTimes (May 22, 2008)
Not to get all “purist”, but it’s no secret that blues — along with its bastard child, rock ‘n’ roll — has been “gentrified” to within an inch of its life. (Cripes, songs by the Who and the Clash are being used to sell cars.) There are hundreds of modern blues albums that exude as much vehemence and passion as John Mayer. All the more reason to be, dare we say, excited about the national debut of Texas-bred, San Diego-based singer/guitarist/ songwriter Tomcat Courtney. Born in 1929, this chap was at the crossroads (no pun intended) of rural acoustic and urban electric blues styles, just like legends Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker. Melt-your-mind originality? Nope — but Courtney has this virtually feralcry in his voice, an echo of the field hollers that were part of blues’ origins, something that’s damn rare in contemporary my-baby-done-left-me merchants. The sizzling, buzzing guitars of Courtney and Chris James are rich with barbed, in-the-red distortion. Producer Bob Corritore’s amplified harmonica has massive presence with a serrated edge that could cut you if you got too close. Recorded in Tucson,Downsville Blues will likely be one of the best blues discs of ’08.
– Mark Keresman
TheBluegrassSpecial.com (May 26, 2008)
In his national debut as a recording artist, 78-year-old Texas bluesman (transplanted to San Diego 35 years ago) Tomcat Courtney is focused on the basics of life: in the slow grind of “Cook My Breakfast,” he demands only that his woman do exactly as the title suggests, but leaves it for the listener to decide whether grits is groceries or if he has something else in mind when he growls, “Turn my damper down, baby/Don’t you burn my coffee pot.” As he does on six other of the dozen tracks here, Bob Corritore sweetens the suggestiveness with some sensuous, shimmering harmonica musings. Fashioning a dark-tinged boogie on the top strings of his electric guitar, Tomcat opens “Shake It Up Baby” by declaring, “Sugar’s sugar/salt is salt/if you can’t shake it up, baby/it’s not my fault,” then keeps the boogie rumbling as he runs through a checklist of fundamental necessities, such as whiskey and gin, before concluding, “you ain’t my friend/if you can’t shake yo’ stuff.” Which is not to suggest a surfeit of depth in Tomcat’s oeuvre. The spare, dark “Downsville Blues” is a haunting reminiscence of a trip back home that finds people and places unrecognizable from what he once knew, a feeling of displacement Courtney heightens with a stark, serpentine guitar solo complementing the restrained emotion in his sorrowful vocal. And the personal toll of Hurricane Katrina is measured in the anguished tale of a homeless man who lived to bear witness to the tragedy in “Disaster Blues”, a song in which the lyrics say enough on their own but are lent added punch by Tomcat’s angry, distorted guitar and Corritore’s fierce harmonica protestations. Blending Delta, Chicago, and Texas guitar stylings with the laconic, undaunted voice of experience, Tomcat Courtney makes an impression, and then makes it stick. Downsville Blues wears well.
– David McGee
Living Blues (Issue 196)
Well, it’s about time – after more than 40 years on the California blues scene (first in L.A., since 1972 in San Diego) with not much in the way of discography (three titles on Advent’s 1974 San Diego Blues Jam anthology and the odd self-produced cassette or CD), Texas native Tom “Tomcat” Courtney finally has his first national release under his own name.
For the occasion, Blue Witch producer Bob Corritore took Courtney into a Tempe, Arizona studio with the empathetic support of guitarist Chris James, who first played with Courtney back in 1980 at age 13. On five tracks, it’s just the two guitarists playing amplified and dirty, with Corritore adding his harp to another and full band backing with the addition of Patrick Rynn on bass and Willie Smith or Brian Fahey on drums. The play list starts off with a trio of basic musical metaphors – food (“Cook My Breakfast”), automobiles (“Four Wheel Drive”), and animals (“Wolf That Howls”). Next up is “Shake It Up Baby”, a Texas boogie from the Lightning Hopkins bag. In the main, though, Courtney’s style is more reminiscent of other Southwestern bluesmen such as his in-laws John and Smokey Hogg, Lowell Fulson in his early duets with his brother Martin, and the enigmatic Ernest Lewis. There is also evidence of Chicago influence, especially on “I Wonder”, which incorporates the “Smokestack Lightning” riff, and “I’m So Glad”, where Corritore’s upper register harp lends a Jimmy Reed-like feel. There are but three outright covers, “Meet Me In The Bottom”, credited here to Mance Lipscomb, Tampa Red’s “Crying Won’t Help You”, and a “Bottle It Up And Go” that has something of a late-Muddy Waters sound. “Disaster Blues” is a topical commentary on Katrina in the Hopkins mold, while the two most personal lyrics are “Downsville Blues”, on which Courtney returns to his hometown outside Waco (and yes, it’s actually named Downsville) to find that much has changed, and “Railroad Avenue”, which evokes earlier Courtney masterpieces like “Freebasing Again”, and “The Girl Next Door” in which he sings of his girl who “gets with her so-called friends, you know it’s a shame the tings that she do/Drinking wine and smoking crack”.
Even at 78, Courtney’s voice is powerful, dynamic, and soaked with blues feeling, and Corritore has provided a perfect musical setting for him. It’s a shame that he had to wait this long to get the exposure he deserves, but it’s certainly better late than never. Mark it down as one of the year’s essential purchases.
– Jim DeKoster
Big City Blues (June / July 2008)
Texas country blues musician Tomcat Courtney was born nearly 80 years ago in Marlin, Texas but has called San Diego home for the past 35 years, where “I ain’t makin’ a fortune but I play like four or five nights a week”. With this aptly titled, 12 song project – unexplainably his first on a major label – it’s easy to see the reason for his popularity.
Marvelously accompanied by his long-time pal Chris James on guitar, producer and burr-toned harmonica master Bob Corritore, bassist Patrick Rynn and alternating drummers Brian Fahey and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Courtney’s half-shouted, fiercely earnest vocals and elemental, Smokey Hogg influenced guitar playing are the perfect environment for his down-to-earth, cliché unburdened songs. He also has fun with the set’s three well-chosen covers – songster Mance Lipscomb’s gently surging travelogue “Meet Me In The Bottom”, a slide guitar-accented interpretation of Tampa Red’s classic testimonial “Cryin’ Won’t Help You” and the traditional, dozens-oriented “Bottle It Up And Go”, with Courtney’s sly vocal verve nicely paced by Corritore’s feisty harp work.
Corritore’s complementary note-bending also adds plenty of heft to the majority of Courtney’s striking originals. I’m probably most fond of his topical commentaries which have a J.B. Lenoir-like quality and ring to them – such as “Disaster Blues” (about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina) along with “Railroad Avenue”, that deals quite frankly with a former wine-drinking, crack-smoking girlfriend and the autobiographical title tune about a depressing visit back to his old hometown. But the other revelations such as the Muddy Waters-sounding “Cook My Breakfast”, the modern day man’s lament “Four Wheel Drive” (a la Chuck Berry), a slow-grinding hips-melter titled “Shake It Up Baby” and the harp squalling, easy-rocking “I Wonder” have my eyes wide as well. As liners writer Bill Dahl notes, “It’s high time that San Diego shares Tomcat with the rest of us”. Couldn’t agree more.
– Gary von Tersch
Blues & Rhythm (UK) (June 2008)
CD of the month!!
Tomcat Courtney has to be one of the blues’ best-kept secrets. Born in Marlin, Texas in 1929, he grew up in the small town of Downsville where his piano playing father operated a juke joint. Tomcat started out as a dancer, as a teenager he left town with a travelling circus that visited nearby Waco. Its hoofer had been drafted into the armed forces and it was looking for a replacement and he got the job by recommendation. However he could sing, and when the circus drummer heard him trying to teach the show’s girl singer the lyrics to “St Louis Blues” his vocal talent was recognised. After the war he moved to Lubbock and worked as a cook and dishwasher while learning guitar. He married the niece of Smokey Hogg and had guitar lessons from John Hogg. For 35 years he has been resident in San Diego, headlining at local joints like the now defunct Texas Teahouse, and holding down a regular gig at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix (with Chris James and Patrick Rynn) as members of the Rhythm Room All Stars. Tomcat is at home in San Diego, stating, “I ain’t making a fortune but I work four nights a week”.
I must admit that Tomcat Courtney was a name I was not familiar with. He appeared at the 1999 Utrecht Blues Estafette, and I was impressed enough to purchase one of his self produced CDs from him. He made his recording debut in 1974 on the Advent LP San Diego Blues Jam, however this is his debut national release.
