Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blues on the Ohio

Thompson S. Hunter here -- the extremely unauthorized biographer of the Beaver Dam Blues Band.  Most of what I know about these blues legends I learned by hacking Ron Newlin's email, which is how I'm able to write on this blog, by logging in as him.   I would think he would have figured out how to stop me by now, but apparently he kind of likes it.

So, I understand that 3/5 of BDBB is going to be together this weekend in Louisville, and I plan on surreptitiously documenting the proceedings.

Louisville is long over-due for a blues event of the magnitude of Woodstock, Altamont, or the Battle of Agincourt.   It's actually got the ideal natural and man-made environment for the blues -- lots of old brick buildings, a muggy riverfront, and even an ominous floodwall running through it, that you can't cross without thinking, holy hell, they're going to drop a slab of concrete into that opening and leave me to die with the poor people on this side of the wall!

Now, Louisville has one of the great cultural events in America in the Kentucky Derby, but that is not a bluesy sport, unless you're a race-horse getting a shot of succhinycholine behind a hastily-assembled curtain in the fourth turn.   That's the blues.   But otherwise horse-racing is still the sport of kings; even though the debauchery in the infield rivals anything that happens at a NASCAR event.

But in addition to the Derby, Louisville is also famous for baseball bats.   It's less famous (in fact, not famous at all) for military armor, although for some reason it has a pretty impressive museum on the subject.

So anyway, I'll be in Louisville this weekend to report on the mournful, haunted blues tracks being laid down.  Although I suspect its equally likely that a game of Calvinball, played on horseback in medieval suits of armor while swinging baseball bats, may also break out.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Blues--52 Weeks Later

Photo credit to Scott R. Kline.

As Cooper supervises the packing for he and Missy’s move from Baltimore to St. Louis, we’ve been reminiscing via text this week about our Blues Road Trip—which took place exactly one year ago. It's been all over my mind these past few days.

First off, I’m blown away that it’s been a year. Granted, I’ve changed jobs, moved from Chicago to Evansville to Louisville, had one child graduate from college and another enroll…it’s not exactly been a quiet year! But all of that said it still amazes me that it’s been a year. I told Coop this morning that I can remember touring Stax records in Memphis like it was last week, not one year ago tomorrow.

Reading back through our blog it was not only a great trip and great time, but both Coop and I did a pretty good job of capturing it.

I’ll also say this: we’ve gotten better over the past three years (ever since Bazoo’s death) at doing these guys weekends and trips. Coop, Newly, Campbell, Ettinger…we’ve even got Hack and Scott in from long distance. Andy Knoop and I started doing this nearly ten years ago and those trips are a lifeline to me. But it’s great getting reconnected with all of these guys too. Do it. Do it now. Life’s too short, and we’ve had far too many reminders of that lately in our little circle.
It's a very cool thing re-establishing your childhood connections as adults. There's a commonality that you either forget or take for granted...a shared memory. Until Dan and I started connecting like this again, I forgot that our Moms had been friends, and that Cooper and I started hanging out together when I was about 3 and he was 5. We rode the bus together, played HS golf together, fooled around on the guitar together, and as it turned out from this trip--it was no accident, we like hanging out together. LoL.
Anyway, this trip with him was just one of these myriad reconnections that have kind of sustained me through some challenging times over the past few years. Andy and I never really lost touch. Scott and I have also done a pretty good job at staying close. Newly and I got reconnected when I moved to Evansville in 2000. But Coop and Campbell has really just been over the past three years, and Hack within the past two. And it's very cool. Like finding money in your pocket you didn't know was there.

No real point to all of this rambling here. Just thinking back on one of the great trips ever, and alot of great friendships over the years. Coop…NOLA is calling again, and Austin is still begging to be hit… J

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blues Road Trip 2011 Wrap-Up

There are many thoughts, photos and stories from our trip that didn't make it into any of our posts during the trip so I thought I would share some of them now. Well... those that Hoov will let me share anyway!

New Orleans
We had only been in New Orleans a couple hours when we hailed a cab and headed to Frenchmen Street. I scraped my knee getting out of the cab but thought nothing of it until we got inside the very tiny, very cool Apple Barrel. When I sat down at one of the two tables (this place is really tiny) I realized that my knee was bleeding. I got some napkins to wipe up the blood and a woman at the other table looked at me and said "Honey, this is New Orleans!" as she handed me a small bottle of disinfectant. I guess they take infections seriously in New Orleans!

