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John Primer - Hard Times

Release date: September 16, 2022

Blueshouse Records
By Mark Baier
Photo: Jennifer Noble

Chicago audiences need no introduction to John Primer. His career as a preeminent Chicago blues performer spans six decades and counting. There isnʼt a blues club or street market in the city that he hasnʼt played, from the gritty street corners of Maxwell Street to the marquee stages of Pritzker Pavilion and all points in between. Primer’s new CD, Hard Times reflects on the struggles and joys of his life as a real deal Bluesman, wielding the power of his music to help comfort an increasingly difficult world. Society has been through some very hard times lately, and Primer offers the salvation of deep real world blues performed as only a master bluesman could.

The term “bluesman” gets thrown around a lot these days, and earning the distinction is something Primer never takes for granted. From his early days as a street performer to residencies at Theresa’s, Checkerboard and B.L.U.E.S., not to mention his tutelage under the watchful eyes of legends like Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Junior Wells, and Magic Slim, John Primerʼs credentials define the term “bluesman” and transcend the genre itself, witnessed by Primer’s multiple Grammy nominations and his ascendency as an international star headlining festivals the world over. (Sadly), thereʼs not an international stage on earth that can compare with the intimacy and familiarity of the mythical Chicago blues club, and with Hard Times, John Primer takes a journey into the smoke-filled, whiskey-soaked corners of the legendary clubs that are long gone, but never far away, their memory and influence branded into the conscience of every blues fan.

Primer’s band, the appropriately named Real Deal Blues Band, fire on all eight cylinders like a Lincoln 460 with open headers. The ensemble is pure Chicago with Rick Kreher on second guitar, Steve Bell blowing harmonica, David Forte on bass, Lenny Media on drums and Johnny Iguana on piano. With Primer at the helm, they rollick through 13 cuts that swing and sweat to perfection, the ghosts of Theresaʼs and Checkerboard never more than a snare snap or a piano roll away. This is blues played the way it is meant to be, pure Chicago ensemble with a backbeat that will move even the laziest feet into action. The entire place was reelinʼ and rockinʼ, swaying to the beat! Thereʼs going to be no sitting still when John Primer and the Real Deal Blues Band are on the stage!

Every selection is a “primer” in post war electric blues, played the classic Chicago way. Thereʼs no soul or R&B to be found on Hard Times; what Primer serves up is easily described as pure hard blues. Any of the selections could have been culled from a historic 1950s retrospective, yet none are cover tunes or blatant homages to vintage chestnuts. When Primer commands the ghosts of Muddy Waters, his years of touring with the masters echo throughout, yet at the same time, itʼs always immediate, never rote. The energy Primer is channeling is old and familiar, yet fresh and full of life.

Thereʼs not a bad track to be found here, and a few are real standouts. The title track “Hard Times” showcases Primer’s mature vocals and sure-handed slide playing while giving the band license to take the wheel. Iguana’s piano and Bell’s harp combine to drive the tune into the passing lane. “Blues Blues Blues” digs deep in the alley, Primer’s plaintive lyric and delivery team with the greasiest slide playing this side of 2120 S. Michigan Ave circa 1957. Primer’s rightful place in the pantheon of living blues greats is writ large in this tune. Also of note is Primer’s daughter, Aliya who makes an appearance on “Tough Times.” The spirit of Irma Thomas isnʼt far away in every verse of this smooth, hopeful song. When she sings, “it’s going to be tough, but weʼre going to make it”, thereʼs no doubt she will. The CDʼs last call is “Whiskey,” a rousing party of a tune that screams for one more round, closing time be damned.

Hard Times is a blues party for the right now, wrapped in a journey into the smoky late night clubs that are but a memory. Thankfully Primer knows where the blues lives and thrives and heʼll be there waiting for you to cross the threshold, leaving your cares at the door. Give Hard Times a spin and join the celebration.

For info or to buy the music:

also Amazon and iTunes

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