Anson Funderburgh's New Group Builds Blues Bridges

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While the region of the Mississippi Delta and the city of Chicago are the better-known grounds of fertility for the blues, the state of Texas and California aren’t slouches either.

The Gulf Coast has given birth to names like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddie King and Albert Collins. Likewise, the Pacific Coast boasts Lowell Fulson, Charles Brown and Jesse Fuller. And both areas could actually claim T-Bone Walker.
Several spiritual descendants of those musicians have banded the geographical bridge to form the blues super-group The Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue. Singer/harpist Mark Hummel, guitarist Little Charlie Baty and bassist R.W. Grigsby are up at plate for California, while guitarist Anson Funderburgh and drummer Wes Starr represent for Texas.

That three of those men have led their own groups – The Blues Survivors (Hummel), the Nightcats (Baty) and the Rockets (Funderburgh) — amps things up a bit more. But Plano, Texas, native and current Dallas resident Funderburgh says this outfit is both fun and ego-free.

“Man, it’s turned out to be a good little band. We’ve had a lot of fun, and Charlie’s a really good guitar player,” he says. It’s gonna be a great show. We actually haven’t really done much around Texas!”

The members of the ad hoc band – brought together and led by Hummel – have all known each other from over the years and first started playing together in 2012. They just released their debut effort, Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue (Electro-Fi Records). Its 14 tracks are a combination of original songs, traditional arrangements and covers of artists like Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Lowell Fulson and Jimmy McCracklin.

Funderburgh says that the mixture is both challenging for him as well as a relief for his not having the responsibility of leading a group.

“I’ve never played in a band with two guitars. But Charlie and I just talk about what we want to do. A lot of times he’ll play the high end, single-fingered stuff and I’ll play the low. We kind of each do what we’re best at,” he says. “But it’s a joy just playing and not worrying about making a living for five or six other people.”

The guitarist – who has led Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets since 1978 – also has close ties to Texas guitar legend Lightnin’ Hopkins, who he backed for two stints in the mid/late ‘70s.

He remembers learning a valuable lesson about alcohol from the legend during a show at Dallas’s Granada Theater that also included Mark Benno on guitar, Larry Rogerson bass and Doyle Bramhall on drums.

"We opened up and then we were also his backup band. Lightnin' told me to go get him a Pearl beer that night on break, so I ran over and grabbed one," Funderburgh recalls.

"I took it back to him and as I presented it to him, I opened it. I stood there holding the beer for what seemed like eternity without him talking and just looking at me. After a long spell of silence, he finally said, 'Anson, don't ever drink a drink someone else opened up. Now go get Lightnin' a Pearl!" 

He also recalls that once that when he it was time to go somewhere, Hopkins told a handler "give me nine minutes."

"I don’t know why he came up with ‘nine’ instead of ten! Maybe he thought one minute was already gone in the conversation!" Funderburgh says. "But he had ‘Lightnin’s Boogie,’ ‘Mojo Hand’…just so many great songs. He took a liking to me at the rehearsal, because I think I was so nervous to play with him that played quiet. He liked that."

Still, time in the band of the wily Hopkins was no cakewalk, despite the seeming simplicity of much of his material. “You had to listen to his voice to know exactly when he’s going to change chords!” Funderburgh says. “If you were backing him and thought you were just going to play standard, you’d be in for a surprise. Because he might not go the way you think he would.”

Over the years, Funderburgh and his group have played Houston scores of times, and he has particularly good memories of shows at Rockefeller’s, Club Hey Hey, the Bon Ton Room and Fitzgerald’s. And at least one not-so-good one at Fitz when his group was playing the night in the early ’80s when the club’s doorman was shot and killed by a patron he’d tangled with earlier.

He also credits two former Houston music journalists – the late Bob Claypool and Marty Racine – with directly helping the band’s career. “They really helped the Rockets become a success in Houston. Bob would hang out with us and used to love to talk to [late Rockets vocalist/harpist Sam Myers],” Funderburgh recalls. “Sam used to say, ‘Bob Claypool is a first-class gentlemen!’ The blues scene was really helped by the local papers and college radio and public radio.”

He also has a special shout out for members of the “Houston Whip Club” who frequently came to Rockets shows to dance The Push – adding he’d love to see some of them again at this show.

But even if you’ve never seen an Anson Funderburgh show or heard an Anson Funderburgh records, you might have seen a bit of Anson Funderburgh in cartoon form. That’s in the visages of Beavis from Beavis and Butt-Head and Boomhauer from King of the Hill. Mike Judge, creator and guiding light of both of those shows, did a three-year stint as bassist for the Rockets in the early ‘90s.

“I’m not sure Mike has ever told me that — he might have to pay me money!” Funderburgh laughs. “But he was a funny guy. He was amazing at imitating voices. He used to do a great [’70s nature documentary narrator] Marlon Perkins.”

And Funderburgh’s high-pompadoured blond mane seemed too good not to immortalize. He remembers giving Judge a photo of himself when his hair was thick and blond and he had a weird squint – just like Bevis.

“And I can promise you the Boomhauer is a combination of me and a friend of mine named Randall Davis who used to come and see me when Mike was in the band,” Funderburgh offers – before breaking into a perfect impression of the befuddled ladies’ man of Arlen, Texas.

“Randall would get drunk and you couldn’t understand a damn word he said except ‘You know whadd I mean, man?’ And I was always playing those handheld video games like Boomhauer does!”

The Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue plays March 30, 8 p.m. at the Continental Club, 3700 Main. www.continentalclub.com or 713-529-9899. $20

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