New Born

  • 2005
  • New Born
  • Calvin Newborn
  • Yellow Dog Records


The line that separates blues from jazz has never been a wall — rather, it is a widely-spaced picket fence, through which the southern breezes freely blow. Add a bit of rock sensibility to the gumbo, and one ends up with Calvin Newborn, a guitarist who can lay claim both to playing on B.B. King’s first records and literally to teaching Elvis Presley how to dance.

Born into a musical family in Memphis — his father was Jimmie Lunceford’s drummer, his brother the great jazz pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. — Calvin Newborn has been defying categorization for over half a century. In the 1940’s and ’50’s he made his mark as “Flying Calvin,” playing the guitar behind his head, with his teeth and between his legs, decades before such pyrotechnics were adopted by Jimi Hendrix and others. In the ’60’s he toured and recorded with Earl Hines, Lionel Hampton, and Wild Bill Davis.

But widespread recognition has been slow to come, due both to a lack of a recorded legacy and to his preference to remain in Memphis, where he played in local clubs throughout the ’70’s, ’80’s, and ’90’s. The fact that he is still with us and cranking out masterful CDs like “New Born” is a testament not only to his musicianship, but also to his faith and perseverance.

Recorded over the course of two days at Sam Phillips’s Studios in Memphis, “New Born” finds Calvin in fine form — neatly in the pocket and residing on comfortable turf. Always a fluid player and a fine melodic interpreter, on this recording he is surrounded by a crack team of players. The results are stellar.

Kicking off the set is a medley of “When Kingdom Comes/Sho’ Nuff,” featuring cascading guitar octaves ala Wes Montgomery, and some fine work by the ensemble.

“Streetwalker’s Stroll” is a Latin-tinged exercise in D-minor, with particularly sparkling drums by Renardo Ward.

“Newborn Blues” is a reworking of brother Phineas’ piano masterpiece “New Blues” (recorded in 1962 for Contemporary), with new emphasis on guitar. Very tasty indeed.

In fact, this whole recording is tasty! It’s reminiscent in places of Grant Green and Wes, in other places of T-Bone and Pee Wee. This is a great album for relaxing, listening, BBQing, or just enjoying a potent potable.

Now at the age of 70-something, Calvin Newborn is a man who has seen and done it all, yet still seems to be playing at the peak of his powers. This is not delta stuff — no moaning vocals, slide guitar, or harmonica — but it earns high recommendations for those who crave and enjoy both blues and jazz. Viva “New Born” Newborn!