East Side Slim
Boo Davis – Name of the Game
Black & Tan Records, 2008
James “Boo Boo”
Davis is a long-time resident of the East St. Louis
area, native to Drew, Mississippi. He’s an
old-school bluesman, having performed as a vocalist,
harmonica player and drummer over the years, at
times in partnership with Arthur Williams. Boo Boo
was one of 13 children and moved to the St. Louis
area as a young man. Now in his mid-60s, Davis is
a long-time fixture on the St. Louis blues scene.
In fact, he formed the Davis Brothers Band in 1972,
which was ensconced as the weekend house band at
Tabby’s Red Room in East St. Louis for almost
Boo Boo’s music has
been very popular in Europe during the 1990s to
present. In fact, he’s been signed with the
Black & Tan Records label out of The Netherland
for several years, and has now had five releases
on the label – which includes Name of the
Game, his latest CD.
Name of the Game sees Boo
Boo and his two-piece Dutch band performing in a
stripped down mode, consisting of just drums, guitar,
and Davis’ harp. There’s some of the
down-home juke-joint-styled music Boo Boo is known
for, but there’s also some songs done up in
a more experimental, Fat Possum-like rock/blues
hybrid. Does it work? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
See the song notes below for my thoughts about the
tunes on Name of the Game.
1. Dirty Dog: -- it sounds like
the band is attempting to go after the sound of
RL Burnside’s “Come On In” release
(alt-rock/blues hybrid), only without the synths
and loops used on Burnside’s CD. The song
is very much in a Fat Possum –
Mississippi Hill Country vibe, but Boo’s voice
doesn’t have the distinctiveness and depth
of character to quite pull it off. A fun grungy
track, but not all that memorable.
I’m Comin’ Home: -- a slow
blues, also in the Fat Possum vibe. Boo’s
vocals are heavily processed, and his harp work
is sparse and workman-like. The guitar sound is
in an alt-rock style more so than blues.
Stay From the Casino: -- A mid-tempo tune.
Boo Boo is singing about the evils of the casino,
and how it can take all your money if you’re
not careful. The guitar on the song really makes
it much more a rock song than a blues song. Again,
Boo Boo’s vocals are processed here. This
tune has more in common with the alt-rock/blues
of Jon Spencer than with Boo Boo’s past blues
efforts, which is ok if that’s your bag. I’d
rather hear Boo Boo in a more traditional blues
vein, playing to his strengths.
Want Nobody Tell Me How to Live My Life: --
now that’s one long song title! This is a
true blues tune, with Boo Boo’s singing and
harp work unencumbered by studio processing. This
is the type of loping low-down down-home blues Boo
Boo excels at, and this tune works very well. It
builds in intensity throughout its length. I can
honestly say that I was sorry when it ended. This
one’s a winner!
Tryin’ to Get Ahead: -- Here’s
another great track from Boo Boo and the band. There’s
just a hint of vocal processing, but the instrumental
sound is all blues, and Boo Boo actually blows a
pretty tough, raggedy harp. This one smells like
juke, rolls like juke, and makes you want to be
in a juke. Another winner!
Name of the Game: -- The boys are still
in the juke joint with this track. It’s a
cool, uptempo shuffle. If you like juke joint-styled
shuffles in various tempos, then the last 3 tracks
should please you. The guitar is solidly in a blues
vein, the drummer is driving it all along, and Boo
Boo’s world-weary voice just adds to the mood.
Needless to say, I like this song, also.
Who Stole the Booty: -- We’re back
into the Fat Possum thing here. Just to let you
all know, I like much of the Fat Possum catalog
– a lot! It’s just that the sound doesn’t
fit everybody. On this song, Boo Boo is again going
after the RL Burnside/Jr. Kimbrough sound. It’s
got a cool groove, but Boo Boo’s vocals are
just too thin to pull this off convincingly.
Why You Wanna Do It: -- Interesting…This
one’s in the mode of an old 60’s soul
ballad. It’s really very cool. Take a soul
tune and mix it up with a juke joint blues and this
could be the result. The guitar work here is very
nice, both with the wah-wah rhythm work and the
single-note leads. I’ve never been a blues
purist (listen with an open mind!), and I like what
the boys did here.
Lonely All By Myself: -- Ah, we’re
back in the juke again with a mid-tempo blues. All
right! The melody bears more than a little resemblance
to that used in “Rock Me Baby” (rock
me all night long…), but the guys bring it
into the juke and rough it up a little bit. This
is the kind of stuff I really enjoy: ragged, grungy,
heartfelt, raw - from the gut/groin.
It’a Shame: -- This is a “version”
of the old Jimmy Reed song (Shame, Shame, Shame),
mixed together with a Hubert Sumlin lick from his
Howlin’ Wolf days. Boo Boo’s harp work
is pretty rudimentary, but the song has this cool
vibe and rhythm that’s tough to resist. Once
again, I like it! Hat’s off to the drummer
on this track. Salute!
I’m So Tired: -- an autobiographical
song by Boo Boo, with a long, talking intro. He
worked much too hard back in the day, and he’s
going to tell you about in the song. This one’s
in the one-chord vamp style of the Hill Country,
and this time it works very well. Boo Boo seemed
to be emotionally involved in the lyric, and it
showed in his performance in this song. This is
another solid track from Boo Boo and the boys.
Hot Foot: -- We’re back in the rocky
Fat Possum hybrid thing again. This time it’s
a takeoff on a James Brown groove. You don’t
believe it? Just give it a listen. The track is
fun, but in the end it’s not that memorable.
Boo Boo’s thin vocals do him in again, especially
against the heavy wah-wah guitar heard throughout
St. Louis Woman: -- a hard, tough electric
shuffle to end the set. The vocals are heavily processed,
and Boo Boo’s harp work is again workman-like
at best. The groove is solid, and the guitar and
drum work is very nice. Once again we have a track
that’s fun and entertaining, but without much
This cd could almost be broken down into two separate
styles. One is the Fat Possum rock/blues hybrid that
uses heavily processed vocals and rock-oriented guitar
(does anyone remember Muddy Waters’ “Electric
Mud”?) The other style is a more traditional
juke joint/Hill Country style, where the vocal processing
is non-existent or kept to a minimum and the guitar
work is solidly blues oriented.
Overall, the juke joint style
tracks worked better for Boo Boo. He seems more
comfortable there, and the tracks in that style
are very good. However, the rock/blues tracks really
never take off, and just don’t stick with
the listener. Frankly, they sound a little forced,
as Boo Boo doesn’t have the vocal abilities
of an RL Burnside or Jr. Kimbrough (not many people
do…) to grab and hold the listener with. As
just over half the songs of this CD are more in
the juke joint style, I can safely give this CD
a 3.5 on the STLBluesometer.