Good ol’ fashioned rock’n’rollin’ countrification. Or maybe shakin’, rattlin’ rockabilly. Or country-style Texas blues boogie. Whatever label you want to stick on the music of Lightning Willie and the Poorboys, it’s damn fine stuff.
They’ve come all the way from LA for a run of Scottish dates that’s even taken in Orkney, but in no time at all make me feel like I’ve been transported to Robert’s Western Warehouse in Nashville. Sporting a look that recalls Sam Elliott playing the cowboy in The Big Lebowski, and toting one helluva Gibson ES-5N geetar, Willie leads a band who make playing rock’n’roll look easy as pie.
|Lightning Willie - not any old hat, not any old guitar
Kicking off with a rollicking instrumental, they draw heavily on latest album No Black No White Just Blues, getting their mojo working with material like the swinging ‘Can’t Get That Stuff’, which sounds like it could have been recorded in Sun Studios with a young Sam Phillips at the controls, and the simple, strutting ‘Eyes In The Back Of My Head’. Then they cool things off with the smoky ‘Locked In A Prison’, Willie all soulful vocals while his fellow guitarist Pete Anderson contributes halting, teasing guitar licks, before Willie himself goes on to show that the spaces between the notes can be as telling as the notes themselves.
They cover the bases from something that's essentially a re-tooling of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Who’s Been Talking’, on which Anderson contributes slide guitar, to something with what Willie rightly calls “a butt-shaking rumba feel”, and on to the rueful tale of young love ‘Phone Stopped Ringing’, which is twang central from both Willie and Pete, over brooding drums from the baby of the band, Jeff Sorenson. Then they close out their first set by really revving it up on ‘Lookin’ Out My Window’, with the two guitars picking away fit to bust over an uptempo shuffle, and Anderson weighing in with a high-speed, countrified solo.
They fire up their second set with ‘Couldn’t Do Nothin’’, which is equal parts Chuck Berry rock’n’roll and Texas blues – Lightning Willie originally hailing from Texas, after all – and follow up with more boogie in the form of ‘Tears Tears Tears’, with a suitably rattling piano solo from Michael Murphy, who’s also responsible for providing the bass work with his left hand on Korg synth.
|Pete Anderson - guitarist and Harvey Keitel lookalike
But they also lay back with the loping, droll ‘Crazy’, and the slow blues of ‘I’m So Worried’, on whichAnderson delivers a slide solo that’s both pinging and woozy, while Willie acts out the lyrics persuasively as he delivers them in a voice that brings to mind Louis Armstrong. In between, they share funny stories about freezing their asses off in Orkney and getting lost in Stirling in the course of the previous few days.
Down the stretch there are more Wolf undertones to the slinky ‘Fuss And Fight’, and a Mexican influence on ‘Tears Falling Down, with accordion-style keys from Murphy, and some sweet, sad guitar from Willie.
They wig out on Elvis’s ‘Little Sister’, which was also a hit for Dwight Yoakam with input from Anderson, who duly runs riot with the twangin’. And to close they head back down Texas way for the distinctly ZZ Top-flavoured boogie of ‘Shake My Snake’, with rollercoaster slide from Anderson.
What Lightning Willie delivers may seem like simple stuff, but simple ain’t so easy to create, or deliver, with character and panache. Willie does it though, ably assisted by Pete Anderson, laying on a show that’s full of wit, warmth, and musicianship. If he’s playing near you then get your dancing shoes on!