of the blues.....

Ronnie Earl "Now My Soul"Ronnie Earl
"Now My Soul"
Stony Plain Records

Ronnie Earl grew up in Rego Park. So did I. As a child, I met him once at the playground at P.S.174. It was a strange encounter, I was several years older and Ronnie might have been thirteen. I was quite startled when this skinny kid told me his name was Ronnie Earl and he was going to play guitar with Bob Dylan. It was unforgettable, it was around 1967.

Twenty years later I went to The Abilene on 8th Avenue at 13th Street to hear a blues band called “Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters”. The club was later to become “Chicago B.L.U.E.S.” Ronnie had been the lead guitarist for “Roomful of Blues” and I had seen them perform at the Benson & Hedges Blues Festival in Philadelphia and at The Lonestar. It was Ronnie’s birthday and his father had come to see him play. He serenaded his father and introduced the song as “Rego Park Blues”. I knew immediately then that he was the same guy I had met in the playground 20 years before. A young girl guitarist, in the audience, gave Ronnie a birthday present, a record box set, I believed then that she was Sue Foley. The lead singer of The Broadcasters was Sugar Ray Norcia. My head exploded and I became a lifelong fan rekindling my love for the music.

Ten years earlier, Ronnie Earl, had replaced Duke Robillard in “Roomful of Blues”. Without missing a beat “Roomful of Blues” continued its role as the best blues band in the country producing terrific albums including my favorite “Dressed Up to Get Messed Up”. The debate began, whose better “Duke” or “Ronnie”? They had replaced one great guitarist with another. In the band at the time was Greg Piccolo, sax; leader of the all-star horn section which also included Doug James, Porky Cohen, Bob Enos, and Rich Latille. When you saw them live there was a definite chemistry among them.

In 1983 Ronnie Earl recorded his first solo album, “Smokin’”, for Black Top records. His “They Call Me Mr. Earl” followed the next year. In 1987 he left “Roomful of Blues” to persue his solo career as, “Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters”. A great bandleader, his band at times included Sugar Ray Norcia, Jerry Portnoy, Darrell Nulisch, David Maxwell, Ron Levy, Tony Zamagni, Anthony Geraci and Bruce Katz to name a few. Kim Wilson, Duke Robillard, Greg Piccolo, Doug James, and Kaz Kazanoff also were guest “Broadcasters”.

Ronnie writes brilliant compositions and takes stunning solos. My favorites are “Ships Passing in the Night” from “Soul Searchin”, and “Rego Park Blues” from “Blues Guitar Virtuoso: Live in Europe”. There is no other guitarist of our generation who plays with the passion and creativity expressed by Ronnie’s playing. By playing softly Ronnie adds drama into the dynamics and slowly builds upon his solos.

Keeping a singer was difficult and eventually Ronnie experimented without one. His release “Grateful Heart: Blues & Ballads” showed an increased intensity and sometimes when he played he was down right scary. His compositions and interpretations were closer to Jazz than before. We awaited each and every release and we received them with joy as they were always fantastic. Ronnie is our favorite son.

“I Feel Like Goin’ On” was received with accolades for this brilliant guitarist. His newest also on Stony Plain Records is “Now My Soul”. Ronnie is re-united with his closest musical friends. The Broadcasters include Dave Limina, Piano/Organ; Jimmy Mouradian, Bass; and Lorne Entress, Drums. Guest artists include friends, Kim Wilson, Greg Piccolo, Rod Carey, Jose Alvarez and The Silver Leaf Gospel Singers.

The cd opens with “Blues for J”, a Jimmy Smith composition. Ronnie has included a Hammond B-3 player in his band for years and he is partially responsible for an increased awareness that it is a blues instrument. Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff have stated that they are blues players. My own increased interest in where Blues meets Jazz was definitely influenced by Ronnie when he decided for awhile not to use a vocalist. Greg Piccolo is featured here on Tenor Sax, as is Dave Limina on Organ. Ronnie’s solo is at first understated until it gradually builds and leads the band into a delicious groove.

Ronnie’s guest Kim Wilson adds his vocal on Otis Rush’s classic “Double Trouble”. The drama is increased when Kim’s terrific vocal is replaced with Ronnie’s screaming guitar solo. “In a generation of millionaires, it’s hard to find decent clothes to wear”. Kim’s harmonica solo is outstanding.

“I Feel Like Goin’ On” was the title of Ronnie’s last album and now it is the title of this Ronnie Earl original. Ronnie expresses his most personal feelings and turns them into a beautiful expression of love. It is about our own inability to always “go it alone”. Greg Piccolo is the friend and vocalist who has honor of singing this song to us.

“Abandoned” is another autobiographical tune by Ronnie Earl. It is a personal expression of his own feelings under circumstances which he would have rather avoided. It is about addiction and healing. Kim Wilson’s harp and Ronnie’s guitar accentuate each other.

“Walking On the Sea” is a spiritual sung by The Silver Leaf Gospel Singers. It is a joyous song about salvation. This and the two preceding songs are expressions of the process of working through personal pain, and the feelings expressed in them come out through Ronnie’s guitar playing. The embarrassment, anguish, self-acceptance and triumph are expressed in every note that Ronnie plays. It’s hard to listen to at first, then it’s no longer scary, and then when you realize what you have heard, you feel saved too.

“Black & White” is a song co-written by Ted Drowzdowski and Ronnie. It is a plea for humanity. If you saved me, oh lord, Can you save us all? It’s only right that we should have racial harmony, you heard me last time...Kim Wilson sings “It hurts to live in this world”, “Wake up America!”

The next two are instrumentals written by Ronnie. “Kay My Dear” is followed by “Maxwell, Mudcat and Per” a tribute to Ronnie’s former band mates.

Kim Wilson sings “My Buddy Buddy Friends” written by Aaron Corthen, aka A.C. Reed, a saxophonist and bandleader who passed away earlier this year. Kim then channels Walter Horton with “Walter Through Kim”, a tribute to Big Walter (1917-1981) who added elements of Jazz to blues harp playing, and he credits the tune to Walter.

Next comes “#7”, written by Ronnie and his band mates Dave Limina, Jimmy Mouradian, and Lorne Entress and last is “The Magic of Sam”, a tribute to Magic Sam one of Ronnie’s major guitar influences who passed away in 1969 at the age of 32. Throughout the album and as always Ronnie’s playing is without excessiveness, it’s as if every note has a purpose.

Some of the photos included are credited to Marc Norberg. Marc Norberg’s book “Black and White Blues” is a beautiful collection of black and white photographs of our favorite bluesmen and highly recommended.

In the liner notes and again on the hidden track at the end of the cd, Ronnie thanks us for listening. Ronnie isn’t the first bluesman to work out his pain through his music and Ronnie has embraced the process. We at The New York Blues and Jazz Society wish Ronnie and his wife Donna all the health and happiness that they deserve, and we thank you Ronnie for brightening our lives with your music. This album is a must have for every Ronnie Earl fan.

Richard Ludmerer
Director, NY Blues & Jazz Society