Kid Bangham feels no Pressure
by Mark Edmonds
Kid Bangham arrives for our interview with the grandest of entrances. Thirty
minutes late for our scheduled rendezvous at Somerville's Joshua Tree Pub, he
shows up with one of the largest bouquets of cut flowers I've ever seen.
Loosely encased in plastic and cradled in his arms, the flowers rise nearly
three feet above his trademark pompadour. He makes apologies for being late,
then scans the room and notices that everyone's staring right at us. So, he
"There," he says. "If they didn't have the wrong impression about us already,
then they sure will now."
Doug James Bangham may be a bit of a kidder (throughout our talk, he's
constantly making jokes with me and flirting with the waitress). But he's one
exceptional guitarist. Throughout the '80s, he helped create some of the most
powerful, inventive new blues music this side of the '50s in the Rhode
Island-based Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, a spunky little quartet who burned
their way through the work of such stylistically disparate mentors as Texas-
bluesman Frankie Lee Sims and Chicagoan Elmore James with an almost religious
fanaticism. Everything the 'Tones did had an incredibly genuine feel to it.
Their covers (Sims's "Lucy Mae Blues" and James's "Talk To Me" come to mind)
sounded as if they'd written them themselves, while their own work (Ray
Norcia's "I Could Have Loved You" is one good example) had this quality that
made it feel like it had been unearthed from some long-lost postwar archive.
Until their dissolution at the beginning of '90s (Bangham joined the Fabulous
Thunderbirds and Norcia, Roomful of Blues), the Bluetones pretty much beat the
ass off just about any other band in the region. And, if they were around
today, I bet they still would. But for those who miss their sound, there are
surrogates like Pressure Cooker (Tone Cool), Bangham's first disc as
bandleader. On its 13 tracks, transplanted Detroit singer Amyl Justin replaces
Norcia, while a rotating cast replaces the other 'Tones. Although altered, the
old 'Tones format remains virtually the same, with The Kid -- who plays
Gilrein's with his new band on Saturday -- at front and center delivering one
muscular lead line after another.
Ten tracks were written by the pair. Highlights include the shuffling "Face
Down in the Blues" (here Bangham delivers lightning lead picking as a
counterpoint to Justin's gospel-tinged testimonial-style reading of the lyrics)
and the slippery funk of the Earl King-inspired "Big Man in Town," where
Bangham's staccato-picked leads flutter above a bouncy, horn-fortified
Justin, who's best-known to Boston-area bluesheads from his years with the
Motor City Rhythm Kings, adapts his wail to the material as required. On the
churning, disc-opening rocker "Danger Zone," he sings in a nearly full-blown
howl. Yet, on the mournful, soul-tinged "Lonely One," he croons in such a purr
that I was almost fooled into thinking I was listening to Solomon Burke.
Bangham explains that Justin's versatility is important to him. "That and he
isn't a blues Nazi," Bangham laughs. "We kind of came together in a hurried
fashion. I'd met Amyl after I'd received a tape of him from a third party who
knew I needed a singer. But we hadn't done a lot of playing together before
this project. So I think there was a very good chance we would have gotten into
the studio and found that this didn't work out. But it did, and I think a lot
of the blame has to go to him. He proved he can work with anyone, and on any
The disc's genesis came during Bangham's tenure with the T-Birds. "I'd
writing in the downtime between jobs, you know, in airports and stuff. The
T-Birds spent a lot of time in airports. So I got a lot of chances to work on
songs in my head."
He had even more time after the band started to fall apart on the road. "It
was this thing where we were living off hits that were years old, being told
what to do, and it just didn't seem right. We'd play the gigs, but never jam or
hang around outside of them. After awhile, it seemed like we didn't really like
Now, he looks forward to working on his own. But not without some trepidation
about the future.
"You know, I really haven't taken the market, and where I fit into it, into
consideration with any of this. After the T-Birds, I'm very aware that music
is reduced to a kind of sport in this country. So I think I might have an
easier time if I tried more mainstream, marketable stuff. But that's not what
With that, he flirts with the waitress one more time, grabs his flowers, and
makes for the door. Heads turn once more. And then The Kid is gone.
Kid Bangham plays Gilrein's at 10 p.m. on November 29. Tickets are $7.