|It is perfectly poignant that veteran bluesman Clarence Spady chose to include his version of Z.Z. Hill’s hit song “Down Home Blues,” on his new album Surrender, as the Pennsylvania guitarist has followed the footsteps of the soul-blues pioneer, who created a combination of blues and contemporary soul styling that helped to restore the blues to modern black consciousness. This is the first release for Spady since 2008 and it is a profession of faith and declaration of determined recovery from an artist whose life has been full of dramatic ups, downs, and sidetracks since breaking into the scene in the mid-90’s and receiving his first W.C. Handy award nomination in 1997.
The very personal collection of nine tracks includes seven original songs and three previously unreleased recordings from 1999 captured at the River St. Jazz Café in Plains, PA. The songs written and recorded over a 20-year period include collaborations with William “Wes” Weller and new mentor Andy Pace, as well as his protégé Adam Schultz. The album also features material and performances from lost friends, Lucky Peterson and drummer Shorty Parham, and a special song he wrote for his son, whose life was cut short at only 25, creating a highly emotional landscape.
Two shimmering notes from Spady’s Stratocaster bring us into the Memphis soul opener “If My Life Was A Book,“ setting the tone of introspection and reminiscence on a musical life. He then hands over the guitar duties to up-and-coming phenom Adam Schultz, who wrote and plays lead on “Good Conversation,“ a super smooth track with soulful vocals and jazzy flavors of tasty horns from Tom Hamilton and keyboards from Scott Brown and Bob O’Connell on organ. Spady demonstrates the breadth of his theatrical abilities on the slow burning blues “When My Blood Runs Cold.” The showstopping number penned by Lucky Peterson is the perfect vehicle for his masterful vocal and guitar skills.
It has often been said that singing the blues will make you feel better, relieving your pain into something lighter when the music, through lyrics and melodies, allow one to make sense of tragic realities. Spady shows us this in the straight-ahead blues shuffle “K-Man,” a song he wrote for his son Khalique, as a cathartic memorial of a child taken too soon, who he thinks of every day. Spady wears his heart on his sleeve during the emotional title track, “Surrender,” laying his soul to bare in a penitent testimony of gospel blues. The aforementioned Z.Z. Hill standard is given an acoustic treatment for the album marking a fresh approach to the oft recorded and much loved “Down Home Blues.”
The first of three live tracks from 1999, “Addiction Game,“ find Spady in his element digging deep into his guitar and vocals while the band provides deep funk groove full of fiery chops. Mark Hamza propels the quartet along on Hammond organ and pedal bass, while Spady trades blazing solos with saxophonist Tom Hamilton on the courageous instrumental “Jones Falls Expressway.” Shorty Parham sings with Spady on the finale “Pick Me Up,” an easygoing plea to a lover from a contrite and humbled man.
Remarkably, Surrender is only Clarence Spady’s third release in a quarter century. Hopefully the strong album will garner him overdue attention and support so we won’t have to wait that long for the next one.
Rick J Bowen
BIOGRAPHY (Excerpts from Bill Dahl, Music Journalist)
Clarence Spady is thoroughly motivated when it comes to his career. “Here we are in the saddle,” says the veteran blues guitarist. “I’ve got both hands on the reins right now. So, I don’t plan on letting go.” Excellent news for contemporary blues fans who are well aware of Spady’s acclaimed 1996 album Nature of the Beast and his equally impressive 2008 follow up Just Between Us.
By any standard, Clarence embarked on his musical odyssey at an uncommonly tender age. Born in Paterson, New Jersey in the early 60’s, Spady began playing guitar when he was only five years old due to encouragement from two guitarists in his immediate family, his father (also named Clarence) and his Uncle Fletchey. “In the beginning, I really didn’t work hard. God gave all of us a gift,” Clarence says. “It was just innate.” The family blues band jammed every weekend at his uncle’s pad in New Jersey. For his stage debut (also at age five), he played Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers” with the band at the local Elks Club, for a special close to the evening’s show.
During the early ‘80s, Clarence joined a touring R&B band, A Touch of Class. Working with John Pougiese, the musical director, was like going to Berklee for two years, because he learned horn arrangements, harmony, rhythm, and the chord progressions he still uses today. From there, he joined Pennsylvania-based singer Greg Palmer’s band, and spent six years touring with that Top 40 R&B band. The dawn of the 90’s brought a return to his roots, and he put together the West Third Street Blues Band in the unlikely town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, the place he still calls home to this day. A union excavator by day, Spady played music at night and began writing his own originals.
By the mid-90’s, the success of Nature of the Beast helped influence his nomination for a 1997 W.C. Handy Award for Best New Artist Debut. The record had legs, and Clarence toured for six years behind that release. During that time, he also picked up what has become a standard monthly rotation at Terra Blues in New York City’s iconic Greenwich Village, exposing countless tourists from all over the world to Spady’s sound.
His sophomore release, Just Between Us, garnered a 2009 Blues Music Award nomination for Soul Blues Album. We can all look forward to a new Clarence Spady album in 2021.