When in doubt, Tom Jones told the 200 people sardined into the tiny Mint nightclub Friday night to see "House" star Hugh Laurie interpret vintage blues, go with "Great Balls of Fire."
Jones joined Laurie at the end of his hourlong record release performance for "Let Them Talk," singing -- as he does on the album -- the Mississippi Sheiks' "Baby, Please Make a Change," and, for a bonus, Jerry Lee Lewis' "End of the Road," which he recorded with Jools Holland. Encouraged to stay on stage, Jones and Laurie huddled before merging with the Killer's classic.
Backed by a sextet -- who coincidentally have been members of Tom Waits' bands -- the star of Fox's "House" took the crowd on a journey through the American South in the early part of the 20th century, covering Jelly Roll Morton's "Buddy Bolden's Blues," Ledbelly's "You Don't Know My Mind" and a few songs he said were of unknown origin, "Battle of Jericho" and "Careless Love." As so often happens, it requires a Brit to to explain U.S. musical history to Americans.
The performance coincided with the debut on PBS of Laurie's "Great Performances" concert special; he was also the lead guest on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on Friday. Despite the packed house, Warner Music UK president Conrad Withey and Rhino Records president Kevin Gore were able to get around to a few tables with industry executives to discuss the album.
"I saw him playing on the show ("House"), thought it was good, and I rang him up," Withy told Universal Music Enterprise's Elliot Kendall, M:M Music VP Crystal Ann Lea, who is working the album at radio, and "House" music supervisor Gary Calamar. The move was saluted for its organic nature, before the table's conversation moved on to the success of recent radio/concert promotion involving Alice Cooper.
Released in May in the U.K. and Europe during Laurie's hiatus from playing Dr. Gregory House, Withey said he was encouraged by the sales there and the level of awareness it had built for the U.S. prior to its Sept. 27 release. Backstage after the show, where band members Vincent Henry, Kevin Bright, Patrick Warren, Michael Blair and Jean McClain, album producer Joe Henry, reps from William Morris Endeavor and Rhino VP of marketing Mike Engstrom were hanging out, Laurie expressed pleasure over the way promotional activities had gone in the U.S.
"I'm so glad I didn't have to get on the radio with a screaming drive-time jockey," said Laurie, who performed in the same gray suit he wore on Leno's show. Laurie then told stories of his love for the music of pianists Professor Longhair and James Booker before spying a photograph of Willie Dixon, who had produced an album by J.B. Lenoir, whose music Laurie performed at the show.
"First blues album I ever bought," Laurie noted, "with Fred Below." Spoken like a true blues junkie -- the ability to recite not just the performer and producer, but the drummer as well.