And what is even worse than never having listened to Junior Wells is that the only version I ever heard of Messin' With The Kid was by the Blues Brothers.
At least, one of them was from Chicago, but even that tangential blues cred is completely negated by the fact that the other guy was a Canadian. I never felt so white in my life.
So I get a gig last week with my good buddy and occasional professional associate Mike Kettler. Kettler plays (and teaches) drums in a variety of contexts, from rockabilly to jigs, hornpipes, and avant-jazz and asked me to play with him and a guy called George Castro in Cudahy next Wednesday night. Fortunately Kettler doesn't know I haven't picked up my bass since July and my Ampeg 2x10 combo amp has been sitting in a garage in Whitefish Bay since then. (I'm coming Colleen, I'm coming ... )
I have another bass rig at home but it weighs 400 pounds and I'm getting too old to drag that thing up and down a flight of stairs. I don't do roadying anymore period. Unless there's food.
Who George is (apparently he used to have a band by the fantastic name of Castro's Cuban Missile Crisis), I can't say and I won't be meeting him until the job because we won't be rehearsing, just showing up and playing. Like back in the days.
What George is is a blues guy so the tunes will be pretty straightforward: three chords (but, the best three chords in just the right order). Besides, Kettler gave me a set list and some charts, which is cool, because I didn't know drummers could even read music, let alone write it. May wonders never cease.
So anyway, Junior Wells. After procuring Messin' With The Kid from iTunes and listening to it about 147 times in a row, I purchased the Junior Wells collection, Best of the Vanguard Years. I thought Vanguard was a classical label with a few folkies. Guess not. Junior Wells is, quite simply, one of the best singers I've ever heard in my life. And I've heard a couple.
The opening track, Sonny Boy Williamson's Help Me, contains what is possibly the greatest spoken introduction to a tune of all times:
I want to do this ... number. It's not mines. But I'm gonna pay tribute to a ... an old fellerow and a, nice outstanding musician. A tribute to him. It's a number that he made that I think that will. Linger in your hearts forever. It's a crazy little thing that goes like this: Baby. You got to Help Me.You Know That I Know and Stormy Monday Blues are museum pieces. And Shake It Baby is a James Brownian rave-up with some of the best recorded drums you're going to hear (as do the other cuts).
It could be a pretty sad commentary on contemporary American civilization that we're so inured to all these synthesizers and various digital crap we don't even know what drums sound like anymore. Drums, of all things, the first musical instrument the nascent species learned to play. Maybe that's the real great shame.
Funny thing is, it's what they call R&B nowadays that takes the most mechanical automation to produce. It used to be a room the size of a small garage and three microphones, or maybe even just one.
Therefore as your attorney I advise you to obtain Junior Wells's Best of the Vanguard Years and play it at suitable volumes. Make sure you have lots of bottom end. And also make the trip to Cudahy this week.
George Castro, guitar, vocals
Michael Kettler, drums, percussion
Yr hmbl corresp, bass guitar
"Perform Messin' With The Kid and other Top Favorites"
"Urban elegance and Old-Fashioned Charm" — Cudahy Now
3455 East Layton Avenue
Just hours after posting this, I was informed that the gig is canceled. Apparently the club has two owners and the other one had booked a piano player for the same evening. Subsequently, the owner who booked the piano player prevailed during the inevitable flurry of averments and disputations.
I don't recall ever having had a gig canceled in my life. Although when I was about 17 I was in a band that booked a four-nighter, complete with a signed contract, and got fired after the first night for not being loud enough. The club owed us around $1200 and we never saw a penny of it, and the Musician's Union didn't do squat, even though we were required to be members and pay annual dues — for exactly these sorts of situations. The contract had the Musician's Union logo at the top of it and wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.
Come to think of it, I have also never once heard a complimentary word about the Musician's Union. Rather, nothing except savage tales of bitterness, horror, and feudalist exploitation. Anyway, just in case any of the groupies were wondering, you'll only find a lonely piano player in the club Wednesday night.
"They sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say, 'Man, what are you doing here.'" And in any event, we still have Junior Wells.