The Haystack Files is my new occasional series about obscure albums that found their way into my collection by happenstance. The discs profiled in each instalment are the slimmest of needles in the haystack of recorded music. Some of them are great.
When I was in elementary school, my dad went on a business trip to Chicago with some co-workers and they spent an evening at Buddy Guy’s Legends, the renowned blues club.
Every souvenir my dad brought home was blues-related: assorted t-shirts bearing the faces of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker, various ‘Best of the Blues’ compilations, and an autographed copy of pianist Marty Sammon’s self-released debut CD, Hound Dog Barkin’. (You can see the autograph in the photo above.) I say ‘debut CD’ pointedly: he released several cassettes in the 90s, that have vanished into the blues ether.
Sammon was one of the acts playing at Legends the night my dad was there. Nowadays, you might know him as the show-stealing pianist who plays with Buddy Guy. But back then, he was an up-and-coming session player trying to get some attention as a solo artist. Even the most voracious of blues fans probably didn’t know his name, at least outside of Chicago.
But for me, in my formative music-listening years, Hound Dog Barkin’ came to define the sound of the blues piano: not Dr. John; not Otis Spann; not Ray Charles. No exaggeration: Sammon is still the best blues pianist I’ve ever heard. The riffs to his original tunes “I Don’t Believe You Baby” and “Stuck With You” are never far from the front of my mind.
I don’t mean to say that the album is an unqualified masterpiece. For one thing, Sammon thoroughly outclasses his band. Guitarist Doug McDonald is an able sideman but when he solos, one finds oneself waiting for the next piano solo.
Sammon’s lyrics are a potpourri of blues cliches, replete with canine references and dodgy gender politics. His vocal delivery is adequate, not outstanding.
As you might expect, the one track on the album with no singing and no band is an album highlight. On “Marty’s Midnight Boogie,” Sammon’s fingers slide across the keyboard like eggs in a buttered pan. It’s a kitschy old-time boogie-woogie track, but it’s technically astonishing, and it’s fun.
The best track on the album, though, is Sammon’s rendition of The Meters’ “Hey Pocky A-Way.” The unaccompanied piano introduction is a musical adrenaline shot to the heart, and it even features a pretty good performance by drummer Cleo Cole.
Sadly, “Hey Pocky A-Way” is not featured on the edition of the album that’s currently available on iTunes. That version, titled Hound Dog Barkin’ – Originals Re-Release features only Sammon’s six originals, and not the five covers on the CD release. It does, however, boast a live version of Sammon’s wonderful “I Don’t Believe You Baby” that my CD doesn’t have.
This truncated iTunes release is probably your best chance to experience this disc. Get it. If it were released by a major label, Hound Dog Barkin’ would be an acknowledged blues piano classic by now.