Courtney’s guitar and vocals are teamed up with James (guitar), Rynn (bass), session producer Bob Corritore on harp and Willie Smith or Brian Fahey on drums. His gritty vocals and spare guitar combine to produce a CD’s worth of genuine downhome twin guitar Texas blues in the Lightnin’ Hopkins tradition, combined with material recorded with a rhythm section and harp. He wrote nine of the songs, with one credited to Mance Lipscomb, one to Tampa Red and one to that well-known tunesmith public domain.
“Wolf That Howls”, featuring the guitars of Courtney and James, is a solid number in the Hopkins tradition, it’s followed by another Hopkins styled number, “Shake It Up Baby”. “Downsville Blues” was prompted by a return to his home town, of course things have changed: “asked my old neighbour “don’t you remember me?”, he say “I’m crippled and blind and can hardly walk or see”, it’s been so long since I been back home”. “Meet Me In The Bottom” brings Lil’ Son Jackson to mind, “Cryin’ Won’t Help You” features bittersweet slide, and Corritore’s harp augments the guitars on “Railroad Avenue”, which was inspired by an ex-girlfriend.
Looking at the band cuts, “Cook My Breakfast” jogs along to a “Rock Me Baby” rhythm, while “Four Wheel Drive” has an Elmore inspired riff combined with a Willie Smith backbeat and Corritore’s blues harp. “I Wonder” utilises a Howlin’ Wolf inspired riff, Corritore (who is a seriously underrated harp player) is really on the money on this cut. “I’m So Glad” is firmly in the Jimmy Reed tradition with Corritore once again demonstrating his mastery of the blues harp. “Disaster Blues” is a Hurricane Katrina themed blues, Smith keeps a light reign on his drums and the twin guitars and harp combine to produce one of the better blues on this topic I’ve heard. The jaunty ‘”Bottle It Up And Go” is as good a version of this old warhorse as I’ve ever heard.
I was very impressed with this release; Courtney is a very fine tunesmith and a superb singer, and combined with the always-imposing guitar of Chris James and the superb harp playing of Bob Corritore (who is always supportive in any style without ever being over the top). If this is an example of the quality of the product coming from the Blue Witch stable then I eagerly await their next release. I vote ten out of ten for this one!
– Phil Wight
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (May 27, 2008)
New blues from the old school
Do you, like BlueNotes, enjoy finding a “new” blues artist — especially one who is 78 years old, Texas-born, and raised around his father’s juke joint?
That would be Tomcat Courtney, a throwback to old Texas country blues, now located in San Diego, and who’s making his national recording debut with Downsville Blues (Blue Witch Records).
Courtney is one of those good old-fashioned bluesmen whose style takes you back to the real thing, but whose lyrical touch can be up to date.
This is an excellent album from a bluesman who learned his craft when the blues were still young. Nothing fancy — simple and effective guitar work, powerful vocals — just straight blues, no chaser.
The title track is a poignant and spare memory of the little town outside Waco, Texas, where Courtney spent his youth (he was born in Marlin, Texas). Other cuts are similarly stark and spare, whether about traditional blues topics or Hurricane Katrina.
His father was a piano player who ran a juke joint in Downsville, and the harsh simplicity of those times cuts across this CD with mostly originals by Courtney, plus a few traditional chestnuts.
Blue Witch is to be commended for releasing albums like this. It’s music that we would most likely never hear otherwise.
– Jim White
BluesVan.hu (Hungary) (June 17, 2008)
Írásaimban folyamatosan igyekszem a hazánkban kevésbé ismert blues előadókra/zenekarokra fókuszálni, így kapóra jött a Blue Witch Records május 20-án megjelent kiadványa. „Blue Witch Records Is The Biggest Little Blues Label In The Country”, írják a kiadóról, és azt hiszem, nem tévedek, ha azt mondom, ezt Tomcat CourtneyDownsville Blues című albuma csak erősíteni fogja.
A San Diego-i Tomcat Courtney 1929-ben Waco-ban (Texas) született, Lightnin’ Hopkins és T-Bone Walker zenéjén nőt fel, akiket személyesen is ismert. A fiatal feltörekvő bluesman, mivel szerette a táncot és az éneket, utazó cirkuszokban is fellépett. A ’60-as években Kaliforniába kötözött, majd a ’70-es évek elején San Diego-ba, ahol azóta él.
Az első felvételei az Advent Records által 1974-ben megjelentetett San Diego Blues Jamcímű lemezen voltak hallhatók.
A Downsville Blues című albumon a ritmusszekciót a legendás chicagó-i dobos Willie “Big Eyes” Smith és a basszusgitáros Patrick Rynn alkotja. Willie hosszú ideig Muddy Waters zenekarának a tagja volt. Szájharmonikán Bob Corritore játszik, vele Courtney 2007-ben ismerkedett meg a gitáros Chris James által, aki szintén szerepel a lemezen. James 13 évesen, a ’80-as évek elején csatlakozott Tomcat bandájához.
A legjobb texas country blues tradíciókat követő Tomcat Courtney rendkívüli dalszerzői képességekkel rendelkezik, erőteljes énekét, jellegzetes gitárjátékát tizenkét számon keresztül élvezhetjük.
A Blue Witch Records érdeme, hogy egy ilyen nagyszerű blues zenész felvételeit nemzetközi szinten is mindenki számára elérhetővé teszi.
– Attila Horváth
Myspace.com/RobsBluesBlog (June 16, 2008)
78-year old Tomcat Courtney was born in Marlin, Texas in 1929, but he spent most of his youth in Downsville, a small town not all that far from Waco. Influenced by the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and B.B. King, Courtney honed his craft at roadhouses and jukes throughout Texas and the southwest. He left Texas for San Diego in the early ‘70s and a few of his tracks appeared on the old Advent Records album, San Diego Blues Jam. Courtney self-produced a few releases over the years, but these were never distributed and are now long unavailable. Thank goodness for Blue Witch Records and Bob Corritore’s Rhythm Room house band (the appropriately named Rhythm Room All-Stars) for getting Courtney into the studio and putting out this terrific and long overdue CD release. Downsville Blues is packed with nine killer originals and three covers including the traditional Delta favorite “Bottle Up and Go”, Tampa Red’s great “Cryin’ Won’t Help You”, with some amazing slide guitar along with a spirited cover of Mance Lipscomb’s classic “Meet Me in the Bottom” which Courtney makes his own. But it’s the original compositions that grab you and won’t let go. Great songs like set opener “Cook My Breakfast”, “Four Wheel Drive”, and “I’m So Glad” display Courtney’s provocative lyrics and his wry sense of humor in short order. There isn’t a bad track here, and with fine support from the All-Stars: Corritore on harp, Chris James on guitar, Patrick Rynn on bass, and Brian Fahey or special guest Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums, Courtney has assembled one of the finest backing bands you can get. Top this off with Courtney’s own fine guitar work and his down and dirty vocals, and you have one exceptionally engaging performer who commands your attention throughout this invigorating and thoroughly satisfying CD.
AustinSound.net (June 4, 2008)
You don’t have to be in the Lone Star State to hear some good Texas blues. In his 1990 book Time Passages, George Lipsitz talks about Delta blues musicians and their trek on the Illinois Central north to burgeoning blues scenes in St. Louis, Memphis, and Chicago. Those living in the Southeast traveled to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and the Big Apple. But Texas guitar slingers like Johnny “Guitar” Watson, T-Bone Walker, and Lowell Fulson cut out West, where they were instrumental in carving a space for the blues in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Contemporary players like Rod Piazza, William Clarke, Mark Hummel, and countless others owe their musical careers to the work those Texas pioneers did in California. Texas native Tomcat Courtney, who transplanted to San Diego in the early 1970s, is part of that tradition, and his first national release, Downsville Blues, on the Phoenix, Arizona-based Blue Witch Records label is a fine display of down-home West Coast blues shot through with Texas style.
The 78-year old blues sage was born in Marlin, Texas in 1929, but grew up in the appropriately-named Downsville, a small community nestled southeast of Waco along FM 434. Courtney’s father ran a juke joint there, where he played ragtime piano. The young up-and-coming bluesman had a penchant for dancing and singing, and honed his craft with a traveling circus outfit in his teens. Courtney later moved to Lubbock, and made his home in San Diego in 1971. His first recording came in 1974 with an appearance on the compilationSan Diego Blues Jam on Advent Records, but it would be some 37 years before Courtney debuted a record with national distribution.
