Five Horse Johnson raises the bar for bluesy hard rock with their album, “Jake Leg Boogie.” The single of the same name is a raucous, hypnotic example of blues rock done right.
About Five Horse Johnson
Five Horse Johnson is a five-member, blues-oriented, hard rock band from Toledo, Ohio. The group formed in 1995, and has enjoyed some critical acclaim. The title track from their eighth album, “Jake Leg Boogie” is a party-starting, stomp of a song, that takes rock and blues seriously, but little else.
Blues rock traditions and Five Horse Johnson
Once rock music became an established style, its coupling with blues was inevitable. Bands like Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Gov’t Mule, Allman Brothers Band made the sound of the blues accessible to people who might have been too young to hear pure blues in its heyday.
That there are so many blues-based rock bands speaks to the popularity of both forms. The introduction to blues rock often leads listeners to blues records, and as a result, audiences become more informed.
The sound of blues rock has a few variations. Singers are emotional—both high and low voices are used to hold and bend notes for dramatic effect. Guitarists are expected to have mastered (or come really close to mastering) the playing styles of blues greats. They have to demonstrate their mastery of rock styles, as well.
Mixing the “crying” effect of blues guitar, with the searing quality of rock guitar, for example, is a classic way to blend blues and rock. Drummers have to be human metronomes, and like guitarists, have to be able to seamlessly meld styles, or switch to another genre at the end of a chord.
Five Horse Johnson, “Jake Leg Boogie”
One of the things Five Horse Johnson has done successfully is sell its story. Everything from the album cover to the lyrics of the title track, inform audiences about who the band is. The cover art features what looks like an advertising drawing from yesteryear, that shows a hand holding a bottle of “Jake Leg Boogie.”
The song sounds like an old song, full of good times and gravel-voiced lyrics. The guitar and drums ring and pound in a bluesy way, and audiences can hear right away the tradition of the blues, and they can also hear hard rock.
Sometimes when bands attempt blues rock, there is an over-reliance on guitar gimmicks that overshadow anything else that might be happening in the song. In such instances, songs sound like giant guitar solos. That doesn’t happen on “Jake Leg Boogie.”
On “Jake Leg Boogie,” the gravelly lyrics sound as though they are delivered from a distance. A harmonica gets a solo after playing in tandem with thumping drums and bass, and driving guitar. The drums are pure rock and roll. The overall feel is a good time. “Jake Leg Boogie/on a Saturday night/stomp to the left/move to the right”—instructs those given to dancing how to move.
The lyrics are not without humor, and I encourage curious readers to listen to the song for themselves. The drums and harmonica fall away a bit to allow for the buildup that includes the entire band. The shifting intensity gives audiences a means to anticipate the sing-along chorus. There is nothing but good times and good music on this song.
Five Horse Johnson is a band that brings fun back to a genre that might have been on the verge of taking itself too seriously. However, the “fun” aspect never gets in the way of the truth—that this is hardcore blues rock played skillfully.