Guitarist Dave Specter came up through the ranks differently than your typical blues artist. Specter didn't pick up the guitar until the relatively old age of eighteen, but quickly immersed himself in the instrument. While working at the city's famed Jazz Record Mart, the Chicago native took lessons from Steve Freund, Sunnyland Slim's former guitarist. Freund subsequently hooked him up as a touring musician with Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf's guitarist, and Chicago blues legend, drummer Sam Lay.
B.L.U.E.S. and Beyond
While working as a bouncer at the popular Chicago blues club B.L.U.E.S. and in the shipping department at Delmark Records, Specter made valuable industry contacts. Before putting his own band together in 1989, Specter made his bones as a guitar-for-hire, touring with such major league talents as Son Seals and the Legendary Blues Band and recording with artists like Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and Jimmy Rogers, among many others. When it came time, Specter signed with Delmark, and released his debut album, Bluebird Blues, in 1991. In the decade-and-a-half since, Specter has recorded six highly-regarded studio albums and a previous live album.
Live In Chicago
Specter's Live In Chicago, released on both CD and DVD, documents two August 2007 performances - one at Buddy Guy's Legends club, and the other at the legendary Rosa's Blues Lounge. The talented guitarist doesn't sing, so he enlisted the help of several friends to handle the microphone while Specter did what he does best ... play. Tad Robinson, Jimmy Johnson, and Sharon Lewis lend their voices to the event.
To back him up, Specter put together an incredible collection of Chicago blues talent, including keyboardist Brother John Kattke (formerly of Buddy Guy's band), bassist Harlan Terson (Otis Rush's band), and drummer Marty Binder (a veteran of Albert Collins' band).
Live In Chicago opens with the lively instrumental duo "Boss Funk/Riverside Ride" as photos representing the various memories of Buddy Guy's Legends flash across the screen. Pictures of giants like Junior Wells, Mighty Joe Young, Bo Diddley and others slide by to a Specter and band soundtrack. Specter brings a jazzy tone to his playing, a fluid ease similar to B.B. King. Whereas King often imbues his songs with a darker hue, Specter's fretwork is bright and playful.
Onstage with Tad Robinson
Vocalist and harmonica player Tad Robinson joins Specter onstage for "What Love Did To Me, blowing the harp with a soulful self-assuredness. Robinson's vocals are where his strongest talents lie, however ... sweet, bluesy, gruff, and welded to the energetic harp passages. The song shuffles along to a fast-walking beat, Specter adding guitar flourishes throughout that add to the emotion that Robinson is pouring into the performance.
A cover of Tom T. Hall's urban country classic "How I Got To Memphis" is a fine example of Dixie soul that mixes a slight country twang with rough-hewn vocals and a deep rhythmic groove. Specter's playing here is transcendent, displaying a tougher edge, trembling tone, and plenty of heart. Robinson's potent vocals convey the song's heartbreak and anguish.
The Robinson original, "What's Your Angle?," is a rollicking blues romp, a sly tongue-in-cheek reflection of life that highlight's Robinson's fine harpwork, the song featuring a wide, loping groove and Specter's stellar guitar playing.
Chicago Blues Legend Jimmy Johnson
Guitarist Jimmy Johnson joins the band for the old-school Jimmy Rogers' tune "Out On The Road." Johnson's guitar style compliments Specter's - Johnson plays higher on the neck than his younger colleague, achieving a blunt, rich tone shorn of its edge, but stinging nonetheless. Johnson's higher-pitched vocals, although not as strong as, say, Robinson's, are just as expressive.
The rocking standard 12-bar blues structure of the Chick Willis classic "Feel So Bad" benefits from Johnson's opening six-string salvo, the bluesman playing off Terson's bass groove before launching into a sorrowful tale of love gone wrong. It's a classic blues tune, full of energy yet always just bubbling under the boiling point.
"You Don't Love Me," a bonus track included on the DVD, is another vintage tune, a blues-rock stomp with an Allmanesque circular riff that allows each instrumentalist to embroider their own initials over. Johnson's vocals are particularly energetic here, his use of the song's underlying riff flowing in between the sung verses. Kattke's keyboard solo further compliments the song's vivid musical energy.