Review of Live Blues Night 27th January 2023 

by Skip Landy

January's Live Blues Night kicked off 2023 for the Lightwood Bottom Blues Club with a record crowd and a program jam-packed with talent.

First up, we had regular opener, Steve Gray with his seven-string bass and backing tracks, playing the same original songs. The club is aiming to have all live music acts on its program, but until we have enough live music acts, we either include programmed music acts to help fill the slots on the run sheet, or cancel the event for the month.

Next up former schoolteacher Gary McKay played a solo set starting with “Catfish Blues”, first recorded by Jim Jackson 1928 as Part 3 of “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues”. It has been adapted and modified by many blues musicians and was even the inspiration for a chap named Muddy Waters when he wrote a tune called “Rollin’ Stone”. So I suppose that you could say that “Catfish Blues” was the trigger for the British Blues/Rock boom of the 1960’s.

Gary followed this with Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”, a train tone poem that Wolf had been playing since the early 1930s. Gary informs me the effect that a live Howlin’ Wolf performance had on one particular British music critic who was so overcome by Wolf’s presence and performance that he wet himself. I am most grateful that Gary only replicated the song and not Mr Wolf.

We were also treated to one of Taj Mahal’s endearing and enduring love songs “Queen Bee”, and this was quickly followed by one of Gary’s “folked up” versions of a jazz classic, George Gershwin’s “Summertime”. I love the way that Gary can destroy all the hard work that a composer puts into creating a masterpiece by rearranging the chords, and basically dumbing the song down to a very low denominator. I love it because it works, and I suppose that’s why they call it the blues.

Gary ended his set with a song that his mum loved, Kris Kristofferson’s roadtrippping “Me and Bobby McGee”.

Pat Curley (or Mr Curley to his schoolkids) brought us another batch of Old Songs by Dead Guys, and this is where the jamming for the evening started. Pat, an excellent guitarist with a mellow baritone voice, who is a fine solo act got me to jam with him on some classics commencing with the one hundred year old “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. Pat opted for a much more modern version based on the almost fifty year old Derek and the Dominos one. Time flies doesn’t it!

Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble”, a slow burning minor blues from 1958 was played as a sparse 12/8 ballad. Pat then took us right back in time and place to the despairing “St James Infirmary” in the underused key of C sharp minor, and we finished off with the great Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on my Mind”.

It can be quite challenging for guitarists and pianists to just get together without any rehearsal, as chords and chord progressions can be both many and varied, and not all versions fit together harmoniously. Luckily for us, we were sure-footed on the tightrope last Friday. Pat told me a quote from master jazz guitarist Joe Pass, to the effect that a guitarist should just get out of the way when playing with some piano players. I’m glad this didn’t happen for us.

Local favourites The SwampRatzzzz followed suit in continuing the jamming, mainly because their rhythm guitarist James was waylaid by the ever-evolving Rona. In lieu of a second guitar, I fronted with some organ backing for “Put Your Hand Out of my Pocket”, a slow burner from a relatively obscure Austrian vocalist, Meena Cryle, and then the evening’s mystery guest artist Geoff Donaldson added his harmonica licks to Jimmie Rogers’ “Baby What do you want me to do”.

The Swampies then played Sugarpie DeSanto’s “Soulful Dress” and followed up with a newbie in the form of Michelle Shocked’s “If Love was a Train”. Unfortunately, I missed this debut as I was queued at the bar, which is a good indicator of the size of the crowd that came on the night.

Kate Meehan and friends followed with a set of classic Chicago blues featuring songs by Otis Spann (“Blues Never Die”), Willie Dixon (“Spoonful” and “I Got What it Takes”), Magic Sam (“That’s Why I’m Crying”), and Little Walter (“My Babe”). Once again this was a jam featuring regular rhythm section of Manny and Andy on bass and drums,myself, and our guest Geoff.

Geoff Donaldson has been playing on the Aussie blues circuit for over thirty years under various aliases (Gerka, Mud Duck and Bluey G. Hohner to name a few). He was one half of the legendary (or is that notorious) duo – Muddy Puddles, that played everywhere in the country doing all the major events as well as the most far flung pubs. He is a masterful harmonica player, bush bassist (tea chest), washboardist, kazooist, vocalist, entertainer, and all-round animal. On the night Geoff featured in “Spoonful” and “My Babe”, and closed Kate’s set with a rendition of “What a Wonderful World”.

Mr Curley then came back to lead the jammers through Elmore James’“Dust My Broom”, and eventually the evening ended with Geoff’s solo medley of Australian convict tunes which had a lot of people in the audience supplying the lyrics.

The evening was the most successful for the club in terms of attendees, so hopefully we can keep it growing as the year progresses. If anyone who has read this far knows of anyone who can sing or play an instrument, and loves the blues, please let them know that we would love to host them down here at Lightwood Bottom. The more the merrier…