Chief Schabuttie Gilliame – Snakes Crawls At Night

Bad Dog Blues
The Bloomington Alternative
Blues & Rhythm
Blues Bytes
Blues Wax
Juke Joint Soul
La Gazette de Greenwood (France)
Real Blues
Rootstime (Belgium)
Soul Bag (France)


Juke Joint Soul (April 2010)

Born in Egypt. Raised in the South. Practicioner of Voodoo. “The Chief” as he is referred to by all who know him is one of Southern California and Arizona’s best kept secrets. A regular at Bob Corritore’s Rhythm Room, The Chief is known for his wild stage antics and his gargle-with-gasoline-and-rinse-with-asphalt voice that immediately conjures thoughts of Howlin’ Wolf. Sung over traditional themes of back door men, the love of women, and sexual bravado and laid over traditional Chicago-styled arrangements; the Chief gets a grand treatment by four crack bands full of some of the West Coast’s finest that include; Rusty Zinn, Kirk Fletcher, Richard Innes, Kid Ramos, the late Chico Chism, Louisiana Red, Junior Watson, and the aforementioned Bob Corritore. The panache and entertainment that The Chief relays through his rough vocals are worth the price of admission if not for the previous name drops. This little-known disc to the mainstream fans will be a keeper to any fan, especially if you are hip to the grooves of The Mannish Boys and the recently reemergence of Louisiana Red. Let this little blues snake slither its way into your groove and you won’t be disappointed.

– Ben the Harpman


The Bloomington Alternative (September 26, 2007)

Chief Schabuttie Gilliame is an African-born bluesman from the Phoenix, Arizona area who performed in Arizona and California. Born in Egypt in 1925, he first learned the blues in Arkansas and Louisiana before moving to Arizona in the mid-1970s. His deep-throated, gravelly bass vocals render him reminiscent of Howlin’ Wolf, and the Chief is an accomplished, original blues songwriter as well.

Here, on Random Chance’s CD, Snakes Crawl At Night, recorded in 2000-2002, the Chief performs ten of his original blues backed by four distinguished electric band ensembles, giving the listener a double treat: not only in the excellent blues of Chief Schabuttie Gilliame and the bands backing him, but also in providing a most interesting exercise in blues redux–what would the great Howlin’ Wolf have sounded like backed by differing blues bands that played other styles than his classic West Side Chicago band sound of guitar, sax and piano? Snakes Crawl At Night provides a tantalizing case study of that.

The four different band ensembles here provide four differing blues backdrops for testing out that above hypothesis. There are two cuts featuring the West Side Chicago approach of slashing guitar led by Johnny Rapp; another gutbucket electric guitar approach that features Detroit’s Louisiana Red; a paradigm South Side Chicago harmonica-powered approach on four cuts, where harpman Bob Corritore joins with guitarists Rusty Zinn and Kid Ramos; and an urbane approach on three cuts, where the lacy, jazz-inflected elegance of guitarist Junior Watson interacts with the sax of Baron Shul. Matt Bishop or Tim Mahon provide piano on the first three ensembles, aided by Kirk “Eli” Fletcher, Johnny Rapp, or Buddy Reed on rhythm guitar, and Mario Moreno or Paul Thomas on bass, with drumming chores handled variously by Richard Innes, Paul Fasulo, and Howlin’ Wolf band veteran Chico Chism. Watson’s rhythm section consists of Teddy Morgan, rhythm guitar, Vance Ehlers, bass, and Jimmy Mulleniux, drums.

Chief Schabuttie Gilliame’s ten original songs have a delightful primitiveness to them, a down-home emotiveness where expression is paramount, even if this means deviating from strict rhyme schemes, and where the emotive power is further accentuated by multiple repeats of certain resonant lines. Gilliame comes up with two strikingly original, gritty metaphors for depicting bad love: “You’re like that damn dog on a haystack” in “Too Many Years,” and “Snakes crawl at night, yeaah, snakes crawl at night!” from “Snakes Crawl At Night.” He adapts lyrics from Muddy Waters and incorporates them into “Sugar Daddy,” and does the same thing with Jimmy Reed on “Willie Brown Blues,” where he seeks help from Louisiana hoodoo to find a way to keep his naive “country girl” from falling under the spell of city slicker Willie Brown. “No More Doggin’,” “Big Legged Emma” and “Lowdown Dirty Shame” display the Chief using multiple repetition to great emotive effect.

