Mitch Woods
Club 88 Records

You could say Mitch Woods’s Gumbo Blues tribute to Smiley Lewis and New Orleans’ R&B pioneers is fairly predictable Crescent City rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ fare, high spirited, effervescent, and bracing even in its bluest moments, and you would be right. But when you’re fairly predictable in a New Orleans kind of way, you have got something special going on in terms of tapping into elemental human impulses; so while the sound and style of Gumbo Blues will be comfortably familiar to many listeners, its energy and soul recommend it as one rollicking fine outing by the veteran, irrepressible boogie woogie piano man Woods and a truly inspired combo numbering the legendary sax man Herbert Hardesty, Dr. John’s guitarist John Fohl, Bonerama drummer Eric Bolivar, bassist Cornell Williams (of Jon Cleary’s band), and a couple of Allen Toussaint’s trusted hands supplementing Hardesty on sax, viz., Amadee Castenell and Brian “Breeze” Cayolle. This septet does nothing less than bump and boogie its way through a dozen choice songs intimately connected with New Orleans, all but one of them bearing the copyright of one Dave Bartholomew, without whom, as a bandleader, songwriter and studio mastermind, New Orleans-style rock ‘n’ roll might not exist in the way it’s known and loved the world over now, and who, not incidentally, was performing all those duties for one Mr. Smiley Lewis on Imperial Records. Vocally, Woods doesn’t try to compete with the shouting Lewis or another important Bartholomew New Orleans protege, the rumbling Fats Domino, but rather finds a comfortable space for his own warm, expressive interpretations; if he doesn’t get as carried away as Lewis, for example, or as sorrowful as Fats, he gets the feeling across in fine fashion nevertheless.

Smiley Lewis, ‘Shame Shame Shame,’ from the film Baby Doll, and featuring a roaring sax solo by Herbert Hardesty, who is also on Mitch Woods’s version of the song on the latter’s new Gumbo Blues album.

Baby Doll (1956) trailer: ‘Her father made a deal: her husband couldn’t have sex with her until she was 18. In three days she’ll be 18. Now her husband’s getting might itchy. So’s she. But not for him. Yes, it’s true what they say about southern girls. The Dumb, Fat Husband. The Shifty Sneaking Italian. The Big Black Buck. This is the south. Baby Doll country.’

Smiley Lewis never achieved the solo recognition he deserved, as other artists had the big hits with songs he put his stamp on first, notably Elvis (the Smiler would have to tip his hat to the King’s incendiary take on “One Night,” though), Fats with his powerful lament of “Blue Monday,” and Dave Edmunds with a catchy, novelty treatment of “I Hear You Knocking.” But Mitch puts Lewis on the map big time here by reprising a richly swinging, sax-heavy treatment of the Crescent City salute, “Gumbo Blues,” to kick off the celebration, bookending the disc with a bodacious sprint through the ebullient “Shame Shame Shame” (actually a film song for Smiley, as he divested himself of a salacious version in the sensationalistic, sexually overheated Carroll Baker two-reeler adapted from a Tennessee Williams novel, Baby Doll). In between Woods makes a variety of stylistic stops that underscore Smiley’s versatility, in the grinding, lowdown blues (and suggestive lyrics) of “Too Many Drivers” (“I pressed on your starter/but the thing wouldn’t go…”); in the exuberant strut he affects in roaring through “Ain’t Gonna Do It” (his farewell to the dissolute life and dedication to marital bliss all at once, in which Woods’s hearty vocal bears a striking resemblance to the comical mock melodrama mastered by Big Joe Turner, who in fact did record another tune here, the jumpin’, good time jive of “Bumpity Bump,” albeit titled “Blues Jump the Rabbit” in Big Joe’s version); and of course a moaning, swaying take on the venerable “Blue Monday,” an occasion for John Fohl to shine with a tasty, fuzzed opening salvo on guitar ahead of his blues-drenched cry of a solo at the midway point. As long as there is New Orleans music, Smiley Lewis will never be forgotten, but it’s always heartening when someone of Mitch Woods’s stature steps up to say, “Listen again. This guy was big time,” then does right by him with every note. Good work all around, and much gratitude for the impassioned remembrance of a mighty fine artist. —David McGee

Mitch Woods’s Gumbo Blues is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024