Blue Beat, March 28, 2013
Kick yourself for missing this one. Here was a show to burn like a pilot light in the memory when most recollections have expired, then flare up with all its smiles and tears. An old-style blues revue, it came courtesy of Music Maker, an American philanthropic organisation that lifts forgotten and undiscovered Southern roots musicians out of the miasma of neglect and brings them to the world.
This was probably the strongest such revue to hit Sydney since Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and Jeannie Lewis lit up the Hordern Pavilion over 40 years ago. Among its seven artists the oldest (76), rawest and most moving was Dr GB Burt. A venerable field recording sprung to life, he raggedly strummed a 12-string electric guitar and sang with a voice like a bugle playing The Last Post. This was the deep common core of humanity singing of its suffering and stoicism.
The revue’s buoyant “house band” of Albert White (guitar), Nashid Abdul Khaaliq (bass) and Ardi Dean (drums) offered a brief set that included a dangerous version of Hoochie Coochie Man, before Pat Wilder joined, wearing a leather mini-skirt and a glint in her eye. She played such blazing guitar as to singe one’s raised eyebrows, and her singing carried a commensurate urgency, sassiness or, on a slow blues, a come-to-bed slyness mimicked by her guitar.
Then came the revue’s secret weapon, if it’s possible to be secret while wearing a gleaming golden suit and black leather pork pie hat. The attire was subdued compared with the persona, however. Ironing Board Sam, 73 years young, sang as if his pants were on fire and attacked his keyboard as if it had sinned. He even yanked it from its stand and played it kneeling on the floor. When he sang Have You Seen My Baby? he left the stage to ask each audience member. (No one had.) He stormed across Ray Charles’ What I’d Say and then caressed Over The Rainbow. His maverick keyboard playing, meanwhile, carried weird little echoes of Thelonious Monk and Sun Ra, and, such was his enthusiasm, he almost had to be dragged from the stage.
This was a hard act to follow, and Major Handy’s take on zydeco, blues and soul was anti-climactic. Despite his towering voice and surging accordion he also seemed less than gruntled. The finale was the inevitable all-in jam, but I’d have preferred one more cry from Dr GB.