On The Prowl
Bullseye Blues & Jazz
I went digging through my CD rack after recently
seeing Walter "Wolfman" Washington in an
excellent show he did in Phoenix as part of the Joe
Krown Trio. To my horror, I realized that I was
woefully short of some of his earlier Rounder
recordings, having never converted the vinyl
versions of those fine albums. With Christmas only a
few weeks away at that point, I added On The
Prowl, a collection of recordings from his first
three Rounder recordings, to my wish list.
Santa heard my plea, and this great set of Wolfman
songs was under the tree on Christmas morning.
Wolfman's first album, Wolf Tracks, gets the
heaviest representation here with five cuts. Also
included are four tracks from Out of the Dark
and three from Wolf at the Door. It's been so
long since I listened to any of these album, I had
forgotten just how much fun it was hearing the New
Orleans' native's blend of blues, soul, funk and
On The Prowl kicks off with the satisfying
mid-tempo number "You Got Me Worried," on which the
Wolfman shows off his growlin' vocals and tasteful
blues guitar licks. The horn section, led by
saxophonist Bill "Foots" Samuel, nicely complements
both Washington and the rhythm section.
I did a radio interview with the Wolfman back in the
late '80s when my Blues Hangover show was airing in
North Carolina. During our discussion I asked him
why he did so many Tyrone Davis songs. Washington
replied, with a big grin on his face, "Because I
like Tyrone Davis," drawing out the word like for
several seconds. His appreciation for Davis' music
is heard here on a wonderful cover of "Can I Change
My Mind" that at times sounds faithful to the
original but is liberally infused with a heavy dose
of the Wolfman's guitar riffs.
The next cut moves over to the Wolfman's second
album with its title cut, "Out of the Dark," a
snaky, late night jazz number that has him
stretching out both his voice and his guitar.
Washington's vocals move into a very high register
at times. The same horn section as on the first
album returns, but now the Wolf is joined by the
same rhythm section (Jack Cruz on bass, Jon Cleary
on keyboards and Wilbert "Junk Yard Dog" Arnold on
drums) that backed him on many subsequent albums and
Wolfman's signature party stomper, "It Was Fun While
It Lasted," featured co-vocals with New Orleans
singer Timothea, who was a regular band member and
songwriting collaborator around the time of the
release of the first album. I haven't been able to
get the words of this song out of my head since
first hearing it in 1986 --- nor do I want to!
"I'm Tiptoeing Through" is another Wolfman standard
from the first album. Right after letting loose with
a howl, he announces his attentions that he's
tiptoeing through your town and just wants to fool
around with you. A lot of porch lights probably come
on every time he sings this song.
I don't recall "It Doesn't Really Matter" from the
original release of Wolf at the Door, which
is surprising due to the strength of this
gospel-infused number highlighted by Cleary's
churchy piano playing and the female chorus provided
by Elaine, Lisa and Sharon Foster. It's
inspirational, to say the least! One of the best of
his early recordings.
The ultra funky "On the Prowl" is an instrumental
punctuated by Washington's wolf howls and some
exceptional sax work from Samuel. His guitar work is
very tasty, too.
Johnny "Guitar" Watson's funky party anthem, "You
Can Stay But the Noise Must Go," is still part of
Washington's live shows --- at least I heard him do
it last year with the Joe Krown Trio. It's also on
the CD, Live at the Maple Leaf, that he
recorded with Krown and drummer Russell Batiste.
This one's just way too much fun.
Listening to On The Prowl brought back so
many pleasant memories of one of the lesser known
but best bluesmen in the last 25 years. Thank you,
--- Bill Mitchell