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CD REVIEW -- Gene "Daddy G" Barge
Keb Mo show at The MAC



Wildroot Records

11 tracks/54:35 

Gene Barge CD art

By Mark Thompson

A true veteran of the music industry, saxophonist Gene “Daddy G” Barge has made his mark in a variety of roles. He had his first hit, “A Night with Daddy G”, on Legrand Records in 1960. Gary “US” Bonds asked Barge for permission to add lyrics to the instrumental and the result was a monster hit for Bonds, “Quarter to Three”. Barge also played in the band backing Chuck Willis on tour and in the studio for many of the singer’s biggest hits, including “C.C. Rider.” Later Barge worked as an arranger and producer, composer and session player for Chess Records, helping artists like the Dells, Koko Taylor, Little Milton for their biggest hits, along with artists signed to the label’s gospel division. After Chess closed their doors, Barge was hired to work in the Stax Records gospel operation.


As a producer, Barge created magic for gospel singer Inez Andrews, including the classic “Lord Don’t Move the Mountain” and assisted Natalie Cole at the start of her career, receiving a Grammy award for co-producing one of her early hits. He branched out into acting, appearing in a number of major motion pictures including “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford. The saxophonist has been a regular member of the Chicago R&B Kings and produced several recordings for the band when they were known as Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows.


The title of his current, self-produced CD on his own Wildroot label, Olio, is an apt description of this varied musical collection that includes forays into blues, jazz, soul and gospel music; it stands as only the second recording ever released under Barge’s name, since the prolific talent has spent most of his storied career assisting other artists. Several of them return the favor by appearing on Olio.


“Reader Woman,” about a fortune teller who delivers some bad relationship news, gets things started in an up-tempo, funky fashion with a vigorous vocal from Barge describing the lengths he is willing to go to in order to get his baby back. The track is powered by a stellar Chicago horn section consisting of Kenny Anderson on trumpet, Steve Berry on trombone, Hank Ford on tenor sax, and Willie Henderson on baritone sax.


 “More Love” is an instrumental with Matt Rose handling keyboard, bass and drum programs and Keith Henderson on guitar. Barge elevates the track above the ordinary with several soaring solos that demonstrate his mastery of the saxophone. Barge’s grandmother inspired the original song, “Give Me My Flowers Now,” on which the narrator makes a plea for recognition while one still walks this earth, rather than after they’re gone.  Barge’s heartfelt voice is lushly surrounded by a string section and six background singers.


Several high-profile friends lend a hand with soul legend Otis Clay joining Barge on “We’ll Be Friends” for a spirited exchange that also includes noted gospel singer Willie Rogers of the Soul Stirrers.  The blues break out in a big way on “Shame on You, Shame on Me” with Buddy Guy helping Barge with the lead vocal and playing some guitar. But the solo spotlight goes to Will Crosby (Mavis Staples, Eddy Clearwater), whose playing burns just as bright Guy’s usual offerings. Crosby’s work is featured throughout the disc in both lead and rhythm roles. Barge finishes the track off with some brawny sax blowing.  Criss “Righteous” Johnson, formerly Koko Taylor’s guitarist, delivers a spirited rendition of the Buddy Miles classic, “Them Changes,” on vocals and guitars, while backed by the Phenix Horns (borrowed from Earth, Wind & Fire).


The rich tones from another fine vocalist, Eric Thomas (from the Independents and Silk), serve as a smooth contrast to Barge’s grittier singing on the lush love ballad, “All or Nothing (At All)”.  Barge dedicates “Sweetness” to his friend and late Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton. The cut glides along with a funky strut while Barge trades licks with Matt Rose on keyboards. “Safe Sax” is another instrumental with Barge spinning a steady stream of great sounds from his instrument. Barge opens up his heart on “This is My Love Song to You” before closing with a nod to Bonnie Raitt with a cover of her hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that keeps the focus on his expressive sax playing.


Once you hear this disc, you’ll have a hard time believing that Barge is 87 years old. His energetic performances make him sound half that age. This project also shows that Barge is a master at creating music that conveys emotional weight at every turn. Despite a large cast of outstanding backing musicians and singers, he fashions each track into a coherent musical offering with a masterful touch. Here’s hoping that this release does indeed get Barge “the flowers” he deserves for helping to shape the history of music in Chicago.


You can purchase this CD on Amazon


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