Downsville Blues is chock full of unpretentious, gimmick-free, real deal blues. Joined by harmonica player Bob Corritore and legendary Chicago drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, who is best known for his long tenure in Muddy Waters’ band, the twelve song program features nine originals and three well-chosen covers. The album opens with “Cook My Breakfast”, a mid-tempo number where Corritore’s sparse harp work bolsters a bit of masculine pomp and sexual boasting with lines like “I want a jelly roll, you know I want it sweet and brown/I want a jelly roll this morning, make it sweet and brown/Don’t you burn my jelly roll baby, you better turn my jelly roll around”.
Willie Smith provides a sturdy shuffle backbeat on the metaphor-heavy “Four Wheel Drive” and the traditional “Bottle Up and Go”, and slows things down for the solemn post-Katrina “Disaster Blues”. Courtney’s vocal and stripped-down guitar shine on the funky “I Wonder” and the sorrowful ode to his hometown on the title track. Jimmy Reed fans will dig the steady mid-tempo groove of “I’m So Glad”, and Courtney borrows one from the Tampa Red playbook with the defiant slow blues “Cryin’ Won’t Help You”. Two of the most interesting compositions on Downsville Blues, “Wolf That Howls” and the closing “Railroad Avenue”, open with provocative guitar intros that seem to draw from Middle Eastern influences.
It’s a shame that an artist of Courtney’s stature has had to wait so long to see the release of a high-quality recording like this one, and Blue Witch Records, which has been consistently producing solid blues since opening shop in 2001, deserves praise for bringing his music to a national audience. Courtney definitely has the goods, and Downsville Blueswill stand out as one of the most honest blues recordings of 2008.
– Roger Gatchet
Blues Lovers United of San Diego Newsletter (May 2008)
I was stopped at the window of a local taco stand the other day and the nice man helping get my order together quickly called his coworkers over and said, “listen to the music!” I looked up to see what was going on and realized he was pointing at me. Suddenly, the window was filled with four friendly and excited faces as they begged for me to turn up whatever it was I had playing. “Is that Muddy Waters?” one young man asked. “No, it’s Tomcat Courtney”, I replied. “Oh, wow! This is some great s*#%! Too bad we can’t go see this guy.” When I informed them that he lives in San Diego, you’d have thought I’d just handed over a winning lottery ticket. What can I say? Good blues are contagious.
Downsville Blues is full of music you’ll want to hear again and again. And you’ll find yourself having to wrest the CD out of the hands of curious blues lovers who want to borrow it. Don’t let them. Make them buy their own copy.
This is Courtney’s first national release, and it’s a shame it’s taken so long for the rest of the world to hear what a treasure enlightened San Diegans have been enjoying for a few decades. There’s nothing super flashy or loud about Tomcat, and that’s fine by me. That other stuff is a dime a dozen, but this? You can’t buy this sort of genuine, down-to-earth goodness, and he shares his experiences with humility and humor. Every note is authentic and rich. Forget the smooth production (and it is), you still get a full, gritty sound and feeling from every tune. Years of urban living haven’t erased or dulled those Texas roots a bit.
Joined by locals Chris James (guitar) and Patrick Rynn (bass), as well as by producer Bob Corritore (harp), and Brian Fahey and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith take turns on drums, Tomcat Courtney strums and sings his way into your world with instant classics like “Cook My Breakfast” and “Railroad Avenue”. The title track is a bittersweet journey back home, something most of us can relate to. While many things can and do change in our lives — losing our childhood homes, parks paved over, shops torn down, family and old friends moving on — the blues helps us through those times and it sure is comforting to have Tomcat by one’s side.
Perfect any time of the year, there’s a certain pleasure having this CD playing all summer. Pop it in your car’s CD player or have a seat on your back porch and sip yourself some lemonade. Let the heat and sweat roll off you while you listen to the coolest ‘Cat in town.
- Joan Hunt
ABS Magazine (France) (May 2008)
Emule de Lightnin’ Hopkins et de Lil’ Son Jackson, la discographie de Tomcat Courtney est malheureusement réduite, elle se résume à une poignée d’excellents cd auto-produits qui méritent d’être activement recherchés, plus une apparition sur le 33t intitulé « San Diego Blues Jam » qui avait vu le jour sur le label Advent. Installé en Californie depuis le début des années 70, si ses enregistrements sont peu nombreux, il n’en reste pas moins l’un des piliers du blues de la ville de San Diego et a toujours un agenda chargé toutes les fins de semaine. Ici, sur le Vieux Continent, on avait eu la chance de l’applaudir lors de sa venue en Hollande au Blues Estafette in 1999. Il aura fallu attendre finalement ce printemps 2008 pour qu’un label s’intéresse enfin à cet artiste de premier plan, natif de la bourgade de Marlin au Texas. C’est à Bob Corritore (qui a produit la session) ainsi qu’à la jeune et efficace compagnie Blue Witch Records, que nous devons ce compact réussi de bout en bout. Si, bien sûr, l’ombre de ses illustres aînés plane au-dessus des compositions de Courtney, ses textes interprétés sur des tempos hypnotiques dédiés à nos soucis quotidiens – à l’opposé des sempiternels « my baby left me this morning » – sont la marque de fabrique de cet authentique bluesman. Nous retrouvons également sur ce compact celui qui, tout jeune adolescent, fit ses premières armes dans la formation du maître, à savoir le guitariste Chris James, suivi comme son ombre par le bassiste Patrick Rynn. Willie Big Eyes Smith est présent à la batterie sur trois titres et naturellement, à l’harmonica, on retrouve le toujours excellent Bob Corritore. Il va de soi que ce superbe compact est difficilement contournable et nous laisse une nouvelle fois plus que perplexe sur les choix artistiques hasardeux faits à la « va vite » par les divers labels de blues aux Etats-Unis qui, au cours de ces dernières décennies, ont superbement ignoré ce musicien au talent unique.
– Jean-Luc Vabres
BluesSource.com (July 1, 2008)
Nobody except a Blues musician should call themselves “Tomcat”. If you do, be prepared to back it up! Tomcat Courtney can definitely back it up. This cat has been unrecognized for years outside of San Diego, CA, where he has been living and playing the Blues since 1966, having traveled around the Southeast. He married the sister of Smokey & John Hogg and learned by listening to Lightnin’ Hopkins and T-Bone Walker.
Sitting in on the CD are Chris James, Bob Corritore, Patrick Rynn, Brian Fahey and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Quite a lineup for a debut CD, but Bob Corritore knows how to display the talents of this fine Bluesman. I’ve been listening to this CD & playing it for a few people who really loved it. It has a truthful, down-home flavor that is “back in the day” I predict this to be a frontrunner for Debut Act of the year.
With all that fine backup, Tomcat Courtney digs through his repertoire of influences like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Tampa Red, Howlin’ Wolf and others so influential in the Blues. His style is easy and infectious, especially for fans of straight-out Blues. You won’t be disappointed by this effort. It just keeps working on you. Be sure and add this to your library, and go “cattin’” with Tomcat Courtney.
– Gary W. Miller
Twoj Blues (Poland) (nr 33 lato 2008)
We wkładce do najnowszego, a pierwszego oficjalnego wydawnictwa Tomcata Courtney’a, jedno zdanie doskonale oddaje zaskoczenie jakiemu zostaniemy poddani po usłyszeniu pierwszch dźwieków z „Downsville Blues”: Jak to możliwe, że tak długo nie słyszeliśmy jego twórczości?
„Downsville Blues” jest pierwszym oficjalnym wydawnictwem tego teksańskiego muzka. Niemniej nie jest to jego pierwsza płyta w ogóle. Artysta ma w swoim dorobku wiele wydanych własnym sumptem i sprzedawanych na koncertach albumów.
W nagraniu tego „debiutu” uczestniczyli tak znani muzycy, jak chociażby Willie „Big Eyes” Smith. Na album złożyło się dwanaście kompozycji utrzymanych zarówno w konwencji akustycznego, jak i elektrycznego bluesa. Znalazło się tam również kilka utworów w stylu Johna Lee Hookera, którego to płyta „Boogie Chillen”, jak wspomina sam Tomcat, stała się przyczną tego, iż chwycił za gitarę.
Wcześniej Tomcat miał do czynienia z muzyką pod inną postacią: w jej takt stepował w objazdowym cyrku. Gdy zaczęła się wojna, co przetrzebiło męską część cyrkowej trupy, awansował do roli wokalisty. Śpiewał do zakończenia wojny, a następnie pracował jako kucharz i pomywacz. W czasie wolnym grywał po różnych klubach i z różnymi składami, wydając płyty własnym nakładem.
