Bad Day for the Blues

As the long tables filled in C. Davis Bar-B-Q's always cramped back room, it was plain that this was not going to be just another of I.J. Gosey's Sunday matinees. There was a little extra Seagram's sloshed in the to-go cups with the ice and 7Up. To paraphrase the old song played later that day: The drinks went around a little stiffer than usual; more than the usual crowd was there. This reporter had a good table with a stage view and cooling unit overhead at 3:30 p.m., at which point he and a friend were asked, hell, practically told, to vacate by two African-American women of a certain age. Not that there was anything racial about it -- far from it. C. Davis rookies -- black, white, blue or green -- were not going to be allowed in the final game, while vets of all colors were made most welcome to play.

By the time Gosey took the stage, this reporter found himself subtly pushed past the bar, past the service window, past the jukebox by the front door, and then finally all the way to the parking lot. There he listened through the walls for the vast majority of the long afternoon. Only side tables were provided for the kiddies at this feast, and while there was nothing rude or even conscious about the forced migration, it was a very real phenomenon. The final ceremony was open only to the inner sanctum, not some neophyte from the media.

Gosey's Supremes -- who together have performed at C. Davis for 27 years, believed to be the longest-running gig in Houston history -- went way down in the barrel on many Gulf Coast and Bayou City classics. There were several selections from the Guitar Slim songbook and a killer triple shot from the repertory of Bobby "Blue" Bland. "Two Steps from the Blues" and "St. James Infirmary" got extra-special readings, and "Further On Up the Road" went on forever, with Gosey and his keyboardist trading blistering solos until a blissful pandemonium reigned. There and then, the C. Davis back room was transformed into 300 square feet of the most densely packed soul on the planet. Hands flew in the air like there was no tomorrow, and indeed there wouldn't be, at least for C. Davis. The cliques of female regulars -- The Golden Girls, The Golden Angels, The Wonderful Ladies (see "Ladies in Blue," by Roger Wood, December 30, 1999) -- who had filled the same chairs at the same tables for a generation rose and gyrated their hips, and closed their eyes in quasi-religious ecstasy.

"The ghost of Joe Medwick is here," said Houston's foremost blues chronicler, Roger Wood, as the song drew into the station. One got the feeling that many who had passed were right there in the room -- Medwick was one; Albert Collins, who used to wedge his big tour bus in the little gravel parking lot every time he was in town, was another.

Others still of this earth dropped in for finales. In an "only in Houston" moment, Chinese-American guitar wildman Rick Lee walked the tables and brought down the house. Martha Turner strolled in with a cane, in obvious physical pain, and took a seat on the front row where she belted out a couple of tunes.

The writing had been on the wall for the rustic smokehouse for some time. When owner Clarence Davis passed away late last year, son Wayne reluctantly took over. The younger Davis felt constricted by the universe his father had created. Not only that, but the 33-year-old Davis is undergoing dialysis while also looking after his aged mother. The 12-hour days -- in which he served as bartender, barbecue chef, kitchen staff and parking lot attendant, among other tasks -- were taking their toll. "I can't wait till this night's over," he said, interviewed through the service window as he sawed the first slices off the very last brisket.

"This was my dad's dream, not mine. But a lot of people don't understand that. I've got to live my life. All they looking at is 'Where I'm going to go now?' Man, I don't care. You been doing it. You gonna keep on doing it. They're going to find something. They'll be all right."

Wayne Davis has already embarked on his dream: Kut Kreations, his own landscaping business. "I love it. I love it. I could do it all day long. It's what I want to do."

Unfortunately for Gosey, gracing the stage at C. Davis with his caramel-sweet guitar stylings was what he had wanted to keep doing forever. Gosey was philosophically bittersweet about the end of his reign there. "Everything changes," he said in the parking lot between sets. "I'm just grateful that I got to be here this long….It's just been one helluva trip, that's all I can tell you. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. [Club owners] have been coming by here trying to get me for a long time. I always said, 'Naw, it's not about money.' "

For Gosey, it was always about C. Davis's fanatical fans. "For a four o'clock show, people would come here at one o'clock, and they will stay here until I leave. That means a lot to a musician," he said.

They were also indulgent. "Musicians don't have this type of outlet anymore," he said. "Everything is so conducted. When I started out, during the early part of the night, musicians would play the things that the people wanted to hear. But there were also Sunday afternoons, Blue Mondays and the after-hours clubs where the musicians would play what the musicians wanted to hear. This was one of the very few gigs where I could feel free. You ain't got to play no blues if you don't feel like it; if you want to play some zydeco, go ahead and play. I played some stuff here would have got an egg throwed at me somewhere else."

Now the whole shooting match -- Gosey and the regulars -- is scheduled to move around the corner to Gino's, on Cullen just south of the Loop. Gosey turned down more profitable offers so that he could keep the gig in Sunnyside, close to the adoring fans who have supported him all these years.

One woman -- more than a little, shall we say, spirited -- was not thrilled by the prospect.

"I don't give a damn what anybody says, it ain't gonna work at Gino's. It ain't gonna work, baby. Fuck Gino's," she said, as her friend covered her eyes and giggled. "Fuck Gino's," she said again and again, and again, a bitter mantra railing against inevitable change.

"There's Gino right there," said a man in a white cowboy hat and denim from head to toe. "Why don't you tell him?" The angry patron walked right over to Gino -- resplendent in a brown fedora, brown checkered sport coat and snakeskin shoes -- and did just that.

The transition is bound to be a hard one. C. Davis hosted the blues as it was meant to be: more than a music. Gosey and his Supremes always took the stage with the idea that wherever they went, the crowd was along for the ride, and that their music and the patrons were meant to coalesce in sweet release.

So whether the vibe can be recaptured at Gino's is open to question, but Racket is betting it can. Gosey will be there, and so will his devotees. The jam will still be in Sunnyside. Like a wildfire blown by the wind, the blues is something you can't extinguish merely by putting out the flames in one isolated spot, no matter for how long and how brightly it may have burned there. A gust of wind will simply pick up a red-hot ember and carry it a few miles further on up the road and set it down to burn anew. Still, C. Davis Bar-B-Q will be sorely missed, as few other defunct Houston music venues have ever been.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax