A lot of folks are probably not ready to forgive Mickey Thomas for all that Starship stuff in the ’80s and ‘90s (quick, name a single memorable song), and I don’t mean the time when he was assaulted by the band’s drummer, Danny Baldwin, and required facial reconstruction surgery. Some may even be unwilling to grant him a pardon for singing on an album by the loathsome Sammy Hagar, once indelibly characterized by Rolling Stone’s JC Costa as “the king of slam-dunk guitar” whose songs “roar through your head like nightmare express trains.” But a lot of good memories gather around his biggest hit, as lead singer for the Elvin Bishop Group, on 1976’s “Fooled Around and Fell In Love,” and it’s that Mickey Thomas who surfaces on this first Bluesmasters album.

In fact, lest we forget, Thomas reprises “Fooled Around” here in an arrangement similar to the original’s, but with appreciably more depth and heft, even if it’s minus Elvin, although Tim Tucker does just fine with some tasty lead guitar work, especially on the break, when his fat tone and spiky testimony are about note-perfect for the song’s temperament. But the latter-day Thomas brings it home again with his emotional vocalizing in a voice obviously still capable of reaching the far end of the arena, but with an engaging rough edge befitting one in his 60th year. He’s a far more credible blues singer now than he ever was in his brief stint with Elvin. The Rod Stewart raspiness in his singing is striking, not only because Rod can’t sing like this anymore (and there was a time when Rod could really sing the blues; and it’s probably no coincidence that Rod has covered “Fooled Around…”), but because it packs an emotional punch, suggest the urgency of the moment, and brims with personality.

Elvin Bishop at the Spotlight 29 Casino, Coachella, CA, November 1, 2008, offers a warm welcome to Mickey Thomas before the band breaks into ‘Fooled Around and Fell in Love’

For this introductory outing, Thomas and the Bluesmasters sextet (which includes former Starship drummer Aynsley Dunbar) systematically work their way through 11 numbers familiar to most rock and blues fans and drawn from the estimable catalogues of the likes of Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Big Joe Turner, Fats Domino, Etta James and the like (there is also, inexplicably, a Phil Collins song, a scary throwback to those Starship-Hagar years). Johnson’s “Walking Blues” honors the Muddy Waters arrangement, with the superb band grinding and stomping behind Thomas’s forthright declaiming, with harp man Doug Lynn impressing with a shimmering, honking solo turn at the heart of the issue. The group tears it up on “Over Yonder Wall,” heretofore the province of Freddie King and Quicksilver Messenger Service, and indeed, the slow, roiling arrangement, heated up by Ric Ulsky’s robust B3 stirrings, brings together pleasing elements of both versions, in the immediacy of Thomas’s vocal and when Tucker cuts loose with a stinging retort on guitar that does Freddie proud, even if the piece doesn’t swing like Freddie’s. On the ballad side, even better than “Fooled Around” is a wrenching version of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which has been memorably recorded by two great blues singers, Etta James and Koko Taylor, and by one who can’t sing at all (Beyonce). Thomas and company do right by the tune and its finest practitioners in a surging, dynamically rich treatment marked by Tucker’s concise, mournful guitar riffing and Ulsky’s solemn hum on the B3 in support of Thomas’s full-on, heartfelt pleading. It lasts all of 2:40, gone almost as quickly as it came, but is the sort of emotionally riveting performance that lingers in memory, and shows exactly what this group is capable of. In the last few years Mickey Thomas has been jumping around from project to project, but this Bluestmasters thang is worth developing. He sounds as natural as he did back when he was with Elvin, and his maturity as a vocalist shines through his knowing readings of these fine songs. The Bluesmasters is a band with a future, if its members want one. —David McGee

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024