Rated: 13+ · Other · Entertainment · #1457341
A late night trip to hear some great Blues
| Blues Travels|
We began our journey about 9 PM driving down a dark two lane road from our suburban home to small town with a somewhat rough reputation. No lights, no, houses, no businesses. We finally reached the back side of town and found our first turn. My husband, who does home health visits in this area said, “You know, we are in the really bad part here.” As we had just passed under an old railroad bridge covered in graffiti into a street filled with older homes that had broken down cars in the drive-ways and yards, I was inclined to believe him. We continued to drive on following the calm voice of the GPS. As we passed a group of buildings, Robby then said, “OK we are in the projects. If it is here I am not going. I don’t like going in here in the daytime.” I readily agreed and let him know I was OK to abort the whole thing. We traveled on past boarded up store fronts and 7 -11 stores with iron bars on the windows. As we turned onto a side street the houses became smaller and in greater disrepair. We knew we were in real trouble when the GPS had us turn onto a street and told us it was “unknown.” My husband was getting testy and I was watching each porch for gang members wielding AK-47s when we turned down one last street and I heard faint music. I cracked the window a bit and there it was. Gentle notes floating on the night like ghost tunes from a lost time and place. We drove on following the sound and saw cars lined up in an overgrown lot. We drove around the curve and I saw strings of white lights. Easing past the house on the narrow car-lined road, past the house with the music we found an open spot in front of an abandoned house. Walking the block or so to our destination we laughed a bit nervously and told ourselves that we couldn’t believe we were doing this.
Going down the drive-way past the house into the back, we first came to a roof surrounded by old screening. Inside were several older black men standing around a fish cooker. Ahead we could see bright white lights streaming from the windows of a shack. Several men were milling around outside. Right near the door was Paul, a small thin Englishman who came to America and fell in love with the Blues. Amazingly he remembered meeting us a couple of months ago at a local club during another special concert. He took our admission “donation”, and lead us into the brightly lit shack like a proud host to the last two chairs in the joint. He told us that the kitchen was firing up to cook some catfish if we got hungry. Looking around I saw several middle-aged white couples around rickety old tables with their coolers beside them. Gip’s is strictly BYOB. There were about 40 chairs in the place. Mostly old kitchen dinette chairs of various shapes and sizes. In other places they would have been called “vintage” There were some old rusty mental folding chairs. Mine was one of the few covered chairs. It was from an old funeral home with the fuzzy red cloth cover and the name on the back. There were only 2 like that. I couldn’t decide if I should be honored or spooked. The shack was built of lumber and corrugated tin sheets. It was decorated with shiny old Christmas garlands and tinsel, happy birthday banners hangin form the rafters and multiple beer bottles linig the wall, each one with a different label.
Then I turned my gaze to the stage up front. Lining the back were signed posters from various blues artists dating back in time. Most appeared to be signed. A bright neon sign on the wall proudly proclaimed that this was "Gip's Place". On stage was a middle-aged white man with an old metal guitar/banjo looking instrument.He played the instrument well but his singing was just OK. He was a local who was opening for the main act. After 2-3 songs he left the stage and a gentleman looking like a college professor in a hat, goatee and tweed jacket with leather patches climbed onto the upright piano and adjusted the spot lights hanging from the rafters. Several elderly black men had drifted in and took seats by the piano and by the door. One was extremely thin with a bright cheery smile who greeted everyone. He seated his elderly wife and continued to greet folks at the front of the room. (Could this be Gip)? A man came on stage and welcomed everyone. He especially welcomed those of us who were visiting for the first time and told us that Gip’s was a real place that had been operating this building since 1952. The opening act had been schedule to play at a local resturant that had abruptly closed. Gip invite the group to play a private concert at his place. As he was speaking, an old black man about the size and shape of BB King came and sat down behind a couple of small drums. He had his guitar in his hand and smiled at someone in the crowd. He placed his dark glasses over his eyes and settled back. Next onto the stage came a middle-age white guy who sat at a drum set in the back of the stage and last a tall, thin, pale, red-headed man with a harmonica. The announcer thanked them for coming and introduced
Satan and Adam. With that they began to play. The crowd was immediately tapping their toes and nodding their heads. In a few more songs, folks began to get up to dance. The thin man really began to cut a rug, moving his hips and arms, kicking his thin legs in the air, dancing with which ever woman he could but mostly just dancing with the music.
As I looked to the stage and the tiny dance floor, I almost felt transported to a different time. But as fascinating as the place and the people were, it was the music that transported me. Slow sweet ballads, and hot blues rhythms with that guitar and incredible harmonica, the gravelly voice of the old blues singer over the scratchy speakers. The face of the young man beside us who looked as if he had seen a miracle before his very eyes reflected something of my own feelings. Who needs Memphis or St Louis? I had found Blues heaven in a tin shack in Bessemer.