Editor’s Note: The following is a repost of Berry Kerzner’s TBT post over at the Chicago Blues site.
Originally released in the fall of 1968, Magic Sam’s debut album, West Side Soul, was a milestone in Chicago blues, and electric blues as well. Some releases portend the direction of a given genre, such as blues, or jazz. Some releases change the direction of a given genre. Then there are the unique releases that do both, simultaneously. Examples of such releases include Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, and the Junior Wells, Buddy Guy classic, Hoodoo Man Blues.
Nothing quite this soulful and coarsely electric, yet so permeated with blues, had been done this brazenly before. Sure, there had been the rough and tumble, raw sounds that were prevalent when players first began to electrify blues. Then of course, there had been the rough-around-the-edges, live ensemble playing that had made the Chess studio recordings so inviting. In contrast to Chess recording production, where almost every aspect was dictated and controlled by the producers and engineers, Bob Koester at Delmark Records let his artists do what they did best; play. He might suggest here and there, but for the most part, he wanted the records to be as close as you could come to seeing the artist live, and he was not an obstruction.
The beauty of West Side Soul is it’s honesty, and simplicity. There are no gimmicks, nor slight of hand; just straight ahead playing. When Maghett pauses, it’s not because he is lost and doesn’t know where to go next. He has paused to accentuate the previous passage, and allow the listener to savor it for a moment. His timing and phrasing, the timber of each note, and the way he allows the music to breathe as he plays are all magnificent. His ability to to maintain the loose sound, convey a soulful bent, and wrap it all up in blues is uncanny. Above all else though, his passion and veracity shine throughout.
Reissued in 2011 by Delmark Records, West Side Soul has been remastered, tremendously improving the clarity and sound of the music. The new package includes the copious 1967 liner notes from Bob Koester and Bill Lindemann, photos, and an alternate take of “Don’t Want No Woman.”
Listed in Living Blues Magazine’s top ten blues discs, West Side Soul is often spoken of as “legendary” among blues enthusiasts and purists alike. Sam left us far too soon, but the stunning music he shared with us during his short stay is still shaping the blues today. The quality of his albums speaks for itself, and this album is no exception. There are certain discs that are an essential element to the overall integrity of a collection. For a blues collection of any substance, whether Delta blues, Chicago blues, Memphis blues, or whatever else, to not include West Side Soul is a serious offense indeed.