All ten tracks on the CD are longish, running from a little under four minutes to over six, and none disappoint or seem overlong. “Happy With You Baby” partakes the most of Howlin’ Wolf, with Chief’s vocals, the West Side ensemble work, and the song done all coming together to sound most like the Wolf himself would’ve sounded, on a song he himself could’ve written. “Come To Me Baby” renders paradigm Howlin’ Wolf in a South Side blues ensemble setting, while the Mississippi Delta-riffing “Sugar Daddy” sounds very much as Wolf might’ve sounded if he were backed by the Muddy Waters Blues Band (most unlikely occurrences, given both the personal rivalry of Wolf and Waters, and the deep ongoing rivalry between the West Side blues and the South Side blues). On these latter two cuts, and also on “No More Doggin'” and “Snakes Crawl At Night,” Bob Corritore’s harp is masterfully done, most resembling the typically South Side amplified harp style of Big Walter Horton, with licks taken also from Little Walter. On the two West Side numbers, “Happy With You Baby” and “Willie Brown Blues,” lead guitarist Johnny Rapp gives strong solos that would’ve done honor to Hubert Sumlin, the seminal guitarist and Chicago blues pioneer in Howlin’ Wolf’s bands for thirty years. “Lie To Me,” with Louisiana Red adding fuzz and reverb tones to his guitar, along with “No More Doggin’,” are straight-ahead rockers that show affinity with blues’ famous musical child, rock ‘n’ roll.

Turning now to the more urbane offerings of Junior Watson and his ensemble, we have “Too Many Years,” stylistically reminiscent of blues sophisticate Charles Brown, with Watson’s guitar playing a key role. Watson shares that role with the equally important work of Baron Shul’s sax on their other two tracks. “Big Legged Emma” features Gilliame’s elemental blues lines over instrumental work partaking of early Fifties R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, demonstrating affinities with both Joe Turner and Bill Haley and the Comets. And the last cut, “Lowdown Dirty Shame,” features the Chief in an elemental blues lament over a blues-jazz instrumental approach. In these latter two, Baron Shul’s two distinctive ways of using his sax chops are crucial in shaping and molding each song into their respective modes.

But Chief Schabuttie Gilliame’s Snakes Crawl at Night is more than just a Howlin’ Wolf “What if…” redux, much more–it’s also the creative expression of an original bluesman in his own right, backed by some really fine musicians producing solid and creative music. Snakes Crawl at Night thus stands fully on its own two feet, not simply propped up by its intriguing Howlin’ Wolf connection.

-By George Fish


Blues Wax

I usually think that studio recordings lack the intensity and energy of a live performance, but on Snakes Crawls at Night, Schabuttie Gilliame runs through ten varied numbers without flagging. The disc was recorded over the course of a year and a half, using four different sets of musicians on four different sessions to back Gilliame. The session players are veterans, including the likes of West Coast favorites Kid Ramos and Junior Watson, Baron Shul (from Indigo Swing), Bob Corritore (who also produced), and Louisiana Red. Each of the sessions produced a unique sound, capitalizing on the strengths of the musicians, playing off of The Chief’s vocals. His voice gives energy to the songs and brings a consistency that ties the set together.

All original material, the songs run the gamut from bouncy love songs to my-baby-done-left-me to I-wish-my-baby-would-leave. More than once, there’s a mention of big-legged women, so there’s no doubt where his tastes run as far as women are concerned. Classic Jazz/Blues innuendo and euphemism run through the slow grinding “Sugar Daddy,” highlighting Gilliame’s lyrical wit.

“Willie Brown Blues” is easily the highlight of the disc, with the big sound of a full band. The other switch is that it’s the only real story song on the disc. I don’t want to give anything away, but anytime you have a lover’s triangle and a hoodoo woman, well, you know it’s going to be good.

