Real Blues magazine CD Review For "Pure Pleasure"

While I love Phillip Walker (the great Texas/West Coast bluesman) I must admit some of my anticipation for going to see him play live, (especially when he was coming to Victoria, BC regularly in the early 1990s), was because I could always expect Phillip to bring with several great West Coast/California blues veterans, people like Nat Dove, Johnny Tucker, Dale Rene, Broadway Thomas and the great Don Johnson.

Like many Texas blues/R&B players, Donald Ray Johnson migrated to where the work was and California was where the action was. We did a story on Donald Ray in WestCoast Blues Review #9 and despite his youthful age (born
1948) the man has been around! As a highly regarded drummer and a deep-voiced vocalist, Don got work in California gigging with people like Charles Brown, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Crayton, Smokey Wilson, Big Mama Thorton and of course Phillip Walker but around 1974, Don got a job with an R&B/Disco outfit called A Taste Of Honey and with their Grammy Award in 1979 for 'Boogie Oogie Oogie', he went all over the world, (first-class), with the group.

By 1980 however A Taste Of Honey was kaputs and Don went back to the Blues in LA with work again in Phillip Walker's group. Following a serious vision impairment situation and surgury which left Don near blind, he went
back to Texas in 1986 and then on to Billings, Montana to work with old friend and LA blues legend, Dale Rene.

Because of Don's familiarity with Alberta, ( Phillip Walker has played hundreds of gigs in Calgary and Alberta over the last 20 years), he had made dozens of good friends all over the Province, and after a short visit in 1990, Don became a Calgary-based bluesman.

He put out a fine CD in 1995, 'It Ain't Easy Bein' Blue', (the excellent title tune is reprised here), and while he's still the best Texas-shuffle drummer in all of Canada, (and still for hire!), he's been building up a big name for himself as a vocalist/keyboardist/songwriter as well, and he also joins forces with the 3-to-4 dozen American expatriate blues/R&B players who reside/work in Canada (Kenny Wayne, Curly Bridges, Wild Child Butler....).

'Pure Pleasure'is, in my opinion, 70% blues/30% R&B and, the combination for the most part, works. While many of today's artists could be classified as soul-blues acts, Don keeps the two genres separate on this disc, laying down deep Texas/West Coast blues grooves on several tracks and even offering up a fine gospel number, 'Song For Perry (Walk Around Heaven All Day)'.

Opening with a bang on 'Slow Down Baby',(killer sax and trombone by Ralph Moncivais and B.J. Emery respectively) Donald Ray proves within seconds to be a world-class Blues talent, (wonderful lady-killing voice, perfect drumming, and exceptional song-writing). One thing listeners should recognize right-away is that despite being an independent, self-produced album, this disc is totally professional in sound, production, mixing, arrangements.....everything is high-standard quality control. Johnson has also surrounded himself with the very best talents and everybody gives 110% for Don, a man they all both love and respect.

Alberta-based allstars include Johnny V. Mills, Ron Casat, Steve Pineo, Gib Monks, P.J. Perry, Michael Huston, Rob Vaus and Graham Guest, while U.S.-based players are the awesomely-gifted Maurice Vaughn and his bandmate, B.J. Emery. B.C. also contributes Bill Johnson on guitar and Russell Jackson on bass.

'Gone So Long' and 'Thrilling You, Killing Me' are superb numbers that will have blues fans everywhere saying/thinking 'Wow! This guy Donald Ray is HOT!!', but as great as those tracks are, 'No Guitar Blues' deserves to be both a huge radio Hit and an all-time classic/standard. It's one of those humorous, funky, talkin' blues that work so well (remember 'Don't Go Reachin' Cross My Plate'?)

'Too Young To Know', performed live with Maurice Vaughn's band at Blues On Whyte in Edmonton, is a smokin' closer to this super-fine blues/r&b CD. If anyone ever tries to tell you that Real, Authentic, full-of-feeling Blues doesn't exist anymore, just play them 3 or 4 of the tunes we've mentioned. They will agree with the title of 'Pure Pleasure'.

We have been hoping Donald Ray Johnson would get the respect and exposure he deserves as an exceptional blues talent and now it looks as though he may get it thanks to this killer disc. 5 Bottles for a collection of material
that truly is an experience in 'Pure Pleasure'. (deejays everywhere should be pushing 'No Guitar Blues' as Blues Song Of 2003!!!).

-AGrigg
Real Blues Magazine