Joe Price – The Mill (Iowa City, IA)
One of the great joys provided by this here magazine is being able to routinely “discover” killer regional musicians who, for any number of reasons, have managed to avoid wider exposure. Surely one such “buried treasure” is Joe Price
A stomping, churning bluesman who seemingly dropped through a crack in time to land with Patrick Hazell’s seminal Midwestern roots band Mother Blues in the mid-’70s and early-’80s (sharing guitar duties with Bo Ramsey), Joe Price retreated from the brutal road life to raise his own line of purebred hellhounds in the bucolic hill country of northeast Iowa.
But for intermittent appearances in neighboring rural taverns, Price all but dropped from the public eye for nearly a decade, offering his kitchen recordings of earthy, bone-quaking original blues on two cassette-only releases Iowa Crawl and Mountain Of Blues (released on one CD as Requests by Trailer Records this spring). Despite his determined low-profile, Price maintained a near-legendary status regionally. Ramsey and Dave Moore have routinely cited him as a major influence, while Greg Brown refers to Price with admiration as “The Buddha.”
Concurrent with the release of 25 Below on Trailer in 1996, Price began venturing out more, beginning with a grand “coming out” party at The Mill in the spring of ’97. Since that time, this spiritual son of Elmore James has returned to the venue every four or five months to houses packed with a mixture of recent converts and virtually every regional roots musician who happens to have a night off.
In that respect, this night was no different. There was a picker and/or singer within a dead cat’s arc of anyone, and Price lit into the crowd with a driving onslaught of “new” blues that seemed to come straight from another era. Pausing only for a drink, to call up an “old friend” or to wheeze out his “Is everybody havin’ a [good] time?” mantra, Price churned out a nonstop blend of originals and chestnuts only a stone bluesologist could hope to separate.
Biting polyrhythmic sounds coaxed from his curious Samick six-string and twelve-string electric guitars propelled Price’s unearthly, reedy rasp through the night, with the mike surrendered to wife Vicki Ewing Price for four bawdy, barrelhouse numbers and to local legend Mary Fickel for a pair of Jimmy Reed standards. A road-weary Dave Moore (just in from Canadian shows) blew some electrifying harp on “25 Below”, a chugging “National Of Mexico” and a ferocious “Caledonia”. By the time Price polished off the festivities with a brace of shuffling tunes accompanied by “Washboard John” Lindsey, the dragging limbs of the dancefloor faithful indicated precious little was left in anyone’s tank.