The Blues Scene (January 2000)


A new dawn.  A new age.  A new millennium.  The human race has progressed by leaps and bounds & most of those leaps have been made in the last 100 years.  We've come up with inventions to make life easier & discoveries to help us live longer & healthier than ever before.  But some things don't change with time.  Human emotions have remained the same through out the ages and will certainly be the driving force behind songwriters & musicians of the future.  Pain, suffering, happiness, anger, sorrow, love, and life continue to be in the forefront of our thoughts and the reason behind the blues.  Let's take a step back --- and see what's in the future.

Tailfins, Western Flyer bicycles, Viet Nam, and gas/service stations that actually had people working there!  (There is an un-manned gas station near my home on the west side of town with absolutely no service at all, just gas.  The gas costs more money there than at the other stations around in the same area that have people manning the stations.)  What a concept.  No service & it costs the customer more money.  Just like an ATM machine is to a bank.  Lets don't forget the crazy folks out there who will pay a cover charge for a juke box or stereo in a club without live music!!

Anyway, my dad used to buy gas at a Texaco station on the corner of 10th @ Yale in the Heights.  He was a customer of that service station as far back as I can remember.  Although the building is still there, the gas station has been closed down for many years, but I remember it well.  In 1966 the station took on a new meaning to me.

First a quick little background.  I originally started in music playing trumpet in Jr. high school, but I soon realized that horn players didn't get the amount of recognition that lead singers, guitarists, or anyone else that was up front on the stage received.  In those days the horn players were commonly placed in the back on stage ­ sometimes farther back than the drummer.  No offense to drummers, but I didn't want to look at the drummers' back side all night long, & I thought I deserved a little more exposure than I was getting in the back row.  Even a tambourine player got to stand in the front!  So, in 1964 I asked my dad to buy me a guitar so I could learn to play (and in the process move from the back of the bus to the front).  He refused, citing that he bought my sisters a piano and an accordion, and they didn't play the instruments very long & he got stuck with the instruments.  So, I had to save my whopping $3 a week allowance to buy my first guitar.  It was a black F-hole Harmony acoustic guitar out of the Sears & Roebuck catalog, & it came with a guitar strap & a pitch pipe for tuning.  It cost me twenty-six bucks plus tax.  The strings felt like they were about an inch above the fretboard, however they were probably only a quarter of an inch high.  It was a horrible guitar to learn with, but I played until my fingers actually bled, which didn't take more than a few minutes with action as bad as this & tender fingers to boot.  I didn't even have a case for it, but that didn't matter to me because a case would have cost as much or more than the guitar.

I had the guitar on the back seat of my dad's car when we pulled in for gas at the Texaco station one day in 1966.  There was a man working there at the station that always waited on my dad & he saw my guitar in the car and asked me about it.  We started talking and sure enough he knew how to play guitar himself.  He played blues guitar!!  I was thrilled because I didn't know but three or four other guitar players at the time & none of them knew anymore than I did about playing.  After 3 months of playing, my knowledge was still limited to tuning the damn thing, maybe 5 or 6 major chords and not much else.  So we talked about guitars and music and I instantly had made a new friend.  His name was Sam, and he was a black man about the age of 55 or maybe 60, and I was always looking forward to going by the station to see him.  After school I'd ride my bicycle down to the station and he would show me how to use some different tunings and how a spark plug socket could transform a cheap hard to play guitar into a brand new sound ---- it was like listening to angels sing.  Slide guitar.  Wow - I was mesmerized!!  It wasn't new, but it was new to me.  (Plus I had now found a use for an almost worthless guitar.)

I didn't use spark plug sockets very long before changing over to Corecidin bottles, but I understand that Ry Cooder still uses them.  I believe he uses Craftsman sockets because if you ever break it you just take it back and just get another one.  That's a great guarantee in my books.  I wish the same guarantee came with my old Corecidin bottles & glass slides.  I usually break a glass slide every other gig (not playing them - just dropping them or stepping on them - I'm just clumsy I guess).  Since my old bottles are considered collectors items nowadays, they stay in a china cabinet with my wife's crystal & other kinds of breakable stuff she keeps in there.

So here's the deal - I realize that the new century will bring about many changes, some good, some bad, but an un-manned service station to me is pure & utter garbage!!  Its absolutely un-American!!  I hope you boycott all the un-manned gas stations you see, and in the process maybe we'll find a station attendant (even if its on an old dusty road in the middle of nowhere) plucking an old six string & slidin' into the next millennium.  So what was the most important invention of the last century?  The atomic bomb, the car, the gas station, the spark plug socket, the computer, the telephone, the polio vaccine, or was it the electric guitar?  I'll let you be the judge.  One thing is for sure however, that we will continue to release our emotions through songs & in particular the blues.  Hooray!!  The blues is alive and well.  Anyway, enough said on that --- now for the blues news.

We lost another R&B giant this month - Curtis Mayfield.  Mayfield, age 57, was a terrific songwriter with many hits under his belt.  He wrote one of my all time favorite songs - "People Get Ready".  He will be deeply missed in the world's music community.

