Wild Men of Rock feat. Andre Williams, Archie Bell, Roy Head, Little Joe Washington, the Allen Oldies Band & special guest Sundance Head Continental Club September 3, 2011
Question: How much "Mustang Sally" is too much "Mustang Sally"?
It's never been deconstructed David Allan Coe-style, but Aftermath is of the opinion that "Mustang Sally" might be the perfect R&B song. It's about one of the best hunks of rubber, steel and chrome to ever roll off a Detroit assembly line, and the mayhem that ensues when the naïve narrator hands over the keys to a "signifyin' woman." It's dusted with B-3 organ, has one of the all-time great call-and-response choruses in "ride, Sally, ride," and that classic bass line is pitched at the exact speed of a '65 'Stang on the prowl.
Hell, give Aftermath a bass guitar and about 15 minutes, and we can probably call up that bass line from our days as a member of the Long Walking Band's rhythm section, when we used to play "Mustang Sally" a few times a month at Austin dive bars like Charlie's Attic and the 311 Club. But nobody wants to hear that, and even in the hands of seasoned pros, "Mustang Sally" three times in one night is probably pushing it.
That's what we got Saturday night at the Continental's "Wild Men of Rock," though - three regional R&B legends united by their mutual frustration with Sally, and one (very) wild card in local guitar hero Little Joe Washington. Make that two and a half, actually.
"Sally" wasn't on Roy Head's set list, but his son Sundance put some leaded-gasoline oomph into it when he got up to spell his frog-throated pa for a couple of songs. Kudos to the younger Head, a doo-rag-clad fireplug of a young man with a voice to match his stout frame, for convincingly knocking the dust off the similarly hoary "Stormy Monday Blues" as well.
If the Elder Head's voice wasn't up to the challenge of an ill-advised attempt at Bob Seger's "Turn the Page," he compensated with a repertoire that otherwise allowed him to get by on preacher-like grunts and his own incandescent charisma - Little Richard's "Lucille," Head's own classic "Treat Her Right" and a version of Sir Douglas Quintet's "She's About a Mover" arranged more like the Temptations' "Psychedelic Shack."
His microphone-twirling skills were first-rate too, or else one or more members of the Allen Oldies Band would be walking around with a good-sized welt on his head today, if not a concussion.
Bell had no such problems with his voice. Seemingly powered by his smile, his velvety croon navigated an equally covers-heavy set - a blend of "Stand By Me" and Sam Cooke, Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay" and, of course, "Mustang Sally" - with charm and grace. He shone brightest on a sparkling version of Ivory Joe Hunter's "Since I Met You Baby" that might have moistened the same eyes that twinkled so impishly as Bell was cavorting with a couple of female "dancers" from the audience during "Tighten Up."
Aftermath couldn't say; our eyes were a little blurry themselves. It really was a beautiful version of a song we've heard done many, many times before, but rarely this emotionally. (Your move, Black Joe Lewis.)
And then there's Andre Williams. Good old Andre, raspy and resplendent in a cream-colored suit, acknowledging yet another round of "Mustang Sally" with the proper sort of WTF attitude that later made the extended "Baby Let Me Put It In" - which has apparently gotten him in some hot water with HPD in the past - much more mesmerizing than it had any right to be.
"Bacon Fat" was nice n' greasy, but everyone who left early missed the even greasier "Pussystank." Shame.
As for the lone Wild Man to leave "Mustang Sally" in the alley, Aftermath is running out of ways to describe what a unique and special talent Little Joe Washington really is. Small as he is, he plays with his entire body, twisting and cavorting like his fingers were brushing up against power cables instead of guitar strings.
The funny thing is, if you stand and watch Little Joe, most of the time his fingers barely seem to touch the strings at all, no matter how much the stinging flurries of notes coming out of the PA testify to the contrary. Saturday, it took Little Joe all of about five minutes to fry his amplifier.
He spent about the same amount of time, mostly at the end, rubbing his guitar on various parts of his face. Or his hat. It was hard to see exactly which appendage the friction was coming from (nose, lips, teeth), but the result would have made Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello yield the floor. Joe even consummated this semi-Hendrix tribute with a few bars of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
This is a man who needs little more than a set-list prompt like "Fast Blues Shuffle in G or C" or "Slow Blues Shuffle in G or C" to saddle up and go. Ride, stallion, ride.
Personal Bias: What?
The Crowd. Mature, with a smattering of younger local musicians: Robert & Mrs. Ellis, Ryan Chavez, Chase Hamblin, Beetle's Paul Beebe, Grandfather Child's Lucas Gorham, and even Octopus Project's Yvonne Lambert, visiting from Austin with her mom in tow.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I don't know why he's doing that" - as Roy Head was attempting "Turn the Page"
Also: "I'm tired. I'll get untired when I get onstage" - Little Joe Washington, after Aftermath greeted him at the back bar. He was true to his word.
Random Notebook Dump: Aftermath missed the first few minutes of Bell and Williams' sets, moving back and forth between the Continental and trying to figure out what was going on at The Mink.
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