Tyle o samym Tomcacie. Co do muzyki, to jest to album pełen niezmiernie ciekawych kompozycji. Zarówno gra, jak i śpiew niemalże osiemdziesięcioletniego muzyka są na najwyższym poziomie. Kompozycje zawarte na „Downsville Blues” dostarczają nam tego, co najlepsze w bluesie. A więc mamy utwory, w których słyszmy tylko głos i gitarę. W innych natomiast gra już pełen skład z harmonijką. Zrestą harmonijkarz i producent Bob Corritore doskonale wpisał się w konwencję albumu i jego gra dostarcza wiele przjemności. Całej płyty słucha się doskonale. Dawno nie słyszałem tak świeżo brzmiącej muzyki, granej z takim luzem i przjemnością, dla samej radości grania.
Po kilkukrotnym przesłuchaniu płyty przeszło mi przez myśl, że istotnie szkoda, że nie słyszałem wcześniej o twórczości Tomcata Courtney’a. Ale teraz wpisuję go na listę muzyków, na których kolejną płytę czekam z niecierpliwością. A na koncert jeszcze bardziej.
– Paweł Yoda Jodko
Docteur Blues (France) (July 22, 2008)
Tomcat Courtney, voilà un nom qui ne dit sans doute rien à beaucoup d’entre vous, même à certains spécialistes. On a pourtant à faire à un véritable artiste majeur, de toute évidence l’un des secrets les mieux gardés de l’histoire de blues. Le véritable mystère est de savoir comment un tel artiste a pu rester aussi méconnu aussi longtemps ?
Une des raisons est sans doute que ce bluesman installé depuis plus de 35 ans à San Diego a très peu voyagé, se contentant de chanter et jouer sur San Diego où il se produit régulièrement, suffisamment pour vivre.
Là bas, c’est un musicien emblématique que l’on qualifie de “San Diego blues legend”. C’est vrai que la vie à San Diego est plutôt agréable, ne donnant pas forcément envie d’aller voir ailleurs. L’autre raison est qu’il n’avait jusqu’ici que très peu enregistré, quelques titres pour la compilation “San Diego blues jam” (testament) en 1974 puis plusieurs auto-productions, généralement enregistrées “live” de bonne qualité malgré un manque de moyens évident. Ce n’est évidemment pas la peine de les chercher chez votre disquaire favori ni même sur internet, vous ne les trouverez pas, le seul moyen de se les procurer étant d’aller le voir à San Diego où il les vendait à la fin de ses concerts. C’est ce que j’ai fait mais j’écris cela à l’imparfait car c’était avant la sortie de ce nouveau CD et je suppose que maintenant c’est le nouveau qu’il propose.
Qui est donc Tomcat Courtney ?
Il et né en janvier 1929 au Texas et a grandi dans une petite ville à 8 miles au sud est de Waco, Downsville (ville qui donne son nom à ce CD). Son père était pianiste de ragtime et tenait un juke joint. En 1951, il a épousé une nièce du bluesman Smokey Hogg, jouant également dans son groupe. Il a ensuite pas mal bougé, à Albuquerque NM (c’est à cette époque qu’on lui a donné ce surnom de Tomcat), à Denver CO, à Flagstaff AZ, à Los Angeles CA avant de se fixer à San Diego en 1971. En 1980, il intègre dans son groupe un gamin de 13 ans, un certain Chris James qui est aujourd’hui à l’origine de ce CD, presque 30 ans plus tard ! En 1999, il fut programmé à la blues estafette à Utrecht et c’est là que je l’ai découvert. Sa prestation fut superbe mais malheureusement sans lendemain. 9 ans après, il n’est toujours pas revenu en Europe. Aujourd’hui, Tomcat Courtney est âgé de 79 ans, et même s’il est encore en bonne forme pour un homme de cet âge là, le temps presse pour le découvrir pour le faire venir en Europe. J’ai eu la chance lors d’un voyage à San Diego en octobre 2007 d’aller le voir à 3 reprises dans trois configurations différentes, en groupe, en solo et en duo. A chaque fois, ce fut magnifique et j’en garde un souvenir émerveillé. Quitte à me répéter, Tomcat Courtney est tout sauf un second couteau, c’est véritablement un bluesman majeur, un des derniers survivants de sa génération. C’est à la fois un songwriter prolifique, un chanteur exceptionnel et un excellent guitariste. Son style rappelle inévitablement un autre musicien emblématique du Texas blues, Lightning Hopkins.
Venons en maintenant au CD lui même, le véritable premier cd de Tomcat Courtney (même si cela paraît incroyable) qui comporte 12 titres dont 9 compositions de Tomcat. Une partie du matériel n’a rien de nouveau, ce sont souvent des titres que Tomcat chante depuis très longtemps. On retrouve ainsi les titres “Wolf that howls” et “Shake it up baby” qui figuraient déjà sur le cd auto-produit “Little John” enregistrée en 1991 et 1992, “Four wheel drive” qui était sur “12 o’clock midnight” autre cd auto-produit de 1996. “Meet me at the bottom” comme “Shake it up baby” (encore) figuraient aussi sur l’excellente démo “One man show” enregistrée comme son nom l’indique en solo. Mais, comme la diffusion de ces cd “faits à la maison” fut pour le moins confidentielle, on peut difficilement parler de doublons. D’autant que ces nouvelles versions sont vraiment incomparables, bénéficiant cette fois d’un enregistrement et d’une production impeccables, et Tomcat Courtney y est accompagné par des musiciens dignes de son talent, à savoir Chris James (guitare) Patrick Rynn (basse), Bob Corritore (harmonica), Brian Fahey ou Willie “big eyes” Smith à la batterie suivant les morceaux. Bref, mis à part Willie “big eyes” Smith, il s’agit ni plus ni moins que du Rhythm Room All Star, le house band du célèbre club de Phoenix (dont le propriétaire n’est autre que Bob Corritore), le groupe qui accompagne souvent Big Pete Pearson.
Parmi les véritables nouveautés que j’ai découvertes avec ce cd, il y a le titre “Cook my breakfast”, qui nous fait entrer dans le quotidien de Tomcat à l’heure du petit déjeuner, c’est une petite tranche de vie, un texte simple, anecdotique et rafraîchissant, loin des habituels clichés. Idem pour les titres “I’m so glad” et “Crying won’t help you”, j’aime beaucoup la slide guitare sur ce dernier morceau . On trouve aussi un titre plus grave, lié à l’actualité “Disaster blues” dans lequel Tomcat décrit les ravages suite au passage de l’ouragan Katrina en Louisiane en 2005. Un récit descriptif et prenant qui dans son traitement me rappelle le “11th september blues” de Louisiana Red. La voix chaude et claire de Tomcat Courtney domine ces 12 titres avec une aisance remarquable, son timbre et ses intonations sont immédiatement reconnaissables. Cette voix gorgée de feeling semble couler toute seule, elle est caressante comme le velour. Côté musical, n’attendez pas ici de grandes démonstrations pyrotechniques, c’est du véritable blues rustique, terrien, c’est une musique au service des chansons, une musique qui va à l’essentiel, les solos sont brefs et efficaces. Néanmoins, tous les musiciens sont remarquables au service de Tomcat Courtney.
Ce CD est incontournable, c’est une formidable réussite, il restera quoi qu’il arrive, l’un des meilleurs cd blues de l’année 2008, un CD comme on n’en fait plus, un CD rare que tout amateur de blues se doit de posséder. Et puis, si je devais faire un vœu, j’espère que les programmateurs des festivals de blues auront la bonne idée de nous l’amener en France mais, s’il vous plait, faites vite, il a déjà 79 ans…
Coup de chapeau au jeune label de Phoenix AZ “Blue Witch records” dont le catalogue ne compte que 5 CD, tous aussi excellents les uns que les autres. Bravo à Dale Baich, le patron du label et à Bob Corritore le producteur du CD. Rappelons que le label est né en 2001 pour enregistrer une autre pépite trop méconnue, “Arizona king of the blues” Big Pete Pearson.
Pour acheter le CD, le simple est sans doute d’aller le commander sur le site de Blue Witch records. Il est disponible au prix de 15 dollars, http://www.bluewitchrecords.com/index.cfm
Vous pouvez aller écouter quelques titres du CD sur le blog MySpace de Tomcat Courtney: http://www.myspace.com/tomcatcourtney
– Jocelyn Richez
BluesWax (July 17, 2008)
Emotion and Conviction
Of the four major compendia of Blues music that I consult regularly, two mention Tomcat Courtney in passing and two omit him entirely. On the strength of this album, expect such lack of recognition to be a thing of the past.
