A Weekend in the Life of a Journeyman Professional Blues Band
By John Lee
Anacortes, Friday May 16th 2008. The Crossroads band was booked to play the kick-off dinner for the Waterfront Festival in Anacortes, Washington, in a decorated warehouse on the waterfront, about 75 miles north of Seattle. It was an early start (6PM) and the bonus is that the client provided a PA system. This was truly wonderful, because we didn’t have to haul Steve Bailey’s PA and set it up and tear it down. It was a dinner, so we had a soft take-off (played quietly). After a 45 minute set the speeches and acknowledgments took place. This was a cue for the band to grab a bite to eat. The buffet included salmon, chicken, and beef. The buffet also had the usual starches, veggies, and salads. I especially liked the garlic mashed potatoes. The food was done well and much appreciated by me and my musical brethren.
We began set two with a little more bite to our sound. But just as we began to work up a good groove, someone motions that they had more announcements. A bit more talking from some of the city fathers, then we were allowed to finish up with a fairly lengthy set with a very nice amount of dancing couples. A nice warm up for the next two days, when we would play one 45 minute set, and a one hour set.
Dennis and Steve had come in Steve’s van, Dan and I in my car (Dan and I live fairly close to each other), and Dave drove with some family members. On our way back to Seattle and beyond , we ran into a one hour construction delay on I-5 near Everett, Washington, about 35 miles from Seattle. What the hell! This is 11PM on a Friday night. We all finally worked our way home for an evening of much deserved rest. The next day we played the granddaddy of Puget Sound street fairs, the University Street Fair in north Seattle.
Seattle’s University District, Saturday May 17th 2008. We had a nice time slot at 3PM and the weather was beautiful, 80 degrees and sunny. The band played a really nice set that included Crossroads favorites including “Too Young to Die,” “How Long,” “Can’t Judge A Book,” and “Don’t Leave Your Daddy Home.” Two of the songs, “I Want Some Love,” and “Up One Side And Down the Other” were written by Dan Newton. Dan is a talented and sharp guy with three and a half years of music theory at North Texas State University and a masters degree from the University of Washington in Russian Language and Russian Literature. He is working on his Phd at this time. Dan is a multiple threat musically, playing outstanding guitar, rockin’ piano, and delivering nice vocal work. He’s also one hell of a songwriter. Dan is a good man to have on your team.
After the street fair set, we all headed to my house for a dinner of Memphis Beale Street chicken, potato salad, and a tossed green salad. After a very tasty meal the band piled into Steve’s van and headed towards the Grand Coulee Dam and our rooms for the Sunbanks R&B Festival. Along the way we listened to Bumble Bee Slim and Johnny Otis’ tour de farce group, Snatch and the Poontangs. We were having too much fun. The band arrived at the Grand Coulee Motel at 11PM and somehow I ended up with my own room. The other four guys had to share two rooms. Sometimes things work out and you get a little extra quite time. It’s all good!
Grand Coulee Washington , Sunday May 18th. My motel room was quite comfortable and I slept well, but not long. By 8:00AM and I was showered, dressed and awake! When you live both as day people and as night people (I have a day job too) the sleep patterns get very strange. I walked out onto the steps leading to my room, and I saw Steve Bailey. We both mentioned breakfast, and we looked up and saw a sign that said “Flo’s Café.” We entered and found the place to be down home and full of locals. We ended up talking to one local man who is retired and living close by. The omelets were quite good and seemed to live up to the café’s motto: “10,000 Flies Can’t Be Wrong”.
Steve Bailey is my long time friend. I’ve played in a number of musical settings with him, most notably Steve Bailey and the Blue Flames. Steve is another one of those multi-talented guys. Steve Bailey is a world class blues harmonic player, a damn fine guitar man in both single note and slide styles, a good singer, and an excellent songwriter. Plus, he speaks fluent Spanish (he was a Spanish teacher at one time). Steve is a very good recording engineer also. He’s engineered dozens of Northwest recordings (hey he’s guiding The Crossroads Band’s latest CD effort right now. We have six basic tracks in the can right as I speak.)
We walked down the hill to a Safeway grocery store for a cold beverage and on the way back we run into our drummer man Dave Hudson. Dave was the driving force behind The Hudson Blues Band for many years, and he is a fine player with a great love for blues and classic R&B. Most drummers don’t even have Muddy Waters or Howlin Wolf recordings in their collections. Dave not only has the material in his collection, he knows the titles of all the songs. Most drummers listen to jazz recordings and aspire to that style. Brother Hudson is a breath of fresh air and one hell of a drummer! Dave was looking for espresso and I had seen a stand near Safeway. Steve headed back to his room, and Dave and I made the slight decent toward the stimulants! Dave had some kind of coffee drink, and bought me a chai latte with coconut syrup.
Dave and I headed back to the motel, and, as I went to my room, I ran into piano man D.K Stewart and his drummer, Carlton Jackson out of Portland , Oregon. D.K. Stewart is one of the finest keyboard players in all the Northwest, having played with some of Portland’s great blues and R&B artists like Curtis Salgado and the late Paul deLay. They gave me a copy of their new CD, "The DK4- In the House." There was just time for a short chat, then a quick goodbye. They had a 5PM gig outside of Portland .