Upstairs from the Apple Barrel is Adolfo's. The waitress was spot on with her recommendations and the Creole-Italian dinner was great.

With the exception of Bourbon Street I loved the French Quarter. The architecture in the French Quarter reminded me a lot of Paris. I loved roaming the streets and stopping to listening to the street musicians.

Bourbon Street was a big disappointment. Crowded with people, which I don't like but expected, and inundated with loud, thumping dance music. Ugh.

Our timing and the weather were bad for Memphis. Beale Street was a big downer after the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street in NOLA. Complementary Gibson guitars during our stay helped. The tour of the Gibson Guitar factory and the Stax museum were pretty cool and there was some fun street music.

The highlight however was the band we discovered at Club 152: Big Mack Johnson. We simply could not get enough of these guys. We heard them three nights straight and I'm still jonesing for more!

Nashville was the big surprise of the trip for me. We weren't there long but I loved it. Gruhn's Guitars baby! We heard a Scottish guitar player playing country music! We stopped by the Ryman Auditorium, both of us wishing we had seen our friend Jim Bazini play there.

And the best part was that half a block from our hotel was the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar! We did indeed find blues music in Nashville. Great place, great music and great bartenders!

Good food, fantastic music and great friendship. What a trip! Hey Hoov, when can we do it again?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Postscript: Damn Right We Got the Blues!

Well, the long anticipated Blues Trip of 2011 is over, and right behind it come the typical feelings that follow a trip you’ve been talking about and planning and looking forward to for two-plus years: sadness, great memories, and the hope that you might ever have another trip half as good.

As my own form of therapy, I’d like to review the trip and highlights here.

First off, it was great traveling with Coop. Any time you undertake something like this, you’re a little hesitant about spending that much time with someone; but I thought we were very compatible as travel partners, and it was awesome catching up on 25 years of stuff that we had gotten behind on. Terrific times, too many laughs to recount, and some great guitar lessons. Thanks Dan for a really good week!

Now to the highlights.

Best City: New Orleans. I’m not much of a live in the past guy, but if I could change one thing about the trip it would be to spend another day there. I feel like we barely scratched the surface.

Biggest Disappointment: Memphis. For being the blues capitol of the world, there is very little blues there! Granted we were there early in the week, but I still thought the music and lack of anything going on was surprising. That said, Memphis did produce our…

Best Band: Big Mack Johnson. I’ve covered these guys in detail previously, but amazing guitars, vocals, arrangements, musical imagination, et al. We saw these guys three nights in a row and for a cover band two things immediately jumped out: there were very few repeats in there repertoire, and the repeats that there were had a completely different sound, feel and musical personality. Try playing The Weight on back to back nights and feeling like it’s a completely different song. Loved ‘em.

Best Surprise: finding the blues for the first time on the trip, in Nashville of all places. Kudos to the Stacy Mitchert (sp?) band for their big horns, six string bass, and brassy guitar playing by the namesake. These guys were terrific, and ironically enough, they play the riverboat in Evansville about once a quarter. I’ll be seeing them again.

Best Music Scene: Frenchman Street in New Orleans. Broadest range of music, best acts, most fun and laid back atmosphere…this was a terrific find. From Washboard Chaz and his old timey three piece band (and my personal favorite lyric of the week: “Oh yeah buddy I gots to go, yeaah I know…”), to a full blown nine piece brass band, to a rockabilly group that was clearly but proficiently making their first appearance together, this was an awesome two nights of New Orleans music. If you go, don’t miss Checkpoint Charlie’s or The Spotted Cat, my two favorite spots.

Best Food: Ironically enough on our first night out—the “Cajun Italian” meal on the second floor of the Apple Barrel. I have no idea of the restaurant’s name, but this was good hard core Italian fare, and the place smelled wonderful.

Best Hotel: As if this is even close. The Westin in Memphis not only gave us the best rate of any of our three “city” stops, it was far and away the best property…and of course there was the ultimate perk of the complimentary Gibson guitars at check in. BIG fan of Westin.

