James “Jabo” Houston
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro © February 2023
It’s a good bet, that unless you are from Austin, Texas, you’ve probably not heard of James “Jabo” Houston. That said, with the help of some very dedicated band mates – and hopefully this review as well – that’s all about to change. Like many musicians of any genre, Jabo worked hard at day jobs all his life – in his case, as a construction worker and/or auto body shop mechanic – while limiting his music career to playing part time in local clubs.
Until about five years ago, when a medical issue put him in a wheelchair – causing him to switch to keyboards – Jabo was apparently quite the bass player. Because of that, rumor has it that he has had a tendency to be rough on the bass players that came – and obviously went – in his band – The OL Dogs. The way it was explained to me by Jack Edery, the band’s guitarist, disc’s producer, and obvious great friend of Jabo’s, is that one night, bassist Eric Przygocki sat in with the band, and he and Jack couldn’t get over how magical the night was. It was right then and there that they decided they wanted to make a recording of seventy-eight year old Jabo and his OL Dogs. They immediately called studio owner, engineer, and world class drummer (The Fabulous T-Birds) Nico Leophonte, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
I’m sure Jabo has thanked them already; having heard this real deal, old school, gravel voiced blues man sing the hell out of the blues, I’m now thanking them; and should you get your hands on a copy of Jabo Blues, I believe you’ll want to thank them as well.
As just explained, Jabo Blues is indeed the debut release from Jabo and the OL Dogs. Of the disc’s ten tracks, two are Jabo’s originals and eight are often done, but very well done standards. Along with Jabo – on vocals and organ – the rest of The OL Dogs are: Roy Crawford on vocals; Bobby Terrell on sax; Eric Przygocki on bass; Nico Leophonte on drums; Jack Edery on guitar; and Billy Cummings on organ, trumpet and backing vocals.
On what is obviously one of the originals, Jabo kicks it off by growling out “My First Name Is Jabo”, and then goes on to say, “my second name ain’t never been told”. From there on, the song becomes a boastful commentary on his prowess with the ladies as he proudly states, “I’ve been loving pretty women ever since I was twelve years old” and crediting his father who, although was not a jockey, taught him how to ride – you just get in the middle and sway from side to side. Musically, from the fabulously rich bass lines that are leading the deep rhythm, it’s easy to see how Eric was the missing link the band was in desperate need of. Other highlights feature nicely done guitar and sax standouts from Jack and Bobby. If I may, I’d like to take this opportunity to say “welcome home” to Bobby and thank him for his service in the Marine Jazz Band while entertaining our troops in Vietnam.
Apparently, the shoe being on the other foot doesn’t sit well with Jabo. That’s right, chasing a woman who ran off with another man has him goin’ “Down To Louisiana” and he’s got his .44 in his hand. Don’t do it Jabo, you’re much better living with the pain than living in that ungodly place they call Angola. The moody rhythm being laid down by Eric and Nico is perfect for the songs melancholy lyrics; and the stinging sax and guitar leads Bobby and Jack are putting out, perfectly emphasize the pain and sincerity in Jabo’s vocals.
This song has appeared on many albums that I have reviewed and, because I never get tired of hearing it, I hope I hear it on many more. It’s been done by notables like Roy Buchanan, Boz Scaggs, Billy Price and Delbert McClinton, but it was Tyrone Davis that took the classic “Change My Mind” (Despenzo & Wofolk) to a number one hit back in 1968. The songs signature rhythm is masterfully being done by Bobby (sax), Billy (organ), Eric (bass), Nico (drums) and Jack (guitar), while the OL Dogs regular drummer, Roy Crawford is belting the hell out of the vocals. Take a big bow guys, this was a killer cover.
Another blues standard that, without even thinking too long, you could name a dozen or more famous artists have covered is Guitar Slim’s classic “The Things I Used To Do”. One of my particular favorite versions is the one done by Albert Collins. However, Jabo and The OL Dogs are absolutely crushing their rendition.
On “Watermelon Man”, the monster Herbie Hancock instrumental, The OL Dogs display their versatility with a jazz number that by no stretch of the imagination had them stepping out of their comfort zone. The rhythm is tighter than tight; the sax and guitar leads are spot on; and covering the work that both Herbie (organ) and Freddie Hubbard (Trumpet) did on the original, Billy Cummings is brilliant on both.
Other songs featured on Jabo Blues are: “Down Home Blues” (George Jackson); “Woke Up This Morning” (B. B. King); “Night Time Is The Right Time” (Nappy Brown); “Stand By Me” (King/Lieber/Stoller); and “Twenty Room House” (Bobby Blue Bland).
Before I close, let me just say that Jabo and The Old Dogs is a band the blues community needs to discover.
“The Blues Is My Passion And Therapy”
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro
Blues Editor @ www.Mary4Music.com
2011 “Keeping The Blues Alive” Award Recipient