I sometimes wonder why I do a blog, but the answer comes on a regular basis—most recently at a three and a half hour blues performance in Port Townsend, Washington, something I never would have attended without this blog.
It goes something like this: About a year ago I heard that Chuck Berry would play at B. B. King's for New Years. I wanted to learn more. I asked at www.chuckberry.com if Mr. Berry's St. Louis Band would be playing. CBII responded that, no—“the amazing Daryl Davis” would be backing Mr. Berry. So I went on line to learn more about the amazing Mr. Davis and found a few youtube clips of a stupendous piano player playing boogie woogie and blues and teaching American musical history at the same time. I'm not shy with e-mail. I wrote him, and he wrote back. He even agreed to an “interview” for the blog, and gave me 12 single spaced pages of material. (he’s also an author!) Then, months later, he did a behind-the-scenes review of Chuck Berry’s Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival appearance. All for this puny blog, and from Daryl Davis’s point of view, to put his friend and mentor Chuck Berry in proper perspective.
Port Townsend is a pretty little town on the northern coast of Puget Sound. I realize now that I should go there more than once every 15 years. It’s a Victorian place, with great old buildings downtown and beautiful old houses scattered about the neighborhoods. The sound dominates all. There are cliffs that look like a dirty grey version of Dover. Best: in time-honored swords to plowshares tradition, the old military fort has been turned into a state park and arts center, with regular workshops, performances, museums, a campground and a long, long beach on the calm waters of the sound.
Annieville Blues is based in Seattle and is someone I should have known. I do now. (You can check out her website HERE. I’ll use the calendar to go see her at one of the local shows.) (Editor's happy note. I made it to hear Annieville in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood. You can read about it HERE). Here she is with Johnnie Johnson:
Although she came with a great bass player (Patty May?) some of my favorite moments were when Annieville was doing the soundcheck and playing alone. The rest of the performance was just ever-so-slightly marred by a sideman with some rhythmic deficiencies. (A bad night? Maybe he couldn't hear? But it’s hard to enjoy music when you’re constantly waiting for the other foot-- or stick-- to fall off beat.)
But hey-- I enjoyed every minute of Annieville’s performance, and also liked the guests she brought with her—including Portland singer/guitarist Lauren Sheehan (here website HERE), author/musician Steven Cheseborough (also of Portland-- his website HERE), and several students at the workshop. Next time she plays in Seattle, (and I see from her site that she will be in Ballard soon) I will try to be there.
When Daryl Davis entered the room he was greeted by just about everyone, and brought another half a room full of people with him. He’s a big guy with giant fingers that pound out boogie woogie so forecefully that he only needs the left hand to keep the whole room pulsating. He brought a bass player from the workshop and used the same drummer that had backed Annieville Blues.
He began with a song called “Mississippi Delta Blues” by Willie Brown.
I’m going back to my old time used to be
Even though she done me wrong
Guess I’ll have to go ahead and forgive her
Because I’m so tired of being alone.
After that he played “Pinetop’s Boogie-Woogie” by Clarence “Pinetop” Smith. As usual, Davis explained how the song had been stolen by Jimmie and Tommy Dorsey separately and individually. I didn’t tape the performance, but someone else did once. Here he is doing the same thing, at another show:
After Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man” he played Chuck Berry’s “Wee Wee Hours,” doing descending ninth chords just like Chuck, and trills on the treble keys just like Johnnie Johnson. (No wonder: Davis is and was a friend to both men.)
Then he defended Chuck’s honor and title, (I did the same a few weeks ago when I was worrying about the “King” thing on this blog. It's a sore spot for admirers of Mr. Berry.) After a New Orleans style song he mentioned “The King.”
Someone yelled “Elvis!”
Davis said: “I loved Elvis. Saw him 14 times. Met him twice. Went to his funeral. But he didn’t invent rock and roll.”
Then Davis played a few bars of music. “What song is that?” he asked.
“Surfin’ U.S.A.,” someone yelled.
(“Sweet Little Sixteen,” I replied, obligingly. I knew I was there for a reason.)
Said Davis: “This song was written the year I was born, in 1958, by the Father of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry. Then in 1963 another group stole the melody and it became their biggest hit-- until Chuck Berry sued them. Now “Surfin’ U.S.A.” credits Chuck Berry as one of the authors."
And he played it, switching now and then from chorus to chorus:
"Everybody goes surfin', surfin' U.S.A."
"Everybody wants to dance with, Sweet Little Sixteen."
For the next several songs he invited friends and students from the workshop to contribute. A woman named Diana came first; (don't know the name of her song, but it was funny); then Sonya Lee sang “Route 66” and “At Last.” A guitarist singer who calls himself “Mojo Perry” did "Stormy Monday,” with blazing lead guitar on his acoustic and somehow putting a full vibrato on his ninth chords (find his extremely cool website HERE). A woman named Temple (?) did a Patsy Cline number. (Said Davis: "I always said Patsy Cline was a blues artist. She sang with so much feeling.") Wish I could tell you more about these performers.
Davis finished with a long lesson in boogie woogie, starting with “Great Balls of Fire,” and then breaking it down to show how different pianists used their left hands: Jerry Lee Lewis, then Little Richard, then Fats Domino, then Ray Charles. Annieville Blues joined him for the finale and took over piano completely while Davis sang that he was going to “boogie till his woogie got sore.” (When Daryl plays boogie woogie it sounds something like this):
Aside from great music, what the show gave me was a better sense of who Daryl Davis is: not only a musician and entertainer, but also an historian and teacher. He teaches the audience where the music comes from, and obviously takes great pride in teaching his craft to the workshop attendees and seeing them perform.
Last came Jerron Paxton, who comes from Watts but whose spiritual home is somewhere between New Orleans and Clarksdale. Legally blind, he walked to the piano with a cane, pushed away all the microphones and then lit up the room with his music and his schtick. He is a very funny man. When one excited fan sang a few lines in a tiny whisper Paxton handed him a microphone and battled for five minutes trying to get the man to sing a verse. ("It's fun to torture people," said Paxton, under his breath.) Paxton plays old time music of all sorts-- blues, ragtime, bluegrass, tin pan alley. He plays (minimally) piano, guitar, banjo and fiddle. His comic timing is finely tuned-- (no small matter, I think, for a blues performer.) He seemed to have the most fun with members of a local Port Townsend jug band, who backed him up, sometimes swapping instruments (Paxton did it Charlie Patton style, playing behind his back, or spinning his guitar like a top and strumming again as it fell into place.) You can find his website HERE, or listen below as he tells how sweet the Centrum Blues Workshop is. Makes me want to go! And next year, maybe...