Saturday, September 19, 2009

Chicago Blues: Wilmington Illinois Catfish Days Blues Festival


My friend and occasional band mate Billy King told me Thursday night, while at The Cool River Club, that he would be playing at the Rustic Inn Blues Festival & Catfish Days on Sunday. It is held in Wilmington, Illinois. Wilmington is one of those backwater river towns. The town is loaded with antique shops nestled right on the river bank of the Kankakee. There is a dam along the south end that is a great area for fishing. Northern Pike walleye and Catfish abound at the bottom of the dam. Because of this dam they have a very unique bait shop that is called; you guessed it, the Dam Bait shop. I used to stop there back in the day when I could still find time to fish. You know it’s funny that when I had an eight hour a day “day job” I could find time to fish. I have all the time in the world because of the way I work now, but I cannot squeeze in one day to fish. My pole is sitting against the wall as I type this. It’s calling me, throw me, string me, bait me, Take Me to the River Dip me in the water. Sounds like a song, mmmmmmm. This evil temptation I must resist or else I will never finish this post. Perhaps I should get out the fly pole heh D.A.? (my editor)

Behind the stage at catfish days the bands assembled in the beer garden as the great Scottish pipe bands would assemble for the royal Tattoo. Not the ink on skin, which by the way was in abundance at this fest, but rather the assemblage of a military display, often with a variety of items, performed as an entertainment, usually in the evening. Slowly they unloaded their particular instruments to the sound of the group that was playing before them. 

The first Group was” Michael Charles and his band.” A guy from Australia makes it all the way to a Back River town in the heart of the Midwest.  How the h-e- double hockey sticks did that happen? Mr. Buddy Guy booked him in 1990 and he’s been here ever since. This is the first time I heard Mr. Charles pick and man this cat, (no fish) is smoking. Great stuff Michael and I will be out to hear you again.

Next to mount the stage was another group that I heard for the first time called “Jaywalkers Jam Band.” I knew their bass man Greg from hanging out at different jam spots in the city. I got to tell you folks this band can jam. Excellent rhythm section, great keys, outstanding vocals and “take no prisoners guitar work.” The only fault  I found with them was their music selection. I am an admitted blues fanatic. I like the BLUES and only the blues. When I go to a Blues Fest that’s what I expect to hear. Once again you can say that the Allman Brothers are blues and I would challenge that and say it is more southern rock. That’s some good stuff, but I want to hear that one, four, five delta style blues. By the way the crowd absolutely loved them and I don’t blame them as they are a terrific jam band, just not my style. The crowd at this fest was primarily bikers from different affiliations or clubs. There was a certain tension in the air shall I say.

Third to mount the stage was my buddy Billy King. I can say this about Billy he is a blues man in the style of Jimmy Reed and is a unique and true to the form blues artist. He and I were talking about how many gigs does one have to play until the big stage comes knocking. I told Billy this “Do it for the art. As soon as you realize you are an artist than the rest will come.” Billy’s media is audio and sooner or later he will be recognized as one of the great blues men of our time. Hang in there Billy it is coming.

Fourth to hit the stage was Pauline York. Pauline is a young upcoming woman guitar slinger that reminds me of Rory Block. Pauline is a master at what she does and I like it. I think that Pauline could skyrocket to the top if she just picked up an old Martin acoustic guitar walked out center stage plucked it and sang.  She does not need a backup band. She is that good and mark my words you will be hearing a lot more of her in the future. You are great Pauline and everyone loves you, yours truly included.

The last act to hit the stage was non-other than Joliet’s very own T-Bird Huck. I’m sure everyone by now has seen the "Blues Brothers” movie, well T-bird has got to be the guy the writers of that movie were writing about. T-Bird is a 40 year veteran of the blues scene. I am amazed that he has not hit the major tour circuits. He can actually set a guitar on fire. I swear from my vantage point that there was a fire extinguisher right next to his amp. T-Bird opened up with a Mississippi sax solo that was on the edge of musical genius or madness. He took that harp to extremes. Well done T-bird, very well done indeed. Before T-Bird went on I asked him to play one song for me and it Was Rt.66. The entertainment tent faced RT.66 and T-bird thanked me for reminding him. I had heard him play that song on an acoustic guitar at another venue. I am still trying to figure out how he made that guitar sound like a piano. He has Nat King Coles opening piano riffs down to a tee, but after that opening introduction Rt. 66 is T-Birds and T-Birds Alone. His interpretation is dynamite. Very cool rendition. T-bird you are a BLUES MAN.

His backing group was turbocharged during this performance. Jimmy Caleca on keys is a musical dynamo. He claims he plays by ear and that’s no problem, because some of the greatest musicians of all time could not read music. Jimmy is most assuredly one of the best Hammond B3 players I have ever heard and  he can hold his own with Joey DeFransesco any time, any place, and anywhere, I kid you not. He did not have his 1948 Hammond at this Catfish Days performance, but I have heard him play it at different venues. One word Wow! If you can catch Jimmy’s work you must.

The rhythm section was anchored by another acquaintance of mine. Jeff Ruffin is a jobbing drummer and one of the best. I have even hired him to back -up Smilin Bobby and yours truly.  I am a bass player that appreciates a drummer who knows what time is, because without that drummer the band does not exist.  I first met Jeff Ruffin AKA “Muffin Man” at the Thursday night Cool River Jam sessions, Jeff and Jimmy (keys) play in the House band “Twist and The Groove Machine”. Jeff keeps excellent time and never ever skips a beat or drops a drumstick.  I think I will start calling him “Big Ben”, you know after that great time piece/ watch tower in London.  Jeffs job is to keep time and he does that stupendously.

Filling out the bottom was Ben Smith. Ben is the youngest member of the group. Do not be fooled by his age readers Ben is a Bassman that knows how to walk, jump, punch and pick those telephone pole sized four strings strapped to a couple of hunks of plywood and steel. Like the god Thor he can bring thunder at will or be quiet as a mouse. He is a sideman that knows his job. Too many bass players want to have the spotlight on them. They at times take too long of solos or play a flurry of notes that do not belong in the piece of music. There is a lot to be said for a band that has sidemen that realize the front man is the front man and they are there to make that person sound and look good. T-Bird has such a band and is very lucky to have them.

One last thing about T-Bird and the guys, managers and agents take notice they are ready for the major stage. He should be touring the world. Casey or Tony you guys listening they are are going to make some one a lot of money may as well be one of you?

“Catfish Days” was a blast all the way from the $5 Catfish dinner to the $4 bratwursts. Rojo’s blues festival was excellent and he should be commended for the effort he puts in. Rojo do you have to use that foul language when addressing the crowd. On one hand its mf this and mf that then in the very next breath it’s thank God for this and that. I hope next year it will be a little different. If it was an over 21 audience then foul language is not a problem.   l served in the US Navy and nobody and I mean nobody can cuss like a drunken sailor. There were kids in this audience and it did not belong. Even if they were not supposed to be there, they were and no excuses allowed. Common decency should have prevailed. I was going to take my15 year old daughter with, but after hearing the language I’m glad I left her home. Do not let that deter you from attending. I’ll be going next year. If you see a guy pull up on a Segway wearing a Dennis Hooper Fringe leather jacket and a Hoss style ten gallon hat say hi. It's the gatorman.  On the back of that jacket will be my own personal colors that read.  "Blues Me Or Lose ME" 

Thanks Rojo for mentioning the vets,

Terrance “Gatorman” Lape

gatorman gifts
Watch this video.

All Photos courtesy of Kathy Crnich Secretary "Chicago Blues Music Society"