Reviews of the Racky Thomas Band

The Blues Blog — A recap by long-time fan Lady K of the Racky Thomas Band when they performed at Inn on the Blues on July 13, 2012:

rack-sideMight have been Friday the 13th, but it was a lucky night for patrons of the INN on the Blues, in York Beach. One of those magical nights that blues music lovers absolutely live for; when the music is perfect, the crowd is receptive and all conditions are GO!!!

Racky Thomas has become a master at blending different musicians on different occasions and always coming up with a perfect mix of talent. On this night the band included Matt McCabe on keyboard (the keyboard was a surprise addition, Matt McCabe playing was a bonus); Pete Henderson, awe-inspiring on lead guitar and back-up vocals; long-time friend of the INN on the Blues, Jon Ross on bass; and Racky’s stalwart drummer (and back-up vocalist), Michael Avery. Racky Thomas is the lead vocalist, harp player, song-writer and hyper-energetic crowd motivator.

The crowd was a mix of INN on the Blues ‘regulars’ (the INN-crowd); fans of the Racky Thomas Band who always show up; some friends of Racky’s from the Boston area; oh, AND Racky’s high school science teacher (biology, I think); plus lots of folks visiting this resort town on vacation, looking for excitement. No one was disappointed. And what happened, especially during the first set, is what made the evening so special – only a very few people danced; the crowd was mostly engrossed in the blues. For most of that set, everyone remained seated, eyes glued on the star of the show, clapping to the beat when Racky asked, heads bopping to the music, and erupting in waves of applause after solo bits from each musician, and at the end of each tune. Racky Thomas had everyone in the palms of his hands. Lady K has seen him do it before; it’s always a joy to watch the transformation as ‘the Rack’ and his band take a crowd to school and show what Chicago-blues is all about. Racky is a converter; many people who think they don’t like the blues learn they are wrong – Lady K has seen that happen many times also.

By the time the band’s second set began, the crowd had multiplied, and the dance-floor got crowded and stayed that way, until last call. The almost full-house crowd left the INN on the Blues smiling – Racky’s blues do that to people.

Racky Thomas has a vast repertoire of tunes – blues from world-class bluesmen, plantation gospel (the original blues), rocking electric blues, classic and obscure blues, and Racky Thomas blues – and he shared a whole lot of all of the above on this magic night. Old classic blues included “Matchbox Blues”, “Biscuit-Bakin’ Woman”, “Mona”, “Sugar-coated Love”, “Big Road Blues”, “Hoochie-Coochie Man”, and “Mojo Workin’” (to name a few). Racky tossed in “Let the Circle Be Unbroken”, which caught people off-guard, then got them singing along, and ultimately earned a huge round of applause. The hero of the evening is also a terrific songwriter, the INN-crowd and others also got a taste of Racky’s blues, including: “If My Luck Don’t Change”, the harp-blistering instrumental “Racketeering”, “Dance With Your Daddy”, and “Ain’t It Lonesome?” The answer to that last song title is ‘no’, it wasn’t lonesome that night; it was one huge Racky Thomas style party. The INN on the Blues, the INN-crowd and all of Racky’s new fans got very lucky on this Friday the 13th.

Here’s a previous review by Lady K of the Racky Thomas Duo when they performed at Inn on the Blues on June 10th, 2011:

Lady K is a very enthusiastic, long-time fan of Racky Thomas, the high-energy Chicago-style Racky Thomas Band, and of the many Racky solo shows that she has been privileged to attend. Racky Thomas is a masterful purveyor of HUGE Chicago blues tunes, both his own, and whatever others strike his fancy from way back when in blues history. I’ve always said that when the Racky Thomas Band is going full-tilt (whether in a blues club, a blues show, a blues festival, wherever), closing one’s eyes transports you back in time to the Chicago blues clubs of the 1930s or 1940s.

Racky’s solo shows are totally different – but equally as engaging. There’s absolutely no telling what music you might hear during one of Racky’s solo, acoustic, gatherings. Usually a smaller venue (or a corner in a large venue), with a smaller, but appreciative audience gathered around, just listening – to maybe a bunch of Dylan tunes, or amazing plantation gospel stuff, or old-time front-porch, log-cabin blues – Racky has a huge repertoire – just huge. Lady K was lucky enough to be asked to write a review of a rare booking of ‘just’ Racky, at the INN on the Blues (York Beach, Maine), and she was excited to finally write about one of Racky’s more intimate shows, and wondering what Racky had in mind for the evening. First was the surprise of seeing a keyboard stand (there’s probably a technical term for that – I don’t do technical) being assembled, next to center-stage – it was gonna be a Racky Thomas DUO!!!! A whole new vista of exciting musical possibilities was in store for the very appreciative audience.

The keyboard belonged to Racky’s good friend and colleague, Matt McCabe, and the pairing was superb. Racky Thomas, in addition to playing guitar, being famous for his blues harp, and writing terrific blues tunes, also has an amazing voice, suited to multiple musical genres. So, there were many old (really, really old) gospel tunes; some also labeled African-American gospel, pre-war gospel (yeah, that would be the Civil War). Racky sang and strummed his dobro for “Ain’t Goin’ Down that Big Road by Myself,” which is labeled plantation gospel (author unknown); and “Where Will I Be When That Last Trumpet Sounds” (labeled African American, or spiritual), author unknown – Racky played his other acoustic guitar and sang. Matt got a little break when Racky performed one of his ‘regular’ tunes – a Capella – a Son House “John the Revelator” (which always brings the house down).

Racky Thomas is famous for the blues, so he did some blues. “Biscuit Bakin’ Woman” (by Yank Rachell) which featured Racky vocalizing and playing harp. “Pony Blues” (by Charley Patton), with Racky on dobro; “Bump Me Susie” (Racky on harp) a tune made famous by Big Joe Turner. And some real surprises (not everyday tunes for Racky Thomas): “Jambalaya”!! “Stormy Weather” — yes, really — the 1933 tune; and “My Babe” – don’t stand no cheatin’. Racky also included a sing-along-tune that fans have come to recognize from his solo shows (although he’s been known to add this during the break in his band shows): “Ain’t Nobody’s Business but My Own” – everyone loves to sing along with ‘drink all the liquor down in Costa Rica’!!!

There was a break in the show!!!! It didn’t happen here!! Lady K has been grouping the different types or ages of the varied tunes that Racky and Matt delivered, rather than a chronological narrative. So, at some point there was a break. After the break Racky and Matt took the stage, only there was a difference in that the Matt at the keyboards wasn’t Matt McCabe. It was Matt Barnhard, a high school buddy of Racky’s!! And HE did a terrific job accompanying Racky on a few tunes; including a rag-time sounding “Flip, Flop and Fly.” Matt McCabe got a bit longer break and an extra cocktail. Everyone was happy.

Now usually when Racky does a solo gig, he doesn’t do any of his beloved Chicago blues tunes – they ‘work’ much, much better with something more than acoustic guitar behind Racky’s vocals. So, with Matt McCabe available, we did hear a few tunes from some of Racky’s CDs, including “The Hustle is On,” and J. Dupree’s “Junker’s Blues.”

And, there was much more great music: Racky Thomas doesn’t do patter; he delivers one tune after another, and just keeps amazing his audience, so the list of tunes is long – very long. Suffice it to say, that a Racky duo is every bit as satisfying an evening of mesmerizing music as a solo show. Not a get down and dirty, shake your tail-feather Racky Thomas, but a Racky who digs deep into history and shares what he learns, via music.