“Hold on to your dreams, one day, it will come true.” is a quote from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and a notion that has come to fruition for vocalist and harmonica man Douglas Avery with the release of his debut album, Take My Rider. Avery is well known for his work behind the camera as a photojournalist covering the West Coast blues scene, so it was fairly simple to recruit some of Southern California’s best players to join him and producer Ralph Carter in Ventura to record at Ralph’s Garage.
The A team comprised of Carl Sonny Leyland on piano, Franck Goldwasser on guitar and drummer Johnny Morgan and the horn section - Aaron Liddard, saxophone, Jerome Harper, trombone, Simon Finch, trumpet - were guided by Avery’s interpretive style and Carter’s award-winning musical skills on bass and production expertise at the recording console. The collection of eleven original tracks and three covers have a decidedly West Coast flair as they touch on both modern and traditional styles of blues, roots and boogie focused on Avery’s smooth tenor and greasy blues harp playing.
A spot-on cover of Billy Boy Arnold’s “Bad Luck Blues” opens the set with Carter adding hand drums to the Chicago shuffle giving it a snappy world beat feel. The title track, “Take My Rider,” is a smart mesh of old school blues with a modern sensibility built on an infectious guitar riff. Johnny Morgan drives steady four on the floor beat during the swamp rocker “Malibu Burnin’,” while Goldwasser lays down heavy slide guitar and Avery channels Jim Morrison. The jaunty ramble “Just Keep Lovin’ Her,” is a straight-ahead reading of a deep cut from the catalog of blues legend Little Walter, first recorded when the harmonica master was 19 years old. The acoustic “Jelly, Jelly,” takes us to the back porch for a little Delta duet. Avery and Goldwasser spar on the hip shaking “Blind Owl Boogie,” keeping the Slim Harpo tradition alive and well, and the groovy “How Long Can This Last?” has the feel of the legendary Rolling Stones session at Muscle Shoals studios. Avery’s brief solo version of “Leaving Trunk” is dropped in like a bonus track.
Avery blows spooky chromatic harmonica and drops in freestyle lines before the horns pop off on the West Coast funk track “Good To Me.” Carl Sonny Leyland delivers the barrelhouse piano on a cover of John Mayall’s 1967 triumph “Sonny Boy, Blow!” paying tribute to the British bluesman. The horn-driven shuffle “Safety First,” borrows from several classics in a Big Joe Turner meets Blind Willie McTell blues mash up. Avery leads the fellas through another authentic Delta boogie on “Riding With The Devil” that features fine blues harp and dobro playing. The jazzy instrumental “Green Wave,” shows off Avery’s hidden talent on the flute. The album closes with the sentimental piano ballad “Looking Over A Rainbow,” a romantic number from a bi-gone era, but thankfully songs about love never go out of style.