Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition

It was the daily grind and I was headed home at about 2:45 in the afternoon after a hellish day of dealing with teenagers who were ready for summer vacation to "be here already." I was driving back up the Alluvial terrace of the old Mississippi River towards Ponchatoula over the edge of the Manchac Swamp up onto higher ground when I heard IT! WWOZ was on the car stereo and I was about to doze asleep at the wheel and a honky tonk piano and a voice caught my attention. It was Jimbo Mathus  singing a  song in his Delta drawl, " There's too much water, under the bridge." I was knocked out! I sat back up straight and tried to focus so I would not fall asleep at the wheel, a problem I seem to have at that time of day for some reason. I was familiar with Mathus. He had been a member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. But this stuff was different. It was roots oriented and had a familiar feel to it. 

 I had twenty  minutes left on the commute home and the DJ was interviewing Jimbo. He was talking about what influences guided his creativity. It was something about being in a musical family and growing up in Mississippi. They went on to play  some cuts off of "Confederate Buddha," his latest CD. There were some astonishing twin lead guitar licks, a lively honky tonk piano and some solid, hard core influences that could be heard from The Delta all the way to Georgia. The Allman Brothers came to mind at first. Maybe some North Mississippi Hill Country Blues and just some greasy slide guitar to cement it all together with enough of traditional blues to make it gell just right.

I entered the house and  asked Dan to check the Ogden Museum music show listings. I told him I thought I recalled that Jimbo was going to be at The Ogden at 6:00 down in NOLA that evening. He looked at the schedule online while I went and stretched out on the bed for 15 minutes. I was feeling very exhausted for some reason and I really was not up to it. But I kept hearing in my head that honky tonk piano. Dan came back to the bedroom and told me we had a road trip to make! Jimbo was performing at 6:00 at  The Ogden Museum!

We drove on down to NOLA in anticipation. We got to The Ogden a bit early and there were a lot of patrons there going in for a cocktail party reception on the third floor. They were not letting in regular members until right at 6:00. So we went for a walk to get a cool drink a block away. By the time we returned we were able to get in and get a seat right up front.

The show came on and it turned out to be a big disappointment, not because of the show itself, but because the noise from the party above drowned out a lot of  the sound from Jimbo  Mathus and guitar player Matt Pierce. The whole band was not there. I was aching for the whole band, The Tri-State Coalition. I was aching for the piano. But, together they put on a solid show and they held an interview which was interesting. Jimbo talked about the musical influences of his mother and father. His whole family spent a lot of time making music at home throughout his childhood.

Towards the end of the show, the noise was extremely loud from up above. I found myself getting angry about it. The fact remained that his whole band would be at DBA across town at 10:00 that night intrigued me. But, that would mean hanging around town from 8 - 10:00 and getting back to Ponchatoula around 2:00 am. and I had to work the next day.  I was feeling wrung out and very exhausted. I told Dan I did not think I could do it. We went back to Ponchatoula  vowing to see Jimbo with the whole band as soon as we could.
Jimbo has one of the best stage presences I have ever seen. It was as if he emoted the fact that to perform for others is his entire existence. I admire that in a performer.

I prepared for bed and realized I had not taken my thyroid meds for THREE DAYS. I don't know how or why I skipped them, but I had not done so. That explained why I felt so poorly.

So, doing some research before bed, I found out that he was playing the Baton Rouge Blues Festival soon. That was something on the music calendar already because we had heard that Carol Fran and Tabby Thomas were going to be there.  Talk around Louisiana was that they had both suffered strokes, but would be performing anyway.

On May 7th, we headed off to Baton Rouge around 10:00 am. I was drenched in sunscreen yet I was expecting to get a bad sunburn anyway.  Dan and picked up Larry and we set off to the festival. We brought our our lawn chairs in the trunk. On the ride over, Dan and Larry talked about all sorts of trivia. They get bogged down into details of recordings, dates, who's who on records, producers, mixers, equipment, etc. I absorb some of it, research a bit of it, but I am more fascinated with the stage business. Recordings are nice, but for me it is all about the LIVE performance.

