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Amos Garrett / Percy Mayfield

GET WAY BACK: A Tribute To Percy Mayfield
• Amos Garrett

Among guitarists of a certain age, Amos Garrett is a legend. His solo on Maria Muldaur's hit, "Midnight at the Oasis," made many a player in the Seventies consider a career in automotive repair. His solo on "Georgia On My Mind" on Geoff and Maria Muldaur's record Pottery Pie was rumored to be on a tape loop that Robbie Robertson of the Band kept running for hours.

What made Garrett so revered was his distinctive and difficult approach to the instrument. Exhibiting influences far beyond just previous guitarists, he incorporated elements of pedal steel, trombone (his other instrument), as well as some tricks uniquely his own. These distinctive licks were often executed by bending two and even three strings at a time, a feat made possible by his enormous hands.

But Garrett's appeal is not limited to his instrumental prowess. On his solo records and guest vocal spots scattered through discs by the Muldaurs (together and separately), he kept alive the genius of his two favorite songwriters: Hoagy Carmichael and Percy Mayfield. As this CD's subtitle avers, Get Way Back is a tribute to the latter. Any more-than-casual roots music fan will be familiar with Mayfield's songs "Please Send Me Someone to Love" and "Hit The Road Jack," but Garrett has unearthed a treasure trove of lesser known works over the years and proffers some of them here. He has recorded a few before ("Ha Ha In The Daytime," "River's Invitation"), but they are treated to new arrangements this time around.

Percy Mayfield (not to be confused with Curtis) was born in Louisiana but his music reflects the more sophisticated R&B of Los Angeles, where he moved in the Forties. After a promising start as a singer and songwriter, an auto wreck left him disfigured and effectively ended his performing career. He retreated to his songwriting, and the morbid tendencies of his tunes reflect his tragedy. "My Jug and I" is a vision of an alcoholic who gets up in the morning only to retreat to his bed with a bottle when the blues is all he finds. "River's Invitation" tells the tale of a lovelorn fellow contemplating a gentle death by drowning.

Like all great blues though, these songs are less about delineating depression than providing catharsis, and Garrett sees that they do the job. Blessed with a voice as big as his hands, the Detroit born, Canada raised musician's baritone amply relays the darkness of Mayfield's tunes but, in blues fashion, the spirit of the singing and playing celebrate the fact that we have made it through these feelings.

Garrett emphasizes that this is a song-oriented record by letting the opening tune pass with nary a guitar fill. But guitar fans take heart: Get Way Back contains enough miraculously twisted, musical solos to make a new generation of fledgling pickers marvel.
• Michael Ross

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Amos Garrett online      stonyplainrecords.com

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