The Mannish Boys
The Mannish Boys
Few blues acts have perfected the tricky maneuver of honoring the storied history of the blues, while at the same time keeping the music up-to-date, as admirably as Delta Groove’s the Mannish Boys. It’s a balancing act that they’ve honed over the course of seven highly-acclaimed CD releases and countless nights gigging on concert stages around the world. Conceived as an all-star showcase for the cream of the West Coast blues crop, the Mannish Boys have stayed true to that vision. They’ve continually evolved through the years, seeking out and spotlighting the talents of genuine blues legends in a setting that honors the deep roots of the genre, while also providing them with the support required to excite today’s blues audiences.
The fundamental concept of the band was simple; assemble a group of like-minded musicians to capture the spirit and joy of this timeless music, and reintroduce it for a whole new generation to appreciate and discover. This project, which was only initially envisioned as a one-time testimony to the power of the blues, has now given way to a new institution, privileged with the task of preserving this music and presenting it as a vital, living, breathing entity.
The Mannish Boys, for whom Delta Groove was originally conceived, released their widely-acclaimed debut album, “That Represent Man,” on November 16, 2004. The original lineup consisted of veteran singer Finis Tasby, guitarists Kirk Fletcher and Franck Goldwasser, former Ike & Tina Turner Revue pianist Leon Blue, and the rhythm section of bassist Ronnie James Weber and drummer June Core, both of whom had been members of Little Charlie and the Nightcats. Spearheaded by aspiring record label entrepreneur and mastermind, Randy Chortkoff, the Mannish Boys were ushered into a recording studio in North Hollywood, California, along with a handful of special guests, which included Mississippi-bred bluesman Johnny Dyer (who later became a permanent Mannish Boy), legendary Texas guitarist Roy Gaines, powerhouse blues vocalist Mickey Champion, and Paul Oscher, who first came to national attention as Muddy Waters’ harmonica player in 1967. The album firmly established the arrival of a new ‘super group’ on the scene and adorned the band with two Blues Music Award nominations for Album of the Year and Traditional Album of the Year in 2006.
Honing their blues to a brilliant edge through appearances before sold-out crowds and on festival stages in the U.S., Canada, and in Europe, the Mannish Boys released their second recording, “Live & in Demand,” in 2006, which captured them at the top of their game at the 2005 Winthrop Rhythm and Blues Festival in Washington. Rolling out their dynamic, non-stop, old-style ‘blues revue,’ the Mannish Boys featured a few new additions to the band, including former T-Birds guitarist Kid Ramos, bassist Tom Leavey and Hollywood Fats/Hollywood Blue Flames drummer Richard “Big Foot” Innes, along with returning members Finis Tasby, Johnny Dyer, Franck Goldwasser, Leon Blue and Randy Chortkoff. The Mannish Boys continued to win over adoring new fans through their ever-increasing tour schedule, earning themselves a 2007 Blues Music Award nomination in the process for Band of the Year.
The Mannish Boys returned to the studio in 2007 for their third effort, “Big Plans,” which boasts a perfectly chosen program of seldom heard covers alongside strong original material. Members both past and present were given ample room to strut their stuff and features stellar performances by Finis Tasby, Johnny Dyer, Kid Ramos, Kirk Fletcher, Franck Goldwasser, Leon Blue, Randy Chortkoff, Tom Leavey and Richard Innes. Special guests include legendary blues guitarist, Jody Williams (known for his groundbreaking work on classic ‘50s sides by Otis Rush, Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf), as well as veteran Chicago singer, Bobby Jones, who was active on the Chicago blues scene in the late ‘50s (Jones was the featured vocalist in the Aces with Dave and Louis Myers a few years after they’d parted ways with Little Walter). Additionally, “Big Plans” is also graced by the presence of Rick Holmstrom, Mitch Kashmar, Rob Rio, Larry Taylor and Jeff Turmes. Living Blues Magazine praised the album stating, “The Mannish Boys seem to be in command of virtually every classic, neo-classic, obscure, and almost-unknown riff and lick in the postwar cannon, and they approach it all with unfettered enthusiasm and commitment.” A second Blues Music Award nomination for Band of the Year followed in 2008.
