|“Hold on to your dreams, one day, it will come true.” is a quote from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and a notion that has come to fruition for vocalist and harmonica man Douglas Avery with the release of his debut album, Take My Rider. Avery is well known for his work behind the camera as a photojournalist covering the West Coast blues scene, so it was fairly simple to recruit some of Southern California’s best players to join him and producer Ralph Carter in Ventura to record at Ralph’s Garage.
The A team comprised of Carl Sonny Leyland on piano, Franck Goldwasser on guitar and drummer Johnny Morgan and the horn section – Aaron Liddard, saxophone, Jerome Harper, trombone, Simon Finch, trumpet – were guided by Avery’s interpretive style and Carter’s award-winning musical skills on bass and production expertise at the recording console. The collection of eleven original tracks and three covers have a decidedly West Coast flair as they touch on both modern and traditional styles of blues, roots and boogie focused on Avery’s smooth tenor and greasy blues harp playing.
A spot-on cover of Billy Boy Arnold’s “Bad Luck Blues” opens the set with Carter adding hand drums to the Chicago shuffle giving it a snappy world beat feel. The title track, “Take My Rider,” is a smart mesh of old school blues with a modern sensibility built on an infectious guitar riff. Johnny Morgan drives steady four on the floor beat during the swamp rocker “Malibu Burnin’,” while Goldwasser lays down heavy slide guitar and Avery channels Jim Morrison. The jaunty ramble “Just Keep Lovin’ Her,” is a straight-ahead reading of a deep cut from the catalog of blues legend Little Walter, first recorded when the harmonica master was 19 years old. The acoustic “Jelly, Jelly,” takes us to the back porch for a little Delta duet. Avery and Goldwasser spar on the hip shaking “Blind Owl Boogie,” keeping the Slim Harpo tradition alive and well, and the groovy “How Long Can This Last?” has the feel of the legendary Rolling Stones session at Muscle Shoals studios. Avery’s brief solo version of “Leaving Trunk” is dropped in like a bonus track.
Avery blows spooky chromatic harmonica and drops in freestyle lines before the horns pop off on the West Coast funk track “Good To Me.” Carl Sonny Leyland delivers the barrelhouse piano on a cover of John Mayall’s 1967 triumph “Sonny Boy, Blow!” paying tribute to the British bluesman. The horn-driven shuffle “Safety First,” borrows from several classics in a Big Joe Turner meets Blind Willie McTell blues mash up. Avery leads the fellas through another authentic Delta boogie on “Riding With The Devil” that features fine blues harp and dobro playing. The jazzy instrumental “Green Wave,” shows off Avery’s hidden talent on the flute. The album closes with the sentimental piano ballad “Looking Over A Rainbow,” a romantic number from a bi-gone era, but thankfully songs about love never go out of style.
Rick J Bowen
Douglas Avery considers himself a lucky man able to live his dream as a musician. Born in Los Angeles, Avery got an early start performing for the first time at age five as a member of his school’s choir, singing pop and inspirational songs. He studied the trumpet at age eight and was inspired by Ian Anderson to pick up the flute as a teenager.
During the late 60s Avery immersed himself in the vibrant Los Angeles jazz scene, attending concerts and festivals where he was exposed to the music of Miles Davis, Johnny Otis, B.B. King, Roland Kirk, and Eddie Harris, among others. After attending performances by the Doors and the Jefferson Airplane in Santa Monica, Avery honed his singing skills and joined his high school friends’ band as lead singer, landing gigs performing at local functions. A chance encounter with Jim Squire enabled Avery to perform and record with the guitar ace, the two taking part in a “battle of the bands,” resulting in regional exposure and radio play for the song “Kino Man.”
In addition to his love of music, Avery traveled extensively to Asia, Mexico, Australia, and Hawaii during the 1970s to devote himself to his other passion, surfing. As an avid practitioner of the sport, Avery also developed a strong interest in surf photography, with published works in several leading surfing magazines. Avery’s photography talents expanded, and he returned to California to embark on an all-consuming career in field and became an internationally renowned fashion and sports photographer. Avery always has his cameras on hand and continues to photograph his idols and colleagues at music events and concerts.
Inspired by performances and recordings by harmonica greats Magic Dick, Paul Butterfield and Alan Wilson, Avery began teaching himself how to play the instrument in the early 1970s. Introduced by mutual friends to the Doors’ Robbie Krieger, Avery began jamming regularly with the guitar legend at house parties and Krieger eventually invited Avery to join his group on stage as harp player on the Doors’ classic number “Roadhouse Blues.” Avery became an honorary member of the band and plays with Robbie at special charity events.
While studying with some of the country’s leading harp players including R.J. Mischo, Dennis Gruenling, Zoe Savage and renowned instructor Jon Gindick, Doug continues to embrace the West Coast blues scene, enjoying friendships with R.J. Mischo, Kim Wilson, James Harman, Honey and Rod Piazza, guitarist Franck L. Goldwasser and bassist/producer Ralph Carter, while continually sharpening his musical skills playing in jam sessions.
In 2019, Douglas Avery acted on his lifelong desire to record some of his own original musical creations. An R.J. Mischo gig in Santa Barbara provided the opportunity for Avery to sit with the band and invite Franck L. Goldwasser to collaborate on his project. With the guitarist’s recommendation, the budding recording artist recruited Ralph Carter and drummer Johnny Morgan for a session. Encouraged by the band’s enthusiastic reaction to his work, Avery wrote additional songs and recorded enough material for an album, drawing from a broad spectrum of jazz, rock and ballad influences and life experiences.