Search This Blog

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Blues Hell/Blues Heaven

The Mystery Band's recent gig at C.J. Arthur's was "blues hell." The place was nearly empty. More than half of the patrons sat at the bar with their backs to the band. There was no stage - we set up at the front of the restaurant on the floor. The sound system did not include a vocal monitor, so Mr. G could not hear himself very well. Most of the regulars in the Mystery Band had other commitments, so I back-filled with other great musicians that I know, but this version of the Mystery Band had never played together before. We were playing with a new bass player - he had never played with ol' Mr. G. He was a good player, but he was a little timid, so our time was a little bit squishy. But we didn't sound awful. Our comp was tied to C.J. Arthur's revenue during our sets, so we got paid $70 for over 3 hours of effort - I came out of pocket to make sure the guys got a decent payday. There were a few redeeming aspects of the gig - my lovely 13-year old daughter could come to the smoke-free, family-friendly venue. My business partner and his wife live in the neighborhood, so they showed up. A nice couple that I know from the Evanston Quaker Meeting also stopped by. So it wasn't a total loss, but it's not going to make the highlight reel of the Mystery Band's history.

Then I had a "blues heaven" experience last Monday night. Joe Filisko convinced the great blues harmonica pioneer, Billy Boy Arnold, to come to the blues harp class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Billy Boy learned from Sonny Boy Williamson I (the original, John Lee Williamson, who wrote "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and dozens of other blues classics). Billy Boy also was in Bo Diddley's band in the 1950's. He is a great songwriter and penned a few classics himself ("I Wish You Would" is probably his most famous hit). He shared memories and stories with us for an hour, played a tune for us, and went out for beers with us afterward. I was in starry-eyed hero worship mode. Billy Boy must be well into his 70's now, but he is still full of energy and doesn't look a day over 50. For us blues harp nuts, hanging with Billy Boy is like a bunch of dedicated weekend golfers getting a chance to hang out with Jack Nicklaus. Or a bunch of ex-high school hoops players having beers with Kareem Abdul Jabar. For members of the blues harp cult, Billy Boy Arnold is huge.

Joe Filisko is one of the "hub people." A large group of cool folks are directly connected to Joe - he is the hub of the harmonica world. When you know Joe, you are one degree of separation from every important harmonica player on the planet. Some people might say that the phrase "important harmonica player" is an oxymoron, but I would never say that....

1 comment:

Joe said...

Billy Boy is 70.