Home Of The Blues

It’s Saturday
at 12:30 AM
in Gilrein’s Steak House and Blues Club
on the corner of Main and Piedmont
in Worcester, Massachusetts:
no showcase club, no fancy fake joint
for polished stars to shine in.  It’s where you go
if you feel your blues in your old bones.   A place where
the sidemen who kept Chicago steady come
to play for people who know their names
without looking them up.

Hubert Sumlin’s been drunk here more than once,
and more than once the doorman’s cleared a path
for Pinetop Perkins’ ladies
as they queened their way in
to hear Daddy roll those elegant ivories home.
Big names come through that door unannounced after hours
from posher places where the blues are just a way for fancy folks
to slum a little
with something they will never fully understand,
come here for the chance to play their old stuff
with their old friends
in an old, old club.

Tonight, the Blue Dogs are on stage to say farewell.
It’s 1:00
and last call is half an hour away
when Danny steps to the mike.

Danny is
35 years old,
been a legend in this town
since he was 14.
Makes a guitar pray.
Makes you pray along.
The Blue Dogs
are his latest band
have a rabid
following
but Danny
is calling them quits tonight
and heading off to Nashville
to play sessions.
He’s headed for the big time
and we don’t know when we’ll see him
this cheap or this close
again.

We know what’s coming.

Danny doesn’t sing much
but there’s one song he’s done
in every band he’s been in
since he was a kid
and no one here is ready to say good bye until
we hear him sing it one last time.
Dobie Gray, in 1973,
had a hit with one perfect slice
of country soul tinged blue.
Danny long ago
made it his own.
If you took a poll
half the folks here tonight
would likely say he wrote it.

The drummer clicks two sticks together
into the liquid opening
of keyboards laced up tight
to Danny’s shimmering chords.
The bass player lays down a
walking line that’s more like a lope
while the crowd moves in
and the song begins:

Day after day I’m more confused
And I look for the light
Through the pouring rain.
You know that’s a game that I hate to lose
And I’m feelin’ the strain, ain’t it a shame...

The fat man wheezing in the corner
through his cancer
starts rethinking his plan to die on purpose
when he gets home.

Beginning to think that I’m wasting time
I don’t understand the things I do
The world outside looks so unkind.
And I’m counting on you, to carry me through.

The woman with the missing tooth
is imagining a bird of prey
that will scar her husband
when she gets home.

And when my mind is free
You know a melody can move me
And when I’m feelin’ blue
The guitar’s coming through to soothe me

A couple forms
in the shadow of the song’s bridge
and tries to decide where they will go
when they go home.

Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me

I want you to know I believe in your song
Rhythm and rhyme and harmony
You help me along, making me strong.

Danny backs away from the mike for the end,
stretches out in the coda, line after line
of startling decisions, choices made tonight
that won’t last longer than it took to make them.
He’s saying farewell to what he knows,
he’s just another listener listening to himself,
he’s just another reason to keep the night rolling
when Gilrein’s closes its doors twenty minutes from now,
building another story on a castle full of stories,
and when he leaves it behind tonight,
it’s not like he he’ll never come home…

but he knows
he’ll never really come home.

What happened in Gilrein’s
is nothing anyone can describe
without a blue note.

All anyone can ever say is

tomorrow night,
next time,
good night,
let’s go baby,
see ya,
good night…

Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll
And drift away…

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About Tony Brown

A poet with a history in slam, lots of publications; my personal poetry and a little bit of daily life and opinions. Read the page called "About..." for the details. View all posts by Tony Brown

6 responses to “Home Of The Blues

  • Rabbit

    Good description. Thanks for bringing the old memories back for me.

    The club isn’t what it used to be, before the renovations. I’ve been in a half-dozen times in the last 18 months. Even with big-name players gracing that stage, the crowd is not very large, and many clear out before the final set.

    I think there’s enough people in there to keep the club hanging on, but it’s no longer crazy-packed with sweaty dancing bodies.

  • javabill

    you nailed it.

  • steve

    tony, I really like this one, it’s a nice homage to what was and what is and what’s soon to be, with a great narrative structure, i get a feel for the room and mood of the joint- people are there because they “want” to be there, not because it’s the hip thing of the minute.

    • Tony Brown

      Thanks, Steve. I need to edit this more…some of the names are the actual names, some aren’t. Gotta decide on which way to go and leave it there. But any Worcester blues fan can tell you about hearing Duke play “Drift Away…”

      I lived in that club, pretty much, for a lot of years. Got drunk with Sumlin more than once; I’m the guy who cleared the way for Pinetop’s daughters; sat and chatted with Hendrix’s bass player Noel Redding for a long time one night; I saw more blues legends and journeyman players and great unknowns there than in any club I’ve ever been in with the possible exception of the original Lupo’s in Providence, and I was never a part of the Lupo’s scene the way I was at that club.

      It’s still there, still has a solid blues lineup, but a few years ago was bought and “spiffed up” by a new owner. Can’t quite bring myself to go in again. I know it’ll never be like it was…partly because I’m not the same guy.

    • Tony Brown

      Settled now: I went with the real name and address of the club, and changed the name of the guitarist and the band.

      “Earl” is indeed a pretty big session player nowadays, and I’d hate to have some purist for the facts come looking for me because I got something wrong based on my faulty recollection and creative license. 😉

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