Song by Song Review: The Bo-Keys’ Got to Get Back

Only in Memphis, TN can anyone, from Germany to Japan, come to get this stuff on them when they hear this sound. It’s the sound of the city. All races blind to skin color, conversing freely through the medium of the love of music. And The Bo-Keys have NAILED IT with Got to Get Back★★★★½

Available in vinyl and/or CD provides an assortment that I believe is becoming the norm.

1. “Hi Roller”
Coming out of the gate hard and heavy with a powerful horn section, composed (off and on) of Ben Cauley and Mark Franklin on trumpet, and Jim Spake, Floyd Newman, Kurt Smothers and Derek Williams on the “sax army,” each steeped in that Memphis Brew, and answered by the organ brings on a melody that is Music Classics 101. Mr. Skip Pitts’ guitar shining through right at the point where a listener wants something new shows you how much in tune with that listener the band really is. “Hi Roller” is BoKeys’ “Love at first listen.”

2. “Got To Get Back (To My Baby)” Featuring Otis Clay
If you have never had the spine-tingling experience of hearing Mr. Otis Clay sing, AND you like music, you simply have not lived. Your eyes will be opened and your senses filled with the life of a true soul/bluesman. And in this setting, it is a culmination of heart-felt vision, The BoKeys go together with this man like mud and dirt. That gnarly Skip Pitts’guitar just adds that much more of the “thang.” Yet it all comes together with the glue from the gods to make this a hit if I’ve ever heard one. Super tight horns, that funk on the rhythm, and Otis can still make a hit record.

3. “Just Chillin'”
This “party song” instrumental is a reminder to this reviewer that the musical vehicle, sans a singer, can be as infectious as Malaria. One thing all should notice is all over this piece. It’s the feel. You just can’t help but to “get up off your seat” and just walk up front to dance and/or be closer to that feel.

4. “Catch this Teardrop” Featuring Percy Wiggins
 The hook line of this should probably be “Don’t Let this Teardrop Hit the Ground,” but obviously the powers that be more than likely thought that may be a bit too long. And they actually say the same thing: the best way to keep his teardrop from hitting the dirt is by snagging it! Right? Oh yeah … HE … HE is the voice of Mr. Percy Wiggins, a native Memphisto, and obviously no stranger to “The THANG.” Percy fronted a lounge act in the sixties and who, but Jimi Hendrix, played guitar. Since then, his return to Memphis was a quiet one, but here, he sings like a bird. This too has all of the earmarks of a hit song. A POPular song. Pop music. But it’s pop with a “THANG.” And an “pop” arrangement, setting everyone loose!

5. “Jack and Ginger”
Not being sure if this one is about a couple or a drink, (or a couple of drinks!) “Jack and Ginger” is one that hangs on Skip Pitts, Mr. organ (either Al Gamble or Archie Turner) and tenor sax, giving each one 12 bars to show off (or 24, if you want.) The overall platform for these “voices” is an almost obvious guitar/bass line that one would swear they have heard before, when in fact … no. Top it off with a horn section that gains momentum and attention as it goes along, and you have a J&G. Instrumentals like these speak as much as if there were a guest vocalist.

6. “Sundown on Beale”
It’s time to get up and slow dance on one. The dimming light brings on the night, still shining on the cobblestone street that bridged the gap between Delta blues and soul/rock music. We’re headed into the night, so grab your girl and go off somewhere a bit more private. Themed by an organ/bass 12 bar round, the instrumentalist supreme here is Skip Pitts. It’s his baby, it seems. One man’s interpretation of that beautiful sunset. The band did, however manage to pry 12 bars out for the organ, just to snap the listener from his/her dream-state for a bit. Good stuff, Mr. Pitts.

