The Backbone Blues Band made their debut at the ‘BBC’, stepping in at short notice when illness forced the scheduled band to withdraw. They immediately impressed this reviewer by opening with Tommy Castro and Rick Estrin’s “Backup Plan”, bassist Duncan Highet’s strong vocals and the different styles of the two guitarists (Frank McConnell on the Strat and Tony Seaman on the Gibson 335) well in evidence. The band write some good originals and “Games We Play” came early in the set, a good song with interesting lyrics, another strong song “Loving Rings My Bell” closing the first set. With their regular drummer recovering from surgery Gary Plato had only had one rehearsal and the band stuck mainly to covers including a sparkling “Roll ‘Em Pete” (Big Joe Turner/Pete Johnson) which naturally featured keyboard player Steve Pearce on boogie piano. Although there were several well-known tunes it was good to see contemporary US talents such as Tinsley Ellis and the late Michael Burks featuring in the set.
Perhaps emboldened by the positive audience reaction the second set had more original material including the title track of their CD “Which Way To The Blues” which took the old story of meeting the Devil at the crossroads and gave it a modern twist. The band has toured the southern US several times and their road trip experience was the focus of “Beale To Bourbon” while the ballad “Keeping The Peace” took a look at how to maintain a relationship (keep quiet!), the two guitarists both giving us excellent solos. Duncan is a good front man with plenty of amusing patter and he writes and sings most of the material but Tony chipped in with his song “Ain’t No Use”, a stomper with great piano from Steve. A second dip into the Tommy Castro songbook brought a driving “Make It Back To Memphis” followed by Duncan’s “Am I Right?”, both tunes really engaging the audience. They closed the set with The Cate Brothers’ stirring “Am I Losing You?” and the familiar riff of “Standing On Shaky Ground”. However, BBC audiences are not easily satisfied and an encore was demanded, the band responding with pile driving versions of George Jackson’s “Down Home Blues” and Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man”. A very enjoyable evening with a band of good musicians delivering a satisfying blend of covers and strong originals; to quote a friend – “one to put on my ‘must see again’ list”!
John Mitchell