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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hanging with Barrelhouse Chuck and Betsy

In late August, I received an e-mail from Mr. H. Charles Goering (aka Barrelhouse Chuck) which contained a gracious invitation to a Labor Day barbecue at the Goering estate in Libertyville IL. Any fan of blues piano will know that Barrelhouse Chuck is the "keeper of the flame," the true believer and the immensely talented practioner of the Sunnyland Slim/Otis Spann/Little Brother Montgomery school of Chicago blues piano thumpin'. I have been a fan of BH Chuck for a long time, and I wrote a little about his exploits back in January (here is the link.) I have seen him play live a couple of times also - always a treat - and I have tried to convince him to be a guest star with the Mystery Band (his schedule and mine haven't quite jived yet). I was honored to get that invite to the barbecue.

I pulled up to the Goering residence and met Chuck's wife, Betsy - a kind, generous woman of great good humor (and a formidable bass player, according to my blues buddies). I also met the four Goering canines - a quartet of Boston terriers full of friendly energy. The rest of the guests were all new acquaintances - a combination of musicians, blues fans and Goering friends and family. Since I am now in my fifties, my ability to recall names has eroded somewhat (ah, Hell - I have always been forgetful about names, even when I was a kid). But I remember the musicians, because I jammed with them after we were done eating - Justin on bass and Gerry Hundt on mandolin. Justin is a guy who played with BH Chuck back in the day; he has been off the scene for a while now but plays with Little Arthur on occassion. Gerry Hundt is a scary multi-instrumentalist/vocalist who is a major reason why Nick Moss and the Flip Tops is such a terrific band. Gerry plays guitar, bass, mandolin and harmonica and he kicks ass on every instrument. He also has a very strong and tuneful voice, and he knows how to use it. During our jam, Chuck rocked on his old Steinway upright. Ol' Mr. G had fun blowing harp and trying to hang with these talented professionals.

Now here is the word on Barrelhouse Chuck. Yes, he can play that awesome blues piano, he has a super-strong left hand that most keyboard players can't come close to matching and he is a soulful blues singer. But he is also a huge blues fan, and he backs this with a museum's-worth of out-of print blues LP's (all stored in a loving archival fashion, with heavy plastic sleeves and careful labeling), an astonishing collection of posters, photographs and autographs and an extremely intense collection of personal effects from deceased Chicago blues heroes (well-known and unknown). Chuck has put in tons of effort, love and money to assemble this collection. He also has a few non-blues heroes, such as Stevie Winwood and Question Mark and the Mysterians. I was speechless after he gave me a tour. BH Chuck is a man passionately committed to good music; he has a huge heart and strong opinions. Whatta guy!

Thank God for the true believers! May their efforts succeed.


Joe said...

People don't dig much deeper into the Blues than Barrelhouse Chuck. The first time that I saw him was in the mid-80's. He's a huge talent.

He keeps the sounds of guys like Little Brother Montgomery, Sunnylsnd and Big Moose alive in the 21st Century.

You're a lucky man.

Mr. G said...

Hi Joe -

You are so right - I am a very lucky person in many ways.