Born in Texas, Courtney cites as his major influences Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Smokey Hogg, and John Lee Hooker. Flying under the radar of national notice, he has been a mainstay of the San Diego Blues scene for over 35 years. Harmonica ace and Blue Witch Records producer Bob Corritore appreciated Courtney’s chops and has chauffeured this album into being, and his taste has been vindicated as Downsville Blues absolutely smokes!
Nine of the 12 songs on the album are Courtney compositions and they are all memorable. “Cook My Breakfast” displays sexual innuendo by way of food metaphor and “Four Wheel Drive” does the same with an automobile conceit, both tactics long in use in the Blues idiom. “Shake It Up Baby” and the traditional “Bottle It Up and Go” continue the raunchy theme. Courtney does a great job singing the Mance Lipscomb classic “Meet Me in the Bottom.” His own song about the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, “Disaster Blues,” is poignant, angry, and bitter, a worthy reminder of the cataclysm. There is not one mediocre song in the dozen here. Throughout, a spirit of infectious high energy prevails; it just feels like Courtney is having a great time singing and playing.
Courtney’s guitar stylings are admirable, recalling the playing of both Hopkins and Hooker, but it’s his vocal prowess that deserves raves. What a voice! Tomcat can growl and moan with the best of contemporary Country Blues artists. On “I’m So Glad” he even sounds like the great Chicago urban Bluesmen Magic Slim and Howlin’ Wolf (high praise intended!). On his tunes of erotic desire he channels Hopkins, but trades Lightnin’s almost-spoken suggestive drawl for a boisterous, assertive invitation to boogie. Every vocal is dripping with emotion and conviction.
Tomcat Courtney is backed by adept musical colleagues: Corritore on harp, Chris James on guitar, Patrick Rynn on bass, and Brian Fahey and Muddy Waters’ sideman Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums. Appropriately, each song showcases Courtney’s talent with the stellar but subordinate support of the band.
If this album isn’t nominated for a Blues Music Award there ain’t no justice in the world. It’s definitely destined to be one of the best Blues albums of the year: urbanized Texas Country Blues at its finest!
– Steve Daniels
Doc’s Juke Joint (July 16, 2008)
The folks at Blues Witch Records have brought us a new blues artist. At 79 years old, its hard to be called “new,” but Tomcat Courtney is really new to most blues fans. Originally from Texas, Tomcat moved around and then settled on playing the blues in San Diego in the early 70’s. Playing as much as four nights a week for 35 years will help hone the skill of any blues musician. Tomcat also married into the blues. He married the niece of prolific bluesman Smokey Hogg in 1951. Courtney played with both Smokey and his cousin, guitarist John Hogg. Tomcat credits John Hogg with showing him how to play like T-Bone.
Tomcat Courtney’s new release is entitled Downsville Blues (Blue Witch Records). From its opening track, “Cook My Breakfast” to its closer “Railroad Avenue” I was immediately hooked into the serious blues sounds of vocalist/guitarist Tomcat Courtney. This is real Texas blues that make me think of Lightnin’ Hopkins with smoother voice. The album gets its title from the town where Tomcat originally grew up (Downsville, Texas). Courtney recently paid a visit to Downsville and didn’t exactly like what had become of his former playground. Many great originals are contained in Downsville Blues including the title track and “Disaster Blues,” a song inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Tomcat penned an impressive 9 of 14 tracks on Downsville Blues. The Tampa Red classic “Cryin’ Won’t Help You” helps round out one of my most favorite discs of the year. Tomcat breathes new life into the well covered “Bottle Up and Go” and lays down a nice version of the Mance Lipscomb classic, “Meet Me In The Bottom.”
Producer Bob Corritore who also takes on the harmonica duties on the disc, assembled a great cast of players to give Tomcat’s first national release the right sound. Former Muddy Waters’ skin beater and fantastic solo artist Willie “Big Eyes” Smith played drums on three tracks, Brian Fahey picked up the sticks on the rest. Long time Tomcat sidemen Chris James joined Courtney on guitar, while Patrick Rynn lays down some solid bass work.
Its amazing what 79 years of living will inspire.
– Greg “Doc” Lefebre
RootsAndRhythm.com (June 30, 2008)
12 tracks, highly recommended
A most welcome release. I had the privilege of recording Thomas “Tomcat” Courtney back in the 70s when I ran my own Advent label. Since then, he’s been pretty much under the radar, performing regularly in clubs in San Diego and issuing a couple of self produced albums, but finally gets national distribution with this new album recorded when he was almost 80 years old. Tomcat sounds pretty much as he did over 30 years ago, with a truly powerful voice which is also capable of great subtlety, and plays solid down home guitar. He was born and grew up in Texas, and his blues is strongly rooted in the music he heard when he was growing up, but without sounding archaic. He is accompanied here by a solid band, including his long time guitarist Chris James, harmonica player Bob Corritore, and sturdy bass and drums. His material is a mix of old favorites (“Meet Me In The Bottom”/”Cryin’ Won’t Help”/”Bottle It Up And Go”), original songs based on traditional themes (“Cook My Breakfast”/”Wolf That Howls”, etc) and a couple of semi-autobiographical and topical pieces (“Downsville Blues”/”Disaster Blues” and “Railroad Avenue”). A number of the tracks feature Tomcat just by James and his own guitar, and these are among the highlights here. Fine unpretentious music.
– Frank Scott
Folk And Acoustic Music Exchange (August 2008)
I’m moving to San Diego! San Diego has Tomcat Courtney and that’s good enough reason for anyone to move to San Diego. Ok, well, it’s at least good enough reason for anyone to visit San Diego.
This guy is 78 years old and his musical sensibilities prove it. From the first measure on the opening cut, “Cook My Breakfast”, I knew I was in for an exceptional treat. I heard that smokey, old-time, dungeon-dark sound I have always associated with the ultimate blues band sound.
Tomcat has built an incredibly sensitive band to back him on this project. Everyone works together to create a blues collection based on the fundamental emotions of the blues. No one ever forgets that this is blues with a feeling, this is Tomcat’s blues.
There are 12 tunes on this collection. Nine were composed by Tomcat. And just like the other traditional aspects of this CD many of the tunes are derivative of traditional tunes with a Tomcat twist and Tomcat lyrics. One cover is Tampa Red’s “Cryin’ Won’t Help You”. This is an unusual treatment of this tune but it’s solid, it works and it great. The other non-original, “Bottle It Up And Go”, is credited as public domain. Tomcat’s version has a great rock to it and is just as smooth as the satin lining in Tomcat’s fedora.
A real treat is the cover of Mance Lipscomb’s “Meet Me In The Bottom”. This is where Tomcat’s Texas roots become clearest. Definitely removed from the way Lipscomb did it but not so far that he wouldn’t recognize it and, I think, Mance Lipscomb would heartily approve of the way Tomcat delivers this great old song from one of the old Texas songsters. Considering their relative ages and birth places it is not out of the question that Tomcat got this tune straight from Lipscomb. At least they both were drawing water from the same regional well.
Tomcat’s promo describes him as coming from the Texas country blues tradition. This is not what a lot of folks these days think of as Texas blues. This is blues with a feeling. This is not chord shredding, gonzo-harping, dueling guitar, head-cutting, one-step from rock-and-roll stuff. This is pure, real, unadulterated, bump-and-grind jook joint material performed by a solid group of musicians who understand not to use 4 notes when one will convey the emotion best. Because, folks, blues is about emotion and Tomcat Courtney is about the blues!!!
– David N. Pyles
Long Island Blues Society (August 31, 2008)
San Diego’s hidden treasure is the probably the last living link to the Texas Country Blues of Lightning Hopkins and T-bone Walker. Tomcat gives that country blues roar and delivers the axe smooth and clean. Joined by longtime partner Chris James and Bob Corritore’s harp, Downsville Blues is real history that lives with today. Courtney sings like you’d expect with seething emotion, deep throaty howls, brilliant phrasing and flowing like a river rhythm. There is laidback accompaniment on some of the cuts but the spotlight stays firmly fixed on the old feline, as it should. Delivered with a spare style filled with feeling, topical songs cry out with power and glory. Titler “Downsville Blues” recounts a visit home to a place that no longer exists while “Disaster Blues” relates Katrina the way only blues can. Courtney picks and slides, roars and croons and the window to way back when is thrown wide open. If acoustic country blues is your thing! 10 snaves
- Doc Blues
Blues Bytes (September 2008)
For years, I’d go to San Diego and ask my friends there who were the blues players in town that I needed to hear. Two names came up all the time, Len Rainey, who I’ve yet to hear, and Tomcat Courtney. I finally caught up with Tomcat at the third floor bar of the Redfish in the Gaslamp district, bought a couple of his self-produced CDs from him at the show, and I’ve been a fan of his ever since. So, I was glad to see that Tomcat finally got the chance to put out a national recording, and thanks to the good folks at Blue Witch Records, we’ve been blessed with Tomcat’s new record, Downsville Blues.
