It was perhaps a little optimistic of Bill Baum to announce that Sundays ‘Sommergarten’ show at Hotel Dreesen would be a musical journey of 50 years down the Mississippi.
There were frequent moments though during which the water glistening outside in the Summer sunshine looked a little less like Father Rhine and a little more like Mother Mississippi. Baum’s Bluesbenders were in town and you don’t get to be playing live for almost forty years without knowing what the audience wants – and delivering it.
It’s a half hour before showtime and with the soundcheck completed, Bill Baum is telling me how excited he was to discover the Blues. The first moments of hearing Sony Boy Williamsons ‘In Europe’ disc with the Yardbirds, and BB King in his first blaze of glory outside of the USA. Both men will be represented in the music going down this afternoon of course. ‘I’ve had my Fun’ lives again without the crackles of a bygone age thanks to Uwe Placke’s immaculate harp playing and Bill himself plays a pretty immaculate BB King style on ‘Caledonia’. If we don’t have time for the whole 50 years then we will get the cream of them.
Bill is concerned that there isn’t enough of the old school Blues being played anymore. I’m thinking that the youngsters coming through today often see the likes of Clapton and Hendrix as dinosaurs of the medium, so Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson must seem like they occurred somewhere along the time of the big bang. It’s certainly true that I hear a lot of young Blues talent in the Blues Rock vein. Laurence Jones, Krissy Matthews, Jason Barwick… but these days it seems sometimes as if everyone wants to be the next Joe Bonamassa.
All the better then to have heard the raw acoustic Blues of John Harrison with Paulo Pacifico last weekend and now the raw electric Blues of Mr Baum and his Bluesbenders.
The Dreesen audience it has to be said is not really a Blues one. I’m sure many of the (generally mature) heads were being scratched initially at having their afternoon dose of Jazz cancelled. They were soon taken by the sounds coming at them though and even a few dances regularlybroke out to reinforce the saying that Blues can be a happy music too, although Bill and co were hedging their bets on that score by adding the likes of ‘That’s Alright Mama’ to keep the feet tapping, aided by the excellent Rainer Wilk on bass and ‘Westcoast’ Willi Güttler playing drums in the sparse effective style of Chess drum master Fred Below.
From the general audience age it was unlikely that many people here would discover the history of Blues at this show. That’s more likely to happen when teenagers hear Julian Sas play Rory Gallagher and discover Blind Boy Fuller via him, and keep going back – to the ‘Big Bang’ of Messrs Johnson, Son House, and the like. But as Arthur Crudup and Elvis would have said, and Bill Baum certainly sang on a warm Summer Saturday in the Castanian Garden at Rheinhotel Dreesen – ‘That’s alright Mama‘. The show coming to an end finds Baum standing on a chair onstage. From the high vantage point, through his trademark dark glasses,he has a wonderful view of the river flowing by. I’m betting it’s not The Rhine he’s seeing.