Monday, January 10, 2011

In Search of the Holy Grail of The Blues: Delta Moon in Birmingham Alabama by Patty McGehee

In Search of the Holy Grail of The Blues: Delta Moon in Birmingham Alabama

by Patty McGehee on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 5:59am
Our Dear friend Larry, who is a music fanatic, especially interested in guitarists of the blues type, brought over a CD one day a while back. It was a disc that wowed me. It was Blues, but there was this  undercurrent of some Celtic rhythyms that bubbled up in the mix that wowed me. In particular, it was this  this song by Delta Moon named "Clear Blue Flame" which jolted me into an upright position and woke up all my sensibilities towards searching for a way to view them at a live show.   This CD  stole all of the air space coming out of my CD player for quite a while. The more I listened to it, the more hooked I was. I HAD TO GO SEE THEM. But, Delta Moon is based out of Atlanta and rarely comes this way.

I recalled a Dr John show which listed them as the opening act, somewhere in the past, but tried and tried to remember when and where. It was no use. I have a regular habit of scouring  the local listings from certain venues. It ranges from Austin to NOLA and North to Memphis. The Austin gigs are pure fantasy for me. I just don't think we could get there  in a weekend and be rested for regualr life. I usually avoid other places because I find it nearly impossible to travel there. But this was different. This band does not play in these venues.

Usually, our plans work like this: I research the shows, tell Dan what is where, and on Thursday nights we make a plan of action together.  The plan HAD been to go to Lafayette, Louisiana to see The Canes and Kevin Sekhani on Saturday night. Instead,  Dan awakened me at five AM on Saturday morning to ask me if I wanted to go to Birmingham, Alabama to see Delta Moon. (I thought it was still Friday night since it was so dark in the bedroom!) I was groggy and still asleep, so when I fully awakened and  saw the listing still up on the computer monitor, I started researching the venue, the time, the weather, and  the cost. It all sounded doable.

I soon realized that it would be raining up in Birmingham and the venue seemed to be an out door event, so I started e mailing people in Birmingham. First Karla, and then Tim Day  from The Magic City Blues Society  promptlly emailed me back, as well as drummer Darren Stanley. BINGO! I found out that the gig was in a bar in Downtown Birmingham.

So, I got bathed and dressed, and packed a bag and waited for Dan to get in from his golf game. At exactly 12:00 noon we were pulling out of the driveway headed towards Birmingham, Alabama. The plan was to catch the show and get a place to stay at overnight and drive back Sunday.  We spent the drive listening to CD's and talking, looking at the counryside through rain soaked windshields and windows. It was a pleasant ride. We found Matthew's Bar and grill  easily. We got soaked as it started to rain as we walked from the car to the door of Matthew's. I was pleased to find no cigarette smoke inside the venue.

Matthew's was very comfortable and clean. We walked into the bar area and a very friendly lady told us the Junkyard Jam was in the adjacent room of the building. This was in an old downtown building that had been renovated to show the old brick and it had the high ceilings with the industrial look to it. Everything up on the ceiling was painted black and the acoustics were very good. We paid for our armbands and walked into a room filled with people sitting at tables. There was no place to sit, but a man approached us and gave us chairs from a cabinet and told us to sit anywhere we wanted. So, we went front and center  and sat down. A band was on stage. The man that gave us the chairs came back and put a long table down in front of us. This was a treat and it must have seamed to the rest of the crowd that we were "special."  If that is how people treat everyone in Birmingham, I LOVE BIRMINGHAM! A lady from the crowd behind us asked him to not  add any more tables after that so there would be a dance floor left, and he said OK. I felt like we had intruded in a way, without meaning to, but we had not asked for the table so I just settled in to watch the show.

We had missed The Thomas Henry Band and Roszetta Johnson got up and did a set. It was a fun show to see, and it was a kind of Blues new to me. She was backed up by Cleveland Eaton and the Alabama Allstars Band. They were a standard blues outfit and Rosetta had a fine voice. It was a bit too much like Church music for my liking. Not much grit. But, Rosetta is getting on in years,  and I had respect for her.

People came and sat at our table with us. Two ladies who were teachers sat there, and then Mick Pocus, a member of the Magic City Blues Society also came and sat down. He brought with him the friendly lady that I had met earlier in the bar who showed us where to go to get our armbands. We visited  during take down and set up.

Delta Moon got started and the first song they did was "Tilt a Whirl."  They did not disappoint. From the start of the show to the last note, all was perfection. The set up was like this: Tom Gray on Lap steel guitar, Mark Johnson playing a Fender Strat, (and another strange instrument I did not recognize, and an unusual  red guitar,) Darren Stanley on drums, and Franher Joseph on killer Bass.