“Too Many Years” makes use of a stripped-down band, with excellent guitar work sharing time with the vocals. Baron Shul’s subtle sax drives home the mournful loneliness of the sadness of the lyric. Shul also carries the closer, “Lowdown Dirty Shame,” a slow Blues that’s an apt ending to the set.

– Eric Wrisley is a contributing editor at BluesWax


Real Blues

Ah, yes! Proof that the Blues is still full of wonderful surprises! I didn’t know what to make of this disc when it came in from Richard Congress’ Random Chance label, but as Richard has a wonderful track record already “chances” are it would be a good un and that cover sure looks funky. When you check out the lineup list on the front. …Kid Ramos, Louisiana Red, Junior Watson, Rusty Zinn, Buddy Reed, Chico Chism, Kirk Fletcher and Richard Innes. Holy Mackerel. With a crew like this involved The Chief must be either well respected or very wealthy and thankfully the former rules supreme.

It is evident from the very first notes of “Come To Me Baby” that this is going to be a hot damn, good time, rompin’, stompin’ old time Blues album. What a voice! The liner notes explain everything. “Born in Egypt (!) in 1925, Chief was Blues schooled in Arkansas and Louisiana before bringing his unique musical perspective to Arizona some 25 years ago. A stout, jolly man who calls Voodoo his religion, Chief is a lover of women and he claims to have 7 wives and 17 children.” Ain’t that a man? Now, for those of you who don’t know, Phoenix is and always has been a major authentic Blues centre that is steeped in Blues history and Chief is just one of several old time Blues figures who live within 50 miles of that city. The current Blues scene is one of the most attractive anywhere in North America and if you were planning on relocating to a city with great music with a relatively low crime rate, Phoenix is the place to go. One of the reasons why it’s so cool is because of the big Phoenix Blues Society and the legendary Rhythm Room run by the one-and-only Bob Corritore who also produces this great album. Corritore has turned into quite the record producer over the years and he also blows nice harp. Every one of the tracks is killer and I wish all Blues record producers would listen to this disc to get an idea how Blues should sound: drums are not upfront and one can hear each and everyone of the instruments clearly with nice low key separation. Drummers are so damn important to Blues and guys who have grown up idolizing Carmen Appice or Ginger Baker just don’t cut it. Instead, Chief has 4 of the best shufflers in the business. Richard Innes, Chico Chism (formerly with Howlin’ Wolf), Paul Fasulo and the unheralded Jimmy Mulleniux. It’s not very often we get an album of pure, old-time, low-down Blues coming our way from a debut artist, but like most Blues artists of the authentic vein, this CD was a long time coming. Heavenly music! If Howlin’ Wolf heard this stuff he would commence to Howlin’ and crawlin’ around. Yes, it’s that good! The title cut will give you heebie jeebies and “Happy With You Baby” is a swingin’ dance inducer. My favourite is “Big Legged Emma”, a Shag market hit if I ever heard one complete with honkin’ baritone (Baron Shull and sweet Junior Watson and Teddy Morgan guitar interplay). Chief can sing and howl with the best of them and I’d have to say that this is the best debut disc I’ve heard in a few years. Everyone plays their ass off and it’s also nice to see Buddy Reed’s name back out there as he’s got a lot of great history besides his fine pickin’. Hey, we love this album and it’s gonna get the crap played out of it. Thanks Chief and Mr. Corritore for doing this album and a special thanks to Random Chance for putting this fantastic recording out. 5 big bottles for one of the finest, pure, 100% Blues albums you’ll hear in this day and age. More, please!

– Andy Grigg


Blues And Rhythm

Rick Congress’ Random Chance Records will be the toast of all lovers of ’50s Chicago blues with these two wonderful examples of the genre from Chief Schabuttie Gilliame and the late Jimmie Lee Robinson.

78 years old, Gilliame was born in Egypt but has been a mainstay of the Phoenix blues scene for the past 25 years, meeting harmonica player (and producer) Bob Corritore in 1981 and developing a friendship that has eventually resulted in the recording and release of Snakes Crawls At Night.

