The blues is all right
One of my favorite quotes appears in an appendix of a book I’ve read off and on over the years: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. That principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
In the book, the quote is attributed to 19th century English philosopher Herbert W. Spencer, which may or may not be correct. But whatever its origin, the idea expressed by the quote has helped ground me whenever I’ve written about music and allowed my head to get in the way.
Because it’s easy to fall back on an old, calcified perception, when the right thing to do, perhaps, is to consider the subject matter anew. Take the blues: There was a time when I’d made up my mind that blues was the exclusive bailiwick of grouchy white guys, a soundtrack for pasty-faced, liquored-up lawyers in Hawaiian shirts to stumble some kind of boozehound mushmouf shuffle to the tune of the late, great Little Milton Campbell sleepwalking through yet another classic rendition of “The Blues is all Right.” Watching said inebriated attorneys desperately trying to connect with their inner soul brother at the Old Sacramento Blues Festival always was a funny sight. Never mind that I’d tried to summon the deeply heathen specter of Howlin’ Wolf with a bottle of sour mash and a pack of smokes at midnight on a full moon—on numerous occasions.
Anyway, quite a few years ago, that putative Spencer aphorism helped me overcome my closed mind and rediscover the blues. Which was great, because I otherwise might have missed some really great shows promoted by local blues impresario Mike Balma.
Specifically, I’m referring to the multi-artist concerts Balma typically starts bringing into the Horseman’s Club—that bucolic venue at 3200 Longview Avenue, west of Watt, between I-80 and Business 80 on the backside of the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex—on Sunday afternoons as soon as the weather cools off in the fall. Besides a robust dance card of blues acts, there’s usually some mighty good eatin’ to be found in the barbecue and down-home categories—two of your three basic Texas food groups, the other being Tex-Mex.
Balma’s at it again on October 28, with a lineup that will include Tommy Castro and his band, Ronnie Baker Brooks (son of Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks), saxophonist Deanna Bogart, harpist Magic Dick of J. Geils Band fame, and Smokin’ Joe Kubek. According to Balma, these particular performers are veterans of cruise ship blues shows.
Two weeks later, on November 11, the Horseman’s Club will host a soul revue, with Bettye LaVette (whose new Anti-Records album Scene of the Crime features Drive-By Truckers as her backup band), along with Curtis Salgado, Cafe R&B and the W.D. Gospel Singers. And on December 2, Balma will bring in an all-Chicago show, featuring Magic Slim and the Teardrops, Big Time Sarah and Linsey Alexander. For cover and start times, check www.sacheritagefest.com. Now, about that contempt prior to investigation thing: I’m still not perfect; the combined sound of clarinet, trombone and banjo makes me skedaddle. Perhaps by next Memorial Day weekend, I can open my mind to Dixieland jazz, too.