Review of the Live Blues Night, 31 March 2023

by Skip Landy

The first Live Blues Night for autumn was action packed from the word go and will be a hard one to top. There were six different acts followed by two jams.

Bruce Duncan (smooth vocals and guitar) fronted a trio with a Lightwood Bottom regular James Vicary (variou stringed instruments), and Tony Dunshae (harmonica). They kicked off with a version of a 1928 song (“Bull-Doze Blues”) penned by an obscure Texan bluesman, Henry Thomas. His song was picked up and adapted by Alan Wilson forty years later in a band called Canned Heat and released as the anthemic “Going Up the Country”.  James played slide on a homemade cigar box style guitar made by harpist Tony.

The yet nameless trio then cruised through JJ Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze” and followed up with Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” before Bruce played his own song, “(The Girl with her) Back to the Mirror”, a slow waltz that featured James on mandolin. They bookended their set with another Texan, Jolie Holland’s “Old Fashioned Morphine” (from her 2004 album “Escondida”). This was the trio’s first foray at the club, and I’m hoping that they enjoyed the reception enough to come back again.

The second act was a solo singer songwriter guitarist from up Glen Huon way, making his first appearance at the Club, Mick Reid. His first song was an adaptation of 1948’s “Mercury Boogie” by the KC Douglas Trio, which got more coverage in the early 1980’s when David Lindley covered it as “Mercury Blues”. Mick followed up with the iconic “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, Hank Williams’ last and greatest hit which was released after his sad demise. Mick then demonstrated his song writing talent with two originals, the first being a kind of work experience song from his days working down at Dover, “Fish Gutter Blues”. We then got to hear the Tom Waits inspired “Halloween Orange and Chimney Red”. Following advice from Mick, I looked up the source of this song from the 1983 album “Swordfishtrombones”. There is a track called “Frank’s Wild Years” about a man and his dog. Say no more…

Australian blues legend Chris Wilson’s waltz “Face in the Mirror” and Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” filled up Mick’s jam-packed set. Afterwards Mick told me he had heard about the live blues night at the club from a chance meeting with one of our patrons. So dear readers, please keep spreading the good word about the club so we can unearth more of the talent living close to home like Mick.

Third act of the night was yet another Huon Valley solo singer songwriter guitarist also making his club debut, Dave Steel. Dave has been playing on the Aussie music scene for many years with so many people, and it was wonderful to have him come down to the club to share his take on vintage blues as well as one of his own songs.

His first song was Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” from during the Great Depression. A timely reminder for us all to take heed, especially since the events at the US Capitol two years ago, and the growing concerns here by law enforcement agencies.

Dave then provided us with another work experience song, Jess Fuller’s “Railroad Work Song” from 1954. Not knowing anything about Jesse, I looked him up and discovered that he worked as an all singing (and dancing) one-man band, playing guitar, harmonica, kazoo, percussion, and a thing called a fotdella, which is a kind of foot piano.

His use of a neck brace to secure his harmonica (or kazoo or microphone) inspired a young Bob Dylan. Also, he did not record his first album until he was in his sixties.

Dave then showed us some of his song writing with a song called “Morning Train” dedicated to the people that he grew up with in Western Victoria. The song can be found on his 2016 album “Old Salt Blues” which is available online, or maybe Dave might come back to the club with some copies in the very near future (hint hint).

Dave closed his set with probably the most archetypal blues song, “Walkin’ Blues” by Son House in 1930. It contains the line “Woke up this morning”.

What fascinates me about these blues nights, is how many connections can be made by perusing the program. We get to see seemingly disparate performers bringing to the table their choices which can be linked to the choices of another act. Our first act played a Canned Heat cover, and our third act played a Son House song. The connection is Alan Wilson and Son House. Son House had given up playing music in the early 1940’s, but during the mid-1960’s an enthusiastic group of young blues afficionados coaxed him into coming out of retirement. There was one problem though, Son House had forgotten everything – both the music and the lyrics. A 21-year-old Alan Wilson taught Son House to be Son House again.

The fourth act was a sax/piano duet (Robert Jackson and me, Skip Landy) playing songs by one of our favourite composers, George Gershwin. On the surface not very appropriate for a live blues night, but we wanted to demonstrate how the blues had deeply affected George and how he transmogrified them (in a good way). The first two songs were from his folk opera “Porgy and Bess” and showed how George could create emotional yet more harmonically complex music based on the good old blues scale. The third song “Oh, Lady be Good!” showed how he tried adapting a blues into the standard popular song 32 bar form. I believe that if musicians want to innovate in a genre, that they can find inspiration from another genre.

Speaking of Gershwin, the next act was local reliables the Swamp Ratzzz, but in their third incarnation for the year so far. They opened with Gershwin’s “Summertime” (another connection) and a new rhythm section of Aaron Bird on bass, and Andy Koppleman on drums. Franky Tielman gave an emotional rendition of this lullaby and Paul Tudor-Stack provided a thoughtful solo.

They then rocked their way through Sugar Pie Desanto’s biggest hit on Chess “Soulful Dress” (which also happened to be one of Aretha Franklin’s favourite songs). For some reason I found James’ rhythm guitar reminiscent of James Blood Ulmer’s playing. Nice.

An Eric Clapton/Robert Cray collaboration was up next via Scottish band King King’s version of “Old Love”. This gave Paul the opportunity to go large on the solo. Following this was Christian bluesman Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Blue on Black”. You would have to be at least a Christian if you were allowed to be Mel Gibson’s son-in-law. And finally, Franky belted out a Swamp Ratzzz staple, Beth Hart’s “Bad Woman Blues”.

After the Swamp Ratzzz, newcomers Blues Union (enhanced with a bass player, Clive Perryman) played their valedictory gig (for this year anyway), opening with Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”, sung by lead guitarist Nakita. Then drummer Jeff took over vocals on Albert King’s version of “Let’s Have a Natural Ball” (a remake of 1947’s “T-Bone Shuffle”). Rhythm guitarist Les then took his turn at the mike with his rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “I’ve got my Eyes on You”.

Nakita got the mike back and barnstormed her way through “Old Number 7” a tribute to one of Jack Daniel’s more popular products, and finally a tribute was paid to another recent passing, this time to Huey Smith who died just days apart from David Lindley (refer the connection with “Mercury Blues”)

Then we got to jamming, with the line up of three horn players in Robert Jackson, Steve Bobs and Terry Mead (Welcome Terry) playing Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and Thelonius Monk’s “Blue Monk”, supported by Andy Koppleman (drums), Manny Patty (bass) and me on piano. This was followed by Blues Union and Robert joining forces for “Rock me Baby” and a three minute “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” to bring the night to a close at 10:30 on the dot. Which just happened to be one of my additional responsibilities due to the absence of el Presidente, Captain Kirk.

Thanks should go to Les from Blues Union who took over mixing duties to allow Paul to play in Kirk’s absence, and for also being the patron responsible for talking to Mick Reid a couple of days earlier.

I just hope now that we haven’t raised the bar too high for our future events. We are usually anxiously waiting with only days to go with lots of empty slots on the Run Sheet on the club’s website. It was only last July that the night was cancelled at the last minute due to too many vacant slots. So everybody, please tell more people about the club.