"Man of Steel" - 2006
At last – a new Freddie Roulette album on Tradition & Moderne. Following up his wonderful „Spirit Of Steel“ album (T & M 014), the man returns with more of that sweet sliding guitar on „Man Of Steel“, an album recorded at Berkeley’s legendary Fantasy studios, produced by friend and collaborator Henry Kaiser, who’s also guesting on guitar. And there’s an extra treat: the voice and guitar of David Lindley are featured on one track as well.
There are many things that can be said about Freddie Roulette. The main thing is that he’s a true original and a remarkable musician. Freddie’s not just one of the few lap steel players excelling in the blues world, he’s a man who loves all kinds of music. He’s also able to incorporate all that diversity in an inimitable fashion. But besides all of his genre-hopping there’s one other thing – it’s got to be fun. And that’s just the way this album sounds. Slightly tongue-in-cheek, always relaxed, with a laid-back groove that’s been cooked up under the California sun. The San Francisco Bay Area is where Roulette has been a regular on club and festival stages for many years. In his own right, with old pal Harvey Mandel and the „Nightfire Band“, or just jamming away for the sake of a good time. But no matter how extensive Freddie Roulette’s contributions may be – he always sounds like no other.
Freddie Roulette was born in 1939 in Evanston, Illinois, just a little north of Chicago. He witnessed a teenage school pal playing an electric lap steel and was hooked to the sounds of a steel bar on a bunch of strings immediately. Freddie was a fast learner and the lure of the city’s vibrant blues scene kept him on the move. The Chicago scenesters of the Sixties soon took notice of this new kid and Freddie Roulette’s lap steel sounds created a buzz. Slide maestro Earl Hooker and other blues greats invited him to record and jam. But other hip young cats like Mike Bloomfield and Harvey Mandel got their share of attention as well and competition was fierce. Freddie Roulette did not consider himself a blues purist, however, and when Charlie Musselwhite offered a job in his touring band, Freddie left the Windy City. He’s been living in the Bay Area for more than thirty-five years by now.
The history of the lap steel guitar in American music dates back to the early 20th century. While the original innovator of the instrument is not known, it’s indisputable that it hails from Hawaii. It reached the continental US in the 1910s and was a staple with the Hawaiian pop ensembles of the day. Lap steel guitars became the first electric guitars that gained any kind of popularity in America, especially those instruments manufactued by the National company in the Thirties and Forties. Today they have become sought-after cult objects for many contemporary players. Freddie uses a vintage eight-string/double-neck National from the Forties.
„Man Of Steel“ runs the whole gamut of Freddie Roulette’s best-loved genres: from classic Stax soul („Breaking Up Somebody’s Home“) and funk á la Tower of Power („Funkifize Your Life“) to Blue Note jazz (Lee Morgan’s „Sidewinder“) and country with a blues touch (Willie Nelson’s „Nightlife“). But there’s more: David Lindley singing Ry Cooder’s beautiful „The Tattler“, a wonderful Hawaiian pop ditty from the 1930s by Andy Iona & His Islanders „(How DoYa Do?“), Arthur Crudup’s R&B standard „That’s Alright Mama“ in a syncopated slow groove, a cool reggae tune from the pen of Ernest Ranglin („Surfin’), Ray Charles’ „In The Heat Of The Night“, Mose Allison’s „Parchman Farm“ and – last but not least – the famed „Endless Summer Theme“, The Sandals’ indestructible surf classic from 1964.
Soul, funk, country, pop, Hawaiian, jazz, reggae, pop, ballads…. – all can be found on „Man Of Steel“. A truly eclectic mix of songs held together by the sounds of Freddie Roulette’s lap steel and voice. While he may not be a born vocalist per se, Freddie’s style presents a wide range of expression from the very laid-back to the very passionate. Just notice the awesone „vocalizing“ of his lap steel on some of the tracks. But on top of what Freddie Roulette himself is coming up with, there’s a great web of extra guitar textures happening: Henry Kaiser contributes some of his trademark improv playing and there’s the awesome addition of brothers Ken & Phil Emerson from Hawaii, popular recording artists in their own right.
While Freddie Roulette’s own recording career may have been a little on the sporadic side in the past, he’s a one-of-a-kind player who has much to offer still. „Sweet Funky Steel“ - the title of one of his previous albums sums it up quite nicely. „I’m just a regular old cat,“ Freddie Roulette says humbly, but if you listen carefully there’s much more: lots of creativity and lots of soul. „Man Of Steel“ re-introduces a one-of-a-kind artist. Check it out.
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