American Queen Steamboat
Between Helena and Memphis
Thursday 12th June 2014, early show
The Melody of The Blues
Blues is my Business
The Blues Had A Baby
Medley rap with Pick A Bale of Cotton, Sweet Chariot, When The Saints
scat singing demonstration
Walking in Memphis
Boogie Thing, with Elvis medley,
Good Rockin Tonight and Hound Dog
Stage is set: Ford Theatre on the American Queen
Joyce Cobb matches with Preston Shannon, the King of Beale Street, two nights earlier. She is billed as the Queen of Beale Street, where she had her own club. She is a feisty lady with a tight four piece (white) band: drums, guitar, 5-string bass, keyboards.5-string bass seems to be the Beale Street thing.
The band started out with the guitarist singing (the mic was too low in the mix) then Joyce Cobb quietly sidled on singing the chorus, not the lead. It’s pretty hard to separate out the songs because up until Mystery Train it was like one long extended rap on the history of the blues that folded into songs at some points. Joyce Cobb is an educator in blues music, and it was erudite, as well as great rapping. The band just keep playing, watching her for signals to break further into a song.
Mystery Train, owing more to Junior Parker than Elvis, was enlivened by great slide playing. It went into 634-5789, reminding me how narrow the choice is on blues / soul history on this ship. It was the third time we had heard it. She credited it to Sam & Dave, rather than Steve Cropper and Wilson Pickett.
Then came a long history lesson/ rap, with just a verse and chorus of Pick A Bale of Cotton (I would have loved the whole song), Sweet Chariot and When The Saints Go Marching In, all interspersed with chat, with the band maintaining a rhythm. She gave is a demonstration of how scat singing developed in New Orleans.
The highlight of her act was Walkin’ In Memphis, which she acknowledged as a great song about Memphis by Marc Cohn, the song a native of Memphis really should have written. Except that a native of Memphis would never have had Cohn’s perspective or sense of wonder. It was an improvisation around the song, a long distance from either the Marc Cohn or the Cher versions (and the ship’s American Queen Ensemble had done a creditable and different slowed down ballad version the first night of the cruise). It was an innovative and memorable soul take on the song.
Joyce Cobb finished with what seemed to be John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Man, but then it shifted to a “Boogie Thing” line but again she was rapping and chatting in between, including a dive into Good Rockin’ Tonight and Hound Dog when the rap history reached Elvis. It was a fitting introduction to Memphis for the last night on the river.