“Lowdown Feelin’” is the fourth installment by the Mannish Boys and returning to the spotlight on this endeavor is Chicago blues veteran, Bobby Jones (who at this point had officially become the latest addition to the band). The album was recorded simultaneously in 2008 with a planned solo outing for Jones entitled, “Comin’ Back Hard,” also featuring the Mannish Boys, which was released the following year. Jones turns out many of the album’s stunning highlights, along with acclaimed vocalists Finis Tasby and Johnny Dyer. The core unit of the band remained intact, with the exception of Ronnie James Weber stepping back into the fold to provide acoustic bass counter to Tom Leavey’s electric bass contributions. Special guests this time out find the boys joined by legendary vocalist/harmonica player Little Sammy Davis (accompanied by his own guitarist and longtime musical collaborator, Fred Scribner), along with West Coast guitar wizard Junior Watson and label mates Al Blake and Fred Kaplan of the Hollywood Blue Flames, and Lynwood Slim. The Wall Street Journal declared the album, “…an infectious revival of both ‘40s jump and ‘50s to ‘60s Chess-like styles from a band that lives inside the music.” In 2009, the Mannish Boys received their third Blues Music Award nomination for Band of the Year, in addition to nominations for both Album of the Year and Traditional Blues Album.
2010 heralded the passing of the five-year anniversary mark of the birth of Delta Groove Music. Likewise, the Mannish Boys were similarly celebrating five years of electrifying the blues for audiences the world over. Reprising their all-star roles for their fifth recording, “Shake for Me,” are Finis Tasby, Bobby Jones, Johnny Dyer, Kirk Fletcher, Franck Goldwasser, Kid Ramos and Randy Chortkoff. The band welcomes an entirely new rhythm section this time out comprised of bassist Willie J. Campbell (James Harman Band, Fabulous Thunderbirds) and drummer Jimi Bott (Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, Fabulous Thunderbirds). Rounding out this anniversary celebration are special guests Rod Piazza, Mitch Kashmar, Lynwood Slim, Arthur Adams, Nick Curran, Mike Zito, Fred Kaplan, Rob Rio, Andy Kaulkin and Dutch vocalist and harmonica player, Pieter “Big Pete” van der Pluijm. That same year the Mannish Boys received their fourth consecutive Blues Music Award nomination for Band of the Year. “Shake for Me” proved to be another resounding critical success, decorating the band with another round of BMA nominations in 2011 for Album of the Year and Traditional Blues Album, along with their fifth nomination for Band of the Year.
After five critically-acclaimed albums and numerous award nominations, the Mannish Boys finally hit pay dirt with their sixth release. Their 2012 2-CD set “Double Dynamite” featured a staggering list of musicians and special guests, more so than on any of their previous recordings. Especially notable is the newest addition to the band, Sugaray Rayford, a soulful, gospel-inflected singer originally hailing from Smith County, Texas. Along for the ride are veterans James Harman, Mike Finnigan (who played keyboards on Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland”) and Jackie Payne, plus longtime Mannish Boys’ front man, Finis Tasby. The band’s regular guitarists Kirk Fletcher and Franck Goldwasser are prominently represented, and as an additional treat, Mud Morganfield, eldest son of the undisputed king of Chicago blues, Muddy Waters, also contributes his talents. Other guests on this unprecedented recording include harmonica aces Rod Piazza, Jason Ricci and Bob Corritore, in addition to guitarists Elvin Bishop, Junior Watson and Nathan James, once again backed by the hard-swinging rhythm section of Willie J. Campbell and Jimi Bott, plus an array of other very special musicians. A virtual blues festival in a single band, all this variety added up to one of the most continually surprising, wide-ranging and consistently excellent releases from the Mannish Boys’ career so far. “Double Dynamite” took top honors in the 2013 Blues Music Awards winning the category for Traditional Blues Album, in addition to receiving nominations for Album of the Year and Band of the Year.