We got there before the big acts were up. A High School Blues band was playing when we arrived. They were good considering their age and situation. (Since I am posting about Jimbo Mathus at this point, I am going to skip information about the other bands that were at the Festival with the exception of Carol Fran and Tabby Thomas.)
Eric Carlton
Jimbo Mahtus

When Jimbo Mathus came on the stage, the shade had creeped forward up to the front rail. I got up from my lawn chair to rail hug to take photos and possibly get in the shade a bit. Jimbo kicked of the show and he rocked us and performed  with conviction.

I was mesmerized by the whole show. The twin guitar riffs on "Jimmy the Kid,"  the drawl in Jimbo's voice when he sings  "Cling to the roots," and the honky tonk piano, and Jimbo's harmonica riffs,  all mesh together, highlighting the influences of Southern Rock, Mississippi Hill Country Blues, and traditional Blues as known on the Delta.

Highlights of that set, for me was the twin guitar riffs and Jimbo singing a sad "she done me wrong song" with lyrics that said "You tore out my heart" with such conviction, one was sure that he had  definitely suffered lost love before.  The song "Cling to the roots," which is about the disasters that can befall anyone living in the Mississippi Delta hit home hit home with me, having gone through several floods and many hurricanes in my lifetime.
The song   "Days of High Cotton," hint that life goes in and out of fortune, in an out of social injustices. One can imagine Jimbo hanging around with some of the Kimbrough family members discussing racial oppression of the early 1900's. Heavy stuff.

After their set, Dan and I wandered down into some shade and met up with drummer  and keyboard player Eric Carlton. We had a nice chat and Eric told us about a festival in Mississippi coming up named "Hamstock."  Dan and I vowed that we would try to make it up to Jackson for that. It was fun to speak to the band members like that.
Jimbo Mathus

Blues Legend Tabby Thomas
After Jimbo Mathus left, we got to see Carol Fran and Tabby Thomas backed up by Henry Butler on piano, and Chad  Willis on Bass. I don't know the names of the rest of the band members, but it was wonderful stuff. It was a treat to see that their health was not going to stop their wonderful performance. I was mesmerized by Miss Carol! She still has "it." She had the crowd mesmerized!
Blues Maven Carol Fran

Bass player Chad Willis,  and an  unknown to me harp player
So, later that month, Dan and I went up to Jackson Mississippi  to "Hamstock," a festival to raise money for a handicapped playground for children in need. It was a family affair. There was a barbecue competition and the barbecue feast was delicious. It turned out that the temperature outdoors was hovering over the 100 degree mark. I thought I was going to be miserable, but there was a strong breeze about and we fortified ourselves with several bottles of ice cold water. The barbecue people were winding down and pulling out just when the music was being cranked out so the crowd was small. We  had  our chairs up close to the band and it was a wonderful show. Jimbo was up right after dusk and gave us an awesome show. Those twin guitar licks knocked me out again. AND the piano! I don't want  you to think the whole show is filled with twin guitar, but it shows up now and again just to whet my appetite. I think it is all about Jimbo's drawl,  and the Blues influence that makes it all worth while. The music has a groove and feel to it that feels right.
Eric Carlton

Justin Shaw

Matt Pierce

Jimbo Mathus

We got to meet The Bailey Brothers, a band that performed before Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition.  I was impressed by their performance. I went over to find them after take down to get a CD. As I paid them for the purchase and got them to autograph it, they mentioned that Jimbo had produced it. We stayed there for about 15 minutes chit chatting with them.

Before the performance, Jimbo was hanging around selling CD's with a statue of Buddha on the table. He was inviting people to rub Buddha's head. That confused me. I always thought it was lucky to rub his belly, not his head I told Jimbo that I had enjoyed the performance at The Baton Rouge Blues Festival. He said, "Man, it was extremely hot up there. How about the Carol Fran Lady? WOW!"  I agreed that she was awesome. I said, "Thank you for the performance."  He said, "You are welcome!"  I went away so he could sell CD's.

Ever since these festivals, The Bailey Brothers and Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-state Coalition 's CD's have been on my rotation stack in my CD player.

Patty McGehee

Next: A post about  The Bailey Brothers, the band  that has a new album produced  by Jimbo Mathis.

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