Gary Primich with Omar Dykes,
Just a Little Bit More
(Old Pal, 2012)

In this two-disc retrospective, the late Gary Primich's career gets its due. Born in an industrial town in northwestern Indiana, Primich learned blues harmonica from the masters in nearby Chicago, then moved on to another music-friendly city, Austin, Texas. Playing and recording as both headliner and sideman (most prominently with Omar & the Howlers), Primich garnered a reputation as a harp player of the first order, firmly rooted in tradition while never sounding like a mere imitator.

In common with the best performers in any school, you can hear the influences, but more than that, you hear what's heartfelt and distinctive. By the time he was through, Primich was pretty much the equal of the legends who'd inspired him, in good part because feeling guided him as much as technique. Both were there in abundance.

Possibly because I live far from Austin, in his life -- he died of a drug overdose at 49 in September 2007 -- Primich had been only a name to me until Just a Little Bit More arrived in the mail. Clearly, I was missing something, namely the sort of no-nonsense, unhyphenated blues that brought me to the genre in the first place. This is not blues-rock, toward which most blues played by Euro-Americans (who probably comprise the bulk of blues musicians by now) has long been evolving; in fact, that's what most people whose awareness is only casual think of as "blues." Alongside the hard-core blues that was his focus, Primich integrated jazz tones nicely into non-blues instrumentals (the standards "September Song," "Caravan" and "Indiana," aka "Back Home in Indiana"). Primich's original song "School of Hard Knocks" captures the wit and style of the estimable jazzman/songwriter Mose Allison.

A few cuts date from Primich's days with the Howlers. On those, Omar Kent Dykes's amiably beefy vocal is up front, put to especially effective use on the Jimmy Reed cover "Caress Me, Baby" and on his own winning bluesmen-namecheck "Hoo Doo Ball." Primich wasn't quite as engaging a vocalist as Dykes, but he certainly wasn't bad, and arguably better than most of the white-guy competition. He was also a convincing blues songwriter.

Just a Little Bit More carries 23 cuts, not one a space-filler. It'll make you feel swell. Just as it's supposed to do, the blues will cure your blues.

music review by
Jerome Clark

4 August 2012

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