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Featured Artist
December, 1996

Big Top Blues Band

"Mad Love"

Surprisingly, Mad Love Is the first release by the BIGTOP Blues Band. This is despite the fact that BigTop is one of Sydney's most exciting and original bands of its type and is comprised of some very experienced Rhythm & Blues musicians.

It's not hard to guess the prime inspirations for this band. Just look at some of the titles; Muddy Water's Mad Love, Riding on John Lee's Fingers, Walter's Blues and Walter Lives. But while the Black American, Mississippi-to-Chicago blues nexus has obviously fired the imaginations of these musicians, the last thing you will find on this CD is slavish imitation. In fact, originality is the major hallmark to the band's own tunes, some of which utilise funk rhythms and hint at jazz influences.

Only four of the eleven tracks can be considered covers Yet these are unique interpretations: Little Walter's Up the Line (which features fat chromatic harmonica from Bruce Bongers as well as Ross Muller's outstanding baritone; Muddy Waters' Still a Fool (given an appropriately down-home treatment - just Bruce's voice and acoustic harmonica paired with Peter Doyle's peerless, open- tuned electric guitar); the Meters Cissy Strut; and Willie Johnson's Dark Was The Night.

The first track, Everybody's Got To Change, is a fining head turner. Against a snappy rhythm, catchy riffs and some beefy horn lines, Bruce's distinctive voice is complemented by Peter Doyle's slide slyly curling around lean and mean harmonica breaks. This will put you nicely in the mood for some unexpected moments, culminating in the novelty of the instrumental Hawaiian Twist, which alludes to several vintage TV show themes.

Bruce BongersBIGTOP's unique sound is the result of the blending of the special qualities of its members. Vocalist, harmonica player and tenor sax player BRUCE BONGERS was a founding member in 1972 of Junior & the Gold-Tops influenced by Chicago harmonica virtuosi Little Walter Jacobs and Junior Wells. This background is evident in two tracks here - Bruce's homages to Little Walter, Walter Lives and Walter's Blues. Generally, however, his original compositions tend to veer from the traditional and are never short of fascinating. On this CD, for example, there are the almost surreal lyrics coupled with deep delta blues guitar of Muddy Waters' Mad Love and the uptown funk of Riding on John Lee's Fingers (based loosely on a poem by black American writer Stanley Crouch).
Back in the 80's, ROBERT BROOKS (guitar) was the leafier of the popular soul/ R&B band The Champions which launched respected musicians such as Dave Brewer and Sally King. Robert is especially known for the solidity and inventiveness of his rhythm playing as well as his hard swinging solos. His style reflects an interest in soul, Texas jump blues, R&B and 40's swing. Listen for Robert's highly distinctive and quirky guitar lines throughout the album -- the opening lines to Everybody's Got To Change and It All Comes Back, for example.
Peter DoylePETER DOYLE (guitar) is one of the foremost slide guitarists performing in Sydney. He came to prominence in the Hawaiian Housewreckers in the mid-1 970's after many years of honing his craft in jug, rock and rhythm &blues bands. In the Bopcats, Peter performed a number of roles demonstrating his versatility on rockabilly acoustic rhythm guitar, western swing lap steel, wild Freddie Roulette-styled funky steel and powerful, Housewrecker-style, "broom-dusting" bottleneck. In BIGTOP, in addition to his colourful slide runs, his complimentary approach to guitar playing contributes power and depth to the rhythm section.
Drummer, DARRYL JACOBS, has worked with the Champions amongst others. His contribution of a bubbling cauldron of Idiomatic licks is at the centre of BIGTOP's uniqueness. This record is peppered with examples of Darryl's special touches - "half-fast" New Orleans snare rolls, crisp shuffles, solid funk patterns and the deadly four-bar breaks of Walter Lives.Darryl Jacobs
Peter O'Neill PETER O'NEILL (bass) has been heard previously in reggae and R&B bands including Crosscut Saw. His innovative lines are direct and his spontaneity adds spice to the overall mix.

ROSS MULLER (tenor &baritone saxophones) has extensive experience in a variety of musical settings including jazz, show bands and Rhythm &Blues. On this CD, Little Walters Up the Line features hot baritone saxophone soloing from Ross over rolling and tumbling voodoo rhythms. Cissy Strut has student tenor saxophone this time from Ross rallying against a second-line funk beat On me slow blues, It All Comes Back, while Bruce vocalises on the protocols of invoking voodoo aids, Ross offers an impassioned tenor solo.

Special guest DON HOPKINS adds Charles Brown-like piano touches to this piece. On other tracks Don injects colour from the Hammond B3.

Rounded out by the moody, acoustic Dark Was The Night, this CD is original, well recorded and long overdue.

  1. Everybody's Got To Change (Trad. arranged by BIGTOP) 4:46
  2. It All Comes Back (B. Bongers, arranged BIGTOP) 4:35
  3. Riding On John Lee's Fingers (B. Bongers) - based on a poem by Stanley Crouch 5:05
  4. Walter Lives (B. Bongers) 3:08
  5. Still A Fool (M. Waters) 3:55
  6. Walter's Blues (B. Bongers) 4.06
  7. Up The Line (W. Jacobs) 4:30
  8. Cissy Strut (Porter, Nocentelli, Neville, Modeliste) 3:15
  9. Muddy Waters' Mad Love (B. Bongers) 4:35
  10. Hawaiian Twist (Bongers, Brooks, Doyle, Muller, O'Neill, Jacobs) 3:45
  11. Dark Was The Night (W. Johnson) 2:50

Bruce Bongers - Vocals, Harmonica, Tenor Saxophone
Ross Muller - Baritone & Tenor Saxophones
Robert Brooks - Guitar
Peter Doyle - Guitars
Peter O'Neill - Bass
Darryl Jacobs - Drums

Don Hopkins plays piano, Kurzweil Keyboard and Hammond B3 on tracks 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 & 10
© 1995 BIGTOP production, engineered by Mark Roberts at Paradise Studio.
Tracks 5 & 11 were recorded live to air on Sydney's 2MBS-FM "Stormy Monday" programme by Austin Harrison. 2MBS is Australia's pioneer FM broadcaster, celebrating 21 years in 1995.
Photography - Keith Hayward, Brett Townsend.
CD Design & Art - Craig Townsend Graphic Design

"There's no doubt in your mind from those first few opening bars that your in for some serious listening pleasure. Few bands in this country manage to juggle brass, keyboards & harmonica, along with the usual selection of instruments that incorporate a great Blues band, so successfully. But "Big Top Blues Band" have obviously done their homework, because on "Mad Love" they serve you copious quantities of everything that stirs the soul, offers distraction, gets the foot movin' and the shoulders swayin' or merely kidnaps the consciousness. Great vocals delivering an impressive collection of self penned tunes along with fine recording quality all contribute to this scribes opinion that this album deserves to be highly placed on your shopping list, and is among the most impressive albums I've encountered over the past few years. The wonderful saxophone of vocalist and harp player Bruce Bongers on "It All Comes Back" is a pure pleasure. Robert Brooks & Peter Doyle contribute very tasteful guitar while the Baritone sax of Ross Muller barks superbly at times. A range of tempo's is covered throughout this album with Don Hopkins piano adding some additional delights. Full marks Big Top, more please."

Glenn Nelson "Highway 49"

For acquisition, send $25 plus $5 International postage (total $30 Australian) payable to Bruce Bongers Music at the address below.
Bruce Bongers
"Big Top Blues Band"
138 Woniora Road
Hurstville NSW
Australia - 2220

e-mail: b_bongers@onaustralia.com.au

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