Buster Poindexter performs "Desiree" and "Piece of My Heart" last summer at City Winery
It’s another good season with David Johansen, in the middle of his annual once-a-month Buster Poindexter summer residency at City Winery.
At Friday night’s July 27 installment, after coming out and complaining of schmutz on his pale pink jacket, he promised a great show, “full of magical moments and 15 minutes of dreadful bulls**t.” The magic followed--minus the extraneous quarter-hour--enabled by Poindexter’s killer Boys in the Band Band: drummer Ray Grappone, bassist Richard Hammond, pianist Keith Cotton, and guitarist Larry Saltzman, subbing for regular Brian Koonin (locked in the house band of Broadway’s Pretty Woman until next month), with whom he performed in Johansen’s great early 2000s Harry Smiths country blues band.
All Band Boys sang backup vocals—often the call-and-response type--on the vintage and sadly obscure pre-rock ‘n’ roll R&B, blues, jump blues and novelty songs that still make up the bulk of the Poindexter repertoire.
Friday night’s set list included the Jive Bombers’ 1957 R&B hit “Bad Boy,” which appeared on Johansen’s 1987 first Poindexter album (Buster Poindexter), and “Mannish Boy,” the Muddy Waters blues classic, which prompted Johansen to reminisce about the time in the late ‘70s when he and Waters were on the same Blue Sky Records label, when he began recording solo after the demise of the original New York Dolls.
Exuding the hepcat bandleader style of Cab Calloway—even down to the “Palmer Housin’” dance strut that he claimed to have picked up during a recent week-long residency at Chicago’s Palmer House—Johansen also revisited the Latin/Caribbean side of early Poindexter via the calypso classic “Zombie Jamboree,” and of course, his 1987 MTV hit cover of Arrow’s soca standard “Hot Hot Hot,” for which a mini-conga line formed, much as a larger one had in the old days of Poindexter gigs at the long gone Bottom Line.
Johansen did do some rock era songs in a pairing of The Charts’ 1957 doo-wop hit “Deserie” with Erma Franklin’s 1967 R&B hit “Piece of My Heart” (which was made more famous the following year by Janis Joplin and her band Big Brother & The Holding Company, and was further distinguished here by a piece of The McCoys’ 1965 hit “Hang On Sloopy”). He also further distinguished himself with some nifty blues harmonica play on “Rocket 88,” the 1951 R&B chart-topper from Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats that is considered by many rock historians to be the first rock ‘n’ roll record.
Ever the complete musicologist, Johansen also sang George Jones’ 1989 country hit “The King is Gone (So are You),” and towards the end of the set, nodded to the old Buster Poindexter “lounge lizard”appellation with “Volare” and “That’s Life” before yielding to his wife Mara Hennessey, who often comes out at the end to sing backup but instead stepped out front with Jacques Brel’s “Jacky.”
And as with all Buster Poindexter shows, this one had plenty of offbeat observations, like his definition of religion as “something that gives comfort to a world torn apart by religion,” and his admission that like many others, he hadn’t read a newspaper “since two Novembers ago.”