The Big Payback is Big James and the Chicago Playboys’ follow-up to their 2009 Blind Pig debut, Right Here, Right Now, and builds on four independent releases over the past dozen years. Their last independent release on the Jamot label, Thank God I Got the Blues, earned Big James and the Chicago Playboys the prestigious 2008 Prix Blues from the Academie du Jazz in Paris.
The Big Payback was recorded live at the famed Lionel Hampton Jazz Club in the City of Light, and features three originals from Big James and several outstanding covers (including a surprising instrumental take on Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” the title tune from James Brown, and Magic Sam’s “All Your Love”). I first saw this powerful outfit at Buddy Guy’s Legends former location, and they put on an old-school, horn-fueled show complete with synchronized dance steps, natty stage attire, a diverse set that featured James on trombone and each Playboy playing solos revue-style; this stylish showmanship is not lost on the enthusiastic Parisian audience.
Big James’ version of Otis Clay’s classic Memphis’ soul tune, “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” is a classic reinterpretation, and I enjoy Big James’ original ode to his life’s work, “The Blues Will Never Die,” because as long as labels like Blind Pig bring blues fans this type of music recorded live, it won’t. The Big Payback is a must for fans of punchy, horn-fueled blues with a deep sound, and if you appreciate blues trombone in the style of Fred Wesley (who worked for the Godfather of Soul), International Blues Challenge competitor Randy Oxford, or the Grammy-nominated Trombone Shorty, I’m confident you’ll like trombonist Big James’ second CD on Blind Pig records.
Big James is a six-time Living Blues Magazine Critics Choice Award Winner, and a four-time nominee of the Blues Music Awards. Look for Big James to return to the Chicago Blues Festival this year, and along the way, he’ll also return to Kingston Mines. But no matter where you see Big James and the Chicago Playboys, it’ll be a party fueled by Big James on ‘bone, Charles “Richard” Pryor on trumpet and flugelhorn, Mike “Money” Wheeler on guitar, and the top-flight rhythm section of Larry “L-Dub” Williams on bass and Cleo Cole on drums. The Big Payback is sure to fill dance floors with its catchy riffs, tight yet bouncy musicianship, plus first-class vocals and playing from Big James Montgomery.
Eric Steiner is president of the Washington Blues Society in Seattle, Washington and a member of the Board of Directors of The Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee.