Title: All My Dues Are Paid
Artist: Frank Bey
Label: Nola Blue
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 17, 2020
Georgia native Frank Bey’s recent release, All My Dues Are Paid, is another example of how the blues continues to hang on as a viable genre, even in the year 2020. Bey began singing professionally at the age of four with the gospel group the Rising Sons, which including a brother and two cousins. At 17 he opened for Otis Redding. In the early ‘70s he was a member of the radical funk group Moorish Vanguard, who were supposed to record for James Brown’s label, but the deal fell through. Disillusioned with the music business, Bey didn’t sing for another 17 years. Yet he was “rediscovered” by a blues fan who was blown away by the depth and emotional power of Bey’s voice, which led to a late-career resurgence similar to that of the late Sharon Jones. His new album takes on an especially poignant meaning since Bey passed away on June 7th, 2020, from kidney disease.
Though Bey was based in Philadelphia in recent years, All My Dues Are Paid also reflects the current San Francisco Bay Area blues scene. Notable Bay Area blues musicians on this release include keyboardist Rick Estrin (formerly of Little Charlie & Nightcats), keyboardist Jim Pugh, saxophonist Nancy Wright, guitarists Kid Andersen and “Mighty” Mike Schermer, legendary bassist Jerry Jemmott, and backing vocalist Lisa Leuschner Andersen. The album was recorded at Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose, California, not far from the Poor House Bistro, a local New Orleans-themed blues bar that has served as a West Coast home for Bey and many other Bay Area blues musicians. As local blues singer and creator of the “Bollywood Blues” genre Aki Kumar once amusingly stated, “There’s only one blues band in the Bay Area, but it has 500 members.”
Regarding the songs, there are several examples of classic blues grooves, including finger-snapping midtempo soul (“Calling All Fools”), Stax-style Memphis soul (“All My Dues are Paid”), slinky slow jazz numbers (“I Bet I Never Cross Your Mind”), and fast burners (“Never No More”). Rick Estrin and Mike Schermer have two songs each, as does somewhat overlooked R&B pioneer Percy Mayfield. Although “All My Dues are Paid” is the autobiographical centerpiece of the album, “One of These Days,” while ostensibly a breakup song, takes on a whole new heartbreaking meaning in light of Bey’s recent passing: “One of these days, you’re going to miss me…you’ll turn around, and I’ll be gone…”
Aside from the aforementioned traditional blues numbers by Estrin, Schermer, and Mayfield, the album contains some song choices that are less traditional than one might expect. “Idle Hands” is a cover of the classic Eddie Palmieri and Harlem River Drive salsa song. Bey also covers overlooked R&B singer Arthur Alexander’s “If It’s Really Gotta Be this Way,” along with the George Jones classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” and his showstopping version of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Finally, Bey’s relentless positivity should be remarked upon, particularly on the last two tracks—Mike Schermer’s “One Thing Every Day” and “Imagine.” All My Dues Are Paid is a truly inspiring release in our trying times. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Paul Kauppila
San Jose State University