Bluesman Johnnie Bassett may be 76 years old, but you couldn’t tell from his latest Sly Dog album I Can Make That Happen. He sings and plays his guitar with the joy of youth and the power of experience. After all, when you get to your seventh decade you know what you want to do and you know how to do it. “My sound and the way I play and tune my guitar is different from anybody,” he says on his Mack Avenue (the album’s distributor) artist’s page, “I designed it that way when I was getting into the business. I heard all the other guitarists coming up and they all sounded the same to me—everybody wanted to be B.B. King or T-Bone Walker. I wanted to be different sounding.” And if different sounding is what he wanted, different sounding is what he got, and still gets for that matter. Take a basic blues vibe and add a dash of jazz, some R&B, and a dollop of soul and you have a recipe for one really nice sound, a sound that defines this new album.
Joining Bassett are two Detroit bands, The Brothers Groove and The Motor City Horns, which he has played with for quite some time. Keyboard player Chris Codish, bassist James Simonson, and drummer Skeeto Valdez make up The Brothers Groove. Codish was one of the album’s producers and, along with his father Bob, composed some of the disc’s original songs. The Motor City Horns consist of saxophonist Keith Kaminski (the album’s other producer), trombonist John Rutherford, and the trumpets of Bob Jensen and Mark Byerly. Codish says that playing with Bassett is a lot of fun, calling him “the top of the groove pyramid.”
The album opens with a nod to the musician’s hometown, “Proud to Be From Detroit,” a funky tune with a lyric that mean-spirited non-Detroiters might find a mite provincial. More generous out-of-towners might be more inclined to cut the homies a break considering the city’s current problems. In any case, this is a song that will get you jumping. The two songs that follow, “Love Lessons” and “Spike Boy,” have the kind of suggestive lyrics so often characteristic of traditional blues, delivered with a twinkle in Bassett’s voice and some nice solo work on the guitar.
The title song shows off Bassett’s guitar against some funky brass. It is followed by a cover of “Cry to Me,” the Solomon Burke classic from the ’60s. “Teach Me to Love” is a big R&B ballad duet in which Bassett is joined by the lush voice of Thornetta Davis. The lyrics may be a bit arty, but the emotion is honest, and there is a sweet, rocking tenor solo from Kaminski. The track has a real retro feel. “Dawging Around,” the lone instrumental on the album, is a swinging jazz piece with fine solos from Bassett, Kaminski, and Codish (on organ). This may well be the highlight of the album, although the laid back cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” sure gives it a run for its money. “Let’s Get Hammered” closes the album with some straight up blues, but definitely the kind of blues that will make you happy.
“You need some satisfaction,” Bassett sings, “I can make that happen.” Even at 76 years old, if this album is any indication, he sure can.