Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hubert Sumlin @ B.B.Kings Club....

My buddy Murray Weinstock invited me to join him and his pals for an evening of blues tonight at B.B King's Blues club located on 42nd street in NYC's Times Square.

Times Square is cool. Not as cool as when you could've gotten killed walking through it...but still cool.

I was along for the ride with a couple of his buddies from the old days.

The program was Hubert Sumlin and friends. Hubert Sumlin is known for playing with Howlin' Wolk, and James Cotton.

Sp. Guests

+ A special stage introduction by JANIE HENDRIX

* This show is dedicated to Mitch Mitchell (July 9 1947 – November 12 2008)

As mentioned above, Janie Hendrix, Jimi's sister was there to introduce the band. That was nice. She is somewhat pilloried in the fan community for Hendrix, because of Experience Hendrix' way of doing business. That said, I got a mostly earnest vibe from her.

She talked about how the then younger group of players, including people like Clapton and Hendrix, cited Hubert as a big influence. Also Mitch Mitchell, mentioned above, was Jimi Hendrix' drummer.

The performance itself was quite uneven to me. Here are a few impressions:

BRAD WHITFORD: Killer blues guitar player. Great tone, really overdriven, sort of a Stevie Ray Vaughn sound. He played with an impetuousness which really felt passionate. Best blues player on stage.

JIMMY VIVINO: There were a lot of players from the Conan show there, and Jimmy seemed as though he was leading the band. He spoke the most, gave the intro (other than Janie), said goodnight, sang, gave conducting cues, etc. Great playing. I wasn't totally in love with his tone for this style though.

JOHN SEBASTIAN: I had the pleasure to meet John for a moment before the show. This guy is one of the greats of the 60's and 70's. I wore the groove out on my copy of Woodstock on the cut where he sings "I'll paint rainbows, all over your blues". Murray played piano and sang background on the song "Welcome Back Kotter" for the show in the 70's.

He is a lovely, lovely human being. You get that from speaking 2 sentences with him. One of Murray's friends gave John a publicity shot which he said was an original that was of John's father from the early 60's. John's father played classical music on the harmonica, and I'm told played Carnegie hall.

Tonight John played the harmonica. Really couldn't hear him well. The sound person will be skewered later...

JAMES "The Worm" WORMWORTH : He's the drummer that sometimes sits in with the Conan band when Max is on tour. KILLER!! did I mention KILLER? He was - for me - the treat of the evening. He is really a great drummer. In this evening there would be eventually two drummers. He came out first, and the groove could not be denied, and then....

RICH PAGANO: The second drummer joined in. He seemed, uh, good. Taken together though, I wasn't enjoying it so much.

Let me say this emphatically...from a musical perspective (my own) two drummers playing the same pattern does not work -- it didn't work in the Allman Bros, it doesn't work here. Theoretically, maybe, if they played different things, to form a whole...but two drummers hitting the same 2 & 4 snare...forget it! The good news is that they seemed to be having fun.

BRIAN MITCHELL: Good player. I would have liked to have heard %90 less glissandos though. I been harping on that with Murray, who plays along nicely. Ooo...double pun!

MIKE MERRITT: The bass player from the Conan band. I like this guy. He played a bass guitar that was on a peg like a cello, except he stood up. Solid time, good sound (at least at the beginning) until the sound person started mucking things up. I think he should bring this thing to the Conan show. It could be a topic of conversation for sure...

DAVID JOHANSEN: Yeah I get it....He's a bad boy, he has that ruddy sort of raspy quality. When he strode on stage, I almost thought he was Mick Jagger making a surprise appearance. I can envision a great sound coming from him, but it was not to be this evening. I could put him in front of a nice U87 or 414 through a great preamp and get a nice rich sound, but coming through an SM 58, with this sound person...it made my eardrums bottom out every time he sang a phrase.

The musical selections were the stalwarts of blues songs, Killin' Floor, Sitting on Top of the World, Voodoo Child, all that stuff. Endings were ragged, and it was obvious it was not a well oiled machine. All is forgiven though.

Later on in the evening there were a few more surprises. Some guy, a bluesman who I didn't know [note: Noah tells me in a comment it's Joe Louis Walker, Thanks Noah!] came out to ostensibly sing "Happy Birthday" to Hubert, but after he went on to front the best part of the evening, playing some of the best blues solos and singing his ass off. great work. Also, Brad Whitford's son came out to contribute a solo or two. His solos did not have much maturity, although his tone was good and he'll be someone to look out for. Showbiz families seem to be helpful in the endeavor of getting into show business.

Also Mark Pender, trumpet player from 'Late Night' was spotted on stage during the last tune. He didn't assert himself much, but in other situations he's incredible. There were probably 14 musicians total at the height of the stage's population.

Finally -- open letter to the Club Management of BBKing's -- the sound SUCKED. This is the second show there that I've seen where the sound was awful. My guess is that it's the same person, although I didn't check them out. Maybe it's club policy. Everything was incredibly loud except John Sebastian, who you couldn't hear, it was an orgy of midrange nastiness.

GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER. When I saw the Tubes with Simon there a year ago, I had to sit with my fingers in my ears all night.

Now look, I know mixing 4 guitars is troublesome. That's a midrange challenge to begin with. On the other hand, it's called 'sound reinforcement' for a reason. Let the band get their sound and then amplify it slightly, that's it. This is blues -- not AC/DC. There's a certain point where sound volume becomes counterproductive.

Through it all, Hubert flowed over the top, never quite soaring, but also handling himself quite nicely. He's 77 years old (this was a birthday celebration), and as he mentioned a few times from the stage, he wasn't feeling well. He was genuinely touched by the loving reception he got from his musical friends, and seemed to leave with a glow from his fans appreciation even if he didn't feel so well.

Good man, many happy returns Hubert!

At the end we all went over to the backstage area. Murray dissappeared into the room for minute, but his friends and I couldn't come. I always feel uncomfortable in those situations. There's a professionally unpleasant person, who's called the "bouncer", telling everyone to get away, and then there are your favorite musicians - who you have a lot of affection for - and who are looking at you like you're a serial killer because you're in this group of people they don't know, and that they don't possibly have time to meet.

Of course, I always feel like I belong in the backstage area, just no one knows it.

It's a lot like dating, some people got game...I'm just not one of them. Debilitating. I think of my friend Danny, who (in the 80's) got backstage at a Billy Joel concert by pretending to interview the drummer Liberty Devito. No press credentials, just by talking...

...and he actually conducted the 'interview'.


Noah said...

I thought the sound was fine from where I was standing.

I certainly enjoyed the show much more than you did. Hubert was playing his heart out, and David Johansen nailed the Howlin' Wolf vocals.

The guitarist who sat in near the end is Joe Louis Walker, a terrific bluesman with many recordings out. It was announced that he's now living on the east coast.

Reed Robins said...

Thanks Noah,

I love comments, and I love knowing the name of that Joe Louis Walker! I'll look for him.

I would not say that I didn't enjoy the show. I'm interested but sorry to hear it reads that way. I'm just an interior designer who has comments about a room that I'm having a lovely time in - or a gardener loving nature who meanwhile has strong opinions about the plants in the garden.

We will have to agree to disagree about the sound thought.

Thanks again!