here are we going?” Liz asks for the third time tonight.
“To Dan Electro's,” I answer.
“Dan's electroded, how did that happen?” she laughs again at her own feeble joke. She's still laughing as we walk in the door of Dan Electro's Guitar Bar (1031 E. 24th St., 713-862-8707). It's Thursday night, and that means it's Dan's Original Blues Jam with guitarist Teri Greene. Up on stage is Artis Turner, a sharp-looking older guy who is tearing up the last two bars of a blues tune I don't recognize. It seems the drummer doesn't recognize it either, because he's a half-second too late on his accents. Turner is pumping his arm, stomping his foot; he's also halfway turned around to look at the drummer, trying to get him to catch up, but it's no use. Everybody ends the song at a different time.
Dan Electro's Guitar Bar
Liz and I find a table ringside. A couple dozen people are scattered around the bar, sitting in twos and threes, beer bottles in front of them. The walls are painted black, with hundreds of small red, white and blue stars for decoration. One long wall is filled with framed photographs of musicians who have played Dan's. In the darkness, I can't make them out, but there must be 30 or so portraits taken in-performance.
Onstage, Turner is backed by a guitarist, drummer and bass player. Customers sign up for the jam on a clipboard near the door; there are only two names on the list tonight. Chances are, Turner will get to do a whole set.
Someone comes up and is talking to Turner, who keeps nodding his head. A special song request, maybe? “There is a red SUV outside that needs to be moved,” Turner announces. Ah, the luxury of the mike not only do you get to sing, you get to make all the “You will be towed” and “Has anyone found a set of keys?” announcements.
Nobody moves for the door, so Turner announces again, “You need to move it right now.” Still no response.
“It's on fire,” somebody says. Liz laughs; I shush her with a glare.
Turner shrugs his shoulders and goes on with his next tune. “I want to sing you a song by Percy Mayfield,” he says. “It's called ‘Please Send Me Somebody to Love.'” He counts the song off one, two, three, four and pause; the drummer comes in late. It's pretty good, even with the off-beat drums. Turner, whose voice is probably not what it was in his youth, is doing his best to push the band onto the same beat. The bass and guitar players take his cues, but the drummer keeps going on his own merry little way, always half a beat late.
“Brother, brother, brother / there's far too many of you dying,” Turner is singing now. Standing on the side of the stage is a bald guy in a tight green T-shirt and white pants. He's clapping and singing along with Turner. Next to him is an obviously tipsy woman; she's dancing in place, holding out her beer to keep it from spilling. Teri Greene takes a solo on the guitar. We all applaud, and Turner closes out the song.
“On guitar, we have Keith Richards,” sloshes the woman by the bar. Everybody laughs except for Liz and me. “Let me tell you why he ain't like Keith Richards...” starts Liz. (Liz, a jazz musician, takes her job as an audience very, very seriously. She treats me to lectures on music history and theory on a regular basis, completely oblivious to the fact that I never listen.) “He ain't like Keith Richards 'cause of his...”
“Tone, finger work and repertoire, maybe?” I head her off.
“Phrasing, dexterity and blood alcohol level?”
“Yeah, but...Blood what?” she catches on too late. Turner kicks off “What's Going On?” as I head off to the bathroom before Liz can think of a comeback. A blond woman from the next table is already in there, washing her hands. Her face is flushed, and there's a little sweat on her forehead. I pretend to check my hair. She smiles, “Hi.”
“Hey,” I toss back.
“It's hot in there, huh?”
“A little bit.” I pat my hair in place. “You having a good time?”
“Oh yeah, I just love the blues!” she tells me. “It makes you feel so, so happy!”
I resist the urge to tell her we've been listening to R&B, a kissing cousin of the blues, but a different genre nonetheless. “Ain't that funny, 'cause the blues are about being sad,” I offer.
“Yeah, I know!” she says gaily. “I think it's getting it out of your system. You know, not keeping it bottled up.”
“I just need to go out somewhere every once in a while, to let loose, you know?”
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I nod again. She starts to hum along with Turner, who we can hear in the bathroom, and I start to ease into a stall.
“Hey, you don't have any pot you could sell me, do you?” she asks suddenly.
“Ah, no, sorry. I'm out.” (I've been out since the early '90s.)
“That's okay. I just thought maybe, you know,” she says, still smiling, and bounces through the door.