Something hot, humid and nasty blew up from the South when the keyboards-and-drums duo Black Diamond Heavies shook the rafters at Plush last Friday, with deep blues, cold-sweat soul and swamp R&B.
From East Nashville, Tenn., the Black Diamond Heavies played for only about 50 minutes, bookended by excellent sets from local acts Chris Black and Tom Walbank.
John Wesley Myers, a Texas-born son of a preacher man, looked a tad like the long-lost younger brother of Steppenwolf's John Kay, but sang like Howlin' Wolf--all bark and bite, his growl was the real deal. On the keys, Myers kept up a hypnotic rhythm with his left hand, while molesting his piano and organ with layers of fuzz and other effects, building a monstrous groove in which the lack of bass or guitar was never an issue. His partner was rabble-rousing drummer Van Campbell, a scion of Kentucky whose energetic style helped propel the momentum into overdrive.
Myers and Campbell worked devilishly to bring the backwoods juke joint to Tucson with immediately appealing, flame-throwing numbers such as "Fever in My Blood" and "Bidin' My Time." But they really killed on interpretations of soul classics such as Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits" and Nina Simone's "Oh, Sinnerman," both of which are on the Heavies' latest album, A Touch of Someone Else's Class.
Black performed fascinating compositions of his own that sounded as if Nick Cave were fronting Tom Waits' backing band, if it were playing a wedding circuit from the Balkans to Moorish Iberia. He's a multi-instrumentalist, but at this show stuck to the electric piano and was brilliantly supported by violinist Vicki Brown, guitarist Mike Bagesse and drummer Dimitri Manos. More, please.
Bagesse and Manos also make up the Ambassadors, the backing group for British-born guitarist-singer-harmonica player Walbank, who has become one of Tucson's strongest local draws. Their take on syncopated, boogie-inflected blues, inspired by such legends as Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Elmore James and John Lee Hooker, filled the dance floor. The band was hypnotic on Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" (with a bit of Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" thrown in on the bridge), The Clash's "The Guns of Brixton" and the Walbank original "Jaguar Blues," from his smokin' new LP, Sugarmama.