Poor Robben Ford, he's just too dead-gummed good for his own good. Both a versatile and virtuosic guitar player, Ford can sound at home in so many different styles he's often struggled to find one that would give him an identifiable imprint. To be sure, everyone who knows guitar knows Robben is a god, but is he a blues god? Or fusion god? Or is it rock? Throughout his thirty plus year career, he always seemed to come back to the blues, however. And that's fine by me, because he can sure play it (and contrary to what a few detractors might say, his singing passes muster, too).
About 15 years ago, Robben made his firmest commitment to that genre when he formed a three piece band, The Blue Line, with bassist Roscoe Beck and drummer Tom Brechtlein. They released three solid, blues-oriented records, culminating in 1995's near masterpiece Handful Of Blues. Following that gem, Ford jumped around from style to style with each succeeding release, yielding varying results. Soul-inflected vocal rock was the theme of Supernatural (1999), and for what it set out to do, it actually succeeded pretty well.
But fans of the Blue Line found nothing in that album they could get excited about until he mercifully threw them a bone on the very last track. It so happens this bone had a lot of meat hanging from it. As a big fan of the music of Paul Butterfield (he later released a Butterfield tribute album along with members of his family), Ford chose to cover Butterfield's 1964 composition "Lovin' Cup."
Paul Butterfield's original featured Mike Bloomfield's lead guitar following each sung line with a mini-lick. Sam Lay's cymbal ride underscored a typical mid-sixties rock shuffle. Meanwhile, the leader himself provided muscular vocals. This version was one of the very first blues-rock recordings and provides a nice demonstration of why the Butterfield Blues Band was maybe the best band on this side of the Atlantic at the time, save for perhaps The Byrds.
As good as "Butter" and his boys treated that song, Ford manages to best it in nearly every aspect, except for the vocals. Granted, Ford can't sing it quite as well; his voice is too thin to match Butterfield's. Nonetheless, he manages to give it a credible performance by giving it sneering attitude befitting the lyrics about lusting over some trashy girl who "doesn't wash her hair or wash her clothes." While Lay laid down a decent rhythm in the 1964 version, that shuffle beat is kid's play for a veteran skins beater like Vinnie Colaiuta and he adds several more wrinkles that propel the song, rather than merely keep it going.
But hey, let's face it, Robben's guitar is the centerpiece of this version. The leader sings a verse and then gives us a teaser solo. After the second verse, the real solo is launched at the 1:55 mark and then it's 65 seconds of a swaggering, cliché free blues-rock guitar clinic. Enough to make you forget The Late, Great Bloomfield, if just for a minute, and all in a day's work for Ford.
The energy Robben Ford and his bandmates give the song (especially Colaiuta) makes this the kind of blues you want to boogie to. And in spite of the veneer of sophistication, Ford manages to slide into the grittiest of blues standards; the spirit of Butterfield's version is alive and well in this version.
Damn those Blue Line partisans, I still like the rest of the decidedly un-bluesy Supernatual. But at the same time, I have to concede that when you get through the whole album you'll find the highlight is sitting there right at the end.Powered by Sidelines