Whilst I’m not sure I could recommend ‘Neckbone Stew’ as a meal I can wholeheartedly recommend it as a CD; it won the coveted ‘Deutschen Schallplattenkritik‘ award last year. After a great evening of music at The Harmonie I can also recommend Big Daddy Wilson live too – and as a good bonus we also got to hear Bonn’s own Blues troubadours Baum’s Bluesbenders.
“Big Daddy has a great band from Italy” a smiling Bill Baum told me before the show. He was right, but Bill himself has a great band to be proud of too. Rainer Wilke on bass and Francis Holzapfel drums tick along perfectly like musical metronomes over which Uwe Placke’s harp and Bill Baum’s guitar/vocals weave their Blues magic. Sadly they don’t have a lot of time to weave said magic tonight as support. No time for Bill to go walkabout with his guitar or kneel down onstage for a guitar/harp duel with Uwe Placke. Enough time though to remind everyone that Bill Baum doesn’t just know how to sell guitars but he knows how to play them too!
The set was, for the most part, self-penned but there was a grooving version of the classic ‘I had my fun’ and the audience certainly had theirs listening. “When are we going to hear a new release from the band” is a question I’ve asked Bill a few times now and material is in abundance – I suspect it’s just that Bill is a perfectionist, or maybe he can’t decide which guitar fits which recording best? The problems of owning a music store!
My last experience of Big Daddy Wilson live was somewhat underwhelming. It was last year’s RUF Blues Caravan tour and his set was clearly not firing on all cylinders. I found out later that the man himself was also not firing on all cylinders and indeed had cancelled the previous night’s gig due to illness. I was expecting a better performance this time around then, but in fact it was a quantum leap.
Big Daddy Wilson takes the words ‘start at the beginning’ not just chronologically but also historically as he leads off with an almost acapella rendition of the traditional worksong ‘Working on the Railroad’ and straight away you know that you’re not going to hear a better ‘instrument’ all evening than the big Man’s rich voice.
That’s not to say that the music isn’t important though. Bill Baum was spot on with his enthusiasm for the boys in the band. The Facebook page of Nik Taccori currently sports a logo declaring of drummers: “Ultimately the reason people are shaking their asses is not the lyrics, it’s the backbeat, it’s YOU!” and tonight he is most definitely right. Lending a hand to that backbeat is musical director and bassist Paulo Legramandi. The two men toured with Italian Blues legend Roberto Morbioli so they come with a known pedigree.
Guitarist Cesare Nolli also seemed familiar when he stepped onstage. For a moment I thought the head of RUF Records himself was making a musical appearance. Enthusiastic as Thomas Ruf is about his Blues though I don’t imagine he would want to enter a guitar duel with Mr Nolli. Big Daddy introduces the ever smiling guitarist as ‘Smokestack’ and his playing is certainly a smooth smoking affair rather than hellfire. In short, it’s a style that fits the music perfectly and within a couple of tracks I’m looking forward to an evening enjoying his melodious textures between the verses.
The first set with Big Daddy winds down with a couple of numbers dedicated to his wife. She’s not just the reason he stayed in Germany all these years, but also the reason that we are enjoying his music this evening because, amazingly, Wilson was brought up in North Carolina listening to Gospel music. He only discovered the Blues here in Europe so without his moving here for love we would be missing out on a great evening now.
It’s an enjoyable set for the first hour or so, at which point Wilson hands over the vocals to Mr ‘Smokestack’ and takes a breather. He may not be in the Big Daddy league vocally, but Nolli has a smooth voice on Greg Allman’s ‘Midnight Rider’ to match that guitar sound – actually a voice that makes me think of Eric Bibb.
When Big Daddy returns he’s sporting a steel waistcoat. You don’t see these washboard shirts too often (must ask Bill Baum if he stocks them!). It’s a return to the roots again with ‘Mississippi John’, a tribute to the great Mississippi John Hurt co-written with the aforementioned Eric Bibb. Before we can catch our breaths that one string guitar (diddley Bow?) that’s been tantalizing me since I walked in the door is in Wilson’s hands. It doesn’t take long to tune up, there’s a big green ‘E’ on his electronic tuner in seconds. Does it make a huge difference to the sound on ‘Baby’s Coming Home’? Who cares? It looks cool. Minimalist as the Blues is at it’s best. Emotion comes from the heart and not six strings after all.
Now here’s the thing… By this time the band are really flying. They’re enjoying the sounds as much as we are, but there is almost a palpable feeling that time to play is running out too soon this evening. Legramandi is doing his musical directing best as a timekeeper but there are so many musical diamonds to fit in. They each get a stab at picking a groove and each time the said groove is hit instantly and perfectly, finishing with a fine ‘Dock of the Bay’ perfectly fitting Wilson’s smooth deep vocal.
Is there still time for one more? There shouldn’t be, but somehow they snatch back time (at the Crossroads maybe?). No one even onstage seems quite sure when ‘Baby Don’t Like’ will end. The only thing we all know for sure is that no one wants it to end – on or off stage.
Quite simply, you may get to see the Blues in bigger halls, but you will never see it played with bigger hearts.