Well, Willie Pooch, a blues singer born in Tupelo, Mississippi and now living in Columbus, Ohio by way of Chicago understands the blue-collar blues because he lived it. He toiled 30 years at Buckeye Steel Castings as a matter of fact. It's a clanging, fiery, sand-filled foundry managed by a George Bush Sr. forebear several generations ago. Even to this day, though subject to successive ownerships, it smells of no-bake binder resin and molten metal. Long days at Buckeye Steel Castings would create a need for relaxation at the end of the week. That’s what Willie Pooch (born William Johnson) did on Friday nights and he sings about it.
"Buckeye Steel Mill Blues" covers Everyman’s, and specifically Pooch’s, experiences of grinding labor 40 hours a week, only to spend his paycheck before the weekend is over. Applying the lyrics of his work description to the conventional blues structure, Pooch connects with listeners, as do all the great blues singers, by stirring the nods of recognition at shared experience. Making the song even more effective is the inclusion of B-3 organist Tony Monaco, who, along with drummer Louis Tsamous, produced Pooch’s first nationally distributed CD.
Like Hank Marr before him, Monaco captures the essence of the blues, as was done so effectively on his album Fiery Blues last year. One of the surprises of that album was Pooch himself, who added words to three of the tracks, enhancing Fiery Blues’s effectiveness immeasurably. Now, Funk-n-Blues includes almost an hour of the blues spun off by Pooch and Monaco’s serendipitous collaboration, though abbreviated, on Fiery Blues. Funk-n-Blues is fiery as well, as symbolized by Pooch’s almost half-a-lifetime in front of the foundry’s furnace.
Pooch gave full-time blues singing a try in the 1950’s when he traveled around the Midwest in a Chevrolet station wagon until Sam’s Bar & Grill in Columbus hired him as a regular performer. He stayed in Columbus. And stayed. And stayed. And stayed. Until now, at the age of 70, Willie Pooch has been "discovered" by a wider audience and he’s having the time of his life. When asked which has been his most fulfilling performance, he said it was the one last year in front of a packed Southern Theater audience, the largest audience he had ever entertained in one place. Wearing suits of bright colors and an ever-present smile, Pooch, without seeming to break a sweat, bears nuggets of humor and mother lodes of close-to-the-streets wisdom in each performance.
From the wry perspective of one under house arrest, Pooch sings about having "a room full of trouble" on "House Arrest Blues," as the rhythm section’s contagious shuffle alternates with the calypso beat familiar from "Crosscut Saw" on Fiery Blues. And he sings of the lying abandonment by his woman on "In My Lonely Room," an ever-present theme of the blues ("My baby left me early Monday morning / Said she’d be back soon. / It’s late Friday evening / Late Sunday afternoon").
"Willie Rap," initially boogalooing, indeed becomes a rap by a septuagenarian who sings about "gettin’ on down." Coming full circle, Pooch tells why he sings the blues on "Why I Sing the Blues," when he explains that he’s "been around a long time" and how he "paid his dues." That is the value of Pooch’s singing, as it is for any blues singer. He has lived the blues and his listeners know it.
On top of the of Pooch’s irresistible blues singing, Funk-n-Blues attains an even higher level of irresistibility from the musicianship of Pooch’s back-up musicians, including Monaco, guitarist Rick Collura and Tsamous. Not only does the recording introduce a "new" blues singer to the listening public, but also Monaco’s group invests it with the passion for performing for which it has become known. Check out Willie Pooch’s music and, as he exclaims on "Crosscut Saw," "Look out!"