Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chuck Brown Sings the Blues

The idea of Chuck Brown being paired with Bobby Parker was so obvious that it was amazing no one thought of it before. The folks at the Tinner Hill Foundation brought the idea to fruition at Falls Church’s State Theatre on Friday Night, June 12 for a gala fundraiser for the Tinner Hill Blues Festival and it was a night of music film and dance demonstrations.

The Tinner Hill Blues Festival is dedicated to the memory of John Jackson and the evening opened up with the Film, “John Jackson, A Blues Treasure.” Its a film mostly about remembrances about John and while it has a few clips from the films “Blues Houseparty” and “American Songster,” the film, narrated by Chuck Brown, was mostly memories and appreciations of John by friends like John Cephas, students like Mike Roach and Mike Baytop, family, son James, and folklorists Kip Lornell and Chuck Perdue. Enlightening the film may have been, but inclusion of some performances would have made the film better.

After a brief demonstration of hand dancing, a D.C. swing dancing variation, Bobby and his Blues Night band was introduced by WPFW’s Scooter MacGruder. Bobby came on and did a strong set which included his usual inclusion of songs associated with Albert King, “Feel Like Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home,” and “Angel of Mercy,”, Guitar Slim’s “Nothin’ But the Blues,” as well as several of his originals including “I’m So Glad I Found You,” “Wild Thing,” and “Lick ‘Em and Stick ‘Em.” One welcome surprise was his performance of “Watch Your Step,” which he noted was covered by several and whose riff John Lennon used on a couple tunes. The last number of his set was a funk number on which he did a stroll into the crowd.

After another hand dancing demonstration, Bobby and the band returned to the stage with the King of Go Go, Chuck Brown. Brown on his last recording in an interview segment had mentioned if he could only play on genre of music, it would be the blues. And he has adapted blues tunes in his Go Go music. This evening allowed him to play some blues in a straighter blues vein. Nothing surprising with the tune choices as he opened with “Everyday I have the Blues,” taking the lead on guitar here. Then before going into an uptempo “Stormy Monday,” he mentioned that Bobby was the reason he plays guitar, recalling watching Bobby with Paul ‘Hucklebuck,’ Williams. After a rendition of “Down Home Blues,” Brown then launched into a Go-Go medley backed by Parker’s band with members of the crowd yelling “Wind Me Up Chuck.” His “The Party Roll,” (some will recognize it from his D.C. Lottery commercial), segued into “it Don’t mean a Thing (Unless It Got That Go Go Swing),’ and finally Louis Jordan’s “Run Joe,” which really works well in the Go Go form. It was a terrific high point as the crowd just was rocking the dance floor for him. Then both Chuck and Bobby shared solos as Bobby took the vocal on Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s “A Real Mother Fuyer.” The music was still going on as I headed home having enjoyed the terrific grooves.

I would love Chuck to do a blues thing again, with perhaps some wider exploration of songs, but it was an interesting experiment that worked. Kudos to the Tinner Hill Foundation for the show.