Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In the Pocket with Mr. Solid

By John Lee

Going way back with Gary Sloan

I’ve known Gary Sloan since I was in high school in Anchorage, Alaska. In 1965 he fronted a rock and roll band called The Outlaws and I was either in The Breakers, a surf and rock and roll band, or groups The Better Sex or The Who Nose. I hadn’t become a bass player yet. I played rhythm guitar, tambourine, maracas and sang back-up vocals.

Late in 1965, Gary and I, along with Pete Nolfi on electric bass, Dean Forbes on lead guitar, and Mike Caporale on drums, started what would become Alaska’s first blues band, Proof. After high school graduation in 1967, I left Alaska and went to California where I pretended to go to college. It turned into a year of street education in San Francisco’s Bay area seeing The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Charlie Musselwhite, James Cotton’s great band with Luther Tucker on guitar, The Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield and many of other groups like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Big Brother and the Holding Co. with Janis Joplin. Hey, I would hang around The Fillmore smoking cigarettes with Luther Tucker and Butterfield’s guitar player, Elvin Bishop and talking the blues. I once got drunk with Janis Joplin on Southern Comfort. I also met George Harrison one afternoon on Haight Street. This was the summer of 1967 to late spring 1968. The scene was being overrun with crystal-meth and the battles between the cops and the Black Panthers made the Bay area something of a war zone, so I went back to Anchorage.

I hooked back up with Gary Sloan on harp and vocals, Roger Crosta on drums, and a guitar phenom named Rufus Reid. We called ourselves Proof again. I was playing bass full time now. We got a house gig at a place called The Electric Eye. The Eye was a hang out for hippies and bikers. The bikers were real scooter trash, not the weekend Harley crowd that seems so common today. They called themselves the Brother’s Motorcycle Club. I was given an honorary membership. The Brother’s later became the Hell’s Angels. This was a wild scene and a summary of what I lived thru at that time could fill a book, but that’s for another time.

We had become a bonafide blues band. This gig lasted about a year, then Gary and I parted ways when I went to upstate New York with Lindy and Larry Raines in the fall of 1969. I went back to Alaska in 1970 and did a stint playing folk-rock with Gary, Lindy Raines, Steve Tyler and Gordy Canyon. In 1973 Gary brought John Lee Hooker and Charlie Musselwhite to Alaska and we toured and I got to play bass on both tours. He brought Hooker back in 1975, we toured Alaska again. Later that summer I split for Seattle. I came back to Alaska in the summer of 1981 and played Anchorage, Fairbanks, and a few other spots I don’t recall. We also recorded the Southside Blues album. Those were the last gigs we played together until July 2007.

Gary is living in Arkansas now. Every summer he gigs all around Alaska with assorted friends including Lindy and Larry Raines. He took a week break from the northern exposure and came to play a few gigs in the Seattle area about mid-July 2007. My buddy in the 3J’s, John Stephan, hooked Sloan up with gigs at The Central Club in Kirkland, Washington and at Seattle’s Salmon Bay Eagles. Sloan was more than adequately supported by John Stephan on guitar (John Stephan played with a band called The Blue Chip Stock on the Anchorage scene when Gary and I had the first version of Proof) and his band’s rhythm section of Trev Cutler’s solid drumming and Tom Roesch’s funky and “in the pocket” bass work. Tom is one of my favorite bass players on any scene!

Then for two nights, the Crossroads Band rhythm section of John Rockwell on drums and yours truly joined Gary Sloan (left) and John Stephan for a Friday night show at Pioneer Square’s New Orleans and the next night for a private party in Seattle. Gary is a fine showman, good vocalist, and blues harp man. He also writes some cool songs. A number of his tunes are damn funny, like "Main Squeeze," "Screamin’Skull" (one of Gary’s nicknames when we were coming up) and the tongue in cheek, "Shirt," with the back-up shout “His ex hates that shirt”. Gary has a double CD, "Blues/The Twilight Sloan" out now and has also re-released the "Southside Blues" album to CD. Yours truly plays on 11 tracks on this recording from 1981. I had a great time playing with Gary again, and he has the private party booked again next year. We will be adding some club dates for mid-July 2008. Stay tuned! It will be a natural ball. The summer of 2008 isn’t that far away!

The Seattle Blues Review-August 31, 1975

I had come to Seattle to scout a place to live and check out the local scene. The end of August 1975 I witnessed a great blues show at Sick’s Stadium in Seattle’s Rainer Valley neighborhood. The line-up was a blues fan’s dream: Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Aces, Straights and Shuffles with Kim Wilson (before The Fabulous Thunderbirds), Margie Evans, sometimes singer with The Johnny Otis Show, and the great Albert Collins as an added attraction.

I had toured Alaska that summer with John Lee Hooker, but I had never seen Howlin’Wolf, Albert Collins, or Margie Evans. Kim Wilson was just starting out, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds were a few years away.

Howlin’ Wolf was not well and as I found out much later, he was on kidney dialysis. The Wolf was still a very large presence and despite his failing health we all knew we were in the company of greatness! John Lee Hooker was his usual tough self. Albert Collins was unbelievable, strutting the stage like a man possessed. He was one of the most badass guitar men of all time. Kim Wilson showed why he would become a rising star in the blues revival. Margie Evans had a real sweet set of pipes and cooked up a nice set of jump and slow blues tunes.

At some point I somehow worked my way back stage and John Lee Hooker saw and greeted me. He knew I had never met the Wolf and he took me to where the man born Chester Burnett was sitting. When the introduction was done, Howlin’ Wolf said, “Any friend of the Hook, is a friend of mine.” What a moment! Where was a camera when I needed one!

The Wolf would only play one more big show in Chicago, November 1975. Howlin’ Wolf would pass on January 8th, 1976. Albert Collins passed away in 1993, and John Lee Hooker boogied on until 2001. Margie Evans is still living, but I have no idea if she’s still performing. Kim Wilson is still fronting The T-Birds and doing solo projects. He is still spreading the blues gospel around the world.

I feel blessed to have been at Sicks Stadium on that overcast August Seattle day in 1975. The Wolf, the Hook and Albert Collins were all legendary blues artists, and to see them together was a total thrill. These great musicians will never be forgotten. Play on brothers!

Peg Jackson-August 8, 1946 to July 23, 2007

My dear friend, Peg Jackson, passed away July 23, 2007. Peg and I became friends when I worked at The Café on the Terrace in Mountlake, Washington. Peg was a regular at the café. She and I would talk about everything under the sun. Music, films, books, and politics were among some of the many things we would discuss. Peg was very sharp and had a splendid personality. She was a tireless worker for Tour De Terrace, Mountlake Terrace’s Seafair related festival that takes place at the end of July every year. She made it possible for me to perform music at the festival one year, and I have played there a number of years since. She was a marvelous person and I will miss her. R.I.P Peg.

Quote of the Month:

Dewey Phillips was a wild, hip talkin’ white disc jockey in Memphis, Tennesse, who, in 1949 on his “Red, Hot, and Blue” radio show played black Rhythm and Blues to a white audience for the first time. He also was the first DJ to play Elvis Presley’s debut 45 recording of "That’s All Right Mama/Blue Moon of Kentucky" in 1954.

Mr. Phillips always had a cool saying or phrase for the radio listener. One of my favorites was: “Hey Mabel, get up off the turntable, your too old to be going around with musicians.”

Electric bassist John "Mr. Solid" Lee was born in Alaska and has been active in the Seattle blues scene for about 30 years. He currently plays with the Crossroads Band. Photo by Mike Coyote.

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