Every once in a while I’ll go through my tangle of un-digitized records, cassettes and CDs, pull out something I had forgotten about and fall in love all over again. This is how it is with King King, a live album by 1990s blues act The Red Devils.
King King is a little Hollywood Boulevard club (that’s still there), and The Red Devils had a standing Monday night gig there in the early 1990s. It became a bit of a hipster place to see and be seen, and word eventually got out about the band.
The result: The live album was recorded there by big-time producer Rick Rubin, who wasn’t the guy you’d expect would produce a terrific blues album in that era, although he soon showed his rootsy skills by producing Johnny Cash’s American Recordings.
The band was a somewhat young (for blues players) and exuberant bunch, anchored by a charismatic and powerful harp player and singer named Lester Butler. They also had a couple of players who were alumni of The Blasters — killer drummer Bill Bateman and, on occasion, fabulous keyboard player Gene Taylor (who I’ve also seen play with Kim Wilson on a number of occasions).
This album came out at my peak point of blues interest, when almost every album I purchased was blues music and when I was playing half a dozen gigs a month with a jump blues band. I loved it immediately. It was raw and beautiful (you can hear Butler calling out keys between songs and you even pick up amplifier hum at one point), and I stole a bunch of Butler’s licks (which were, I eventually learned, themselves stolen from many classic harp players — that’s just the way things work).
In hindsight, it’s definitely one of my two or three favorite blues albums of the era — it’s right alongside Luther Alison’s Soul Fixin’ Man or James Harman’s Two Sides to Every Story among my favorites. The album is out of print — you can’t even download it from iTunes or Amazon MP3 — but the occasional used copy floats up on eBay.
The Red Devils broke up not terribly long after this album was released. Butler went on to form his own unfortunately named band — 13 — and he died in the late 1990s in an incredibly complicated drug overdose scenario. But this record is a terrific legacy of his musical skills.