For this set, Corritore has assembled some of the best musicians on the current blues scene, including heavyweight guitarists like Kid Ramos, Junior Watson, Rusty Zinn, Kirk Eli Fletcher, Louisiana Red, Teddy Morgan, Johnny Rapp and Buddy Reed; the drummers include Richard Innes, Paul Fasulo and Chico Chism; Tom Mahon and Matt Bishop provide piano, whilst Corritore is featured with his own superb harp. With a line-up like that it would be difficult to fail, but Gilliame more than holds his own in such illustrious company, being the possessor of a gravelly voice, permeated with humour, that was always intended to sing the blues.

Shuffles dominate on this set, the opening cut, “Come to Me Baby” finding Gilliame’s gruff vocals underpinned by Corritore s classic Chi-Town harp, rattling piano and scratchy guitar from Rusty Zinn.

“Too Many Years” is a brooding late night blues with Baron Shul’s sax baying in sympathy with Gilliame’s intimidating vocals, around which Junior Watson’s shimmering guitar weaves a web of blues; “No More Doggin” is a churning shuffle where Gilliame evokes a Wolf-like menace that is cocooned by wailing harp, rolling piano and crashing chords a la Willie Johnson from Kid Ramos.

The spirit of Muddy Waters permeates several tracks, enhanced by Corritore’s harp on the moody “Sugar Daddy” and “Snakes Crawls At Night,” the latter finding Ramos’ guitar echoing the menace inherent in Gilliame’s vocals. Louisiana Red’s clanging chords fire “Lie To Me”; Baron Suhl’s sax is up front on the steady rolling “Big Legged Emma”; whilst the frustration evident in Gilliame’s vocals is almost palpable on “Lowdown Dirty Shame,” where smokey sax and shimmering guitar enhance the moody demeanor of this blues.


Blues Bytes

The coarse voice of Chief Schabuttie Gilliame comes thru well-recorded on his brand-new CD, Snakes Crawls At Night (Random Chance Records). The music comes from four sessions of varying musicians in Clarke Rigsby’s Tempe studio in 2001 and ’02, and is produced by the experienced Bob Corritore. The “Chief” is wonderful to see live as he commands an audience. Lucky for us he lives and sometimes appears in the Valley. This disc is sequenced for flow, so the bands intermingle. It first appears by glancing at the playlist that the front-man claims authorship to established titles, but in reality they are all his, different tunes with seemingly familiar names. The cover graphics are interesting. “Come To Me Baby” starts the disc with just the right tempo, the Chief’s vocal definition, a well-toned harp solo from the producer and minimal but grooving guitars from L.A.’s Kirk “Eli” Fletcher (of Charlie Musselwhite’s band) and Rusty Zinn, of Kim Wilson renown. “Too Many Years” conveys melancholy and absurdity in its story, with rich and chordal guitars. “No More Doggin’” is a one-chord vamp which maintains intensity with Phoenix’s Johnny Rapp on guitar as well as Kid Ramos, formerly of the Fabulous Thunderbirds . I also hear Paul Thomas’ stand-up slap bass mixed well. “Happy With You Baby” might sound like a Chuck Berry-type rock, maybe more of another “Chief,” Eddie Clearwater, when the vocal hits. But then Matt Bishop’s piano reiterates images of the duck-walker. “Sugar Daddy” is down in the alley, but not yet to after-hours. Falsetto shrieks punctuate the vocal delivery. “Big-Legged Emma” has a Buckeye, Arizona connection when we hear about the lady subject. The spirited shuffle also contains two distinct guitar solos, both from Junior Watson. Teddy Morgan lays down rhythm guitar. Top it off with a baritone sax solo and horn section-effect; it’s Junior’s guitar and the sax in unison. A “muddy” guitar sound opens “Lie To Me.” I first wondered if it was (Muddy) Waters-influenced Buddy Reed (who has spent a lot of time on the Phoenix scene, and who actually is on second guitar on this track) but it is the great Louisiana Red, whose guitar style is that of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. The cut has a two-beat feel with drum brushes underlining. We’re getting closer to those after-hours on “Snakes Crawls At Night,” somewhere between the South and Chicago here probably because of excellent intuitive drumming from Chico Chism. Johnny Rapp opens the number with raw guitar, whereas Kid Ramos plays the solo. A solid shuffle, “Willie Brown Blues,” continues the momentum with the Chief referring to a pretty well-known figure in blues lore. The burning guitar is definitive Johnny Rapp, the studio catching him at a perfect moment. The presentation concludes with an hypnotic, kind of calypso/Latin thing, “Lowdown Dirty Shame.” It is fairly down in tempo and is an outpouring cry of abuse before another sax solo and I’d guess Junior Watson instead of Teddy Morgan taking the guitar solo. Last reminder from the singing sage as the disc fades: “Your gonna reap just what you sow…” In 1983 when I first was introduced to the Chief, it was reported he was from Ethiopia. Producer Bob Corritore clarifies in the disc’s liner notes that he was born in 1925 in Egypt. It goes on to say that the Chief considers “voodoo” his religion. He once told me directly that “mojo” IS a religion. So there are variations in local legend but certainly nothing to nitpick over. You get the idea. What’s at stake is the character of his music. Once it starts he is instantly back to his blues schooling in Arkansas and Louisiana. I’m not convinced there is a real “Phoenix” blues sound, but this would be close and serves as a document to help us get there. The backing musicians may be giving us more of a West-coast blues flavor for the fare. A real amalgam with local environmental influences. Producer Corritore can be justifiably proud of a job well-done, bringing attention to a natural soul deserving of wider recognition in the persona of Chief Schabuttie Gilliame. This disc would go well at any party or on a trip of any duration. Available at http://www.randomchancerecords.com.

