Being born and raised in Hell must be quite a problem. It’s a bad neighbourhood. Your neighbours tend to be the sort that don’t mow their lawn (and store shopping trolleys there), seldom sort the recycling bin bags properly and often start needless and provocative boundary disputes with you. It’s also very very hot, all the time. Or so I thought…
Michael Katon was born and raised in a place called Hell, Michigan. I believe he has nice neighbours. There’s some picturesque lakes nearby where you can go fishing, and not just for the lost souls of the damned, which always have a rather astringent flavour, I find.
However if you are a blues guitarist then Hell, Michigan must be in your top three “places that would look good on my CV” when it comes to the Home Address slot, just behind any set of Crossroads and “Sweet Home, Chicago”. And so it turned out when I heard Michael Katon’s 1988 album Proud To Be Loud.
Following a cover feature in Kerrang! Magazine and a four star review, I travelled to Shades Records in London and picked up a copy of the record – oddly in a rather girly-pink vinyl. Katon’s brand of blue collar blues was harder hitting than the ’80s pop/rock that Eric Clapton was peddling, and harder sounding than the blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan. There was a bit of pre-MTV ZZ Top in there, especially on “La Grange” soundalike “Boogie Man“, but he was his own man and there were some strong songs and a blistering slide guitar in particular.
From the moment Katon introduced his harmonica-man as playing a “Mississippi Saxophone” I knew the night was going to be fun. Katon then peeled off some blazing blues histrionics and wicked slide guitar and proceeded to beat us with his “Boogie Whip” (a song from the album). He later played a stunning version of Midnight Rambler with the aforementioned Mississippi saxophone player Ed Phelps, dedicating the song to Keith Richards.
Song of the night was “Tight White Pants” which will always amuse a UK audience due to the language difference between Britain and America, making the song a layer of clothing more graphic than intended. The next couple of times I saw Katon in concert it was certainly the most requested song of the night.
“Proud To Be Loud” has strong songs, and the production is unfettered by a glossy shine – which because this was the ’80s is a good thing and means the album hasn’t dated (it was recorded at Katon’s home studio). There’s a cover of Gotta Move (the Kinks song), some great slide work on Roadhouse 69 and some memorable grooves on the title track, “Burn Me (With Electricity), and “Boogie Is My Business”. You get the idea from the song titles what kind of record this is, right?
Michael Katon has continued to produce some excellent hard hitting blues albums right up to the present day, and has a loyal cult following in the UK and across Europe, which is a nice way of saying “Proud To Be Loud” never reached the top of the charts. It certainly merits inclusion as one of the eighties best “lost” albums.
I’ll write about the follow up, “Get On The Boogie Train”, and how Katon took time out to write a letter or two to an enthusiastic UK-based music fan another time, but in the meantime, find a copy of the record (I found a black vinyl copy at a record fair six months ago), and play Loud…
Record #213: Michael Katon – Roadhouse 69
Read the other posts in this series of Greatest Lost Albums of the Eighties: