As the name on the label clarly proclaimed, he was dubbed Pete “Guitar” Lewis for his skill on that instrument and yet buying this single you might never have reason to understand why.

Though he did play guitar – and play it well – on the flip side, he also handled the lead vocal chores on it which dominated the record and not in a particularly positive manner.

On this half we’re spared hearing him sing, yet he doesn’t even pick up the guitar, choosing instead to play harmonica on an instrumental jam session.

I’m guessing that Federal Records just compromised by calling him by that name rather than Pete “Jack Of All Trades” Lewis which wouldn’t have fit on the label.


You wonder what Ralph Bass really thought of all this… whether it was even necessary or not.

All of this dates back to the handshake agreement he’d made in late 1950 with Johnny Otis when he took Little Esther with him from Savoy to his new job running Federal Records, a move allowable only because Esther was underaged and the legal shackles binding an artist to a company were easier to slip out of.

The deal was that Otis, who was NOT underaged and thus stuck with Herman Lubinsky for another year, would join them at Federal as soon as his contract was up at the end of 1951. In good faith Bass signed up some of Johnny’s outside friends, like sax man Preston Love, as well as Johnny’s compatriates in the band – who didn’t have solo deals with Savoy – such as guitarist Pete Lewis.

Those artists weren’t likely to give them any hits, but it was a way to show Otis the depth of his commitment to their ensuing partnership.

Then Otis double crossed him and signed for more money with Mercury Records instead.

By all rights at that point Bass should’ve locked the door on Johnny AND his friends, especially since nothing they cut with Esther had given them the kind of commercial returns they expected.

But he did no such thing, probably hoping that down the road Otis would see the error of his ways in going with a major label and return to the more compatible minds at Federal. In the meantime Bass would faithfully carry on, recording Lewis on songs like The Blast, which is little more than an amiable jam session with Otis’s band… great musicians all, but not exactly something they were taking seriously. Yet it’d be released costing the company the same amount of money to press it, ship it and promote it as a record with far more commercial potential… but for what reason exactly?

To make Lewis a stand-alone star as a harmonica player in rock ‘n’ roll, of which there were none until Buster Brown at the end of the decade?

To curry favor with a guy who’d already spurned you once and would again down the road?

Or just to give you something to do on an otherwise uneventful Thursday in late August?

Moment To Moment
There’s a difference between enjoying a day out with friends and watching the video of it back that somebody wasted time filming.

When people are acting and reacting to things spontaneously, there’s a loose unscripted joy you have precisely because you’re not sure what is immediately going to follow… where the conversation will head, who is going to show up or what else will transpire and because of that your senses are continually on alert, ready and eager to pick up on whatever transpires.

By contrast watching it later when the moment has passed, you’re either noticing everything embarrassing about it, or just realizing that it was a lot more uneventful than it seemed at the time, or you’re waiting for the one moment of unmitigated joy that happened in the hopes of reliving it and having the same joyful reaction, only to find it’s lost its appeal because you knew it was coming.

Life happens in the moment and isn’t meant to be played back later… unlike records.

Records are like movies, where everything IS scripted and planned out to the smallest detail because they need to hold up to repeated airing. The Blast on the other hand is more like the impromptu jam session that a group of talented musicians can deliver with a minimal of preparation which sounds enjoyable enough at the time, but loses something with each subsequent spin.

Yeah, we know this was probably planned a little more carefully than that, but the feeling is the same – a Pete Lewis’s spry harmonica is blowing a few catchy riffs as Leard Bell’s drums slam a backbeat and the horns both answer Lewis and then join him for stretches.

It’s all lively and modestly captivating… if you’re in the room with them that is, preferably along few dozen other drunken souls having… well, ya know… a blast. Then it’s an energetic backdrop to what is already happening. The vague train musical references that pop up… the slightly New Orleans’ jazz interlude… the head-bobbing beat that never lets up. All good stuff to add to the general atmosphere.

But on record, stripped of the social camaraderie, it loses much of the appeal. The atmosphere required to get into the song now has to be created entirely in your own fertile imagination. The off-the-cuff feel of it in a live setting becomes something more calculated hearing it on wax. We don’t see the musicians interplay with our own eyes… the way they exchange a glance to hand off a lead, or the way the horns are working in such precision even as everything around them verges on bedlam. We don’t get a sense of the precarious nature of their playing, where the sweat is flying as none of them want to be the one who trips up the rest of them.

It still sounds okay, but it no longer has any meaning. It’s a video of a good time with the good time now a distant memory.


(Visit the Artist page of Pete “Guitar” Lewis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)