Midwinterfest 2020 - Day 2: JP & The Wise Guys
A swift return to Midwinterfest for Neil "JP" Flowers and the Wise Guys made up of a double bassist, saxophonist drums and guitar to provide some classic rock and roll and swing from across the ages to see out the afternoon session. Singing into one of the old style rock and roll microphones, they opened with "House Party Tonight", this transported us back to the 1950's and earlier once again taking #TEAMw21 slightly out of our Americana comfort zone.
The joy of watching JP & The Wise Guys is that in general they steer clear of the obvious rock and roll choices so hearing songs like "Bim Bim" originally sung by Sam Butera ( Louis Prima's sax player ) for the first time is much like an excited teenager would've done in the 1950's before going on their way to the local coffee house or milk bar or while they were huddled around the radiogram!! With "Chicken and a Hawk", A Big Joe Turner tune, they continued the theme. a solid back beat, a driving bass and a delicious retro sax providing the backing for JP's vocals delivered full throated, filling out the room, while gentle tapping out the beat with his left foot, with the Wise Guys also providing some additional backing vocals on the chorus.
"Love Me Like You Say", a rumba apparently, once again added the super smooth sax over a somewhat funky beat, this was good time music that surely defied anyone not to have a good time, including a great guitar solo. These guys are seasoned professionals sometimes out under the moniker of Stevie & The Shakedown. When they did go to a famous name such as Chuck Berry, they once again wisely avoided the more well known tunes for a cover of "Almost Grown" Chucks nod to teenage life in an American town. Let's Get High included the sax doubling as police siren mid solo!
For many of us mention of BB King brings up a picture of a portly gentleman playing the blues or singing with U2, so hearing JP's take on "Early In The Morning" really shone a light on what BB King was like in his younger days with JP picking up the mic like a rock n roll Rod Stewart.!! As JP would note a lot of their songs were quite short so in terms of songs per set you did quite well and everyone had a chance to shine particularly on songs like Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne's - "You're A Hit" which had a mix of solos from all of the band all good. One thing you do note about these old tunes is how they sometimes borrow from each other, so "You Ain't Nothing But A Playgirl by Big Joe and The Dynaflows - owes more than something to "Hound Dog" which had its own answer song "Bear Cat!"
It was not all pre and post war tunes, "Ain't No Big Deal" was a tune from The Big Town Playboys from the 80's and while "Jump Jive & Wail" may be an old Louis Prima song, there are recent versions such as the cover by ex Stray Cat Brian Setzer and his Orchestra. This afternoons version came with a bass so thumping it seemed to pulse through your ribcage. There was even room for "Mad At You" a home grown tune from their debut record, though even this is now 20 years old.
The home straight saw a run through Big Joe Turner's "Midnight Cannonball", and "Women & Cadillacs" which dates back to 1954 and the Nite Riders, a rollicking rock n roller with the Wise Guys once again providing backing vocals behind the sax, bass and thumping drum, while one final Chuck Berry song "Nadine" had more of a funky groove to it
The set closed with a couple of well known songs, possibly the most well known tune of their collection in the latin rock n roll of "Tequilla", which gave a final chance for sax player to shine, and with "Buona Sera" - another Louis Prima song being the closer, which started as a latin tune before the full time rock n roll beat kicked in.
The quote we always use for Midwinterfest is that "It's all about the music" and this loving tribute was a prime example of that.