Best Non-Trip Related Event: Yeah, I just had to throw this in: Alex’s graduation from Indiana University. :-) Very proud of my little girl and her achievements…it doesn’t seem like almost 17 years since that pic of her sitting in my lap at the Kindergarten Dad’s night…love you Alex!

Well, I guess that wraps it up. Thanks to everyone who followed us, and thanks to Coop for making it a blast. Next stop Austin!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Friday, May 6, 2011

Winding Down

Well, Blues Road Trip 2011 is winding down. And that's a good thing. Hoov and I are both getting tired. But boy are we loving it!

Nashville was fun. I had never been there before. I liked it. And not JUST because we finally found some hot blues music there (go figure.) We also saw a country guitar player from Scotland, and believe it or not some OK country karaoke. We visited the legendary Gruhn's guitar store where I found a sweet old Fender Esquire for $22,000 - just a smidge out of my price range.

Today we're in Bloomington. While Hoov is at his daughter's graduation I'm just hanging out on campus. Excellent!

Tonight Indy and tomorrow Chicago to wrap things up. Sigh.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Search For The Blues

So far, on our "Blues Road Trip", the only blues we've found has been in our souls.

New Orleans, our first stop, is famous for many music styles, including blues. But the fact that we didn't stumble onto a blues band there during our two nights isn't really surprising.

We headed to Memphis thinking we'd find some blues there. Not so much there either. In fact, the bartender at B.B. King's told us we wouldn't find any blues on Beale Street and that we WOULD hear Michael Jackson and Prince. And he was right.

So I've got to wonder, is blues music in a big lull or is it just bad timing on our part? Maybe. For various reasons we skipped Clarksdale, MS; Ground Zero for the blues. Surely we would have found some blues there... I'd hope!

Having said all that, we have indeed been bummed that we haven't found the blues we were hoping for and expecting. That is, until we step foot into a club and hear the fantastic music we've heard every day on this trip!

Next up, Nashville. Will we hear some blues? Maybe, but I'm not counting on it. Will we hear great music? I'm counting on it!

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Location:The road...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Band That Saved Memphis

Monday sucked. It just did. Oh sure, we had a great tour of Gibson Guitars. But other than that, it rained ALL day long, there was no music on Beale, and we actually had the bartender at BB King's tell us "If you want the blues in this town, it ain't on's in the 'hood at Wild Bills. Take a cab and get his number."

Hope was lost. Faith was shaken. We went back to the room, sipped a beer, jammed a little, and took a nap. Cooper was contemplating a Memphis-blasting on his next post.

When we awakened, we got ready to go out; the home of the blues was about to lose us.

Enter the little band that could.

We saw them Sunday night, but only for the last 15 minutes of their early set. We loved them. But we didn't get their name, didn't know where they played next, and thought it was one of those "coulda been" moments.

Well, before cabbing to Wild Bill's, we decided to give the Street one last shot. Rain poured down, no one was out, and we dejectedly headed to Club 152, wondering where we'd catch our cab. If there were collectively 100 people on Beale Street, 75 of them were waitresses and bartenders.

Then we heard a distant chord, like a beacon in the rain...could it be?

When your faith is most shaken, THAT'S when the miracle occurs. Out of the mist they came: the Mack Johnson band...Chris Johnson and Zach Mack. Two amazing early twenties guitarists, great vocalists, incredible musicians. The drummer is the great bluesman Bobby Bland's nephew. The bassman doesn't move, except for laying down a line you could hang a building on from behind his Metallica beard and hairstyle.

Just when we were ready to quit on Memphis these kids grabbed us by the collar and pulled us back. Clapton, the Stones, Stone Temple Pilots. Led Zep. Lots of southern rock: ZZ Top, the Allman Brothers. One trick pony? How bout the Beatles and Dylan. Kings of Leon. When's the last time you heard a rock cover band play Johnny Cash and Rod Stewart? In the same set, back to back?


These youngsters are playing New Orleans next weekend at Jazzfest, and believe you me they'll hold up fine. I mean, after carrying the city of Memphis on their shoulders, how tough could it be?

At the end of the day, I'll leave you with this: not only did they save Memphis, they stole a day from Nashville. You see, we've changed our itin to watch them again tonight... ;-)

YouTube Video

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Location:Club 152