In this week's cover story, "Old School," Rocks Off Sr. and Lonesome Onry and Mean highlight some of the personalities that have kept Houston's traditional blues scene strong even as the music's popularity has waned in all but a few other major cities (and Europe).
Houston's appetite for blues remains ravenous, though, and as Rocks Off has previously reported, one of the major reasons is the no-cover jams sponsored by the Houston Blues Society. Held at The Big Easy on the last Thursday of every month, lately the HBS jams have been growing to mob-scene proportions. This past Thursday proved no exception, as dancers thronged the floor and tipplers kept the bartenders scrambling until the wee hours.
But by any usual standard, this one was special.
The host for the event was Lady D, backed by Society board member Dr. Rick Patt's band. Lady D belts out the old-school blues, many with a warning to men who might be fooling around or treating their women wrong, such as "Better Off Alone," her answer-song to B.B. King's classic "The Thrill Is Gone."
She kick-started the evening perfectly. The event had been designated as "Diva Night," and Lady D. certainly set the tone for the numerous ladies who took the opportunity to strut their stuff in their finest evening outfits.
Lady D was followed on the stage by a special performance in honor of Big Easy owner Tom McLendon's birthday. Billing themselves as the "Blues Babes" (above), six HBS members took the stage to serenade McLendon with a "special" choreographed version of George Thorogood's "Bad To The Bone." The topper was a birthday cake with the message "Bad To The Bone"; it's doubtful that the stage at the Big E has ever seen such shimmying and shaking in its 17-plus-year life.
And then it really got serious. Texas Johnny Brown, the dean of Houston blues, took the stage with young Eric Hoovestol and Rebecca Laird, the two high-school seniors who are the winners of the Blues Society's Jimmy "T-99" Nelson scholarships for 2011. Each young guitar-slinger received $1,000 to use toward any class or workshop that furthers their talent.
The proof is always in the pudding, and the two youngsters strapped on their Stratocasters and went to work like pros. After a quick warm-up number to loosen their fingers, Brown jumped onstage with his red Les Paul and tore into his classic "There Goes The Blues." It was another of those chillbumps moments to see the 65-year gap between the ages of Brown and the kids as they laid down the law like they'd been doing it for a lifetime.
Hoovestol maintained a cool, confident demeanor as he locked in the rhythm, but Laird's eyes got big when Brown nodded to her to take the first solo. And the young redhead stung it like a bumblebee.
Roll Susan Tedeschi and Bonnie Raitt into a 100-pound, 18-year-old package, and you'll have some idea of what this little lady can do with a guitar. In fact, she stung it so hard and so legitimately that Brown just smiled, nodded to her to take another solo, closed his eyes and laid in the rhythm while the little lady proceeded to tear up some blues.
Look out, Houston, the future looks bright; we've got another very serious picker on our hands. All in all, another wonderful, soulful, no-place-but-Houston evening at the Big E.
It only takes something like the passing of the last of the original Delta bluesmen, 96-year old David "Honey Boy" Edwards, earlier this week in Chicago to reinforce how quickly the final remnants of a legendary school of musicians and an important part of American culture are fading.
The monthly Thursday HBS blues jams offer us all an amazing opportunity to see living history and important artists up close and personal in a legitimate environment - a sweaty club filled with dancers and fans. We can't recommend these occasions enough as a way to spend your money in support of something true, if not everlasting.
See more photos on the next page.