JJ 03/84: Jimmy Witherspoon, London 100 Club

Forty years ago Barry McRae noted the jazz credentials of the man with a voice almost too musical to sing the blues. First published in Jazz Journal March 1984

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Jimmy Witherspoon. Photo C. Worsdale/JJ Archive

Spoon, the man with a voice almost too musical to sing the blues, took the stage at the 100 Club, flung down the gauntlet and showed how effortlessly he could combine the earthy reality of the blues and a jazzman’s grasp of the music’s harmonic implications. He enjoyed the sophisticated support of pianist Brian Dee, bassist Jeff Clyne and drummer Quinney Lawrence, and he crossed musical swords with the elegant tenor of Al Gay.

He coaxed Gee, Baby Ain’t I Good, stomped down on Stormy Monday and Goin’ To Chicago and took us smoothly from Kansas City to Mojo Working without the joins showing. Since his recent illness, his voice has acquired even more depth and, on several occasions, he took a path lower than was once possible.

As always his presentation of the lyrics was believ­able, whether humorous, moving or cynical, with a rhythmic mastery at all tempos, his dynamic awareness an object lesson to all singers and his use of dramatic effects never contrived. He gave us his 1952 hit, Business (his bread and butter tune), and he wrung full emotional value from the likes of Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out. His only problem was getting off stage when he had finished.