Steve Crawford and Spider MacKenzie – Sheriffs at the Tin Star Saloon

Untitled-1Bonn Folk Club visitors will recognize the name Steve Crawford.  Fitting then that John Harrison write a report from Steve’s gig on Saturday at the new and intriguingly named ‘Tin Star Saloon’ (53508 Mayschoß)

A new venue and some new blues from Steve and his harp wielding colleague ‘Spider’ MacKenzie – saddle up, take a ride into town with John, and ask the bartender to russle up a good Riesling for the break…

 

 

 

Wine is written with a capital “W” in the village of Mayschoß. The first thing that greets one after alighting at the railway station and crossing the road bridge over the river Ahr are rows of vines standing like sentinels of a village steeped in tradition, and especially wine making tradition. Turning right along the federal road 267 and walking downstream, one finds the building of the Mayschoß winegrowers’ co-operative, the oldest such co-operative in Germany founded in 1868. A brisk five minutes’ walk further along the main road with the Ahr bubbling and rattling to the right under the moon-silhouetted shadow of the imposing Saffenberg, the oldest fortification in the Ahr valley and dating back a thousand years, and one can view on the left hand side of the road the illuminated outline of a new star on the Mayschoß main highway skyline.

 

Is there a new sheriff in town? There’s certainly a new musical venue in Mayschoß, in an old building with a recently renovated brick exterior and an interior also tastefully renovated and in a way which whispers “USA” from the bull horns on the right wall near to the illuminated “Budweiser” neon light to the XXX size shining bright aluminium ventilation ducts hugging the ceiling. It would certainly be unfair to say that, “the only thing missing was the chicken wire” in front of the copious stage to the left side of the room, but such is the authenticity of the decor, that one almost missed its absence.

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The stage itself seems to be set, with a couple of electric guitars, a full drum kit and banks of Marshall amps and speakers for a group more of early Pink Floyd’s ilk than an acoustic duo of guitar and blues harp. The reason for all of this, and especially the authenticity, I later discovered was that “mein Host” is a certain Ray Dera, who hails from Sante Fé, New Mexico and he loves music and especially live music and everything on the stage, including the excellent PA is his and he has very successfully transformed what was once an Italian Pizzeria into a thriving bar and live music venue, USA style.

 

At 20:30 Steve Crawford and Spider Mackenzie take the stage and as an aside remind us that, there may be over 200 settlements throughout the world bearing the name “Aberdeen”, due to generations of prolific Scotsmen with wanderlust, but this particular pair of musicians originate from the original “Aberdeen”, the fishing port and now North Sea oil-servicing hub on the north east coast of Scotland. The pair of them cut their spurs playing Blues together at Aberdeen folk club, founded in 1962 and one of the oldest in Britain. Thank goodness that folk clubs were, and still are, such “broad churches” that most allow not just strictly traditional “folk” music to be sung and played, but also encourage creativity and diversity amongst their performers.

 

The unsuspecting audience are certainly in for a real treat this evening with many songs self-penned by Steve with his own Americana / Van Morrison style ballads, interspersed with some Blues standards and a few covers by Charlie Musselwhite, Prince, Tom Waits and even Johnny Cash to name but a few.

 

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Off we go with Hard And Heavy Rain, one of Steve’s own compositions featuring Steve’s striding guitar and dulcet vocals “taking a lot of strength to be free” and Spider’s sovereign harp accompaniment setting the basis for the forthcoming evening. Sleepy Head a Van Morrison style ballad follows and with Keep Our Business To Ourselves Spider gets his first chance to get his gob iron stuck into a Blues number by Charlie Musselwhite in the vein on a minor Blues akin to Help Me by Sonny Boy Williamson II and Spider does not pass up the opportunity to shine. Four Full Moons by Steve is a song about home sickness after a personal experience in India recuperating from “Man Flu”.

 

So far Steve has done all the singing but Spider takes over for his own song Hug The Bug. After a slow start this features some lovely jumping “wah-wah” harp culminating in a melée of high notes in the solo, before returning to its slow beginnings. Spider’s harp incorporating one of the most simplest and fundamental of all human cries, that for a hug.

 

Spider’s harp playing is a real joy for the ears, clean, soulful, sweet and melodic, with perhaps a hint of chocolate, to paraphrase some modern wine descriptions. He switches deftly from second to third position playing and combines low and high F harps with seamless skill. He selectively blows octaves and his command of the high notes is both haunting and pure. He’s a wonderful counterpoint to Steve’s guitar and vocals and the sure footed way they interact with one another reflects their many years of playing together. Spider is altogether a great consummate harp player’s harp player and it’s a great pity we don’t see and hear him in Germany more often.

