Reviews & Info
Barstool Blues reviewed by David Stine
You may or may not have heard Bob Levis playing rhythm guitar behind Otis Rush or Lonnie Brooks, but Bob is also heck of a lead guitar player. If you want proof, buy this CD.
Bob suddenly found all the planets “aligned” last fall, and with the help of a financial backer, and fellow area musicians, set out to do his own CD. Since Bob doesn’t sing, he brought in an amazing group of folks you probably heard here and there--Lonnie Brooks, Steve Ditzell, Jimmy Voegeli, Big Jim Johnson, and Larry Pendleton--to help out. Adding guitar to the disc as well are Lonnie Brooks, Dave Wood, Steve Ditzell, and Larry Pendleton. Jimmy Voegeli adds piano and organ. Most of the drumming is done by Marty Binder, with Link Leary sitting in on three tracks. Dave Kaye plays bass throughout the disc. Big Jim Johnson, Teddy Laurence, and Westside Andy Linderman add harmonica. As you can see, besides the “Big Cities’ Mafia,” there is quite a crew of players here.
This CD kicks off with “It Takes Time,” one of my favorite Otis Rush tunes. Steve Ditzell handles the vocals; he and Bob spar on guitars; Voegeli adds nice organ; Ted Lawrence adds harmonica, and the rhythm section is Kaye and Binder. The song is enjoyable and well played although I wish Lawrence were a bit louder in the mix.
Big Jim Johnson sings song two, Bobby Charles’ “Why Are People Like That?” This is a nice version, with Bob adding some Otis Rush-inspired guitar. Players are Bob, Link, Ted, Dave Wood, and Dave Kaye. This is a good example of what Bob calls “the moving and soothing” side of the blues. Big Jim takes some liberties with the original lyrics, all in good fun.
“Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” was picked by Lonnie Brooks and is song three. The cast here is Brooks and Levis on guitars, Westside Andy on harmonica, Jimmy Voegeli on piano, Dave Kaye on bass, and Marty Binder on drums. Everyone adds the right amount of showmanship, keeping the focus on the song and not the solos, as is so prominent in this post-SRV era.
When “Mystery Train” popped up, I thought Oh Oh, not again; but I must say that the song is saved from mediocrity by the arrangement and the execution. We have the choo-choo drumming of Binder, and combined with Ted Laurence’s harp fills and Bob’s added seventh note to the rhythm, this track is a real toe-tapper that sounds fresh for a 50-something-year-old song. Among the many delights on this disc, this is one of them. Big Jim Johnson sings.
Song five is another Rush tune--“Double Trouble.” I have to say that after repeated spins of this disc, this may be my favorite cut. Steve Ditzell and Bob create a very cool groove and both of their performances are first rate. Steve does a great job on vocals, and there is a lot of guitar interchange here, but it is compelling and not boring like a lot of overdone soloing I’ve heard. Great job, guys!
For those of you who make Bob’s Wednesday night jam, “Bar Stool Breakdown” is probably familiar to you. But it was new to me since I don’t venture out on weeknights. This is a nice shuffle with major contributions form Westside Andy, Jimmy Voegeli and Levis. Sometimes instrumentals can be a bit L-O-N-G, but this one is a kicker that ends with a cool harmonica and guitar duet.
Those of you have seen Ernie and the Poor Boys know Larry Pendleton. Bob pulled in Larry to sing and play John Berry’s “I’m Coming Down With The Blues.” As Lonnie Brooks told Larry after the session, he sings it like it was his own. Solos from Bob, Andy Linderman, and lovely piano from Jimmy Voegeli add to another satisfying cut.
Song eight is another Otis Rush (surprise!) tune, “Three Times A Fool.” Again, Bob pulls in Steve Ditzell for vocals and guitar. If you like the blues, eight songs into the disc, you know it’s a keeper. Bob, Steve, and Ted Lawrence nail down the essential blues that got most of us listening in the first place.
Song nine, Bernard Roth’s “Just To Be With You,” also fights for being one of my favorites on this disc. Big Jim Johnson sings over an easy groove provided by Bob, the two Daves, Leary, and Ted Laurence. This could be an outtake from Hoodoo Man Blues. There’s a very easy Junior Wells feel to this song. Again, a favorite.
“Shufflisko” is a Dennis Gruenling-penned tune that is a tribute to Joe Filisko. Ted Laurence picked this tune as a tribute to both men and to show off his chops. Great backing from Bob, the two Daves and Marty Binder. We don’t have Big or Little Walter or the Sunny Boys anymore, but we do have some great harmonica players in Ted Laurence, Andy Linderman, and Dennis Gruenling -- all of whom have played in the area. If you’ve missed any of them, you’ve missed a lot! This song, to me, is a tribute to those players, fighting in the face of millions of wannabe guitar heroes. Nice job, Teddy.
