Blues & Rhythm Henry Gray Review

HENRY GRAY: Shake A Hand
Wolf 120.634 (54:29)

Shake A Hand/ How Long/ Sweet Home Chicago/ All In My
Sleep/ Down Home Blues/ It Hurts Me Too/ l’m A Lucky
Man/ Sinners Prayer/ How Can You Do It?/ Little Red
Rooster/ Boogie In The Dark/ Tutti Frutti/ Everybody’s
Fishing/ What l’d Say/ Howling For My Darling/ My Girl
Josephine/ Good Bye Baby

Henry Gray, who died in 2020 aged 95, was something of a
phenomenon, partly because there weren’t many musicians from the
golden days of Chess Records in the 1950s who were still performing
in the second decade of the 21st century. He had taken a back seat for
most of his career, better known for his role as piano player with
Howling Wolf, for some originally unreleased recordings under his own
name and for later 45s on small labels Blues Unlimited and Sunland,
but in the last few decades of his life he raised his profile a lot. ‘l’m A
Lucky, Lucky Man’ became something of a theme song for him
(although he tells the audience here, ‘I’m not that lucky!’) as he toured
widely and made several good albums. With so many of the great
piano men of that era gone — Jones, Spann, Sunnyland, to mention just
three — by the 1990s, Gray was not only still standing, but he was still
playing well, as you can hear from this album.

The recordings derive from live sessions in England, Ireland, Norway
and France between 1994 and 1996, with accompanists who provide
just the kind of rhythm section he needed. Gray was a distinctive
player, with his left hand laying down a heavy foundation and an active
right, characteristically striking fast repeated notes. Broken down like
that makes it sound simple, but it was highly effective, capable of
generating real excitement, and deeply bluesy.

henry gray

Excellent versions of Red Rooster’ and especially ‘Howling For My
Baby’ (the one studio recording here, featuring excellent harp from Erroll
Linton) recall his days with Wolf, and the touch of swamp blues about his
solo take on Jimmy Reed’s ‘Boogie In The Dark’ is a reminder that he
came from Louisiana and went back to Baton Rouge in the 1960s, when
he’d had enough of Chicago. He puts his mark on the kind of standards
that so many blues fans insist on hearing, like ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ and
It Hurts Me Too’, and could dash off a dose of rock’n’roll like ‘Tutti Frutti’
at the drop of a hat – ideal fodder for a live set, if sounding a bit routine on

If you saw Henry Gray during that period — and he got around a fair bit,
so plenty of us did – this is a thoroughly enjoyable reminder of the kind of
performances he was delivering. If you didn’t, it’s a nice chance to catch
up. Booklet notes are by Tony Burke, alongside a reminiscence ofthe man
by Steve Coleridge, who toured with him and produced these recordings.
There’s a nice selection of photos, too. Oddly, ‘Louisiana’ is spelled
wrongly three times on the package (you can’t get a decent proof reader
these days Ray! — Reviews Editor), but it’s the way most Southerners
pronounce it, so maybe it’s not right to complain.

Ray Templeton