It must be odd being relegated to sideman in your own band, but former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman seemed perfectly happy to give up the spotlight to his all-star Rhythm Kings ensemble Saturday at Park West.
And what a band it was: a powerhouse, 11-piece ensemble of Britain's finest, including jazz-blues vocalist Georgie Fame, former [sic] Procul [sic] Harum vocalist/keyboardist Gary Brooker, jazz guitar phenom Martin Taylor and country guitar ace Albert Lee, playing a repertoire of mostly vintage American R&B classics.
As for Wyman, a spry-looking 64, he was an unobtrusive figure in his aviator shades, chain-smoking throughout the two-hour show as virtually everyone in the band but him enjoyed at least one featured number.
For all the years he anchored the Stones' rhythm section along with drummer Charlie Watts, few gave Wyman much thought.
But after he left the band in 1993, after 31 years, Wyman has become quite a bit more interesting. His chronicle of the Stones' early years, Stone Alone, is a fascinating read, and not just for his Wilt Chamberlain-like claims about his sexual conquests. Just out is another book, a travelogue of the blues.
For the last few years, author Wyman's primary musical outlet has been the Rhythm Kings, whose latest album is Double Bill.
Oddly enough, Wyman eschewed material from that album at Park West, instead concentrating on a combination of R&B and jump blues standards like Louis Jordan's Let the Good Times Roll, which opened the show, and Ray Charles' Hit the Road Jack, which was given a soulful reading by Brooker.
With a band this full of talent, which benefiting from a punchy, two-man horn section, highlights abounded. Beverly Skeete gave the Screamin' Jay Hawkins classic I Put a Spell On You an authoritative reading, while her vocal partner, Janice Hoyte, turned in a positively steamy version of Ruth Brown's This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'.
Georgie Fame proved why he's venerated in his native UK, singing a delightful, jazz-inflected version of Hoagy Carmichael's Georgia on My Mind, backed solely by Taylor, and adding atmospheric Hammond organ fills that complemented Brooker's barrelhouse-style piano throughout.
Speaking of Taylor, he was given plenty of opportunity to display his world class bebop chops, especially on a tour de force version of Tear It Up, in which he and the equally talented Lee engaged in a ferocious guitar battle that concluded with them simultaneously playing Lee's guitar.
Ultimately, though, you have to give credit to Wyman, who handpicked these wonderful musicians and many of the tunes, for knowing that the Rhythm King's real star isn't its figurative leader, but the ensemble itself.
More Rhythm Kings information here
Wyman / Brooker interview excerpts here.
Bill Wyman talks to Record Collector about Gary Brooker