I have been a huge fan of Lazy Lester’s brand of Louisiana swamp blues ever since that fateful day, many years ago now, when John Broven and Mike Leadbitter, of Blues Unlimited fame, introduced me to the Excello label and the production work of J.D. Miller, the label’s owner. I was hooked on Lester’s loping vocal and harmonica styling; the former owing a certain debt to one of the most influential bluesmen of that time, Jimmy Reed, while his harmonica work often appeared to emulate the phrasing and lilt of the accordion, an instrument much maligned, but which has been an all important part of Louisiana’s Cajun and Zydeco cultures.
With the use of a pared-down rhythm section, utilising two guitars and assorted percussion to support his vocal and harmonica work, Lester created a sound that was truly unique – and almost irresistible.
It had always been part of the master plan for the burgeoning Blue Horizon label – if indeed there had actually been a master plan – to record Lazy Lester, Lightnin’ Slim and Slim Harpo at some future date. It was not until 1987 that I finally succeeded in getting Lazy Lester into a recording studio.
Many years of working in the studio in Crowley alongside J.D. Miller made Lester very singular of mind and perceptive as to what was required to get the best results. Those attributes stood him in good stead during these sessions. Musicians to be involved on the planned four-day sessions would be members of the Junkyard Angels, Blues’n’Trouble and special guests Bob Hall, Dave Bronze and John “Big Figure” Martin. The scene was set. I had requested that we should cut no more than three titles that Lester had recorded previously for Excello – and that’s exactly what we got. The others would be chosen from new song demos that had been especially written for the occasion, although only one of those actually made it to the studio and then was never completed – at least, not at that time. Lester had other material that he was anxious to commit to tape and we made the collective decision to also try and jam a couple of items and see what would happen.
Now, you will have to take it from me that some US blues musicians can be tricky to work with. Not so with our man Leslie Johnson. He would prove to be open to almost any suggestion but also full of his own ideas – most of them pretty cool too. In an attempt to be as faithful to my good memories of those days back in May 1987, I got in touch with all the musicians that had participated to see if they might have had a different point of view. Everyone was of the same mind: Tim Elliott stating that his abiding memory was of “just how relaxed the sessions were and how everything just flowed – fabulous times”.
On the 13 November 1988 “Rides Again” became the recipient of the W.C. Handy 1987-88 Blues Award For Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year (Foreign) presented by the Blues Foundation of Memphis. You could say, that although we might not have expected nor needed that, it was most welcome.
By Mike Vernon