Jay Meehan: Groovin’ with Freda and Pigboy
There’s something about "the blues" as a musical genre that is infectious. Not that there’s a vaccine that deals effectively with that mostly-12-bar groove once it’s gotten into your system. When your heart starts doing that call-and-response thing with your right brain and your "happy feet" begin to shuffle and slip-slide, there’s really no way of attacking it symptomatically.
But why in the world would you want to? The rhythmic pattern recognition becomes like a massage and it’s not long before all your articulated limbs get into the act and your head starts bobbin’ to the interplay of bass-line and percussion and your fingers join-in snappin’ in counterpoint to your swaying hips and all this before you’ve even gotten up out of your seat.
And then there’s those practitioners of the art who take special pride in building the musical tension to the point where if resolution doesn’t arrive pretty damn quick, you’ll fall to your knees in total supplication while testifying to the gospels of the "flatted-5th" and the "walking bass."
Take the show coming up at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts this Saturday evening, for example. Featuring Marcia Ball and Elvin Bishop, two longtime "party time" blues favorites with quite complimentary but different styles, this one has been in my crosshairs since the Park City Institute first announced their 2014-15 winter schedule.
Once Marcia, a long, slender drink of water, takes a seat at her piano and flings one leg over the other in preparation for the keyboard assault that’s about to ensue, there’s really not much you can do other than grin right back at her because her rollicking combination of Louisiana swamp rock and smoldering Texas blues will instantaneously remove whatever free-agency you thought you brought in with you.
It doesn’t really matter where I have seen her in the past, most always outdoors, it never took long for her irresistible shtick to get me in trouble. As it’s almost impossible for me to remain in a sitting position when in her musical presence, it usually begins with cries of "down in front" cascading through the crowd behind me (to little effect) and ends up with a self-appointed contingent of "grown-ups" enlightening me as to my options.
Celebratory is what her music is and far be it from me to dampen the vibe through proper behavior! Not that she can’t render a ballad that causes your facial features to twist just a bit in response to the sad, sad tale unfolding in the narrative. This is the chick, remember, who, as the front-person for "Freda and the Firedogs," played a significant role in jumpstarting the Austin scene back in the early ’70s.
Plus, whoever put this gig together, packaging Marcia Ball with that legendary Chicago-blues-stomper and party-rocker Elvin Bishop, had no intention of attracting a crowd that would sit cross-legged while chanting "Om." Howling at the moon would be more like it!
Bishop is no stranger to these parts, having first brought his band, which at the time included legendary tenor saxophonist Terry Hanck and ex-Ian and Sylvia guitarist Amos Garrett, both to the Rusty Nail (maybe it was the later incarnation, "Steeps!") way back in the day and, a little later to the Abbey Road venue in Salt Lake. More recently, of course, a couple of separate gigs at the Egyptian Theatre have brought out the faithful.
But in many of our minds, Elvin will always be that tousle-haired kid with the nickname "Pigboy Crabshaw" pickin’ guitar alongside the legendary Michael Bloomfield in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at the Golden Bear club in Huntington Beach back in the late great 1960s. Not that we didn’t continue to follow him in his bib-overall-sporting, Budweiser-swilling, follow-up phase with his own band.
Then came his top-10 hit "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," which featured Mickey Thomas, a background singer in the Bishop band at the time, on lead vocal. As I very seldom ever listened to popular radio, I had to have my younger brother Pat nudge me when the song came up on their set list during a mid-’70s Salt Palace show headlined by the Marshall Tucker Band.
Not that Saturday night’s show at the Eccles will be a nostalgia outing by any stretch. The blues music coming out of Marcia Ball’s and Elvin Bishop’s bands these days speaks to the here and now with more vibrancy than most. Get your groove on with "Freda" and the "Pigboy" this weekend, blues fans. These cats are the real deal!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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