– Tom Coulson


Bad Dog Blues

With a CD cover that sports snakes, skulls and a rooster I didn’t know quite what to expect from the man who calls himself Chief Schabuttie Gilliame. With a gravelly voice that evokes Howlin’ Wolf, the Chief delivers a tough set of old school blues on “Snakes Crawls At Night”, a most welcome debut.

We can thank Bob Corritore for this fine CD. Corritore wears many hats: harmonica player, producer, radio show host and owner for Arizona’s The Rhythm Room. Corritore always seems to attach himself to worthwhile projects and this one is no exception. For his part Gilliame has been playing in the Phoenix area since the early 80’s and this CD should get him some well deserved national attention.

Gilliame possesses one of those great, deep blues voices that cuts right to the bone with Howlin’ Wolf being the closest comparison. As producer Corritore has assembled an amazing cast of top West Coast players to back Gilliame: guitarists include Rusty Zinn, Kid Ramos, Kirk “Eli” Fletcher, Junior Watson, Johnny Rapp, Teddy Morgan with Louisiana Red sitting in on one cut plus one-time Wolf drummer Chico Chism and Corritore himself helping out on harmonica. The music here is tough, vintage blues circa 50’s era Chicago/Southern blues and like the best of that music features excellent ensemble playing from all involved. The opener “Come To Me Baby” sets the blueprint for the rest of the album and is a classic blues shuffle featuring some fine Big Walter styled blowing from Corritore and ace guitar work from Zinn and Fletcher. The rest of the album is uniformly strong including the down and dirty “No More Doggin'”, the retro R&B groove of “Big Legged Emma” with nice tenor from Baron Shul and the tough “Lie To Me” featuring some fuzz laden, grungy guitar from Louisiana Red. Other highlights include the dark, ominous vibe of “Snakes Crawls At Night” featuring the twin guitars of Rapp and Ramos and a similar low-down groove on “Willie Brown Blues” as Gilliame really gives it to that no good woman and that “big shot” Willie Brown she’s messing with.

Fans of vintage real deal blues should check “Snakes Crawls At Night” which is one of those fine little records that all too often slip through the cracks. Gilliame is the genuine article and the word really should get out.

– Jeff Harris


La Gazette de Greenwood (France)

Sous la houlette de l’harmoniciste Bob CORRITORE, producteur pour l’occasion, Chief Schabuttie GILLIAME a signé cette année ce Snakes Crawls At Night chez Random Chance.

La surprenante pochette présente divers objets que l’on devine servant au culte voodoo (os et crânes humains, serpents, coq) et qui n’est pas s’en rappeler Screamin’ Jay HAWKINS. La ressemblance s’arrête là.

