As a child prodigy, keyboardist and organist Lucky Peterson's exploits were legendary. The stories grew even more widespread as he became a teen and stints with Little Milton and Bobby "Blue" Bland only added to his fame. But Peterson's records have not always justified or reaffirmed his reputation. That is not the case with the cuts on this 1984 set, recently reissued by Evidence. The spiraling solos, excellent bridges, turnbacks, pedal maneuvers, and soulful accompaniment are executed with a relaxed edge and confident precision. If you have wondered whether Lucky Peterson deserves the hype and major label bonanza, these songs are the real deal.
All Music Guide
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Once a precocious child prodigy whose amazing prowess on the organ led to numerous network TV performances while his tiny peers were still bravely struggling with their ABCs, Lucky Peterson is now fully grown - and he's a hotter name on the blues circuit than ever.
Now signed to PolyGram's Verve subsidiary (the firm recently released his I'm Ready), the Dallas-based Peterson stands on the brink of national stardom for the second time. In between his two bouts with high-profile status, Peterson has spent plenty of time in the studio - both on his own projects and as a constantly in-demand session musician.
Born Judge Kenneth Peterson in 1963, the wee lad grew up surrounded by the blues. His father James owned a blues joint called the Governor's Inn in Buffalo, New York, and little Lucky was blessed by the transient presence of the idiom's greats, who blew through town to play the bar. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Junior Wells, Jimmy Reed, and Buddy Guy all tore up the Inn's bandstand, but it was the massive Hammond B-3 organ rig of Bill "Honky Tonk" Doggett that truly fascinated the three-year-old.
Pointers from Doggett and jazz organist Jimmy Smith aimed the boy squarely in the right direction. Dad devised an imaginative technique for teaching his son the rudiments of the keyboard: he dumped an ashtray's worth of cigarette butts on the ivories, placing different colored stubs on different keys to indicate which ones to press.
By the time he was five, little Lucky was deemed proficient enough by no less an authority than blues producer Willie Dixon to begin his recording career. 1-2-3-4, Lucky's 1971 release on the Today label, proved an out-of-left-field national smash. A series of network TV appearances ensued, the youngster rubbing elbows with starmakers Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan.
The association with Dixon was a fleeting one, as was Lucky's initial brush with fame. But that didn't stop him from learning the guitar with the same fleet-fingered tenacity that he applied to the organ (with a bit of extra incentive from dad).
"He took the guitar out of my hands at the age of eight in front of some people," says Peterson. "He said, If you ain't gonna play it, don't play it at all,' and snatched it out of my hands and embarrassed me in front of all these people. So when I got home, I started getting with B.B. King and Little Milton albums, Albert Collins - listening to 'em and picking up their licks. I said, I'm gonna play this guitar.'"
When he was 17, Peterson copped a gig with Little Milton's polished outfit. "His band got caught in a snowstorm in Memphis," says Peterson. "I had a band going, so he used my band for that Friday night. Saturday night, his band showed up, but they didn't have no keyboard player. So he asked me if I wanted to play. I said yeah. I got a standing ovation. When I came down, he asked me if I wanted a job."
Lucky soon took on the added responsibility of serving as Milton's bandleader. His simmering keyboards distinguished Milton's 1982 album for the French Isabel label, The Blues Is Alright! (recently reissued by Evidence Music). After three years with Milton, Lucky switched over to Bobby "Blue" Bland's prestigious band for another three-year stint before finally breaking away to go solo.
Striking up a mutually beneficial musical relationship with producer Bob Greenlee at King Snake Studios in Sanford, Florida, Lucky has contributed steaming keyboards and guitar to releases by Kenny Neal and others in the extended King Snake family (even a pair of discs by one James Peterson). In addition, Lucky's prolific session exploits have recently encompassed albums by Etta James, Junior Wells, Joe Louis Walker, James Cotton, Jimmy Johnson, and Big Daddy Kinsey.
In 1989, Lucky's star officially began to shine again when Alligator Records issued the Greenlee production Lucky Strikes! The cleverly titled collection gave an eloquent indication of what Peterson had learned as a singer, keyboardist, and guitarist since his childhood brush with the bigtime. A year later, Peterson encored with another acclaimed Alligator disc of his own, Triple Play.
This collection was cut in Paris in 1984 with a Chicago-based trio featuring flashy young guitarist Melvin Taylor, who cut his own Isabel set the very same day with an identical band (Plays The Blues For You, another recent Evidence reissue). As you might surmise from such hurried circumstances, Ridin' glides down a route heavily populated by tried-and-true blues standards, but Peterson's confident attack on organ and piano renders each selection distinctive.
The title track is the set's lone original, a torrid jazz-based workout that recalls Peterson's main men on the organ, Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff; Taylor's rapid-fire style is perfectly suited to such a cooking workout. Both remaining instrumentals come from the songbook of Booker T. & The MG's, a style that Peterson obviously knows intimately.
Lucky may have been flashing back to his formative years at the Governor's Inn when he sang two of Jimmy Reed's best-known copyrights and the Howlin' Wolf / Willie Dixon perennial Little Red Rooster, and he turns in a passionate reading of B.B. King's 1966 hit Don't Answer The Door. Of course, he was probably playing the easy-grooving Farther Up The Road every night behind Bland at the time. Even on such familiar items, Lucky's own approach glows brightly.
Even though he's still a young man by blues standards, Lucky Peterson has developed his own sound - and he knows precisely what he's capable of.
"I'm creative," he says. "I don't like too many people telling me what to do. I know what I want to hear, and I know what sounds good. Don't try to have me sounding like something that I'm not.
"Let me sound like me. That'll sound good."
- Bill Dahl