Grosse PointesJune 27, 2012
Acclaimed vocalist/guitarist Bassett literally sings Detroit’s praises on new CD
By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer
When it comes to singing the praises of his adopted hometown, blues and jazz legend Johnnie Bassett is no Johnny-come-lately.
His new CD, “I Can Make That Happen” — released on Sly Dog Records, a division of Mack Avenue Records — opens with “Proud to be From Detroit.” The song offers a shout-out to places like Greektown and Belle Isle, as well as the Lions and Tigers, and it’s an upbeat ditty that wouldn’t sound out of place accompanying a Detroit tourism commercial.
“We’ve taken a lot of hits here and a lot of it is really unfortunate, and we don’t deserve it,” Bassett said.
The 76-year-old Bassett was born in Florida in 1935, but his family moved to Detroit a decade later, and Bassett considers the Motor City his home. Although he now lives in Oak Park, he spent the majority of his life on the city’s west side.
Like the city he loves, Bassett has endured his share of hard knocks. The Brothers Groove frontman Chris Codish, who co-produced the new CD and has worked with Bassett since the mid-1990s, said Bassett “never got the spotlight he deserved early on.” The man who once performed with the likes of John Lee Hooker and other big names was driving a van for a hospital when drummer R.J. Spangler coaxed him back into the business, Codish said.
Codish, an east-side Detroiter and University of Liggett graduate, plays piano and organ on the CD and co-wrote many of the songs, some with his father, music legend Bob Codish. His band, The Brothers Groove — which also includes bassist James Simonson and drummer Skeeto Valdez — has become Bassett’s regular band. And his sister, photographer Cybelle Codish, shot the album art. No wonder, then, that Codish said there’s a familial vibe associated with the project.
“We just listen to each other and play off each other,” he said, noting that most of the CD was recorded live in the studio.
“I Can Make That Happen” showcases Bassett’s versatility, with touches of jazz, soul and R&B alongside the blues. The Motor City Horns bring their dynamic sparkle to the CD, which also features award-winning Detroit vocalist Thornetta Davis.
“I think it shows that he has more breadth than the typical Chicago bluesman,” Codish said. “I think it shows his range as a guitar player and singer.”
Bassett said the CD is aimed at a wide audience.
Codish, who’s young enough to be one of Bassett’s children, said he’s learned a lot from Bassett, including his sense of timing, nuance and phrasing.
“It’s effortless,” he said. “Every note is in the right place. He’s a master of restraint, which is an undervalued aspect of music. … Johnnie can really hold back and make you want more.”
And age hasn’t diminished his ability.
“He still sounds great,” Codish said. “He’s the real deal. When he sings something, he really means it.”
Bassett said people who come to one of his shows should plan on spending time on the dance floor.
“Bring your rockin’ shoes,” he said with a chuckle.
John Denomme, manager of marketing and promotions for the Grosse Pointe Village Association, tapped Bassett for the 25th anniversary Music on the Plaza concert series, presented by St. John Hospital and Medical Center. A musician himself, Denomme knows that Bassett is a lively musician and an audience favorite. Bassett will perform during the free outdoor series July 5.
“Johnnie Bassett has been an enduring icon and standard bearer for the Delta blues community for decades, and it is a pleasure and an honor to welcome him back to the Music on the Plaza stage,” Denomme said by email.
Bassett, who has two adult daughters and several grandchildren, said “love of the music and the people that you encounter” has kept him in the business, even during the rough patches.
“For me, it’s the joy I get from people who come to see me, that satisfaction of knowing you’ve brought a few minutes of happiness to someone as they’re listening,” he said.
Codish said Bassett would like to return to the studio soon to record a jazzier CD. Fittingly, Bassett, The Brothers Groove and The Motor City Horns will perform together at this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend in downtown Detroit. His fellow musicians and supporters hope “I Can Make That Happen” finally brings Bassett the larger recognition he deserves.
“I think it’s our best effort yet, and I think it shows him at the top of his game,” Codish said.
Johnnie Bassett & The Brothers Groove will perform at 9:30 p.m. June 30 at Dylan’s Raw Bar & Grille, 15402 Mack in Grosse Pointe Park; call (313) 884-6030 or visit http://dylansrawbar.com for more information. Bassett & The Brothers Groove will also be performing during Music on the Plaza at 7 p.m. July 5 at Village Festival Plaza, located at the corner of Kercheval and St. Clair in Grosse Pointe City. The rain location is Maire Elementary School, two blocks west of Festival Plaza at 740 Cadieux. For more information, call (313) 886-7474 or visit www.thevillagegp.com. For more about Bassett, visit www.mackavenue.com/artists/detail/johnnie_bassett/.
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