Tomcat starts out with “Cook My Breakfast”, and he wants it delivered in bed. Soulful notes emanate from Bob Corritore’s harmonica as Tomcat proceeds to lay down the facts, “Cook my breakfast…bring it on girl to my bed…when I eat this morning…you know your sweet daddy been fed.” The morning has to start with breakfast and Tomcat definitely knows how he likes it served. We move on to hear Tomcat tell us about his girl’s ride, “Four Wheel Drive”. “I can’t catch up with my baby….since that girl got that four wheel drive…I tried to flag her…but she just won’t let me ride!” Sounds like this relationship isn’t as tight as Tomcat thinks it is and his girl definitely has a mind of her own.
Intricate fretwork by Chris James leads us into the next tune, “Wolf That Howls”. “I’m the old wolf…everyone’s wondering…where I prowl…they don’t see me all day long…but every night they hear me when I howl!” True to his nickname, Tomcat still gets out and howls at night…still going strong at 79 years young. We should all be so lucky. “Shake It Up Baby” finds Tomcat still in the mood. “I say shake it to the left…shake it to the right…shake it up mama ’til you get it right…we’re going to shake it up, Mama…cause we’re going to have a ball tonight!” I’m not convinced Mama can hang with the Tomcat but I’m sure he wants her to try.
The tempo picks up as we hear Tomcat inquire as to where his woman might be in “I Wonder”. “Lord, I wonder…will I see her any more?” Soulful harp notes in the background underscore Tomcat’s desperation to have this woman come home. “When she left me…she must have left with someone else…and if she don’t come back to me soon…believe I’ll leave this house myself.” Up next is the title cut, “Downsville Blues”. “I was raised…in a shack…down by a railroad track…that old train came along…I boarded on…never looked back.” The house of Tomcat’s youth has since been torn down and he discovered that when he finally decided to make a trip back home to Lubbock, Texas. “I knocks on the door…old neighbor I used to know…he didn’t seem to recognize me no more…its been so long…since I’ve been back home.”
Our next tune, “I’m So Glad,” finds Tomcat in hot pursuit of the woman he loves. “I’m so glad, darling…girl, I had to run you down…I’m so glad, darling…I chase you all over town.” For the time they’re together all is good and Tomcat’s in love. “I’m so glad…glad you love me too.” All the chasing that Tomcat did was definitely worth the reward. “Disaster Blues” finds Tomcat bemoaning the fate of a stranger he’s just met. “I met a homeless man this morning….he was looking very sad…I lost everything in the world…everything in the world that I had.” A refugee from Louisiana, Tomcat’s friend’s fate was sealed during the onslaught of a hurricane. “You know the wind was blowing…the rain was coming down…you know the levee broke…and it flooded the low end of the town!” “Meet Me in the Bottom” finds Tomcat in a hurry to start looking for his woman who’s got a mind of her own. “I got a little bitty woman…you know the girl like to travel all the time….you know there ain’t no telling…what’s on my little girl’s mind…I’ve got to find my baby…I’ve got no time to lose!”
Slide guitar licks serve notice on our next cut, “Crying Won’t Help You”, that sometimes there’s just nothing that can be done to fix a broken situation. “Cryin won’t help you now, baby…cause you’ve been so mean to me…the way you’ve been treating me…you just reap what you sow!” This theme of mistreatment continues in “Bottle It Up and Go”. Sometimes it’s just better if things end and you move it on. “You and I sneak to the river…I grabbed an alligator and rode him like a hoss…bottle up and go. Man these high powered women, they got to bottle up and go!” Tomcat closes Downsville Blues with “Railroad Avenue”. Here again, a woman is causing ole Tomcat some pain. “They had a party the other night…they were drinking wine and smoking crack…when she get with her so called friends…you know it’s a shame….the way she acts.” This woman is just not going to meet up the standards of what Tomcat needs in his woman and its time to let her go.
Downsville Blues definitely captures the essence of the Tomcat Courtney I know. He’s still this old Texas gentleman, holding court in a room full of friends and taking great delight in sharing his 79 years of wisdom as only he can. Those in the know have been aware of Tomcat Courtney for a while now, the rest of us are lucky to get this rare glimpse into the soul of one of San Diego’s greatest blues treasures. An excellent supporting cast of Chris James, Bob Corritore, Patrick Rynn, Brian Fahey, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith gives Tomcat the opportunity to do what he does best, which is to regale us with songs that share Tomcat’s world through his eyes. This wonderful record can be found at www.bluewithcrecords.com. You’ll be glad you’ve added it to your blues collection.
– Kyle Deibler
Blues Art Journal (Austria) (September / October 2008)
Finally to Tomcat Courtney’s album then – I remember reading about him in Living Bluesmany, many years back and actually heard him on Advent’s ‘San Diego Blues Jam’ LP from 1974, but he is hardly a household name. Maybe this set will help to change that, at least bringing him recognition on the wider blues scene – he deserves it. Tomcat was born in Texas in 1929 and grew up in the town of Downsville, where his father ran a juke-joint. Later he worked on a minstrel show, where he began singing the blues, and later was inspired to take up the guitar after hearing John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boogie Chillen’. In 1951 he married the niece of bluesman Smoky Hogg, and picked up his stage name in Albuquerque some time in the same decade. After some time in Los Angeles, he settled in San Diego and became a mention to up-and-coming guitarist Chris James (yes, he of the house band at The Rhythm Room) – which is how this CD came about. With support from Bob Corritore, Chris James, Patrick Rynn and drum duties split between Brian Fahey and former Muddy Waters employee Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith’, this is a very fine album with Tomcat’s vocals and guitar offering strong hints of those early post-war Texas country blues, perhaps leaning a little more towards the Chicago sound when Bob blows. Some of the songs are topical but all are undeniably traditional in execution – and not just such venerable items as ‘Meet Me In The Bottom’ and ‘Bottle Up And Go’. Please Bob, let’s have more from the Tomcat soon – very soon.
Yes, Kim Wilson is right – Bob Corritore does make killer albums!
– Norman Darwen
Blues Revue (Issue 115, December / January 2009)
When the 2008 Blues Music Awards moved from Memphis to Mississippi, I took the opportunity to rent a car and reacquaint myself with the Delta. As I headed south on Highway 61 to Helena, Clarksdale, and Tutwiler, I put Tomcat Courtney’s Downsville Blues in the CD player. For the next hour, the Delta made perfect sense.
At 79 years old, Courtney is a rediscovered veteran who plays guitar and sings as if he’d never heard any modern music. Born in Texas in 1929 and swaddled in the blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Lil’ Son Jackson, Courtney wandered the Southwest before settling in San Diego in 1971. Though he and his bands were popular in area blues bars, his only recordings were a handful of self-pressed cassettes and CDs and three songs on an anthology called San Diego Blues Jam.
On five songs here, Courtney and guitarist Chris James, whom Courtney hired as a 13-year-old harmonica player in 1980, sit knee to knee and play deep blues in a duo format. On the seven remaining cuts, Courtney employs a band anchored by James, harmonica ace Bob Corritore, bassist Pat Rynn, and drummers Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Brian Fahey. The opening track, “Cook My Breakfast”, locks the band into a “Rock Me Baby” groove as Courtney demands his breakfast, complete with every food-as-sex metaphor in the blues canon. Corritore’s electric harmonica and Courtney’s string work place the tune perfectly in an out-of-the-way 1950s Chicago or Houston blues saloon. “Shake It Up Baby” and the title cut follow the vintage pattern and mood of two guys plugged into a single, worn amp. “Disaster Blues” is Courtney’s take on Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans.
The disc’s classic covers include Mance Lipscomb’s “Meet Me In The Bottom”, a slide attack on Tampa Red’s “Cryin’ Won’t Help You”, and a full-band treatment of “Bottle It Up And Go”. Like Big George Brock and Big Pete Pearson, Tomcat Courtney is living proof that there are deep blues “rediscoveries” yet to be made.
