Friday, June 3, 2016

Jorma Sings the Shirley Blues

We were stunned a few years ago when Hot Tuna played the Bull Run in Shirley, and stunned again last year when Jorma Kaukonen played there solo.  I mean, many people would agree with me calling him one of the best musicians in the world (I probably wouldn't get as many people agreeing with me that Tim O'Brien is one of the best musicians in the world), and then he announced another stop in Shirley, this June.  To see him with some regularity in a small club in North-Central-Wherever Mass is awesome!  You can bet we got tickets as soon as we found out, and even so did not get one of the best tables, though we got front row left.

The Bull Run sold out of course, and there were a lot of very psyched (and some very drunk) Jorma fanatics there.  I had heard a story about him being picky about his chair, and he sat on the same chair we'd seen him on before, perfectly positioned between two classic acoustics, the same we'd seen him play last time.  He took a little while to warm up when he came on a little late for the listed 7:30 start (usually 8 at the Bull Run), but then he shivered a bit in his flannel shirt, smiled at the crowd and apologized for cobwebs, hunkered down a bit more over his old guitar, and played and sang one of the most masterful blues shows I've seen.

Jorma and Jack had been the second attraction at the Dark Star Orchestra Jubilee at Legend Valley, Ohio this past [Memorial Day] weekend.  Jorma ended up doing three sets on the three days, besides sitting in for a few tunes with DSO.  We had seen DSO at the Wilbur in their first gig since the weekend on Wednesday, and this Thursday was the first gig for the 75-year old Jorma since then.  Again, I hope I recover as well when I'm 75!

I'd picked up Dave and Sarah at West Concord after work and we met F&P at the table there for a fine meal, conversation, and beer.  Now it was time to shut up and listen to Jorma!

He opened with Ain't In No Hurry from his last record, perhaps trying to set a mellow tone, but then started riling us up something serious with Death Don't Have No Mercy, a song he commands, and the first of several Reverend Gary Davis songs on the night.  He perhaps didn't play this with the same gravitas he had last time we saw him at the Bull Run, but it was still a highlight.  Then he chuckled at his cobwebs, launched right into Hesitation Blues, and he was off!  Here's the setlist:

  • Ain’t In No Hurry
  • Death Don’t Have No Mercy (Rev. Gary Davis)
  • Hesitation Blues (trad.)
  • Heart Temporary
  • BBQ King
  • I’ll Be Alright Some Day
  • The Terrible Operation (Thomas Dorsey)
  • How Long Blues (Leroy Carr)
  • I See the Light
  • Let Us Get Together (Rev. Gary Davis)
  • Waiting For a Train (Jimmie Rodgers)
  • Come Back Baby (Walter Davis)
  • San Francisco Bay Blues (Jesse Fuller)
  • In My Dreams
  • Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning (trad.)
  • Sea Child
  • Good Shepherd
  • Bar Room Crystal Ball
  • Water Song
  • Watch the North Wind Rise [Encore]

I had thought at the time that he'd played a lot of old covers, but looking at the list I realize his originals pre-dominated.  I guess I count songs like I'll Be Alright, Heart Temporary, and Sea Child as old blues songs.  Geez, Sea Child and Good Shepherd must be 50 years old!  And to mix them up with such a variety of classic songs (Jimmie Rodgers for Dog's sake!!) made for a presentation of a swath of American blues ... played by a master of the style ... that was just awesome.

Jorma started having a good time pretty quickly, and he was effusive when Dave shouted out, "How was the Jubilee?"

Jorma said immediately, in his Ohio patois, "Had a great time.  My GOD you should hear Steve Kimock do Stella Blue, amazing!"  He reflected a second and then said, "And I can't believe those guys [DSO] can remember all those songs, I have a hard enough time sounding like myself!"

Another great interlude was when Jorma told his Jack Casady story of the night, relating how Jack had recently had cataract surgery (Jorma hasn't yet).  The normal routine is to have it done on one eye first and so Jack wore glasses to a gig with one lens missing.  He tried to clean a smudge off that lens and ended up sticking his finger in his eye in the middle of a song.  He recommends that Jack keep wearing glasses, even after surgery.  As he says, who would recognize Jack Casady without glasses?

Yet another story, this one told to introduce Let Us Get Together.  Jorma and David Bromberg were hanging out.  David played a Rev. Gary song and hit a strange chord which Jorma inquired about.  "That's an A 9th chord," David said, "Reverend Gary always plays it that way."  They visited Rev. Gary the next day and David played the song.  "What's that chord?" Rev. Gary said.  Jorma figured the Reverend was playing with David's head.

Where was I?  This was the kind of intimate concert that sticks with you.  I was delighted to hear the country blues (listen to his Blue Country Heart record) from Jimmie Rodgers and the country-boy-in-the-city blues from Jesse Fuller early in the set.  The Terrible Operation is classic Jorma and an incredible Americana chestnut!  Come Back Baby (as probably mentioned in previous posts) is one of those milestone songs for me that get the memories flowing.  To hear him whip it off in the middle of the set in a concise, straight way, was very moving.

And that's not to mention the drumbeat between those great covers of  his own amazing songs, such as I'll Be Alright, I See the Light, In My Dreams (a world-class song), Sea Child, Good Shepherd, etc.  The set was winding down and he finally switched from his regular old guitar to the beautiful one with ringing steel strings and inlays around the sound hole, just as he had the last time we saw him.  He finished the set with the same two songs he had that time: Bar Room Crystal Ball from his last record (IMO as good as anything he's done), and Water Song.  I was reminded of when we saw him and Jack for two shows at the Bull Run and he apologized for encoring with Water Song in both sets, as if that's anything anyone would complain about!

Oh was this good stuff!!  Jorma stood behind his chair while the crowd jumped to its feet and went nuts.  Not long until he was back sitting down and he entertained us with one more song, the inspiring Watch the North Wind Rise.  What a musician.

The efficient waitress had slipped us our bills and given us back our credit cards.  Jorma was gone, wending through a phalanx of fans at the far staircase.  Time to go, and we said adieu to F&P (Dead & Company next month!) and slid off into the night ourselves.

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