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Michael Packer - Rikers Island Blues

Iris Music Group

8 songs; Time 42:36; Splendid

Styles: Modern Electric Blues

What is an optimist? An optimist is a person who has been sentenced to prison, and on the way there, he/she says, “At least I’ll gain a deeper understanding of the Blues!”

Blues and jail have always seemed to co-exist, even spawning some great works like BB King at Cook County Jail or Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. In Michael Packer’s case, his one year stint in stir at Rikers Island, New York, gave him both a chance to learn, and perform. Packer did three or four concerts with his in-house band while serving a year there for armed robbery.

“Rikers Island Blues” was not recorded at the famous New York gray-bar-hotel as one might infer from the name. Since there is no mention in the liner notes where it was recorded, I am unsure. The first song seems to be a studio song, and the remaining seven tracks are recorded live, somewhere. Track three, “I’m Tore Down,” is announced at Sweet Rhythm, a famous jazz club in Greenwich Village in New York City. The exact recording date is also unclear.

Altogether, the eight song set is some enjoyable real-deal Blues. The opening track may be an original (again, scant liner notes), but the remaining seven live tracks are mostly well chosen covers like “The Thrill Is Gone” and “I’m Tore Down.” While one can imagine Packer’s vocals being stronger as a young man, he commands plenty of respect from his fellow all-star musicians, who are loose and in the groove. The biographical shuffle “Born in New York City” was written by Packer, and it features Felix Cabrera’s deft honking on harp.

The live songs feature Michael Packer on guitar and vocals, James Cotton's piano player David Maxwell, Guitarist Jimmy Vivino from the Conan O'Brien show, Lou Marini from the Blues Brothers and Saturday Night live, Cuban born harmonica ace Felix Cabrera, Ed Jackson on bongos, King Bear on bass and Nat Seeley on drums.

Packer is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who was born in New York City in 1950. In 1969 he formed the group “Papa Nebo” which included saxophonist Bob Mintzer. Papa Nebo recorded an album for Atlantic records after they were personally signed by Ahmet Ertegun.

Eventually Packer started another project “Free Beer” which recorded three albums for Buddha and RCA records and toured extensively with the likes of the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Dr. Hook, and Clifton Chenier to name a few. All of the albums made the Billboard top 100.
After dropping out of the music scene in the late 80s, Packer hit the skids. His drinking had escalated, and he found himself living on the streets. He did a year in Rikers Island for attempted robbery, but that seemed to be the turning point in his life. Even in prison he had a band. HBO did a special "The Prisoners of Rikers Island” in which he appears.

Michael Packer has been sober 15 years now, and life is good especially his music. He has become a well known and respected member of the New York City Blues Scene. The Michael Packer Blues Band has received rave reviews for the “Live at Sweet Rhythm” album (Woodstock Records). A Best of Michael Packer has been released and also reissues of his earlier recordings of Papa Nebo and Free Beer.

In 2009 Michael Packer and percussionist Ed Jackson were semi-finalists in the solo/duo competition at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

Michael Packer has lived the blues, and now, he is back playing the blues with style.

Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL  To See James “Skyy Dobro” Walker's CD rating system, CLICK HERE

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