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Night Life (Reissue)

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Album Review

Billy Butler is well known to guitarists only, as the co-author of the early R&B funked-up standard "Honky Tonk," with organist Bill Doggett. The two albums featured in this single disc two-fer reissue — Guitar Soul and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, both released in 1970 — offer a wider view of the man and his music. The opening track on Guitar Soul is a cut worthy of the Meters in its New Orleans-styled second-line funk called "Blow for the Crossing." Nine and a half minutes in length, it's dark, spooky, greasy, and funky as hell. With Seldon Powell on tenor, Sonny Phillips on organ, Specs Powell on drums, and Bob Bushnell on bass, it's a jam du jour. Everybody solos, but Butler and Phillips are the pair that bend the tune all over the place like Gumby on Pokey. With an elongated melodic line played by Powell on the saxophone and punched-up by the drums, there's nothing to keep the body still in its massive groove-o-phonics. But the almighty groove wasn't Butler's only strength. With a saxophonist like Houston Person, he could play the most elegant swing — as in their read of the Rodgers & Hart classic "Dancing on the Ceiling" on the second half of the album, or as a solo guitarist he could play from the Montoya fake book as he does on "Golden Earrings," with a classical guitar. There's even a reworked version of "Honky Tonk" here that adds the explosiveness of Butler's playing to the grove of the original. Further, there's the gorgeous jazz-only medley of "Autumn Nocturne" and "You Go to My Head," where Butler and Seldon Powell reach for the most subtle nuances possible to get the melodic idea across by understatement. Solos wind into one another, each one keeping the melodic fragment inherent in the harmonic changes of the breaks so it's there, in both tunes, ever present like a ghost that can't decide which direction to turn and just hovers there. The wildest tune on the Person sessions on the second half of the album is Neil Hefti and Booby Troup's "Girl Talk." Before this I could never have imagined hearing this tune as an instrumental, but it works like grease on a bicycle chain with Butler punching up the melody and bending his strings all over it to make the language impenetrable to all but his rhythm section, and Person who flies over the top making the simple pop song into a work of groove jazz artistry. This disc is a welcome introduction to one of the great, all-but-lost talents in jazz history. Billy Butler was a guitarist's guitarist and an innovator in both production and arrangements. This disc is solid from top to bottom and reveals the restless spirit of a quiet yet demanding artist.


Born: June 07, 1945 in Chicago, IL

Genre: House

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s

A tasty soul-jazz and blues guitarist, Billy Butler adroitly mixed a Charlie Christian approach with '50s R&B grooves and backbeats. He coaxed a warm, fat tone from his hollow-bodied electric guitar, and provided deceptively simple solos and fills that became staples of the R&B guitar vocabulary. Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk," featuring Butler, is perhaps the prototype R&B guitar instrumental. "Ram-Bunk-Shush" and "Big Boy" are other highlights of his tenure with Doggett. He began playing with doo...
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Night Life (Reissue), Billy Butler
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  • $9.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music
  • Released: Dec 21, 1970

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