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I've Got A Mind To Ramble
Burnin' at Vernon's
Thank goodness birthdays are celebrated just once a year. As the Kentuckiana Blues Society members have planned their parties, those parties have been getting bigger and better each year. The KBS held its latest at the Vernon Club on November 13. It is hard to believe just twenty-two years ago a few blues believers sat around a table at the Rudyard Kipling and dreamed of birthing a blues society. Now with nearly 500 members, money in the bank, an informative monthly newsletter, weekly events e-mail and a dedicated president and board of directors, the KBS has its mojo workin'.
Until the last three years, these parties were simple events with pizza and a band performing in a bar. When we turned twenty in 2008, we had something to celebrate and moved the party to the Vernon Club, which had just opened at 1575 Story Avenue. Miss Lissa & Co. and The Beat Daddys rocked the basement that night. Last year, the entertainment expanded to three acts, including the KBS Solo/Duo Competition winner Jon Boy Slim plus Josh Garrett and the Bottom Line. The headliner was Jimmy Hall with Garrett's band backing him. Greg Martin was a surprise guest who jammed with Hall like they used to do in The Mighty Jeremiahs. The KBS turned twenty-one that night and there were three hundred witnesses
How do you top that for 2010? It took some tweaking, like relocating the merchandise sales and food concessions to the back for more seating space and plenty of PR with an attractive poster designed by Vincent McCullough, promos on WFPK and ads in LMN and LEO. The Vernon Club helped by getting their liquor license and reconfiguring their bar for better service. The toughest decision was selecting the talent. After studying several options, the KBS Board chose Jimi V and Screamin' John (this year's KBS Solo/Duo winner), The Stray Cat Blues Band and The Shaun Murphy Band from Nashville
When I arrived early at Vernon's, Shaun Murphy was finishing her sound check and was headed to WFPK to be on Stacy Owen's show to promote the event. After hearing the sound checks for The Stray Cats and Jimi & John, I knew they were going to provide a good night of blues. All the other pieces had fallen into place. The KBS merchandise table was set up with the raffle baskets. The power point presentation of the history of the KBS was updated and flashing on the screen in the corner. Jeanie Doak provided a pale blue birthday sheet cake in the shape of a KBS t-shirt. Gary Sampson, the KBS President and MC, was sporting a new red bowling shirt with the KBS logo embroidered on the back. Brad Jones had the sound system fine-tuned and Firefresh BBQ was ready to feed the hungry. The doors opened at 6:00 p.m. and the people started to arrive. Gary announced that the three shows would be broadcast live on Crescent Hill Radio (AM 1650)
Jimi V and Screamin' John kick-started the music promptly at 6:30 p.m. with "Rollin' and Tumblin'" followed by "She's Automatic." This energetic duo of John Hawkins playing guitar and adding a few hollers and Jimi Vallandingham blowing on harp and singing set a high level of excitement. Their music was rooted in traditional blues with a contemporary twist on spirited versions of "Two Trains A Runnin'" and "I Can't Be Satisfied." They closed with J. Geils' "Hard Drivin' Man," which should impress the judges when they compete in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis next February. I will talk more about Jimi and John next month.
The Stray Cat Blues Band had a regional reputation during the Seventies before they disbanded. It has been a thrill to see the band performing occasionally again. Lamont Gillispie, Jimmy Brown and Bruce Lively are the local surviving members. It was a gig at the Big Rock Jazz Festival in 2008 that got the band mobilized again. When lead guitarist Ricky Mason was unable to play, Steve Ferguson suggested Greg Martin and the group was reborn. The band was expanded with two keyboards. Bob Ramsey, seated on the left, played the deep tones like a Hammond B3 and Professor Bill Dean, who hit trills that sent chills, was on the right. Dr. Bill wears two professor hats, as he teaches biochemistry at U of L. Steve Holmes kept the Cats from straying with his steady drum beat
After a long break, The Stray Cats were ready to recharge the growing crowd. This was Bruce's night to shine with his assertive vocals. He is now much more confident fronting the band, opening with "Checkin' On My Baby" and "One More Chance With You." Bruce purred and growled his way through a long, memorable set of songs from the Chicago soul of "Turning Point" to Major Lance's "Monkey Time." He prowled all over the stage and into the front row of seats like an alley cat.
The song that filled the dance floor was a supercharged version of "Route 66." Leon Russell was doing his smooth shuffle and Bobby Watson was flinging his arms and legs in all directions. Amy Johnson gave Bruce a brief break when she belted out "Sugar Coated Love." She would have made Lou Ann Barton proud with her Texas twang. You could see the band's energy with Jimmy doing his trademark jerk while plucking his bass, Lamont waving his towel to cool off Greg's hot guitar and Greg throwing back his shoulder length hair and closing his eyes to channel all his guitar prowess on his searing, deep solos. There was even a laid-back moment when Bill did a solo intro and Bruce soulfully sang "I Ain't Down Too Bad." The Cats did humorous songs like "Why Get Up" and "Can't Do My Homework Any More" that got an enthusiastic crowd response. It all came to a climax with the whole band chiming in on "I'm Looking For Love." The Stray Cats Blues Band is poised to go regional again if they are willing. It's time to crank up the old bus.
When it was time for the Shaun Murphy Band to start, it was my turn to go outside and help at the door. Since I missed some of her performance, my comments will be brief. Murphy has had forty years in show business, working with stars like Bob Seger and Eric Clapton. Her fifteen years with Little Feat broadened her ability to sing a wide range of songs. What I heard were melancholy country ballads like "Blue Tears," "Did You Call Me" and "Trouble With Loving," the title track from her latest CD. There were a few excursions into the blues like "Hound Dog," "Come To Mama," and "Please Don't Mess With My Man" where she was able to exercise her razor-sharp fiery voice. However, as an appropriate closer for a blues party, Murphy missed the mark. Fortunately the break between her two sets was eliminated so as not to lose any more of the dwindling audience. My suggestion for next year's party, to take it to the next level, would be to raise enough sponsorship money to book a national blues act to bring the house down, bowling alleys and all.