The jazz-inflected blues piano slinks in smoothly before the startling crack and clatter of the drums kicks in. The thrillingly jarring drum sound quickly gives way to an even more thrillingly jarring voice. “I got a lot of worries ’bout the future of me,” the singer bellows in a timbre that’s so brilliantly spine-rattling, you’re not even sure it’s human.
The singer is Carl Gustafson; the band is Blinddog Smokin’; and the song is “Don’t Put No Money On Me.” As for Gustafson’s otherworldly vocal performance, pick your comparison point: Howlin’ Wolf, Tom Waits, steel wool, a bullfrog. And, riveting though it is, Gustafson’s gruff growl isn’t there simply for aesthetics; it’s also expertly tailored to the character he portrays. In Gustafson’s own words:
“This is a true tragic-comedy taken from a BDS fan now long dead. The subject of this song was a soldier who saved the lives of his squad in heroic fashion. In the process he was hit in the head under enemy fire and ended up a hopeless alcoholic, and virtually homeless. The lyrics are taken from the way he used to talk about himself, as he somehow had the wit and sense of humor to put everyone in stitches. But that heroic day was the beginning of the end for him. He died before he was fifty years old, still loud, self-deprecating, and profane to the very end. The lyrics with a different melody were actually heard by him before he died some 20 years ago, and he laughed uproariously with his gravelly voice. He loved it.”
“Don’t Put No Money On Me” will soon appear on High Steppin’, Blinddog Smokin’s 11th album, coming on the heels of last year’s Grammy-nominated Decisions, featuring Bobby Rush and Dr. John. Once again, Gustafson, as skilled a raconteur as he is a singer, spins his vivid yarns atop the band’s signature mix of blues, funk, country, soul and rock. Alongside Gustafson, the album features the Golden Globe-, Grammy- and Oscar-winning Donny Markowitz and the first-rate playing of Chuck Gullens, Roland Pritzker, Mo Beeks, Chris White, Chalo Ortiz and Linda Gustafson.