Real Blues



You know the old expression “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer...”? Well, that’s the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw that Johnny and Cathy finally had a CD on a label with clout. Ace and Lemons have been a musical and personal partnership for at least 2 decades now (that I’m aware of…) and when I first heard them back in the mid-1990’s I was immediately hooked as a lifetime fan. They’re known from Portland, Oregon to San Diego, and Johnny and Cathy have been “members-in-high-standing” with the West Coast Blues Crew for many a year, but, they’ve also remained one of The Blues’ Best Kept Secrets to most outside California (Johnny did achieve cult-status in the 1980s as Johnny Nitro and The Door Slammers, the most dynamic live band in San Francisco/Oakland). Their current lack-of-recognition is both puzzling and a damn shame. After all, Cathy is the finest light-skinned female Blues vocalist in the U.S. and Johnny rates with Larry Taylor of Canned Heat when it comes to Blues bass prowess. On this new album they are joined by all-stars Kid Anderson, Ron Thompson, Tommy Castro (guitar), Paul Oscher (harp) and David Maxwell (piano) as well as Pierre Le Corre (lead & rhythm guitar) and Artie ‘Stix’ Chavez on drums, and I believe it makes a big statement when you’ve got players of this calibre wanting to participate. Everyone loves and respects Cathy & Johnny and you’re about to find out why. What is it about Cathy Lemons and Johnny Ace that separates them from so many other entertainers? For one, they appear to be totally devoid of ego and personal gain factors. Instead, Johnny and Cathy have committed themselves to a Spiritual crusade that seeks to make this World and Life itself much better via The Joy Factor, something ego-fuelled performers just don’t comprehend. All the truly great performers (Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Luther Allison, Howlin’ Wolf, Solomon Burke and Smokey Wilson, to name but a few) knew it was all about them giving monumental Joy to their audiences and that this Giving far outweighed whatever they could take in return. Also, Johnny and Cathy were both witness to (and participated in) an Era that was Truly Magical, the late 1960s, when the Power of Love was an inherent ingredient to the Music and that music DID change the World for the better. Once you’ve seen how much Power music can summon up, you never forget it and you hope to experience it again. Despite all the horrific things that have happened to this World since the 1960s/70s, Cathy and Johnny ask us to hang on to our Hope and believe that we can make the World a better place simply by exuding Love/Joy and embracing Music as a Spiritual fuel. Remember, the Bible said something about making Joyful Noise and they weren’t referring to Iron Maiden or Lady Gaga! When I told Johnny I’d be listening for Shag Market Hits, he replied, “I don’t think there are any on this CD because we’re not sure what the requirements for Shag Hits are”, trust me folks; it’s all about shuffles that make your hips shake (126-132 beats-per-minute) and put a smile on your face and this CD has some hot ones!

Track #1, “Brand New Day” has a supercharged funky Soul flavor that makes you do The Swim and The Philly Dog while evoking flavors of Delaney and Bonnie and Ike & Tina. Johnny and Cathy’s vocals are so seamless, perfectly matched and naturally soulful that you realize they are completely alone in this style/genre. Guitarist Pierre Le Corre is a funk tornado, while Stix shows off his freight train drumming. “Love Like A Fire” is a relentless heavy weight groove featuring Kid Anderson’s murderous guitar. The Kid just keeps getting better and better. After getting sweat-soaked on the first two tunes, Cathy delivers a heartfelt “Used To These Blues” which drives home the claims by the West Coast crew that she’s the finest female vocalist with straight hair. “Sink Or Swim” is my pick for Shag Hit #1 and I suggest that you listen to Johnny’s bass lines if you want to hear perfection. Why isn’t Johnny as well known as Larry Graham? “Shoot To Kill” is a low-down nasty Blues thanks in part to the great slide guitar of Ron Thompson and more of Cathy’s natural vocals, which sound like a female John Lee Hooker/Howlin’ Wolf. Shag Hit #2 with a heavy dose of Hoodoo, “When Bad Luck Looks Good” has Cathy taking us to Chicago and features Mr. Maxwell’s whippin’ those ivories a la Spann. “Gimme A Penny” puts the spotlight on Cathy, Maxwell and Paul Oscher, who evoke memories of Big Mama and her two favorite bandmates; J.D. Nicholson and Little George Smith. “I Got It” is one insane Blues/Funk Rocker that can peel paint and make clocks run backwards! Ditto for the mean and punchy “Stay”. Next we’re Goin’ down to Mississippi for “Get This Thing Off’a My Back”, a spooky ode to an ugly monkey that some of us decide to carry through life. “Move On” closes off this totally unique, hard-drivin’ gem of an album and what a rockin’ wild way to say “See ya later folks!”. This CD offers up some of the finest, freshest, hippest grooves I’ve heard in many a moon (Pierre Le Corre should be considered in the ranks of Kid Ramos and Rick Holmstrom when it comes to West Coast Guitar). If Cathy Lemons and Johnny Ace don’t become Blues ‘Stars’ because of this disc then there ain’t no hope for the future of Mankind (well, almost…). I declare this to be the greatest thing I’ve heard so far in 2010 and I know we’ll be giving it loads of REAL BLUES Awards in the future. We usually reserve 6 Bottles ratings for Muddy, Wolf, Fillmore Slim, King Solomon etc. but this definitely is a Masterpiece that gets us doin’ The Hunch Rhythm. This is exactly what the World needs right now! So 6 Bottles of Thunderbird it is. We should all bow down to Cathy and Johnny and offer our Thanks.

…A. Grigg