Monday, September 14, 2009

The Bubbas and the Blues

This past weekend I had a bit of a musical reunion.

Old friends*...

Buzz Kilman and the All Bubba Blues Band. The 25th anniversary show at the soon-to-be-famous Good Old Days Festival in beautiful Winfield, Il.

Ok, so I wasn't in the band 25 years ago. Come to think of it, I wasn't even in high school yet. I started playing with the band around '93 or '94 until the end of their run, 4 or 5 years later. Basically, it was the first "high profile" gig that I had ever had.

Now, when I say high profile, I'm not talking about working with such industry greats like Kanye West and Taylor Swift. If only.

Buzz was the star. The draw. The name.

The reason why the checks were very, very good.

He was a radio jock in Chicago, working as the right hand man to Jonathan (Johnny B.) Brandmeier. This was in the early '80's. Johnny B. was one of the original "shock jocks" (Howard Stern wishes he was that cool) of radio, taking a page from the ultra-original Steve "Disco Demolition" Dahl playbook. He was a character. Wacky. Zany. Goofy. Silly. Didn't need to have strippers or tell fart jokes while on the air.

Johnny B. was that good, and hugely popular. Buzz was hugely popular, too, as a result.

Buzz plays harp (harmonica) and tends to favor the style of Sonny Boy Williamson. He knows the history of the music, and has a pretty large repertoire.

The band leader was Ron Shanaver. He plays guitar and sings.

...sat on their park bench like bookends*...

Ron and I go all the way back to 1989. We met at the Wise Fool's Pub, when it was one of the best blues clubs in Chicago. He was running the Tuesday night blues jam, using the Bubba band as the house band. He also managed the club. I was playing with the late, great L.C. Walker on Sundays. Even though I was 18, and underage, and just getting into the game, Ron let me hang at the club anytime.

Most likely because I brought a lot of friends on Sundays, typically a dead night for taverns. The bar usually had a good ring when I was playing. Sure, my friends were mostly underage too, but no matter. It was the '80's, when fun was still had without much guilt involved.

To make a long story short (and believe me, it's a very long story, the entire historical recollection and all) Ron and I developed an actual friendship (most of us musicians are more colleagues than friends, truth be told.) And when the drum chair became available (the previous drummer, though exceptional, was constantly late, which got him fired- hint, hint young playas,) Ron gave me the gig.

Like I said, that was around '93/'94. So the 25th anniversary show was only 15 years for me. Nevertheless.

...can you imagine us years from today*...

The show came in 2 parts. For the first hour, the Heirs of Moe performed. The Heirs is simply the Bubbas, sans Buzz. Ron had gotten the Heirs going during the waning days of the Bubbas, getting us extra work to keep our calendars full, without having to secure the money Buzz commanded. We didn't do a ton of gigs as the Heirs, but enough to get by. We played rock and roll: Blind Faith, Green Day, the Troggs, Leonard Cohen, Los Lobos, Bob Dylan, and a bunch of Neil Young tunes (Almost Cut My Hair, Ohio, Keep on Rockin' in the Free World.)

We had a blast playing those songs together, again. Ron, myself, and the bass player, "Dangerous" Dave Forte, had a couple of rehearsals, before the gig, in my kitchen. Good thing, too.

"How does that go again?" "What key is this in?" "Are you sure?"

These guys are all really good musicians, though, so we got our "sh-tuff" together quickly and efficiently, as we always had done. Never a worry (well, Dave worried, but that's just his m.o. It's not his fault.)

After the Heirs set, we morphed into the Bubbas. Buzz came up onstage, and it was deja-vu all over again. All of the songs came back like they had never left: Rainin' in My Heart, Walkin' the Dog, Walkin' Blues, Can't Sing the Blues in an Air-Conditioned Room, et al. We even did a coupla "new" ones like Dylan's Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat and Rainy Day Women #12 and #35 as if they were part of the previously regular repertoire.

The show was very, very good. The crowd was even better, giving us a call for a second encore (which, incidentally, Winfield's finest would not let us do. Hey, I wouldn't be me if I didn't rip on something, right?) Everybody had a good time. Personally, it was one of my favorite gigs of the year so far. I miss playing with those guys. incredibly strange*...

So it goes...

*Old Friends, lyrics by Paul Simon


  1. Who was the keyboardist?

  2. Lenny Pinkus aka Pat Brennan played keys. Best Dylan impersonator out there.

  3. Any clue where I can get a copy of the All Bubba's Cassette? I had one from back in the day, but no clue where it is anymore.

  4. I remember those guys.
    Always good times with the Bubbas