|By Eric Gallippo|
Detroit guitarist sings the blues with styleAfter 50 years in the blues and a resume that includes gigs with John Lee Hooker, jams with Jimi Hendrix, sessions with The Miracles and a handful of acclaimed solo records, Detroit guitarist Johnnie Bassett found himself without a label home for his latest musical project about three years ago, but he plugged away at it, just like he had his whole life.
Then Bassett and his band played what he thought would be an ordinary job at Detroit’s Dirty Dog Jazz Café.
Slowing it down a little as the first set wound down, the band played Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia” — which, coincidentally, was a favorite song of one important patron.
During the break, Bassett saddled up to the bar next to club owner Gretchen Valade and asked her how she was enjoying the show. “I enjoyed it very much; you guys are real good,’” she said, continuing, “Incidentally, do you have a label?”
“I looked at her and said, ‘no,’” Bassett said. “She said, ‘You do now.’”
To Bassett’s surprise, he had been playing for the head of Mack Avenue Records, a bastion of Detroit jazz, with a roster than includes contemporary greats, like drummer Carl Allen & bassist Rodney Whitaker, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett and Gypsy jazz outfit Hot Club of Detroit. “I did not know at the time she owned the Mack Avenue label,” Bassett said. “I wasn’t auditioning for it, I was there to do a job and get paid and go home.”What
Bassett thought might be a one- CD deal ended up being a three-disc
contract with Mack Avenue subsidiary, Sly Dog Records, with the
agreement that “Georgia” appear on the first album. Bassett said it’s
his willingness and ability to seamlessly work such a song into a
jumping blues set that sets him apart from his peers. “You’ve not going
to hear this sound anywhere in the country, because of what I do, and
the way I pick my material,” he said. “We start jumping right off the
bat, and then slow it down to something [the audience] can relate to.
“It’s 12-bar blues, but it’s all different.”
Somewhere along the line, Bassett picked up the nickname “The Gentleman.”
With his first studio album in nine years, Bassett had no problem coming up with a title for it: “The Gentleman is Back.”
Even if it doesn’t flex a “Detroit” sound, the group’s familiarity with each other’s music,