East Side Slim
Floyd Lee Band – Doctors, Devils & Drugs
Amogla Records, 2007
Floyd Lee is the alias of Mr. Ted Williams, born in Mississippi in 1933. He began playing blues as a teenager, and wandered across America playing music. He moved to New York City, Harlem specifically, in 1972, immersing himself in the music of the city. Mr. Williams was one of the 1st musicians in the Art For Transit (Music Under New York) program, which organized musicians playing in the subways of the cities. He has been playing subway stations, street corners, clubs and even in the schools of New York City ever since.
Mr. Williams’ musical partner is Joel Poluck. While Ted handles the vocal chores, Joel supplies the guitars and much of the music for the band. Poluck is originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, and has been in musical partnership with Williams for most of a decade now, which has included producing 4 CDs for Floyd Lee Band on the Amogla Records label. The Floyd Lee Band per this album consisted of Floyd Lee (vocals), Joel Poluck (guitars), Brad Vickers (bass and acoustic guitar) and Steve Pozzelanti (drums and washboard.)
Williams (Floyd Lee) and Poluck have combined their respective powerful talents into an even larger, more powerful combined sound, one which is solely their own. They combine the best aspects of traditional Delta juke stylings with modern slide guitar-driven sounds, leading to a soulful, addictive, more-powerful blend that is nearly impossible to ignore. The fact that their music isn’t better known is shame, because this music truly deserves a much wider audience. To quote Floyd Lee: “Blues is wantin' somethin' you ain't got...wishin' for somethin'...lovin' somethin' that's gone. Yeah, that's the blues.” Blues is music from the heart and soul, for the heart and soul, and the Floyd Lee Band understands that in-full.
The Songs: (all songs by Joel Poluck except as noted below)
1. Empty Well
--Talk about heavy…this cut starts off with a slow groove like something off an old "Soundgarden" album, quickly throwing a keening slide guitar on top of the mix. The tune starts heavy and never lets up, and Floyd Lee's effects-distorted vocal fit the song well.
2. Think I Got Something On My Mind – (Joel Poluck, Floyd Lee and Brad Vickers)
--This song rides a "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" riff, tied to a Howlin' Wolf feel. It's stark, dangerous, and darn righteous – think latter-day Wolf if Hubert Sumlin played slide. Just bass, a simple trap set, slide guitar and Floyd's emotive vocals. He possesses that dark, burnished voice that works so well to convey emotion while singing blues and soul music.
3. Can't You See
--This one brings us back to the slow, heavy approach of track #1. The electric blues-rock tracks on this CD sometimes remind me of how Crazy Horse (Neil Young's band) could sound playing blues-rock - if they had an older African-American man with a very cool voice fronting the band. Jam band fans could get into the massive grooves of this CD is they can handle the aggressive (yet melodic) slide guitar sounds found on the album.
4. Bird With A Broken Wing
--Ah, we're once again on the back-porch… This one is all acoustic: acoustic guitars and washboard, with Floyd singing a very fast vocal line over the top. I do mean very fast. The song sounds great; the only downside is that it is only 1:44 in length.
5. Don't You Know
--The pattern continues, as we're back to a tougher-edged, slow-grooving, blues-rock cut here. Floyd's vocal approach here is a little looser, rooted in a Mississippi Hill Country style, as is the entire song itself. Yes, I can definitely here shades of Junior Kimbrough's style here.
6. The Counting Song
--This one is back porch or juke joint in style, but it's an electric slide workout. The drummer bashes out a rhythm pattern, Joel Poluck slides all over this thing, and Floyd sings traditional "counting" verses over the top. It's another short one, clocking in at 1:51. Too bad, as this thing could go on for 10 minutes live – as long as Poluck doesn’t set his fret board on fire.
--Back to acoustic, but with a definite Indian influence, as Joel Poluck achieves a sitar-ish sound with his slide work here. I like this song, but it needs to be longer; it's only 1:33 in length.
8. Blues Is A Beautiful Thing
--This tune is all groove, from the guitar work to the percussion to Floyd's vocals. I like this one a lot; it seeps right into your soul. Sometimes simple really is best, as all you've got going on is Floyd singing, a couple of rhythm guitars locked in a riff and plucking accents, and some hand percussion work (washboard again possibly?)
9. Lunar Landing
--This one is a trip, and double meaning definitely applies. Audio of America's lunar rocket launches and moon landings is mixed into the song, so that makes for a very long trip. The sound is also very trippy, as in "far out, man." I kid you not. It sounds like there's no way this should work, but the groove the band rides is deep (from Earth to the Moon?!), and you find yourself locked in its grip. Open minds, folks…
10. Unlisted Track
--this is simply 2 minutes of outer-spacey sound effects (Theremin?) which really shouldn't have been included on the album. My advice, hit STOP on your CD player at the end of track 9, unless you're into Forbidden Planet-type sounds. If you aren’t familiar with the reference, it's an old Sci-Fi flick that introduced Robbie the Robot and was famous for trippy space sounds.
I can't say enough good things about this CD (although the brevity of some songs that I enjoyed very much was a little irksome.) Granted, this CD probably isn't going to please the "blues police" among Stlblues.net's readers – but what really does please them that wasn't recorded prior to 1935? The songs are of 2 basic types: either slide-drenched slightly trippy blues-rock groovers, or, very short back porch and juke joint-inspired acoustic-based throw downs. The mix of styles works very well, and Floyd manages to make his vocals work no matter which type of song he is singing. It's time to rate this bad boy - STLBluesometer rating of 4.00 for the Floyd Lee Band's Doctors, Devils & Drugs.
- aka "East