Time once again for the RUF Records Blues Caravan to hit town. It would be easy to say ‘What again’ except that every year Thomas Ruf seems to find a new batch of musicians and stir them together to create a hot and tasty Blues Soup for Harmonie visitors to savor. This year saw the return of Joanne Shaw Taylor and Jimmy Bowskill, with the Bonn debut of Tennessee born Bart Walker.
As always, the Caravan musicians are itching to play, so it’s on the nail of 7pm when Thomas Ruf introduces the smiling trio that make up this years’ Tour which goes under the somewhat brash title of ‘Tomorrow’s guitar Heroes’. Everyone gets a look in on the opener – Creedence’ s ‘Proud Mary’ to get things off to a flyer.
The first to put his musical cards on the table is the evenings newcomer Bart Walker. I can’t help wondering if Julian Sas isn’t behind those aviator sunglasses. This guy is broad built like the Dutchman sure enough. Just a line of lyric though and from the accent it’s clear Bart is from the land of Stevie Ray Vaughan. In fact Stevie Ray’s Keyboardman Reese Wynans was until recently in Walker’s band, which says a lot for the esteem in which the youngster is already held. He was winner of last years ‘International Blues Challenge’ in Memphis – and in fact still proudly displays the Blues Foundation logo on his white Gibson hollow-body. Walker certainly lays down the gauntlet when it comes to flashy playing – soloing with guitar behind is back I’d seen before, using the mike stand as a slide, I hadn’t. Behind the show though is plenty of substance, and although he plays super straight ahead Blues Rock as on ‘Blues is my Favourite Color’ and sassy southern Blues as on ‘Take it Like a Man’, it’s the sweet ,soulful ‘Waiting on Daylight’ that really hits home and lilting slide runs. He pulls no punches lyrically either, as on ‘Take it like a Man‘:
” I got drunk, staid out all night,
Got my ass kicked in a bar room fight
I lost my car, I blew junks in a garbage can.
Yeah, it didn’t bother me, I took it like a man.
I said it didn’t bother me, I took it like a man”
Readers of ‘3songsbonn’ won’t need an introduction to the next man onstage. If you’re new though you can get up to scratch on Jimmy Bowskill by checking out the interviews with him on this site. If enthusiasm could be harnessed as pure energy then Jimmy would be able to light up the whole of the street, hell, he positively glows it! Where Walker’s guitar theatrics look showy Bowskill’s look as natural, and simple, as breathing. He’s playing notes by hitting strings and tweaking the machine heads of his strings – If I attempted that I’d have three broken strings and a sliced finger. Best moments of an electrifying set were the stock favorite ‘Loser’ with it’s melodramatic lyrics and intense soloing and the Led Zeppelin meets Cream epic ‘Seasons Change’.
In stark contrast to Bowskill’s intensity Joanne Shaw Taylor seems laid back. Her sound is somewhere between the previous two musicians – harder hitting than Walker but more refined than Bowskill. Her move from Birmingham UK to Detroit USA has certainly changed her sound. from the earlier ‘White Sugar’ CD. She’s gained a lot of experience since her last Blues Caravan in 2009 too – including the rather unusual ability to play guitar whilst wearing wings at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Show last year as guitarist with Annie Lennox. Her music certainly takes wings at times this evening too, especially on the wonderful ballad ‘Jealousy’ where she gets some excellent support from Jimmy Bowskill on keyboard. The funky ‘Going Home’ (A favourite from 2011’s ‘White Sugar’) is a real toe tapper and ‘Tied & Bound’ is one for all players of air guitars. I can’t help but hope though that Joanne loses some of her Hard Rock attitude and regains some of that Blues Grit with a sassy beat again for her next disc.
Three very different purveyors of the Blues then on the night, but they all know how to rock out the classics, despite their tender ages. As did the unsung heroes of the evening: Denis Palatin has been drummer on practically every Caravan that’s rolled – and is still one of the best. I would imagine that he and Jimmy Bowskill Band bassman Ian McKeown have had little time to synch together but they proved to be a rock solid rhythm unit for the guitar heroes/Heroine to play over. Bowskill himself proved to be a pretty good Keyboard player and spent the evening laying down the rhythm with Palatin and McKeown. When I asked later if he missed joining in the guitar parts he just smiled and said it was fun to play something else. Proof of how tight the whole band was came in the encores – I particularly loved the Blues Caravan version of Hound Dog Taylor’s tongue firmly in cheek Blues number: ‘Give me back my wig’ with energetic vocals by Jimmy and stinging slide from Bart. Stevie Ray’s ‘House is Rocking’ was a chance for Joanne to work out excellently on vocals and the closing Freddy King number ‘My Credit didn’t go through’ was final proof, if proof were needed, that however Blues musicians might develop their own sound they never lose the love of their musical roots – it’s clearly in the veins of all three musicians on this years Blues Caravan.
… COMING SOON – INTERVIEW WITH CARAVAN DRUMMER DENIS PALATIN …