Their Facebook page describes them as ‘Vintage Chicago Blues from vintage musicians’ and the first part is certainly true – the second I disagree with (at least one band member was younger than me!)
Big Walter & The Neighbourhood. Their feet may be in Bonn, but their rare gig at the new live venue pub Kater 26 in Römerstrasse showed their hearts are to be found in the Windy City.
I thought Godorfer Burg was small? King King’s Alan Nimmo could practically touch the walls either side of him, but Guido Molzberger (aka Big Walter) could almost touch all four walls in Kater 26 it seemed. Take away the tables reserved for band and even the adage of getting there early won’t guarantee a chair let alone plank of wood to stand a Kölsch glass on.
‘Vintage’ is probably the best way to describe the band musically anyway. A check on Google reveals they were support band for the legendary (and legendarily difficult to play with) Louisiana Red at Burg Satzvey in 2006 and I’m sure Red would have been right at home with the sounds behind him. It’s clear that you could shout out just about any Chicago Blues songs name and they would jump in instantly. A sound that instantly melds as if they’ve been on an endless live tour since Muddy cut his first discs in the 1940’s, so I was surprised to hear later that they only have time for a half dozen gigs a year these days. It certainly doesn’t show in the bands cohesion.
Whilst the rhythm is steady it’s also plain that, just like the early Chicago recordings, there is a band and a distinct singer. Fred Below, Otis Spann and co may be legends now but then they were the Chess ‘House Band’ for pretty well everyone. Here in downtown Bonn I especially liked Arnie Deterts pared down drumming in the Below style, and Andreas Martens showed he could run with a Little Walter style harp solo when necessary – but it was clearly Big Walter’s band.
Just who is big Walter though? He’s certainly not Guido Molzberger when he’s onstage, rather he’s a ‘morphing’ of BB King circa ‘Live at the Apollo’ and the late Muddy Waters.
There are frequent references during the evening to the fact that Muddy would have been 100 years old this very year and a number of his songs are naturally in the set, most notably ‘I’m Ready’ and the crowd pleasing ‘Got My Mojo Working’ Strangely though, when I close my eyes during them I can see BB King singing Muddy Waters, which is kind of odd, but pleasant all the same. It led me to ask ‘Walter’ who his own favorite Bluesman actually is – only to get the reply “Elmore James!” Which really shouldn’t have surprised me, since the band’s repertoire was pretty extensive – ‘T Bone Shuffle’, ‘Messin with the Kid’, ‘Caledonia’, Everyday I have the Blues’ and a particularly stomping version of Memphis Minnie’s ‘Whats a Matter with the Mill’.
Looking out the pub window I could see a bus signpost saying ‘An der Esche’ but it could easily have said ‘Maxwell Street Chicago’ instead. One of those evenings when Kölsch didn’t seem like the right thing to be drinking – pass the bourbon, it’s Mojo time! Big Walter – big thanks to you and your band. Long may you all continue to have the Blues and share them so well with us.