"Jitterbug Shake," the sixth solo recording by The Reds® guitarist, Rick Shaffer, makes no mistakes. The fast, excitable garage blues sound digs deep into his early R&B/rock & roll influences. The album was recorded with almost every song and instrument pushing the needle into the red (i.e., overload). Normally, that would be a problem, except for the fact that the repertory was written and conceived by Shaffer, with the likes of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Slim Harpo, and early British Pretty Things and Rolling Stones in mind. Get set to rock it to the max.
"Jitterbug Shake" is the benchmark for garage blues music. The album features a brand of rolling rock, hell-bound blues, and hill country feel. With Shaffer's wailing slide guitar twinned with spine-shaking rifs and the solid, yet off the tracks, rhythm section of bassist Leon Wingfield, drummer Les Chisholm, and Boo Boo Spencer on percussion. A stripped-to-the-frame production by Shaffer nails the epectations.
The opener "Got To Know" is an amped wired Chuck Berry styled "Memphis" guitar sound and Jordanaires background vocals, complete with handclaps, and the lyrical question of how much information can I get before it kills me. On "Sure Thing" a razor-sharp one-two-shuffle becomes a howling Stones half-sung half-howled vocal relating a tale of no guarantees or promises in this life. The song moves like a freight train clothed in a dark hypnotic swirl. Here Slim Harpo joins forces with early Stooges and the rambling ghost of a Brian Jones slide figure in a reckless mass of seething "King Bee" energy. As if the opening one-two volleys weren't enough of a jolt, Shaffer follows this with a thunderous tribal sound in "Going Strong," full of Pete Townshend slashing rhythm guitar phrasing, a fuzzed out guitar solo, and '60's style background vocals, that give a perfect balance between melodic mod pop and powerful instrumentation. Next, in the greasy, raunchy guitars of "So Tired" there's a cross between The Stooges and early Creedence Clearwater. It's a truly exceptional song with great hooks, an underlying sense of menace, and working-class rage that adds up to a pure rock & roll sound. The garage blues of "Confidence Man" (inspired by the Herman Melville book of the same name) takes the listener back to some early Stones/Pretty Things vibe wrapped in a harmonica driven lazy Jimmy Reed shuffle. The group of songs that become rock & roll ciphers as soon as they each speak are "Just A Little," "Break Of Day," and "It's True," with Boo Boo taking the maraca mantle Jerome Green supplied on Bo Diddley's early recordings, infusing and driving these raw hill country grooves. Add some dirty Hound Dog Taylor house rocking slide and Shafffer's vocals supplying the reckless abandon of music that teeters on the brink of unraveling, but never does, a tightrope-walking edge to Shaffer's already loose sound. "Can't Go Back" is a homage to the late great blues artist Jessie Mae Hemphill, full of that down home driving primal beat, Supro slide guitar, bass drum and percussion backing, and stripped to the bone production played with reverence and agressive force. Heading off into the whirlwind of a storm is the closer "Last Of Me" and it's just what the doctor ordered, a tale of pain, menace and mortality rooted in traditional rock and R&B structures. But don't worry, there's enough speaker shredding fuzz energy, vocal howl, and switchblade intensity to cure or kill.
And, most importantly, Shaffer still lives and dies for his vision of garage blues. "Come on Baby take a walk with me now — come on Baby do The Stroll with me now — come on Baby do the Jitterbug Shake now" ("Last Of Me" lyrics).
Eddie Shelton • Witness To The Confession