If you dig Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn, you're going to hate Little Victor, an untamed maverick whose raw, primitive sounds are the utter antithesis of the contemporary blues model. The offbeat singer-guitarist, who appears at Burbank's Joe's Great American and Viva Cantina this week, eschews the genre's prevalent trend for streamlined six-string virtuosity in favor of wild shouting, stabbing guitar and heavy, almost hypnotic, rhythmic repetition.
It's very rough stuff, but is deeply rooted in blues tradition, and in Little Victor's case, was learned firsthand at the side of such hallowed blues masters as Louisiana Red and Hubert Sumlin.
"I'm an Air Force brat, my father was from Arkansas, my mother was Sicilian and I lived all over Europe when I was growing up," Victor said. "A lot of the other service men were Southern blacks, I played with all their kids, I had a black nanny, and because of that, growing up, the blues were all around me, they were everywhere."
Born Victor Macoggi in 1967, he continues to lead the life of an itinerant bluesman, albeit on an international scale. His musical roots are formidable: As a teenager, he began spending his summers in Memphis, Tenn., visiting some very well blues-connected relatives; his uncle is revered University of Memphis enthno-musicologist David Evans and his cousin is Tav Falco, leader of the long-running underground blues-rockabilly art group Panther Burns.
Between the two, Victor was able to marinate in the rich Memphis blues tradition, first as a listener, then by direct exposure to such Tennessee blues pioneers as Jesse Mae Hemphill (AKA She-Wolf) and veteran Memphis street musician Uncle Ben Perry ("the King of W.C. Handy Park") and, in short order, as active co-conspirator.
"I was jamming with Uncle Ben on Beale Street six days a week when I was a kid, and sometime I'd sneak into a few of the clubs and bring my harmonica, playing whenever I could."
Before long, he was riding through the blues jungle in high style. "I met [Howlin' Wolf's guitarist] Hubert Sumlin and had the chance to play with him for three years," he said. "Then I met Louisiana Red, he was recording at Chess in '53 with Little Walter, Muddy Waters, all those guys, and he was totally under-estimated and underappreciated here, so he moved to Europe."
With the then-77-year-old ex-pat blues architect, he formed a band, Louisiana Red & Little Victor's Juke Joint, toured Europe and released the memorable 2008 CD "Back to the Black Bayou," which Victor also produced.
"I learned so much from Red, we played together a lot and that record sold over 50,000 copies — which is a lot for a blues album," he said. "It won the Grand Prix du Disque, which is like the blues Nobel Prize in France, but it wasn't until it got four-star reviews in Rolling Stone and Downbeat that the blues guys here started to pay it any attention."
While he is often viewed as somewhat of a renegade who performs not on the tried and true blues circuit but generally more at rock clubs, Little Victor's credentials are impeccable and his talent impressive. He can effortlessly switch from shadowy, primitive low blues to the polished, uptown Beale Street-style R&B of Johnny Ace and Bobby Bland to wild, wicked boogies, and all of it is put across with expressive, soul-deep conviction.
"When I play the blues festivals now, there's no mojo," the singer said. "Really, it's crazy because almost no one is playing the blues at these things. So, I am the guy who brings what I call 'the blues burlesque,' I don't strip or anything, but it is always the downhome blues."
"It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it, and if you play it from the heart, people will get it."
Where: Joe's Great American Bar & Grill, 4311 W. Magnolia Blvd. Burbank (on Wed.); and Viva Cantina, 900 W. Riverside Drive. (on Sat.)
When: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 9 p.m.; also Saturday, Jan. 25, 10 p.m.
Cost: Free (two drink min. at Joe's).
More info: Joe's Great American Bar & Grill: (818) 729-0805, http://www.danceatjoes.com; Viva Cantina, (818) 845-2425,http://www.vivacantina.com
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of "Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox" and "Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story."