During the lounge craze of the ’90s, one of the best groups was Virginia’s Useless Playboys. They became favorites at the Continental Club in Austin, where guitarist Billy Pitman eventually moved, leading to a spot in Jimmie Vaughan’s band. Not to be confused with the ’60s L.A. session guitarist of the same name, this Pitman is not only adept at blues, but can handle jazz, R&B, and seemingly all things rootsy.
Producer Jim Pugh, former keyboardist with Robert Cray and Etta James, among others (and head of the nonprofit Little Village label), teamed Pitman and Throw Rug singer Wheeler, with major payoff results. Pugh lends keys, and Nightcats guitarist Kid Andersen, manning the console, occasionally joins in.
The set begins with a dramatic reading of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” contrasted by Pitman’s understated, economical solo. The repertoire also embraces Captain Beefheart, Blind Willie Johnson, Gil Scott-Heron, and blues obscurity Geeshie Wiley. Throughout, Pitman’s melodic, selective playing complements Wheeler’s almost theatrical vocals. The mood kicks into revival mode for retro-country singer James Hand’s “Men Like Me Can Fly” before Clifton Chenier’s “I’m Coming Home,” the perfect closer, featuring beautiful tremolo guitar from Pitman.
This article originally appeared in VG March 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.