“The blues tell you the truth,” the woman on the screen said with conviction. Even though I was watching Precious Bryant’s nearly twenty year-old interview on a giant iMac screen, it felt as if she was speaking directly to me.
I’ll admit– up until this summer, I had not considered myself much of a blues fan. Heresy, I know.(Tim has called me out on this several times.) How can somebody who aspires to be an American music scholar not enjoy one of the most seminal genres in American music? A valid question. In my defense, up until this summer, I only had a vague idea of what the blues were and what they could be. I was aware of famous blues icons and familiar with the music’s basic structural components.However, last week’s concert featuring MMRF-sponsored artists John Dee Holeman and Ironing Board Sam made me reevaluate everything I thought I knew about the blues.
The show took place at the Mystery Brewing Company, a cozy bar known for its unique and often locally-sourced brews, down the street from the Music Maker office. I ordered a beer and went to join fellow MMRF intern Berk and John Dee’s girlfriend, Joan, in front of the stage. John Dee started the evening off. His music was infectious—I had to move along! As much as I was enjoying my pale ale, I practically threw down my glass in order to dance along to John Dee’s guitar riffs and Bubba’s driving drum beat. During John Dee’s particularly groovy cover of “Mojo Hand,” Joan and I joined hands and twirled each other around in front of the stage. Several members of MMRF’s board of directors got up and joined us. Everybody in the bar was clapping along with the music—including the bartenders. Bubba, the drummer for the evening, smiled off into the distance, often during some of the most intricate and mind-bending drum solos I’d ever heard. In fact, the more complex the solos became, the more Bubba smiled. He made it look effortless.
After John Dee finished his set, Ironing Board Sam took the stage. His keyboard was truly a sight to behold. I had seen pictures of the keyboard around the office, but never before in person. It had taken on an almost mythical dimension. Golden, glittering, and bedazzled with a brightly-colored array of mardi gras beads, Sam’s keyboard let me know that a special performance was in store. During the song “Cherry Pie,” the entire bar sang along with Sam, who grinned at the helm of his gold keyboard in a light pink suit. Sam’s cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” had the entire bar transfixed—myself included. Perhaps it had something to do with Sam’s purple “antenna to another dimension.” Antenna or not, the performance was out of this world.
I am only beginning to learn what the blues are. Fortunately, Music Maker is the perfect place to learn, grow, and explore. The artists here have become my greatest teachers, and the audio, photo and video archives housed at MMRF form a fascinating, engaging classroom. So what have I learned so far? The blues bind people together. The blues give voice to struggle. The blues tell a story—one that as an audience member at John Dee, Bubba, and Ironing Board Sam’s show, I found nothing short of spellbinding. In the words of Precious Bryant, the blues tell you the truth. And I’m listening with open ears.