Andy Just – vocal & harmonica
Donnie Romano – guitars
Charles Romagnoli – bass
‘’John Lee’’ Emanuel Zamperini – drums
Shawn Pittman – guitar
“Andy Just is one of the most powerful blues harmonica players in the world today, and has been since I was a young pup studying his fast, energetic solos. Not an ounce of genuine emotion and intensity is spared in his performances - this release is a testament of it.” That's David Barrett's opinion - and he should know, as he runs the ‘Harmonica Master Class Co.’ in California. Andy has a large discography, going right back to the early days of the modern California blues (he recorded behind Hi-Tide Harris in 1976), but for something a little more up-to-date, after you have enjoyed this CD, you may care also to lend an ear to his blistering work on his own double CD set “Smokin’ Tracks – Live At Muddy Waters” (Feelin’ Good 012) or behind San Francisco Bay Area great Gail ‘Mojo’ Muldrow on her own album, “Peace Of Mind” (Feelin’ Good 006).
Speaking of whom… over to Gail: “When I heard Andy play, that was the first time I realised how versatile the harmonica really was. Some of the things he does on the harp defy human capability. His unique style is something of its own that no other harp player can duplicate. God gives some people sandals in life; Andy got full combat boots! It's like the restless souls of the great harp players all landed on him. His music is alive with that soul. Dig it! People, take the lesson!”
Andy certainly took his lessons and learned them well. As West Coast guitarist Volker Strifler says of him: “His musical energy and presence are a treat”, and he has certainly been in demand. He has appeared on more than thirty albums and has played on stage and/ or on record with the likes of B.B. King, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Lee Oskar, Fenton Robinson, Ronnie Wood, Maria Muldaur, Chris Cain (a very early associate), The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Luther Tucker, John Entwistle, Angela Strehli, and many, many more. He has worked with the acclaimed Ford Blues Band since the early nineties and has been front-man for them for nearly two decades, which has also brought with it an association with renowned guitar wizard Robben Ford. This is not a new situation though; Fritz Svacina, editor of Blues Art Journal, recalls seeing Andy with Robben many years ago, and still remembers vividly that “Andy played extremely long parts on the harp, with a lot of soul and dynamism – awesome, really awesome! A show with Andy is a great performance, with lots of power and a great style on the harp, like Little Walter or Junior Wells.”
Another Bay Area singer also praises Andy, but, in addition, she draws attention to another facet of his playing – here’s Sista Monica: “Andy Just is a prolific blues and soul harp player. His mastery of the blues harp is matched to me with the extensive talents of Stevie Wonder. It has a passionate feeling, and a broad appeal that crosses over to different genres of music. Andy is sensitive in his approach to a song and plays to the lyrics and melody with perfect sentiment and style. He is my favourite harp player and should get lots more recognition for his contribution to blues music. I love his sound of music”.
As that comment, and some of the aforementioned names in the list above indicate, Andy is not one to confine himself to a narrow definition of the blues. His powerhouse playing (his website describes him as “the most powerful harp player to come along since James Cotton” – that’s about right…) can incorporate soul, jazz and rock elements. The album title “Preachin’ The Blues” was not just a random choice – take a listen to this instrumental which goes places way beyond many blues harp players' capabilities, and appreciate Andy's subtlety, imagination and ability. The material on this CD was recorded over two sessions. The earlier session was recorded in the middle of the tour where Andy was backed by Italian musicians: “I had not played with this group of musicians before, but was very pleased to have them play with me as a band” – and the results bear that out. Whilst not wishing to overlook the talented and kicking rhythm section, Donnie Romano's guitar skills on “Smokin' Tracks” were a revelation for many listeners and those looking for more will not be disappointed by his contributions here – whether he is tough, gritty and rocking (as on the riffing 'Shake'), following Andy into unexpected places, or just hitting a blues groove and keeping it there, he excels – one of Europe's best-kept secrets. Guitarist Shawn Pittman, the rising blues star out of Austin, Texas, accompanies Andy on the first three numbers here, recorded in July 2010. “When we recorded, it was in the studio of Tiziano Galli. I was having a little bit of a problem keeping time and Tano asked if I wanted to use the ‘foot stomp bass’....I have always wanted to use one of those....it helped everything sound a bit more full. Andy played with a Kalamazoo amp and I used a Fender Vibro Champ, both from Tano’s collection, on the electric songs and used the tremolo on the slow blues ‘Driftin’’. ‘Wild Cat’ was high energy harp and guitar boogie... Andy has powerful ‘air’ - it's hard to play like that and stay in time and breathe right. He gave me a harp lesson and showed me some basics. He's a great teacher.” These three tracks, with their stripped-down instrumentation and old-fashioned approach, also show just what a great student of the blues Andy is.
Andy was possibly inspired by being back in Europe – “In my opinion, American Blues artists are very appreciated in Europe. I feel very fortunate that I have been able to come over and play Europe as often as I have, thanks to Tano. I'm always grateful for the opportunity to play here. The blues fans are great. I have met so many fans and made good friends over the years”, and he recalled of the sessions: “I had a great time recording these tunes”. It shows. Label boss producer Tano Ro opines: “This CD is the best so far in Andy Just’s discography” – he is biased of course, but I am not gonna argue. The evidence is right here on this disc. Whether you are looking for early Chicago styled harp and guitar blues (those first three titles – think of Little Walter's very first recordings, or maybe Johnny Shines with Big Walter Horton), contemporary blues items with a rock tinge such as 'Shake', good old wrangly slide guitar and harp numbers ('Hey Little Girl'), something of the popular California swing-blues style ('Flyin' High') or just straightforward, non-nonsense classy blues (lots of these!), you'll find them here. To close, I checked out the opinion of one of the modern blues’ true legends, Joe Louis Walker: “Andy has been a great harp player for many years and deserves much more recognition.”
Let’s hope this release brings him that recognition…
(contributor: Blues & Rhythm, R2 (Rock 'N' Reel), Blues In Britain, Blues Matters!, Blues In the South, Harmonica World and others)