Henry Gray & the Cats
Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest
[No Label or Number]

At the age of 75, legendary blues pianist Henry Gray still has it. From the opening notes of his first and only live recording, Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest, the glorious sound of his piano shines brightly throughout the 15-song program. Grays mixture of Chicago blues, New Orleans barrelhouse, impressive talent and depth of feeling gives him his own distinctive sound on the instrument. This is blues the way its forefathers meant it to be played.

Born in Kenner, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans, Gray moved with his family to the Baton Rouge area at a young age, and he has spent the rest of his life splitting his time between there and the Windy City. Henry worked more than a dozen years in Howlin’ Wolf’s band and has recorded and performed with blues giants Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter and James Cotton, as well as Louisiana bluesmen Guitar Slim, Silas Hogan and Tabby Thomas. It would be difficult to find a blues musician alive today with this level of experience, and Gray’s playing shows it.

Before ripping into his slow, hard-driving reading of "Worried Life Blues," Gray explains to the audience that his major influence and source of inspiration was the song’s composer, Big Maceo Merriwether. The four Gray originals, including the house-rocking "Greyhound Blues" and the deeply emotive title track, are interspersed among Henry’s skillful interpretations of blues evergreens like "C.C. Rider," "Stagger Lee," "Dust My Broom" and Jimmy Rogers’ "Out on the Road Again." One of the record’s highlights is a hard-rocking "twist" medley, blending Hank Ballard’s "The Twist" with Sam Cooke’s "Twistin’ the Night Away" and letting the band swing out a little.

Backing up Gray are his regular Baton Rouge band and guest guitarists Sonny Landreth and Martin Simpson, whose interplay lends added fire to the music. With so much watered-down blues out there today, we’re fortunate that real bluesmen like Henry Gray are still out there performing and setting musical standards. This record documents the work of a living legend.

Bill Taylor

©2000 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA