JOHNNY AND THE MOTONES – Two Hits for the Kitty
(2005 Altenburgh Records)
Wausau-area keyboardist John Altenburgh has been putting out jazz albums since 1990. He’s also a devoted promoter of Wisconsin artists and, through his label Altenburgh Records, has released several recordings in the “Wisconsin Homegrown Series.” Altenburgh’s own works have landed him on national charts and he’s received reviews in Billboard magazine, Cadance, BRE, Strictly Jazz, and others. His label boasts a bevy of talent including Mike Metheny, Rebecca Parris, John Greiner, Gary Brunotte, Bob Kase and others. Altenburgh himself has just released a 4-CD box set that features his guitar playing as well.
Subtitled The Sun Studio Sessions, Two Hits for the Kitty got its start in 2000 when Altenburgh toured the famed Sun Studios in Memphis. That resulted in his loaning the Sun Studios museum a lathe recorder, the type that used to cut acetates in the early days of recording. His generosity later earned Altenburgh an invitation to do a recording session in the hallowed building, and Johnny and the Motones were born. The album was cut live in the same room where Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash and others recorded in a little over three hours and is a sensational collection of original and group compositions and two covers. Given the short amount of time in which it was cut, Two Hits for the Kitty is a testament to the players’ professionalism.
“Blues for ‘the Killer’” was recorded with Altenburgh on Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano, which still sits in the studio and according to Altenburgh is “still out of tune.” Both guitarist Chris O’Keefe and saxophonist John Greiner shine on this song, as well as Altenburgh’s incredible soloing which is a constant throughout the entire recording. The bass duties were handled by Keras Rubka-Nimz. Many of the songs are uptempo and the rhythm section boogies and swings with finesse, the title track being a perfect example.
O’Keefe contributes a nifty track in “Puff’s Blues,” a scratchy single-coil pickup number apparently dedicated to his recently deceased cat. He also plays a mean slide on “Bo Did Boogie.”
Rubka-Nimz’s “Terminal Blues” is a hot blues number, a definite highlight on the disc. Sun Studios engineer James Lott provided bass on the track and he and drummer Mark Mattioli are tight as nails, while Rubka-Nimz growls out the lead vocals. Altenburgh chimes in with some sensational Fender Rhodes-toned soloing. The song is duplicated on a video included on the disc showing the band cutting the song live in Sun Studios.
The album opens with a finger-snappin’ version of Sonny Terry and Bobbie McGee’s “Walk On” and closes gracefully with a cover of “I Don’t Know Why,” written in 1931, all crooning and soft brushes.
Fans of roots music will definitely dig this set and jazz lovers would do well to check out the Altenburgh Records catalog which is available through the website.