It might seem like a long journey from a Pennsylvania steel town to Texas, but not if you travel along the electric strings of blues guitarist Mark Kormanik.
3 Hour Tour is Kormanik's sixth CD as the leader of Little Buddy, which also features longtime bandmates Doug Brown on bass and vocals and John Huhn on drums and percussion. Little Buddy has become a familiar face on the east coast blues festival and club circuit by sharing bills with such classic and contemporary road-tested blues champions as Savoy Brown, The Nighthawks, and Little Charlie & The Nightcats.
A self-taught guitarist who has been playing since age six, Kormanik was born near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where his grandfather worked in the steel mills for thirty years. When Kormanik first played at his hometown's Johnstown Folk Festival in 2004, he explained, "My songs are about intangibles like pride, courage, and honorI got these things from growing up in Johnstown."
3 Hour Tour is a textbook example of how today's electric blues players use the liberating energy of rock 'n' roll to build modern structures upon blues foundations laid by Muddy Waters
and Willie Dixon
. For example, Waters' classic "I Can't Be Satisfied" peeks up as the cornerstone of "I'm Lucky," one of three originals co-written with Bruce Conklin; Kormanik's hard-driving yet funky rhythm, riffing and morphing into solo lines so hot that they melt back down into seething rhythm. A slow roll through Ray Charles
' hard-luck moan in "Blackjack" delivers the flipside to "Lucky" while it grinds the blues down into powder and showcases a spacious solo that not only echoes Albert King but his influence on subsequent blues-rock guitarists such as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck
, and Eric Clapton, even Jimi Hendrix.
Kormanik comes screaming out of the gate with the opening instrumental "The Tribute," counterpunching leads to the head against his rhythm guitar's shots to the body; then slams it shut with the closing instrumental "Etude in B," so frantic that "B" should stand for "blistering." Channeling the electric blues power of ZZ Top or Johnny Winter, the entire band explodes into both instrumentals.
Another pair of diamonds, "Don't Make Me Choose" and "Dig Dig Dig (My Wife's Digging My Grave)," unearths wounds from less than blissful states of matrimony. "Childhood Blues" recounts a happier litany of typical growing up experiences watching Saturday morning cartoons, extending a first chocolate Valentinein the familiar language of the blues.
Is it really that far from Johnstown to Texas? Natives from both places work hard and play hard; appetites run large, and wounds cut deep. From any geographic perspective, Little Buddy's Three Hour Tour sure sounds like the blues.
Personnel: Mark "Little Buddy" Kormanik: guitar; vocals; Doug Brown: bass,
percussion; John Huhn: drums, percussion.