Born in Lexington, Mississippi, in 1945, vocalist L.T. McGee moved to Chicago when he was seven. As a young man he sang in his church choir, but his ears were primed by secular artists like Barry White and Tyrone Davis. In the 80s he began to appear locally on the west and south sides, sometimes fronting an R & B band called Blaze. In 1999 Johnnie Mae Dunson, who had written songs for Jimmy Reed and more recently had rejuvenated her own career as a singer, discovered McGee performing on Maxwell Street. Hoping to groom him as Reed's successor, she signed him to her Lakada label, where he cut two sides: "Shadow on the Wall," an angst-drenched, minor-key slow blues by Dunson, and his own "You Hit Me From the Bottom," a soul-inflected ballad with an intro reminiscent of Luther Ingram's 1972 smash "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right." "Shadow" is a fine showcase for McGee's range: he ascends dramatically from a dusky Albert King-like purr into his churchy upper register, a molten guitar lead searing through the dark soundscape behind him. But on "You Hit Me" he throws his entire soul-blues armamentarium--croons, bellows, gasps, and quivers--into a saga of betrayal and retribution that alternately invokes the ghettocentric vision of contemporary R & B ("I bought you a diamond ring and a pink Cadillac car...but all you wanna do is just get blow") and tweaks it ("Didn't I kiss you on the knees / You said, 'Negro, please'"). Although his stage moves are somewhat stiff--ponderous stomps and pelvic thrusts are as close as he gets to the spins and slides favored by more polished performers--his bearlike physical presence is commanding, and his muscular voice has that blend of erotic tension and emotional vulnerability central to the great deep-soul tradition. Wednesdays in August, 8:30 PM, Dew Drop Inn, 4316 W. 16th; 773-277-0629.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.