Amos Garrett has lately taken to underplaying his guitar prowess and concentrating on his singing, with his wonderful deep baritone often sounding most at home on classic songs from the nineteen thirties. With Percy Mayfield’s songs written this style and for the same voice range, this project is a perfect match. Often called ‘The Poet Laureate of the Blues’, Mayfield’s songs have been recorded by almost every major R&B artist, most notably Ray Charles, for whom Mayfield wrote some sixty songs. But I believe this is the first time that an artist has devoted an entire album to his work and it is a revelation. Hearing them together fully explains his poet laureate status. Garrett has avoided the two most obvious songs, “Hit The Road, Jack” and “Please Send Me Someone To Love” and focused on some lesser-known ones. The other potential difficulty is that many of Mayfield’s songs are slow or slower but “Stranger In My Own Hometown”, “The River’s Invitation” and “Get Way Back” are sufficiently
up tempo and the album flows beautifully. Garrett’s delivery allows one to savour the lyrics and I think even the titles of Mayfield’s song invite interest. My advance copy did not have any information on the musicians accompanying Garrett but kudos go to the sax soloist and I probably don’t have to mention that the guitar solos are superbly crafted and always appropriate.
My Jug And I (2:56)
Pretty Eyed Baby (5:48)
Stranger In My Own Hometown (3:15)
Never Say Naw (4:21)
The Country (4:23)
To Claim It's Love (5:54)
The River's Invitation (3:46)
Fading Love (5:54)
Get Way Back (2:40)
Ha Ha In The Daytime (6:08)
Lost Mind (2:25)
Amos Garrett: A fascinating, understated, and powerful portrayal of a blues legend
Is this collection of Percy Mayfield's songs the guitarist's masterpiece?
Amos Garrett, if truth be told, has been part of the roots music scene for well over 40 years, and right now he's enjoying the fruits of his labor. Laid back, and with a sense of humor so dry that one could light matches on his pants, he is marking a new level of independence — and has released what his fellow musicians are already calling the best record of his long career.
Get Way Back: A Tribute to Percy Mayfield is a collection of songs by one of the very best — if lesser-known — songwriters in American roots music history. And Garrett, in his wonderfully contrary way, found some of the very best tunes by the man who was called "The Poet Laureate of the Blues" — but did not include the man's most-covered songs, "Hit the Road Jack" and "Please Send Me Someone To Love."
"Well," Garrett explained, "those songs have been sung before."
Get Way Back, for once, puts the emphasis on Garrett's deep, supple voice, with his trademark guitar style perfectly complementing the lyrics, but more understated than usual. And the songs — many of them deep, dark and full of foreboding — make for a remarkably satisfying listening experience.
Produced by Garrett himself, and recorded in Toronto and Calgary, the record features long-time collaborators Ron Casat on keys, and sax player Dave Babcock, who also arranged the quietly effective horn parts, which feature trumpet player Alistair Elliott. Bucky Berger on drums and bassist Victor Bateman are also veterans of Amos' band, which he long ago christened the Eh! Team. Ken Whiteley, whose Toronto studio was used for some of the recording, plays piano.
AMOS GARRETT: BRIEF BACKGROUND NOTES
It's difficult, with any successful musician, to sum up four decades of hard work and noteworthy accomplishments. Here are just a few notes about Amos Garrett.
• Born in Detroit in 1941.
• Raised in Montreal and Toronto.
• Early influences: Hearing Fats Domino, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King and dozens more at Montreal's long-gone Esquire Club on Stanley Street.
• First band: Toronto-based folk group The Dirty Shames.
• First major U.S. appearance: At Carnegie Hall with comedian and JFK imitator Vaugn Meader.
• First choice session guitarist: During the '70s and early '80s, Amos recorded tracks with more than 150 artists — from Stevie Wonder to Bonnie Raitt, not to mention Anne Murray (yes, you can hear him on "Snowbird"!), Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Pearls Before Swine and Maria Muldaur (everyone remembers his one-take solo on Midnight at the Oasis), and Jesse Winchester.
• Touring: Worked as a member of Ian & Sylvia's Great Speckled Bird and Paul Butterfield's Better Days; and toured with Maria Muldaur as her bandleader. Has had his own band, The Eh! Team, for more than 25 years.
• Guitar heroes Chet Atkins, Richard Thompson and Mark Knopfler have all praised Garrett's unique style.
His musical partnership with Geoff Muldaur led him to his Stony Plain debut with the release of a laid back album of duets by the pair in the mid '70s. Now sadly out of the catalogue, it was followed by Go Cat Go, Make My Home in My Shoes, Third Man In, and the Juno-winning collaboration with Gene Taylor and Doug Sahm, Return of the Formerly Brothers. A live album with Doug and Gene, recorded in Japan, followed, and Amosbehavin', Off the Floor Live, and Acoustic Album added to the catalogue.
Garrett has long been one of Stony Plain's signature artists, and the thought of recording an album of Percy Mayfield songs was eagerly endorsed by artist and label alike.
After all, there are very few R&B singers who haven't recorded at least one of Percy Mayfield's songs, and that list includes Ray Charles, Etta James, Bobby Bland, B.B. King, Johnny Adams, Jimmy Witherspoon, Junior Parker, Amos Milburn, and Nappy Brown, not to mention more recent interpreters including Mose Allison, Luther Allison and Long John Baldry.
AMOS UP TO DATE
"I'm celebrating the fact that I'm now, officially, the recipient of pensions from the United States and Canada, and my wife is working," Amos Garrett explains from his Victorian house in High River, Alberta.
This does not mean Amos has retired, He has another Japanese tour on the books for next year, he'll be leading the famed House Band at the Edmonton Folk Festival again, there are summer festival dates and there will be dates in eastern Canada in the fall. Meanwhile, he plays in town with a jazz-based trio; small group bop-tinged jazz, he says – "Monk, Miles. Very accessible."
He loves the small-town life. "Joe Clark (once Canada's Prime Minister) was born and raised down the road, W.O. Mitchell; the great Canadian humorous writer, lived three doors down from my house. I can go fishing nearby whenever I want, and my wife and I are taking a course in digital photography."
The new CD? "Percy's songs, when I was introduced to them in the early '70s, really set my direction. I've recorded some of his songs before, but this brand new collection is my tribute to a giant songwriter. Sharing these songs is very special to me.
A QUICK NOTE ABOUT PERCY MAYFIELD
Born in 1920, in a tiny Louisiana town, he was possibly the greatest R&B songwriter in the years between 1947 and the mid-'60s. He was also handsome, a convincing singer, and was tipped as the next upcoming star, ready to eclipse Billy Eckstine, the hot black crooner of the day. Meanwhile, his songs were getting covered — and his own version of one of them, "Please Send Me Someone To Love," was a #1 hit.
Then tragedy struck. A horrendous auto wreck left his face terribly disfigured. Loathing being seen in public he rarely performed after that and then only because he needed money.
However, he did continue to compose and most of his masterpieces were written in the next 20 years. His most popular song, "Hit the Road Jack," was a #1 Billboard pop hit for Ray Charles in 1961, who then signed Percy to his own Tangerine label and produced Percy's two best albums (My Jug and I, and Bought Blues).
He died of a heart attack in 1984, at the age of 63, living in relative obscurity. As Garrett points out in his sleeve notes for Get Way Back: "Despite the dark nature of his songs, they always maintained a high level of dignity and beauty — never maudlin or weak in any sense.
"This album is a tribute to Percy Mayfield and to the triumph of survival itself; sometimes that's as good as it's going to get."
Amos Garrett "Carolina Sunshine Girl" Japan