10 years ago, I was banging on to anyone who would listen about this great new band from L.A. called Vintage Trouble who dressed suited and booted, like they meant business, and played the kind of dirty, pelvis pushin’ rock n’ soul music usually reserved for whiskey drinking, juke joint jivers.
They gained friends in high places and toured the world on stages opening for the likes of Bon Jovi, The Who and AC/DC. In between they played clubs and sweaty dives across the UK and Europe gaining a live reputation and a following affectionately known as Troublemakers.
Their management had an agenda and it seemed to be paying off. They were, and I don’t say this lightly, probably the best live band on the planet at that time. Singer Ty Taylor possessed a voice raw like James Brown but as controlled and powerful as Freddie Mercury, and he could work a crowd as well as both of them. The band were as tight as any band I have ever seen. The Zep meets James Brown comparisons came thick and fast in the press and with a killer debut album called ‘The Bomb Shelter Sessions’ up their sleeves, they seemed to have the world at their feet.
Many of the songs they were playing live back then were already recorded for album number two, but it was ultimately shelved by the powers that be for whatever crazy reason, and the band went in a different direction, releasing the critically acclaimed, yet disappointing ‘One Hopeful Road’ 4 years later. Fast forward a decade and these ‘lost’ songs have finally surfaced under the moniker ‘Juke Joint Gems’, with no fanfare, no press coverage and as yet, no physical release.
Opener ‘The World’s Gonna Have To Take A Turn Around’ is probably their finest moment, previously available on the UK double CD version of ‘TBSS’ back in 2011. A perfectly executed protest song pure and simple, it’s a fitting soundtrack for these troubled times of BLM, Climate change and Covid. This song straddles genres and would have mass appeal if played in all the right places. Soulful, mournful and bluesy, yet as uplifting as singing hymns in church at Christmas. A sublime introduction.
A live version of ‘Love With Me’ appeared on that same CD, the studio version here is more polished around the edges but still retains that electrifying spark that the band possess live. The following ‘24-7-365 Satisfaction Man’ was a Troublemaker live favourite back in the early days. One of their trademark, deep soulful love songs, it builds on a killer, slow beat rhythm courtesy of drummer Richard Danielson and bassist Rick Barrio Dill. The understated guitars by Nalle Colt are there just enough to accentuate things and leave space for Ty to work his magic.
Three songs in and already I have been transported back 10 years to those magical early gigs, watching a killer live band prove themselves to a new audience night after night. The songs sound just as I remember them live, and while they benefit from the studio treatment, they lose none of their fire. ‘Red Handed’ is a deep cut for sure, that guitar intro is insane, I had to give it a rewind! The added, soulful backing vocals and stabs of piano bring it to life and the scratchy wah-wah solo gives a New York 70’s vibe to proceedings, and it’s a dirty groove for sure. Things get dirtier with ‘Low Down Dirty Dog’, and it sounds just as the title suggests. A foot-stomping, backstreet anthem that retains the live feel of the band and showcases the more edgy, rock n’ roll side that they are more than capable of. This is where those Zep meets James Brown comparisons are justified.
‘Let It Not Be So’ on the other hand takes thing in a completely different direction. Coming on like a Nat King Cole seasonal ballad, this is Ty’s soulful upbringing and musical influences coming to the fore. Chilled acoustic guitars and a laid-back, perfectly executed rhythm are there creating space for the vocal melody to shine. Elsewhere, ‘Twisted Together’ and ‘Lover Let Me Be’ have a Jackie Wilson, 50’s soulful pop feel, coming on like classic 45’s spinning at a Northern Soul club.
Then we get to my favourite of the whole damn bunch. ‘You Saved Me’ is hands down my favourite tune by these suited and booted dudes, yet I have only had live versions going around in my head for the last 10 years. I love the dynamics of this song, the little stop-starts, and the lyrics are delivered just as I remember. The way Ty accentuates the hook in the chorus each time, it’s just sublime and gives me goosebumps just as it did when I saw them play it live. For me, it is one of those songs that was instant the first time I heard it, like it has been in my head forever.
Album closer ‘Get It’ was only previously available on the Japanese edition of ‘One Hopeful Road’. Again, an early live favourite that has an Ike & Tina Turner vibe. A killer beat, kudos Richard here, as he gets to shine on that kit. It’s a pumping, juke joint jive of a tune with a killer bassline and a gang vocal chorus you can’t help but sing.
Personally, I feel ‘Juke Joint Gems’ should’ve been the follow up to ‘TBSS’. These songs showcase the live energy of a band rich in soul and rock n’ roll, who can deliver the goods live night after night. For those who were there, these songs are heaped with nostalgia and will take you back to those early, sweaty gigs. For the uninitiated, this is a testament to what you missed out on and hopefully it will make you buy a ticket the next time they return to these shores.
It’s been a long time coming, and even though it should’ve been released years ago, Vintage Trouble have probably just bagged the album of the year.
Author: Ben Hughes