Johnny Drummer | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Johnny Drummer

by

comment

JOHNNY DRUMMER

Despite the stage name he chose, inspired by the classic western Johnny Guitar, Johnny Drummer rarely plays the drums these days: on soul-blues numbers he accompanies his mellow croon with atmospheric organ, and on more traditional blues he adds spice with down-home harmonica. He cut a handful of sides on local labels in the 60s and 70s, and in 1975 turned up on a live album--along with Bobby King, Joe Carter, and the Aces--recorded at the south-side club Ma Bea's and released on the French imprint MCM. Ma Bea's has been Lee's Unleaded Blues for a while now, but Drummer still holds down a pretty regular weekend gig there--and with the 1999 release of his first full-length, It's So Nice (Earwig), he's finally stopped being one of the best-kept secrets in Chicago blues. Admittedly, the rugged postfunk bass line on his version of Ann Peebles's "I Can't Stand the Rain" doesn't quite offset the lack of emotional depth in his singing, and on the jaunty, breezy "I Wanna Get in Your Head, Before I Get in Your Bed" his attempt at sensitive-guy sincerity comes off as forced. But on ballads like "I'm Not Gonna Give You Up" and "It's So Nice"--which feel like they were written at three in the morning--he manages to sound both seductive and vulnerable, his voice's pliability more than making up for its thin timbre. "Give Me a Sign," with its explosive drum-triggered electronics and tightly wound groove, has a metallic sheen, and on the playfully aggressive sexual anthem "I'll Find a Way" his vocals are sinewy and virile. Though the lineup of Drummer's band, the Starliters, can vary, he favors standard blues instrumentation: guitars, bass, keyboard, drums. Several cuts on the CD are augmented with percussion effects and layers of synthesized horns or strings, but I don't expect to hear those bells and whistles live. Drummer and his mates play the kind of solid blues that packs 'em in on the south side--and that European tourists make pilgrimages to Chicago to hear. Friday, 9:30 PM, Koko Taylor's Celebrity, 1233 S. Wabash; 312-360-1558. Saturday, 10 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

DAVID WHITEIS

Add a comment