Dave Kelly, Maggie Bell & The BBQ
Featuring: Zoot Money, Miller Andersen, Colin Hodgkinson & Colin Allen
The Tivoli, Wimborne, Dorset
17 April 2010
Left to right: Colin Allen, Zoot Money, Maggie Bell, Dave Kelly, Miller Andersen, Colin Hodgkinson
This band is long on experience. Dave Kelly is from the Blues Band (and dates right back to the John Dummer Blues Band). Maggie Bell was first seen with Stone The Crows, then Midnight Flyer, as well as having a distinguished solo career. She’s part of the BBQ too (British Blues Quintet). Zoot Money shares lead vocals with her in the BBQ and needs no further introduction. Zoot was my entry to R&B as I watched transfixed every week at Bournemouth Pavilion, and he remains one of my favourite musicians to this day. Miller Andersen graduated from the Keef Hartley Band, but played guitar with just about every British blues band. Colin Hodgkinson is one of the most widely-respected electric bass players, having played with everyone in every conceivable style. He founded Back Door and worked with the lot, from Eric Delaney to Alexis Korner to Chris Rea. Also, as our neighbours pointed out, he was with Whitesnake. (That other famous bass player, Paul McCartney, made his name with Wings, you want to reply). Colin Allen is on drums, dating back to that original Zoot Money band I used to watch in Bournemouth. His credits include John Mayall, Georgie Fame, Stone The Crows and Bob Dylan (for Real Live!). So it’s the kind of band where you could call any blues / R&B song and no one’s going to ask, ‘How does it go?’
They were warmly received in a friendly, great-sounding venue. They have the advantage of four lead vocalists who work together (Bell, Money, Kelly and Andersen) and Hodgkinson also sings in his solo spots. They also have five people standing in a line who’ve led bands, which is apparent when they speak to the audience, though in any band with Zoot Money in it, he’s the natural leader among a group of natural leaders. There’s turn-taking … Zoot, then Miller, then Dave, then Maggie comes on, then Colin does a solo spot. This is what you expect from The Blues Band or The Manfreds or any other collaborative effort between well-established people. It makes for a varied show. Each of them is a first-rate lead singer. Kelly, who was the least familiar to me, is a wonderful vocalist.
I thought they hit the best groove of the evening on the second number, Tamp Em’ Up Solid, sung by Miller Andersen (playing a beautiful Hofner Verithin guitar for those interested). This traditional song was best-known in Ry Cooder’s version on Paradise and Lunch, and the guitar playing by Andersen and Kelly (playing slide) is exemplary. It’s long and just gets better. Andersen later does his own composition Houston (about Houston, Renfrewshire!).
Colin Hodgkinson’s solo bass guitar + vocal spots, one in each half, present his party-pieces, Jesse Fuller’s San Francisco Bay Blues in the first half, and Walkin’ Blues in the second. What he does is unique, I think, playing bass guitar to fill the entire song. Wonderful stuff. My favourite bass player was the late Rick Danko, another who specialised in Walkin’ Blues. Hodgkinson does it better. He also shines when Maggie Bell does Tom Waits’ In The Hole, with the sort of rich bass part that Waits (and Joni Mitchell) delight in. Few can play like that.
Maggie Bell has power and attitude and the sheer force of personality to lift any show, It’s undiminished in the forty years since the heyday of Stone The Crows too. Her highlights included Wishin’ Well, Penicillin Blues (dating back to Stone The Crows), No Mean City (her hit from “Taggart”), Tom Waits’ In The Hole, and the ender of the main set, I Just Want To Make Love To You, and the encore, The Staples Singers Respect Yourself.
So a great time was had by all. The last few numbers were strictly R&B, with Zoot Money doing Bright Lights, Big City, then Dave Kelly doing Hoochie Coochie Man, all taking turns on The Night Time Is The Right time (a Zoot Money speciality in the early 60s), then Maggie Bell ripping it up with I Just Wanna Make Love to You. That’s where they excelled. They excelled earlier in the set in more contemplative blues too.
