A couple of months ago I was searching the South African iTunes Store for the latest, or any album, by local blues rock act Black Cat Bones, given that it is one of the many bands whose CDs, if they ever release albums, are not available at Musica or even The African Music Store, but did not find anything by the South African outfit. Instead I came across music by a short lived British band of the same name whose main claim to fame seems to be that Paul Kossoff and Andy Kirke, later of Free, and Rod Price, later of Foghat, were briefly in the band.
I also found reference to various albums with songs called "Black Cat Bone." Finally I came across the Jammin' album of The Black Cat Bone. The tracks start with "Mannish Boy" and run through a veritable greatest hits of blues. The album cover photograph shows the band members posing in what can only be a parody of a Fifties rock and roll album cover. I had to have it, and bought it.
I could not find any other info on The Black Cat Bone, the time period within which the band was active or even the release date of Jammin'. The singer's accent sounds European and I would not be surprised if the band were of Dutch origin, or perhaps Belgian. There has been, and still is, a significant blues scene in the Lowlands and the Dutch in particular has had a number of excellent blues bands particularly from the Sixties blues boom era.
The production values are quite high and the song selection is excellent. The band comes across as dedicated to honouring the tradition and to do justice to the standards they perform. It is your basic Chicago Southside electric blues combo with the blues harp player being for the most part the most prominent soloist. The artists covered include Muddy Waters ("Mannish Boy", "Hoochie Coochie Man", and "Catfish Blues."), Magic Sam ("All Your Loving"), Buddy Guy and Junior Wells ("Messing With The Kid"), Little Walter ("My Babe"), Jimmy Reed ("Got Me Running"), Robert Johnson ("Me and the Devil") and, as finale, a cool, jazzy interpretation of B B King's "The Thrill Is Gone." There is one nod to rock 'n roll with Dale Hawkins' "Suzie Q" and instrumental "Guitar Rag."
I would imagine that The Black Cat Bone could have held their own against any White blues combo of their time. They are as authentic as one could expect from a band that does not give note perfect, awestruck renditions of the tunes they cover nor go out of their way to do something progressive with their blues. The Fabulous Thunderbirds or George Thorogood, for example, were exposed to the real thing, the old time blues guys who were still alive and performing in the formative years of the respective younger musicians who eventually carried on the tradition and also stamped their own brand on it, not only by writing their own blues classics but in the angle at which they approached the tradition and its tropes. The Black Cat Bone are the kind of bar band that play blues with a gritty enthusiasm and the earthy twelve bar joy yet are not out to challenge the tradition or reconstruct it. I would guess that groups like John Mayall, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Fleetwood Mac would have been contemporaries or near contemporaries of The Black Cat Bone and the other bands were absolutely not only regurgitation bluesy their idols and mentors but also bringing something new to the table. Most of the blues influenced musicians from the mid Sixties eventually found their way to hard blues rock or progressive blues in any event that took the genre to somewhere different than the Southside or the Delta mostly because of some artistic drive that forced the musicians to move beyond imitation to creativity and because progression was the name of the game back then, all kinds of fusion with blues followed. On the evidence of this one record I could not imagine The Black Cat Bone moving on from cover versions. A superior bar band will not necessarily make a good progressive band. On the other hand, it is not impossible or improbable to think that The Black Cat Bone would not have become another version of Living Blues or even Golden Earring. Fleetwood Mac mutated in to an AOR band within the space of 10 years after starting from a pretty much purist blues base.
There are plenty of albums by White blues acts who do their earnest best to do homage to their blues heroes, with greater or lesser degrees of success. Jammin' would not count amongst the top ten of those but it is on the whole pleasant and entertaining to listen to. If there is not much innovation there is no wholesale desecration of the material either. And, best of all, though the material is perhaps over familiar there is never a sense of the tedium that can destroy the soul through having to listen to yet another version of "Hoochie Coochie Man."