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by Sam Kelly on December 11th, 2011

 “It’s great just being part of a band again”, announced Mick Ralphs with a beaming smile, just one of the many components that make him officially the nicest man in rock.  We are sitting backstage in the shabby chic surroundings of the dressing room at the legendary Camden Jazz Café prior to Ralphs and his Blues Band taking the stage in front of healthy and dedicated turnout.  I’m accompanied by uber photographer Ross Halfin and Jimmy Page mingling with the band Ralphs got together during a series of monthly ‘Blues Night’ jams at the Nags Head in High Wycombe.  One by one we are introduced to the line up: the affable Dicky Baldwin (bass), the flamboyant Jim Maving (guitar), the studious blues scholar Stuart Son Maxwell (harmonica/vocals) and the larger than life drummer Sam Kelly.  “It was Dicky who invited me down to a monthly blues jam”, Ralphs explained, “I went down there several times and then poached these guys

Normally hardworking musos take a well-earned break between gigs by cultivating their hobbies or retiring to some tranquil hideaway.  Ralphs tired of waiting for his two legendary bands-Bad Company and Mott The Hoople-to get back into action decided that he’s paid enough dues to indulge in some blues.

 “Having been through the ups and downs in life I feel more qualified to play the blues” he said with a chuckle,” You can be white and sing the blues, it’s all about experiences and feelings”.

The British blues boom of the sixties revived a dying art form thanks to an army of dedicated fans including extraordinary guitarists like Peter Green, Eric Clapton and Tony TS McPhee. Ralphs, a self confessed late developer, quickly caught on after being inspired to pay after hearing the magnificent clipped, funky tones of Steve Cropper on Booker T & The MG’s classic track-Green Onions. Ralph’s playing has always had funk, soul and grit in its DNA which is why the Blues Band are such a worthy and timely project at a time when a new generation of young gunslingers like Joe Bonamassa, Jonny Lang and Michael Einzeger are carrying the torch for Rock’n’Roll’s daddy.

Setting the scene with the ultimate blooze anthem-Rock Me BabyRalphs and co demonstrated the virtues of decades of sweat and toil by playing with professionalism and ease that immediately had appreciative heads nodding in unison.  The set deliberately featured more well known crowd pleasers like Hoochie Coochie Man, Farther On Down The Road, Got My Mojo Working and Hi Heel Sneakers, which had Mr Page indulging in some expertly executed air guitar.  One of the highlights of the night was a beautifully restrained version of Freddie King’s Hideaway where Ralphs demonstrated his genius with some beautifully restrained and economical licks.  Like with all the greats-Clapton, Hendrix, Kossoff and Page-it’s all about style and the tone.

Bad Company used to play this so Paul could take a break and give his voice a rest”, revealed Son Maxwell,”You better watch it, Paul’s in the audience tonight”, joked Ralphs to a visibly startled Maxwell.

There was a surprise inclusion of Grateful Dead numbers; the best being Uncle Charlie-which demonstrated the strengths of the band.  Apart from being a great singer Maxwell is a demon on the gob iron.  Mavings guitar pyrotechnics compliment Ralphs less is more fluidity while Baldwin and Kelly are a formidable rhythm section.

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable night.  It was great listening to musicians playing with a passion, dedication and enthusiasm that makes you want stand up and shout ‘Keep music live not livenation’ if you get my drift.

Review by Pete Makowski for TAPEtoTAPE


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