They are now so much of a musical institution in Bonn that it’s hard to imagine a music scene here without Bill Baum and his partners in music The Bluesbenders. It was then, a mark of the respect Bill has gained from the Blues scene, that for his 25th Anniversary show at Bonn Harmonie, Bill was joined by a man nominated in three categories for this year’s International Blues Awards, Richie Arndt. It was guaranteed to be a good evening for Bonn Blues lovers.
Greeting Richie Arndt before the show I suddenly realised that the last time I saw him was for the ‘Rorymania’ show in 2008. It was good to hear later that Rory Gallagher’s music is still a part of both his life and his live set.
Like the G man, Arndt works in a trio set up. Unlike Rory though, who looked to the old Bluesmen for his cover songs, Arndt seems looks to more recent musicians for inspiration (although of course, this was, as support, of course not his full set). The deciding factor is music and lyrics that don’t, as Arndt points out, sound like something you’ve already heard ten times already that day on the radio.
Marc Cohn’s ‘Walking in Memphis’ certainly stood out when released in 1991. Richie Arndt’s version is somewhat funkier and slightly more up-tempo. Clearly, the songs work as inspiration for Arndt, and, rather than blindly copying, he adds his own stamp to this one as he does too for a more surprising choice – Gregory Porter’s ‘Musical Genocide’. Here, the lyrics are resonant for Arndt:
“This is not for me, I won’t let it be
No, musical genocide
Give me a blues song, tell the world what’s wrong
And the gospel singer, giving those messages of love
Woah, and the soul man, with your heart in the palm of his hand
Singing his stories of love and pain.” – G. Porter
Traditional Blues lovers are not left out though with a new number, ‘Lonely Midnight Train’ sounding as smooth as the train itself at midnight might sound on the track. Oh, and of course, Rory wasn’t forgotten. It was great to hear an oldie but goodie here: ‘They don’t make ’em like you anymore’ with a smooth segue into ‘Laundromat’.
A well deserved large round of applause for Arndt and his excellent rhythm section bassist Sascha Oeing, (from the Gregor Hilden and Kai Strauss Bands) and Peter Weissbarth on drums. Hopefully, Richie Arndt will be back here for a full set next year. In the meantime he’s visiting Memphis, Tennessee, next January as Germany’s representative in the International Blues Challenge where there will very likely be another award to add to 2018’s ‘German Blues Awards – Best Male Vocalist’ and ‘German Blues Challenge’ – Best Band.
With such a top-class support, Baum’s Bluesbenders were not making it easy for themselves after 25 years. Not that any sign of worry was visible on the face of Norfried (aka Bill) Baum or his band. From the original band, there is only Bill and Harp-maestro Uwe Placke remaining, but Rainer Wilke and Francis Holzapfel have so long been familiar sights on bass and drums respectively that they know each others every heartbeat – certainly every musical beat.
Around a halfway into the set Bill’s secret for the longevity was revealed. The ‘Urknall’ (Universal Big Bang) as Bill called it, that started Rock. A deep throated whiskey bottle neck slide sound that changed music. Muddy Waters was the Man and his ‘Can’t Be Satisfied’ really pulls on all the threads that go to make Baum’s Bluesbenders what they are today. A conviction and immersement in the music, wailing Chicago Blues harp, and railroad train steady rhythm. All are there from the opener ‘Jerry Jumps In’ right up to the closing‘On The Road Again’. In between the two numbers is a microcosm of Blues. As Placke announces before ‘I’ve Had My Fun’ This is what we should take away from the evening into tomorrow: ‘Whatever happens, We had a great night with the Bluesbenders.!’
If you’re worried about having your fun ‘if you don’t get well no more!’, then The Blues (and The Bluesbenders) can console you with the good news that ‘Everythings gonna be alright’. Like an old and dependable friend who’s always there when you need him, and who understands. No great philosophising – simple and from the heart. The music of the Blues and of the Bluesbenders.
Those twenty-five years have given Bill plenty of time to develop some stagecraft along with a cutting-edge Muddy Waters moan and BB King lead break. He doesn’t leave the building during his off-stage walkabouts like Buddy Guy describes doing (in the days before wireless transmitters) but he heads over to the bar and then the balcony. Later he takes a violin bow to his electric laid out on the floor – thus covering Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix in one mighty swoop. Owning a guitar shop as Bill does I still always wonder if he’s brought in a defective strat copy and will set fire to it. I guess he knows the value of his instruments too well for that though…
As the band finish the evening, clocks in Germany are rapidly pounding their big hands towards 10pm. Promoter Jurgen is looking anxiously on from the stageside. Uwe Placke is honking mayhem from his harp and Bill Baum is smiling a smile that almost seems bigger than the face it’s set in. Curfew time for Baums Bluesbenders is never really such a terrible time because the next gig in Bonn always seems just around the corner. A Street festival in Godesberg, a Blues Festival at Stadtgarten, another indoor extravaganza at the Harmonie… Baum’s Bluesbenders are guaranteed to be ‘On The Road Again’. Which is good news indeed for the Bonn music scene. Here’s to 2043 and 50 years of Baums Bluesbenders. If you don’t make it, just remember that you’ve had your fun!
So that was Baum’s Bluesbenders 25 years down the line. I asked Bill Baum about the other end of that journey – the first Bluesbenders show:
BB: It was 1993. It was me and Uwe Harp. Klaus Plate on Bass and Franz Schneider Drums. I can´t remember the first gig.
Where would it have been?
BB: We played so many gigs. At this time we played at the Jazz Galerie in Bonn, Talking Blues in Cologne, We had Gigs at private Parties and for Companies like Abbott Medical Products in Wiesbaden. Very early we played for Events of the General Anzeiger in Bonn.
Is there a special one that stands out?
BB: In the ’90’s there was a Blues Event from the General Anzeiger were we first played with Louisiana Red. So many experiences, so many stories!