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Jeff Chapman – Big Jeff’s Blues
East Side SlimBy East Side Slim, 5/16/2010

Jeff Chapman – Big Jeff’s Blues

Jeff Chapman – Big Jeff’s Blues – Vol. 1 – Artist self-release, 2009

Jeff Chapman is musician from South Central Illinois (just east of St. Louis, MO) who has released a fine CD with Big Jeff’s Blues – Vol. 1. Jeff wrote and sang all the songs on the CD, and while he chose to play little guitar on his own CD, he does play rhythm guitar in his live bands. Folks in the St. Louis area may be familiar with Jeff from his stints with Blues Ensemble, Hard Tale Blues Band, Big Jeff & The Smokers, or the Chapman Bros. band; he’s been playing out live since 1977.

Chapman brought some fine musicians in to do justice to the songs he wrote for this CD. As mentioned earlier, Jeff sings all the tracks here, while his brother Jerry (Chapman) provides the lead guitar work. Sean Harris provides additional guitar, and Don Stevenson (40 year veteran of the St. Louis music scene) plays piano and organ. The rhythm section consists of Brian “The Hammer” Massey on bass (another multi-decade St. Louis music veteran) and Darryl White on drums. Darryl is a national player of note, and many of you may recognize his name from his work with Tab Benoit. Chapman also brought in a harmonica player and two horn players. Al Winkeler, another long-time St. Louis music veteran, is playing harp, with Bill Archibald playing saxophone and Frank Parker playing some very nice trumpet. Parker, who grew up in New Orleans, has played with Irma Thomas, Marva Wright, Dr. John and Fats Domino. The liner notes aren’t specific as to which guitar player is actually playing lead on which tracks, so my apologies to Sean Harris if he indeed played lead guitar on the CD.

I am very impressed with the CD – in its entirety. This isn’t one of those barebones homemade CDs that you’ll (unfortunately) run across occasionally. Big Jeff’s Blues features great packaging, with a professional look to everything. The sound quality is also quite good. Jeff Chapman sounds great vocally, possessing a deep voice, becoming a bit coarser when he wants it to be, and the band itself features wonderful ensemble-style playing throughout. Solos are kept short and to the point, with the players all working together. Even if musicians didn’t actually record this CD in one big room looking at each other, it still sounds like it.

There is a southern rock vibe to some of the songs, and not all of the songs might straddle the blues/rock line, but everything here, even the more rock-inflected tracks, is definitely bluesy at the core. Give the CD a spin and see what you think; East Side Slim thinks you’ll be happy you took his advice.

The Songs: (all songs written & arranged by Jeff Chapman)

1. I’m A Blues Man
--This bluesy shuffler opens the disc with Jeff proclaiming his lineage as a hard working guy who is very proud of being a blues man, and of his love of the music. There’s some nice honking sax work on the tune as well. This is a nice cut, but there are a couple other songs on this CD that may have been better suited to open the CD with due to their quicker tempos and higher energy levels.

2. Train Left The Station
--I like this cut a lot. Jeff’s voice sounds great here (as it does on the all the songs on the CD), and the tune is riding a real tough blues-rockin’ groove. Al Winkeler’s restrained harp work is featured prominently on the tune. I kept waiting for him to really open it up for a couple of bars (which he never did quite get around to), but he sounds very good.

3. Everything Will Be Alright
--This is an excellent song. Jeff coarsens his vocal delivery a bit, adding to the emotional longing of the lyric – who among us doesn’t want the important things and relationships in their lives to work out well. The song is cut more from a southern rock vein than from a “straight” blues vein, but all you blues-heads out there shouldn’t let that stop you from enjoying the song; it would be your loss as Jeff has a real winner on his hands here.

4. Where’d My Baby Go
--This cut will make the blues-heads out there happier as it’s a fine contemporary blues – think Little Milton’s band fronted by Dusty Hill (ZZ Top’s singing bass player; the deep voiced singer who should have sung on many more tracks than he did.) This track features lots of cool rhythm guitar chording and horn charts, as well as a trumpet solo. This song would have been perfect to have kicked the CD off with, as it has a great up-tempo groove and is almost impossible not to start moving and dancing to.

5. Treat Your Girl Right
--This is a hard shuffle with Al Winkeler reappearing on harmonica. Jeff sings a lyric about how a man should treat that special woman in his life, especially if he hopes she’ll be interested in treating him in return…

6. Get Away From Me Woman
--This is a mid-tempo blues-rocker with some nice piano work courtesy of Don Stevenson. Jeff’s lesson this time around is to know when addition through subtraction is required – knowing when your life would be better without your partner than with them. Not the happiest of sentiments, but occasionally true…sometimes that person just isn’t good for you!

7. Get Out While There’s Time
--This is the only real slow blues on the CD, and it sounds great. Don Stevenson’s organ work runs along underneath everything, the guitar players lay in some nice solos, and Jeff gets to be a little more dynamic with his voice as he can bring it on down before he kicks it back up toward the end of the tune. It’s not always clear which guitar player is taking the leads on the songs, but on this track Jerry Chapman is the only guitarist listed so I’m assuming he supplied the leads here; nice work, Jerry.

8. Food, Money, Or Love
--Jeff brings things back up to roadhouse speed with this track. He’s singing about 3 things in life that he appreciates very much – and not necessarily in the order listed.

9. (Always Gonna Be) A Workin’ Man
--This one is pretty much pure southern rock, and doesn’t fall too far from the early Blackfoot catalog. That’s the Rick Medlocke-led band Blackfoot, not J.D. Blackfoot. This falls fairly close to songs such as Diary of a Working Man and that sort of thing. It is a mid- to slow-tempo rocking tune with bluesy feeling that’s a feature for the Chapman brothers’ rocking side.

10. My Baby Left Me Last Night
--This song is a killer, and really should have been the leadoff track for the CD. It’s a cool blues-rocking tune with a Latin/2nd-line groove and is incredibly infectious. The trumpet accents really put this thing over the top, as does Jeff’s wickedly funny, if slightly cynical, lyrics. The grungy, dirty-toned guitar doesn’t hurt, either. Can you tell that East Side Slim likes this tune? Well, if the song couldn’t leadoff the CD it sure does manage to conclude it fine fashion.

The Verdict:

This CD, Big Jeff’s Blues – Vol. 1, was a real treat to review. It has become reasonably simple with the advent of computer recording technology for musicians to record their own CDs. Unfortunately, many such efforts just aren’t that enjoyable. However, that is not the case with Jeff Chapman’s CD. Jeff is a talented songwriter and a fantastic singer, and he has put together a 1st-class effort with this album. From the quality of the songs, the performances, the recording itself, and the liner notes, everything here is much more than I have come to expect from self-released CDs on the whole. Big Jeff’s Blues are good blues, and hopefully we can look forward to Volumes 2, 3 4 and beyond from Mr. Chapman. This is a good one, folks. Let’s rate this bad boy – East Side Slim is assigning an STLBluesometer rating of 3.50 to Big Jeff’s Blues – Vol. 1.

For more information concerning Jeff Chapman and his music, see the following websites:


Lee Howland - aka "East Side Slim"

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