“On The Prowl”
By Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro © September 2020
StratCat Willie is Willie Hayes, a seasoned bluesman of some fifty years. With influences that include Mike Bloomfield (one of my early influences as well), T-Bone Walker, Ronnie Earl, Johnny Winter, and B. B. King, you’d be correct in thinking old-school blues might be his thing.
“On The Prowl”, StratCat Willie’s debut release, encompasses a half-century journey through the blues. It features thirteen original tracks that, according to Willie, “cover virtually every imaginable style of blues”. Joining StratCat – on guitars and vocals – are: John Wisor, a fifty year associate, and Vinnie Burvee on bass and bgv; Dave Fiorini and Dave Salce on drums and bgv; Neal Massa on keyboards and bgv; and guest Stray Jeremy Hummel on percussion.
So, if this were Jeopardy and the answer was “Come On In”, the correct question would of course be – “What do you say when the blues comes a knockin’?” That’s exactly what StratCat Willie said back in ’65 and those blues have been steadily comin’ in ever since. This T-Bone influenced shuffle features a vigorous rhythm groove coming from John and Dave F. on the bass and drums; a fabulous piano lead by Neal; several nice blues runs by the StratCat on the Stratocaster; and outstanding lead and harmony vocals, especially on the catchy sing-a-long chorus line. Nice way to kick things off.
Whereas B. B. didn’t start worrying about being able to find his baby till it was 3 O’clock in the morning, StratCat’s already freaking out and it’s only “1:38 In The Morning”. This is one of those “I gotta quit her but I just can’t do it” kind of ballads. You know, the one’s with the sullenly sung, melancholy lyrics associated with a distrustful relationship; the moody rhythm groove; the pensive piano leads; and those pain exuding guitar riffs. In other words, it’s a killer slow blues track.
I’m guessing that not many people may know that “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” was originally composed by Ella Fitzgerald. I’m also guessing that many people actually do know that Stevie Ray Vaughan used some of it’s lyrics on his killer “Mary Had A Little Lamb”. That said, on this quick, very well done, two-and-a-half minute instrumental titled “Scramblin'”, you’ll surely notice some similarities.
“It’s Just That Way” is real deal, old school, fifties style, slow and soulful blues at it’s best. It’s that kind of song where even those who don’t like to dance, like to dance to. Just throw your arms around someone who feels good in them and get hypnotized by the mood…..that’s what I’m talking about. Great crooning by Willie; great relaxing rhythm groove, this time by Vinnie and Dave S. on the bass and drums; great organ vibe by Neal; and great song in general.
If you’ve ever been to Memphis, chances are very good you’ve been in the Rum Boogie Cafe. That said, chances are also very good that you’ve heard the title of this song, as well. It’s called “Eat, Drink, Boogie, Repeat” – which is the cafe’s famous slogan. It’s a rollicking tale about StratCat’s annual frolic from the upstate New York area to the International Blues Challenge and the antics taking place along the way and even more so – upon arrival. A party song for sure.
Staying in road trip mode, this one’s traveling music at it’s best. Leaving from Pensacola and picking up band mates along the way, Stratcat Willie is “Big Easy Bound”. If the guys are driving anything like the speed at which they’re playin’, it’s not gonna take very long to get there. With everyone in all out jam mode, this one’s pure, unadulterated, good ol’ Rock ‘n’ Roll.
The disc closes with a track called “Good News Of The Blues” and it somehow tells of actually finding an upside to being down and out. As StratCat tells it, the silver lining to having the blues is…..having the blues. It’s a smoker with everyone at disc’s best. John, Dave F., and Neal are cooking up a fast, furious and very funky rhythm on the bass, drums and keyboards, and at six minutes long it allows for several nice solos. One is a monster minute long piano lead by Neal and then at four minutes in – when it sounds like the song is about to end – StratCat Willie closes it out with a two minute long mind blowing lead guitar tantrum. OMG!
Other tracks on this excellent debut release include: “Sure ‘Nuff Got The Blues”; “I Know”; “Since You Left Me”; “I’ve Got It Bad”; “Life Is Good”; and “Take It Easy”.
To find out more about Stratcat Willie just go to his website – www.stratcatwillie.com.
Once you do all that, please tell Willie that the Blewzzman sent you. BTW, also let him know that if it’s another fifty years till his next release that I won’t be able to review it.
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro
Blues Editor @ www.mary4music.com
2011 Keeping the Blues Alive Recipient
“On The Prowl”