EUGENE “HIDEAWAY” BRIDGES The Brass Monkey 2 April, 2009: Cronulla, NSW
Bridges – vo/gtr; Clayton Doley – org; Rowan Lane – bs gtr; Declan Kelly – dms.
Once again, Eugene Bridges is playing all the usual places in Australia, festivals included; once again, Eugene is WELL worth going to hear, for he is a rare gem. But, more about that later… I began with that sentence for those who don’t read such pieces as these completely through, just to get my important reactive statement to his performance out-of-the way and embedded in your brains! Or go to the last paragraph, avoiding my polemic/sermon/rant.
There is a phrase that keeps reoccurring in many locations today, including the slogan for The Sydney Blues Society; “Keeping the Blues Alive”. What does that mean? Is blues music on life support? Keep it “alive” in what form or format? According to whose criteria? When did its existence become precarious? To these trained ears and eyes, a cultural product like blues must, by its very nature, have an eventual use-by date – the only true constant in life IS change – so to take that artificially supportive stance is counter to real life! If blues has maintained its true audience, then the statement is pointless – if it has not done so, the statement is STILL pointless! No matter what W.E. outsiders to blues’ original culture might desire – we actually don’t count!
Today’s “blues” music seems to be mainly for a “White” audience. As Black performers continue to fall off their perch, thinning their ranks, the music is now generally performed by younger middle-class White guys with long blonde hair bending strings to beat the band while singing about their hard times on the GA chain gangs: As Homesick James once said to me, “Pete, any damn fool can mash a string and holler!” The audience for the music has also bleached itself out, leading, as indicated, to the up and coming performers being more and more Caucasian. White folks’ music. It’s just a fact of life. They learned from books, tapes, and records – hell, the few younger Blacks involved took guitar lessons from Stephan Grossman videos and Oak “tab” books, rather than learning from the “old masters”… who are long gone! Not that there’s anything wrong with that!!
Granted, there is still Black music that is referred to as “blues” by its Black producers and Black consumers, but it is not regarded as “blues” outside of the Black-oriented “chittlin’ circuit” that remains (mainly down south). Instead, it is labeled more “rhythm & blues” or “soul” than blues by W.E. outsiders. A few who work that circuit could be considered as blues performers (Travis Haddix, Johnny Rawls, Roy Roberts, Bobby Rush), but most fail “our” tests on the bluesometer! Not that there’s anything wrong with that!! As Duke Ellington once said, “There’s two kinds of music – good music, and the other kind!”
Back to Eugene Bridges. He’s one of the few younger African Americans under the age of fifty to have come freely into this music organically, through accepted aspects of African American culture. His music and performances are NOT retro at all, but forward-looking as he sees it. While only 46, his background is Black churches and “quartets”, plus juke-joints in LA and TX, with a father (Hideaway Slim) who both played guitar and ran a juke! It doesn’t get more organic or “real” than that!! If you listen closely, you may hear Eugene’s influences, but he’s not one to merely copy his elders, but to creatively learn from them and incorporate them into his own music. A gig by him is almost all self-composed material rather than covers, a policy which probably serves him ill within the US marketplace, which is why he plays almost anywhere else but there! This Texan gets around.
The gig reviewed here was with his main Australian band, guys who’ve been working together for over a decade. NOT just a single artist and a pick-up group, but a real, WORKING band. And Eugene tells me that they are his favorite, most dependable band in the whole world, and that he would like to do a “live” album with them. They are attentive, appreciative, and appropriate in how they support his music and enjoy doing so – this is not always the case with others. (On that subject, he’s recently recorded a “live” in San Antonio, TX with locals there that should make it his next Armadillo release.) If you get an opportunity to hear and see the peripatetic Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges and love this music labeled “blues”, then you owe it to yourself (and him) to make the gig – you won’t be disappointed. Eugene seems to be always looking on life’s positive sides – the bright side of life – plus loves performing and meeting his public, so give him all the support you can muster and enjoy! All will benefit, take my word for it… I’m difficult to please.
PETER B. LOWRY
Photos by: J. Woof
Published: JUKE BLUES