Tom Gray was the focus with soulful vocals. He played the lap steel guitar while Mark Johnson played slide. The two played as if one, riffing off each other. It was spectacular. Tom's voice has a gruff edge to it that I really like. It emotes feeling and conviction. His performance was better that I had hoped for.Two songs stand out in my memory: "Clear Blue Flame," and "Jessie Mae."

Just before playing "Clear Blue Flame," Tom talked about moonshine and how it was a "fixture" in parts of Georgia. He said, "My Uncle Jack, who lives in the part of town called Cabbage town, told him that Red means you're dead from lead, but good moonshine burns with a clear blue flame." Tom took out the white Gibson Strat that Mark had been playing awhile  before and put the lap slide up for this one. It was incredible. That Celtic vibe was wound inside and out of the slide and mesmerized me.

People started to get up and dance during the remainder of the show. They were having fun. Dan and I got up for two songs and danced a bit. The people there warmed up to us a lot after that. We met quite a few people. Mick introduced us to the President, Paul Walters, who was dancing up a storm on the floor. A lot of the music had that Hill Country Blues feel but with the addition of what I call, a Celtic  rhythm undertone.

"Jessie Mae" provided an opportunity for the Bass to shine. Throughout the show, the drums were really good, strong, and timed just right. The end off the show provided the call back of the band and at the end of the  gig, they came down off the stage with  a tamborine,  two drums,   dancing  around the room.  In NOLA, a second line would have formed. But not in Birmingham.

After the show was over I went to meet Tom right away because I wanted photos. I was not sure if the band would hang around for long. He was sweet and posed and then I told him we had come form Ponchatoula to see them. I think it was Tim Day who came up and told Tom I was the "lady that e mailed us this morning." So, we visited for a while. He asked us how we had heard of the band and  we told him. Darren came up and I talked to him for a while. ( He is AS TALL AS CHRISTIAN SERPAS!!)  Dan asked them if the show in Alabama coming up on the 25th was open to the public. They said yes. Dan told them we would come over there on the 25th to see them again.

We left Tom and Darren alone to do take down for another show coming in that night. I wandered over to meet Mark, who was sititng by the door. Dan and I spent about 20 minutes talking with Mark and  people from The Magic City Blues Society. I got to meet Karla in person, the lady who e mailed me that moring. Tom came over and asked Mark to come help take down so we felt we were in the way. We chit chatted with the Magic City Blues Society members and thanked them for sending the e mails so quick so we could come. They were extremely nice and we finally felt the need to move on. It was an awesome time and it was hard to tear ourselves away from so many kind, considerate people.

We headed out the door to drive off into Birmingham in search for food to eat. It was getting late and Dan was picky. We wound up going to a Taco Bell. I wanted to stay the night. Dan wanted to drive back. I felt wishy washy about it and allowed him to drive us back, a decision I regretted as the night wore on.  I found the ride back miserable. My back began to  ache  and from  1:00 am 'till we drove into our drive I had back pain. At one point, I got out and stretched and found a beach towel in the trunk to use as a pad under the small of my back and the stiffness  eased up a bit.

It was not too bad, after all.  I got in bed at 4:00 am and slept well until 9:30 am. My tired back pain vanished and  I felt quite rested.  After grocery shopping, cooking, and writing lesson plans, I faded and the lack of sleep caught up with me. I had to crash after work on Monday. Now, I am looking forward to going to see them on the 25th.

I f you get the chance, get these two CD's:  Delta Moon," Hellbound Train," and Delta Moon  "Clear Blue Flame."
Tom Gray
Roszetta Johnson
Franher Joseph on Bass
Mark Johnson and Darren Stanley
Patty and Tom Gray
Patty with Mark Johnson
Patty with Darren Stanley
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    • Mary Gale Patty, you wrote "They did not disappoint." I have to say this is how I feel about you and your notes. I look forward to each and every one. You are a true fan. You write with soul, depth, and truth. Thanks once again for taking me to a fantastic show!
      August 18, 2010 at 7:12pm ·
    • Patty McGehee The people in Birmingham were awesome! I loved them. They seem to have quite a nice group[ of people in the Magic City Blues Society that are all friends and work together to have fun and see killer Blues.
      August 19, 2010 at 5:47am ·
    • Mary Gale We have a Sacramento Blues Society. It's pretty active. I recently went to a show with John Lee Hooker Jr. put on by the society. Small group in the club, but it was a great show.
      August 19, 2010 at 9:51am · · 1 personLoading...
    • Tom Gray Patty, thanks for the nice write-up. You were never in the way! I'm sorry I ever gave you that idea. I was just trying to get some work out of Mark.
      August 19, 2010 at 6:54pm ·
    • Patty McGehee Actually, we were in the way of the people trying to shut down the place for the next show. Mark was sitting in the doorway and everyone trying to go in and out with empty beer bottles, cups, and debris were trying to go in and out of the door! LOL!

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