Si le presque octogénaire Schabuttie semble s’y connaître en serpents (on le voit sur la jaquettes étreignant d’imposant reptiles), le blues est loin de lui être inconnu. Il le chante d’une voix grave et éraillée, souvent comparée à Howlin’ Wolf, mais à laquelle je ne trouve tout de même pas autant d’ampleur.

Ces enregistrements, construits sur des compositions personnelles du Chief, sont issus de 4 sessions différentes. Etonnamment, les titres des quatre sessions sont répartis inégalement sur la totalité de l’album, ce que je trouve dommage dans la mesure où l’on aurait pu mieux saisir l’ambiance créée par les différents accompagnements. Car si ces titres sont de beaux morceaux de blues, il faut bien dire que Schabuttie GILLIAME a su admirablement s’entourer et que ces musiciens ne sont sûrement pas étrangers à la qualité du résultat. Outre Bob CORRITORE sur des titres des 24 novembre 2001 et 28 octobre 2000, on ne retrouve pas moins que Rusty ZINN, Kirk “Eli” FLETCHER, Johnny RAPP aux guitares pour la première séance. Sur la seconde, les deux premiers guitaristes sont remplacés par Kid RAMOS. Le seul “Lie To Me” date du 08 avril 2002 et reçoit la présence de Louisiana RED. Enfin, sur les titres du 29 septembre 2001, c’est Junior WATSON qui est invité à tenir la guitare avec Teddy MORGAN. Petite particularité de ces derniers enregistrements ; ils sont aussi affublés d’un sax (Baron SHUL).

Cet album est donc un recueil de blues bien sentis, investis de la personnalité de GILLIAME, et ornés d’un bel environnement instrumental.

– Jocelyn Richez


Rootstime (Belgium)

Rond Phoenix word Schabuttle Gilliame meestal aangesproken met de naam ” The Chief.” Hij verblijft in een kleine gemeenschap ten westen van deze stad met de naam Buckeve en vertoeft meestal in Phoenix en de streken rond California. Geboren in Egypte op 15 september 1925, “The Chief” kreeg later een bluesopleiding in Arkansas en Louisiana voor dat hij zijn unieke muzikale perspectieven zo’n 25 jaar geleden naar Arizona bracht. “The Chief” is bezeten van alle voodoo toestanden, hetgeen volgens hem zijn godsdienst (“mojo”) is, tevens verkiest hij vrouwen met lange benen ! Hij komt er voor uit dat hij 7 vrouwen en 17 kinderen heeft, daarbuiten dan nog veel muziek maken , je moet het maar kunnen. “The Chief” spreekt met een zwaar Afrikaans accent, schrijft van rechts naar links, en zingt met een vermergelde stem die ons doet denken aan Howlin Wolf. Buiten de ruwe stem van de “The Chief” komt de muziek van vier sessies met verschillende muzikanten,opgenomen in de Clarke Rigsby’s Tempe studio in 2001 en ’02, met Bob Corritore als producer. Gilliame weet zijn muziekvrienden samen te brengen in een geest van een cultuurvermenging, om zo zijn tien zelf geschreven nummers met zijn typisch “Phoenix” blues geluid over te brengen. De aanwezigheid van ‘goed volk’, zoals Kid Ramos, Louisiana Red, Junior Watson, Rusty Zinn, Chico Chism, Buddy Reed, Bob Corritore, Johnny Rapp, Kirk’Eli’ Fletcher en Teddy Morgan zorgen ervoor om hier West-coast blues aan toe te voegen. “Snakes Crawls at Night” is een degelijk, gevarieerd werkstuk dat zeker niet wegzinkt in modaliteit, de middelmatigheid, maar dat zeker uitblinkt in originaliteit en aansprekend vermogen. Muzikaal zit alles goed, de stem van “The Chief” en de gedrevenheid, de beleving en de geinspireerde kracht van alle gasten. Laat ons hopen dat de blues nog lang in hun handen zal gedragen worden.


