really liked the idea of an aussie guy trucking around America with two
guitars and a bag, riding Greyhounds and catching trains and living
his dream of making it as a bluesman in the USA
1. With WC Clark at the Winthnrop Rhythm & Blues Festival
2. With Sonny Boy Payne on the King Biscuit Radio Show
3. Singing with Pinetop Perkins
4. With Charlie Musselwhite in Clarksadle Mississippi
5. Onstage at the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival
Q. How did the live performances go?
A. My first few American gigs were quite entertaining for all concerned!! I arrived at the Bronco Inn, Spokane for a sound check after a six hour Greyhound bus trip from Seattle and there's my poster for the gig right next to a WANTED poster for some desperado called " Hush " offering a $2500 REWARD and then a couple of local soaks served me up about shrimps on the barbee and Paul Hogan's a wimp and ‘ whats all this about fosters being orstralian for beer and do you really all drink it?’ and ‘what direction does the water go down the toilet bowl in Australia?’and ‘is the Queen sort of like your president? ’ etc etc and l knew l had me a live one!! Then the promoter pulls out the PA and proudly tells me its probably older than l am. Unfortunately, he was right and it sounded less than good. I wrestled with it for the next half hour and got the best sound l could and reminded myself that " when you've finished paying your dues in this business your'e finished in this business " and consoled myself with the knowledge that the bluesmen of old had had to contend with a whole lot worse than this and that l would just have to soldier on. We headed off to a truck stop so l could get cleaned up and changed and the promoter paid $6.50 so l could have a shower and l looked into the mirror and had to have a laugh. Back at the Bronco the duke box is blaring in the backroom, the TV is playing todays baseball game in the bar and the place is starting to fill. l don't even ask for them to be turned off or turned down cause I'm going in with both barrels smoking and l'm not going to worry about a thing. The promoter introduces me and l launch into " Mess of the Blues" and by the end of the next song the duke box goes quiet and the baseball flickers silently and l've just about got em in the palm of my hand and the midrange honky old boxy old PA morphs into a hard edged blues machine and two hours later its slaps on the back all round and big blond American babes wanting to be photographed with me and welcome to the USA.
Next night it was Kettle Falls just up near the Canadian border and not surprisingly the PA gives up the ghost halfway through the first set. A local radio announcer comes over and starts berating the promoter for supplying such a lousy and unprofessional PA and l also chip in and tell him that it just wasn't up to scratch but l hadn't said anything because l didn't want to offend him five minutes after l had met him. Fortunately he took it in the right way ( and provided a new PA the next day ) and someone went and got a powered yamaha speaker and l put the vocal through that and things got a whole lot better and the show went on. Meanwhile the local DJ takes every opportunity to mouth off at the promoter for the rest of the night and things started to heat up as the beers went down. By the time l had finished the gig the promoter had just about reached the end of his tether and then the stupid bastard DJ comes over and asks the promoter if he would like to go outside and settle it. Show down in Kettle Falls. Promoter jumps at the invitation to hit the idiot and duly shuffles him outside and knocks him to the ground with a big left hook. DJ looks up and says ‘ l didn't think you were going to do that ’?? He was a real idiot!! A little later the DJ staggers back in and tells the promoter he's going to get him back one day and promoter unwisely ignores him and get’s king hit with a forearm to the mouth and promoter goes down. DJ tries to make his get away but a couple of the promoters buddies tackle him to the ground and proceed to work him over but good. End of stupid bastard. Shoot, it was just like the good old wild old days on the Barbary Coast in Cairns!!
Q. It sounds like scenes out of the Blues Brothers! Were all the gigs this
A. That’s about as wild as it got but l must say that if American audiences like what you do they certainly let you know at the end of your solos and at the end of songs. They really ‘give it up’. And they don’t mind tipping either. It wasn’t unusual to find $100 bills in the tip jar!!
Q. Did many people turn up to see you play in the bars and clubs?
A. The crowd numbers at the gigs were really good and as the promoters predicted, an Australian bluesman in the USA is something out of the ordinary and still a bit exotic. The blues lovers in the States have heard of Dave Hole but know little else about Australian blues and were keen to check out the bluesman from Queensland, Australia. The local press ran stories on me, local radio broadcast the times and places of the gigs and the venues put up posters and got right behind it. Every gig was a success and all the venues said they will have me back anytime.
