Paul deLay Band - Nice & Strong
A totally biased opinion.
About 10 years ago, I began to develop my new mindset in regards to diatonic harmonica. As much as I loved what I was hearing at that time, it started to sound very similar to me. I became bored. There was nothing new under the sun. Then, one fatefull summer's afternoon, I wandered into a local used record store. As I lamented my tale of woe, the owner took me over to the skimpy "Blues Bin" and a record out with a dark blue cover and "The Paul deLay Band" in bold letters on the front. "Never heard of them", I remarked, suspiciously. "Check it out", he replied, casually.
I remember that day like many remember the day we landed on the moon.
My life has never been the same since.
Here was the excitement and satisfaction I craved. A fresh new harmonica voice to these tired ears. Paul deLay plays lines, not just riffs. There are interesting twists and turns to his ideas. This is a wonderful example of playing the harmonica more than having the harmonica play you. And that tone - original, full, robust, and playful. Whether p laying through that "bullet" / "astatic" mike and tube driven amp or acoustically, it is immediately recognizeable as Paul's.
I admit, I am in love. And since that first album, I have devoured all that I could get my ears on. Even this was not enough. Five years ago, I found out about a world class blues festival held every 4th of July week in Portland, Oregon, at the McCall Waterfront Park. It wasn't the non-stop music 2 stage setup that excited me. Nor was it the $3 da ily cover charge for 12 hours of music or the international performers (John Mayall, Charlie Musselwhite, The Staple Singers, etc). It wasn't even the concurrent Bill Rhoad's Harmonica Blow-Off concert that attracted me. I plunked down my hard earned cash for a round trip airline ticket and charged that hotel room to my Visa card because Paul deLa y was playing. That's it.
If a performer is truly great, his live performance will overshadow his recordings. Paul's albums are tremendous, but seeing him in person elevated my respect for his talent. Here was a "bigger than life" persona, a BIG GUY, moving across the stage like a cat. (Those of you lucky enough to have seen Jackie Gleason move gracefully will know what I mean). Love of the music oozed out of Paul's pores while he played. Joy shone on his face. I was knocked out, and so was the crowd.
I have returned to Portland every year for my 4th of July Waterfront/deLay fix. In getting to know Paul, he has even invited me to join him on stage to play - an adrenalin drenched experience for me, to be sure.
His band is one tight unit. The feeling when they hit the festival stage is, "All right, you have seen some fantastic music so far, but now it is time for the Big Boys to show you how it's done". This is a band that listens while playing, giving conscious thought to their arrangements. In speaking with Peter Dammann, the guitarist, I discovered t
hat one of their biggest influences is "Booker T and the MG's" - a band that knew how to function as a unit, with each member playing parts that added up to a whole signature ensemble sound. (Just relisten to "Green Onions"). The Paul deLay Band has developed an in-the-pocket groove, and I do mean deep pocket.
The latest CD is called "Nice & Strong". I find it their most satisfying outing to date. Paul is a masterful singer and story teller. The inspiration for his writing comes from his ability to observe real life in a witty and sometimes bemused fashion. He preaches the gospel as he has lived it, and Halleluja, I am a believer. (It would be easy to s
ee Paul leading an old time southern revival meeting). Listen to the words - "Some women just try and tear a good man down, talk about his faults all day. Mine does nothin' but try to give me courage, boys. She's always got a good word to say. Some think a guy's there just to make their life easy. Mine likes to pull her own weight. Some only do ri
ght if they think someone's lookin'. Mine's good for goodness sake." (From "She Doesn't Work That Way"). This is wonderful lyricism in an upbeat positive sense, a feeling that permeates this recording.
Then, of course, there is the harmonica playing. Fiery, confident, lyrical and clever are adjectives that come to mind. Not since Stevie Wonder has anyone made the Chromatic sound so distinctive and swinging. Listen to Paul's chromatic harmonica palying in "Over And Done". Even though a harmonica, by the very nature of its blow and draw abilitie
s, can be easily played for long uninterrupted solo lines, Paul picks and chooses his statements. He plays like he sings. You can almost hear him take a full breath before his ideas begin. He plays short phrases, approximately one lungfull of air each. Tired of that ol' diatonic third position signature sound? Listen to Paul work it out during "Fo
urteen Dollars in the Bank". (By the way, this song states "Fourteen dollars in the bank, fifteen hundred in unpaid bills". Paul told me that it was actually fifteen thousand in unpaid bills, but those words didn't flow well, so he took artistic liberty in changing his real life experiences for the sake of a more euphonious vocal line). Ever consi
dered tongue blocking the whole range of the harmonica in second position? Find it hard to get from the highest down to the lowest notes? Listen to "Love On A Roll". Eighty percent of this solo is played on holes 4 and higher. Do you like your cross harp solos on the low end of the harp with plenty of juicy bends and holes 4 & 5 draw chords? Check
out how Paul treats this typical type of playing in "She Doesn't Work That Way". I challenge all you serious students to transcribe that solo.
When (and if) you happen to tire of the vocals and harmonica playing, tune them out and listen to this band play. Louis Pain wrings emotion out of his B-3 by working the drawbars and leslie. A Jimmy Smith awareness and gospel acuteness fling excitement into the arrangements. Peter Dammann plays parts on the guitar instead of that incessant chordin g that is so often heard. Very rarely will you hear Peter and Louis play at the exact same moment. They alternate, call and response style, in a well thought out series of texture and rhythm. John Mazzocco lays the solid foundation with eloquent bass lines. Mike Klobas plays drums with a big band swing style and double shuffle groove. And probably one of the most underrated tenor saxophone players on the scene, Dan Fincher adds just the right amount of cayenne pepper to this musical "jambalaya" gumbo. Listen to how he lays down a linear groove along with Peter Dammann at the beginning of "Love On A Roll", how he helps set up the first harmonica solo along with Peter and Paul, how his first solo swings by laying just slightly behind the beat, and how there is just enough growl to his tone on the higher sustained notes. It all comes together at the end of this song, with the rhythm section locked and grooving while the four lead instruments trade fours. Yes.
Reality check: Beware all ye with traditional mindsets. This is not your mother's Chicago Style Blues Band. I would be hard pressed to call this a blues band at all. One of the problems that record labels have is how to catagorize music like this - do you put it in the blues bins, the rhythm & blues bins, the gospel bins, the swing bins, or all of the above? It is tough to make a commercially viable product that is outside of the mainstream tastes of the "American Cheese loving" general buying public. I salute Paul and his band for their conviction to stick with what they do best. In my perfect world, everyone would get a taste of the deLay band, and find it so addictive, that they would have to come back for more...and more...and more...and............
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