“Now I’m Good” is a Richard Newell (King Biscuit Boy) tune sung by Jimmy Voegeli and aptly performed here with the help from Bob, Westside Andy, Kaye, and Binder. This is maybe the fastest tune on the CD and is a good example of what you might see at a Westside Andy/Mel Ford show.
Mark wanted Steve Ditzell to do a slide guitar tune, so song twelve is Leroy Carr’s “Blues Before Sunrise.” Steve’s slide work carries the song yet allows Bob to contribute without competing. Steve does a great job on vocals. Ace rhythm section, Kaye and Binder are here as well.
The CD ends with “Getting Out of Town” written by Big Jim Johnson. This song oozes Chicago Blues but is a fitting end for a CD of the best of the Rockford Blues men as well. Solid rhythm from Leary and Kaye allow for Bob and Ted Lawrence to create something that sounds like a lost nugget from the golden era of Chicago Blues.
I like this CD A LOT. I would buy it even if I didn’t know any of the people involved. The rhythm section of Leary, Binder and Kaye is rock solid. The soloists are fantastic. The five singers provide a lot of variety and nuance. It is a very solid example of the blues the way I like it played. It is the CD you slip into your player on your way home from a long night at Legends, or Kingston Mines, or B.L.U.E.S. This CD is also a bit of Rockford history. The CD was recorded, mixed, produced in Rockford. It captures twelve songs by twelve men at the top of their game when “all the planets were aligned.”
Following Reviews Courtesy CDBaby
School of Blues
author: Steven Jones
If there can be a "School of Rock, there certainly must also be a "School of Blues." This CD shows what can be learned from this school. This is not
learning like some 16 year old Johnnie come lately whose understanding of the blues is something his Daddy told him to say on stage; this is the blues being played by some one who has lived them. The depth and breath of this CD is apparent by the time you've spent less than 30 seconds listening to this. Playing here are men who carry the torch of the Chicago blues with all their heart. Levis' guitar work is impeccable. The supporting cast is also strong. The bass by Brother Dave Kaye and drums by Link Leary and Marty Binder provide a solid back drop to each cut. Bob's guitar is complemented by the guitars of Steve Ditzell, Dave Wood, Larry Pendleton and one of Bob's mentors, Lonnie Brooks. Harp playing is strong throughout with Rockford, Illinois' Teddy Lawrence, Beloit, Wisconsin's Big Jim Johnson, and the inimitable Westside Andy Lindernman from Madison, Wisconsin. Keyboards are supplied with by Jimmy Voegeli. Vocals are provided by a cadre of singers whose styles vary from the sounds of Jimmy Reed to a pure, raw Mississippi Delta style of delivery. Ditzell, Johnson, Pendleton, Voegeli and Brooks all gut out some great vocals. This is a superb CD with some great covers and a few super original cuts. I
think anyone who loves the Chicago blues scene will love this CD!
Learning from the Masters- It cannot be beat
Bob has soaked up a lot of blues over the years, and it now comes out in this fine disc. Tasteful playing, an understanding of the blues come to the forefront here. An old friend Lonnie Brooks sits in on one track to payback all the playing Bob did for him. Listen to Shuffle-iska and Double Trouble...classic stuff. Highly
You cannot beat learning from the Masters
author: Mark Nelson
Top Flight stuff here. This is a work of loving the blues, by someone who has played the blues for decades. You cannot get that real feel unless you played with and around the Masters of the genre. Bob and his guests play with feeling and emotion. "Now I'm Good" and "Blues Before Sunrise" really hit the notes. This will be in my player for some time!
1 It Takes Time
2 Why Are People Like That?
3 Can't Hold Out Much Longer
4 Mystery Train
5 Double Trouble
6 Barstool Breakdown
7 I'm Coming Down With the Blues
8 Three Times a Fool
9 Just to Be With You
11 Now I'm Good
12 Blues Before Sunrise
13 Gettin' Out of Town
Bob Levis Interviewed by Dave Stine
I sat down with Bob Levis at Big Cities during the belated Crossroads Blues Society Christmas Party/meeting and Reverend Raven gig to talk with him about his upcoming CD, Barstool Blues.
At first Bob was a little hesitant to talk to me, since I’d recently become somewhat of the Simon Cowell of blues reviewing for newsletter. He said I was pretty “brutal” to Grady Champion, Charles Burton, and even Howlin’ Wolf. I told him, I just call ‘em as I see ‘em, but that he didn’t need to pre-worry. (NOTE: Wolf did call me from beyond the grave to ask “how many more years” was I gonna wreck his life!)
Anyway, about the CD. First, for those of you who don’t know--and I can’t imagine who you’d be--Bob was guitarist for both Lonnie Brooks and Otis Rush back in the day. You’ll see his name pop up on Cold Day in Hell, Live at Kingston Mines, and other albums that may be floating around library. He moved to Rockford a few years ago, and he hosts a Wednesday night blues jam at Big Cities as well as adding guitar to Ernie and The Po’Boys.
I asked Bob how the CD came about and he said some things happen; some things you make happen; and some things just seem to happen on their own. He is very thankful that all the various things DID come together at one time: a financial backer (Mark Thompson), some great players (see below), a studio (see below), and the opportunity to combine all these things. Locals should recognize all the players on the CD. Bob had been in Chicago when Steve Ditzell was with Koko Taylor and Junior Wells. They knew of each other but had never played together. Steve also transplanted to Rockford over 10 years ago. Hanging out at Big Cities allowed Bob to hook up with Steve and Dave Kaye and some of the other players on the CD. Bob doesn’t sing so put out the call to people like Steve, who he knew could help him with the project. His old friend Lonnie Brooks contributes a song, as does Larry Pendleton from Ernie and the Po’Boys. Big Jim Johnson, another local icon, sings and plays harp on the disc as well. The rhythm section is Dave Kaye and Marty Binder (mostly). I can’t even begin to mention with whom both of these men have played--the list is too long. Other players on the CD include Westside Andy and Jimmy Voegeli from the Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band, Teddy Lawrence from Johnny and the Boomers and Cross Eyed Cat, and Dave Wood from????
Bob warned me that the CD breaks no new ground: it’s just a blues album. He wanted a CD of blues played “the way it should be played” and nothing more. He picked people to play whose style he knew would fit with what he and Mark wanted to do. There were no band rehearsals, just various players in the studio, live, who he told to “play what you know.”
Bob and Mark used Miles Nieslen’s The Fuse studio and appreciated to care that Miles, and Chris French took with the project. (NOTE to Tricksters--dad Rick dropped by during the Lonnie Brooks recording.)
Mark Thompson acted as executive producer and Bob as producer. I don’t know what these titles mean, but I think that means Mark had the final say. Arrangements were simply talked out. Most songs were complete in 1 or 2 takes.
The gear head in me wanted to know what guitar(s) Bob used, but I already knew the answer. Although this isn’t an Otis Rush tribute, Bob relies heavily on his mentor’s tone, so he used his red Epiphone Riviera.
I told Bob that I am a HUGE Otis Rush fan, that I was familiar with most of the players, and really look forward to hearing the CD (I got a pre-release copy that night).
1976 - Cold Day in Hell -Otis Rush. Delmark
1977 - Let's Talk It Over -Lonnie Brooks. Delmark
1977 - Live in Europe - Otis Rush. Evidence
1977 - Lost in the Blues - Otis Rush. Sonet-Alligator
1978 - Living Chicago Blues,Vol.2 W/Lonnie Brooks. Alligator
1979 - Bayou Lightning - Lonnie Brooks. Alligator
1981 - Turn on the Night - Lonnie Brooks. Alligator
1988 - Golden Voice of Robert Covington. Red Beans
1989 - Blues Deluxe - w/Lonnie Brooks. Alligator-WXRT
1995 - Had My Fun - Karen Carrol. Delmark
1996 - Celebration of Blues - Various Artists
1996 - Celebration of Blues; Great Guitarists, Vol. 2.
1996 - Celebration of Blues; The Great Guitarists,Vols.1-2
1996 - Celebration of Blues; Great Singers/Chicago Blues
1996 - Live at Blue Chicago - Johnny B. Moore. Delmark
1996 - Women of Blue Chicago - Various Artists. Delmark
1997 - Deluxe Edition - Lonnie Brooks. Alligator
1999 - Essential Blues, Vol.3..Various Artists
2001 - Love Without Trust - The Ken Saydak Band. Delmark
2003 - Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues; God Fathers and Sons w/ Otis Rush.
2003 - Delmark--50 Years of Jazz and Blues
2005 - All Your Love I Miss Loving, Live at Wise Fools Pub. Otis Rush. Delmark
2006 - Troubles, Troubles; The Sonet Blues Story W/Otis Rush