Despite it being almost a whole year since Bill Baum last brought his super Bluesbenders band to Bonn, it seems almost like yesterday. Maybe that’s down to Bill wearing the same shirt as the one from last November at this week’s Harmonie gig. Then again, there haven’t been too many gigs for that black skulls and guitars shirt to get sweaty in in the preceding ten months. Judging by the effort put in on this night though it will definitely need a good wash now. The self-styled bad boy from Bad Godesberg was back, and with super support, not just from his own band, but from fellow local Bluesadours R&B Express. ‘Blues Alive – Double Explosion’ it says on the ticket. Prepare to be musically blown away.
For local Blues and Soul fans, neither Baum’s Bluesbenders nor R&B Express will need an introduction. Let’s cut to the chase then, and head straight to the evening’s proceedings.
Corona rules still require that everyone is seated and that there is space between those seats. That space of course used to be occupied by people out to see live music. As I sit in my seat it’s almost showtime, and I’m wondering how many of the people who used to fill those gaps between the chairs will come back when the seating restrictions are finally gone again,and how many will still be at home nervous about large crowds, particularly where music for people of ‘a certain age’ is concerned. We might well know very soon, I believe that the seats will be gone for Hamburg Blues Band. Don’t quote me on that – but if so, hopefully the attendance figures for shows will start to give good musicians the audiences (and wages) they deserve. Both tonight’s bands certainly deserved a seething mass of dancing fans in front of them.
My words long ago to the late, great, Rope Schmitz that “I don’t normally like coverbands” will tell you that there are exceptions to my rule. R&B Express have long been one of them. Like Rope’s legendary Sunny Skies, this band breathe new life into the music they play. Not too many people could pull off ‘Nutbush City Limits’ without my teeth being gritted, but Linda Meissner is full power with the vocals and ‘Kiki’ Schumacher blows up such a storm on saxophone that he spends a large chunk of the show with paper towels stemming a nose bleed.
The band keep up their high energy performance throughout, with favourites tonight being JJ Cale’s ‘They Call Me The Breeze’ and the sweet soul sound of Tower of Power’s ‘Diggin’ on James Brown’. A funky ‘Spirit of God’ and the rounding off ‘Piece of my Heart’ are also worthy of mention, during the last of these I always hear Nazareth frontman Dan McCafferty’s rasping vocals in my head for comparison. No one’s going to beat Dan on this one for me – but Linda gives it the requisite clout to make it great to hear. Normally, I don’t like cover bands…
The coverbands I do like show a passion for their music from every band member, and this band is no exception. It’s good to see/hear Zita Martine on guitar duties. The Heart & Soul girl has been with R+B Express for a little while now too – it’s my first time hearing her with them though, and she has the passion for the music and the playing skills to express that passion. Maybe helped with a little voodoo magic from the Mike Zito signature on her guitar. RnB/Soul of course lives and dies by the backbeat and bassman Tommy Ueltzen together with the mysteriously un-surnamed ‘Tom’ on drums are spot on. Add some swirling electric keys from ‘Doc’ Fred Pünte leaving Meissner and Schumacher to ‘paint’ the foreground and you have some very tasty musical masterpieces (or excellent forgeries, if we’re back in the coverband comparison mode). I’d spot they weren’t the originals but happily hang them on my wall.
On the subject again of coverbands – Baums Bluesbenders… ‘Is they is, or is they ain’t?’ Well I know they are principally covering Blues classics, they do have their own material too though – as evinced by Bill’s rocking lament to corona times ‘Live is Better’ and the proudly rocking‘Online’ also self-penned by Bill. To mis-quote a song line from Elton John I would venture that “Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean, theirs are the best blues covers I’ve ever seen”. Bill’s the one who many years ago patiently sat down in his shop’s back-office to tell me the history of Bluesrock in Germany. I never got the article published in the end, but suffice to say, Bill Baum knows his Waters from his Williamsons, all three Kings, the tonewoods that make up a Martin 00028 guitar, and has even played onstage with the legendary Louisiana Red. Like the best of teachers, Bill clearly loves his subject and enthuses that love on others.
Certainly, Bill’s smile when he takes the stage to introduce R&B Express puts smiles on everyone’s faces even before the first notes are played. Just when you thought a smile couldn’t be any bigger, Bill returns to the stage for part two of the evening with a smile so big you could have fit the whole stage inside it.
Was it my imagination, or were there fewer guitar changes from Bad Godesberg’s Bad Boy this time around? Time spent changing guitars is time lost playing them! (take note Joe Bonamassa) and Bill loves to play. Fortunately, he has a band behind him that love to play just as much as he does. I jokingly mention later that my picture on the concert poster is a little old now and if they want to keep using it they have to remain the same band, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else as a Bluesbender. Much as I’m a fan of Jan Laaks I remember how odd it seemed having him play bass on one occasion when Rainer Wilke was unable to make the show.
High Energy Rythm and Blues is what The Bluesbenders are all about. They manage to capture some of the musical magic of favourite Blues legends of mine. Bill with the chops to cover classics like BB Kings ‘Caldonia’ (sadly missing from tonight’s set), and from Memphis Slim ‘Everyday I Have The Blues’, and Uwe for his harmonica skills that bring the music and energy of Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter to life. The Bluesbenders hit all the right boxes with their choice of material for me – and I suspect for many other Blues lovers.
They say you can’t have too much of a good thing, but you can have too little. That early 10pm closing time on a Sunday rolls around far too quickly for both band and audience. By the time dust has settled and ‘Live is Better’ has rattled to an end like a last train rushing back to the station, Baum’s Bluesbenders have proved true to Bill’s promise from the song ‘Online’:
“We play it loud, we play it soft. We play some old stuff, and some rock. Most important, and that is true: We are here to play the Blues for you!”