Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Elvin, Mavis, Lonnie, and...Westmont?

Well, the never-ending tour of the Lonnie Brooks Blues Band took us to Lake Tahoe, NV and fabulous Westmont, IL this past weekend.

Consecutive days, no less.


You know, the joys of early-morning flights, with connections, originating out of O'hare.

Actually, the travel itself went surprisingly swimmingly (nice little summer motif, eh?.) All, and when I say "all" I mean all, of the flights departed and arrived on time. Four legs round trip. And not only is O'hare notorious for always having delays, but the Denver airport has the same bad rap as well.

Optimism was low, to say the least.

But all was well. We left Chicago at 6 am and arrived at our digs in Tahoe (a 70 mile drive, on winding mountain roads from Reno to Tahoe, for those of you who were wondering) around 1pm.

As an aside, we were picked up at the airport in a stretch Lincoln SUV, complete with a full bar, t.v., stereo, and snacks (can't forget about the snacks.) The rock and roll fantasy for sure. But hey, we were working one of the casino resorts out there. It's not like they're going broke.

Might as well go for broke.

For us especially.

(Don't you know whom we is?)

Anyways, back to the gig (you don't even want to know about the actual accommodations. Hoo boy. Ahem.) The show, billed as Blues on the Lake, was in an outdoor amphitheater set up in one of the parking lots. It held 7500, and the mountains circled the area (we were in a valley, after all.) All the stops were pulled out: big stage, big sound, big lights, quality (are you kidding me?) back line, and a competent (are you really kidding me?) crew.

Did I mention that casinos don't go broke?

As for the show, it was a chart topper. There were 3 acts.

First was Elvin Bishop, one of the great guitar slingers. I gotta say, he looked very rough around the edges. At the same time, he looked exactly like you'd think, with his scraggly and curly salt and pepper hair and the goofy overalls. Forty-five years in the biz will do that to a man I guess. But he played his ass off, despite not playing the biggest hit of his career (the cheezy, yet extremely lucrative, Grammy winning, used in a Harold and Kumar movie, Fooled Around and Fell in Love.) He played his set loud and proud, his band right there with him, showing the fire he still has since his early days as a member of the Butterfield Blues Band.

Next up was Mavis Staples. She's been in the game for almost 60 years. You wouldn't know it from looking at her, though, despite the fact that it was her 70th birthday that night. She was very elegant looking in her sequined top and dark slacks, ever the professional with the clothes to match.

Note to young players out there: Dress for the damn gig, would you?

She had a four piece band with her (not the regular guys I'm used to seeing. Hmm.) as well as a trio of backup singers, one of which was her sister. If you were looking for a blues show from her, you would have been sadly disappointed.

You would also be pegged as obviously never seeing Ms. Mavis perform before. She's got too rich of a catalog to stick to just blues.

Sure, there was a little blues, but she was very diverse in her set, pulling out a lot of tunes from her most recent album Hope at the Hideout (ANTI-), including Alice Wine's Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Stephen Stills' For What It's Worth, and the ever popular I'll Take You There.

She even did The Band's The Weight.

Mavis was supposed to do 50 minutes and ended up doing 90. So much for keeping the schedule the promoters were so desperately trying to adhere to. And with our hotel pick-up being 3am to go back to the Reno airport...


Our turn.

The set was to be a little unusual tonight. Before bringing Lonnie up, we had Jimmy Johnson as a special guest. Jimmy is one of the elder statesman; 8o I've been told. He's got a lot of taste and smoothness in his guitar playing. Not a lot of notes, and certainly not a lot of flash. He just plays the blues. But he's very compelling. He sings as well as he plays, and doesn't add a lot of unnecessary filler to his tunes. Very no-nonsense. Jimmy was supposed to only do 15 minutes. Two tunes, really.

He did half an hour.

After Jimmy, we brought up Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, sans headdress. Like Jimmy, he was supposed to do just a couple of tunes in 15 minutes. He ended up doing 4 in 30 minutes.

Whose idea was it to have those guys play such short sets, anyways. I mean, 15 minutes? C'mon.

So now it's time to bring Lonnie up. By this point, it's about 1030, our scheduled ending time. Mavis ran way over, Jimmy and Eddy ran over, and we've been travelling and moving non-stop since 3am (really 1am when you take into account that we had to adjust to Pacific Time.)

We should be done, but we're just getting fired up.

For those of you that have seen Lonnie over the years, then you know as well as I do that Lonnie is not gonna just come up for 30 minutes and do his thing and leave. It's not in his make-up.

We started the set with Voodoo Daddy, one of the signature classics, and an unusual choice for the first song of the set. Brooks wanted to do it up, though, having to follow Mavis like that.

He certainly didn't disappoint.
Eyeballin', You Know What My Body Needs, all the hits. His voice was strong, and his guitar chops were equally sharp. Lonnie's style is very unique, and when he's on, there's nobody better.

So as you'd expect, we did about an hour and then brought Eddy and Jimmy back up to finish the night.

Sweet Home Chicago.

Ugh. I know that the crowds love that song and all, and that will probably always be the case, and we'll happily oblige, but I, for one, never need to play it again.

At least I get to do it with Brooks, though. He does it better than anyone.

By the time we finish doing the glad-handing and the photos and all that stuff, it's about 1230 when we're ready to make the quick walk back to the hotel. Our pick-up is in just a few hours, we have to do all of the travelling we just did, only in reverse, and then be ready for our show the next night in Westmont, IL.

Muddy Waters' hometown for the last 15 years or so of his life.

So the fellas and I did what any self-respecting travelling circus would do when there's only 2 hours to go and going to bed is a silly notion at this point.

Remember, we were in a casino.

So it goes...

1 comment:

  1. Re; Sweet Home. Amen.
    Eddie Burks once told me he was in Europe with some Halsted Street guys and the promoter told them not to play Sweet Home or Mustang Sally.