Houston saxophonist Gerald Gray who has been seen recently with The New Jack Hippies, Tommy Dardar & The Sheetrockers, and his own band "Gerald Gray & The Louisiana Blues Band" is known more for his jazz stylings, but now is moving into new territory.  He says he wants to show another side of his playing and lean more towards the blues.  He tells me that he is working on a CD featuring nothing but blues tunes on the album.  He's not stopping there however - he is also working on writing a book about his experiences in the blues music scene going back to the 60's.  Gerald has played with Ike & Tina Turner & Bobby Blue Bland just to name a few.  He's been writing new material for stage & recording & working on a blues workshop with a few other sax men in town - When does this guy ever sleep?

Luther & The Healers are at it again.  I spoke with Skip Nallia (the Healer bangin' on the keys) and he tells me that they have secured an endorsement deal with Peavey and will soon be featured in some national spots.  They are in the studio now & are working on their long awaited CD.  It would seem likely that these guys will get some big time attention soon so I suggest you catch them before they get to busy for club dates & just stop by Houston while on tour!!

Texas Johnny Brown is playing some great Houston venues coming up in January.  His soulful blues has just the right stuff to soothe your achin' heart.  He'll be at Harlon's Bayou Blues on the 8th, Bayou Borders on the 14th, Rock Neutney's on the 21st, Harlon's again on the 22nd, & wrapping things up in January at The Big Easy on the 28th.  [Johnny came out to hear my band "The Tweeds" at Billy Blues one night about a year ago and told me after our show - "You guys are clean, man".   I don't know if he meant we played clean (I use an all tube amp getting that good ol' tube distortion) or if he meant we smelled good.  No matter what he meant - it was a pleasure to have such a great talent notice the band!  By the way ­ I did take a bath that night - it was a Saturday!!]

Tommy Dardar informs me that his new CD will out shortly.  It got held up in production by the printers.  Bruce Henry Davis, business advertising mogul of Houston & blues lover is handling the graphics for the CD, (lets just hope Bruce doesn't go out of business before the project is finished - but if he does, he'll throw a party).  The producers have lined up Pete Sellin, old friend to the Houston blues scene, to scribble some words on the inside of the insert - more commonly called "liner notes".  Pete was the manager of the Chelsea 804 Club, Club Hey Hey, and owner of the ultra hip blues club The Bon Ton Room.  Pete is still in the club biz around town but not in a live music venue.  Too bad - we could always use a guy like Pete around here.  He's been keeping a low profile but is coming out of hibernation to write the liner notes - it ought to be cool.

Scott Sumner is a busy keyboard player around town nowadays.  In addition to doing gigs once or twice a month with Tommy Lee Bradley, he is playing several times a month with both Steve Radney and Gerald Gray & The Louisiana Blues Band.  He's also playing Thursday nights with the Hightailers at The Last Concert Café and on Sunday nights with Snit's Dog and Pony Show (a hard-driving R&R band with Kevin "Snit" Fitzpatrick, Adam Burchfield, J.D. DeTuillio, and Terry Dry) at Live Bait.  He has been seen occasionally playing with Michael Williams and Ashton Savoy as well.  If you see Scott at a gig ask him about Borneo - he's got some weird stories for ya'!

Albert Storo & The Soul Hustlers - do I need to tell you anything more.  Albert is knockin' out windows & kickin' in doors with his blasting cap style of blues guitar playing.  A lot of energy from this guy!!  He's usually found behind the drums for other Houston acts such as The New Jack Hippies, Brad McCool & subs for everybody who's drummer has canceled at the last minute.  Here's where you can catch Albert this month: Sat. Jan. 8th at Bobs Ice House; Fri. Jan. 14th Jackies in Baycliff; Sat. Jan. 15th at Jakes; Sun. Jan. 16th hosting the blues jam from 6-11 at Bobs Icehouse; Thur. Jan 27th hosting The Houston Blues Society blues jam at The Big Easy; Fri. Jan. 28th opening for Hamilton Loomis at Billy Blues; Tue. Feb. 1st at Billy Blues.

Here's a band that I would classify as blues/rock/rockabilly band with a twist of lime ­ The City Kings.  Big time fun and cool tunes.  They do mostly original tunes with that good ol' Texas flavor.  Very tasty indeed - with just the right touch of hot peppers - give me another beer!!  Check these guys out at The Ale House this month.  Johnny Bockelman handles most of the lead vocals & Johnny Winters & Peter Green styled guitar playing, and along with Bill Gibson (guitar), Randolph (bass), Scotty Burman (drums) kick out some very impressive boogie.  Check em' out - I'm sure you'll see more of these guys around town real soon!!

Blues tip for January:  You can trust your guitar to the man that wears the star - the great big Texaco star!!  Its a new year and a new century - lets all spread the word that the blues is alive and well in Houston Texas

Remember, the blues is a never ending story, and I'll be back next month with another chapter.  If you or your R&B or blues band has something in the works such as a new CD project, new band members, unplanned explosions on stage, playing a benefit, a favorite brand of guitar strings, a new tattoo that says "Born to Blues", or any other news let me know.  I look forward to hearing from you.



The Citykings



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