October 20th, 2006


show report

Tonight was an interesting night. It was my first night playing the new keyboard, which worked out OK, although I think we need to fine tune its EQing so it sounds its best.

While we were setting up, a guy named Greg asked if he could sit in for a song (he wanted to sing). We were agreeable, so after we did Hickory Wind in the first set Greg came up and sang a B.B. King tune (unfortunately I don't remember which one, or his last name, or much else about him except that he lives in Connecticut). He was an excellent singer and he signaled changes to us nicely; it was really fun.

CMonti had mentioned earlier that he had talked to Paul Geremia and suggested that he stop by and maybe play harmonica on a few tunes. (Chris saw Paul do this once with the Last Minute Blues Band at Trinity Brewhouse and it stuck in his mind.)

But the evening wore on and he didn't show up, so it seemed like it wasn't going to happen. In the last set, Chris looked at the set list, turned to me, and said, "All right, I was about to say I think we're good for about two more songs, and there are two songs left on the set list, so that's good." I nodded. We played 'Johnny B. Goode' and 'Hybrid Car' and ended just about exactly at midnight.

But about two-thirds of the way through the last song, Paul walked in, and after the song he wandered over to say 'Hi'. Chris asked him if he wanted to sing a song or two; Paul said sure, if we thought nobody would mind (at which point Chris and I looked around the near-empty bar and said we didn't think that would be a problem) and Chris handed him his guitar.

At this point I wasn't totally clear on what was supposed to happen -- was Chris going to play harmonica (but he didn't have a microphone), were we going to trade songs, or what? Paul wondered aloud what song we should do. I thought about what might be appropriate and suggested 'In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down', which is a mellow Leroy Carr song that I should record sometime. Paul said he wasn't sure if he knew that one, so I started playing and singing it, and he accompanied me on guitar. In hindsight, this seems like an act of great chutzpah, but at the time, I was just confused as to what was going on. Anyway, it went well. After a minute or two Chris wandered off to play pool with his girlfriend.

Paul then played a few songs. It didn't feel right to me to get up from behind the piano and become part of the audience -- it was our show, after all, and Paul presumably had come to play with us, not to entertain us. On the other hand, Paul normally plays by himself, and the songs he plays tend to be full of the changes in tempo, odd phrasings, and idiosyncratic chord changes that characterize a lot of solo acoustic guitar blues. Still, I felt like I at least had to give it a shot.

I think the first song he did was a Blind Blake song, "Too Tight". After a little while around I determined that I should mostly play as little left hand rhythmic stuff as I could get away with (Paul provided the rhythm on the guitar, so my playing there would be at best redundant and at worst incorrect). Instead, I concentrated on playing supporting stuff in the right hand. It worked OK.

While this was going on, I looked over and saw Chris playing pool and I thought to myself, "You know, while this is arguably an amazingly great thing that is happening right now, and one which I will remember for some time, I think I will still need to kill Chris as a matter of principle."

Next he did 'Hesitating Blues', which I had actually played for the first time at the wedding I went to last weekend; the groom, Larry, had played it for me and told me the chords, which are strange and beautiful, starting in a minor key and switching in midstream to a major key.

Next, an extremely drunk guy at the bar (one of about three people in Nick-a-Nees at this point, as people had largely cleared out by 11 or so) shouted, "Hey, do you guys take requests?" Paul said, "What do you want to hear?" The guy shouted, "Do you know any Kinks songs?" Paul then embarked on this complicated, freeflowing blues song which apparently was in fact a Kinks song, though not one I recognized. (The guy at the bar seemed to know it, though, and cheered appreciatively.) At then end of the song, Paul said to him, "That's the only Kinks song I know!"

Finally, Paul turned to me and said, "Hey, do you know 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out'?"

That's a great old song that has been played by a bunch of people; looking in iTunes I see that, without really trying, I've accumulated versions by Nina Simone, Dave Van Ronk, Bessie Smith, Louis Jordan, and Pine Top Smith. Back in the early 90s, when my parents were part-owners of a bar named Gilrein's in Worcester, that was one of the songs that I used to fool around with on the beat-up piano there. But that was a while ago, so it was fortunate that on practice Wednesday Chris told me that he was working on it himself (inspired by the Van Ronk recording) and asked me if I knew how it went, so I ran through the chords and refamiliarized myself with them.

Which is to say that I was prepared, which was a good thing, because that song has six chords in it, and it's not something I would have been able to figure out quickly by ear.

So we did that song and called it a night. It was 12:30 pm. Paul said kind things about my piano playing and recounted how he had just gone to a blues festival in Poland, where he had mostly been stuck in his hotel room because the airline had lost a bunch of his luggage and the TSA had broken the neck off of his six-string guitar (they took everything out of the case, put it back in so that the neck had no support, wadded up the towel that had cushioned it and stuffed it into a corner of the case, and put a 'This bag has been inspected by the TSA' notice in it).

After that we packed up and went home. I got in around 1:30 or so, and went to bed at 2 am. And now I am writing this!

Tonight I'll be playing at Cafe Zog on Wickenden around 9 pm or so if anyone wants to stop in. (CMonti and Josh Lerner will be playing before me starting at 8 pm.)