With the release of Time Will Tell, his fourth album for Blind Pig, Studebaker John continues to prove himself to be the most intriguing and original blues artists on the scene. His music has a haunting, distinctive quality that’s wild and raw when it needs to be, yet is often subtle, played with nuance and a delicate touch. King Biscuit Times called it a “personal no-holds-barred style that cooks with contagiously seasoned energy and absolute taste.”
Studebaker John Grimaldi was born in Chicago in 1952 and heard the blues firsthand from Big Walter Horton, “One-Armed” John Wrencher, Johnny Littlejohn and other regulars on Maxwell Street. “I can remember a time when you could see Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, he’d play in his own club, Hound Dog Taylor would always be around Maxwell Street. J.B. Hutto, too. Being able to see them perform live was breathtaking. I’m basically self-taught and I’d pick things up by just watching them.”
He also took to heart their advice about developing his own style. He recalls, “The old guys, like Walter Horton, gave me the best advice when they told me not to try to sound like them, but to sound like myself. To me, blues is really finding the heart of the music and putting yourself into it.”
In addition to the aforementioned artists, John lists his harmonica influences as Little Walter, both Sonny Boys, and Paul Butterfield. On guitar he names Albert Collins, Albert King, Freddie King, and Elmore James.
Nonetheless, unwilling to merely emulate the masters, John has evolved a playing style that incorporates the influences of past blues greats while stretching the boundaries of both the instruments he plays. He’s also an accomplished songwriter, composing and arranging all the material for the band, creating a unique and unmistakable sound all his own. Citing this originality, Blues Access remarked, “John has taken lessons from his teachers without reverting to mimicry. He’s his own man.” The Met in Dallas added, “Though John may tread hallowed ground, he leaves tracks all his own. He’s strong beyond mere derivation.”
John began playing harmonica at age seven, when he picked up a harp belonging to his father and began “experimenting” with it. In his early years, he played drums and harmonica in rock and R&B bands. By the time he was sixteen, having been entranced by the vibrant blues scene on the streets and airwaves of Chicago, he decided to devote his talents exclusively to the blues harmonica. It was also around this time that he acquired his stage name - his first car was a Studebaker Lark, although nowadays he drives a primo ‘63 Studebaker Silver Hawk.
A few years later, John was inspired to play slide guitar after seeing Hound Dog Taylor, whose playing knocked him out on first hearing. “He was wild and raw, in the groove and just killin’,” John remembers. Soon John was featuring his own slide work along with his harmonica playing. While John rarely plays any covers, he will almost always do a tribute to Hound Dog.
After sitting in at Theresa’s and the Checkerboard Lounge (with Buddy Guy) and working at “wild as hell” West Side haunts, John started his own band, the Hawks, in 1971 to work the evolving North Side clubs like Kingston Mines.
In 1978, Studebaker John and the Hawks recorded their first album. John produced their next release, Rocking The Blues, which was released in 1985 and reissued in Europe in 1992 by Double Trouble. The band’s third album was released in Europe in 1990, and the strong response was the beginning of a large and enthusiastic following for the group overseas. In the spring of 1995 that album was reissued by Blind Pig under the title Outside Lookin’ In. “This is hard-partying, tough, working-man’s blues, heavy on the slide guitar and full tilt boogie,” wrote Blues Revue.
The 1991 release of Born To Win, also on Double Trouble, solidified the band’s popularity in Europe, where they’re considered a prime example of the classic 50’s Chicago blues sound. They’ve done numerous tours of the continent, highlighted by appearances at major festivals in Belgium and Holland.
In 1994, Blind Pig released John’s first nationally distributed album, entitled Too Tough. Fully displaying John’s beguiling musical talents, it was an immediate favorite with blues radio programmers and it claimed a strong position on the blues charts for many months after its release. The radio trade Hard Report called it “a sound that could only come out of the collective blues history of Chicago. A CD full of originals is refreshing and when it’s this hot, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow would be proud.” A couple of the tracks appear on the soundtrack of the award-winning Canadian art film called “Exotica”, directed by Atom Egoyan.
1996’s Tremoluxe features the hallmarks of Studebaker John’s distinctive sound: full-bodied, low-down harp; hard-driving, sophisticated slide guitar; fluid, expressive vocals; catchy melodies; tight arrangements and a cool, high-velocity sound that retains its rambunctious roadhouse roots. Blues Access said “Like his namesake 1963 Studebaker Silver Hawk, John Grimaldi is a model of uncluttered lines and super-charged performance. His reedy, plaintive voice is perfectly suited to convey the emotion of his tales of faithlessness, hurting love and bad luck. The Hawks provide a solid backdrop for John’s fluid, stinging slide leads and harmonica raunch. This Chicago-styled blues disc easily stands up to repeated listenings.” The Hard Report went on to state “Not often do you find a great harmonica player, vocalist, slide guitarist and outstanding songwriter all in one package, but that’s the case with Studebaker John, and Tremoluxe is the perfect showcase for his talents.”
Time Will Tell features some of John’s most sophisticated songwriting and accomplished performances to date. Selections like “Rolling and Tumbling Around”, ” Here No More”, “Fear”, “Playing With Fire” and the title cut “Time Will Tell” have become favorites with radio programmers, reviewers and John’s growing legion of fans. Says Studebaker John about his most recent release, “Everything came together for me on this recording. These are some of the best songs that I’ve written over the last twenty years. They mean a great deal to me and I hope they speak to the listener as well.”
On Blind Pig Records: Studebaker John and the Hawks
Edited by In2TheBlues on 24 Nov 2013, 03:14
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