Author: Daniel, Bert

I've Got The Blues (But Not Really)

It was quite a few years ago and I was on my way to Nashville. I was exhausted. It seemed like I'd been driving forever. The road was really getting to me and I figured I'd better get a motel room and rest up so that I could have an easy drive the next day. I pulled off I-40 and got a room in Memphis. At least I'd made it to the right state for the night.

I got a room downtown and it didn't cost me too much. The old man at the front desk was friendly and he noticed that there was an instrument case amongst my luggage. "Are you here for the jam?".

I replied that I was too tired to even know. Maybe a little music would be just the thing to shake off my road wearies, so I asked for details. "You just go down the block and take a right on Beale Street. It's the first place on your right. Tell 'em Arnie sent you."

"Is there any place I can get a bite to eat before?", I asked.

"Sure. JD's Kitchen serves a great plate of ribs and it's right next door."

"Great. I'm all set. Thanks for the advice."

I took my stuff up to my room and got situated. After a shower, I headed off into the evening. I almost forgot to bring my axe because I was so hungry, but I remembered at the last minute. The food at JD's was great. I don't know if the place is still there but if you're ever in Memphis, you should look for it.

After a great dinner I strolled over to the bar next door. I can't remember the name of the bar, but it's right next to JD's (assuming that's still there after all these years). I didn't hear any music but I did see a sign out front: "Open Jam at Seven. Bring your instruments!" I checked my watch and it was exactly 7 o'clock! I chuckled to myself "For once I've got perfect timing!"

The place was pretty quiet. I made my way over to a low plywood stage and introduced myself to my would be fellow jammers. They all knew Arnie and treated me like family right from the get go. There was a short guy with a goatee named Stevie and a long haired fellow with a british accent named John. Another guy showed up and said his name was BeeBee. There were a couple of others in and out from the audience from time to time but I don't remember all of them.

I got situated and took my instrument out of its case. "That sho' is a funny lookin' guitar".

I replied to BeeBee that it was a mandolin and noticed that for once in my jamming experience, I happened to be the only mandolin in the group.

Everybody seemed to know everyone else, except for me. Maybe it was because I was a newcomer or maybe it was my unusual instrument or maybe it was because Arnie sent me, but I found myself being asked to call the first tune (as if I wasn't nervous enough already).

The little guy with the big guitar spoke up: "Can you play any blues with that little thing?"

"Sure Stevie. I know a bunch of tunes with blues in the title. How about this one?" I lit right into East Tennessee Blues, one of my favorite fiddle tunes. The other musicians joined in and we made a go of it but I stuck my foot out after the second time through because it was obvious that nobody really knew this tune.

"Man, the blues they play over in East Tennessee sure don't sound like what we play over here in West Tennessee."

"Yeah, Man. What YOU been smokin'?"

I replied that I didn't smoke but they all just laughed. "Maybe you should pick a different tune. Try something with words this time."

"Okay. How about the Maggie Walker Blues?" I let loose in the highest tenor voice I could muster:

There was a wealthy gentleman, lived on a farm nearby.
He had a beautiful daughter. On her I cast my eye.
She was so tall and slender, so pretty and so fair.
There never was a girl in this whole world with her I could compare.

It wasn't a complete train wreck, but only because the musicians I was jamming with that night were a lot better than me. I guess some things never change.

After the Maggie Walker Blues, I just decided to sit in as best I could and let the regular members of the group pick all the tunes. If the musical ground proved too unfamiliar, I could always beg off and go back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow's drive.

I played along with a few chord progressions, just using soft chop chords and got fairly comfortable after a while. These musicians really knew how to play some soulful edgy music and it was great just sitting there soaking it up.

Then suddenly, I recognized a very familiar tune! I'd never heard the words John was singing to it, but the melody fit in with an old Bill Monroe standard:

Pardon me baby I'll turn your money green.
Pardon me baby I'll turn your money green.
Show you more money 'n Rockefeller ever seen.

I came out of the shadows with my playing a bit. I even stepped up to take a solo when John nodded at me. He smiled as he finished. "How'd you know that one when all that other blues stuff you play is so different?".

"Well," I replied, "At the jams I usually go to we don't call that one the blues. We call it the Bluegrass Stomp."
Posted:  11/14/2010

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