Soul Bag (France)

Il faudra m’expliquer comment des artistes d’une telle stature peuvent rester sous silence. Né en 1925 à Egypt, installé à Phoenix, Jesse “Chief” Schabuttie Gilliame sort là en effet son premier CD ! Toutes proportions gardées, ce n’est pas sans nous rappeler le regretté Big Lucky Carter, qui avait attendu d’avoir 78 ans pour faire de même… En fait, le présent CD est le résultat de quatre sessions enregistrées entre décembre 2000 et août 2002. Histoire de frapper fort, le chanteur s’entoure en outre d’un casting édifiant. Citons seulement les guitaristes : Rusty Zinn, Kirk “Eli” Fletcher, Johnny Rapp, Kid Ramos, Louisiana Red et Junior Watson. Excusez du peu. Quant à Bob Corritore, outre les parties d’harmonica, il signe une production parfaitement dans l’esprit, ce qui ne doit pas être simple quand on découvre Gilliame.

Car c’est tout de suite de choc. Ce Chief-là est dote d’une voix caverneuse et surpuissante venue d’ailleurs, à faire (presque) pâlir Howlin’ Wolf. Bien sûr, à son âge, il est souvent à la limite de la rupture, mais ça l’humanise… Dès le premier titre (Come to me baby), et pas seulement par le timbre furieux du bonhomme, on s’immerge dans un blues poisseux qui a bien peu cours aujourd’hui. Et tout le monde est pris dans le maelstrom, Zinn et Fletcher aux guitares, Corritore à l’harmo, ou encore le pianiste Matt Bishop. Et ne croyez pas que la rhythmique se sente obligée de bétonner. Non, bien au contraire, elle fait preuve d’une discrétion et d’un dépouillement du meilleur aloi ! Une étonnante cohésion qui obéit à une sorte de code tribal, et que l’on retrouve tout au long du CD.

La session du 24 novembre 2001 (plages n° 1, 4, 5, et 9) retranscrit sans doute le mieux cette sensation particulière. Happy with you baby est dans la lignée du titre d’ouverture déjà cite. Sugar daddy, plus lent, voit Gilliame pousser d’étranges cris en falsetto… Quant au shuffle Willie brown blues, sur lequel Johnny Rapp se distingue à la guitare, il est impayable (on y reviendra). La séance du 28 décembre 2000 (n° 3 et 8) nous offre le jouissif et enlevé No more doggin’ et le lancinant Snakes crawls at night, deux titres qui permettent à Kid Ramos de briller. Celle du 29 septembre 2001 (n° 2, 8 et 10) apporte de la variété à l’ensemble, voire de la fraîcheur : presence du saxo, ambiance moins tendue, rhythmique souple, le tout agrémenté de la guitare cinglante et caractéristique de Junior Watson. Le dernier de la série (Low down dirty shame), chaloupé tendance calypso, voit même Gilliame se calmer un peu, c’est dire… Enfin, grave le 8 avril 2002, Lie to me est sans doute le plus ravage : je vous laisse en effet imaginer ce que peut donner l’alliance de la voix écorchée de Gilliame avec la guitare tronçonneuse de Louisiana Red…

Voix impensable, accompagnement et production avisés, voilà déjà de quoi faire un fort bel opus. Mais Gilliame sait aussi écrire (de droite à gauche, si on se fie aux notes de jacquette !), puisqu’il signe toutes les compositions du disque. Bien sûr, il remet souvent à sa sauce des themes éculés du blues (amour, solitude…), mais il a un dada, le vaudou. Et quand il se lance là-dedans, il n’a pas son pareil. Snakes crawls at night cultive l’angoisse, suivi d’un Willie Brown blues qui joue la carte de l’humour. Un sommet du genre, où le Willie Brown en question n’a qu’a bien se tenir. Car Willie est un “big shot” louisianais, comme dit Gilliame, et il lorgne sur sa petite amie citadine, peu au fait de telles mœurs campagnardes. Et Chief va s’en charger : à coups de “black cat bone”, de “voodoo woman”, de “two-headed woman”, il va le mettre hors circuit… Un CD qui vous reconcilie définitivement avec le blues.

-Daniel Léon

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