There was a downside. I thought they failed on the attempts to hit a soul groove, and I hate to say it, but failed pretty badly too. The offending numbers were Lee Dorsey’s Yes We Can (written by Allen Toussaint and which Barack Obama used as a campaign song) and Joe Zawinul’s composition for the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, Mercy Mercy Mercy.
Playing Allen Toussaint material is a test. So much so, that as soon as I got in the car afterwards I put on Betty Wright’s Shoo-Rah, Shoo-Rah (written by Toussaint in 1974). That immediately hits the groove that eluded the BBQ. Levon Helm of The Band said “We were the only group that could play Lee Dorsey as well as Lee Dorsey.” Pretty nearly they could, too, but actually not quite. So where were the BBQ missing ? For a start the drums, particularly in the first half were under-amplified in spite of at least four mics. I’ve never complained about drums being under-amplified in my life. In that size hall, they shouldn’t need amplifying at all, you then adjust the rest of the band down to the level. D.J. Fontana in his seventies could hit a snare as hard as any drummer I’ve heard. Levon Helm, in his late sixties can too. Colin Allen can’t. Either the drums needed to come up in the mix, or the band go down. Zoot complained at the start of the second half that they’d been asked to reduce volume. I don’t think they did, maybe a shade, but the drums were better in the mix. The other thing is they have two of the finest lead guitarists in the country. New Orleans soul requires a dedicated rhythm guitarist of the Curtis Mayfield sensibility. The sort of rhythm guitarist who KNOWS that it’s their primary role, as did John Lennon, Keith Richards, Lou Reed, Bob Marley. I thought that was missing. They achieved the infectious “sprung” groove perfectly in Tamp ’em Up Solid, but couldn’t hit the feel in Yes, I Can.
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, sung by one of my all-time favourite singers? Oh, dear. This is a tune that I’d choose for my funeral in the original Cannonball Adderley instrumental version (which is faked “live”). I once compiled a CD for the car with about nine versions of it on there. Zoot name-checked Johnny “Guitar” Watson for having put words to it. There are three different sets of lyrics for vocal versions. The first and best version is by Marlena Shaw, who credited it to “John Levy’s wife.” The first American hit version, as a straight pop tune, was done by The Buckinghams. Johnny “Guitar” Watson is credited with writing it with Larry (“Slow Down”) Williams. Bonnie Bramlett coverd the Watson version.
It worked as an instrumental; it worked as a smoky soul-jazz vocal by Marlena Shaw; it worked as a US Top Twenty song. Unfortunately, Johnny “Guitar” Watson also did by far the worst “soul” version of it and that’s the one they covered. They singularly failed to get the lightness of touch and rhythm of the material. I thought Zoot sang it very well. The arrangment though was a total mess, and the groove non-existent. They should cut it from this line-up’s act. Zoot should do it when he has a band more sympathetic to the material. Or re-arrange it. The organ playing on the Marlena Shaw version would be great by Zoot.
Anyway, two poorly-done soul songs in two and a half hours of great blues and R&B is irrelevant to the general exceptional quality of the show. They’re not a soul band. So what? I did find Maggie Bell’s exhortations after Respect Yourself somewhat banal, where she deeply honestly and sincerely suggested that we all respect ourselves. It was a “Can white guys sing the blues?” moment. They’d proved all night absolutely that these white guys can, and do. What white guys can’t do convincingly is give sincere exhortations to the audience.
Another tip is not to diss the local football hero, which is true wherever you’re playing. In this case, it was ex-AFC Bournemouth manager, and Poole resident, Harry Redknapp, the local team’s most successful manager ever. She used her on stage patter to off-handedly accuse him of a crime for which he’s not been found guilty. I heard people muttering about it in the lobby afterwards. You never win by doing this.