The Blue Shadows

 

January 1st, 2009  |  Published in Music  |  2 Comments

 

Javier Mattos: Vocals, electric and National steel-body guitar
John Bazz: Bass
Bill Bateman: Drums
Jack Rudy: Harmonica

By Chris Morris, Billboard Magazine, 2005

The blues, more than one wise man has said, is the easiest music in the world to play, and the hardest music in the world to play well. The Blue Shadows know how to play the blues well.

The Shadows’ history stretches back to the late ’80s, when the band was formed by Bill Bateman, drummer for the celebrated Los Angeles roots-rock band the Blasters. The original lineup included vocalist-harp player Lester Butler, latter-day Blasters guitarist Smokey Hormel (later noted for his work with Beck and Tom Waits, among many others), and bassist Jonny Ray Bartel (of the X/Blasters folk unit the Knitters).

Specializing in hard blues, the Shadows held down a fabled Monday-night club at the King King in L.A.’s Miracle Mile district, where musicians ranging from local hotshots like Dave Alvin and Gene Taylor of the Blasters, Jeff Ross, Kid Ramos, and Junior Watson to international luminaries like Mick Jagger dropped by to jam. Producer Rick Rubin captured the group’s on-stage excitement in a 1992 live album cut at the club, aptly entitled “King King” and issued under the rechristened band monicker the Red Devils.

After Butler’s death from a drug overdose, Bateman left L.A. in 1996 to live with his sister in Anchorage, Alaska, and there the second chapter of the Blue Shadows’ saga began.

Then living in Anchorage at Fort Richardson under the auspices of Uncle Sam was a young paratrooper, journalist, and musician named Jake Matson. The son of a Puerto Rico-born musician, Matson had honed his blues chops playing on the streets of Minneapolis-St. Paul before enlisting in the Army in 1993. In 1999, he went AWOL to cut a one-day session that resulted in the album “Comin’ Home,” released in 2000 by the Danish blues label Storyville Records.

One fateful night in 1999, Bateman sat down at a table in the Anchorage club the Whaler, where a blues jam was in session. Seated opposite him was a tall, worried-looking guy with a guitar case at his feet. Matson turned to Bateman and asked, “Man, you don’t know any drummrs around here, do ya?” And the Blue Shadows, Mach II was born.

After several months performing as a duo in Alaska, Bateman and Matson relocated to L.A., where they enlisted bassist John Bazz, Bateman’s old Blasters colleague, to complete the lean Blue Shadows lineup of today. After gigging around at various L.A. clubs, the band settled in during the spring of 2002 for a residency at the new King King, opened by the original club’s owner Mario Melendez near the corner of Hollywood and Whitley in the heart of Hollywood.

The Shadows, augmented by harp player Jack Rudy, have held the fort there for months, spinning out caustic versions of Delta blues classics by Son House, Robert Johnson, Barbecue Bob, Charley Patton, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Mississippi John Hurt, as well as their own roots-derived originals. The music is hot, direct, powerfully rhythmic, and played without artifice. In other words, it’s blues played the way it’s meant to be played.

Who says there are no second acts in American lives? The Blue Shadows are back, baby.