– Art Tipaldi
Times-Union (Albany, NY) (November 27, 2008)
A dozen slabs of straight-up, down-home blues from a veteran singer-guitarist who’s been a staple of the San Diego blues scene for 35 years. Born in Texas nearly 80 years ago, Courtney is finally getting some acclaim after flying under the radar for far too long. This is rough ‘n’ tumble stuff, and producer Bob Corritore deserves credit for not gussying up the raw sound (as well as for his howlin’ harmonica). The best blues album I’ve heard in a long while.
– Greg Haymes
La Hora del Blues (Spain) (December 2, 2008)
Tomcat Courtney un viejo bluesman de setenta y ocho años debuta de forma solemne y arrolladora con este su primer álbum para la compañía Blue Witch. A este impresionante y auténtico músico de blues, conocido hasta el momento en el área de San Diego, le ha llegado la hora de que su popularidad crezca y sea conocido mas allá del Atlántico. En realidad se lo merece porque Courtney es un maestro y un verdadero exponente del blues tradicional. Aparte del propio Tomcat Courtney a la voz y la guitarra le acompañan en el disco Chris James también a la guitarra. Ambos cuentan además con la participación en diferentes cortes de músicos como Bob Corritore armónica, Patrick Rynn bajo, Bryan Fahey batería y el histórico Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith a la batería en tres canciones. Un álbum que nadie debe dejar pasar por alto por la fuerza, el vigor y el espíritu del blues que brota en todas y cada una de las canciones del disco. MUY BUENO.
– Vicente “Harmonica” Zumel
A1ArtistSpotlight.com (December 4, 2008)
Hear the Tomcat Courtney interview about his new CD Downsville Blues as well as some tracks off the CD. It is not rock/blues, jazz/blues or anything else it’s just the good old BLUES.
Tomcat Courtney says he’s not an old man yet. Tomcat won’t be eighty years old till well into January 2009. For a man who was born and raised in Texas back in 1929, Tomcat is still alert and putting out great blues. He started out as a tap dancer and guitarist in his teens, but was later asked to sing. Tomcat liked to watch and talk to Lightnin’ Hopkins as he would come through town. After playing through out the south, Tomcat moved to California because he liked the weather. In the early 70’s, he started playing in Ocean Beach, San Diego. That gig lasted him 22 years, and the reason is obvious when you hear the songs on his CD, Downsville Blues. This is also where a young teenage Chris James started out playing bass. Later, when the other guitarist left the band, Tomcat told Chris to switch to playing guitar with him. When I talked to Chris James about Tomcat, he had nothing but great praise for his former boss and mentor.
When Tomcat Courtney got the go ahead from Blue Witch Records to make Downsville Blues, he asked Chris James to come back and record with him. Patrick Rynn took on the duties of bass guitar, working with drummers Brian Fahey on some songs, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on the others. Bob Corritore, the producer, also played an awesome harmonica. What helps to make this a good CD is all these artists play one thing only, blues. Whether it’s electric or acoustic, it’s the blues through and through. The title track “Downsville Blues”, and another, “Railroad Avenue”, are both about the town Tomcat grow up in. He’s thinking back on his past and where he comes from. The lyrics are so descriptive, you think you’re there with him. You can almost see the dust on your shoes as you walk down the old avenue.
Well I was raised in a shack
Down by a railroad track
That old train came along
I boarded on, never looked back
One day I decided I’d go back home
Back to that old place, Lord where I used to roam
But that house, by the tracks, Lord, it was gone
Old neighbor he came around
He said that old house by the track had burned down
It’s been so long, since I been back home
From Tomcat Courtney’s song “Downsville Blues”. The ruff tone of Tomcat’s voice mixed with the pain of seeing his hometown so different is perfect.
“I’m So Glad” to say this is not the overly used Skip James song, but an original of Tomcat’s; it’s just a nice shuffle. “Disaster Blues” is about the disaster down in New Orleans as told to Tomcat by a man who had been down there. Like so many of the songs, the guitar and harp playing is great on this song. Tomcat remembers hearing “Cryin’ Won’t Help You” on an old Tampa Red record. After playing this song many times over the years, Tomcat decided it would only be right to add this to the CD. “Bottle It Up and Go” is a song he heard Lighting Hopkins do, but Leadbelly also recorded the song, too. He’s not sure where the song came from, but he has also played this over the years. Tomcat’s version is more of an upbeat fun song, with good harp playing. On “Four Wheel Drive” and “Bottle It Up and Go”, there is some good slide guitar. Another thing that makes me like this CD so much is that it is the sound of the old time blues, yet most of the songs (all but three) are new songs. It’s taken 79 years for Tomcat Courtney to get a nationally released CD, but thanks to Blue Witch Records, it is finally here for us to enjoy.
Songs in the show are:
1. Cook My Breakfast
2. Shake It Up Baby
3. Downsville Blues
4. Disaster Blues
5. I Wonder
The Band on Downsville Blues is:
Tomcat Courtney – vocals and guitar,
Chris James – guitar,
Bob Corritore – harmonica, most songs
Patrick Rynn – bass, most songs
Brian Fahey – drums, some songs
Willie “Big Eyes” Smith – drummer, some songs
I would like to thank Tomcat Courtney for taking the time to do this interview, and thanks to Beth Lipham over at Blue Witch Records for all her help.
– A1 Mark
BushDogBlues.Blogspot.com (December 15, 2008)
Had the hankering to add a few new blues to the ‘ol iPod and thought that I would first check out Tomcat Courtney, who Bob Corritore touted in an e-mail to me after I praised the harp work that he laid down with Dave Riley. I think I’ve mentioned Bob before as one the movers and groovers attempting to keep the blues vital. I don’t think I’ve mentioned how well I enjoyed Dave Riley’s Travelin’ The Dirt Road on Blue Witch, which is a fairly new label that is rounding up some blues cats that have never gotten their due. The Riley CD is a no frills, old time, good time blues with solid guitar work supporting a great blues voice and supported by Corritore’s in the pocket harp work and not much else in the way of instrumentation. Tomcat Courtney’s Blue Witch release Downsville Blues is in much the same vein, but has an even older old time blues vibe informed by the 78 year old’s generation. Even though he’s been in San Diego since the ’70s, he was born in Marlin, Texas and there is no doubt that those rolling hills were alive with the sound of music–blues music from the likes of Lightning Hopkins, Frankie Lee Sims, and Lil’ Son Jackson and Courtney seems to have deeply absorbed the style well, especially Ol’ Sam Hopkins’ school of blues.
I picked out tunes in which I felt Corritore’s harp was really helping put the song into a deeper blues zone, not to say that the ol’ Tomcat wasn’t getting it done. These tunes remind me most of what Lightning was conjuring up with an electric guitar in his lap, but there is little of the boogie mode that he switched on frequently. Tomcat keeps these timepieces smoldering at low boil, just short of a lope. Most of Downsville Blues‘ cuts are his originals, but they lean on the traditional ideas that have floated in and out of blues songs since the genre took a name. Cook My Breakfast is informed by the drive that gave Lil’ Son Jackson’s version of Rock Me Baby its popularity. Tomcat takes the Wolf’sSmokestack Lightning’s main riff and makes it work well within his I Wonder and Corritore seems to know exactly what fat toned note choices will best enhance the song. HisRailroad Avenue is about being railroaded by his woman who has parties with her friends drinking wine and smoking crack and he and Bob bounce off each other effectively. The lone cover that I downloaded is a unique take on Bottle Up and Go in which he throws out his own lyrical ideas–which seems to be traditional with this tune and other blues that one can imagine being jammed down at a juke with verses tacked on to keep the dancers sweating and stomping into the night.
So, what Tomcat Courtney has going on here is simply throwback blues played the way that he’s always played them. I think he is a testament to the fact that not all Texas bluesmen who landed on the West Coast gravitated to the swinging, uptown, horn driven sounds we associate with the West Coast sound. Some stayed downhome and real–like the Tomcat. Neither he nor Corritore are out of the flash and dash school of play. When they solo, they get the gritty going and aren’t afraid to get dirty. Corritore’s gets some really nice amp tones honkin’ in his support and it is in support where he stays, with no intentions of stealing the show–I think they call it sympathetic support. In this case, Tomcat needs no sympathy and puts on a heck of a show for any aged bluesman, much less a 78 year old. At some point I’ll probably round up the rest of the tunes on this release.
