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.
Gray’s 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
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