Blues Matters Magazine

John O’Leary Band

The Grey Horse, Kingston, Sunday 12th May 2002

When it comes to pedigrees in the British Blues scene, then John O’Leary takes the biscuit.  Co-founder of Savoy Brown in the heady days of jumpin’ venues full of Blues, this gig held promise for a night of acid blues and harmonica following the release of his “As Blue As I Can Be” album. As some folk have noted before, this bloke isn’t one to harp on blowing his own trumpet!  Backed by such accomplished muso’s as Dave “Munch” Moore on keyboards and Lol Sanford on guitar, sitting on a rhythm unit consisting of Sam Kelly and David Hadley-Ray – well you know what we’re talking about. 

Opening with a funky instrumental rendition of “Hi Heel Sneakers” which gave Moore space for some blazing clavinet and Hammond, and then a bass intro which slipped into Paul Butterfield’s “Born In Chicago” – yes this legend once complimented O’Leary in his early playing days!  Blistering O’Leary harmonica, rooted in Chicago but with a touch of bebop phrasing coming out as in his more recent style and all built on Junior Wells and Sonny Boy Williamson influences. Distorted ‘bullet’ microphones are strictly out! After a couple of James Brownish funked up Junior Wells numbers including “Snatch it Back & Hold It” and “Hoodoo Man Blues”, we found ourselves in “Five Long Years”, which for me was the gig’s pinnacle.  O’Leary’s soulful harmonica and vocals took this deft unit down so low into intense gaps and stops that you could hear the tiniest pin drop.  No in yer face stuff.  This seemed a good place to put in some more standard stuff, if only to please the non muso purists in the audience, especially “She’s Nineteen Years Old” which is known to be one of O’Leary’s favourites.  Alas not this time!  Never the less, Sanford’s guitar on “Early In The Morning” combined with the band’s stealth and inseminated rhythms put the sex back in the Blues. This was followed by a rumba feel to Howling Wolf’s “Who’s been Talking”.  The churchy gospel feel of “My Babe”, owed more to an old gospel song “This Train”, and kept the mix going – looks like the gospel road is beginning to beckon O’Leary. The set rounded of with Junior Parker’s “ Mother In Law Blues” played with a tinge of Elmore James.

It’s progressive feet-tappin’ stuff that John O’Leary, his band and this gig was all about…. Steve Goodwin

.....the new name for the john o'leary band