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Music DVD Review: Dave Specter – Live in Chicago

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This DVD was filmed at Rosa’s, and at Buddy Guy’s Legends, both in Chicago, on successive nights, August 20-21, 2007. The group that Specter surrounds himself with are obviously parts of a longstanding relationship, with a high comfort zone with each others’ styles and mannerisms. They’re so used to one another that they never rehearse. In the rhythm section is Marty Binder on drums, who has played with Junior Wells and Albert Collins; on bass is Harlan Terson, who’s played with Otis Rush and Lonnie Brooks. And on keyboards is Brother John Kattke, who’s played with Otis Rush and Buddy Guy. Brother John also hosts the Monday Night Jam Session at Buddy Guy’s twice monthly, and has his own band, which also plays regularly at Legends.

With this DVD, you’re actually getting the same show twice on the disc, once as a straight performance, the second as the performance with a voiceover by Dave Specter, giving details and information, making the experience very much more interesting.

Dave Specter is a fixture in Chicago’s blues clubs. He’s been playing at Buddy Guy’s place for about 18 years now, as well as various other places around town, and in as far-flung places as Europe. He and his music are influenced by Booker T & the MGs and the Meters, and by guitarists such as Steve Cropper & Leo Nocentelli. He’s rooted in the blues, but his music shows clear signs of jazz, soul, and funk. He mentions that one of his main inspirations is Otis Rush, and in another vignette how Steve Freund took him under his wing and mentored him. Early in his career, he was fortunate enough to land a two-year stint with Son Seals, often playing venues in Greenwich Village, then jumping into a van and driving straight through, back to Chicago for their next gig.

The two segments of this two-part show begin with an instrumental, since Specter doesn’t sing. The remainder of both shows is with vocal guests. After the opening instrumental, Specter brings on Tad Robinson on vocals and harp for several selections. Following Robinson he brings on Jimmy Johnson on guitar and vocals. Watching Jimmy Johnson is almost unbelievable in that the man is 79 years young and plays and sings like somebody less than half that. It's a truly remarkable performance.

In the second segment, from Rosa’s, he calls on Sharon Lewis, aka “Texas Fire,” who puts on a noteworthy performance, even bringing a tear to her own eyes with a beautiful, touching final selection, “Angel.” She pumps new life into the band when she comes on, she’s got so much of whatever it is that brings an audience, the musicians and the entire club to life. She and Specter finished up a European tour shortly before this disc was recorded, which may account for the tightness of the group with her vocals. Whatever the reason, they’re a well-oiled machine, chugging along relentlessly, with no glitches, stutters, or hiccups.

It’s a mark of how much these musicians are appreciated when one considers that the performances were on a Monday and Tuesday, notably the slowest nights of the week. Rosa’s is small and intimate, and Buddy Guy’s is markedly larger, and the musicians command respectable showings in both locations. Rosa’s, in fact, is usually closed on Mondays, so having this group pull in the crowd they did on a Monday is quite an accomplishment.

Bob Koester’s Delmark Records, who produced this disc, and Dave Specter are both longtime stalwarts of the Chicago blues scene. Koester and Delmark recently celebrated their 55th year in business, while Specter and his partners recently opened a brand spanking new music and events venue, recording studio, and restaurant in the heart of Evanston. Delmark is also the oldest indie label under original ownership in existence. Specter, meanwhile, spends some of his time giving private guitar lessons, as well as teaching at the Old Town School of Folk Music, which recently celebrated its 50th year in business, and putting on workshops overseas.

Each of the two segments times out at 77:51, giving about two and a half hours of superb, solid, Chicago Blues.

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