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Winston Walls
 Boss of the B-3, Schoolkids' Records CD SKR 1516

 Two giants of the B-3 battle it out. The one you never heard of wins.

Winston Walls wants you to know that he's the best organ player you've never heard of. In his own words, "There's a lot of cats who can play, but everybody's not special. I'm special-I'm a bad dude." Having somehow managed a 30 year career behind folks like the Pointer Sisters, Lou Donaldson and Sonny Stitt without a single recording of his own, the self-proclaimed "Muhammad Ali of the Hammond B-3" is finally putting his money where his mouth is. His first outing is a live recording of two club dates with close friend and fellow organ giant Jack McDuff. They're backed by a very fine group of Detroit area musicians, but the show belongs to Walls. His furious pedal work, electric solos and energetic comping propel the band through 57 minutes of spontaneous hard-swinging rhythm-and-blues and soul-stirring gospel. As if that weren't enough, he handles vocal duties on a couple tunes with a velvety rasp of a voice that charms like your favorite pair of old slippers.

For all his signifying, this disc ends up chronicling the warm reunion of two old buddies, their affectionate rivalry and their mutual love for that peculiar American instrument, the Hammond B-3 organ. The live recording gives you the feeling that you just happen to be eavesdropping on the unrehearsed laughs, stories and tall-tales of friends reunited after too long. They have plenty to say to each other, and they're none too shy. It's back and forth with "oh, yeah?," "remember this?" and "check this out!" The sense of conversation is so real that it's almost surprising when one of the other players steps up to the mic for a rare turn. They may have just as much to say, but it's definitely not their party.

About those sidemen. The sessions were apparently recorded without rehearsal, so drummer Pistol Allen gets handed the snaky task of trying to keep up with Walls, who sounds like he could do the whole thing himself even without McDuff. Things sometimes get shaky, but he hangs on for the ride, and when things finally settle down, it's terrific. One of the highlights of the disk is tenor sax man Gene Parker's solo on "Canadian Sunset." Parker burns and Allen sizzles while Walls stomps out some incredible pedal bass underneath the thickest blanket of organ comping you can imagine. Unfortunately, guitarist Chris Buzelli gets lost in the fray, but he does manage to peek out here and there on a few other tunes and make his presence felt.

If you forget what you're supposed to be experiencing, the spontaneity and the unevenness of the live recording can be distracting. McDuff's organ is nearly lost on portions of the record, while Walls' sometimes overwhelms, perhaps not unintentionally. It's easy to get over this when you realize that you have two real organ guys literally pulling out all the stops. Together they illustrate just about every trick in the B-3 book, McDuff's single note lines bobbing and weaving in and out of reach of Walls' big-fisted punches.

This disc is almost worth it for the liner notes alone. I won't give it away, but Walls relates a great story about his early rivalry with McDuff back in Pittsburgh, and their competition for the attention of the young guitarist George Benson. Kudos to Schoolkids' Records for getting Walls recorded. Let's hope we hear him again before another 30 years go by. --Jason Staczek

production notes & song titles
Winston Walls, Hammond B-3 organ, foot-pedals, vocals; Jack McDuff, Hammond B-3; Gene Parker, tenor sax; Chris Buzelli, guitar; Pistol Allen, drums.

Produced by Stephen Bergman and Michael Lipton. Recorded live at The SerenGeti Ballroom, Detroit, MI 10/25/93 and The Ark, Ann Arbor, MI 10/26/93. 1995 release. (57:01)

Winston's 100 | Georgia | Rock Candy | I Want To Thank You Pretty Baby | Canadian Sunset | Lucille's Lament | What A Difference A Day Makes | SerenGeti Blues | How Great Thou Art

contact info
Schoolkids' Records
523 E Liberty Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
800 445-2361 or 313 994-8031

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.