Monday, October 20, 2008

Downhome blues

We had a fine little music festival recently at Wing Ding in Jacksonville. Festival organizers had asked me to invite some blues musicians, and I found a couple of good ones: The harmonica wizard, singer and composer Willie Cobbs from Smale near Brinkley, and showman Robert Bilbo Walker from Clarksdale, Miss., by way of Bakersfield, Calif.

Cobbs was backed up by Maurice Jon Vaughn and his band. The two rehearsed before the show in Vaughn’s van in the motel parking lot while they played Cobbs’ “Jukin’” CD.

Willie sang “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” and I told him it was better than Percy Mayfield’s original, but he said no way. He told me he didn’t have any of Mayfield’s CDs, so later I burned three for him and mailed them to his home.
It was touch and go with Walker, whose pickup broke down in Arizona. He was driving from Bakersfield, and it took him and his band four days to get here in two vehicles.

They arrived in Jacksonville about an hour before showtime. He and his group — he brought along his daughter and niece, who sang with him, and also a guitar player and a drummer — put on their stage outfits at the motel and made it to Dupree Park with 20 minutes to spare.

Walker played an excellent set for 90 minutes, duckwalking across the stage with his guitar like Chuck Berry, only better, because Walker can also walk backwards, which Berry can’t.

The musicians came by the house afterward and had some barbecue. Robert and Willie put on another great show. Vaughn joined them on “Big Boss Man” and “You Don’t Love Me,” which Willie didn’t do at the festival.

They sang “Happy Birthday” to Jessica, our daughter-in-law, and we realized this was how house-rent parties must have been like when musicians dropped by, and the proceeds helped pay the rent, only we felt lucky since our rent wasn’t due yet, so we didn’t have to charge our guests.

Willie called the next day and said he’d been invited to perform at a memorial concert for Duane Allman. The Allman Brothers Band had a hit with “You Don’t Love Me” and they think Willie is one terrific bluesman, which he is.