At the pre-Summer press launch for Stadtgarten my ears particularly pricked up at the announcement of a Bluesnight. I have my own wish-list of Blues performers good enough, but not well known enough to book at the Harmonie, so I’m sure that organizer Hans-Joachim Over has a very large hat-full of applicants to choose from (in fact I know he has!). The final choice proved to be an interesting mix of COuntry style with Dickie Lee Erwin, smooth West Coast courtesy of Boston singer-songwriter Jay Ottoway, and of course the best blues in Bonn from Baum’s Bluesbenders. The varying styles paid off with an always interesting evening musically from three very different performers.
I welcomed Dickie Lee Erwin to Bonn when I saw him beside the stage. Not that I’ve ever seen him before – but there’s something about a Texan that is instantly recognizable – the Stetson hat maybe…
I’m not the biggest of Country fans but Erwin’s style reminded me very much of the Country style that I like. That genuine, slightly whiskey soaked atmosphere that Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson are the best purveyors of. It’s not a copy/paste sound though. I really enjoyed his folk music twist on the music and his excellent banjo playing. Hats off to the band too, since Dickie told me they only met him five days before the show to rehearse and the guitar player speaks no English. Only a Texan could write a song about a woman giving him a gun so that it wasn’t lying around when a woman friend had arguments with her man.
Jay Ottoway’s CD’s have been highly praised by Rock music critics and the difference in style to Lee_Erwin was noticeable from the very first minutes of his set. Much more of a full-band sound and a solid rhythm to each number. Rock style Blues always benefits from an infusion of sax of course and it was particularly good to see the familiar face of Shawn Spicer in the band. I wonder if his place was secured also by his owning a hat? It seemed a pre-requisite for the band. Now I’m wondering if Mike Zito is really Texan? Where’s that hat, Mike? Only joking. That smoothe Texan Blues sound shows he’s genuine – as it does this evening with Jay Ottoway.
What can I say about Bill Baum and his Bluesbenders that I haven’t already said at least twice already? They came, saw, and inevitably quickly conquered the Stadtgarten. I really do think Bill gets better every year. He knows how to communicate with the audience – most of whom are probably also customers at his shop – and like me, interested to see what guitars he will be playing. There’s a tiny looking Airline model that has gained in popularity. Not sure that a big man like Poppa Chubby or Alan Nimmo would be able to play one of these without snapping off its neck after five minutes. In the event, Bill doesn’t play it for too long either.
Rainer Wilke is back on bass after Jan Laacks stood in for at the Bad Godesberg show recently, and it’s plain that this band has been treading the boards for some twenty-five years now – a well-oiled machine (and no reference to alcohol is intended in that!). Bill’s skills as a guitarist have really been overlooked at times – he clicks instantly into the grooves of BB or Albert King and manages to find some Hubert Sumlin (Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarman) in there too when the sound gets seriously Chicago style, which it does every time the excellent Uwe Placke picks up one of his harmonicas. Francis Holzapfel is Irish and like the best Irish drummers (Thin Lizzy’s Brian Downey) keeps the beat without intruding on the front-men.
An evening then of no surprises – only the expected top-class Americana Blues that we came to see. That’s two years in a row of Bluesnights at Stadtgarten – hopefully, next year will see a hat-trick.