While I can’t recall the specific year, I remember seeing Gary Primich live at the Blue Cat club in Dallas, Texas sometime in the mid-’90s. I remember being disappointed in the cassette he had for sale. Mainly, that studio recording didn’t come close to capturing the knockout blowing harp I heard that night. Despite the small Monday night crowd, Primich, his harmonica, and his microphone created searing magic I wanted to take home.
Years later, I hear nothing disappointing in the posthumous Just a Little Bit More. This nicely packaged two-disc set is a tribute collection of 24 tracks featuring Primich singing and playing, both center-stage and as a sideman. One can hope this collection will widen appreciation for Primich, who’s left behind quite a musical legacy among fans, critics, and especially fellow musicians.
Appropriately, the now-legendary singer, songwriter, guitarist, and (most famously) harmonica player was born in Chicago on April 20, 1958. He died of a heroine overdose on September 23, 2007 in Austin. He first gained notoriety when, in the late 1980s, he co-founded the Mannish Boys with former Mothers Of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black. After two albums with them, his solo work was issued on four labels: Amazing, Flying Fish, Black Top, and Antone’s Records. Over the years, he performed with the likes of Marcia Ball, Ruthie Foster, Mike Morgan and the Crawl, Doyle Bramhall, and Jimmie Vaughan.
Much of the material appearing on the new retrospective is drawn from Primich’s solo albums including Travelin’ Mood (1994), the highly regarded Mr. Freeze (1995), Doghouse Music (2002), and Ridin’ the Darkhorse (2006). The eight other tracks are Primich performing with Omar Kent Dykes and the Howlers (from three of their albums) and a handful of unreleased tracks Dykes had in his archives. Beyond the Howlers, there are lots of Austin-based players appearing on one track or another including Gary Clark, Jr., Derek O’Brien, Mark Korpi, Jay Moehler, Nick Connolly, Mark Rubin and Billy Horton.
Drawing from this deep of a well means Just a Little Bit More is a diverse menu of blues and old-school rock ‘n’ roll delivered in a variety of musical settings. Styles range from the rockin’ shuffle of “Mary Lou,” the Bo Diddley rhythm of “Hoo Doo Ball,” and the swingin’ jazz of “School of Hard Knocks.” Then there are songs like Jimmy Reed’s “Down in Mississippi,” one of the previously unreleased nuggets, with Primich on harp and Dykes singing with his acoustic guitar. Some selections are simple, with electric guitar, bass, drums and harp. Others have horn sections. A few choice cuts are Primich instrumentals while others showcase his expressive solos between the verses. Because the songs were recorded with different groups in different studios at different times, the production quality and mixes have a wide range of textures and approaches. All of this contributes to a program that is even more listenable due to its changes in tone, pace, and feel.
Clearly, when his father Jack and sister Darsha began seeking the rights to Gary’s recorded work for this retrospective, they couldn’t realistically have his entire discography represented. This isn’t disappointing news either. Instead, it suggests Just a Little Bit More … with Omar Dykes is a good appetite whetter of a blues sampler. After all, there are only two main distinctions between Primich and other harmonica greats like Paul Butterfield, John Mayall, or Charles Musselwhite: they came along earlier and they’re better known. With luck, new listeners will be encouraged to seek out some of Primich’s other work. On its own, this collection is going to appeal to any blues lover and many a rocker as well. In fact, it should appeal to anyone in the mood for a good time. We’ll never have a chance to experience Primich onstage again, but this is as good as a memorial as we can ask for.