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Blues Fest 2006: Back to the Roots -- The Mannish Boys, Friday, 10:30 p.m., Tent Stage PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 27 June 2006 22:53

(Listen to this interview here.) 

The Mannish Boys The song is "Mannish Boy." Bo Diddley wrote it, Muddy Waters adapted and adopted it, and now a supergroup from the Los Angeles blues scene has taken it as their name.

The song as Muddy does it has a deep Delta groove with Chicago blues instrumentation, and Muddy sings it as a high-energy shaman would, full of boast and swagger: "I'm a man / I spell M-A-N / That represent man / No B-O-Y / That mean mannish boy." A Big City Rhythm & Blues review of the Mannish Boys' first CD, 2004's That Represent Man, notes that "The Mannish Boys had better deliver with so audacious a name, lest the memory of Muddy Waters and a handful of other blues greats from the same era be slandered. Remarkably, this band manages to earn the right to call themselves anything they like."

Mannish Boys founder and bandleader Randy Chortkoff explained in a phone interview that the name seemed to fit because all the band members are "grown men - they're [blues] veterans; they're not children. They've spent their lives studying the music of the originators, and Muddy Waters was a huge influence. We're all young at heart and energetic."

The rhythm section is headed up by Richard Innes on drums, who's played with Little Richard among others, and bassist Tom Leavey, who's played with Bo Diddley, Otis Rush, and Big Mama Thornton. Leon Blue, whose résumé includes several years each with Ike & Tina Turner and Albert Collins, plays piano. On guitar at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival will be not one but two scorching alumni of the Fabulous Thunderbirds: Kid Ramos and Rusty Zinn.

Johnny Dyer, a previous Blues Fest performer, provides vocals and harmonica. Johnny grew up on Stovall Plantation in Mississippi - Muddy Waters' home - and "his vocals are very reminiscent of Muddy Waters," Chortkoff said. "His harmonica playing is reminscent of Little Walter." Dyer has played with J.B.Hutto, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, and George "Harmonica" Smith.

Singing the soulful blues is Finis Tasby; his previous bandmates include Lowell Fulson, Freddie King, and John Lee Hooker. And rounding out the Mannish Boys on harmonica and vocals is Chortkoff, who counts as his harp influences both Sonny Boys, Little Walter and Big Walter, and Rod Piazza. For their live performances, Chortkoff is the MC.

Their show is really more like a revue, a band but with individual artists showcased. Kid Ramos sets the pace with an instrumental, then in turn Randy Chortkoff, Leon Blue, Johnny Dyer, and Finis Tasby are featured, with all the vocal performers together for the rest of the set. Chortkoff said the lineup works because all the performers in the Mannish Boys "are pros, veterans - they all love the music that they play."

Reviews of the group's live album, the recently released Live & In Demand, confirm this. "The Mannish Boys are a wonderful collection of individual artists that stand out in their own right but who come together to prove that the whole is still greater than the sum of its parts," said Blues Bytes. Blues Revue wrote: "The Mannish Boys deliver a set that's energetic, exciting, and authentic on every level."

Despite the reference to Muddy Waters in their name, the live set includes only two Waters covers: "Mannish Boy," of course, and Chortkoff's version of Waters' "I'm Ready," done with a Slim Harpo "Baby Scratch My Back" flavor. Besides a few originals, the set list includes "Mystery Train," Tampa Red's "She Wants to Sell My Monkey," and obscure covers of Albert King, Freddie King, Little Walter, and other blues greats from the golden age of electric blues before Motown. Randy chooses songs for the band that aren't already covered by others, "that I really like, that flow well" in the set. And that fit his mission, the reason he put the Mannnish Boys together.

Chortkoff wants to bring the public in general back to the roots of blues music. "All the people in The Mannish Boys ... [have] really dug deep and done their homework, and they know what the real music should sound like," he said. That's what gives the band the right to its own style rather than just copying the styles of the blues ancestors. Randy said that The Mannish Boys sound is "definitely West Coast blues, but it's also a mixture of Chicago blues" with a little bit of Texas thrown in from Finis Tasby's origins - all reflecting the influences on the band members, "everything from deep Delta blues to Lightnin' Hopkins to Chicago blues that came out of the Chess studios in the the '50s and '60s."

That Represent Man was nominated for a 2004 Handy Blues Music Award in two categories: Best Blues Album and Best Traditional Blues Album, the second of which pleases Chortkoff in relation to the mission of The Mannish Boys. "When I was 16, 17, 18 years old and I heard Jimmy Reed or Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf for the first time, even though I was into rock-and-roll music, there was something about that early blues that really touched my soul," he said. "Blues still has the ability to take negative situations ... and create music that can bring joy and happiness." The blues can "musically create an energy to where people can dance and feel good. We're hoping young people can feel the same kind of joy and passion" from hearing the Mannish Boys' music.

To listen to this interview, click here

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