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!

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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 Beale...it'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

Monday, May 2, 2011

Jesus Left Chicago, but Bazoo's in Memphis

As we rolled into Memphis late yesterday afternoon, the sky was an ominous and angry black. Memphis is at catastrophic flood stage after nearly a foot of rain in the last week added to an already soaked spring, and yesterday we arrived right behind tornadoes amidst gale force winds and driving rain. Coming into the town that's the centerpiece of our blues trip under those conditions is somehow appropriate. Let me explain.

Coop and I first started cooking this trip up nearly three years ago, as a way to honor Stevie Ray Vaughan on the 20th anniversary of his death. We were going to start in Austin and work our way to Chicago.

But shortly thereafter our guitar mentor Jim "Bazoo" Bazini passed away after nearly fifteen years battling kidney disease. Jim had been--along with John Ettinger--my first best friend at about the age of four; and he'd been a guitar mentor to both Coop and I.

In that latter regard, he had far more success with Coop than me. Jim always encouraged me to play more, it just never stuck. But Dan has become a really excellent blues player. Even listening to him in the room this morning I'm reminded of Jim and his technique.

Dan and I both struggled with Jim's death--for personally different reasons--and we quickly started talking about memorializing Jim and dealing with his loss. We had a little service last fall when we were with some friends at KC's; but this trip was going to be our own personal expression.

For me, I took a big step this spring. Jim's wife and the love of his life, Sandy, had saved Jim's guitars so that Dan and I could each have one. I went to their home near South Bend in March to look at them, pick one each out for Coop and I, and write her the check. It was the first time I'd seen Sandy since Jim's death (I'd been traveling and unable to make his memorial service), and it was an awesome way for me finally reach closure. We had lunch, great conversation, shared memories of Jim, and just generally shared in each other's grief. In addition to Jim's guitars (Dan and I each got one, and I also bought a great Washburn acoustic for Dane), Sandy also gave me the two pictures I've posted here.

Ironically, getting Jim's Telecaster finally sparked me too. I've been playing like crazy and am finally getting what Jim told me all those years.

So that stormy weather as we drove into Memphis was perfect for the blues, our trip, and our sense of loss with Bazoo; and I'm sure Jim would have loved it. Just as he would have these lovely Gibson's they comped us for our use when we checked into the Westin. Of course, Jim had his own Les Paul Deluxe, so he might have been less impressed...but he'd have loved the thought.

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Location:S 4th St,Memphis,United States


Mother Nature intervenes. We rolled into a city covered with scary black clouds and pulled into the Westin as the rain let up. The hotel is just a block from Beale Street, so it took us all of five minutes after check-in to be there.

We might have been a little burned out after NOLA and the trip up. We ate and then settled into Club 152 to hear the last half hour of a tasty set of blues-rock. Hoov wasn't feeling well and I was definitely tired so we headed back to our room.

Our hotel has a deal with Gibson. Free guitars for guest to use during their stay. Sweet! We played for a while, watched Tremé then crashed.

Hoov survived the night... But barely after having an allergic reaction to something he ate.

Looks like today will be an indoor day due to the rain. Museums and blues clubs here we come!

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

On The Road

Our last day and night in New Orleans was excellent. Very laid back. Then again, it is me 'n' Hoov.

The French Quarter, away from Bourbon Street, is very... French. And very cool.

Bourbon Street is crowded and loud - definitely NOT my thing.

Frenchmen Street, just outside the French Quarter is perfect! Nasty, grungy, smokin' hot jazz & blues clubs.

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The Big Easy

I've only ever been to New Orleans for business; conventions, meetings, etc. And my general opinion was that it was a loud, smelly, drunken party town. I'd never been far from Bourbon Street or the convention center, and had really never been the least bit impressed. Of course I'd done all the great restaurants, but hadn't reached much beyond that.

This weekend changed that, and unexpectedly. Coop and I planned on spending the day at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, but when we woke up and had breakfast it just evolved differently. We saw the huge lines waiting on buses to the festival early in the morning, weren't up for the expensive tickets and big crowds, and decided to just go local. And the result was the laziest, most comfortable and relaxed Saturday I've had in ages. No cares, no schedule, no commitments. Just a Saturday. Great music, friendly locals, and good food as we wandered around. If we saw some place we wanted to stop, we did. Street bands. Little dark bars. We never did find Coop's pawn shop guitar, but it was still an incredibly cool day.

A lot of it is Cooper. We're good travel partners. There are people that it's easy to travel with--Shaffer and Andy have always been that way for me. Andy and I do a long guys weekend every fall that totally rocks. And of course Shaf and i have probably ridden something over 50,000 miles on bike trips as roommates. Cooper has joined that list. Already--barely 36 hours in--this is a GREAT trip.

But this city gets credit too. We've consciously gotten off the tourist track and just hung out, and man was it cool! The spirit in this city, of survival, of culture, of community....it's incredible. To say nothing of the music; which is of course what the trip's all about. Well, that and Bazini. More on him later in the week.

Back to New Orleans. I could write a ton, and maybe someday I will on my blog. But for now, I've come to view this city differently, and I love it. Before, I never would have considered this a destination for anything other than business; now I'd tell you I'll be back in a year, I have a long list of things I want to see and do, and I can't wait for that trip. I've become a fan.

Next up: Memphis, but she's got big shoes to fill. The Big Easy is right--easy to love.

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Location:Royal St,New Orleans,United States