Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Big Blue boat

Blues Cruise Deux

Like Ali-Frazer and the Thrilla in Manila, I was back to duke it out with the blues Caribbean style, my second year covering it for Bluewax. Things turned nuts immediately as I found myself waiting for the shuttle at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport with members of The Ana Popovic Band. Nick (the keyboard man) and the boys were very sociable even after discovering I was the author of a less than glowing review of their bosses last Live CD. By the way, I discovered they were the band on said CD adding to my bemused discomfort.

Getting squared away in the hotel and trying to grab a quick bite, I ran into the same guys at the hotel snack bar and joined them at their table. This all ties in just bear with me. Racing to the ballroom for the pleasure of seeing Albert Castiglia (as the t-shirt corrected, “That’s Cas-Steel-Ya Dammit”) rip into a set of relentless rock tinged blues in a ballroom that had all the acoustic splendor of a high school gymnasium. The performance was still great and followed by The Blues Disciples featuring Pat Ramsey (impeccable harmonica work) along with Dave Renson (stylistically evasive guitarist with 60’s overtones) continued the excellent first night vibe. Get to bed Beardo, you need to pace yourself.

Breakfast, and it’s those guys again. This time the boss lady shows up and informs me I had an “interesting perspective” on her CD in question. Taking it as a compliment I agreed and added it was an honest one, and typically American and that I couldn’t wait to hear her with the band live. We made a tentative arrangement to have a chat later in the week on “da boat”.

Boarding this year was a snap! A quick check of the cabin and off for a bite to eat, a Red Stripe and a few cell calls before the damn things become inoperable. Hellos to remembered cruisers and other friends and it was off to the cabin to get into our life jackets for the obligatory fire drill. It’s now time to get serious.

Simultaneously watching Anthony Gomes in the big room, watching the Steelers win, and drinking a martini as big as my head I started “working”. Here we go: I was shocked to see Gomes was so friggin’ tall and he shredded like a salad shooter on a more than acceptable version of Led Zep’s Heartbreaker”, thankfully no Purple Umbrella that I always thought ruined the end of the song. He immediately switched to more contemporary blues before all the purists left the room. A nice read of the crowd by young Mr. Gomes.

Hooking up by inter-room phone with old buddy Jimmy Thackery, I discovered he was sitting in with Deanna Bogart, subbing for her guitarist who fell ill. It turned into an engaging set with the interplay between the two consisted on key change hand signals, nods and knowing smiles as it fell together beautifully. Watching Jimmy’s bemused smile as he clearly was having a good time was a treat for me. Leaving before the set’s end to prepare for his own show after a energetic version of Bogart’s own,” Just a Girl In The Band” another Jimmy took his place, Former band mate and Driver, Jimmy Carpenter. Stepping up to the mike, Bogart stated that the following tune had five key changes and a verse he needed to take…. That was in Latin. Unflustered, he said,” Let’s go!” As is the case with the cruise, there is always something else going on. It was time to head to the very intimate Queen’s Lounge for John Hammond’s emotional solo blues and stories about going to Allan Freed shows as a kid, Robert Geddings tapping his cane on the stage when John started performing” My Time After While” as a Buddy guy song and saying, Excuse me, excuse me,” I wrote that song!”. He also told the story of his discovery of Robert Johnson on an old Folkways compilation, leading to his subsequent obsession with Johnson. It was his own personal crossroads. Nobody does it better than john Hammond. I left as he picked up his National and belted out “Jitterbug Swing” and headed for a typical tone laden Thackery Show buffeted by the near gale force winds of the pool deck stage outside.

The pro-jam started on the pool deck later with Ronnie Baker Brooks joined by Jelly Bean Johnson. The highlight was their searing version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. The fierce expression of their bass man, Mr. Armstrong, matched his playing as he stalked the stage. I left after Billy branch joined them for some Chicago blues around, ah, um…. well it was before 3 AM. I heard from my cabin mate, Mougli that it went till after 4 AM! It broke up early. Well, it’s only the first night. I swung by Club 88 where Mitch Wood’s holds court every night after 2 AM at the piano bar for a little lounge vibe and sing-a-long.

Somewhere in there was a fantastic dinner in the opulent multi-leveled dining room. Round two, or is it three, Coming up! Stay tuned; we are heading for Jamaica, yah mon!

Your Blues Pirate,


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