Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Blue Monday Jam Session

Last night was the Monday night blues jam at Buddy Guy's Legends. It's been going on for years and years.

So have I.

If you're not familiar with the concept of what a blues jam is, then here goes:

First of all, there is a house band that runs the whole show. The house band plays a set of their own, maybe an hour or so, to start off the night. After that, it's an open stage. The musicians in the club sign up on a list to play. The leader for the house band then matches various players with each other, forming a group of, usually, 2 guitars, bass, drums, keys, and harmonica (if there are any harmonica players, that is. they're a dying breed, they are). This group then plays a set, maybe 3 or 4 tunes. It's unrehearsed, and much of the time, the musicians have not ever played with each other. After the set is finished, the house band leader changes the stage with different players and another short set is performed. This goes on and on til closing time. Usually, you'll see 3 or 4 different sets after the house band plays.

Last night, John Kattke, aka Brother John, was host. He's usually got a sextet with 3 horns (2 saxes and a trumpet) and the undeniable rhythm section of Paul Streff on bass and Marty "Boom Boom" Binder on drums. Marqueal Jordan doubles on saxophone and vocals, and trumpeter Doug Corcoran doubles on keys, as does John himself.

These guys are bad to the bone, to say the least. Whether it's a screaming Albert Collins shuffle, a funky B.B. King cut (they did "So Excited" off the "Completely Well" album- nobody does that tune, are you kidding?), or a smooth Otis Redding selection, these guys are one of the best blues/r&b acts in town.

What really makes the Monday's special, though, are the unexpected things. Sometimes you get to see some real magic. There's always the chance that someone big will show up. I've played with guys like Buddy Guy, himself, James Cotton, Eddy Clearwater, Lil Ed, and even Zakk Wylde (from Ozzy Ozbourne's band). You never know who's gonna show.

Sometimes, though, it just stinks. There can be a bunch of what I like to call "no-playin'-mutha-hoo-ha's". It's not their fault. Sometimes there are guys ( girls too) that just can't play. Their shuffles don't shuffle, their slow blues are too fast, and their funk is generally un-funky. In short, they're not pro's. They are not required to be. That's the beauty of the jam. God bless 'em for trying.

God bless 6 dollar pitchers of Goose Island for those audibly trying times, too.

Most often, it's just plain wacky. This is what really makes it special (or at least, ahem, unique, depending on your opinion).

So many of these people are real characters. You couldn't make them up. Last night, Holly "Thee" Maxwell showed up. She's the self-proclaimed "new black blonde bombshell"; kind of like a cross betweenTina Turner and Tina Turner in drag. Seriously. She's about 6 feet tall, very, uh, healthy in the rear, and she wears the blondest wig you've ever seen on a dark woman. Her ensemble is completed with a cowboy hat and fringed/sparkly jacket.


She does a great show. The ultimate, sexy-yet-not-but-you-never-know, blues mama.

Tommy McCracken often shows. He's the black Elvis, with a mix of James Brown, complete with the screams and the yelps and the dancing and the hip shaking and the gyrating and the twirling and splits with the microphone stand, and even the pompadour.

Weird? Nah.

He's pure energy, always moving, working the crowd, working the band, and working up a sweat which usually ends up on most of the guys on stage.

Nasty? Maybe.

A little.

But Tommy always does a great show. He does the same 2 or 3 songs always. For years and years. At this point, most of us that show up know Tommy's bit: the one-eyed woman crying, the sweet little angel, the cues and hits that he gives over and over and over till you can't stand to hit his cues any more. It's always high energy, and Tommy always brings his A-game, whether there's 15 or 150 people in the place.

And he is one of the most entertaining guys you'll ever see.

So many characters.

So many stories.

So many more Mondays to come.

So it goes...

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