Monday, July 02, 2007

House Party with Steve Cheseborough

By Malcom Kennedy

There is nothing more traditional in blues than a house party. Many of the juke joints in the Delta were house parties or fish fries and this was also true in Chicago, New York and the other northern cities. These were not establishments; but someone’s shotgun shack (or, in the cities, their apartment) with the furniture moved to the side or maybe out back so a couple of musicians could perform, folks could dance and buy a pint of corn (aka: moonshine, white lightning, or corn whiskey.)

Well, the other night we were invited to a house party at Seattle harp player Steve Bailey's house with guitarist/singer Steve Cheseborough performing. There were about 30 of us and we started off with a potluck featuring red beans and rice, pulled pork, grilled chicken, coleslaw and other fixin’s then we moved downstairs where we took seats in the basement.

Steve was set up with a PA system, his resonator guitar, his Larrivee acoustic fitted out with a pick-up, and a few harmonicas. He played for about an hour performing some obscure, often slightly risqué songs from the '20s and '30’s originally played by artists like Charley Patton, Georgia Tom Dorsey, Blind Boy Fuller and Jimmy Rogers. In between songs he would give us a little history of the next artist or maybe of the next song he was about to play. Steve took a short intermission break while we replenished our beverages and chatted. Refreshed, we took our beverages and our seats for the second set.

Steve Cheseborough and Steve Bailey

Steve was joined for a rendition of Slim Harpo’s “Hip Shake Thing” by accomplished harmonica master Steve Bailey - what a treat! More songs followed and more history with the evening ending with Mississippi John Hurt’s “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me.” After the show, Steve took a few moments to talk about blues and do a short interview. Steve started playing guitar at about 12, and as a teenager played rock on an electric guitar while always leaning towards the bluesier bands. By his 20's he was playing mostly acoustic, learning a lot from a book he borrowed from the library “ The Art of Ragtime Guitar.”

In his mid 20's Steve moved from Rochester, NY to Arizona where he went to grad school majoring in Journalism. Upon graduation, he worked for the Phoenix Gazette for a number of years. A girlfriend he had asked him to make her a recording of the acoustic songs he played. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, rather than sitting down with a tape player and recording a cassette, Steve went into the studio and laid down a record. He then had a minimum pressing done and after he gave his girlfriend her copy and some to friends, he decided that he had better start performing these acoustic songs for audiences at coffee houses and the like where he could sell his records.

Then Steve saw Robert Palmer’s film “Deep Blues-Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads” directed by Robert Mugge. His interest thus sparked, he went to the Sunflower Blues Festival and much to his surprise saw and met many of the same artists featured in the film. The epiphany was complete and Steve moved to Mississippi. While in Mississippi, Steve met Robert Mugge and appeared in his follow up film to “Deep Blues” titled “The Last of the Mississippi Jukes.” A couple of years ago, Steve moved to Portland, OR where he does some teaching at the community college and also has a course on roasting coffee at home. As a solo artist, Steve has found that he has to be creative in lining up gigs, so that when he comes up this way to teach a class at Dusty Strings in Fremont or going to the Port Townsend Country Blues Festival you might be lucky enough to catch him performing at a small venue like Smokin’ Pete’s BBQ in Ballard, Café Luna on Vashon Island, a backyard barbeque, or if you are really lucky, at a house party.

Real Blues, real people, real fun!!


Patrick said...

I wonder if the clothes dryer behind Steve worked as a resonator...

chezztone said...

Yes, it sure did! The whole basement was resonatin'. Thanks again to Steve B for hosting and sitting in; Malcom for the nice article; John Lee for his article and hospitality.
Looks like I will be back up in Seattle around October 25-28. Details to come. Anyone interested in hosting a house concert in your yard, basement or living room? Contact me right away if so! Cheers, SC

Steve Cheseborough