As a young man in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Terry Evans sang in a church choir, but his love for secular music like blues and R & B--he secretly listened to the likes of Elmore James and John Lee Hooker--would set the course for the rest of his career. He moved to Los Angeles in 1962, where he recorded with a doo-wop group called the Turnarounds and in the early 70s teamed up with another lapsed gospel singer, Bobby King. Evans and King worked clubs and festivals for many years, most famously touring and recording as backup singers in Ry Cooder's band; in 1988 and '90 they recorded a pair of well-received Rounder discs featuring Cooder on guitar. In 1986, Evans's version of J.B. Lenoir's "Down in Mississippi" appeared on the sound track of the film Crossroads, and since the early 90s he's been working as a solo artist. His powerful baritone is one of the most distinctive vocal instruments in contemporary blues. With his fine command of nuance, he can express extraordinary vulnerability, adorning even his most spontaneous shouts, murmurs, and sobs with delicate gospel melismata; his clear, supple tone evokes the burly proletarian bluster of white honky-tonkers like Dave Dudley, and if he drops a bit of gravel into his voice he can sound fit to burst with choked passion. His latest CD, Mississippi Magic (Audioquest), showcases him in top form. On the cuckold's lament "I'd Rather Trick My Own Self," he makes the sardonic lyrics seem resigned instead of bitter, imbuing his voice with a gritty-sweet weariness reminiscent of Lou Rawls at his bluesiest. And Evans's bravura performance on "I Want to Love You"--he softens from a bellow to a whisper with no loss of power, then builds back into a leonine roar that culminates in a constricted, quivering plea--captures in one sweeping gesture the combination of emotional intensity and precise craftsmanship that makes him such a gripping performer. Friday and Saturday, October 26 and 27, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rob Shanahan.