Frank Bang’s a Chicago native, but learned the blues the hard way. The son of a Chicago cop dad and a mother who worked in a live-music joint, he grew up in the Austin neighborhood a few miles from of dozens of bars that made the West Side blues sound famous. When he picked up guitar at age 16, against his father’s wishes, his interests ranged from AC/DC to Z.Z. Top. Blues started to flavor his life when he was a college student majoring in mechanical engineering, visited venues in the city and picked up a copy of Alligator Records’ Showdown! which featured blazing guitar interplay among Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray. But rock still played a major role in his life.
He soon quit school and took a job at the Windy City’s Hard Rock Cafe, using it as a springboard to transfer to Hard Rock franchises around the country. In San Diego, he met Stevie Ray Vaughan. “When he found out I was from Chicago, he immediately started telling me I needed to check out Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and all the other Chicago cats,” Bang says. After a stint in Houston, he heeded Vaughan’s advice. Soon, he was working the door at Guy’s Legends showroom and traveling with his crew for big gigs. He worked on his blues chops in the early morning hours after Legends closed, taking the stage and trading licks with Wayne Baker Brooks, son of guitar giant Lonnie Brooks, as the sun started to emerge over Lake Michigan. And he also served as guitarist Larry McCray’s road manager for a time. He was on the verge of recording a blues-rock album for Capricorn Records when Guy offered him a job he couldn’t refuse: A spot as guitarist in his touring band. Five world tours and four solo albums between 2004 and 2007 followed before divorce and raising a family forced him to reassess his life before jumping back into music full-force. “People tell me my music lifted them when they were down, and helped them through hard times,” he says. “I want to live up to that. I felt that I had to write songs that had a deeper meaning.”
This album is a collection of 11 strong, in-your-face originals that Bang describes as “driving music – something to get you from point A to point B.” Produced and engineered by Manny Sanchez, who also works with Rod Stewart, it features his incendiary three-piece band — Ryan Fitzgerald on bass and Bobby Spelbring on drums — with guest appearances by Russ Green (harmonica), Phil Miller and Drew Pentkowski (guitar), Daryl Coutts (organ) and Greg Ward (saxophone).
Bang lays rubber with a rapid-fire guitar run and strips gears as the disc kicks off with “Double Dare” as he sings about the challenges of life: “No one promised me anything/Life’s just a double dare.” The pace slows for the funky “Burnin’ Up In The Wind,” which continues the theme over a smoky harp track laid down by Green, a former student of Sugar Blue and rising star in his own right. Bang’s off and running, exhibiting lyrical gymnastics, for “Lose Control,” a love song about a woman who “loves me right, but I don’t know why.” Ward contributes a solid closing horn solo. “God Fearin’ Man” is an autobiographical complaint about not being able to understand the complexities of life swirling around him. The pace changes dramatically with the love song, “Wonder Woman,” which begins with an acoustic feel, but progresses into an electric blues.
“This Is What It’s All About” serves as a tribute to good times, good people and the simple life with a definite country music feel. It’s a welcome vacation from the rough-hewn tunes that surrounds it – like the rocker “All’s Well,” which follows and deals with living in a “town called Prosperity that beats a good man to the ground.” Bang fantasizes meeting Hank Williams in a bar in the interesting “My Own Country Way.” Hank’s complaint: There isn’t enough blues in the Nashville sound today. “18 Wheels Of Hell” continues the country feel, telling the tale of a friend who’s being chased by the Devil in a big-truck: “If you see him in your mirror/You know your life’s about to end.” The disc concludes with “All I Need,” another tale of love and the road, and “Mattie’s Girl,” about a girl you can’t ignore.
Hard-edged guitar blues fueled by steroids and served with a quadruple shot of espresso. A fast, furious, intense trip — exhausting, but fun, modern with a comfortable retro feel and some interesting twists and turns along the way.
Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.