Li’l Ronnie And The Grand Dukes
Got It ‘Live’ From ’05
By Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro © October 2023
Interestingly, the last review I did of a CD that Ronnie was a part of was in April of 2014. The group recording the project was called “Li’l Ronnie And The BlueBeats” featuring Claudia Carawan, and it was titled Unfinished Business. Since it was originally supposed to be released in 1991, it was indeed unfinished business. Now, here it is very close to ten years later and I’m working on his latest release titled Got It ‘Live’ From ’05. It’s a recording of a Li’l Ronnie And The Grand Dukes show that was performed back in 2005. Alas, more unfinished business.
Back then, The Grand Dukes consisted of Ronnie Owens, of course, on vocals & harmonica; George Sheppard on drums; Bryan Smith on bass; Robert Frahm on guitar; and John Fralin on piano & organ. Got It ‘Live’ From ’05 is the eight-song set – four originals and four covers – that was recorded live at an undisclosed venue somewhere ‘on the road’. Additionally, the disc contains three bonus tracks from the bands’ yet to be named up-coming studio release. Now there’s something to look forward to, right? Joining Ronnie on that release will be John Fralin on piano; Gordon Harrower on guitar; Michael Gallagher on drums; and John Coppenger on bass.
The band opened the show with a dance floor filling original track titled “Mellow Chick” and from there, I’m sure there was no looking back. Right out of the gate they got into a groove that would have you betting they were from Southern California and not Central Virginia. I say that because the guys have what I like to call that ‘So Cool SoCal’ sound. Rod Piazza And The Mighty Flyers may have patented it, but Li’l Ronnie And The Grand Dukes have that slick, smooth and swinging swagger totally down pat. With everyone in full swing mode behind him, when Ronnie’s not blowin’ the hell out of the harp, he’s telling us about all of the characteristics the perfect woman for him must have. Good luck with that Ronnie.
Another of his originals finds Ronnie in damage control mode as he’s begging his woman not to leave. The song is titled “Bettin’ On My Baby” and the gambling related lines he’s using to get her back – like “I love you baby like a gambler loves the track”, could very well be the reason she wants to leave. Musically, it’s another rhythm fueled swinger led by the fabulous drumming from George and the deep bass lines from Bryan on the big bass; and killer guitar and harp work from Robert and Ronnie – both on solo runs or the very cool cord sparring they get into.
On another of the original tracks titled “Life Changes’, so does the music. This one has the guys laying down a shuffle with lots of piano highlights from John and a whole bunch of my all-time favorite harmonic sounds – those high-end Jimmy Reed notes – from Ronnie.
If you were ever gonna have the blues, “Early Monday Morning” (George Smith) is a very likely time. Showcasing his versatile style, both on the vocals and the harmonica, Ronnie puts the swag aside and belts out a masterful Chicago blues style performance on this slow blues number. Did someone say slow blues? Yes, Robert, the kind that needs some scorching note bending leads and smoking solo runs – go for it.
The last of Ronnie’s four originals is a track called “Love Trance”. It’s an awesome mix of some swampy voodoo style blues, and a little bit of funk and soul. Musically, The Grand Dukes could all very well be at disc’s best; the rhythm and percussion groove George, Bryan and John are in on the drums, bass and organ is mesmerizing; and Robert is doing the kind of things on the guitar that probably had everyone in the audience looking at their friends with one of those “are you hearing this stuff?” looks. Wow!
As live shows should, Ronnie and the guys are making sure they “Rock This House” (Jimmy Rogers) on the closing number. It is indeed a smoker that in addition to featuring everyone in full tilt jam mode, it also highlights them individually.
Because I’m hoping to tell you a whole lot more about them when the new release comes out, I’m going to do what Ronnie did by putting them on here – he teased us with them. That said, here’s a nibble: “V’s Boogie” is an original by Ronnie’s four band mates on the upcoming disc (see the credits above) and it features them on one heck of a N’awlins style instrumental romp; “Need Your Love So Bad” (Merit & Willie John) is over six minutes of slow, low down gut wrenching blues with emotional vocals from Gordon Harrower, relaxed rhythm, and stinging guitar and piano leads; and “Same Thing Can Happen To You” is a frolickin’, up tempo rendition of a Lazy Lester tune.
Other tracks from the live show include: “Cross Eyed Susie Lee” (George Smith) and “Hey Little Girl” (Zuzu Bolin).
To find out more about Li’L Ronnie And The Grand Dukes just go to – lilronnieandthegranddukes.com/ – Remember, when you contact him, please tell Ronnie his friend The Blewzzman sent you.
“The Blues Is My Passion And Therapy”
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro
Blues Editor @ www.Mary4Music.com
2011 “Keeping The Blues Alive” Award Recipient