Q. How was the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival?
A. Winthrop was great fun. Some friends l made in Kettle Falls lent me a car for the weekend ( like l said, the hospitality over here has been incredible ) and the three hour drive west took me through the Cascade Mountains and on to the little town of Winthrop. The festival is set on a 20 acre property and is surrounded by pine clad mountains with a river running past the camping area thrown in for good measure. There was just one main stage where all the acts perform and l kicked off the festival each morning with the acoustic set. There were around three to four thousand blues lovers in attendance letting their hair down and having a fine old time drinking beer, eating barbeque ribs and dancing the night away.
Q. What was it like appearing with some of the big names in the blues and
how did the other musicians react to an Australian bluesman in their midst?
A. By our standards the blues scene in the US is big but by American standards the blues is a minor genre and just like in Australia there is a brothership amongst the musos that transcends the egos and dog eat dog attitudes often associated with the music business. From Coco Montoya , WC Clark, The Mannish Boys and on down the bill all the performers were very friendly and wished me every success in the USA.
Q. Any highlights from Winthrop you can share with us?
A. There were quite a few but the stand outs were on the Saturday night when WC Clark jumped up with Coco Montoya and they finished off the night with a blistering blues guitarfest and here am l, sitting stageside ten yards away, watching two great guys trading licks as the crowd went wild. The other big thrill for me was on the Sunday night when all the musicians who were still around headed over to the festival beer tent for an all star jam. I got up with Polly O’Keary on bass, the sound guy on drums, a sax player and a keyboard player and did a few songs. Half way through my last song l look around and Leon Blue from the Mannish Boys, who has played with Albert Collins and Ike Turner and Muddy Waters to name but a few, has jumped up and taken over the keyboard seat and is wailing away. He points to me and yells ‘ take it away Sugarcane ’ and l launch into it and proceed to break a string and then limp my way through the rest of the solo and he calls me a showoff and we all have a good laugh. They really made me feel like I belonged.
Q. Any other highlights you'd care to relate?
A. When l left Winthrop l did a fifty hour Greyhound bus ride from Spokane to Chicago and was based in a little town called Watseka which is about two hours south of Chicago. I did a number of performances at bars and clubs in Kankakee and Watseka which went really well and l also went down to Bloomington, Illinois and checked out the ‘Nothing But The Blues’ Festival. A big part of my first tour of the USA was to meet and greet with as many industry people as possible so l got to meet Eric Tapley, who books this festival, and talked about next year. Often the festival bookers check out who is appearing at other festivals and l’ve connected with quite a few. Being seen in the flesh is a whole lot more effective than sending emails and things are looking good for a number of festivals for next year. Eric invited me to a private party for the VIP’S where l did a little set and the next thing l’m singing with Pinetop Perkins, the 92 year old legendary Chicago boogie woogie piano player who was in Muddy Waters band in the sixties and seventies.
Q. You must have been on cloud nine!
A. To say l’ve been blessed is a bit of an understatement. I can hardly believe just how well this tour went. It was truly amazing.
Q. Did you check out any of the blues clubs in Chicago?
A. Yeah l spent a couple of nights with my agent for this area cruising the blues bars and went to Buddy Guy’s LEGENDS, Kingston Mines, B.L.U.E.S , Blue Chicago, Blue Chicago on Clark St and the House of Blues.
Q. Any club standout as a favourite?
A. Buddy Guy’s LEGENDS was my favourite. Sort of reminded me of Johnos. About the same size with memorabillia and posters and pics and guitars on the walls and a few pool tables. A sassy mama by the name of Sharon Lewis was the act that night and she put on a great show and her band were tight and lively. LEGENDS and all the other clubs l went to ( with the exception of the House of Blues ) are all small to medium sized clubs and l’ll definitely try and get booked into some of these clubs when l go back next year.
