Little Mike & The Tornadoes
My first exposure to the New York harp player/keyboard/vocalist and song writer extraordinaire Mike Markowitz of Little Mike & The Tornados, was hearing their 1990 release on Blind Pig Heart Attack. Certain tunes like "Harp Attack" have that capability of captivating you for a lifetime. After hearing their title track and the remaining tunes on that 1990 release, I was so inspired that I had to get anything and everything released by this artist hailing from Queens. A disciple of blues legends John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Little Walter Jacobs, he started his own band in 1978 playing the blues bars in and around lower Manhattan. As his reputation as a blues artist was gaining momentum, he learned from the best by backing famed blues greats like Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, and Jimmy Rogers when they came to New York or New Jersey to perform.
Another artist Mike held in high esteem was Paul Butterfield, who came to see Little Mike & The Tornados perform whenever possible. He mentored Mike and was impressed with their Chicago "Chess sound." Mike made the statement, "He helped me become less of a blues purist, and more of a music purist. Paul opened up my playing and taught me to put my blues in other music forms, to make it very personal." Blues legends appearing on that classic album Heart Attack were Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, Paul Butterfield, and Lester "Big Daddy" Kinsey who have all sadly left us. Heart Attack was followed by Payday in 1992, Flynn's Place in 1995 and Hot Shot in 1998.
After moving to Florida and taking a break from music, Mike is back better than ever with his latest release Forgive Me, which in my opinion could be some of his best material yet. With an all-star support cast of Troy Nahumko and Warren King on guitar, Cam Robb on drums, Chris Brzezicki on bass, Jim McKaba on piano, and guest Sonny Rhodes on lap steel guitar, Mike once again delivers his no nonsense, straight forward vocals, matched with superb song writing aptitude and exceptional blues harmonica prowess. Adding to his savory recipe for traditional Chicago style blues, Mike has added a full horn section in part to his new CD. They open with the smooth Troy Nahumko instrumental, featuring Sonny Rhodes on the lap steel guitar and some Freddy King impact from Nahumko on guitar. On the slow blues tune "Wait A Minute Baby," they bring in the horn section to join an already great band. Added to this CD is a potential R&B classic "Nothin' I Wouldn't Do," another tune written by Markowitz, featuring Warren King on guitar. Sonny Rhodes returns to the spotlight on the lap steel guitar along with superb harmonica solos from Mike on the rollicking jump blues tune "Tell Me Baby." Some Jimmy Vaughan style guitar, full horn background interludes, short piano solos from Jim McKaba, and Mike's unique vocals are collectively crafted into the sensational shuffle "Walked All The Way." "Fool Too Long" is a remake of "Been A Fool Too Long" from their 1992 album Payday with star performances from Nahunko on guitar and the entire rhythm section. They add jazz qualities on piano and the full horn section to the traditional slow blues song "You Don't Love Me." The band delivers some Texas style blues on the title track "Forgive Me Baby," reminiscent of the American R&B artist Ray Sharp hailing from Fort Worth. The blues comes straight from the heart, bringing Little Mike center stage with unsurpassed harmonica and vocals, along with equally splendid blues piano solos from Troy Nahumko on the slow, deliberate tune "My Little Therese." The song "The Hit" will definitely be a hit for all the Slim Harpo fans of the blues world. Forgive Me concludes with the song "Traveling Blues" and just like Canned Heat's Bluefrog Blues, "well, My mama got'em, My daddy got'em, My brother got'em, My sister got'em. Woke up this morning, grandma' n' grandpa' had'em too."
Over the years Little Mike and The Tornados have made quite a name for themselves.
Mike Markowitz has a voice and harmonica style that sets him apart from other blues artists and Forgive Me is proof of that. They have reached a whole new level of performing and songwriting.
Reviewed by Rick Davis