Homage to a Hero
Legendary guitarist Ronnie Wood has been inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with The Rolling Stones and The Faces, and has also played with The Jeff Beck Group; so when he seeks to pay homage to his own heroes, it’s time to sit up and listen.
Mr. Luck – A Tribute to Jimmy Reed: Live at the Royal Albert Hall (17 September 2021; BMG) is in fact the second instalment of his live album trilogy, which kicked off with Mad Lad, a tribute to the songs of Chuck Berry.
On this album The Ronnie Wood Band bring a full production sound to the Mississippi-born bluesman’s raw early recordings. Reed died in 1976 (at 50), but was at his peak in the late 1950s and ’60s. 16 of the 18 cuts on this tribute album were either written or cowritten by Reed, who went on to have an impact both on the Chicago blues scene and generations of guitarists. As Wood says:“Jimmy Reed was one of the premier influences on the Rolling Stones and all the bands that love American blues from that era until the present day. It is my honour […] to celebrate his life with this tribute.”
The album was recorded live on a memorable night at the Royal Albert Hall on 1st November 2013, and features friend and ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, as well as special guests Bobby Womack, Mick Hucknall and Paul Weller.
Side one kicks off with a short but enchanting solo intro called Essence, which segues into a rocking version of Reed’s Good Lover, with Taylor on lead guitar. Wood’s ‘whisky and cigarette vocals’ soon enter, backed by the tight rhythm section of bassist Dave Green and drummer Dexter Hercules.
The slow Chicago blues number Mr Luck follows, and this is where the ‘dueling’ between Taylor and Wood starts to come to the fore; with the former showcasing his blues pedigree and the latter his love of rock. Wood, like Reed, is handy on the harmonica and the next track, Let’s Get Together, provides him with a great opportunity to really show his chops.
Wood and his band pour all their heart into the swinging Ain’t That Loving You Baby before the pace once more ratchets down a notch with the smokey Honest I Do. The fast-paced instrumental Roll and Rhumba begins with harmonica, a guitar piece and some fine Cozy Powell-style solo drumming, and has the crowd calling out in appreciation. If that track was a boxing match, I’d call it a win for Hercules.
Shortly after comes my favourite track, the classic Shame Shame Shame, on which Paul Weller (The Jam, Style Council) features on guitar and vocals. On a live version - just before this recording - at The Troubadour in London, Wood can be seen rocking it out on his Fender Strat. Big Boss Man keeps the fans buzzing with a great contribution from Bobby Womack (Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin), who sadly passed less than a year after this performance.
Womack also contributed vocals and guitar to Bright Lights, Big City; while the album appropriately closes with Ghost of a Man, which was written by Wood in honour of Reed. It is full of the heart that can be found throughout this album, as Wood touchingly sings of his hero: “The bottle would send him to his knees, every time … but us boys won’t forget him”. If you like the blues, this one’s for you.