Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Blues at nightfall.

Back to Dave's but sans pics for a juke joint Tuesday in Starkville, where Jesse Robinson and his band variously known as the 500 Lbs of Blues Band or The Hip Waders tore it up. Now Dave's has live music of some sort or the other 6 days a week (and on the seventh it rests). But as Coleridge would say what we got last night was different not just in degree but also in kind, that is a qualitative difference.

Jesse Robinson was born in the Delta and first picked up a guitar when he was 5 and primarily played in churches until he was 17. At 21, he followed a common migration pattern up north to Chicago where he sat in with the likes of Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Freddie King plus a host of jazz greats as well. Then he returned to Mississippi. Now he is a Jackson-area blues legend, among whose many accomplishments must surely be starting the late night weekend blues shows at the gone and lamented Subway Lounge. He also played lead on Bobby Rush's Malaco hit "Sue" and has toured with the likes of Little Milton and Bobby Rush. He plays an Epiphone. And serves as an oficial blues ambassador and educator throughout the state.

The backing band included another Jackson-area stalwart, Sherman Lee Dillon. One wonders if his parents were conflicted about THAT war, hmm? Born in Meadville, MS (pop. 551), Sherman grew up outside of town a ways and spent his time with musical relatives and by age 16 had mastered a variety of instruments: guitar, banjo, steel guitar, harmonica, trumpet and baritone. Married by 19, he has raised 7 children while never leaving the road. Though, due to personal choice and familial constraints, he has stayed a resolutely regional artist and yet one who has played with almost ever major blues artist to set foot in the state of Mississippi. His axe of choice is a hollow body Gretsch he bought in Baton Rouge in 1967, while cutting his first record at 16. Sherman is also socially and politically active, hosting a large annual Earth Day celebration and having run for Governor of Mississippi on the Green Party ticket.

The local rhythm section and thus the second band name of Hip Waders was composed of bassist Drew Dieckmann who plays a Fender Mustang and Prof. Robert Damm of MSU's Music Education department on a basic Ludwig kit he bought a a garage sale in central Illinois a while back. Sitting in for parts of both sets last night was special guest star vocalist Abdul Rasheed of the House Rockers, a Jackson-area band heavily featured in the documentary Last of the Mississippi Jukes.

It's always nice watching pros at work. Jesse would just turn to his bandmates between songs and say something like "Blues Shuffle in B flat" and off they went. He has a unique style of holding his pick sideways between his thumb and first finger which allows for intricate fretwork down almost to the pickups. But he can also do Wes Montgomery-style jazz pickin' sans pick. Sherman Lee plays a little of everything: lead, rhythm, slide, harmonica, and he took about half the lead vocals on the evening. Abdul is not only a consummate showman in a classic 1970s Mack Daddy outfit with the awesome Chess King silk shirt loose outside the pants and a beautiful blackbanded straw panama hat but also has the kind of crystal clear baritone that's always audible out front of the band. Dieckmann and Damm just kept the groove flowing all night long.

The Hip Waders played all over the musical map following Jesse's life path from the Delta up to Chicago and then back to Jackson, covering it's most famous blues recording star Elmore James with "The Sky is Crying" and "Dust my Broom". And lo, the jam kids managed to get down and boogie without looking completely stoned and zoned. Blues with a feelin'!

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