Guitarist and singer Johnnie Bassett built his reputation in Detroit, where in the 1950s and '60s he led local bands that accompanied visiting artists like Little Willie John and Ruth Brown. Eventually he ended up in the studio band at Fortune Records, where he cut sides with Andre Williams, Nolan Strong, and other early soul vocalists. He also did some work at Motown--that's his choppy guitar comping on the Miracles' "Shop Around" from 1960. Like many soul and R & B veterans, Bassett has recently hit the comeback trail; unlike most, he purveys a jazz-tinged blues reminiscent of T-Bone Walker and other west-coast guitarists of the 40s and 50s. Bassett's latest CD, Bassett Hound (Fedora), is a sparse, swinging affair that showcases his sweet-toned fretboard attack. But Bassett isn't slavishly devoted to California slickness: the title song features a stop-time rhythm reminiscent of Willie Dixon's creations for Muddy Waters; some of Bassett's solos are based on simple, Delta-style descending progressions; his chording sometimes echoes the rough alley-jazz style of Memphis guitarists like Pat Hare and Willie Johnson; and his gruff baritone adds a whiff of funk to the mix. Still, Bassett's tone is pure silk, and like his west-coast role models he's adept at sculpting concise statements within the confines of a limited harmonic structure. On Bassett Hound, where he's accompanied by a competent but unspectacular rhythm section, his insistence on limiting himself to slow-burning introspection becomes a bit redundant, but he's in command of enough chops and original ideas that his subtle variations on well-worn themes are usually interesting and occasionally inspiring. Thursday, April 30, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Robert Barclay.