I dropped into Flo’s which was now packed, and our great honkin' sax man Dennis Ellis was there for breakfast. Dennis and I chatted for a few minutes. Dennis is a fine sax player, an excellent flute player and outstanding singer. Dennis brings a swing and cool scuffle element to the band. He’s also easy to be around and a very, very funny guy. I also ran into Tom Hunniwell, the excellent music photographer who I know from back in Seattle . It’s always good to see Mr. Honeywell. I walked back to the motel and found Dan awake and ready to go. It was time to get dressed again and head to the festival site.
We arrived about 11:30AM at the Sunbanks Resort where the festival in held twice a year. The first person we checked out was Billy Stoops, the energetic Southerner who is the driving force behind The Sunbanks R&B Festival, and also the band Junkyard Jane. Steve Bailey knows Billy from awhile back. I first talked to Billy Stoops on the telephone about booking Crossroads into Sunbanks a year and a half ago, and I joked with him about owing me a few bucks for my phone bill. We ran into a few other folks we know, like Rhea Rolf, former president of the Washington Blues Society, and Cholo Willsin, who, back in the day, was a doorman at Larry’s Greenfront in Seattle ’s Pioneer Square . Cholo has been associated for many years with the Winthrop R&B Festival and most recently with the Blues for Food Fest. www.myspace/bluesforfoodfest (Crossroads will be featured at this year’s Blues for Food Fest August 30th, 2008 at the Magnusson Park amphitheater in North Seattle ).
We played a nice one hour set that featured some real nice sax by Dennis Ellis and excellent piano work by Dan Newton. After our show we hung around and chatted with a dozen or so blues fans, then we went to the Cantina (a bar and restaurant located at the Sunbanks Resort) to cash in our food coupons provided by Mr. Stoops for a meal provided to all the festival musical participants. The cook wouldn’t start until 3:30PM and the bartender said all she could put together were appetizers. So that’s what we did, we had appetizers. Coming and going to the Cantina we came across 10 or 12 people who said they dug the band. The Sunbanks R&B Festival site is very pleasant, a sparely wooded area leading up to a large stage that has its back almost at the lake's shoreline. We hung around near the stage for a while longer and caught most of the File Gumbo Zydeco Band’s set. Then it was time to head back to Seattle . It would take four hours to get home.
The Crossroads Band at the Sunbanks R & B Festival - Photo by Tom Hunnewell
Dan Newton - Photo by Tom Hunnewell
David Hudson - Photo by Tom Hunnewell
Dennis Ellis - Photo by Tom Hunnewell
John Lee - Photo by Tom Hunnewell
We had to travel a long way to play music for a relatively short period of time, but it was a very rewarding weekend. The band played good music and we got to hang out together in a setting other than a bar or nightclub. I’m very lucky to get to play good music and be friends with such a talented and solid bunch of guys. I feel like I can relate to what the roots music legend Delbert McClinton said in the title of one of his recent albums “One of the fortunate few.” Then the next day, it was back to our other lives!
American Music Icons Bo Diddley and Jimmy McGriff Pass On
Born Ellas Bates, Bo changed it to Ellis McDaniel when his mother’s cousin adopted him. Then he eventually took the stage name Bo Diddley with the help of his Bomp ba-bomp-bomp, bomp- bomp “shave and a hair cut” rhythm”. Bo was on his way with the 1955 single "Bo Diddley/I’m A Man" to becoming one of the most influential guitar players and songwriters of early rock and roll. With a style steeped in blues and R&B he created such classics as "Mona," "Pretty Thing," "Can’t Judge A Book," "Road Runner," and "Who Do You Love" to name a few. Many groups from the 1960’s covered Bo’s songs, including the Rolling Stones. The legendary bluesman Muddy Waters took Bo’s "I’m a Man" and made it his own as the title “Mannish Boy.”
I met Bo Diddley for just a few minutes back stage at a show Bo was going to perform in the mid-seventies in Anchorage, Alaska . He was making fried chicken in an electric skillet while he chatted. He seemed pleasant enough. Bo Diddley was 79 years old. R.I.P.
Jimmy McGriff was one of the finest soul/jazz Hammond B3 organ players of all-time. McGriff broke onto the national scene with the instrumental version of Ray Charles’s “ I Got a Women” in 1962. Jimmy McGriff never liked being called a jazz musician, he always said he was a blues player. Mr. McGriff was childhood friends with the legendary Hammond B3 man Jimmy Smith in Philadelphia , Pennsylvania . Organ great Richard “Groove” Holmes played at Jimmy McGriff’s sister's wedding. For over 40 years Jimmy McGriff played blues, R&B and soul drenched organ driven instrumentals with some of the most soulful musicians of his time like saxophones players, Hank Crawford, David “Fathead” Newman, Red Holloway, and drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. McGriff also made some nice recordings with blues vocalist and harmonica player, Junior Parker. He was as good as it gets. Jimmy McGriff was 72 years old. R.I.P.
Quote of the Month
My dear friend, the late Jim Schroy, as we were leaving a Little Richard show at Seattle’s annual Bumbershoot Festival, said “ That’s the best concert I’ve ever seen by somebody from Mars.” Little Richard was so odd, that after what I witnessed that day, I think Jim might have only scratched the surface.