– Ricky Bush
Rootstime Magazine (Belgium) (December 14, 2008)
Bob Corritore is regelmatig actief en op zoek naar juweeltjes in de blues muziek en hij heeft Tomcat Courtney met een erg mooie cd weer op het blues-menu gezet. De 79-jarige Tomcat, geboren in Marlin, Texas, maar nu in San Diego woont, heeft een nieuwe cd op Blues Witch Records uitgebracht met als titel Downsville Blues. Een titel die volledig op hem van toepassing is, getuige ook deze muziekdrager. Deze zanger/gitarist heeft maar heel weinig muziek vereeuwigd. Naar zijn zeggen ‘geen tijd’, te druk met gigs. In 1974 verscheen de LP San Diego Blues Jam, met daarop songs van o.a. Sam Chatmon, Thomas Shaw en Tomcat Courtney. De twee eerst genoemden zijn al lang niet meer onder ons, maar 35 jaar na data komt Tomcat met een eigen volwaardig album. Met invloeden in zijn muziek van legenden als Lightnin’ Hopkins en John Lee Hooker is deze Texaanse bluesman zijn elektrische en akoestische blues steeds blijven spelen en door de jaren zijn eigen muzikaal palet samengesteld. Alles is gewoon top van deze muzikant. Hetzelfde geldt ongetwijfeld voor Downsville Blues dat vol staat met werkelijk een keur uit prachtige songs opgenomen in Tucson, nummers waarvan negen zelf geschreven naast eigen bewerkingen van songs van Mance Lipscomb, Tampa Red en Blind Boy Fuller, en allen van superbe klasse. De cd is opgenomen samen met zijn muzikale vrienden: Chris James (gitaar), Patrick Rynn (bas), Bob Corritore (harmonica), Brian Fahey (drums) en oud Muddy-drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith , die te gast is op “Disaster Blues”, een song over Katrina. Maar ook “Four Wheel Drive” is een meer eigentijdse song van een klassiek bluesthema. Het is een goed klinkende cd geworden waarop ik geen enkele voorkeur voor een bepaald nummer kan noemen, gewoonweg omdat ieder nummer erg sterk is. Mede ook door de kwaliteiten van de muzikanten maar zeer zeker ook door de goed gekozen covers. Zo horen we prima vertolkingen, als Mance Lipscomb’s “Meet Me In The Bottom” en Tampa Red’s “Cryin’ Won’t Help You”. Allemaal mooie bewerkingen, niet gekopieerd, maar gewoonweg op Courtney’s eigen manier: dat donkere, smeulende old-time geluid, voor ons de ultimate blues band sound. Het past allemaal precies in elkaar, ieder instrument en iedere muzikant is op elkaar afgestemd en ingespeeld. Kenmerkend is het stemgeluid van Courtney, een stem die zijn muziekstijl benadrukt waardoor je al snel een eigen sound kunt creëren. En daar is niets mee mis omdat hij over een perfecte stem beschikt. Downsville Blues is een cd met 12 prachtige bluessongs waarmee Tomcat Courtney, zijn comeback in de bluesmuziek viert, maar is vooral een verzameling van songs waarin hij zijn kwaliteiten duidelijk onderstreept, gevarieerd, niet complex maar recht voor zijn raap blues. Bovenal een erg goede samenwerking met de genoemde muzikanten die zich kenbaar maakt in deze prima productie van Bob Corritore. En zo zijn we terug bij het begin.
– Freddy Celis
Goldmine (July 9, 2008)
Tomcat Courtney, age 79, captures his father’s long-gone juke joint’s aura on spare, unpolished Downsville Blues (Blue Witch).
Vestiges of fellow Texas guitarist Lightnin’ Hopkins permeate Courtney’s retro writing.
– Bruce Sylvester
CultureJazz.net (France) (January 19, 2009)
Malgré les grandes qualités des deux CD précédents, celui-ci, encore meilleur, ne semble pas loin d’être un grand album de blues comme on n’en fait plus. Il est l’œuvre de Tomcat Courtney, un chanteur-guitariste texan de 80 ans, né en 1929, qui a grandi à Downsville (Texas), comme il le raconte, et est installé à San Diego (Californie) depuis le début des années 70. C’est un artiste à l’expression très forte, encore plus enraciné que ses deux confrères ci-dessus. Son style est celui du blues texan d’après-guerre, un blues électrique peu marqué par les apports extérieurs divers, et totalement insensible aux modes. Cinq morceaux sont interprétés en duo de guitare, avec l’excellent Chris James que rejoint sur les autres plages l’orchestre de Bob Corritone à l’accompagnement toujours aussi pertinent. Tomcat Courtney, Big Pete Pearson, Little Freddie King : trois vétérans à découvrir d’urgence pour tous ceux qui ont du mal à retrouver l’esprit du blues dans nombre de productions actuelles.
– Jean Buzelin
San Diego Reader (January 24, 2009)
Born in 1929, bluesman Tomcat Courtney shows no signs of slowing down. While growing up in Texas, his pianist father owned a nightclub frequented by blues legends like Sonny Boy Williamson. Courtney pursued tap dancing in traveling shows before he began singing as well, and then instead. After learning guitar, he fell easily into the laconic, traditional Delta blues groove of his most admired musicians, like B.B. King and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Moving to San Diego, Courtney formed the Bluesdusters, who became house regulars at O.B.’s Texas Teahouse, P.B.’s Chateau Orleans, and La Jolla’s Turquoise Café. His albumDownsville Blues was released in May 2008. It includes many of his own compositions, as well as classic covers like Mance Lipscomb’s “Meet Me in the Bottom” and Tampa Red’s “Cryin’ Won’t Help You”.
VOANews.com (December 4, 2008)
If you haven’t heard of blues musician Tomcat Courtney, chances are you haven’t stopped by his usual hangouts at in the Turquoise Café or Café Orleans in San Diego, California. At age 78, Tomcat still entertains audiences at both clubs four nights a week with his soulful blues. Tomcat recently transitioned from stage to studio.
Tomcat Courtney may be the toast of the San Diego blues scene, but he has remained faithful to his Texas roots. It was in the tiny town of Downsville where he got his first taste of the blues. His father, a ragtime pianist, owned a club where such blues giants as “Sonny Boy” Williamson would come to play.
Tomcat broke into show business as a tap dancer, but later made a name for himself as a singer and guitarist in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and California. When he finally settled down in San Diego, he and his band, The Bluesdusters, became a sensation at a beachside night spot called The Teahouse, where according to Tomcat, the place was so crowded in the summertime he couldn’t get off the stage to take his break.
Tomcat’s long-awaited return to his Downsville, Texas hometown was the inspiration for the title track of his new CD, Downsville Blues. Of his first trip back to Downsville in years, Tomcat says he was disappointed to learn that his old house had burned down and the railroad track was now a highway.
– Doug Levine
Cahl’s Jukejoint Blog (January 29, 2009)
I’d never heard of 80-year-old bluesman Tomcat Courtney until I stumbled upon a story about him in the San Diego Union-Tribune. So, I downloaded a digital copy of his album released last year, “Downsville Blues,” and I’m impressed. Make that astounded.
I’d call Tomcat, a native of Texas who’s lived in San Diego for almost 40 years, a throwback if he hadn’t been ripping though the blues at the same time as many of my old-school blues heroes. He sings with an impish self-assurance that belies his years. Tunes such as “Shake It Up Baby,” Cook My Breakfast” and “Wolf That Howls” suggest he’s in the prime of his life. He sounds like a man who’s still vigorously chasing wine, women and good times. He probably is. I don’t think anyone could fake his way through songs this vibrant and saucy.
– Carl Abernathy
Dr. Soul & Mr. Blues (France)
La fondation Music Maker aura eu l’immense mérite de nous apporter la preuve sonnante et trébuchante de la persistance du blues à travers l’Amérique prolétaire noire, et pas uniquement dans les campagnes reculées du Sud. Cette révélation salutaire a favorisé l’émergence de petits labels, à l’image de Blue Witch Records, une compagnie de Phoenix, Arizona, qui s’est lancée dans la production pour faire connaître les bluesmen locaux. Le premier bénéficiare de cette politique est le shouter Big Pete Pearson (1) (iii) qui signe son deuxième album pour la marque, porté par une voix rocailleuse à souhait et quelques invités de marque, parmi lesquels son cousin W.C. Clark ou encore le regretté Ike Turner. Blue Witch a choisi de s’éloigner de sa base initiale en allant chercher à San Diego l’un des artistes le plus méconnus du sud californien, Tomcat Courtney (2) (iiii). Aujourd’hui âgé de 80 ans, ce créateur d’origine texane possède une plume attachante qui l’autorise à dessiner en musique de belles vignettes polychromes dans lesquelles sont évoquées tour à tour son enfance,une vieille maîtresse ou encore La Nouvelle-Orléans dévastée.
– Sebastian Danchin