Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lil' Ed -- Golden Rule and James Cotton -- Feelin' Good

Remember my bad experience trying to see Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials when I first moved to San Diego (see post from 9-7-12)?  Well, that wasn’t the end of it.

I don’t get out to see live music as much as I used to.  I don’t live close to all the action anymore.  My wife and son and I live of out in the boonies.   So, in my mind, if I’m going to make the investment of driving 45 minutes into town, the musical act I’m going see better be to my liking.   The two acts I was absolutely willing to make the commitment to were David Bromberg (who I figured would certainly come down the coast from San Francisco once in a while but never has) and Lil‘ Ed and the Blues Imperials.  I had pretty much lost hope waiting endlessly for one of these two guys to show up in Southern Cal.  On a whim, I Googled “blues festivals” and I stumbled upon a website for the San Diego Blues Festival.  It showed that Lil’ Ed was in the lineup.  After several years of waiting, I exclaimed, “Finally!”

I was pretty psyched.  I roped my buddy Tony, who’s from the Chicago area, to come see the show with me.  The Festival took place at this park called The Embarcadero which is behind San Diego’s convention center on the shore of the harbor.  

It was a pleasant affair.  The entry fee was cans of food to feed the hungry, not money.  We strolled around the grass sipping beer and people watching.   The sun was slowly dropping into the horizon and it was a nice warm afternoon.  Before long, Lil’ Ed took the stage.  

I was hoping he would start out hot with something like “The Imperials Theme” or “Icicles in my Meatloaf” or “Mean Ol’ Frisco” but it didn’t happen.  Even though he didn’t start off hot, I was certain that he would kick it into high gear eventually.  It was about four songs into the set when the band started to swing.  I could feel the houserockin’ gurgling up from the depths.  Then something terrible happened.  The power generator blew out.  

To their credit, the band made it part of the show.  They kept playing and yelling out the lyrics and strumming their now powerless guitars as the crowd joined in to help.  For a moment, the sound system came back on to my great relief.  But then it sputtered out again.  This time for good.

At first I was really pissed.  I had waited years for Lil’ Ed to come to town and just as if I was trying to score a layup on Kareem Abdul Jabaar in a game of basketball, I was rejected.

However, I calmed down pretty quick.  It was, afterall, what I have come to expect from my concert going experiences in Southern Cal.  Even when I was younger, single and living close to the action, I don’t recall seeing any truly memorable concerts except when they ended badly (that list of incidents may make a good post itself).

Anyway, the festival had to expedite the next group onto a different stage at the other end of the park.  The act happened to be none other than James Cotton.  

Now, I had almost zero interest in seeing James.  I was amazed he was still alive.  He had to be pushing 90 years old easily.  I’m sorry, living legend or not, a guy 90 years old is bound to lose a step or two.  However, his young backup band hit the stage and started wailing some funky Chi-Town Blues.  I turned to my buddy Tony and said, “I can live with this.”

Then the time came for James Cotton to take the stage.  Just as I had imagined, stage hands had to walk his feeble body up the stairs, across the stage and sit him down in a chair in front of the stage.  Even with help, I didn’t think he was going to make it.  He sat down and then he attempt to speak.

Let me tell ya.  The first thing that popped into my head when James Cotton attempted to speak was the final battle scene in the movie “Roadhouse.”  That was when Patrick Swayze battles to the death with his nemesis who had been terrorizing the town.  Swayze conquers his foe by ripping his throat out.  Now imagine that happening to James Cotton.  That is what he sounded like when he attempted to speak with his old broken-down vocal chords.

At this point I was certain the evening was over.  I was not going to get my Jones for some houserockin’ Blues satiated listing to this.  God bless James Cotton.  I have seen him several times and had a blast at every show (see post from 8-1-12).  But it was time for him to hang it up.
So as you can guess, in honor of the memorable evening, I have posted a Lil’ Ed and a James Cotton song for your listening pleasure.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Help Me -- Lamont Cranston Band

One night back in the day, my buddy Jerry and I decided to hang out at one of the premiere places to see live music in the Twin Cities.  It was a place called The Cabooze.  The Cabooze was a local biker bar that also showcased some pretty big musical acts.  James Brown played there, Tower Of Power played there and all the major Blues acts from Chicago played there--Junior Wells, Lil’ Ed, Albert Collins, James Cotton and Willie Dixon.

Jerry and I were pretty familiar with the usual suspects at The Cabooze.  The bartender lived up the street from me as a child and one of the bouncers was a fraternity brother of ours named Alexei.  Alexei was a smart fellow majoring in some science field.  But he was also a macho son-of-a-bitch who worked out a lot.  Him and his weight lifting buddies would attend our frat parties and for shit and giggles they used to punch each other in the stomach as hard as they could.

Anyway, on this particular night, there was some kind of “Blues Night” going on featuring a handful of local Blues bands.  I recall that the good vibe was missing that night.  The anticipated big crowd didn’t materialize, the bands didn’t have any zest and the general feeling was one of unrelieved boredom.  My frat brother Alexei must have recruited one of his gym rat buddies to help him bounce at The Cabooze that night.  Jerry and I had never seen him before.  This guy was like a tall, blonde Clark Kent, mild mannered looking guy with glasses.  He looked like a rookie. 

We didn’t pay too much mind to him until suddenly there was a skirmish.  The big blonde Clark Kent guy was trying to physically remove this little guy from the bar.  The little guy must have been terrified that he was going to get his ass kicked because he wrestled with this huge 6-foot-4, 225 pound bouncer like a little badger.  He ripped the bouncers t-shirt, wriggled away and sprinted out the door.  Everyone just watched the whole scene in awe and then before we knew it, it was all over.

Despite the bad vibe, the skirmish and the not so great music, Jerry and I stayed a while longer.  However, business was slow and they decided to close the place down early.  Jerry and I walked towards this exit that lead next door to another bar connected to The Cabooze called The Joint.  This was the exit we almost always took to exit The Cabooze.  For some reason, this time they wouldn’t let us through.  The big blonde Clark Kent guy was guarding the door.  Jerry and I didn’t act up or anything, we just asked if we could cut through to The Joint.  He stood there in his torn t-shirt and said no.  I said we were just going to use the bathroom and leave.  He got snide and again told us no.  I didn’t like the tone he used with us.  We weren’t causing any trouble.  After ten or so drinks, the smart-ass in me came to the surface and I said, “Nice shirt” as Jerry and I walked away.

Clark did not find this remark amusing.  He started marching right on our asses.  Jerry and I looked over our shoulders and tried not to be intimated.  But Clark was pissed and not ready to take mess from anybody.  Jerry and I didn’t run out the door, but we sure picked up our pace and got he hell out of there.

Anyway, the music connection...

In honor of the great blues scene that existed in The Twin Cities back in those days, I pay honor to Twin Cities Blues legends Pat Hayes and The Lamont Cranston Band.  For those of you unfamiliar with these guys, they had a song hit the Billboard Top 100 back in the early 80's called "Upper Mississippi Shakedown."  Pat Hayes was one of those guys born to entertain others.  He was, and probably still is, an amazing harmonica player and a better than average lead guitar player.  He also has a good set of pipes for singing too.  These guys toured with The Stones and Bonnie Raitt.  Allegedly, Dan Aykroyd is a fan and has these guys play and every opening of a new House of Blues.

Most importantly, however, Lamont Cranston also played at my buddy Jack's wedding reception.  And it was a good gig.

Here they are resplendent in horrible early 80's garb, The Lamont Cranston Band.