Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Electric blues, eclectic views

Tonight I met my wife at the Dallas Arboretum, as we'd been invited by our friends at another law firm to their annual attendance at the arboretum's Thursday night live music on the lawn dealie. The arboretum overlooks White Rock Lake, one of the most enchanting urban lakes in Texas. The weather held up very nicely, as all the people with all the picnic baskets filed into the park. Two years ago, during the drought, the weather had been simpering misery. Tonight, under a clear sky, we watched children running through bubbles they'd made with a soap bubble machine, ate from healthy boxed sandwich dinners and talked with some of the nicest people I know.

The band was a blues band, intent on regaling us with standards like "Sweet Home Chicago". I am not one for electric blues, unless it is played by people with odd masks dressed in penguin suits or Foghat (which is much the same thing, actually). But this band, the Bill Tilson band, was by and large enjoyable. At one point, the vocalist did a drop-dead imitation of Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, the lead singer of my fellow countrymen, Black Oak Arkansas. Now Black Oak Arkansas was an odd metal-flected bluegrass weaned buncha sixties guys trapped in the 70s, so they are not exactly what you'd call "classic blues". I was just trying to decide whether it was Dr. John or Professor Longhair or early Muddy Waters with whom the vocalist tonight and Jim Dandy had their vocal fixation, when the leader of the band between songs mentioned a Black Oak Arkansas influence.

Electric blues for me brings to mind college and law school days when a hundred boogie blues bands played a hundred bars and Holiday Inns, playing "Sweet Home Chicago", "Built for Comfort (not for Speed)" and hundreds others of the pantheon of classics so often they just wore me out on the blues, inducing a sort of blues about the blues if you will. I don't mean to the last extreme, of course, I relished my one chance to see Stevie Ray Vaughan, because no matter what one thought of blues, Stevie Ray was something else altogether. But in general, blues was the music they played in bars in my youth, except when they played Eagles imitators. I used to joke that every bar band in Arkansas I ever saw paused in the middle of every show and said "We'd like to play a really special tune for you, one not many people know, it's reached deep into my heart into places my heart hasn't been before, and it's called....Tequila Sunrise". It's a bit like
having Rembrandt come back to life and tell you he likes the works of Thomas Kinkeade, not that I mind the Eagles exactly (love that song 'I can't tell you why', especially when my falsetto, easily the best thing about my singing voice, can hit the highest note), but if you're moved to profundity by "Tequila Sunrise", well, then, you would have been right at home in the Ozarks in 1978.

But we had a glorious time at the musical picnic. Kayakers gathered on the nearby lake to hear the music from a short distance off. The Garden Gnomes that Be bused everyone into the arboretum, so there was little of that parking hassle that makes crowded events no fun. I somehow failed to find the cookie in my lunch box, but I probably didn't need the fat anyway. I cannot believe it is almost another week done.

I was thinking about bar bands tonight, and thought of Fayetteville's great bar band, the Cate Brothers. They had only one hit, but that hit said something about the whole Arkansas psyche. It was called "Union Man". It's the "Fayetteville sound", which is the Memphis Stax sound gone blue-eyed, with a strong country flavor. In "Union Man", the union rep "wearing a smile" comes and says "you got to go on strike today"....leaving the narrator to wonder "how I'm gonna pay my dues?", feed his family, and shoe his children. It's not really an anti-union song, so much as a song about not being able to trust anything large and out of hand when day to day lives are in issue. There's something I like about that, even as they lead besuited men in handcuffs from the edifices of their failed businesses, even as Nigerian women become my heroes for a day by forcing Chevron/Texaco, who actually handled it pretty well, to the table to give their cities infrastructure, after the Nigerian government fails them time after time. Let's hear it, for a moment, for small, unknown blues bands under the stars, and people who trust small moments and small enterprises.
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