Q. So where did your tour take you next?
A. Next stop was down south to the Mississippi Delta and Clarksdale Mississippi, which was the birth place of such legendary figures in American music as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner and Sam Cooke. It's right in the heart of cotton country, and though the town has seen better days, it's a bastion of all things southern like fried catfish, cornbread, juke joints and that famed southern hospitality. I stayed at the Riverside Hotel which is a delightfully delapidated old building that was home to Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, Pinetop Perkins, John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner to name but a few. In fact the demo for "Rocket 88", which is considered to be the first Rock and Roll song, was recorded by Ike Turner in a make shift downstairs studio. On a sadder note l stayed in the room next door to the one where Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues, bled to death back in 1936 when the Riverside was the Afro American Hospital here in Clarksdale". On Tuesday 9th August I hired a pickup truck and crossed over the Mississippi River into Helena, Arkansas to appear on the fourteen thousanth seven hundred and seventy - second broadcast of Radio KFFA's legendary King Biscuit Time Show. Starting back in 1941, with Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Lockwood Jnr playing blues and promoting King Biscuit Flour and their local gigs, it's the longest running blues program in the world. Says Andy " the shows presenter Sonny Boy Payne has been playing tracks from my album Lake Street Serenade for some time and he gave me an open invitation to appear on his show if l ever made it over to the States. Considering every one from Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker and Muyddy Waters etc etc right through to Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley have appeared on this show it was an offer l was always going to take up. It's a real honour for me to be a part of this incredible blues history".
Q.Tell us more about the Mississippi Delta. How was it?
A. It was a dream come true for me to be in the area that spawned so many famous blues identities and l spent ten wonderful days based in Clarksdale where l got to meet a lot of the local identities both black and white. It's an incredibly friendly town and l know l'll be welcomed back anytime. It was fortuitous that l got there the week before the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival began as everybody had time to shoot the breeze with me before things got really busy and l managed to organise a few gigs as well.
Q.How did you enjoy the Sunflower River Blues festival?
A.The really special thing about the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival ( the Sunflower River runs through Clarksdale ) is that it's specifically designed to promote local delta musicians so the bill is mainly filled with locals acts - apart from a couple of headliners. And with Clarksdale's population being around 70% Afro-American you have the unique experience of seeing and hearing Afro-Americans expressing their own music - the Blues - within their own community. The blues doesn't get much more authentic than that! Performers like Wesley Jefferson, James " Super Chicken" Johnson, Terry " Harmonica " Bean, Robert " Wolfman " Belfour, Louis " Gearshifter " Youngblood etc all put on great shows and all are Mississippi Delta locals following in the direct footsteps of the masters of old.
Q.Were there any other performers that stood?
A.91 year old David " Honeyboy" Edwards, a bluesman who played with the legendary Robert Johnson and was with him the night he died, was the standout for me on a number of different levels. Firstly here is a man who has lived the archetypal blues life of drifting and gambling and singing in juke joints and on street corners, in prison cells and lonely hotel rooms since the 1930's and he's still doing it! His guitar playing was a little scratchy but his voice was strong and still right on the money. He is showing us younger bluesmen that it's not over til its over. The bar is being set very high. And l also loved it that he was giving the big blond in the front row the eye. What a man!! The other standout for me was Charlie Musselwhite who was the headline act of the festival. He is probably the preminent blues harmonica player in the world at the moment and with his tight 4 piece band showed just why he has won 18 WC Handy Awards ( these are like the Grammy's of the Blues world ) over the past twenty years. He swooped he soared he moaned he roared and like all exceptional musicians he made his instrument talk.
Q.So tell us about the Cutting Edge Music Conference and what you hope to
get out of it.
A.This conference is very much about the business side of the music industry over in the United States. I attended seminars on the latest trends in Entertainment Law covering Recording Contracts, Copyrights, Publishing etc seminars on dealing with Booking Agents, Tour Management, Cd Distribution deals etc l did workshops on Career Creation, Building an image etc and I got to ' smooze ' with lots of industry heavyweights. l also did a 1 hour Showcase performance at Check Point Charlies and at the Bossa Nova Club in funky Frenchman Street in front of said heavywieghts . It's a great opportunity to get a feel for the business side of things over there and also a great chance to link up with the sort of people who can help me to build on what l have achieved on this current tour.
Andy "Sugarcane" Collins
4th Sept 2005