 

“Folsom Prison Blues”, by Johnny Cash, is given a delightful up tempo jazz arrangement with Spider literally riding high horse over Steve’s swinging chord progressions.

 

Steve light heartedly offers a “sale or return” guarantee on their CD “5 am” and says if anyone buys one and doesn’t like it, then they can send it back to Spider and he’ll send them a CD that HE likes by return!

 

Enlightenment is on the CD “5 am” is the last from Steve’s pen in the first half, a soft number with some tasty call and response with Spider answering on the harp to Steve’s guitar licks. The first half closes with a stomping number about tall ladies in the guise of Charlie Musselwhite’s She’s Long And Tall And That Ain’t All, with its classic lyrics, “she’s long and tall, she weeps just like a willow tree.”

 

After an hour they take a well earned break and shortly before ten o’clock resume as Steve breaks into Life Is A Game. The second song Steve announces as a political song, and he should know as he wrote it, You don’t talk for me, is a fast ranting lament at politicians who presume that on the basis of one solitary cross on a ballot sheet, that they can speak with authority and vigour on each and every single issue concerning the voter, until the next election. This song is also featured on their CD “5 am” and although Spider cannot match all the overdubs on the studio version, he certainly does this song proud live on the harp.

 

Next up is Loretta a song by the Texan Townes Van Zandt, who Steve wryly describes as the best unknown songwriter. A fitting tribute to a girl who “dances like a diamond shines.”

 

Gather Round is a song from the “5 am” CD and is another of Steve’s own songs. Powerful lilting and driving harp, at times piercing, from Spider, perfectly accompanying Steve’s guitar and vocals. Alphabet St. is a number by Prince and proves that Steve is not only a very gifted singer songwriter, but can also interpret other people’s songs masterly as well.

 

The song 5 am is the title track from their CD “5 am” and it’s my personal favourite of all Steve’s songs. It’s a slow pensive song that Spider gilds with tasteful fills as Steve sings, “show me the way to the next sunrise and I’ll open my eyes, and I’ll see you”. A very well honed song indeed. Nice work Steve.

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A well deserved unanimous encore demand is countered with Rosie followed by Spider giving us an astonishing solo rendition of Sonny Terry’s Fox Chase complete with whoops and hollers, interspersed with some train time before reverting back to renard’s possibly last romp across the fields. A fittingly great end to a wonderful evening’s music, one would think but the 60 odd crowd aren’t ready to go home yet and Kiss and American Girl follow as further encores. Steve Crawford and Spider Mackenzie have given their all and done both Aberdeen and Mayschoß proud and the fans who haven’t yet purchased their CD “5 am” are now doing so to take home with them. Check out their web page : http://www.steveandspider.com and if you have a chance to see them live do grasp it, as two voices, two pairs of hands, a piece of wood with some metal strung across it and another piece of wood encasing some metal reeds, really never gets much better than this.

 

As befits a bar in a small village community of around a thousand souls, nearly all of whom, either directly or indirectly, have something to do with viniculture, the first eight items on the drinks list are all local wines, either by the glass at € 2,50 or by the bottle at € 14,- and only then comes any mention of beers or soft drinks. It’s not often that one can enjoy a wine surrounded by vineyards and only a few hundred yards away from where the wine was fermented and bottled and to be able to also listen to such fine live music at the same time is a double bonus. Apart from regular weekend free admission concerts Ray is also now organising regular live music sessions on Thursday evenings.

 

Where is this place, you may ask, probably right out in the sticks? Well it is some 35 Kilometres to the south west of Bonn, but actually there’s a regular direct train service from Bonn every hour and on a Saturday night, at least, the last return train via Remagen leaves Mayschoß at 23:15 hrs. The cost is €7.50 each way. So if you set off early on a Saturday morning you can spend a whole pleasant healthy day, rambling through the slate hills and the vineyards overlooking Mayschloß, then catch some good honest live music in the evening, enjoy a bottle of wine and still be tucked up back in bed in Bonn not too long after midnight. I think it was perhaps such a day that Lou Reed was thinking of when he wrote that song, “A Perfect Day”.

 

The Tin Star Saloon has only been opened since August 2014 but with Ray and Tina’s enthusiasm I am sure it will become an ever more important regional live music venue in the future.
TIN STAR SALOON WEBSITE

 

John Harrison

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