(From Bluesman’s 1st Book “The Elusive One”)
Back in the time before I formed the band-late 70’s- there was no blues scene on the Eastern Shore (Del/Md./Va.). No blues clubs, no blues bands, rarely a stray concert and certainly no blues festivals. If I wanted to hear any live blues I had to go to DC.
Blues fans were like an underground club, and there were only a few of us in our neck of the woods. One of my oddball friends had a subscription to The Aquarian Weekly and he’d keep us posted on who was coming through DC. We’d carpool over to see Son Seals at the Childe Harold, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at the Bayou and we got to see Muddy Waters somewhere over there (Desperado’s?).
I’d returned from adventures out west and decided to really put in some serious woodshedding time and teach myself how to play blues. No how-to books, no videos, no dvd’s. I’d spend hours and hours listening to records with guitar in hand (and harp in mouth) trying to figure out what the musicians were doing and how.
To have the chance to see a real, live blues band up close and jamming was a great learning opportunity for me. I always learned something from these shows, some things that I later used myself in my own band
One thing I liked was how well the blues guys always dressed. They would wear really nice suits, really sharp, like they were ready to go to church. They’d start out the show, do a few numbers, then the jacket came off, then the sleeves got rolled up and they would COOK!
For those of you who were around when I first started out you’ll remember I was out there in the rock and roll clubs wearing a three-piece suit. That’s where that came from. I had my own twist to it: I never wore a tie, and since I’d been living out west I sported cowboy boots.
I used to cruise around all over looking in the budget bins in various stores, looking for “cut-outs” (albums that didn’t sell and were discounted), adding to my blues collection. I had built a good one, and Muddy Waters albums were the most plentiful, save for maybe BB King.
When we heard that Muddy Waters was coming to DC we made our plans, drove over, got good seats and enjoyed ourselves immensely. The band had Jerry Portnoy on harp, Bob Margolin on guitar, and Pinetop Perkins on piano. What a line-up! I don’t care if you play blues, rock, jazz, or whatever, everybody could learn something from that band. It was classic Chicago Blues, played by the master who forged the original style.
After a great first set there was an intermission. I headed off to the bathroom, but then I took a wrong turn on purpose to see how far I could get before somebody stopped me. Somehow I ran into no one- no staff, no bouncers, no band; I’d get to a door, knock gently and go on into the next room. Just when I thought I was getting lost in the Georgetown catacombs, I opened a door and there was MUDDY WATERS!!!
Whoa! I tried to make a hasty apology and leave but he would have none of it- he had a big grin and waved and called me over like I was a long-lost cousin. There was no one else with him and he seemed glad to have the company.
We sat and talked and laughed and had a big old time. And of course Country Bigfoot TL was not going to let an opportunity like this go by- I asked him about his guitar tuning, what it was like to play with Little Walter, did he ever see Robert Johnson and on and on. We must’ve been together a half an hour, or close to it. What a treat.
What struck me the most was how down-home and regular-folks he was with me. He didn’t know me from Adam, but he treated me with respect and that impressed me.
I’d tried to talk to other musicians and had on occasion been given the brush-off, like I was not worth the time to talk to. To treat your fans like they’re peons, like you’re cool and they’re not, etc. is pretty “common” in my book (it’s in the White Trash Dictionary-look it up).
Muddy Waters was a class act and I made up my mind that if I ever got a band going I was going to try to follow his example. I have done my best to live up to that standard over the years.
To play music is a gift from God. To be able to do it for a living is an absolute blessing. I am always mindful that without the people who take time from their busy lives and spend their hard-earned money to come see us play, I can’t do what I do.
There it is. -TL