Mean Old World – 1968 Part III

Chicken Shack had an early champion in BBC broadcaster John Peel.  Peel had the band on the show three times in 1968, in January, April and September.  This is one of the five songs they performed on the show in September.

On this number, they were joined by Blue Horizon labelmate, Duster Bennett (his first single had been released three weeks earlier).  Four days after this session, Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood would back him on four tracks cut for his debut LP.

Chicken Shack

Christine Perfect: vocal & piano /

Stan Webb: guitar /

Andy Sylvester: bass / Dave Bidwell: drums /

Duster Bennett: harmonica

BBC Session, recorded September 04, 1968

Broadcast November 10, 1968

Mean Old World (Little Walter) (3:54)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NKJBiTTB3A

In some ways, the Chicken Shack were doing the same thing for Bennett here, as the song is a showcase for his harp work and Christine Perfect’s vocal; Webb cedes the stage almost completely to Bennett and Perfect, not even deigning to play fills.  He and the band simply provide a boozy backdrop against which the two can play.

Diametrically opposed in their approaches, Bennett and Perfect balance one another out; his excitable harp playing, all raw nerves and agitation soothed by Perfect’s steady vocal.  She has been hurt many times before and has every reason to believe that she will be again, yet there is still a faint flicker of hope in her voice.

Unlike all those that have come before it, this and their studio recording are the only ones out of the seven reviewed based exclusively on Little Walter’s recording,

This performance is almost a full minute longer than Walter’s original and most of that time is devoted to Bennett’s break.  Amplified almost to the point of distortion, the sound Bennett employs here reminds one of Snooky Pryor; his break begins as a straightforward plea for understanding, building to tears of frustration and hurt as it becomes ever more clear that the one being addressed simply does not share the same feelings.  The point is hammered home as the break nears it’s end by Perfect’s underlying piano fill, and the way that the drummer leads the way into the final verse.

Perfect captures the resignation of that verse as well as the acceptance that while she may have lost this time, there will be others who will appreciate her.

This recording is a must have for Bennett fans.

The Climax Chicago Blues Band

Colin Cooper: vocal & harmonica /

Peter Haycock: lead guitar / Derek Holt: rhythm guitar /

Richard Jones: bass / Arthur Wood: keyboards /

George Newsome: drums

Recorded September 27 or November 05, 1968

Released “The Climax Chicago Blues Band” (EMI 1969)

 Mean Old World (Little Walter) (5:01)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=215kBDKgi1k

The songs on this LP were recorded at two sessions, roughly a month apart, and my placing the song between the two Chicken Shack sessions is admittedly arbitrary.  Also seemingly arbitrary, is their (most likely the record company) crediting the song to Big Bill Broonzy*.

Utilizing Little Walter’s lyrics, (until the final verse) the arrangement seems patterned after Walker’s 1956 recording, not so much in how they play, but in the fact that the lyrics are far less important than the music.

The seemingly effortless versatility displayed by Walker and his accompanists on the extended intro and Walker’s “cool” vocal delivery are like aged whiskey, smooth going down, but still packing a punch that simply delights.  The professionalism displayed by Cooper and company comes across as merely facile.

Cooper and Haycock turn in well played breaks on harmonica and guitar respectively, but it is drummer George Newsome who keeps the number swinging like it does.

The stumbling block for me is Cooper’s spiritless vocal, which deprives the music of context, removing any sense of meaning.

The number becomes more “pop” than blues or even rock ‘n roll.

 

For reasons unknown (most likely lack of availability) Bennett did not rejoin Chicken Shack when the song was cut for their second LP.  American harp master Big Walter Horton, in the U.K. during a stop on The American Folk Blues Festival, was deputized to take the harmonica slot.

Chicken Shack

Christine Perfect: vocal & piano /

Stan Webb: guitar /

Andy Sylvester: bass / Dave Bidwell: drums /

Walter Horton: harmonica

Recorded October 22, 23, 1968

Released on “O.K. Ken?” (Blue Horizon) February 1969

Mean Old World (Little Walter) (3:15)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXGx_qBEQEQ

It is unfair to do a direct comparison to between the two harpists on this number as with Mike Vernon behind the boards, the instruments are now properly balanced and what played as duet between Perfect and Bennett is transformed into a full band number.

Perfect’s vocal remains the focus, but her piano is now brought to the foreground adding another layer of percussion, her right hand periodically breaking up the stoic drumming.  Horton’s harp is also used far more sparingly, leaving room for Webb’s slide guitar to occasionally bring a welcome touch of unexpected texture.

Horton is provided only half the time that Bennett had to make his case with the break and this has the unfortunate effect of clipping the song’s wings, keeping it from reaching the soaring height that it achieved with Bennett, as without the proper build-up the impact of the final verse is somewhat dampened.

That said, this performance remains for me, one of the most successful recordings of the Christine Perfect era Chicken Shack.

Which version is your favorite?

 *Broonzy did record a song titled ‘Mean Old World’ in 1937 but it is completely unrelated to the T-Bone Walker, Little Walter, B.B. King or Otis Rush recordings, sharing nothing with the later songs musically or lyrically.

 

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