Unfortunately tragedy struck when longtime vocalist Finis Tasby suffered a stroke in December 2012 leaving him paralyzed on his left side. Combined with Johnny Dyer’s ailing health, the responsibility of fronting the band now fell squarely onto the shoulders of the most recent addition to the band, Sugaray Rayford. After a year of extensive touring, a new album was planned for 2014. It wasn’t at all unusual for past releases to feature three or four different singers, four or five different guitarists, and a full cast of all-star guest soloists. But this time out, the initial strategy was different: scale things back, simplify, and strip everything down to just the fundamentals. However…as you now know, the Mannish Boys have never been known to do anything halfway, so that plan went out the window on day one.
“Wrapped Up and Ready” materialized in mid-summer 2014. Led by powerhouse vocalist and front man Sugaray Rayford, the Mannish Boys delivered their most focused and original effort to date, featuring eleven original songs and only five covers. The core of the band is still brandishing the double-barreled firepower of original guitarists Kirk Fletcher and Franck Goldwasser, while anchored by the skin-tight rhythm section of bassist Willie J. Campbell and drummer Jimi Bott. Randy Chortkoff contributes harp and vocals as needed. Right there you’ve already got one of the best lineups in the business, but of course, that’s only half the story. Among those making guest appearances are sultry singer Candye Kane (helped out by her amazing guitarist Laura Chavez), Bay Area great – by way of New York and Chicago – Steve Freund, blazing East Coast guitarist Monster Mike Welch, and West Coast piano master, Fred Kaplan. Blues harmonica fans will also find plenty to dig as three guests are also on hand to help hold down harp duties; Delta Groove recording artist Bob Corritore, teenage phenom Jacob “Walters” Huffman, and Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman, Kim Wilson. Also notable on this release is the return of guitarist Kid Ramos, one of the leading blues guitarists of his generation, who had been off the scene for the last couple years due to his battle in overcoming cancer. Additionally, the album features contributions by bassist Bill Stuve and drummer Dave Kida, both veterans of the Mighty Flyers, as well as French rhythm ‘n’ blues guitarist, Nico Duportal.
Topping many year-end lists in 2014, “Wrapped Up and Ready” was enthusiastically embraced by radio and press and racked up an impressive number of nominations for the incoming 2015 Blues Music Awards, including Album of the Year, Traditional Blues Album and Band of the Year, along with two nominations for front man Sugaray Rayford for the coveted B.B. King Entertainer and Traditional Blues Male Artist. The Mannish Boys rhythm section was also recognized with Instrumentalist nominations honoring Willie J. Campbell and Jimi Bott for bass and drums, respectively. Sadly, as 2014 was winding down, the Mannish Boys witnessed the passing of two longstanding members of the band. Finis Tasby died in Orange, California on November 2, 2014 at age 74, nearly two years after suffering a debilitating stroke, and Johnny Dyer died only nine days later at his home in San Dimas, California on November 11, 2014 at the age of 75. Still reeling from their loss, another deadly blow came to the band a mere six months later when Randy Chortkoff, founder, President and CEO of Delta Groove Music, passed away while awaiting a liver transplant in Los Angeles on May 5, 2015. He was 65 years old.
The 2015 Blues Music Awards were held on Thursday, May 7th, only two days after Chortkoff’s untimely death. The Mannish Boys performed live during the awards ceremony and dedicated their set to their recently fallen comrades. After 17 nominations, Jimi Bott was finally awarded that evening with the 2015 Blues Music Award for Instrumentalist-Drums. The Mannish Boys reunited a year later for an appearance on Saturday, June 25, 2016 at the Blues ‘n’ Jazz Festival in Rapperswil-Jona, Switzerland. The lineup included vocalist Sugaray Rayford, Dutch bluesman Big Pete on harmonica, Kid Ramos on guitar, Willie J. Campbell on bass and Jimi Bott on drums.