Johnny and the Headhunters

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Johnny and the Headhunters

“Johnny is a talented guitarist and vocalist and I like the way he takes these cover tunes and gives them a few interesting twists and turns. Blues fans who dig old school guitar will want to get their hands on That’s All I Need.” ~Blue Bytes Review

Johnny & The Headhunters is a formidable crew led by guitarist/singer Johnny Ticktin, who started playing guitar at age 6, but became enthralled with the blues while in college.  He later became friends with harmonica player Larry Wise, who introduced him to Louisiana Red.  The trio toured the U.S. and Canada as Nobody’s Children.  Ticktin also played with Sunnyland Slim, Lurrie Bell, and in the groups Rockett 88 and the Philadelphia band The Excellos in the early 80’s before moving back to his native Washington D.C. to form The Headhunters, where they’ve held court for three decades.

That’s All I Need is the band’s eighth release, and it’s a ten-song set that covers blues, swing, mambo. R&B, and surf music.  It consists of nine covers tunes that span rock, blues, R&B, and even rockabilly.  Ticktin is backed by bassists Brian McGregor, Steve Shaw, Pete Kanaras, and Toro Gamble, drummers Clark Matthews, Gamble, and Robbie Magruder, with D.C. legend Tam Sullivan on keyboards, and Dru Lore guesting on guitar for one track.

Some of these songs will be familiar to blues fans.  The band covers two Magic Sam tracks….the title track kicks off the disc and gets a really swampy blues treatment with Johnny’s tremolo guitar, and “All My Whole Life” is a smooth West Side shuffle.  “Lead Me On,” was a hit for Bobby “Blue” Bland back in the day, and Johnny turns in a fine vocal and tasty guitar work.  The Doc Pomus/Dr. John tune “Body and Fender Man” gets a rousing treatment.  Johnny also owns JT Auto Service in his day job, so the song has a double meaning for him.

The band does a slick job on Dave Cash’s rockabilly tune, “Chicken House,” and rock hard on Lowell Fulson’s “Rock ‘Em Dead,” a driving boogie shuffle.  Johnny picks up the slide for a sizzling, roof-raising take on Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker,” and cranks up the reverb for a smoking read of Link Wray’s “Ace of Spades.”  He’s joined by singer Liz Springer (of the D.C. band Build 4 Comfort) for a duet on Donavan’s “Watch and Chain.”  The closer is a Ticktin original, “Collins Mambo,” that pays tribute to Texas guitar slinger Albert Collins’ early recordings.

This was a very enjoyable album with a great retro feel.  Johnny is a talented guitarist and vocalist and I like the way he takes these cover tunes and gives them a few interesting twists and turns.  Blues fans who dig old school guitar will want to get their hands on That’s All I Need.

-Blue Bytes Review