#KickingtheCanon by Jason Gubbels Music

Magic Sam | West Side Soul

May 1, 2015

Samuel Gene Maghett entered Cobra’s recording studios in 1957 as “Good Rocking Sam,” and luckily for all of us, some other Samuel was already laying claim to the clunky sobriquet. Maybe it really was Sam’s old friend and bass player Mack Thompson who suggested swapping Maghett out for Magic, or maybe label talent scout Willie Dixon had the bright idea. Whatever the circumstances, the recent Mississippian transplant re-dubbed Magic Sam dropped a bomb on Chicago’s West Side, the spooky, quavering “All of Your Love,” lucky thirteenth single for the label, and not to be confused with fellow Cobramate Otis Rush’s “All Your Love (I Miss Lovin’),” which wouldn’t see release until late 1958. Ten years after “All of Your Love,” Magic Sam was still haunting the West Side, after a brief Army detour and subsequent desertion charges derailed his career almost as soon as it started. Cobra had long since folded, the victim of shoddy accounting practices, but Bob Koester’s noble jazz/blues indie Delmark was on the upswing, having produced a surprise 1965 hit with the sprawling Junior Wells debut Hoodoo Man Blues while shoring up their cutting-edge bonafides with 1966’s jazz landmark Sound, the debut for saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and, more broadly, the entire Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Delmark had already set space aside for Magic Sam, having hosted a session with his quartet back in February of 1966 (a few of those tracks, prominently featuring the tenor sax of Eddie Shaw, would subsequently see the light of day on Delmark’s blues sampler Sweet Home Chicago, released in the immediate hazy aftermath of the city’s disastrous ‘68 Democratic Convention). But there were to be no saxophones featured on West Side Soul, Sam’s full-length debut proper. Even Stockholm Slim’s piano seemed relegated to the background. This album was all about the electric fretwork.

With the mighty Mighty Joe Young on second guitar, Sam largely avoids the excessive tremolo that defined his earliest singles, instead cranking the surf-rock quotient by overdosing on echo, which helps lend proceedings their definite late-60s vibe.

Make no mistake, there’s an uptown charge and sophistication to many of these tracks — opening cut “That’s All You Need” has a decided Motown/Smokey Robinson bounce, enhanced by Sam’s own slight hint at Sam Cooke-style vocal phrasing. Still, this remains more west side scruff than supper club soul (no way Berry Gordy Jr. would have allowed Sam’s guitar to chime as out of tune as it does here without demanding a redo). With the mighty Mighty Joe Young on second guitar, Sam largely avoids the excessive tremolo that defined his earliest singles, instead cranking the surf-rock quotient by overdosing on echo, which helps lend proceedings their definite late-60s vibe. That’s how Sam transforms Memphis Slim’s old chestnut “I Feel So Good” into the rockabilly echoplex of “I Feel So Good (I Wanna Boogie”), like John Lee Hooker covering “Mystery Train.” That’s how Sam kicks JB Lenoir’s already-gonzo 1955 “Mama Talk to Your Daughter About Me” up a notch (while quoting directly from Lenoir’s own stuttering record-skip of a rhythm solo). And that’s how Sam and his magic band ensure the wordless “Lookin’ Good” is no instrumental throwaway but a show-stopping Delta stomp, complete with primal boogie break sans rhythm section. You can hear a bit of fellow uptown blues pioneer BB King in Sam’s single-note solos, which hit and pierce with something approximating BB’s stinging grace (“something” — BB’s touch remains his own). But like BB, those vocals are still pure Mississippi, falsetto swoops and all. Twelve tracks, all killer. Two years later, Samuel Maghett was dead at age 32.

Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.

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