The guy staring out at you from the cover of this collection may not look like a blues god — maybe a little more like your local electrician. But it only takes a few seconds to be convinced. Bill “Mr. Stress” Miller was something of a local institution in Cleveland, playing no-nonsense electric blues boogie in dive bars for decades until his death in 2015. The lineup of the band that bore his nickname was of the revolving door variety — and the previously unreleased live tapes we’re dealing with here capture one of the very best in full flight. Miller’s impassioned vocals and Little Walter-worthy blues harp are bolstered by a wickedly dynamic rhythm section, Mike Sands’s funky electric piano, and best of all, the slashing guitar of Chuck Drazdik.
There’s no doubt that these guys were purists and aficionados when it came to the Chicago blues style, but there’s also an exploratory, open-ended vibe present on many of the selections here; it’s no coincidence that the MSBB counted adventurous Cleveland proto-punkers like Peter Laughner and Anton Fier in its ranks over the years. The nature of these tapes isn’t exactly hi-fi, but it’s perfect for the gritty, after-hours ambiance of the sound. While listening, you may find yourself struck with a desire for cheap beer and unfiltered Marlboros. And with Nick Blakey’s detailed, extensively researched liners, great photos, and nice digital bonus tracks, it all adds up to an essential archival trip. Dig in. words / t wilcox
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