They call Jimmie Bratcher “The Electric Rev.”
Not only because his lightning-strike performances crackle with high-voltage guitar playing and emotionally charged vocals. Or because Bratcher makes the hairs rise on the arms of the crowds he entertains in the map of clubs, festivals, bike rallies, churches and prisons that he calls “the road.”
But because the ascending blues star is literally a preacher, as comfortable testifying in the pulpit about the power of Jesus as he is in smoky bars celebrating the vigor of the blues.
Bratcher’s shows — regardless of location — are worry-free zones, where the healing, good-time mojo of rockin’ blues sets hearts and minds, and maybe even souls, free. His latest album Secretly Famous is fueled by the same attitude. The disc’s dozen tracks are packed with humor, romance, joy and the thrill of finding the same at every turn, plus some real-life reflection. And they’re all buoyed by Bratcher’s gravel dappled tenor voice and his gritty, muscular and deeply rooted guitar playing, supported by his versatile longtime rhythm section of drummer Dave Autry and bassist Craig Kew.
Throughout Secretly Famous Bratcher’s songs shine a spotlight on his unique perspective. The slinky, groove-driven “57,” for example, is a first — a tribute to the Shure SM-57 microphone, a staple of the stage and the studio known for its ability to capture the sound of the electric guitar.
“I can’t think of a more important piece of gear during the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll and blues,” the six-string apostle opines. Upon Secretly Famous’ release “57” rapidly became a staple itself, aired on hundreds of stations around the globe including Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s million-subscriber “B.B. King’s Bluesville.”
Secretly Famous producer Jim Gaines, a multiple Grammy winner who earned a reputation as a guitar guru working with Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lee Hooker, Luther Allison and other fretboard greats. “Jim’s brilliant at critiquing songs and arrangements, and getting all the details of a song right,” Bratcher remarks. “But with Jim the fun really begins when it’s time to record guitars.”
Bratcher’s passion for raw-but-exacting electric guitar sounds began in the ’60s, when he fell under the spell of Eric Clapton, his first six-string hero. But there was a circuitous journey he needed to undertake to become a bluesman himself.
As a kid Bratcher developed eclectic taste, culled from his large musical family — who would have sprawling jam sessions at frequent get-togethers in his native Kansas City, Missouri — and the sounds on the era’s progressive FM radio. “I was the guy who owned both Axis Bold As Love and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison,” he attests. The first truly pivotal event in Bratcher’s musical life occurred at age 12 when his father recognized his creative yearning and determined to get him an electric guitar.
“We didn’t have any money, but we did have a 1958 DeSoto in the driveway,” Bratcher recounts. “My father placed an ad in the Kansas City Star that read, ‘Will trade 1958 DeSoto for an electric guitar and amplifier.’ ”
That instrument was the 1964 Gibson SG Junior that Bratcher played on Secretly Famous. He also still owns the amp, too — a Gibson Falcon.
Bratcher caught on to Albert King, B.B. King and more blues greats, and developed as a player in a series of bands that never quite took off “due to a lack of professionalism and commitment, and substance abuse,” he explains. As Bratcher began gaining a toehold as a musician in his early 20s, drugs and alcohol also had their grips on him. They drove the destruction of his and Sherri’s first marriage. Nonetheless, he and Sherri reunited and when they decided to remarry she took him to a small church where the preacher declared he would only perform the ceremony if Bratcher promised to put his faith in Jesus.
Thus the Electric Rev. was born again as a full-fledged artist. Inspired by the knowledge that his music could speak to all kinds of audiences, Bratcher made up for lost time as a musician. He recorded six more albums and two live DVDs, including 2005’s RED, also produced by Gaines, before Secretly Famous, touring a mix of churches, clubs and prisons — alternately preaching and performing, which both require interchangeable audience-grabbing abilities. “I feel like I’ve come to a place where I’m speaking through my songs in a way that everyone can understand. And while it’s not my job to figure out if they do understand every strand in my music, it is my job to be passionate about every note I sing and play, and that sure helps connect the dots.”