RAW SUGAR. You’ve seen the brown sugar packets at the coffee shop. The sugar that’s a bit coarse, and has some molasses in it to indicate that it isn’t highly refined. Well, Raw Sugar Blue Live is a paradox. Oh, it’s sweet. Way so. Raw? Keep reading…
You’ve heard the phrase “raw talent.” It’s a reference to a talent that is still a bit rough around the edges, a bit coarse, just like the sugar we mentioned earlier. Well, this Beeble Music CD by Sugar Blue is anything but “raw”. As you will discover as you listen, this is ultra-refined — both the band, and Sugar himself. These are artists of the highest caliber, the finest refinement, and it shows on this CD.
Sugar grew up in Harlem. The Apollo Theater was the ‘hood, and the acts it drew, like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, the Motown Revue featuring the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Temptations, gospel, and yes, there was some blues. That’s the stuff that teenaged Sugar would have been hearing. These acts followed some of the jazz giants of the fifties: Thelonius, Coltrane, and Miles Davis, whom Sugar cites as an influence. “If you define the way you play your instrument only by the players who play your instrument, it limits you,” Sugar said. That’s refinement. Sugar is well on his way to becoming pure Sugar.
Oh, is this music refined. Listen to the classic Hoochie Coochie Man for example. The band is tight and has a slightly updated arrangement with a solid back beat, and some magnificent harmonica work. Pay special attention to the first solo entry. Two of the songs have a great French influence, Cotton Tree and Walk Alone. (That influence came from Sugar’s time in France, at the encouragement of Memphis Slim. It was there that he met and subsequently recorded with the Rolling Stones.) Note the café jazz sound of Cotton Tree, and the electric piano that brings up memories of Chick Corea. The French cafe’ jazz styling also shows up in Walk Alone, in the vocal line. Perhaps musically, the real raw Sugar Blue, is in the Sonny Boy Williamson tune, Another Man Done Gone. This is harmonica virtuoso at its best.
Six songs on this CD are over 10 minutes, which aptly shows what being in a band means to Sugar. He gives these guys a lot of room, is so grateful, and says so constantly. This is a very talented band, and as it turns out, mostly from Chicago, from where Sugar graciously took time to speak with us.
But oh so sweet is this Sugar. Listen to this CD. He readily and easily gives credit where it is deserved. His gratitude for his life was evident from his story of being offered a place with the Stones, to his time in Paris to his openness for what is happening currently as he continues to learn his own instrument. This man is an artist with a happy, grateful, pure soul. Towards the end of this interview, an emergency vehicle went by where Sugar was. The radio traffic of the emergency walked over the cell phone connection and cut it off. Sugar called back. “Do you have everything you wanted?” he asked, helpfully.
Sugar’s about as sweet as it gets. So if you want a heaping teaspoon of Raw Sugar, then buy this CD. You’ll get not only this very refined and distinct blues expertise — you’ll get a heapin’ of this man’s soul. Got to love a sweet tooth!
Special thanks go out to Ilaria and Sugar!