As with most records today, keeping the listener riveted is just impossible due to the A.D.D.-prone listeners we’ve bred. It’s almost an unsurmountable task to get anyone to slow down long enough to lend a real, discernible ear to an entire 12+ song record. Not to say we should all make singles first, then the album, but if you pick your 10 or 12 BEST out of, say, thirty songs, chances are you will end up with a record people will buy. So it can be too easy to have a misgiving with the BoKeys because EVERY song is so well crafted that it would be such a pity to see the world say hello, then a hasty good-bye to this highly specialized field of re-creating the real thing, which happens to be a field that I love. END INTERMISSION

7. “Weak Spot” Featuring William Bell
Ah, yes. Mr. William Bell. Talk about a class act, I’ve had the opportunity to record Mr. Bell several times in the late seventies. I had Bell in my mind when we came together because his voice, a baritone-tenor, was just that; As clear as a Bell. And he is the tender type no woman can refuse. William sounds like he’s a kid here, singing a poem that makes him so vulnerable. It sounds like a song fresh out of a studio on McLemore in Memphis a few decades ago. It’s a smiling and uplifting vision sung to a playfully serious track. With a seemingly Hawaiian feel in there somewhere. And of course, in typical Bell fashion, rides out with the master ad-libbing into the sunset. Fun for young and old.

8. “90 Days Same as Cash (keyword: FUN)”
It is hard to believe this Fun Inc. track, featuring the funky “wah” of Pitts dominating a rather sophisticated arrangement of bars and keys, is over 3 minutes long. Maybe it is because of the interesting “verse” horns. Or the statement made by the turnaround into the next “verse.” Either way, it stays fun fun fun all the way through, and plows through a killer organ solo at the end. But we all know how the time flies when you are having a good time. The title alone is sort of what Memphis is all about. Most around there living in typical hand to mouth existence simply could’t care less. Nor could I. After all, don’t we all just want to have some fun?

9. “I’m Going Home” Featuring Charlie Musselwhite on harp
First of all, going home, rather taking it home, is exactly how to describe the duels between Charlie Musselwhite ‘s blazing harp and Skip Pitts’ guitar on fire. You simply just have to listen to this. EVERYONE!

10. “Cauley’s Flower”
This song to me calls to one of the Greats! That would be Mr. Wilson Pickett’s Midnight Hour And where many a musician would frown upon hearing that sort of “heresy,” I say we are talking about one of the best songs of our time by one of the best artists of our time. So … who is it that’s frowning? “Gee whiz, dudes, I’m sorry I compared one of your pieces to one of THE GREATEST PIECES OF ALL TIME!!!” I think we’ll all get over it pretty quick. Also, at first, I assumed this was just a ditty by Mr. Ben Cauley, when it’s really the other trumpet playa Mark Franklin! Now that I’m totally on the wrong foot. This instrumental is recognized for the harmony line between guitar and organ, but in my cans, with the guitar a bit louder than the organ, it presents an oddly genius counterpoint to the horns when they finally appear. And finally they are all on 10 and driving it home … HARD. A wonderfully unique piece that recalls Pickett. I mean, after all …isn’t that what oxymorons are for?

11. “Work that Sucker”
These last three entrees (Minus Cauley’s Flower for it’s serious behavior) have been the most musical fun that this reviewer has heard in a long time.The back of my neck is in pain from head-banging as my headphones have fallen off 3 times (I thought I broke them at one point.) Wow. And this song, with Skip Pitts doing the vocal part, is the clincher. Work that sucka they DO! It sounds like they are nearing the end of a set (which they are) and it’s time to “Let ’em have it!” That’s where I’m at and boy, they do. Another one that screams … just listen to THIS!

12. “Got To Get Back (To My Baby) Reprise”
 About all there is to say here is see #2 except … GO SKIP! Horns!! OTIS!!!!!! All coming back at you with quite a bit less tamed version. In other and final words, these guys are completely getting it on here! GO BUY THIS THING NOW!! Before it sneaks up and BITES you on the arse!!

—John Hampton

John Hampton is a Grammy winning producer/recording engineer whose experience includes working on albums withThe Dead Weather, The Gin Blossoms, The White Stripes, The Replacements, The CrampsAlex Chilton and John Kilzer.

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